Foreigner (Foreigner #1) by C.J. Cherryh

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 10 to May 5, 2017

This book ends when the story is just about to get interesting. And that’s the most effective way to lose an audience.

Up until the ending, it’s a real repetitive uphill slog, and I say that as someone who liked it more than most people. Reading it was a labor-intensive task that I never thought would end and I would never have been able to get to the end without the help of the audio–again, speaking as someone who liked the story. The prose and plotting could use a lot of editing, and the inner monologues could use some deleting. But the alien world and cultures were interesting, and they seemed to have the potential to become even more interesting. For that alone, I would pick up the second book.

Back to the ending and what I think most people don’t know about this book: it’s not an ending, but it’s not quite a cliffhanger either, and thus the reason behind so many frustrated reviews. While it’s not an ending, it does leaving you in the middle of a scene that could potentially be interesting if you were already invested in the story and characters. But if you weren’t, it wouldn’t be a huge loss to not know how it all ends or whether or not Bren Cameron survives and is able to navigate the delicate relations between humans and atevi.

I wouldn’t say I’m invested, but I do want to know what happens next–alien worlds and political intrigue are an interesting combination. Maybe not right away though because a break is in order after that slog, but as soon as the audio for the second book is available, I’m on it.

Full review when I get through the first the books or a complete story in the case of this series.

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* * * spoilers below * * *

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The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1) by Genevieve Cogman

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 5 to 17, 2017
Recommended by: book clubs’ pick
Recommended to: 

A combination of The Rook, which I liked a lot, and The Eyre Affair, which I didn’t really care for. This one falls right in the middle.

There’s a secret library hoarding books, immortal secret agents of the library who are sent out to steal books, multiple alternate worlds and timelines in which these agents enter with the sole purpose of stealing books and bringing them back to the library (for safe keeping and language evolution, as we’re told), a much sought after alternate Grimms’ fairytales, plucky young heroines, dragon shapeshifters, murderous fae, former agents who defected for reasons not yet clear, an alternate steampunk London setting, and quite a few literary references. All well and good. I enjoyed it and will most likely pick up the second book.

While this book lacks some of the humor and comedic timing of The Rook, it has much better pacing and characterization than The Eyre Affair. The beginning kicks off with the main character Irene in the middle of a mission. She has gone undercover as a cleaning girl at a magical boarding school so that she could relieve the school of a first edition copy of an ancient magical text. After completing the mission with some close calls, Irene returns to the library only to be sent out again, but this time with Kai, a librarian in training. They are to enter an alternate steampunk London to retrieve a Grimms’ fairytales. This assignment turns out to be more complicated and dangerous than either anticipated, and when the defector shows up to take the book for himself, it becomes a deadly game and chase around steampunk London.

I was immediately pulled into the action, and if it had kept up, I would’ve liked this book a whole lot more. But unfortunately, the middle faltered and got somewhat boring. It was muddled by too many explanations and long-winded conversations between all the characters trying to figure out their next moves or what the defector’s next moves are. Much of these moments felt to me like they led nowhere because, while they did work to expand on the action, characters, and steampunk London, they failed to add much to the world or worlds at large. I’m not convinced there’s much out there that exists outside of multiple alternates of London. The writing is rather myopic in this regard now that I think about it.

Since the story is told from her POV, Irene has a knack for overstating the obvious, which bored and bothered me because, personally, I don’t think this world or these worlds are complicated enough to warrant such long info-dumping passages that slowed the story down. I think it would have been perfectly fine to leave some of the mysteries of the library, its purpose, and all these alternate Londons up to the imagination.

Another thing that hindered the writing is the main characters, Irene and Kai, coming off as younger than I expected. This gives the story a YA feel that I’m not a fan of. I would have liked for them to be a bit older and wiser in their thoughts and actions since that would have made more sense in the context of the library and immortality and time immemorial and whatnot. But since Genevieve Cogman is somewhat a YA writer, the YA-ness of the writing is unavoidable.

Lastly, there are a few plot holes and details that don’t quite work in light of the ending, but they didn’t bother me enough during the read to dwell on them, mostly because Irene is an unapologetic book lover and book hoarder, and the idea of an endless library that exists outside of time and space that hoards books is very amusing to me. A personal favorite of mine is reading about book lovers and all the ways in which they profess their love for books.

[T]he deepest, most fundamental part of her life involved a love of books. Right now, she wanted nothing more than to shut the rest of the world out, and have nothing to worry about, except the next page of whatever she was reading.

[…]

And she didn’t want great secrets of necromancy, or any other sort of magic. She just wanted—had always wanted—a good book to read. Being chased by hellhounds and blowing things up were comparatively unimportant parts of the job.

[…]

“[A]ll of us who are sealed to the Library are people who have chosen this way of life because we love books. None of us wanted to save worlds. I mean, not that we object to saving worlds…” She shrugged, picking up her teacup again “We want books. We love books. We live with books.”

[…]

Getting the books, now that was what really mattered to her. That was the whole point of the Library: as far as she’s been taught, anyway. It wasn’t about a higher mission to save worlds. It was about finding unique works of fiction, and saving them in a place out of time and space. Perhaps some people might think that was a petty way to spend eternity, but Irene was happy with her choice.

And this book hits the spot. Well… not quite, but it’s close enough to keep me interested in the next installment.

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1) by Naomi Novik

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 15 to 23, 2017
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Simon Vance to the rescue once again as he saves another book for me that I would have set aside for another time or probably indefinitely. Not the book’s fault though since it’s perfectly fine and well written for a historical fiction. It was more a case of bad timing when I picked it up, too much going on and not enough time or energy to spare and all that, but I made it through, with a lot of help from the audiobook which was superbly read by Mr. Vance, and I really enjoyed it.

The story reimagines the Napoleonic War years from the perspective of Will Laurence, an English captain, formerly of the navy, currently of the air force, and the dragon Temeraire which he took from a captured French ship. The pair bonded over a short period of time and grew to become a funny, sweet, interesting partnership by the end of the book. Some of my favorite moments consist of Laurence and Temeraire talking about books, battle tactics and strategies. There’s no magic or magic systems, no mysterious relics or quests, no coming of age farm boy set out to save the world since this isn’t high fantasy; dragons are the only fantastical elements here.

And the dragons in this world are intelligent and can communicate with their handlers and crew, and their interactions are really fun to read, or more accurately, really fun to hear Simon Vance read because he’s got a lovely voice and he has different voices for all of the characters, but the dragons’ voices are by far the best. The historical aspects of the story are well done and really immerse you in the time period, save for the part where there were dragons involved and both England and France used them like fighter jets, intelligent fighter jets with personalities and quirks. But this too, inserting dragons into this part of history, was also well done and really added to the overall historical feel of the story.

The reason I switched to audio was because of the slow beginning. Not much happened following the capture of the French ship as Laurence and his crew waited for Temeraire to hatch, and not much happened afterward when they left the navy to join the air force. While Temeraire was interesting, Laurence was not, unfortunately. Although a captain and in his thirties, he still had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of personal obstacles to overcome, and he didn’t become interesting until he fully gave in to the life and culture of the air force and dedicated himself to Temeraire (and dragons in general). By this point, more than half the book was over, and without Mr. Vance’s reading, I most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far or past all of Laurence’s shortcomings to really get into the story.

I’ve only read one other book by Naomi Novik and that’s Uprooted which was mostly okay, so I went into this book expecting it to also be mostly okay, but found myself enjoying it a lot, especially once more characters and dragons were introduced. They’re all a lot of fun except for Rankin whom I’d like to stab–repeatedly, but that’s another matter, unfinished business, saved for another time. Since there are 8 more books of dragon adventures, I look forward to continuing this journey with them.

“How did you come to see it?” [Laurence] said with interest, turning it over in his hands and brushing away more of the dirt.

“A little of it was out of the group and it was shining,” Temeraire said. “Is that gold? I like the look of it.”

“No, it is just pyrite, but it is very pretty, is it not? I suppose you are one of those hoarding creatures,” Laurence said, looking affectionately up at Temeraire; many dragons had an inborn fascination with jewels or precious metals. “I am afraid I am not rich enough a partner for you; I will not be able to give you a heap of gold to sleep on.”

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on,” Temeraire said. “I do not mind the deck.”

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* * * spoilers * * *

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Review: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1) by Amanda Bouchet

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 24 to 26, 2016
Recommended by: Vaginal Fantasy Group’s alt pick
Recommended to:

Blech.

*ahem*

I mean, it’s not for me.

More on this later.

* * * * *

It is now later, and while I’ve had time to process, my initial kneejerk reaction still stands. This book just isn’t for me, in so many ways. I won’t go into lots of details because that could take awhile, but the main thing is the writing does not work (for me). I found it too awkward and modern, and it clashed too much with the culture and setting of the story.

This story takes place in a world that’s heavily influenced by ancient Greece–think ancient Greece plus sword & sorcery–but the characters’ speech and personalities are very distinctly modern. Not just their sentiments and motivations, but their actions and behavior too. I struggled with this all through the read and never got past it enough to get into the story, so I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters… or anything else.

While the setting was supposed to be ancient, the speech and interactions were decidedly not what you’d expect people from that time to sound like. Sure this is a fantasy, so of course you can mix modern speech with an ancient setting–lots of authors have done it, or so people keep telling me. Maybe, maybe so, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward or jarring. I found it distracting and it kept me from taking the story seriously.

Something else about the writing I found awkward was the author trying too hard to work in references to ancient Greece. Olives, goat cheese, agora, cyclops, minotaurs. It was like yes, I got it–very very Greek indeed. The whole book is jam-packed with these very, very Greek things, plus references to the gods, to remind you that this is, in fact, almost like ancient Greece. Almost, but not quite.

“Now that that’s settled, you’re coming with me.”
“Never in a billion suns. Not even if Zeus showed up as a swan and tried to peck me in your direction. I wouldn’t go with you even if my other option was Hades dragging me to the Underworld for an eternal threesome with Persephone.”

[…]

“You either have an Olympian-sized sense of self-importance, or you’re overcompensating for a lack of confidence.”

[…]

Our gazes collide, and something in me freezes. His eyes remind of Poseidon’s wrath–stormy, gray, intense–the kind of eyes that draw you in, hold you there, and might not let you go.

[…]

If looks could kill, I’d be dead. I don’t respond well to threats, even ocular ones, and my spine shoots straighter than Poseidon’s trident.

[…]

Have I cheated death again? Hades must be allergic to me.

[…]

I cheated death again. Hades must really not want me.

There’s a ton more, but I didn’t highlight them all–that would take weeks. If I remember correctly, the phrase “dive-bombing” was used to describe a reaction to falling in love. And now I’m just nitpicking, so I’ll stop there.

Overall, not a terrible book, but it’s definitely for the more romance-inclined reader who can overlook these things.

Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) by Tessa Dare

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: September 06 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy group
Recommended to:

A very light and sweet tale that’s at times adorable, but not precious or twee.

What started off as a light Beauty & the Beast retelling turned into something unexpectedly sweet half-way through the story.

After having lost her father to old age and his whole estate to a distant male cousin, Izzy is left penniless, save for a strange inheritance from an estranged godfather. He left her a castle, but not a dreamy, happily-ever-after kind of castle. It’s old and decrepit and on the verge of becoming a pile of rubble–so more of a fixer-upper–but it’s her castle officially, she even has the paperwork to prove it. However, there’s one big problem. The castle also comes with its previous owner, Ransom, Duke of something or other–I forgot, it’s been a few months. Anyway. He’s brooding, snarling, infuriating man who’s determined to kick Izzy out so he could reclaim his castle, but since the castle is her only shelter, she fights him for it.

They get off to a rocky start, but of course there’s simmering mutual attraction and I have to say their battle of witty repartee is pretty funny. Romance isn’t my preferred genre; cutesy historical romance written with the modern audience in mind is even less so, if that’s even possible, but I’ve been trying to read more to broaden my horizon and whatnot. When it’s done right, when there’s a balance between plot and romance, it’s pretty good. So I’ve been following along with the ladies of the Vaginal Fantasy book club for most of the year now and… meh. Their book picks have been all over the place in terms of content and quality of writing, and not one book has impressed me yet. That is, until this one came along. I found it very engaging, even with the rocky start at the beginning, and Izzy and Ransom are pretty good together. But still, I have yet to find books with that balance I’m always looking for.

Another thing is I don’t normally enjoy traditional happily-ever-afters romances–which is basically all of them, right? They contain too many unnecessary explanations of things that should be left up to the reader to infer or figure out, such as the heroine’s and the love interest’s mutual attraction, sexual tension, and budding relationship. No need to spell it out. I can’t stand it when these things are explained, sometimes almost to death, because it’s too much telling and gets to be repetitive further into the story. Another thing I can’t stand is how strickly heteronormative these types of romances are. It’s expected that the main couple are, but must every other character in the book be so as well?*

So in spite of all of that, I did like this book and found myself enjoying it for its many, rather noticeably modern, details and embellishment, which were definitely a bit jarring and took me out of the Victorian setting (or was it Edwardian?), like the characters’ modern sensibilities, specifically Izzy’s open-minded views of sex and relationships and her noticeably lack of uptight-ness, and the hilarious cosplaying troupe of devoted fans following the her around the country. And the humor. It was, once again, unexpected and enjoyable. I found it neither cheesy nor eye-rolling, and it was one of the things I liked most about the read.

“Every time you wake up, you let fly the most marvelous string of curses. It’s never the same twice, do you know that? It’s so intriguing. You’re like a rooster that crows blasphemy.”

[…]

Izzy was utterly convinced. Never mind Arabian horses, African cheetahs. No creature in the world could bolt so quickly as a rake confronted with the word “marriage.” They ought to shout it out at footraces rather than using starting pistols.

[…]

Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because its my life.

[…]

Astonishing. In the morning, when she sat working at that table of correspondence, silhouetted by sunlight . . .

Her hair truly did look like an octopus.

It was the way she wore it, he thought. Or maybe the way it wore her. It all sat perched atop her head in that big, inky blob. And no matter how strenuously she pinned it, dark, heavy curls worked loose on all sides, like tentacles.

Of course, it was an entrancing, strangely erotic octopus. Ransom worried this might be how fetishes developed.

*And must they all get their own spin-off novels so they could all live out their own happily-ever-afters which pretty much mirror the first book’s plot? Why can’t some of them end up divorced or widowed and spend the rest of their lives partying from one country estate to another, from one affair to another? Oh, wait, that’s not a romance… but definitely something I would read.

Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: August 12 to 24, 2016
Recommended by:
Recommended to:

Liked it much better this time around mostly because I chose to read it (for a book club), not because it was forced on me as a school assignment.

Back then, I didn’t–or maybe couldn’t–appreciate the sweeping nature of Emily Brontë’s use of language, but now I like it. She painted countryside scenery so very well, and she did the same with extreme characterization. I could read whole books about the wilderness and the moors and cliffs and crags of Wuthering Heights. More setting, less plot and even less on characters, and we’re good. The land on which the estate sat was painted with sweeping language as well, but with a haunting overtone. The scenery overall is beautifully rendered, and the characters and their relationships too, though tragically so.

I think it was this book that made me first realize I had an intense appreciation for stories that don’t end well, and the intensity of Bronte’s language makes experiencing her creation a deeply visceral–albeit somewhat satisfying, somewhat disturbing–journey.

“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

I admit my enjoyment of this book stems from my enjoyment of seeing melodramatic, first-world-problems characters suffer, mostly at their own hands. But the melodramatic prose is good too. Sometimes you’re just in the right mood for an over-the-top period drama with beautiful sweeping scenery and lots of people screaming. Nothing beats Wuthering Heights there.

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1) by Sarah J. Maas

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Rating: (DNF)
Date Read: August 04 to 05, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy Group’s alt pick
Recommended to:

DNF @ 38% because slow and boring.

I don’t think this book would have worked for me in any mood. There’s just too much that bothered and not enough to entice. Not even the fae “mythology” was interesting enough to pull me in. Not to mention the meandering writing featuring a young “feisty” protagonist and her long-suffering POV were a huge hindrance.

Plus, there’s an overwhelming “YA-ness” to the writing that irked me: lots of self-evaluating inner monologues; lots of discussion of good vs. evil; lots of self-righteousness; lots of characters to hate; lots of descriptions of lavish clothing and decor; lots of ridiculous “logic.” And to top it off, the “beast” wasn’t a beast but a beautiful cursed fairy lord in a mask–OMG, so frightening–and the heroine was an overly self-righteous, self-sacrificing caricature. It’s hard for me to believe this book isn’t a parody of high fantasy YA.

I completely lost interest around 15% when the main character Feyre killed a fairy lord in wolf form and wasn’t punished for it–because a life for a life made too much sense in this world? Instead she was offered a chance to live out the rest of her life in leisure in the opulent fairy realm. As punishment. That’s her “punishment” for killing a fairy. Rolled my eyes so hard I sprained a muscle.

But I pressed on anyway to no avail. Finally had to give in when it looked like nothing was happening and that Feyre and the beast were just frolicking through the fairy countryside for a couple hundred pages.

Review: Updraft (Bone Universe, #1) by Fran Wilde

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: June 03 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to:

Not really a review, just some scattered thoughts I had after reading this book.

After seeing so many positive reviews and hearing so many people praising this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. Almost all the book blogs made it sound just fascinating–a city made of bone towers, wings and flying contraptions, sky monsters, a conspiracy, steampunk-ish technology, I think there were even mentions of otherworldly ecosystems. So a lot of hype, more than enough hype to get my attention. Turned out, the book was a let down. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was bad, just not right for me.

My biggest issue with this book was not being able to make sense of the setting, nor was I able to connect with any of the characters, but that’s a lesser issue than the setting. The point of reading genre fiction, for me, is all about the setting/world building. If a book can make me feel immersed in its world like I had lived there for the duration of the read, and it’s a great world, then that’s all I need, really. Just simple as that–“simple” hah! Characters, plot, narrative, story arc, prose, etc etc. all take a backseat to world building. But here in bone universe of Updraft, very little about this particular world seemed right and very little about it made sense. I think I checked out of this adventure around the point the Singers were introduced because I got tired of things not making sense, but ironically I continued reading to see if the ending made any sense.

This book without a doubt is a coming-of-age dystopian YA. Maybe if a few blogs and reviewers had mentioned that early on, I would’ve reigned in my expectations and gone in with the knowledge that the writing might not have been a good fit for me. YA is not my thing, neither is dystopian fiction, and together they… are really really not my thing–personal preference. That plus the world building inconsistencies made it an uphill slog. And this book had all the genre trappings of teenagers being angsty while rising up to challenge an oppressive ruling body. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve all read too many stories like it before. And if I had known that early on, it would’ve changed my whole reading experience.

Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I shouldn’t have fallen for the hype, maybe I should’ve read between the lines (of blog posts and reviewers) more. Or at least wait until a few friends pick up the book before deciding whether or not to read it myself. I wasn’t disappointed exactly because I’m not the book’s target audience, but it really was too bad it didn’t work out.

* * * initial reaction * * *

I was so looking forward to enjoying this one, but it just wasn’t meant to be. There are just too many things wrong with it, so I’m amending my previous rating because I don’t see what everyone sees in this book.

The bone world and the world-building is where all my issues lie. Nothing about these bone towers makes any sense to me, not even when I look at it from the context given and the logic of the bone world. And the more I think on these things, trying to unpack them, the less sense they make.

How is this bone world, way above the clouds, livable, let alone sustainable? Where do these tower people get their water? And I haven’t even touched on the baffling dystopian social structure or the flying contraptions yet.

Still can’t believe this book was nominated for a Nebula or that it won the Andre Norton. Then again, Uprooted by Naomi Novik winning the Nebula still baffles me too, so… yeah.

* * * * *

Not quite 3 stars but close enough to round up.

I don’t know what exactly it is about the setting and world-building that bothers, so will have to think on them some more, but in general, almost everything about this bone world is not sitting well with me. There are too many questions about infrastructure, environmental upkeep, and basic ecology and evolutionary things that are keeping me up at night.

Btw, this is a coming-of-age, rite-of-passage, dystopian YA told in first person, and it’s very obnoxious obvious. I wish I’d known that going in because I was not prepared for all that teenage angst and foolhardiness.

Review: The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1) by Jasper Fforde

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: June 01 to 03, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s pick
Recommended to: fans of British lit, history, and humor

The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.

In theory, this book is the prefect fit for me and is almost exactly what I look for in urban fantasy–a good mix of sci-fi and fantasy, alternate universe, time travel, a world that heavily features books, plenty of pop and lit references, plenty of book puns, wry humor.

Thursday Next–will always make me wince–is a British operative whose task is to preserve books, mainly the British classics. Nothing is said about literary works outside of Great Britain, so… Anyhow, Thursday Next–*wincing internally*–gets temporarily assigned to a black ops team to assist in a sensitive, pressing matter concerning a literary terrorist who’s out to destroy British classics unless his demands are met. 

Thursday Next–*still wincing*–and a few other operatives chase down this menace and somehow they end up rewriting the ending to Jane Eyre with the help of Mr Rochester. How they get there and how they rewrite Jane Eyre is very clever. I applaud Jasper Fforde for his creativity for working it into the plot because it explains so much about that ending. Unfortunately, by the time I got to this point, I’d lost too much interest in the story to care.

This book definitely missed the mark for me. Although the plot and setting were fine, I found the characters, main and supporting alike, wooden and needlessly tiresome and unnecessarily wordy–there were so many words, so many unnecessary explain-y words. It definitely didn’t help that all the characters tried so hard to be clever and quippy and full of witty comebacks. That got tiring after a scene or two, and so I couldn’t work up enough energy to care about any of them and thus spent much of the read counting how many pages were left.

I think my biggest obstacle in this book was the main character herself. Thursday Next–*wincing forever*–felt like a female character written by a male author, which is exactly what she is. I’m only stating the obvious because I couldn’t not forget that she’s a female character written by a male author all the way through the book. I vaguely recall several instances in which she tried, in my opinion, too hard to appear as though she’s particularly female and it came across as unnatural. I can’t really point to an exact scene or moment now though. It was more a general sense I got, from her thoughts and narration, that she’s trying too hard to appear a certain way.

The writing in general is fine, but again, I got the sense it was trying too hard to appear a certainly way. I think its aim must’ve been for witty and punny, but instead, it came off as forced and heavy-handed. And it felt especially heavy at several key points in the story which should have been fast-paced and action-packed. Instead, these moments dragged on–and on and on and on and on. So for me, reaching the end felt like a real triumph because I didn’t think this book would ever end.

* * * * *

Even though I finished it only a couple of weeks ago, I’m having trouble recalling much of the plot and characters. They’re all fine, I suppose, but easy to forget.

While I can see why this book is a hit with fans of Brit lit (all those puns), the only thing that still stands out to me is the way in which the ending of Jane Eyre is explained and worked into the plot. That was clever and unexpected. Everything else though? Meh.

* * * spoilers below * * *

The main reason this book didn’t work for me? I found myself siding with the villain all the way to the slow slogging end because I sympathized with his comical “plight” and immense disdain for the classics. I myself used to fantasize about setting those piles ablaze when I was forced to had to read them for school. Was not and still am not a fan of the British classics, you see. I hope that’s not too obvious.

Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Rating: 
Date Read: May 01 to 06, 2016
Recommended by: book club’s choice
Recommended to:

This book’s a challenge to rate. Still don’t know where I stand or how to feel about it because there’s so much about it that’s uncomfortable, as it should be since we are unpacking a distorted history here. And yet it’s surprisingly not a difficult read. Uncomfortable at times, but not difficult.

We don’t succeed or fail because of fortune or luck. We succeed because we understand the way the world works and what we have to do. We fail because others understand this better than we do.

[…]

So it was that we soaped ourselves in sadness and we rinsed ourselves with hope, and for all that we believed almost every rumor we heard, almost all of us refused to believe that our nation was dead.

The language is pleasantly smooth for such uncomfortable subject matter, and I can see why it won the Pulitzer, but despite the ease of the writing, the story doesn’t feel real. It feels like what it is–a fictional account, that benefits from perspective and hindsight and distance, about a personal narrative that’s supposed to emulate real events. But it never feels real. Not once during the read did I forget that I was reading a story. But maybe that’s the point? This is literary fiction after all.

Although I read it for a book club, the only person I want to discuss it with, so he could help me unpack it, is the author himself because he’s got some ‘splaining to do. Just kidding… sort of. But seriously.

* * * some spoilers below * * *

There are a couple of scenes in particular that I’d some explaining, but I no longer have the book with me and didn’t take notes (I know, I know–the nerve!). But let’s start with the most obvious. Let’s start with the scene with the squid on the beach. How is it relevant to the story? What does it even mean? I’m trying to see the bigger picture here, but can’t see how this fits into the narrative or even how it improves the story.

Please explain, Professor, for I am lost and mildly annoyed that you threw a scene like that into your book.

All kidding aside. Professor Viet seems like one of those intensely smart people who also happen to be easy to talk to. And I would love to hear about the origin of this story–how it came about; how he crafted it; how much of it was taken from real events; how much of it was taken from his own life; whose story is he telling here and why; to what purpose and what end.

You know, just simple questions…

* * * * *

A couple interviews with the Professor himself that I found after reading this book:

NPR

NYT

PBS (video)

I don’t understand the book any better now than I did when I first finished it, but these interviews provide a glimpse into his thought and writing process and his activism. I now understand where he’s coming from better than I did when I first finished the book.