Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Investigation by Philippe Claudel

Review based on ARC.

Yup.  I really liked this one.  So I started reading it, and then kept reading it, and kept reading it, until I was about a third of the way through and realized i was starving.  So we went to go eat.

Then I went home and kept reading it.

And here's where it gets trippy.  Admittedly, I was exhausted... just... so .... tired.  But, see, I kept reading.  And I started questioning reality, and my existence, and WHY is that light so bright... and who's keeping my husband away from me? AM I real?  What's happening?...

and, normally, I'm not that kind of girl... ;)

Then I was interrupted and was not able to finish until the following evening.  Overall, I was very pleased with the book.

And, gosh, what's it about.  It is almost an everyman type of story... the characters are identified by their duties.  And the Investigator is sent to Investigate an unusual circumstance with the Enterprise.  There are, to say the least, obstacles in his efforts to uncover the truth he was sent to investigate.  I think I can safely say, just read it.  I hate spoilers, especially any hints regarding this kind of book.

But I will say, there are the "surreal" aspects that other mention; it's just that it's more than that.  It's an allegory and a warning, and a tale to which many of us can relate.  Plus it's creative and thoughtful.

Interestingly, my break in reading the novel occurs around the same time as the Investigator's.... ah, discovery of sorts.  The tone seemed to shift.  It had a satisfying end.  But it just wasn't perfect.

But I Definitely recommend the book.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

Your Body is Changing by Jack Pendarvis

I gave this one a few days to settle in...
and all I'm left with is "Blech..."

The writing is definitely not bad, but ... a lot of times it felt like I was going up a roller coaster... up, up, up.... up... up?  i.e., I kept expecting something else to happen.  something, anything type of thing.

But there are a few gems.


Lumber Land
This one, I really liked.  This one is the reason I read this book, despite pressing obligations otherwise.  This is the best of the bunch.  The characterization is great, the descriptions are vivid, the dialogue is convincing, the scenery is invasive.  All good, recommend.  It's dark and, since this is a book of short stories, I won't summarize.

This is one of those where I kept waiting for "it" to happen.  There are good visualizations and decent characterization... but it sat still.  If you like the type of "some stuff happened, and then some other stuff happened" fiction that is well-written?  I imagine this book may be just perfect for you...

Tollboth Confidential
Ditto.  And as I go back through these and write this review, I feel like there are a lot of good ideas for stories that could use a plot and more development.  Good ideas.  And then just ... plateaus...

Courageous Blast  
This one is funny.  Amusing, more than funny.  The dialogue format worked for the message conveyed.

The Train Going Back
... I have nothing productive to say.

Roger Hill
This one was ok... it didn't really *go* anywhere either, but I felt that a point was made in a unique way.  I appreciated the perspective and, again, the visualization.

Your Body is Changing
yeah... the title piece.  the raison d'etre ... blech.  And this one is really where that comes from.  Reviewing the book as a whole, I think Pendarvis deserves credit for his skill -- he paints a nice picture and creates realistic characters.  This is not untrue of Your Body is Changing.  It's just that, for the longest piece, the one that the rest built to... it was too much up-rollercoaster with no pay off.  And it's hard because I don't feel that I can really pinpoint the problem.  I liked certain characters.  There were definitely points of interest.  I liked the direction it began to go... and maybe that's just it.  It began.  Certain aspects could/should be fleshed out into a full novel.  Or something.  It might just be one of those where you WANT to like it, you WANT it to be good... but it just kind of... blechs.

TWO and a HALF of five stars.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

Review based on ARC:

Also, my book group, Desert Girls, read the book.  See the group's review at desertgirlsbooks.blogspot.com.

I thought the book was OK.  I didn't hate it, but I found it cliched and predictable.

I found the characters to be somewhat dull and 2-dimensional, and a lot of them seemed to have a lot of anger and negativity.  The so-called best friend of the protagonist seems to love her friend by offering good advice, but seems to turn her back on the emotional sufferings and baggage of bad decisions.  She was a friend who seemed present only when it was convenient for her to be so.  The various "mother" figures in the book were interesting and ... well, probably the only likeable characters that were really there. 

The writing and the story-telling, however, were quite good.  I thought Gideon did a *great* job interweaving various social networking, texting, emailing, etc. to tell the story.  I also felt that there were a lot of realistically drawn characters, but I felt that the "resolution" was altogether too easy for the lack of self-reflection and growth the characters seemed to exhibit or experience in the story.

Overall, I would recommend to someone who likes suburban stories about the emotional struggles that we experience as a result of our own decisions.  The book isn't challenging, but it's funny at times, light at times, thoughtful at times, and written well enough to not throw.

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman

Review based on ARC.

I was initially intrigued by this book because its title and brief description made me think of reading a cozy psychological thriller.  Fortunately, Nayman moves the reader seamlessly into an intriguing story.  I say fortunately because there are portions of the book that don't move the reader along as effortlessly as others, but the initial intrigue of Oscar's situation drives the reader through those less exciting portions.

You can read the basic description of the book in other reviews & on the book jacket, but very briefly, Nayman presents a story of mystery and intrigue through the perspectives of Oscar and two women in his life, Christine and Marilyn.  Oscar may have committed some horrible crime and may be the victim of mistaken identities, or perhaps both.  Christine is his love who has left upon discovery of his crime, and Marilyn is his companion, a war photographer who enjoys the life of his mansion and his parties (it is this part that seems to remind people of the Great Gatsby, though I find Nayman's portrayals more interesting).

Oscar's incredibly brief introduction somewhat sets the stage for the reader to be pulled into the overall story.  But the book truly starts with Christine, after she has left Oscar, after she has become addicted to Opium, and near her point of desperation.  Nayman flits between past and present with ease, and I even thought at one point that the book, written by a lesser writer, would have left me confused and annoyed.  Instead, Christine's tale is convincing and understood, artfully written and non-gratuitously told.  I felt that Nayman was a little brilliant in her ability to present Christine so well, despite my discomfort with some of the subject matter (for you more sensitive readers, please know that this story involves various types of sexual assault, but Nayman does not gratuitously divulge the details).

Then we are rather abruptly moved to Marilyn's main story.  It is abrupt largely because it is so very different from where we are left at the end of Christine's "chapter."  There is some darkness, but Marilyn is not currently staggering through the darkness, which is (essentially) where we left Christine.  As others have stated, her portion is, overall, the least moving, but it serves its purpose in the book.  I'm not yet sure if I would have preferred more depth into Marilyn's character, or a quicker foray...

And we are finally reintroduced to Oscar.  The discovery, the tied up loose ends, the conclusion... well I like satisfying ends.  I know it's trendy to leave the reader frustrated, but I appreciate a writer who is willing to actually conclude a tale.  It does not, of course, conclude the lives of the characters therein, but it leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction.  I appreciated Nayman's decision and felt she did a nice job of wrapping up this dark and anxious tale.

Overall, a thoughtful read, a dark read.  I recommend to people seeking something more challenging -- particularly more emotionally challenging.

THREE AND A HALF of five stars.