Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Want by Cindy Pon

"How do you live breathing this every day?" she asked in a weak voice.

"We don't have to live for very long," I replied.

She dropped her handkerchief and stared at me with red-rimmed eyes. "That's not funny," she said.

I smiled. "I wasn't trying to be."

*Jedi hand wave*

You want to read Want.



Rats. It's not that simple, is it? The Force has a strong effect on the weak-minded, but you are not weak-minded. May I then attempt to convince you to read Cindy Pon's absolutely fantastic near-future sci-fi set in Taiwan?

(Except for all you guys who heard "Cindy Pon" and immediately bought the book.  You're all good. But please stay and read my review anyway?)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Under the Harrow

Although the popularity of books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train have flooded the market with twisty psychological thrillers featuring one of my favorite literary devices--the unreliable narrator--this popularity also floods the market with ho-hum or even oh-no novels attempting to create another flash in the pan.


That's my rather polite way of saying that Under the Harrow was not a good book, and certainly doesn't deserve the comparisons being slung around. Psychological thrillers aren't exactly spring chickens when it comes to their identity as a sub-genre, but they have received a fun, clever, and well-written makeover in the past few years. Unfortunately, James Patterson continues to word-vomit thrillers all over the New York Times Best-Seller List every two months, but this new(ish) crop of writers like Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Ruth Ware, and pretty much every Scandinavian writer out there present well-written books that have a distinctive style and memorable characters. Riding their coattails are books with good ideas but lackluster execution. Under the Harrow is one of the latter.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10

Right. I have been attempting to write a coherent yet snappy review of this book for a few days now. I have utterly failed. I am sorry.



So here are the salient points:

The Woman in Cabin 10 will appeal to those readers who enjoyed Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, but it is not the same book. While those books depended on the slow revelation that the narrator was not all she or he seemed to be, The Woman in Cabin 10 makes it quite clear that Lo's perception of reality is skewed by various factors. Thus, the tension in the story comes, not from figuring out that Lo is an unreliable narrator, but from figuring out when she is lying (either to herself or to the reader) and when she is telling the truth. It's a delicate teasing of reality from fever dream.

Fans of locked-room murder mysteries will enjoy this quite a lot (I am one such fan, ergo, I enjoyed it). Instead of a sprawling British estate or fusty hotel room, we have a tasteless if expensively furnished yacht headed to Trondheim. Lo (Laura) Blacklock works for a smallish travel magazine and snagged the gig because her boss is pregnant and not up to traveling by boat. She and select members media have been invited aboard the maiden voyage of the Aurora, owned by young Lord Bullmer. It's hard to be mad at Richard Bullmer for being rich, famous, and handsome, though: his young, pretty wife is dying of cancer. She, too, is aboard the vessel, but wan and tired from her latest bout of chemotherapy.

Rounding out the requisite cast of idiosyncratic characters are a handsome photographer, a buffoonish Australian naturalist, and a catty (or is she?) older travel writer. And then there's the woman in the cabin next to Lo. When she realizes she forgot her mascara (seriously, if you wear makeup but forget your mascara, it is most definitely A Big Problem), Lo decides to ask a favor from her next door neighbor. The occupant of the cabin is young and pretty, but her rock band t-shirt and attitude don't really fit the vibe of the rest of the party. Lo doesn't see her at dinner, but is awakened in the middle of the night by a thud. Running to her balcony, she sees a woman pushed overboard from cabin 10, and blood smeared on the veranda. But when she returns with the ship's security officer (who I swear was based on Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd -at least, that's how I cast him in my mind's eye), there's nothing. No blood, no trace of an occupant, and no one on the register for cabin 10.

What follows is an excellent study in gaslighting. As readers, we know that Lo is being manipulated, but we also know that she doesn't know. Or are we being manipulated along with her? My brain!

I only have one complaint as to an unresolved plot point, but it's spoilery, so scroll down with me.




down



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okay.

The person who was supposed to occupy cabin 10 stayed home because of a violent home invasion. At the beginning of the novel, Lo's flat is burgled and she is threatened by a masked figure who locks her into her room with no form of communication. We are supposed to draw a parallel between the missing expert and Lo, but since the murderer only needed cabin 10 to be empty, why would he also send an attacker to the person in cabin 9? We never find out who attacked Lo in her flat. Was it truly an isolated attack?

All things considered, this is an excellent thriller. I need to go back and read Ware's debut novel, and hopefully she'll have another novel out relatively soon. But not James Patterson soon.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Special Ones

I think that a reader cannot help falling in love with a book. I may have an irrational affection for a particular title that, in other situations or other times in my life, I would have merely liked or perhaps even actively disliked. I therefore present you with The Special Ones by Em Bailey. It may not be perfect, but it's certainly psychologically gripping and positively dripping with atmosphere.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Gem & Dixie





Lest we forget, the country where I currently reside would like to get rid of free school lunches. This is because old white men would rather use government funds for bombs and stuff instead of feeding poor kids--usually poor kids of color, but not exclusively. I say this not as a political or as a partisan statement, but as one human watching other so-called humans take steps to actively harm children who, through no fault of their own, don't have enough to eat.

I encounter this mentality on a very small scale when I am at work and a child has overdue books. More often than I'd like, the parent scolds the child for not bringing the books back on time, and sometimes even forbids them from using the library. I would often like to point out that little Elias or Aeryn cannot, in fact, drive a car, because they're six. Ergo, they cannot bring materials back and that's your job as the parent.

But I get that parenting is hard, too. That's one of the reasons I've not become one yet--I'm terrified of screwing up and I am a selfish lady who needs to get her own stuff together in life before I start trying to help a miniature human do the same. However, no matter what's going on with a child or a teen's parents, that young person should never be made to pay by going hungry. Denying them sustenance is certainly not going to improve moral fortitude or whatever opponents of free school lunches think. I mean, in this country, kids don't even get a decent free lunch. Milk carton, rubbery food that's made out of other food bits, no fresh fruit or veggies--we're already shortchanging these kids. And then people sit back and gloat and say, "Look at The Poors. They are so unhealthy. Thankfully, I am rich and can afford to clothe my body in Lululemon while smothering organic avocado masks on my face and imbibing kombucha. But I'm not paying for a poor child to have a meal. They should get a job."

Oh, really?

Most of the time, humanity is a real bust.

Gem and Dixie are white and pretty. Dixie, especially, is popular in her grade. No one would guess that there's never any food in the house, and no money with which to buy it. Their mom is either spending it on booze or drugs or both. And Dad? Mom kicked him out a long time ago after his womanizing got to be too much. Now he's an almost-mythical figure to younger sister Dixie, who reveres him. Gem knows that he's no good, but she still craves his approbation.

One day, Dixie gets a letter from her dad. He's coming back to Seattle--but this has to be a secret from Mom. Of course, Mom wheedles it out of Dixie, setting off a fit of apoplexy. But Dad rolls into town smooth as you please, pulling his daughters out of school early and taking them grocery shopping. Gem knows that this is too good to be true. So when Mom gives Dad the boot (again) and throws all of the food down the garbage chute, Gem has to do something. But what? She doesn't have any money or any friends.

Oh--but what's this weird bag under the bed? Full of money? Dad must have stashed it there--and if it's Dad's, it's definitely not on the up-and-up. But Gem knows it's her ticket out, and after all, doesn't he owe her that much?

Dixie, however, insists on accompanying her sister on their flight to downtown Seattle, a place they'd never been. Dixie's savoir faire gets them into a posh hotel, where they gorge themselves on room service. But what next? The money will only last so long, and Dixie doesn't really want to leave everything. But Gem's entire life has been about protecting her little sister. Is she brave enough to let her go?

The nuances of Gem's character are astounding. She's had to be the mom and the dad and the older sister in her family for so long that she's burned out. No child should have to be an adult at eight years old, or six years old, but Gem did it to keep herself and her little sister alive. And it's exhausting. Why can't life get any easier? Why doesn't Mom see that they're hungry and dirty and haven't had new underwear in years and that that's not okay? Why does Gem always have to be the practical one? Is it so wrong for her to want to leave all of the responsibility she's assumed and just walk away?

Gem & Dixie is all about the characters and their struggles, so the actual plot recedes into the background. This is not a problem book about Runaway Teens, but about teens who are constantly running away from what they fear most. The intricate knot of hunger and poverty and shame and lies sits at the core of Gem's being, and Zarr treats her characters with humanity and respect.

My only complaint would be that the end of the novel wraps up too quickly, and I didn't quite understand why everything that happened, happened. However, this is an excellent novel on a very current, urgent, and necessary topic, and should be in all teen collections.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Diverse Reading Challenge: March Update

One of my duties at my new job is to regularly check the adult new fiction to make sure that we don't end up with 5 copies of the same books (floating collections are fun!). As a direct consequence of this, I've been checking out scads of adult fiction--particularly horror and thrillers. It's actually really helped me with my reading slump!  Unfortunately, this means that I have an obscene amount of YA ARCs on my iPad to be read. In March, I made it through two of them: It's Not Like It's A Secret by Misa Sugiura and Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani.


It's Not Like It's A Secret 

I feel ambivalent toward this book. Full review to come.


Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Gorgeous artwork is undercut by a so-so story. There was a lot of dissonant jumping around, both in time and place, and I never quite grasped what the magical pashmina was supposed to accomplish. Perhaps I'm just dense.

And here's my Diversity Bingo sheet!




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