Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I'm an open book, everybody always seems to know my secrets before I know them myself.

Catching up.

For my big end-of-the-year book post, I included a few books on the lists of books that I have read that I have not yet written individual reviews of. I could let it go, but I have some good ones that do deserve their own reviews. 

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

The Story:
A librarian in the small town of Hannibal, Missouri aids and abets a young runaway who is her favorite patron at the library.

The Review:
I really liked the way this story was told. Lucy is a children's librarian and she gets caught up in the life of Ian, a young patron who decides to run away from home. As the narrator, Lucy begins by wondering if she is the hero of the story or the villain, and she puts herself with all our other beloved characters -- deliberately appropriating famous lines.For example, in talking about our beloved heroes she says, "They tell me to light out for the territory, reckon I'm headed for Hell just like them. They say I'm the most terrific liar they ever saw in their lives." (For those of you who don't teach those two novels and thus reread them on a yearly basis -- "lighting out for the territory" is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and "the most terrific liar" is Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye). The allusions and references and appropriations continue throughout the story and Lucy tells parts of their adventure as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, The Very Hungry Catepillar, and a choose-your-own-adventure book. I loved that and thought it was really clever. I also don't think that you have to be me (or a relatively prolific reader like me) in order to get the references and appreciate what Makkai is doing there, so don't let it deter you.

The story itself is a little dramatic and angsty. Lucy constantly questions what she is doing and how wrong it is, so part of me was thinking "Yeah, you are an idiot. Stop making bad choices!"

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the book because of the clever way Makkai told it. So I recommend it.

Changeless by Gail Carriger

The Story:
This is the second novel in the Parasol Protectorate series that started with Timeless. Alexia is the heroine who is now married to the alpha werewolf. As the story opens, there is a new threat to the supernaturals in London and Alexia and her husband investigate and try to stop it.

The Review:
I liked this story. It is fun, quick, and light. There were some good new characters introduced that made me laugh and that I enjoyed. But as I got to the end of the novel, I thought, yeah, I'm done with these. Not in a frustrated, you-ruined-my-series kind of way, just in a ok, that was entertaining, but I'm satisfied and I don't need more. But then I finished it and there was enough of a twist at the end that I want to read the next one.

The series is good and clever, so I recommend it, but of course start with the first one.

Only in New York by Sam Roberts

The Story:
This is a series of non-fiction articles about quirky or interesting or unusual things about New York City.

The Review:
I picked up this book because it was for sale on the 50 cent rack at the new used bookstore ... by which of course I mean the used bookstore that recently opened. I really enjoyed reading the articles. All the articles were very short, only 2 or 3 pages, so you can fly through them very easily. The topics are interesting and range from popular baby names to the city maintenance to screens on the windows. The articles are less intentionally humorous than I thought they would be and more fascinating trivia.

If you are interested in New York, I recommend it.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

The Story:
There is a murder of a 14 year old boy in a small town. The assistant district attorney begins to investigate the crime. After few leads, his son, Jacob, is indicted and put on trial for the murder of his classmate.

The Review:
This is a novel that moves really fast, so it is easy to read because of that. As I got halfway through the story, it felt like a Jodi Picoult novel. What I mean by that is that the novel is not about the story itself, but instead it is actually a thought-exercise. What would you do if this happened? And the author's intention is that you will put yourself in the ADA father's shoes. In Picoult's most famous book, My Sister's Keeper, you are meant to examine whether you think it is ethical that the parents had a baby just to keep their terminally ill daughter alive, and whether you think it is that baby's responsibility to keep her alive no matter what. Defending Jacob had the same feel. What would you do as the parents of this boy who is accused of murder? How would you approach his defense? Would you defend him no matter what?

I'm not necessarily saying that these types of thought exercises are bad, because they can be very intriguing. But I don't feel Landay executed it well. It felt forced and preachy.

There is a major twist at the end of the story that for me made the frame of the story unbelievable. I don't want to spoil the twist or the ending, but as soon as I read it I thought no way! That would never happen. The law does not permit/force spouses to testify against each other. Then I realized that I'm basing my knowledge of the law on Breaking Bad. So perhaps that won't be a problem for you.

To bring this to a final recommendation, I didn't like it. I just wanted the book over with.

Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander

The Story:
This is a non-fiction story written by Eben Alexander who is a neurosurgeon. In it, he tells of his experience when he was in a seven day coma. He contracted bacterial meningitis and woke up one morning with a headache that within 30 minutes became excruciating and within a few hours he was in a complete coma as the bacteria destroyed his spinal column and brain. While he mixes in a lot of information about his illness, most of the book focuses on the near death experience that he had while in the coma.

The Review:
This was fascinating. As I mentioned, because he is a doctor, Alexander gives a lot of clinical details about what was happening to his body. He is able to concisely and clearly relate how his body was being attacked and how it was dying in a way that is really understandable, even for a completely non-medical person like me. The contrast between that ability to express himself about the medical realm is a stark contrast to his struggle to find words to express his experiences with the Divine/in the Higher Realms (using his terms). It was really interesting to see that difference. In addition to explaining what was happening to his body, Alexander's primary focus was describing the lessons that he learned while he was in heaven and why he wanted to write the book. I was really fascinated with the story and his experience. It was a well-written book and very engaging. I also found it to be a really fast read.

So that's my review from a writing perspective.

On the other side of that review is my reaction as a reader, and that is a bit more complicated. As a person reacting to this, I totally believe that he had this experience. Disbelief isn't what made it complicated for me (although from what he says in the book, it was what made it complicated for many people). The lessons are where it got complicated for me. I'm still kind of struggling to put that all together for myself. But it gave me a lot to think about.

Final word: I recommend it. And when you read it, please let me know because I would love to discuss it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment