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review 2018-09-07 15:17
This is Me: A Self-Help Memoir
This Is Me: Loving the Person You Are Today - Chrissy Metz

As Goodreads reviewer Katrina wrote, "I can see this getting mixed reviews because it [toes] the line between memoir and self-help. The result is that it does neither very well."  I agree.  This book ends up being a self-help memoir, and I think it would have been better to choose one lane, namely the "memoir" lane.  I can appreciate the desire to help others with the tools and insights Chrissy Metz has found for herself--but perhaps she could have framed them as "here are techniques that work for me."

 

Metz had a difficult childhood, with an abusive stepfather, an absent father, and a mother struggling to raise five kids and keep things together.  She found an inner strength and forged a path to make her dreams come true.  And she is eager to help others overcome their own struggles, and that's awesome.

 

Some misgivings I have:  Metz seems to be an adherent of "The Secret"/"Laws of Attraction."  I have issues with this, as expressed in my review of The Girl Code.  I can appreciate the spirit behind that perspective, but I feel it has some unfortunate implications.  I can also appreciate reflecting on a difficult situation/experience and considering "What can I learn from this?"  But I have much more trouble with the idea that the universe conspired to create the situation/experience in order to issue a lesson.  Just no.

 

Related to that, Metz's stepfather was horrible to her.  He was both physically and emotionally abusive.  She maintains a relationship with him, having accepted a clumsy apology from him, and notes in the book that his abuse made her feel that nothing can break her.   I have some serious misgivings about this.  Although it is obviously not her intent, I have seen this type of statement used as a justification for abuse.  This reasoning has been used by abusers and has also been a reason for victims of abuse to perpetuate the cycle of abuse on their own children/wards.  "This is how I was treated, and it made me tough, so I will do the same thing to my own kids!"  Again, I am not suggesting that Metz in any way endorses this reaction, but I can't help thinking her words might be misused that way.

 

I really appreciated the story that Metz shared, as well as her conversational, sit-with-me-and-I'll-share-my-story tone.  Metz has great insights into human behavior and shares some excellent strategies for navigating conflict and prioritizing one's personal dreams.  I recommend the book for those aspects, with the caveats noted above.

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review 2018-07-21 19:50
I Almost Forgot About You ★★★☆☆
I Almost Forgot About You - Terry McMillan

I appreciate a romance that is acerbically funny rather than cloying and this one gets bonus points for a main character and her romantic interests who are middle aged and dealing with all the life issues that go with it. The characters, their relationships, and the events felt real and not too improbable and the dialogue was snappy. I enjoyed it so much that it mostly overcame the usual fatal flaw of having been written in first person, present tense. Normally, I’ll DNF those immediately, but I was actually able to forget the style and fall into the story for the most part.

 

Audiobook, borrowed from my public library. Audiobooks read by the author tend to be pretty hit/miss, but MacMillan did a terrific reading, especially with the dialogue.

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review 2018-07-14 05:43
On the Divinity of Second Chances ★☆☆☆☆
On the Divinity of Second Chances - Kaya McLaren

I hate first person present tense. Even worse, though, is a story told from the alternating viewpoints of five separate characters, when all five use first person present tense. ALL FIVE. The only exception is the opening passage, which is written from the moon’s (literally, the moon) POV… in third person present tense. Hell, for all I know, we are also treated to the dog and the imaginary friend as narrators in first person present tense, but I only got to page 37 before I closed the book and threw it across the room at the garbage can.

 

Paperback, which has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for so long that I no longer remember when or why I even bought it. I suspect it was a recommendation from the (now defunct) Books on the Nightstand podcast.

 

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review 2018-07-11 15:36
Unusual science-fiction which makes us question what it means to be human
The Last Feast - Zeb Haradon

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

I had read a number of reviews of this author’s previous novel, The Usurper King, and although I haven’t read it yet I was intrigued by the subject and the feedback on the quality of his writing, and following a recommendation of his new book by a fellow reviewer, I could not resist.

This book is difficult to categorise and, for me, that is one of its appeals, although it will perhaps put off some genre readers. I won’t rehash the plot as the description is detailed enough and the book is quite short (it is perhaps a bit long for a novella, but it is shorter than most novels). The setting and much of the action would fit into the science-fiction genre. The degree of detail and description of technology and processes is not such that it should put off casual readers (I found the scientific background intriguing although I’m not an expert and cannot comment on how accurate it is), although it might not satisfy hard science-fiction fans.

A number of characters appear in the short novel, but the main character and first-person narrator of the story is Jim. Like Scheherazade, he is doomed to be forever telling stories, although, in his case, it is always the same story, the story, or history, of his (their) origin. Somehow (I won’t go into the details. I’ll leave that for readers to discover), Jim has managed to cheat death and has lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Although the story he is forever retelling is, at least in appearance, the story of how he ended up in his current situation, through the process of telling the story, we learn about Jim himself. Snippets of his life keep coming up, and these are enmeshed with the history of humanity at large, as he has become, accidentally, the somewhat reluctant chronicler of human civilisation. I am not sure any of the characters are sympathetic

The story —which gets at some of the fundamental questions Philosophy has been studying for centuries— involves a small spaceship crew faced with an impossible situation. What if they were the only beings left alive in the universe and only had access to finite resources in order to survive? (Yes, this sounds familiar). Would they hold on tight to the hope of a possible rescue from outside and risk their survival possibilities to pursue that dream? Or would they try to survive at whatever cost? The book divides the crew into two, the ones who are more realistic and are happy to continue living on their current circumstances, and the ones that refuse to give up the hope for a better but uncertain life. There are members of the crew that seem to cycle from one position to another, and some who keep their cards close to their chests and we don’t know full well what they think. Suicide is high in the book, and the desperation of the characters that choose that way out is credible and easy to understand and empathise with. The narrative takes the characters to the limit and then pushes them beyond it. Ultimately, it is impossible not to read this book and wonder what makes life worth living. Is life itself enough in its own right? Is survival against all odds the best attitude? What is the result of, and the price to pay for, pursuing such a course of action?

I am fascinated by the novel, and particularly by Jim’s character. As he tells the story, it becomes clear that at some point he made a momentous decision. He says he has been on the brink of suicide for hundreds of years, but after something tragic happened (no spoilers), he decided he would keep on living. Although the book has plenty of strange goings on (cannibalism, BDSM sex… which make for a hard read but are not the most graphically detailed and gore examples I have read, by any means) and it shuns conventional morality, this decision and Jim’s motivation behind it are what will keep this book present in my mind, and I know I will be thinking about it for a long time. (Why would anybody put himself or herself through such a thing? How do we deal with loss and grief?)

There are references to literary classics (and the author’s note at the end mentions some of them and also the conception of the project, its development, and its different incarnations), to historical artefacts and works of art, and the distinctive voice of the narrator (a mixture of wit, matter-of-factness and the odd flash of dark humour), the quality of the writing, and the story combine to make it a compelling and disquieting read. After reading this book, I’ve become very intrigued by the author, and I’m curious about his previous novel, as the protagonist of that book was also called Jim. That Jim was quickly becoming old and this one is determined to live forever. I wonder…

I recommend this book to people looking for an exceptional voice and a unique story, who don’t mind being challenged by difficult topics, dark subjects, and stories that don’t fit neatly into a clear genre. If you like to experiment and are looking for something different, I encourage you to give it a go.

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review 2018-06-21 08:51
A challenging but satisfying book written in a unique voice that deals in momentous and relevant themes.
Just: A heart stopping thriller, full of emotion and twists - Jenny Morton Potts

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are interested in getting your book reviewed, you can check here) and thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of her novel that I freely chose to review.

I had read great reviews of the author’s previous book Hiding and when I saw that her new novel was available, I knew I had to read it. I’ve been lucky with most of the books I’ve reviewed so far. I’ve read many good books in recent times. Some have been well-written and entertaining genre books (and I love a good genre book. There is something reassuring and satisfying about reading a book in a genre we like. We know what to expect, and we can be pleasantly surprised when the book pushes the boundaries of the genre or is an excellent example of it), some I would count among some of the best books I’ve read on a topic or genre, some have managed to mix different genres, sometimes even genres that seemed hardly compatible and have pulled it off beautifully, and there are some books that have surprised me, because they seemed to keep wrong-footing the readers, challenging them, and demanding their attention. They are not for easy consumption and they do not reassure. But they can be very rewarding. Just is one of these books.

This novel is told in the third person from a variety of points of view. We have women who cannot move on and let go (of past relationships, or their past and their families), and can at times seem pathetic and self-pitying, whilst at others, they will not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for those their love (at a great cost). We have men who are ridiculously devoted to women (a close friend they’ve known forever, or somebody they’ve worked with but hardly know anything about), hopelessly romantic, and willing to go to any lengths to “save” or “help” this women (who might or might not need saving).  There are friends and relatives who will keep secrets that will cost them dearly. All the characters have very distinct voices, and the reader needs to pay attention at all times, as the dialogues are dynamic, and the author rarely uses tags, so it can be a challenge to know who is talking at times, especially when new characters are introduced.

I’ve seen some comments about the book that mention that none of the characters are sympathetic. Leaving to one side personal preferences and the fact that unsympathetic or downright unlikeable characters can be protagonists as well, as long as they engage our curiosity (why are they as they are?, can we connect with them at some level, even if we don’t like what they do?), in this case it is clear that the author has carefully chosen how to tell the story, and this contributes to the way we feel.  Although the book is written in the third person (and that puts us in the role of the observer), we do see things from inside the heads of these characters, and, as we all are, they can be mean, cruel, egotistical, and truly annoying at times. Personally, I wanted to slap some of the characters sometimes, but there were some I quite liked, and by the end of the book, I definitely felt I had gained an understanding of most of them. As the book evolves we discover that we don’t know as much as we thought about all of these people, and only then do we realise how carefully constructed the novel is, and how its structure creates a whole that is much more than its parts.

The book touches upon important, controversial and difficult themes, both at a general, societal level (terrorism, emigration, wars, international aid and charities, adoption, indoctrination…) and at a more individual one (new models of family, friendship and love, letting go, romantic love, parenthood, family bonds…) and  I doubt any readers will remain indifferent to the plight of the protagonists. When I finished the book, I felt I had gained insight into subjects I had read about or seen in the news often, but the novel managed to make them feel much more personal and immediate.

There are wonderful settings (from Cambridgeshire to Libya), and scenes (beautiful and poignant) that I won’t forget. (I don’t think I’ll be able to look at shoes again the same way). The book is not evenly paced, and there are some contemplative moments, and some when we are taken from one scene to the next and left hanging on, trying to make sense of what just happened. A lot of the book deals in serious subjects but there are some light moments and plenty of humour, some witty, some dark, that bring some relief while underscoring the gravity of the issues at hand.  If some of the scenes might stretch the imagination and require suspension of disbelief (too romantic or contrived, or so I thought when I first read them), we are later obliged to re-evaluate them, we come to see them in a new light and they make sense.

I highlighted many sentences, but I thought I’d share a few:

Muduj had a weak stomach behind her strong heart.

Where once there were honey bees, now the metal drones buzz. Everything good has been replaced by manufactured evil.

Her body now was a foreign attachment to her head. Her heart was beating in her gums. Her eyes felt like transplants.

And so you don’t think it’s all very serious:

I always think it’s a worrying sign, when someone starts to read poetry.

I always recommend that prospective readers check a sample of the book to see if they feel it suits their taste, and this is especially true in this case. As I have warned, this novel treats in serious themes and is not a feel-good book (I will not discuss the ending, that I loved, but is not traditional, as it pertains such a book) for somebody looking for a light read. But if you are interested in discovering new talents and don’t mind harsh content (some sexual scenes as well) and are up for a challenge, this is a treat.

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