Books Read: Summer 2017 – 2018

Like last time

***This blog is NOT meant to be a review of any of the following titles listed.

These are surface opinions or walkaway impressions – AT BEST. If you’re taking the following information as a review – don’t. I warned you, this blog is not a review of the books mentioned. The following descriptions are my upfront thoughts, nothing more. If you’re offended, you’ve read way too much into the blurb.***

A Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge

YA / C / Fa
Fantasy indeed. Realms of magic, intrigue, murder plots, paranoia, socioeconomic diversification, and all underground, literally the story takes place underground. Lots going on in this young adult / children’s fantasy novel, perhaps too much. As interesting as the novel is, the book is packed with so many different concepts that the pace had to take a hit in order to accommodate it all. Just when you wrap your mind around some new magical thing, something else comes along that is equally grand, odd or downright weird. The author shifts the main character ever onward, and to me, the book as a whole, comes across fast-paced by design. The flow of the book is not organic, more like contrived. It left me with mixed impressions.

The Secrets She Keeps, by Michael Robotham

F / Th / My
A favorite author of mine for a reason. After completing this novel, I, and others were asking, ‘How did he get into the minds of women like that? In the minds of a pregnant woman and a desperate-to-be pregnant woman?’ No slight meant, it is a rare thing to read a female character and not know immediately that it was written by a man, and vice versa. That’s fine, that’s one of the many benefits of being a writer, you get to explore those characters that in no way resemble your demographic. But every now and then, I’ll read a character written by an opposite sex author and I think, ‘How the heck did he/she do that?’ Jessie Burlingame’s character in Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King. Harry Potter’s character from the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. Clarice Starling’s character from The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. Michael Robotham takes on the mindset of not one but two female leads, Agatha and Meghan. The Secrets She Keeps is an intense mystery and psychological thriller and Robotham, in my opinion, is one of the best modern authors of the genre. Just read the darn thing.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story, by Liane Moriarty

F / Ro
Okay so, this story had the potential for a serious plot twist but fell flat. I don’t know what happened as the novel read like it was building up to a serious confrontation between the main characters but instead tidies up into a clean well-that-all-worked-out-nicely summary. Disappointed. The most interesting character was Saskia, probably because she posed the most tension. The other two leads, Ellen and Patrick, well, Ellen was lukewarm as a character but at least she had a pulse. Patrick, Ellen’s romantic interest, is a slob as well as a bore. I surprised myself with this purchase as I’m not big on romance novels. If I remember correctly, a blurb I read got my attention as there was an allusion to a potentially deadly plot twist in the novel. Let me save you the time – there wasn’t one.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

F / HF / Cu
I love a good piece of historical, immersive fiction. Sometimes I reach for that novel that can take me out of my country, my culture and my time. The author herself bests summarizes The Tea Girl, “The new novel is about an Akha ethnic-minority girl in Yunnan, China, who gives birth to a daughter and abandons herna. The baby is then adopted by an American family in Pasadena. I always have a historical backdrop. This time it’s the birthplace of tea and the Akha ethnic minority. The novel is completely immersive in the way that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was immersive in the Yao culture of Hunan.”

Sleeping Beauties: A Novel, by Stephen King and Owen King

Ho / F / Fa
Not a King favorite. Concept – awesome. Buildup – awesome. Characters – mixed bunch but mostly awesome. Ending – fell flat. The concept of all women being made to fall into an endless slumber, a global phenomenon, is really quite unique. I also enjoyed reading about the imagined fallout of such a reality. But the imaginings were brief. I wish there was more of that, more global scale realities. Unfortunately, the reader is subjected to the perspectives that come from a meth-riddled, small town. The location, and the characters in it, felt like a yoke I couldn’t cast off. I wanted a broader perspective. I see the necessity of a small town, to try and contain the chaos, but truly, I would have liked this same scenario in a city where undoubtedly there would be demonstration of larger-scale consequences. Then the book just sort of wrapped up. Done. Everything back to normal. There was no real understanding that something was learned despite all women being made to sleep and many killed by confused, scared, or generally violent males. Again, lacking a broader perspective despite the world being affected. If this were a trilogy, I think the novel would have more room to breathe, more room to explore itself.

Straight Pepper Diet, by Joseph W. Naus

Memoir / Mental Health
Definitely some editing issues on the Kindle version. The ebook needs an update. I decided to take a break from my usual fiction to see if this guy’s life was a crazy and messed up as advertised. Yeah it was. There’s something comforting in knowing you can read about someone’s rather bizarre life while simultaneously feeling better about your own. This is a bare-all memoir, no stone unturned. It must of taken a lot of will power to sit at his computer and bleed his truth out. “On Tuesday, I was a respected civil trial lawyer making six-figures. On Wednesday, I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed … and then it got worse.”

The Wife Between Us, by Greer Hendricks

F / Th / Sus / My
The major twist, for me, was obvious. I hate saying that. Maybe I’ve read too many thrillers and suspense novels over the years but my radar pinged immediately. So I kept reading, thinking maybe the twist I was imagining was just a red herring and, oh boy, won’t I be surprised when the twist isn’t what I think it is. Nope. It was exactly what I thought it was. All other little twists and side twists were equally obvious. I’m not trying to be rude, this was my experience. Also, I couldn’t align myself with the lead, Nellie. It didn’t help that I found the nickname to be ridiculous. I don’t think I could ever liken myself to a nervous, twitchy horse. I don’t know, I just couldn’t relate to the main character and if I can’t do that, I’m not likely to enjoy what I’m reading.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

F / HF / Cu
Fate sometimes dresses up as coincidence and sometimes coincidence dresses up as fate. In any case, life is not fair but sometimes we’re given chances. That’s Panchinko: hopeful, hopeless, heartbreaking, redeeming, complicated. Panchinko is a beautiful and enraging metaphor: we hold out for luck, but the game is ever so slightly rigged. You never really win, you just get a little better at playing the game. Aside from the greater meaning, the historical dynamic between the Japanese and the Koreans is so richly portrayed I found myself identifying as a Korean immigrant chafing against the injustices of a hostile Japan without even trying.

The Opposite of Me, by Sarah Pekkanen

F / WF
I would like to read women’s fiction that doesn’t just cover the stereotypes of women’s fiction. You know – heartbreak, overworked mother, girlhood rivalry, etc. There is more to a woman’s life than these concepts. This story is a standard perspective of a grown woman who is mentally and emotionally stunted from an imagined deficit in her childhood, i.e. sibling rivalry. A successful professional protagonist laments the fact she was never the “pretty one” and lives her life accordingly to compensate for it. Not my cup of tea.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

F
I have mixed feelings about this book. Beautifully written but unrealistic. Almost all the tension is created simply by no one talking to each other. A lot of unanswered questions for nearly all the characters involved. I don’t need a story to be wrapped up nicely in a bow, in fact, those stories usually irritate me more if it ends conveniently for the author but not for the story. Then there are stories, like this one, that are so open-ended in it’s ending that you ask yourself, ‘Where’s the rest of the book?’ Little Fires brings to mind notes of Pride and Prejudice, assumed notions that we human are found of tossing about. Imagery and situation are on point, but the novel should end with “…”.

An American Marriage: A Novel, by Tayari Jones

F / Contemporary
Sometimes a relationship doesn’t need that fabled straw to break its back. Sometimes a relationship ending is natural, perhaps inevitable despite best efforts. The brilliance of this novel is not how complicated the author could make a marriage, testing it, pulling it’s threads, that would be easy. The brilliance appears in how the reader can see from the beginning how two people should not come together, but then the reader can also understand how and why they do. You can’t condemn or condone the decision, as much as you may want to. I couldn’t connect to Roy or Celestial as much as I wanted to. Their flaws were natural and normal, as were their strengths. The issue was with their path, it was doomed from the beginning and I think that’s what kept me at bay.

The Other Wife, by Michael Robotham

F / My / Crime
I usually rave Robotham’s works. Ripping the band-aid off, I was disappointed. I understand this to be the last Joseph O’Loughlin book (#9 in the series) and in all, the novel felt rushed, as if Robotham couldn’t wait to let Joe go. I have no closure on Joe’s kids or Joe’s father and mother. It was just, ‘The End,’ well, not literally but that’s how it came across. As with all Robotham’s books, I was engaged in The Other Wife, I wanted to know more, I wanted to reach that ending, expecting a thorough fair-the-well for Joseph and crew, and no. The book just ended. Seriously bummed out.

The Hanging Girl, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

F / My / Thriller
I will likely explore this author’s prior works thanks to this book. The Hanging Girl is #6 in the “Department Q” series. The translation is choppy and often took me out of the story but was otherwise an in-depth thriller. I enjoyed the humor of the police detectives and read enough back story of the main character, Carl, to want to know more about him. There does seem to be a lot of unnecessary busy back-and-forth between locations in the story and even dialogue in the characters. Other than that, the story was interesting. Large parts of it reminded of Netflix’s Wild Wild Country documentary.

CURRENTLY READING

The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund

F / Ho / My / Crime
This book is difficult. I don’t mean technically difficult (although there are translation hiccups), I mean the story is not for the faint of heart. It’s reviews online are polarizing. The Crow Girl terrifies it’s readers. Some love that, some hate that. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I’m attracted to dark fiction, I write quite a bit of it too, but even I had moments of ‘Damn, that’s messed up.’ Be warned, this novel details abuse.

TO-DO READING LIST

The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
The Woman in the Window: A Novel, by A.J. Finn
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
The Outsider, by Stephen King
Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao

ArmedWithCoffee.com
Austin, TX
@gnrmuggle

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