25 November 2015

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum; Gregory Funaro

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum (Odditorium, #2)Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Odd Aquaticum is just another version of the Odditorium, and this story is simply too much like the first book to really excite me (granted, I'm not the target audience!). What would have moved this from "average sequel" to "interesting entry in the series" would have been more about the Odditoria in the story - more than what there is, because there is some there - as they're far more intriguing characters than Alistair and Grubb. When the focus is on Cleora or The Golden Fairy there's something a little special there, but the whole Grimm/Prince Nightshade story just doesn't move me.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Wild Swans; Jackie Morris

The Wild SwansThe Wild Swans by Jackie Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I served on ENFYA we frequently talked about trim size, and one of my favorite books is a Bloomsbury edition of Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot which, I confess, I bought solely based on trim size! Here we have a small size book, one that could be taller and thinner but then it would be less bijoux and have less impact. The story is a familiar one ("The Wild Swans") but the combination of size, illustration and text in sepia tint just make this version special.

And Yet...; Christopher Hitchens

And Yet ...: EssaysAnd Yet ...: Essays by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some of these essays were familiar from past issues of The Atlantic and Vanity Fair, while others were new (to me), but even the familiar ones were worth the re-read (yes, even the "improvement" series) simply because the authorial voice is so good. Perhaps it's not the case, but I have this vision of the articles springing whole from his head, no research needed for the allusions and historical context (see the essay on Che Guevara). Whether or not you agree with his political or religious views, Hitchens' writing is glorious and may - as it did me - leave you feeling intellectually inadequate.

ARC provided by publisher.

21 November 2015

Resurrection; Wolf Haas

Resurrection (Brenner, #1)Resurrection by Wolf Haas
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Whenever I read a book in translation that has what I'll call a challenging writing style, I wonder if it's me, or if it's the book, or if it's bad translation. In the end, it doesn't matter: I struggled with this and finally gave up reading carefully in favor of flipping through to figure out whodunnit. The breeziness of the writing, the semi-jokey narrator and the asides just didn't do it for me.

Palimpsest; Matthew Battles

Palimpsest: A History of the Written WordPalimpsest: A History of the Written Word by Matthew Battles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disappointing: all too often when I was reading this I thought, "where's the photo/illustration?" and, well, it wasn't there. Battle's would have done us a great service by showing, not merely telling, how the written word developed. There were times when I wondered if this had originally been a series of lectures because the tone is pedantic and rambling, and it's clear that the author didn't do deep research (too few sources cited at the end).

15 November 2015

The Green Road; Anne Enright

The Green RoadThe Green Road by Anne Enright
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So many wonderful reviews of this book, and yet... for me it was close to a DNF. It wasn't just the family saga part (I knew that going in, and was in some ways looking forward to a potentially new version of that genre), or the multiple narrators (although that's becoming annoying), but the fact that it was difficult for me to care about any of the characters. For example, Mom's taking too her bad after Dan announces going into the priesthood plays a largeish role, but it doesn't feel as though it does nor does she really take to her bed. Dan's decision and her reaction didn't make sense, so I started wondering what I'd missed out on. But by the end of Constance's first section, I'd ceased to really care and flipped through the books, skipping whole chunks.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Nest; Kenneth Oppel

The NestThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perhaps a little too creepy for kids already scared of wasps and the like? I enjoyed the mystery about who, exactly, was talking to Steve in his dreams, the realistic way in which Steve was worried/scared about his brother and what could be done to "fix" things. When the story veers into horror, readers will go right along with it because by then, we're invested in figuring out what Steve will do and if it will work. Even better, this is longer than a short story but not so long that readers will start to get annoyed by the size - strong readers can finish it in a day or less.

Keeping and Eye Open; Julian Barnes

Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on ArtKeeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art by Julian Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've said it before, but I'd read the phone book if Julian Barnes wrote it. So there's that. This isn't a book by an art historian, nor is it a book by an artist, however it is a book by someone who appreciates art. As a collection of essays, the theme seems to be about works of art that are, in a very loose sense, connected, and ones where the subject matter of the painting or the artist's life is somehow compelling. Barnes isn't saying "Hey, this is an important work because..." here, he's saying "These works compel me for these reasons, perhaps you, too, will feel the same." It's a very human, personal and yet intellectual look at these works. Some may not appreciate the style or the opinions; I enjoyed the former, and occasionally the latter.

08 November 2015

Triple Moon; Melissa de la Cruz

Triple MoonTriple Moon by Melissa de la Cruz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite what I expected: I hear witches, I expect witches. Molly and Mardi are actually the daughters of the got Thor and part of the Norse mythos. No, this isn't Rick Riordan's version of half-breeds or Alice Hoffman's magic world, this is something else, more a retelling of the Rhinegold story than either of those two genres. My other problem was that neither are particularly likeable, even when they're supposed to have learned lessons from their summer in North Hampton with their aunts, Freya and Erda.

I can see this being a good lead-in to people reading the original, adult trilogy or going to Netflix to bingewatch the (now cancelled) tv series.

The Visitors; Simon Sylvester

The VisitorsThe Visitors by Simon Sylvester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not quite sure what the rules of SPOILERS are, as this was published a while ago in the UK but hasn't yet been published here in the US... Anyway, this is a cross between a mystery (what happened to and/or who killed the missing men of Bancree?) and a selkie story (our heroine is obsessed with them). How Flora moves from being the relatively outcast girlfriend to being a woman in her own right is also an interesting story, and the first moves come early on as she realizes that her boyfriend has already - before leaving for college on the mainland - moved on and is trying on a new personality. So where does that leave Flora, who has one year left on the island before she, too, can leave? Her response to that dilemma leads to a new friend, a girl who moves to an island off the "mainland" of Bancree Island and is thus even move isolated and outcast than Flora. Add to that the disappearance of three of the island's outcast men and her growing obsession with selkie stories and you have a really intriguing mix for a story. The sense of place is well done, but what lost a star was that the ending seemed a bit rushed and some opportunity to expand on what's come before is lost.

ARC provided by publisher.

Shallow Graves; Kali Wallace

Shallow GravesShallow Graves by Kali Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At first I thought this was a Lovely Bones-type novel, but then it became more paranormal than LB was. The world it's set in, ours but with "monsters" out there (monsters being harpies, nightmares, ghouls, ghosts and other things), is very well drawn even if the characters and the monster-types aren't. At times I wondered what Breezy's motivation was (she seems unfocused, but that might be because she's dead) and the ending felt a little tentative. Still, despite the paranormal genre fading from my students' interests, this might just get them back into it. Bonus: no real romance but a nice boy-girl friendship.

ARC provided by publisher.

Everyday Holiness; Alan Morinis

Everyday Holiness: the Jewish Spiritual Path of MussarEveryday Holiness: the Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For the past three years I've read this in conjunction with a Mussar group (most of the time I didn't attend but got the group e-mails) so several sections have been read more than once. The thing about Mussar is that you really shouldn't do it alone - Jewish or not, this is an interesting way to do some self-exploration and reflection - but with a group. The problem is that the book by itself tends to ramble and reads more like a series of transcribed lectures than essays. As a result, it's clearly delivered to a specific socio-economic group and won't resonate with anyone outside that, which is a pity because had he taken a broader approach it would have been a far better tool.