Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mini-Review Roundup, part one

Is it weird I've been wanting it to rain all week? The little weather app on my phone keeps saying it's going to, but I'm looking at another sunny day. I think I have this misguided idea that my responsibilities will be put on hold if it's gross out. No, I couldn't possibly go to the bank, it's raining!

It's possible that's not how that works.

Anyway. As long as we're avoiding errands, we might as well talk books. These are most of the non-Diana Wynne Jones books I read on our road trip. It's been awhile so I'm just gonna do short reviews. I hope you don't mind.

 I enjoy the hell out of Kate Morton's books. She tends to stick to a certain formula, using a number of female narrators, usually separated by anywhere from ten to fifty years. There's generally some family secret that a daughter or granddaughter investigates, and there are some twists along the way. They're not always the deepest books, maybe, but Morton does a great job of crafting these stories.

I love her unabashed use of women to tell their own stories. She fleshes out her characters well, gets you to root for them, while still letting them be secretive, sometimes cruel, sometimes awesome. Basically, she lets them be whole people.

That said, this wasn't my favorite of hers. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, and there were some really beautiful moments for the characters. But the "twists" were pretty obvious--not often the case for Morton--and the final payoff was a bit of a let-down. For anyone new to Morton's books, I'd recommend The Secret Keeper, my favorite.

 I read this book in one sitting. Patrick Ness is a stunning writer. I wouldn't recommend finishing this book in public unless you're okay with crying in front of people.

A Monster Calls is a short book, the writing spare and clean. This works beautifully with the subject matter--a young boy faced with his mother's life-threatening illness--which is anything but clean. And Ness doesn't shy away from the complexity. Conor, our narrator, is allowed to feel all the things, and it's honest and it's devastating. The use of the monster, who visits Conor repeatedly to tell him stories and reveal truth in all its complexity, is creepy and gorgeous (thanks in part to Jim Kay's rough, haunting illustrations throughout the book).
Read this book. Recommend it to people. Pass it around. With tissues. 

 Argh, this book. Now that I'm looking at them all together, I'm seeing what great luck I had with reading on our trip! There were weeks when there really wasn't time to sit down with a book, but I loved all of the ones I got to read.

Little Brother was another in-one-day read, mostly because I could not put it down once I started. It was that good.

Our narrator is Marcus, a teenage hacker who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when San Francisco is attacked by terrorists. This is where a lesser writer could have beat us over the head with the ideas of LOSING OUR FREEDOMS IN THE FACE OF TERRORISM and such, but Doctorow knows what he's doing. This book is smart. Marcus and his friends are really intelligent, and they give a shit about their community and their rights and each other. There are some great fist pump-y moments along the way when Marcus and/or co. make EXCELLENT WELL-INFORMED POINTS or we get to see THE POWER OF YOUTH WHEN THEY STAND TOGETHER.

Uh, can you tell this book made me feel really caps-locky a lot? Can't wait to read the sequel, Homeland. 

Finally, finally got around to reading Tender Morsels, and it was worth it. This is often an uncomfortable book. Lanagan writes about things we don't want to think about: rape, incest, why is that bear looking at me like that, among others. It's not an explicit book (thankfully, given a lot of the subject matter), but it doesn't shy away from the consequences, either.

Something I loved about this book (and Little Brother, now that I think about it) is that it's a genuinely thoughtful book that deals with a lot of Issues, but it doesn't feel like an Issue-Book, if that makes sense. It's not preachy or heavy-handed. It's sometimes uncomfortably matter-of-fact about it all. People do bad things, there are consequences. People suffer, there are consequences. Boom. Real life. But with magical bears.

And last but not least! I can't believe I didn't know this book was a mirror for King's Desperation. I'm a pretty big Stephen King fan, and have been since I was twelve years old or so. I've read all of his novels, most of his short story collections. It is my favorite book of all time. But that's a story for another day.

I somehow managed to never read most of the Bachman books. My friend told me about the Desperation connection, and that was reason enough for me. Reading this book was like catching up with an old friend. King's voice is so familiar to me and it felt amazing to be reading an old school but new-to-me horror novel. I read every new book King writes, but it's been several years since he did a straight-up scary one, so this felt very good.

As always, the characterizations were full, no one got to look all good all the time, and no one was necessarily safe. The tension was constant and ever-increasing. I'm more psyched than ever for the Shining sequel due later this year, Doctor Sleep. Long live the King! and such.

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