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review 2017-06-03 17:32
Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy, by Sarah Rees Brennan
Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass lives in a small town in the Cotswolds of England where the Lynburns, an old family with deep and mysterious roots in the community, have just returned. People are unhappy about it, including Kami's mother, but Kami doesn't care: she's an aspiring reporter on the trail of a story for her high school paper (founded by herself and reluctant best friend, Angela), which becomes even more fascinating (and dangerous) when she comes across an animal sacrifice in the woods.


Kami has a secret of her own: she has a sort of imaginary friend with whom she communicates in her mind. This (male) friend has his own problems, and the two "reach" for each other psychically in times of need. This friend, of course, turns out to be real and a Lynburn. I anticipated as much but was still surprised by whom it turned out to be and when the reveal was made. The two struggle with the reality that the other is an actual person; their strange intimacy is not always welcome. Their bond turns out to be magical in nature and tied to the Lynburns and Kami's family.


Threats in town escalate, and Kami's at the center. In the meantime, she's also at the center of love triangle involving the two Lynburn boys. The triangle isn't terribly emphasized, but Kami's relationship with her former imaginary companion yo-yos between easy repartee and angsty denial of feelings. It got old.


Somehow I didn't feel involved enough in the mystery, and the tension didn't come across as it should. In part this may be because, as in other YA I've read, the story is somewhat rushed or condensed, including the quicksilver of the characters' changing emotions.


There's some fine prose, one of the book's saving graces, and lots of banter. It's not quite as successful as Whedon dialog or Veronica Mars, but it can be funny. It also got to be a bit much.


Kami's also one of those typical YA heroines whose friends are gorgeous, and she's supposedly less pretty but still somehow at the center of a love triangle involving the new hot guy. One of the most sincere moments is when Kami observes how each of her younger brothers is a favorite of her parents', leaving her odd person out.


I like YA but am coming to find it has to be exceptional to even be okay for me. Or maybe I just wasn't in the mood!

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review 2016-08-17 16:22
My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
My Man Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse

When I was a freshman in college, a professor assigned Right Ho, Jeeves as our last book of the semester for a class on 20th Century Fiction. I'd never heard of the series, though clearly it's had a big influence on depictions of butlers/valets and hapless masters (among other things) in popular culture. Reading the novel, I quickly understood why my prof had assigned it when he had; it was an easy, impossibly fun and funny book. My friend and roommate shot me a lot of looks as I chuckled or cracked up while reading it on my loft bed.


I'd always figured I'd read more Jeeves someday, and a free kindle book of My Man Jeeves proved a perfect opportunity. However, I didn't realize at first that it's a collection of short stories rather than a novel, and not all the stories feature Jeeves and his "master," Bertie Wooster. All the stories are set in America, or begin there, since Bertie is spending time abroad.


The Jeeves stories are, as usual, full of Bertie--or, I should say, Bertie's friends--getting into fixes that Jeeves inevitably gets him out of. Bertie is completely conscious of the fact that Jeeves is The Man at these things, though Bertie himself is a good chap who wants to help his friends. Bertie's voice, the language generally, is at least half the pleasure. As an example, here are a few ways he describes Jeeves's physicality:


Jeeves trickled in with the tray, like some silent stream meandering over its mossy bed...


He moves from point to point with as little uproar as a jelly fish.


Encountering these characters again, I was reminded of Sebastian from the manga and anime, Black Butler/Kuroshitsuji, clearly Jeeves's descendant in terms of skill and smoothness, if not devilry (though Ciel is more Sebastian's equal than Bertie is Jeeves's; one would never describe Ciel as "hapless.").


If one wanted, the Jeeves stories can be read as a portrait and satire of upperclass, male, British layabouts and their silly pursuits and problems, often involving allowances being cut off by stiff, older relations. It's a pleasant, pre-WWII world, and though the young men getting into scrapes are the butt of jokes, you still like everyone rather than sneer at them.


I do find that reading story after story rather than one bigger narrative made the stories feel same-y, and after the first non-Jeeves story, I skipped the others. But reading the book was still a damn fun time.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-03-06 00:33
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Dziewczyna z pociągu - Paula Hawkins

Everything that plays with unreliable narration and somewhat fancy structure that features a woman protagonist is likely to be compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Really it's unfair, but it's hard to resist comparisons to a book that made such a huge impact in the recent past. So, acknowledging the unfairness, I can't help but think about The Girl on the Train in the shadow of Gone Girl.


Although I was curious about what happened to Megan and who was responsible, I was less than compelled because I didn't come to care about her until the last third of the book (beyond, you know, she's a human being and killing or abducting one is wrong), and then not much. No one's likable in this book, and I can't explain why sometimes I love and am drawn to unlikable characters, and sometimes I just plain don't like or care about them. Voice is likely a factor; Amy's voice in GG is sharp and charismatic. Rachel, Megan, and Anna's voices feel familiar and not particularly striking.


I appreciate that by the end it turns out Tom, Rachel's ex, Anna's current husband, and Megan's former lover (and father of her unborn child) is the guilty party in more ways than one. He not only cheated on two wives and killed Megan, he made both Rachel and Anna feel responsible for things which may or may not have happened. By book's end, Anna and Rachel aren't exactly allies despite their shared traumas. Despite this, the book's not saying anything terribly original about gender. One woman accidentally let her baby drown (and later became pregnant again and vowed to do it right this time), one is a mother of a baby, and another's life fell apart because she couldn't have children. Having or not having (and being capable of taking care of) children defines these characters and drives the narrative in subtle ways.


Mysteries and thrillers are not my favorite genre, though when one hits, it hits (like GG). Still, I occasionally try one that seems less beholden to its genre, and I think The Girl on the Train sticks to the form more than I prefer.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-11-18 01:45
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

I have never read anything like this novel, that's for sure. As a fannish person, It rang of time loop and fork-in-the-road AU fic--a chance to explore the many roads a character can take. It's just that in this case, all those roads are explored in one book.


Being the structure whore that I am, I found the inventive series of births, deaths, and rebirths stimulating, and I know one read is not enough. However, it did feel a bit overlong, one too many loops, especially around the middle. The loop featuring the main character, Ursula, trapped in Germany in proximity to Hitler would be my vote for loop to be excised or trimmed, yet it's necessary for the character to complete the task with which the book begins (killing Hitler). I almost wish that the historical stakes were taken down a notch--I loved the exploration of both WWI and WWII and the Blitz, but do we need to incorporate that common historical what-if, "What if someone killed Hitler?"


My favorite aspect of the book involves the portrait of a family and of its female characters in particular. The character I was interested by and that I found most complex was Sylvie, Ursula's mother. Ursula is thrown in flux so much with her different lives, but there's a stability to Sylvie across loops I appreciated (other characters have this stability, and Ursula herself has it to an extent in terms of personality, but I suppose what I'm saying is that I simply liked Sylvie's prickliness best).


I thought--and am still thinking--a lot about the loop in which Ursula is raped, and it essentially ruins her life (she first has an abortion she does not choose and ends up marrying a man who shows her some kindness; he later proves to be an abusive asshole that kills her). I wonder about what that says--that rape is this thing that can't be worked through, that changes you essentially, that means you're better off dead. Ursula also questions if somehow the rape is HER fault (we're meant to shout "NO!" here), but the loop in which she instinctively pushes the (American, natch) man away when he first kisses her, resulting in no rape, somehow reinforces to me that rape IS preventable--just push that dude away, ladies.


I'm going to also go ahead and admit now that I don't understand why the book ends with the loop that it does. Must re-read and keep thinking over!


Despite the above reservations, I would absolutely recommend this book.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-08-09 18:12
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë

Gah, why had I not heard of this book until only a few years ago? Why is it not read as widely as the books of Charlotte and Emily? It appears one explanation is that Charlotte prevented the novel's re-publication after her sister's death at 29. That's a shame because it was apparently successful when first published and is an early feminist novel.


Comparing this book with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, it feels the darkest, with its then shocking portrayal of a bad marriage where the husband is an alcoholic and sleeps around. The central portion of the novel is brutal as Helen Huntingdon records the downward spiral of her life with Arthur Huntingdon. As a person of great faith, she does all she can to support him and withstand his profligate ways. Once she sees the influence he and his friends have on her young son (also Arthur), and after he continually abandons her to, essentially, party in London or wherever, and brings a lover to their home under the pretext of being a governess, she takes the unheard of step of leaving her husband and taking her son with her. Her brother, Frederick, helps establish her at the titular Wildfell Hall, though it's kept a secret that he's her brother, leading to rumors in the new town.


This book is very textual and layered structurally. Its frame takes the form of a letter from the narrator for most of the book, Gilbert Markham (who's an inhabitant of the new town to which Helen moves), to his friend and brother-in-law, Halford. He writes of the events leading to his present life in which he is married to the former Helen Huntingdon (though we don't know the outcome of events as readers). This means the whole story takes place in the past approaching the present, except for the few moments when Gilbert updates Halford on the fates of several other characters.


Eventually, Helen gives Gilbert her diary (with the end torn out) when their affection has grown and the latter has come to believe the rumors about her (that she and Mr. Lawrence--actually her brother--are carrying on). The diary shifts the point of view to Helen's and takes up a large central portion of the book, ending with her tenancy at Wildfell Hall just starting.


After the diary's conclusion, we're returned to Gilbert's pov, but later there are letters between Helen and her brother that we are privy to.


I like nested or embedded narratives, and the first two sections of the book read like a mystery as we wonder about Helen's behavior and then how exactly she came to Wildfell Hall. The latter portion of the story feels like a romance as Gilbert is left wondering if he has any hope with Helen now that her husband has died, and everything ends happily.


Speaking of the ending, I was somewhat surprised that it was so happy. For the most part, this is not a happy story. But the fact of Helen's faith is a huge source of optimism in the book. While at times it keeps her away from Gilbert, it sustains her and affects her attitude toward others; she believes in the possibility of salvation for everyone.


I wasn't too keen on Gilbert for much of the book, which is another reason I wasn't sure how I felt about the ending. He's kind of douche-y here and there, especially when he assaults Helen's brother (though he doesn't know that's who he is). But he makes fairly good in the end as he's hesitant to intrude upon Helen's new life or disturb her peace until he learns she still loves him and want to marry him.


This book made me understand why the future Temperance Movement was a woman's issue as we see the effects alcoholism has on wives and families during a time when divorce was unlikely and women were at a disadvantage status-wise. It also made me lament anew the fact of marriage as a certainty for women or else.

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