Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
The second in the Thomas Cromwell series did not quite live up the first. Mantel strays too far from the existing information about Cromwell and shifts from Historical Fiction into a speculative, imaginative treatment that has us spending a great deal of time in Cromwell’s fantasy world. The book is good and quite readable, but the shift in tone weakened it and felt almost as if the author were trying to create filler where there wasn’t enough to keep the story going. 3 stars.
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Weckler
This book is dense with atmosphere and history, carefully painting and realizing the real world into which are thrust a Golem and a Jinni. The care taken with the time period makes it seem like historical fiction with a twist. The Golem’s temperament, completely alien to the way human beings engage with the world and others within it serves as the perfect foil to the Jinni, whose emotional connection is dramatic and passionate. Really, it’s a story about ethics and responsibility, which might not seem like the stuff of fantasy, but it means that the characters seem very real and grounded in this world and their choices become invested with great meaning. 3.5 stars.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Brunt Rifka
An absolutely gorgeous female coming-of-age novel. Deftly addressing what happens when people are unable to be their true selves, and the results of such secrets when the keeper of them has died, there is profound pathos and compassion for each character. The fact that this is a YA book doesn’t matter, because it’s really very good. 3.5 Stars.
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
Historical fiction centered on Thomas Cromwell. The reign of Henry the VIII has been covered extensively in writing, in film, on the stage. So, I approached this with some trepidation—can such well-travelled ground yield anything new? In Wolf Hall, the answer is YES. Captivating, grounded and very well written, the time period through the eyes of Cromwell is fresh even as so many of the players are already known. This, the first of a series, is the strongest (next week I’ll review the seond) of the two. 4 Stars.
Rogue Island, Bruce DeSilva
I vow to stop wasting words on foolish books. Want a white-male centric, Patriarchy 101 point of view about women wrapped into a (not) thriller? This is your book. The rest of us are going to have coffee over there. No, no, you stay where you are. 1 Star.
Cut, Cathy Glass
Cut: The True Story of an Abandoned, Abused Little Girl Who was Desperate to be Part of a Family. RIGHT THERE we have issues. You need commas in your title? It’s TOO LONG. There is a genre of book written by foster parents who have fooled themselves and their therapists that they are writing about the shocking cases of the children they have cared for and not about their own narcissism. Except. They are writing about their own narcissism. Was the child in this book horribly abused? YES. Is it appropriate in any way that Cathy Glass writes about her and/or other children she’s fostered? Not the way she is doing it.
If nothing else, this is a cautionary tale about how our process for screening foster parents is so utterly flawed that we should either abandon it completely or get rid of the system altogether. This person knew NOTHING about how to deal with a troubled child, something she seems proud of, and the system aids and abets her in this self-serving project to the detriment of the child she is supposedly caring for. Why did I fall for this? For the same reason I once watched the made-for-tv-movie “Something About Amelia” that ruined Ted Danson for me forever. I was stupid. One lame, sickly star. The hell with that, NO stars, just some vomit.
At Risk, Alice Hoffman
Written when the AIDS epidemic was just beginning to spread to the straight population via blood transfusions, this novel focuses on a girl who contracts the disease in a time when there is very little knowledge, a lot of prejudice, and no cure. What keeps it from being stuck in that time is the focus on the relationships and family dynamics that develop around having a child with an untreatable, fatal disease. Beautiful and sentimental without going overboard, it’s a strong examination of what happens when an unexpected and terrible reality is thrust upon a family. 3 stars.
The Tiger’s Wife, Tea Obrecht
A lovely, tremendously sad story about regret and the impacts of shifting borders/nationalities on people who find themselves divided by war. Told through the granddaughter of a man who has died mysteriously, the book travels back and forth in time to examine both their lives and their secrets. The glue that binds it together is a worn copy of Kipling’s Jungle Book and a zoo, which becomes the embodiment of the impact of war on innocent victims who cannot even understand what is happening or why. Not a cheerful one, so don’t expect to feel lifted up; rather, possessing a greater understanding of the helplessness of humanity. It does take a while to engage the reader, which is what held it back from that fourth star for me. 3 Stars.
The Martian, Andy Weir
I have not seen the movie based on this book, but would like to, and don’t think it’s one of those things where I would feel cheated because the book was better. That isn’t because this wasn’t a good book; it’s because there’s not very much a movie could deviate from as it’s the actual science and technology that the plot—and its believability—hinge upon.
I expected this might be the sort of science fiction I don’t like due to the heavy load of, well, intense science. Instead, I found a very readable book that managed to take would could have been deadly boring and keep the reader interested and engaged throughout. Think of a play, with only two sets, with an assumed passage of time of YEARS, a lot of very technical information, and imagine what could go wrong. Somehow, Weir avoids all pitfalls and delivers entertainment and suspense instead—along with a great sense of humor. 3 Stars
Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie
Elements of this terrific novel remind me of Good Behaviour, which I read last year. Eminently readable yet also complex in its examination of the life of a woman considered unattractive but highly intelligent. As an American academic doing research in Britain and a firm Anglophile, Vinnie is confronted with a man that embodies everything she believes she dislikes about Americans and yet, he is not as much a flat stereotype as she wants to believe. The subplot involving a junior faculty member also in Britain to do research provides both comic relief and a foil in terms of physical attractiveness—this young man being so handsome that people are suspicious of him. A fascinating look at what happens when people internalize certain expectations and become their own jailers, unable to accept a different future even when it presents itself. 4 Stars.
Black Swan Green, David Mitchell
[I have decided to start doubling up the reviews so that I can catch up, since I’m reviewing things I read over six months ago and don’t recall clearly].
That said, I read Black Swan Green right after I read How to Build a Girl, so while I appreciate it on a technical level, I also felt entirely impatient and tired of the “white boy coming-of-age” format, since WE HAVE SO MANY ALREADY. I’ve read Summer of 42 and Catcher in the Rye and all the other various and sundry classic coming of age stories, which is all well and good until I read How to Build a Girl and realized what I’ve been missing. Had my mind not been opened, I’d say this was quite well done; but now I guess I’m woke and it’s unsatisfying. 3 Stars.
The Strain, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
I shifted to The Strain after abandoning a science fiction novel that was killing me with how much I hated it. I expected it to be fairly light reading on the intellectual front. However, I did expect quality and frankly, that was largely absent. Naturally, one has to accept certain improbabilities if one is going to read a vampire story, and while the premise was a tad shaky, initially it was good enough. The first half of the book is setting up the scenario, and the airplane full of dead people is intriguing, as is the procedural aspect of the roles of TSA and the CDC, etc, if still seriously formulaic.
The trouble begins as the event unfolds into the result of this vampire contagion, where the book really breaks down into a series of predictable and boring scenarios of “another way to die by vampire and/or kill a vampire and splash a lot of yuck all over the place.” There are far too many commonalities with Walking Dead and it begins to feel exceptionally poorly imagined as the plot simply asks the reader to wade through a seemingly endless round of meeting new characters who have to die in a few pages. The reader loses touch with the main characters; their acceptance of vampire virus zombies happens too fast to be remotely believable, and the ending is so clearly a set up for the next book that one might wonder if a computer wrote this book and not a human. Also, whomever thought that the fluid that splashes out of the vampires in place of blood should be thick, white and viscous (and show up under black light) deserves 50 lashes for making it far too easy for a porn movie to do a..spoof? Tribute? Either way, there are things I don’t need to see gushing out of my vampire novel. One sad, solitary star.
The Art Forger, B. A. Shapiro
Really interesting, strong female character? Check. Fascinating look into the world of counterfeit art? Check. Suspense, drama, this book really had it all and I found it immensely enjoyable. Kirkus noted that it was a stronger on process than on plot, but the process was so fascinating that I didn’t mind that yes, one could poke some holes in the plot if one were feeling pokey, but I was too interested in the descriptions of painting, copying a great painter’s work exactly, and the main character’s internal ethical struggle to worry about that. 3.5 Stars.