Sunday, May 13, 2012

quick comments on recent reads

The False Friend by Myla Goldberg

Lured by The False Friend's synopsis, I expected the novel to be something that it's not. It is short, spare, and well-written. The novel deals with childhood bullying, the unreliable nature of memory, and how difficult it is to know those closest to us. Its revelations are myriad, but they come from unexpected quarters. I have to admit that I found The False Friend unsatisfying. I found the protagonist increasingly unsympathetic and the ending unsatisfying (even though I understand why Goldberg ended the novel the way that she did).

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Set in a dystopian future where the internet is hardwired to everyone's brain. Anderson incorporates interruptions by targeted advertizing into the narrative to help readers understand the experience of being plugged into the feed. If I had been reading Feed, I would have skipped over those sections, limiting the annoyance factor, but I listened to the audio version, which forced me to fully experience these tics in the narrative. Feed is a cautionary tale, much darker than a lot of the books that have been pushed out during this craze for dystopian (young adult) fiction.

Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

A bildungsroman that explores the theme of "the New India" (a descriptor I find a bit perplexing). Anjali (Angie) Bose runs away from home and an arranged marriage assisted by an expatriate American teacher who believes in her potential for a better life than small town Gauripur can offer her. Angie travels to Bangalore where she muddles along, though a series of increasingly unbelievable amount of plot twists, almost in spite of herself. The highlight of Miss New India is its cast of secondary characters.

Moonstone and Moon Rise by Marilee Brothers

I only read the first two installments of Marilee Brothers' Unbidden Magic series even though I had a review set of all four titles (Moonstone, Moon Rise, Moon Spun, and Shadow Moon). I found Moonstone to be a somewhat standard teen paranormal romance: nothing to write home about, but interesting enough to continue with the series considering the fact that I already had the next book at hand. Moon Rise, however, opens with a serious series fiction infraction: the love interest from book one (who, I might add, was a more interesting character than the protagonist herself) is inexplicably missing in action allowing both author and protagonist to cultivate a new love interest more in line with the second installment's storyline. I hate when authors do this: throwing out all the work they did getting their readers invested in a relationship. I finished Moon Rise--which, I should add in Brothers' defense, does end with a teeny bit of explanation about the absence of Moonstone's love interest--but I had no desire to continue on with the series.

Perfume: The Story of Murderer by Patrick Sueskind
translated from the German by John E. Woods

I've been meaning to read Perfume for ages. It was first published in 1985 and I've had a copy on my bookshelf for at least four years. An olfactory-genius serial killer in 18th century France. The pacing is slow (sometimes excruciatingly so), but the language (particularly Suskind's ability to put smells into words) is wonderful.  What I found most interesting  were the descriptions of craft of perfumerie: the process for making absolutes and the like.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Moonstone and Moon Rise from Bell Bridge Books via NetGalley.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity will be released a bit later this month. I've just finished reading a review copy and I adored it. I'm putting a hard copy on my wishlist and I'll be buying copies to give as gifts. Such a good book.

I don't want to spoil the plot so I won't say much about it. Code Name Verity is a work of historical fiction. The action occurs primarily in Nazi-occupied France. One protagonist is a pilot. The other begins the novel imprisoned in a hotel that had been converted into a Gestapo headquarters.

Don't be put off by the novel's slow start. While Code Name Verity is by no means a quick read, the pace quickens and the story becomes increasingly engaging until the reader is so invested in the characters that she simply must find out what happens to them. Code Name Verity is not always easy to read, but that's because horrible things happen during wartime.

With two teenage protagonists, Code Name Verity is being marketed as a young-adult novel, but there is much to recommend it to a wider audience. Strong female characters, an effective split narrative, action and adventure, double-agents and double entendres, and moments of shock and awe, topped off by a realistic setting and storyline complete with bibliography.

Note: The image I've included in this post is the cover of the UK edition (published in February), which I like much better than one designed for the US edition.
disclosure: I received a review copy of Code Name Verity from Disney Hyperion via NetGalley.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr

You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr

I don't find this novel's title or cover art particularly appealing.1 My familiarity with the author2 was the only reason I checked You or Someone Like You out to read on my Nook.

At the outset of Burr's roots as an author of nonfiction are clear. He begins with a three-page author's note,3 in which he explains exactly to what extent his fiction is fictional. I did read the author's note (I don't always) and it seemed like overkill to me. A result the author's discomfort with the medium? a mark of our litigious society? However, now that I've finished the novel, I see why he included the note. The entire novel revolves around something that happens to one of the characters. Because of the virulence this incident and its consequences provokes (in the characters and, possibly, in the novel's readers), it was important for the author to ground the event in reality, to affirm that it wasn't something he dreamed up simply to torture his characters.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about You or Someone Like You. I loved how literary it was. The novel is filled with books and references to authors and their various works and it made me want to reread some titles and tackle other authors for the first time. Burr makes some wonderfully astute observations about both literature and the human condition. He also incorporates a bevy of real-life characters (mostly film industry people) in walk-on roles. Some readers will love this aspect of You or Someone Like You, but it didn't do much for me considering that I didn't always recognize the individuals featured.

I do think, though, that Burr was a bit too focused on the moral of his story. Towards the end of You or Someone Like You Burr effectively mutes one of the key characters, allowing the righteous indignation of another to completely swamp the narrative. In doing this Burr is likely to alienate his readers as effectively as his protagonist alienates her acquaintances. There's also the moral itself, which some readers will appreciate and others will find impossible to tolerate.

You or Someone Like You would definitely make for an interesting book club discussion.
  1. Actually, I really don't like the cover. I find both the people pictured on it a bit unnerving
  2. I'd read and enjoyed The Perfect Scent (see post).
  3. He also includes source notes after the concluding chapter