Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Homecoming (Book 2 of the Niceville Trilogy) by Carsten Stroud

a mini-review...
The Homecoming is an excellent 2nd book in the Niceville trilogy.  The book is well-paced, interesting, action-packed, creepy, and multi-layered.  My biggest complaint is with the actions of one of the main characters, Kate.

AS someone who is inclined in the direction Stroud is drawing Kate, I can say definitively that there are lines, that the line(s) was/were crossed, and that it was not realistic that she responded the way she did.  I felt that she was used as a tool in a plot, and that there were other ways Stroud could accomplish what he sought out to accomplish.

I'm being vague here so as not to ruin anything!

But it's not all that important because, even with that weakness, the overall book and plot and characters are great, enjoyable, and recommended!

of 5

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I felt like I had really accomplished something when I finally turned the last page.
Donna Tartt takes her readers on a long and involved drive through the meanderings and minds of 20 and 21 year old precocious college students on a sort-of dark, twisted coming-of-age tale.

The tale is told from the perspective of transfer student Richard, who has come to the college of his dreams in northeast vermont, in order to escape his dreary LA life back home.  Richard wishes to enroll in the school's Greek course, since he has some background and is seeking footing, but is initially halted in his efforts by the illustrious Julian Morrow, professor of the greek students.  Richard is, of course, even more intrigued by the "elite" five students of Julian's class and redoubles his efforts, to great success.

Although it takes some time for Richard to really fit into the group... as much as he ever will, anyway, they and he are quickly taken with each other, studying the classics under the largely exclusive tutelage of Julian.  Henry is the leader of the group in many ways, and Richard and the other 4, "the twins," Francis, and Bunny (Edmund), follow Henry's whims and instructions like good little students.

Tartt starts the whole book off with the climax... or, at least, what is to be the primary climax.  The death of Bunny.  But we don't know how it happens, why it happens, or what happens as a result.  When we finally reach that point in the story that subsequently unfolds, the story itself is far from over.  There is the aftermath, the psychological and physiological impacts to address, and really, much more.

I disagree with reviewers who have called the book pretentious or other similar phrases... as someone who has attended a similarly small and odd liberal arts college, I thought Tartt had described the varying personalities so very well.  Some of the students she described were certainly pretentious (at least, on first glance), but that was what was so impressive about her writing.  If you look closely, there are varying degrees and a skill with subtlety in describing these grating personalities.. and there are others, ranging from the ditzy valley girl and frat guy to the police officers, to other university personalities, to local small town vermonters, to the narrator himself -- a sort of "everyman."  Even more impressive was how the main characters grew and developed over the book -- Tartt did not just stick to one dynamic character, but several changed and reacted and grew and matured and....

Frankly, it was an impressive book.  And, to boot, an interesting read!
The book is tense and deep, densely exploring Richard's experiences at Hampden.
This review is somewhat wandering, I think mostly because there is just SO MUCH in the book, that it's difficult to write a cohesive review that does it any justice... instead, I offer my thoughts.

I highly recommend the book to people who like an intellectual mystery, a psychological thriller, a collegiate coming-of-age'ish (without the annoying aspects of the typical high school coming of age books).
of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Avalanche Pass by John A. Flanagan


So. First, this is touted as a "Jesse Parker Mystery." Although I hadn't read any other of these so-called Jesse Parker Mysteries, I have read plenty of mysteries and generally they involve an element of, I don't know, mystery? This is more like a Jesse Parker Action Book. Which only matters because I wanted to read a mystery. And I'm not blaming Flanagan for telling us "who-dun-it" in the beginning of the book and making us work our way out backwards... That's fine. In fact, it's a lovely technique when used well (see, e.g., The Secret History by [author: Donna Tartt or The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino). But this one just wasn't a mystery for the reader, and I feel like, to call a book a mystery, it should be a mystery for the reader. Not just for a handful of characters in the book.

So that was annoying. But then there's more.

Really annoying technique #2: Flanagan is obsessed with tall, blonde, athletic, shapely, outdoorsy girls. Like tall blond curvy athletic girl? An author's obsession with a female-type should not be SO obvious to the reader. For the love, please be a little more subtle.

Really annoying technique #3: Jesse Parker is clearly what Flanagan either wishes he were or hopes he is/was. You know, tall, kind, smart, just a little bit troubled so that every girl in the novel WANTS him and wants to fix him. brrp Sorry. just threw up in my mouth a little. And the thing is, ALL of these things are fine and even great when used well and/or with subtlety.

So, the plot. Jesse Parker, expert skier, has had some terrible skiing mishap in a prior "mystery," and can't ski "the wall" at this fancy little resort in Utah that he's trying to overcome. His a@@hole girlfriend back in Colorado (or whatever other snowy town he hails from) has no sympathy and treats him like he's personally offended her by not being able to ski the most expert trails. But don't worry, she's tall, blond, curvy, athletic, and outdoorsy, so this will all work out. eyeroll And his hot a@@hole girlfriend totally shames him on the slopes one day, so he sets out back to "The Wall" in Utah to overcome his phobia and be a man in his girlfriend's eyes once more.

And (and this is my favorite part), while he's there, he meets this OTHER tall, blond, curvy, athletic, outdoorsy chick who, of course, also wants him, but she's more sensitive to him. but also, she's hot. so he bangs her. But no, don't worry, he's not going to waste time feeling guilty about it because that would cheapen the experience with this new girl. I'm sorry, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  Regardless, it seemed like Flanagan's way to just throw in some sex to keep the ol' boys interested in his tale.

But, and here comes the "Mystery", all of a sudden, there's a terrorist/hostage situation. So slutty girl, er, the new girl becomes an insider to Jesse, the secret insider-outsider, to the real outside world.  (yeah, it doesn't really matter)  And there's also FBI, and a newly minted president (the VP after the president kicked it), and political arguments, and thoughtless murder, and etc. etc. I mean. It's an action, no doubt. And the action element is actually not bad. It's interesting enough and kept the pages turning.

Without the crap, it could have been a 3 1/2 or maybe even a 4 star book. But the unsubtle, unskilled, lazy, cheap methods used by the author brought the book down to 2 stars.

So, all in all, of 5 stars.
Recommend to readers who like action adventures and for whom the above stuff wouldn't bother ;)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Overall, a great book and a great read.

There were a few issues, but overall I really enjoyed it. I typically do not read books that are touted as "poignant" and "inspirational" ... least of all "love story." Even less, a book where someone is discovering the hidden life of someone they love, which apparently involves infidelity, and which involves "the power of love to move mountains." brrp. sorry just threw up in my mouth a little.

Yeah. so, not my kind of book. But it's a book group book, so I give it my full attention and an open mind. And it was GOOD. From the beginning. It drew me in and kept me there. It's a fast read and an engaging plot.

Let me describe it a little: 

Meet privileged family, in big city in America, at sudden disappearance of the father (Tin Win) of the family. Understand that the family knows nothing of the father's first 20 years of his life and that it seems to be some kind of grand mystery. Know that the father is a very successful lawyer who hails from some faraway foreign land. And then travel with the early-20s daughter (Julia), a newly minted lawyer herself, to Burma to discovery "the truth" of her father.

Enter strange old man (U Ba) who seems to know every thought, emotion, and intimate part of Tin Win's life and the life of the woman he apparently loved from his mid-teens until approximately 20. And discover Burma and the Burmese, blindness and discovery, and struggle and heartache with Julia as she begins to learn "the truth" about her father. Sendker made Burma come alive, made the Burmese insistence on belief in astrology interesting, and made the reader desire to learn the art of hearing heartbeats.

It was so interesting! It was so well paced and the characters were so well drawn! I loved the varying perspectives we managed to get. I loved the scenery and the thoughts. I loved the peripheral characters. I even liked MiMi and Tin Win and wanted to believe in their love.

So what didn't I like? HUGE SPOILERS HEREIN (highlight to read):

I did not like that U Ba not only knew the intimate (and I mean intimate) details of Tin Win and MiMi's lives, but that the shared them with Tin Win's daughter?! That was probably my biggest beef. But since we're on spoiler-alert here anyway, I also didn't like (really didn't like!) that somehow Julia was just hunky-dory with the fact that her father supposedly had this undying amazing love for Mi Mi, somehow also loved her mother and his family, and that that was all just ok. 

I didn't like that Tin Win was selfish enough to find a new family in America, and selfish enough to hold so ardently onto his feelings for Mi Mi. And I didn't like that he was selfish enough to "choose" to die and leave his son, his daughter, and even his wife without any note, explanation, or apology. His only "note" was the story he told his other son, and that was supposed to be sufficient. And then they were celebrated?! I get that Julia was trying to recognize cultural differences and allow for more than 1 kind of love... but what he did to both of his sons and his daughter, not even paying any attention to the two women, I don't think that's loving. It's self-focused. 


But aside from not liking the PERSON all that much, and/or his decisions, I liked the STORY, and I thought it was well told. Very well told.

 And I definitely recommend the book! FOUR of five stars.