Recent Reads and Recs: March 2012 Edition

Reviews that aren’t really reviews, but glimpses into some books I’ve read that might cross your path… and if they don’t, maybe some of them should:

ADULT FICTION

Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss Cover of Wise Man's Fear

I know of only 2 other people who have Rothfuss’ novels. (Actually 3, now, since I got my son interested – YES!) If you love intelligent fantasy – this author is your man. This book and his first, The Name of the Wind, are tomes – about 1k pages each, but well worth it. Rothfuss is a superb storyteller and high quality writer.

Regarding this specific novel – I had originally planned on re-reading the first book over again, but was slightly intimidated by the length, so I figured I’d find a synopsis somewhere, and re-read the last couple of chapters and that would be enough. And it was. (By the way, Rothfuss has an awesome comic strip synopsis on his blog, which served this purpose quite nicely.) These books track the life of young man, Kvothe, who starts out with his family, who are a traveling troupe of entertainers. His family is killed by the Chandrian, which to all others, are a mythical race. The first book tracks Kvothe’s journey to the University, and his first year there. The second book starts with his second year there, but tricky circumstances encourage him to travel out on his own for a year, where he does some growing up and expanding his world view. Kvothe is a gifted student, with many talents – and among them there is a certain amount of humility (within reason – he has an entertaining amount of ego, too) and a basic kindness, which makes his character extremely appealing. Supporting characters are equally enriching to the story.

The ultimate story is flashback. The Kvothe we meet at first is older and basically in hiding. We can imagine it is because he has stirred up trouble regarding the Chandrian, but since we are not caught up with his story, yet (there is to be at least one more book in the series), we are not quite privy to more recent events.

As a second book, and conceivably a middle book of a trilogy, Wise Man’s Fear exceeds expectations in carrying the plot in such a story arc. The scope of the novel is vast, and I am hardly doing it justice with just a couple of paragraphs, but to give it a final descriptor for those who might want to check it out: thorough world-building, rich characterization, extremely intelligent take on arcanery and related studies, and an overarching plot that even though it is not always at the forefront, you easily keep it in the back of your head.

Plus, he ends this second book in a most intriguing way. I have no clear idea what it means – but it still ends, which can sometimes be a problem with books in a series.

Cover of The Tenth CircleThe Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult

I want to laugh as I start this review… because I read this book purely to settle a score on whether or not I should like this author. So many people love Picoult – including my sister, cousin, and others. A good friend of mine (and primary crit-reader, so I kind of have to respect her opinion, right?) hates her. And I want to say I loved this book just to get her going, but I really can’t, so I hope she’s at least happy about that. (She’s not.)

It’s been several years since I read a book by Picoult, and that was Vanishing Acts. Pretty sure I read it for a book club and I thought I liked it, although I had a vague memory of not being overly fond of the ending, and after reading this one, I remember why. This story examines the aftermath of a 14-year old girl who has been raped by her boyfriend. It is more complicated than that – not that dealing with rape is ever uncomplicated – because the truth of the evening changes every couple of chapters. I found the beginning difficult because I found the 14-year old’s issues difficult to swallow – in other words, I needed more to understand her motivations (before the rape occurs). I think it is the same issue I ran into with Jennifer Weiner’s Certain Girls, where an author struggles to adequately blend an adult perspective and a young adult’s perspective, but I did get past it.

The middle part of this book is good. The narrative takes hold and the emotional complexity is realistic and appealing. And then comes the end. I had two problems with the end. The first is that it veered into something very different. It is a classic example of when I read a student paper and I can tell what the student really wants to talk about. This is what happened with Picoult’s end. Suddenly they were in Alaska (and seriously, the way the 14-year old got there did not feel even remotely plausible) and an entirely different kind of thing was going on. I felt like Picoult thought, “I’d really like to talk about this remote town of Alaska and dog sledding and the community. How can I create a plot to get there? Oh, I know, rape.” Okay, so this is sounding a little bit more snarky than I intended (my friend is much happier now), but that’s kind of okay at this point because even if I can forgive a lot of this (which I probably could, I mean there was that nice middle section after all), I cannot forgive the second problem with the ending.

The boyfriend-rapist became a sympathetic character. I would go into more detail about how this came to be, but you might want to read the book after all, and I will not spoil things here. The thing is, the nature of how this comes to be is certainly realistic, but frankly, rape is such a horrible event that I disapprove of it ever coming across in fiction where we might feel sorry for the person who perpetrates such an act. The author herself quotes statistics within the novel related to how much is unreported, and she also tries to show how unfair the conviction rate is and how society blames the victim. So as realistic as this particular situation might be (though extremely rare, I’m willing to bet – which, looking at Picoult’s book blurbs, is why she wrote it), I cannot support any accolades for this one.

Interestingly, there were several Picoults on the library shelf to choose from… I guess I should have picked a different one if I had wanted to redeem her. Or not.

The Story of Beautiful Girl, by Rachel Simon Cover for The Story of Beautiful Girl

I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. I love the premise and the motivation behind it. The story starts in 1968 when a young woman and man who have escaped from an institution for mentally and physically disadvantaged children and adults. The woman has just given birth and they seek temporary asylum with a 70-year old woman – who ends up hiding the baby as the institution attendants come pounding on her door to take the young woman away. The man escapes. The story then follows the lives of these different people.

Each of the characters is very different – as are their stories. The young woman (Lynnie) has some sort of thought-to-speech processing impairment (primarily, although she had some other mild mental development delays, too), which is how she was brought to the institution by her family. She is raped by one of the employees, which is how she became pregnant in the first place. While at the institution, she and the man (Homan) fall in love. Homan, while on the run when he was a teenager, was admitted to the institution simply because he was deaf and during those times, few people could understand how he communicated.

The story is a great account of how such institutions were run and then later dismantled as society became more educated about mental and physical delays. Simon gave a good attempt to give us stories of these interconnected characters, but I do think she struggled with character voice. Lynnie had the strongest voice, and I think I would have enjoyed her narrative all the way through vs. the others. It might have simplified the plot twists that Simon used, too.

Cover for Bet MeBet Me, by Jennifer Crusie

This book was an earlier recommendation to me when I had put out the call for “light and easy reads”. I didn’t end up reading it then – and I should have because it definitely fit the bill. I believe this novel would fall under the controversial genre label of chick lit. Basically, it’s snappy romance – which I am a sucker for. I can’t read these kinds of books nonstop, because they get to be all sounding the same, but I could easily do one a month. 😉

Anyhow, I have to say, the first third was almost all one big romance cliché, and part of the end equally so. The relationship between the two main characters (Min and Cal) begins, of course, with a bet. I don’t really think I’m giving away much when I say that part of the end is also complicated by the bet. In spite of that, I got a kick out of it. The main characters were lovable, their dialogue was snappy (which I love), and the true end was entertaining. It’s your beach read even when you’re not on the beach.

YOUNG ADULT/CHILDREN’S FICTION 

My Blood Approves, by Amanda Hocking Cover of My Blood Approves

If you read my last post about self-epublishing, you already know a little bit about this book. I read this book purely for research (of a sort) and curiosity’s sake. I don’t have much to say about it except that it has decent writing (stylistically), but the plot cannot really be called her own.

The plot essentially mimics Twilight for about 2/3 of the book. At that point, Hocking does add her own twist… but it is still embedded a bit within the Twilight storyline. Amazon reviews indicate her later series, one that is now being traditionally published through St. Martin’s Press, is much better written. I doubt I will ever read it, but if you are curious about this Amazon million-copy seller, I’d start there instead.

And that is my month.

Currently I am reading The Pericles Commission, a mystery by Gary Corby. It is not something I would normally pick up these days, but I came across the first couple of pages of it online and it had some great lines including this first one: “A dead man fell from the sky, landing at my feet with a thud.” How could I resist?

More importantly: what are YOU reading? What should I be reading next?

This entry was posted in Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Recent Reads and Recs: March 2012 Edition

  1. It’s taken me far too long to reply to this post. You didn’t like the Jodi Picoult! I knew you wouldn’t let me down! Actually, that’s the second (and last) novel of hers I read. I was not at all fond of what she did at the end of the first one I read- “My Sister’s Keeper”- and the second one confirmed that this is a pattern & that I’d read all I needed to. I think my dislike goes beyond ambivalence because she attempts to take on serious topics…then does it so poorly. Her endings always seem to come out of nowhere and feel slapped together…and ridiculous. In my opinion, her books are the soap operas of the literary world. I have lots of thoughts about the way she’s often held up in the “female authors don’t get the same attention as male authors” debate, but those might be best shared in another forum…maybe in person…maybe in GUATEMALA.

    Like

What do you think? I'd love to discuss!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s