Defending Jacob by William Landay

11367726

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 14 to 30, 2018

This book leaves me conflicted.

On one hand, the writing is very good for a legal mystery/suspense, and I say that as someone who doesn’t like this genre and rarely reads it if I can avoid it. I much prefer to read about the nonfictional kind. However, much to my surprise, that is precisely why this book shines. It’s surprisingly realistic in its portrayals of a high profile murder trial and its effects on the #1 suspect’s family. Also, it reads like of like true crime, if true crime was told from the perspective of someone very close to the case.

Unlike true crime though, we get to see the aftermath of the murder trial and we get to see how the family attempts to return to “normal” after the trial concludes. This story unfolds like most mysteries, with clueless parents asking oblivious questions about their own kid, but half-way through the book, there’s a tonal shift and it subtly becomes a thriller. The prose takes on a more intense, but smooth, feel as the story propels toward the end. The characters become so lifelike they might as well be real, and the story, much more plausible, and the aftermath, entirely believable. But in the end, we don’t get any closure. So, not unlike true crime.

On the other hand, the aftermath is entirely believable and we don’t get any closure in the end and I want to set this book on fire, grind up the ashes, and launch it into space. This is a normal reaction for me though. Whenever I finish perplexing WASP-y contemporary fiction, especially when it centers on affluent families bulldozing over the law, I want to burn the book. But this book is different, mainly because of its unexpected, very un-WASP-y ending which caught me off guard and threw me off my stride. It was entirely unexpected because I didn’t think the author would take it that far, but he did. More importantly though, it worked. The ending, while lacking any sense of closure, was a fitting end to this mess. I thought the savagery was just the right note with which to end this story. So credit to the author for taking it that far. This was a solid ending to a frustrating story that leaves you with absolutely no closure. So, not unlike true crime.

I tried reading this book the year it came out for a book club, but had to quit early because reading about little rich boys getting away with murder was not how I wanted to spend my day off. But I still wanted to know how the story ended, so I decided to set it aside for a better time. Now isn’t “a better time,” but the overall reading experience was better this time around. The story still enrages me, but somehow not as much as before.

So 4 stars objectively.

But honestly? 1 star for all the rage it inspires.

* * * * some spoilers below * * * *

Continue reading

Advertisements

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

7116594

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 9 to 14, 2018

I first read this book in 2011 which wasn’t that long ago and normally I can recall basic story elements fairly well. Not in detail, but general things like plots, endings, and main characters.

Not with this book though. Usually it takes me about a couple of pages into the book to remember the plot and then everything else comes back to me gradually in bits and pieces, but with this book, I had to get to over 40% before I could vaguely recall the main character and the ending… but not much else. This reread was like reading for the first time.

It’s not that this book is forgettable. More like the premise has been done too many times before in contemporary mysteries. You have a troubled main character with a turbulent life who returns to her hometown and stumbles upon a mystery that’s very close to her heart. It’s strange but also familiar to her, and to no one’s surprise, it has connections to her trouble past. So she takes it upon herself to investigate this case–she’s a journalist, by the way–and chases down every twisted lead. And each lead is a major trigger for her that brings up all sorts of darkness from the past. After a series of close-calls and heart-pounding, page-turning chapters, she solves the case, although not well and gets very little closure at the end.

The one thing that sets this book apart from others like it is the voice. It’s told in Gillian Flynn’s particular style, like Gone Girl but better and more nuanced imo. The writing more disorganized and less theatrical. More unpredictable and more organic, less tightly controlled. It delves deep into the frayed psyche of a life-long cutter who has never really had a chance to work through any of her problems. There were many moments in which I wished I could have looked away, but couldn’t because the Flynn had me on the edge of my seat.

Flynn has a way of getting under a character’s skin (and my skin), and she projects her voice poignantly on a variety of issues. I don’t necessarily like her characters or even enjoy the stories she’s telling–although “enjoy” is not the right word here, feels too tacky–but I’m always interested in what she has to say and how she says it.

“It’s impossible to compete with the dead. I wished I could stop trying.”

[…]

“I just think some women aren’t made to be mothers. And some women aren’t made to be daughters.”

[…]

“Safer to be feared than loved.”

[…]

“I ached once, hard, like a period typed at the end of a sentence.”

A word of warning though. Cutting and self-harm are featured heavily in this book, in excruciating detail.

* * * * *

Rereading because I honestly don’t remember having read this book. Like at all.

It’s like

* * * * *

Just as twisted and disturbing as Gone Girl, but a lot better in terms of execution… (pun not intended?).

City of Bones by Martha Wells

18281874

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: February 20 to 28, 2018

Still a fantastic read the second time around. Don’t know how it’s possible, but I think I love it more this time around.

This book hits all of my fantasy requirements:

  • desert setting (plus, it’s also post-apocalyptic)
  • unique city (it’s a multi-level tower)
  • intricate socioeconomic system
  • intricate caste system (lots of minute but interesting details)
  • political intrigue
  • a cast of outcast characters (that you can’t help but get attached to)
  • lots of dry, self-deprecating humor
  • which makes the interactions between the characters hilarious
  • an ancient, archaeological mystery

The book goes one step further by topping the whole thing off with a high-stakes scavenger hunt that takes the characters through the city and out into the desert, but that’s not all, it ends with an unexpected but worthwhile ending. Very well done overall.

The writing is very detailed without being bogged down by too many unnecessary scenes or exposition, a signature style of Martha Wells. You get a clear picture of the city and many of its tiers, but you don’t get bogged down by pages and pages of descriptions or backstory. All the attention to details may sound like a lot to wade through before you get to good part of the plot, but that’s not it at all. The writing is a breeze and very easy to read. It sweeps you up and takes you right into the heart of the desert without any drudgery.

I really liked this book the first time I read it because of its distinctive take on the desert fantasy setting, and the ending turned “really like” into love. It was precisely the right note this story needed to push it from just fantasy into something more, something memorable. Although that is kind of ironic for me to say because, over the years, I have forgotten a lot of the story, but that ending still stayed with me. It’s still as clear in my mind as the day I first read it. And in reading it again, I’m able to really appreciate all the work that went into this book.

* * * * *

Rereading with Beth via the audiobook.

Read by Kyle McCarley. You may know him from his fantastic reading of The Goblin Emperor.

* * * * *

Review of first read from March 2014

Review (and reread): Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown

15839976

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: December 28, 2014 to January 9, 2015
Read Count: 2
Recommended by: ads on Goodreads
Recommended for: I don’t know

Not your average YA in that it’s darker in tone and subject matter, just like The Hunger Games but wordier and not as heartfelt.

I read this book when it first came out and really liked it, but looking back, I think that was because it’s so reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ sparse style that it brought back memories of when I first read The Hunger Games. Now that some time has passed, I’ve come to see that Red Rising doesn’t have much going for it on its own. Barely anything about it is original, except for the setting being on Mars. Overall, I found the book difficult to get through a second time, esp the first half, because things I’d overlooked before became too glaring to ignore. If not for the huge buddy read, I don’t think I’d get through it.

While it’s very much like every other YA dystopian novel published in recent years, right down to the survival-of-the-fittest games and oppressive caste system, Red Rising doesn’t have the heart or that spark (or characters like Katniss) to light its pages and carry the story. It’s kind of a drag actually–first person POV’s usually are for me. Sparse writing about hardship, grief, and loss needs strong characterization to hold the story together and keep readers interested, and sparse writing about hardship, grief, and loss in SFF needs a sense of realness and relatability to anchor it in our consciousness. Furthermore, it needs sharp commentary to make it memorable, to take it to that next level of relevance, but I understand that’s not what some authors aim for, which is fine but it’s a huge missed opportunity when a book about taking on an oppressive society doesn’t take the chance to make meaningful critiques that may or may not relate to current events. Just saying. It’s no wonder I don’t recall much about Red Rising; it’s not the kind of story that stays with me.

All right, on to the actual book. The setting is oppressive, dystopian, and on Mars. The population is divided into groups by the colors of their eyes and other physical and mental traits, all of which are the result of specialty breeding. Golds rule the universe, Reds are slaves, and other colors in between have their own specializations. Eugenics is an interesting theme to explore, but it’s not well explored or executed here and that’s why this book is young adult and not adult fiction. The scope is rather narrow with the focus being mostly on physical looks/altercations and might, and the single character POV is too limiting.

Anyhow. The Society is especially cruel to the Reds. They work the hardest, have the highest mortality rate, but receive the least recognition and are often scorned and abused by the other colors. This treatment, which goes back centuries, is permitted. The explanation for it is quite contrived, I must admit now that I can’t ignore it. And yet the Society has functioned like this for over 700 years. Within the Red population, there is separation between high Reds and low Reds. High Reds are permitted to live above ground and hold menial jobs; low Reds live below ground and never know there’s a whole world thriving on the surface of Mars.

Darrow, the main character, the titular Red Rising of this book and Golden Son of the next book, is a low Red helldiver; his fate, to forever live and die underground, and his job, to go deep into to the caverns of Mars and mine precious resources. It’s part of the work that keeps the planet running. Most helldivers don’t live past the ripe old age of 25. Darrow is only 16 at the start of the book, and he definitely sounds like it–this is what I mean about the scope of the story being narrow/limiting. He’s married to his childhood sweetheart, Eo, and what a lovely delicate gal she is. We all know what happens to lovely delicate characters in dystopian fiction–they don’t live to see the end because they get refrigerated early. Too early, in this case.

Eo’s death is the catalyst Darrow needs to rise up and take action, otherwise he would’ve been quite content living out the rest of his short life as a Red, burning away in those deadly mines. The real action gets rolling around the time Darrow begins his preparation to be become Gold, but things don’t necessarily pick up until more than half way through the book when he successfully infiltrates their ranks and the war “games” begin; I’d forgotten how much you have to wade through before things really get going. New characters, more interesting than Darrow, are introduced when Darrow takes part in these survival “games.” And then more things happen and a few characters die violently, and the end of the book makes you want to start Golden Son. That about sums it up.

The writing style is all right most times, though too often it is lofty and repetitive like the way idealistic young people tend to be when they speak of big-idea concepts like freedom and liberty and such. It’s not that bothersome once I got used to it, but it definitely took some time getting used to. I’d wager it’s the main factor that determines whether or not you’d like this book. I didn’t notice it much during the first read, but it’s hard to ignore during the reread. Darrow as a narrator is efficient during intense action sequences; Pierce Brown knows his ways around an action scene. However, during lulls between these scenes, Darrow has a habit of reliving past wounds (Eo, Eo’s death, Eo’s dreams) and wallowing in guilt and despair (Julien, Titus), so much so that it becomes repetitive. He spends a lot of time tearing himself apart all the while trying to survive these war games at this ridiculously sadistic school. I should sympathize, but I don’t feel anything for him or any of the other characters.

Your enjoyment of Red Rising will depend on your enjoyment of YA in general and dystopians with YA flairs specifically. While it’s better written than others of its kind published in the last decade or so, it doesn’t really stand out on its own. For me, this book is a compact review and reiteration of major (YA) dystopian themes and tropes. So it’s all right as an introductory crash course, but wouldn’t work if you’re looking for something new or groundbreaking. In short, recommended for readers new to the subgenre; not so much for anyone bored by over saturation of dystopian things.

Lastly I should mention I listened to the audio for my reread, and it changed my perspective of the whole book. Funny how that happened; I didn’t expect it to affect me so much. The narrator, Tim Gerard Reynolds, has a voice with a special talent, and that is to highlight every single flaw in the text that I would have ignored had I been reading. Nothing against his voice or accents, but there’s something about the way he narrates that makes these flaws so damn noticeable. Although I wouldn’t say he “ruined” this book for me, I did enjoy it a lot more before the audio.

So will I read Golden Son? Yes, probably in the next few weeks. But no more audios.

*

* *

* * *

* * * * spoilers * * * *

Continue reading

Review: Charles Dickens’ Five Novels

8176072

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: January 1 to 31, 2014
Read count: 1

This leather-bound Dickens collection is a must-have for any Dickens fan and any fan of Victorian England. It looks great on the shelf, especially next to those other leather-bound classics, if you have any. The stories included are: A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Oliver Twist.

Every time I reread Dickens, the experience is not so much like reading, but being lectured by a stuffy English prof. on the inner workings of Victorian England. Of course the extensive details and social commentary are necessary. I just don’t think there’s room for them in a novel. Essays? Yes. Letters? Sure. Biographies? Absolutely. But a novel? Maybe in the introduction section. Maybe.

It was while reading Great Expectations in high school when I realized I didn’t like Dickens’ particular style of writing; there were too many words per every point made. While I liked his stories overall (still do like them), I didn’t (still don’t) like his way of telling a story. It’s too blunt, too on the nose. It makes his motives too obvious to the reader. I prefer subtly in storytelling and stories that aren’t so adamant in “teaching society a lesson.” But I gotta hand it to Dickens though. No classic lit. author could tell a story of street smarts, excess wealth, hardship, and destitution quite like he did.