Sunday, September 19, 2010

From Joan Didion to Michelle Tea

I have been neglectful, but I don't allow myself to feel guilty about not blogging. If this thing becomes a burden, it will go away.

Here's what I've been reading in the month since we last saw each other.

Joan Didon's Play It As It Lays is what I blame for my absence. I didn't like it but felt like I should, and I don't know how to articulate why. I had no sympathy for the main character, and she felt so far removed that it was impossible for me to relate. I don't know if this is the frame of the story--the setting and the milieu it portrays (rich Hollywood-ers in the 1960s)--or a purposeful narrative technique.

I read Suzanne Collins's Mockingjay, and loved it. I reviewed it for my job but can't find a link to share with you. Sorry!

I started a YA Book Club, and our first book was Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It is funny and sad, with authentic feeling characterization. It is a quick read and employs fantastic drawings that add an extra element to the narrative. Everyone in the club liked it.

I'm currently reading David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife and Michelle Tea's Valencia.

Also, I've stopped posting about knitting here because I joined Ravelry. If you want to follow my projects there, the name is ACityBird.

*Edit* How could I forget Toni Morrison's Love?! I recently finished that one, too. I liked it, but I missed the raw horror of her previous books I've read. Don't get me wrong--it's not a happy story. The narrative jumps around, and it is unclear in the beginning how all the characters are related, which I found frustrating.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Malinda Lo's Ash

The cover of Malinda Lo's Ash shares a lot about the tone of the book--it is somewhat dark, scary, and sad but also peaceful and magical and beautiful.

It's a Young Adult novel that is is called on the back cover a "retold Cinderella" and "Cinderella, gorgeously reimagined." There is an orphan (Ash), a mean stepmother, magic (here in the form of fairies uniquely rendered somewhat scary and a little bit evil but still magically appealing), an unwed prince, and balls, but to me to compare this to the Disney singing-mice cartoon I grew up with is entirely offbase because of this book's tone and characters.

It is a character-centered story, although the plot is important and the pace is relatively quick. There are details of Ash's vivid dreams, the light in the Wood, the stepsisters' getting dressed for balls, fairy characteristics and clothes, and fairy tales. Yet it still feels very realistic and grounded. Ash is a human girl who is devastated by the loss of her parents but comes to tolerate the life she must live as servant to all that's left of her family. There is also organic-feeling romance.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

RAview: The Calligrapher's Daughter

Eugenia Kim's The Calligrapher's Daughter is historical fiction that feels epic even though it only follows one woman's life over 30 years.

I think a lot of this book's appeal lies in its setting, detail, and story line--specifically Korea from 1915 to 1945. Compared to Japan and China, this is a little-evoked history in fiction, and many readers probably won't be familiar with the political conflict and economic hardships that troubled the country. My mom especially liked this book because the history was not too far before her childhood and she wasn't familiar with it at all.

Kim also details cultural mores in a way that feels very organic (rather than, look! an foreign culture! how quaint!, which does happen in some fiction set in the Eastern world). The food, the clothing, the customs. There are details of calligraphy, herbal remedies (the main character studies to be an obstetrician), wartime government control and civilian confusion.

It is leisurely paced and elegantly written. It seems to encourage more thinking than feeling (a head book rather than a heart book, if that makes any more sense to anyone). But the tone is sad, sometimes hopeful, love-ful. The main character is spirited and independent but very concerned with her faith and family obligations. There's a touching mother-daughter relationship.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Alice I Have Been

Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been was a bit befuddling, but not in a frustrating way. Hence, I've put off writing about, and now feel even more directionless.

It is historical fiction. The real Alice, that is, the young girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland, was in a somewhat sketchy relationship with the man who would become Lewis Carroll. Alice narrates the story as an old woman and takes us through her life up to her present.

It is a slowly unfolding story with details of clothing and mores of mid-19th-century Oxford. It is somewhat unsettling but not as creepy as it might sound. It's subtle and the writing is lush.

One thing I can do for this book is identify a readalike--a nonfiction one, no less! Michael Holroyd's A Strange Eventful History is an epic biography of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, who became stage famous in England around the same time period as Benjamin's novel. There is a large cast of strange characters and artists, and the details well evoke the time period.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

RAview: Wintergirls

In short, Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls is a YA novel about an 18-year-old girl with anorexia who is relapsing for the third time after the death of her childhood best friend, who had bulimia. In short, not a pretty story.

I would think Readers' Advisory librarians would want to subtly make clear that this book could be a trigger for someone suffering from these disorders or very difficult to read for loved ones. To me, this is not a fault of the book, but just an extra layer one should be aware of when recommending it. But, if you're concerned about that, here's Jezebel and the Times on this book as a trigger.

From my perspective, telling a prospective reader it is a raw, emotional, terrifying, and realistic exploration of the actions and thoughts of a young girl suffering from anorexia and other psychological disorders would suffice.

The pacing is fast, characteristic of a YA novel. The language is carefully crafted to mimic the main character Lia's thought processes. Anderson uses strike throughs, repetition, paragraph breaks, and ellipses to evoke Lia's confusion and fear. (these tactics could also fall into the story line appeal element of RA--not sure here.)

Characterization is great. The book is a very intimate look at Lia; and her friend who died, Cassie, is evoked via Lia's detailed, episodic memories and hallucinations. The tone is dark, scary, horrific, touching at times. But Lia is witty, and, although it's typically in the form of barbs directed at her parents, she can be funny. The setting is winter in New Hampshire, and Lia is always cold--it is effective to think of her skin-and-bones body in this harsh climate.

I've heard on panels and read in blogs that "YA" is not a genre, so, if I have to stick this in another one, I'll call it psychological suspense. Seems strange, but read the Wikipedia definition, and you'll be convinced. Also, now I can use it toward the "Thriller & Suspense Challenge"!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Notes on The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

I didn't like Alan Bradley's The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag nearly as much as the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Although Readers' Advisors are supposed to look for what in a book will be appealing to readers, all I can do now is take the opposite approach and try to identify what I didn't like about it.

I just felt detached from the book. There's no suspense in it; the first was by no means suspenseful, but the second didn't thrill me in the least. I read for characters, and I already know Flavia de Luce, the young detective girl. She didn't develop in a significant way, and her character as an anomalous curiosity has worn off.

Much of the story line was relayed via storytelling from characters' mouths. This is not to say there is not description, but the writing did not feel as lush and evocative to me as the first book. Details relate to World War II, puppeteering, chemistry, the vicarage. The pace is leisurely. The language is fun and witty, and the tone would be quite dark were it not for Flavia's childhood perspective.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

RAview: Lisa Gardner's Hide

Finally, a thriller I really liked! Lisa Gardner's Hide is narrated from two perspectives--Annabelle, a potential victim who's case may be related to a discovery of six girls' bodies, tells her side in the first person, while Det. Bobby Dodge's perspective is told in third person.

This book is part of a series featuring female detective D.D. Warren, but I didn't know it was part of a series until I finished the book and looked it up online. Background is smoothly woven in, and Annabelle is a character unique to this book, and she was really the draw for me.

The pacing is fast, and readers are sympathetic with the characters of Annabelle and Bobby, although a sense of "Who can you trust?" niggles throughout the book. The story line features short chapters often left on cliffhangers that slowly reveal bits of the mystery of Annabelle's past as well as everyone's understanding of the current case.

The book is set in Boston, and it does have an urban feel. It is marked by details of detective work, sewing and fabric (Annabelle has a curtain-making business), dog ownership, self defense, changing identities, a psych ward. The tone ranges among paranoia, sadness, fear, and longing but also survival and pride.

Also, props to the publisher for selling this ebook at the Sony store for $1.99. I'd never read Gardner before, and I plan to read more of her.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dave Cullen's Columbine

I stopped reading Brenda Jackson's Irresistible Forces forces because there was just too much sex. (WTF, Anna? I know.) The thing is, the only conflict in the book was that maybe the couple was falling in love even though that wasn't their intention, and conflict is what makes romance great. There was no anticipation, no coyness, nothing held back.

Totally a bizarre way to start a post about a hard-core journalistic nonfiction book about a school shooting,
I know, but after quitting that book, I wanted the other extreme--a serious book. Dave Cullen's Columbine is of course sad, terrifying, and gruesome. But it is also a fascinating psychological study of the killers and a detailed look at what the media got wrong and how the media affected witness testimony and public perception even to today.

My turn from one book to the other was all based on tone. I was over the sensuous, light, romantic, escapist tone of the sexy romance and wanted something gritty and grounding. Cullen's book has good characterization, as he follows some of the most famous survivors of the tragedy as well as the victims, killers, and their families. It's a fast-paced read, despite details of the plan, Harris and Klebold's journaling and emotional lives, and other students' relationships with and perspectives on them. For nonfiction, the language is descriptive, and Cullen writes at times to echo the thought patterns of angry young men or the devoted principal.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

RAview: Lisa Scottoline's Think Twice

Lisa Scottoline's Think Twice is a thriller about twin sisters--one mostly good, one mostly bad. The bad one tries to kill the good one and temporarily take over her life as a rich lawyer. The pace feels fast, as short chapters are narrated by 3 characters (the twins, and a colleague and friend who is being duped) and typically end on cliffhangers. This is a plot-driven story, but the characters are complex and well developed.

Details relate to Italian families, relationships in which the woman is more financially successful than the man, working in a law firm, and police rules and politics. Story line themes consist of supernatural elements related to Italian heritage and religion, revenge, good vs. evil and the fine line between them, characters' psyches, friendship, trust, and romance. The tone is not too dark but there are fearful moments as well as touching, happy, and sad ones relating to the relationships among characters.

Of what I've read recently, this shares the most appeal elements with J.A. Jance's Desert Heat.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

RAview: Heat Wave

Richard Castle’s Heat Wave is, in a way, the perfect thriller for me. I’ve complained before that the thrillers I’ve read haven’t had enough character development for me, but, being the spin-off of the TV show Castle, I already had a sense of the characters (the book is “written” by the main the character of the show, and the novel’s protagonist is based on the show’s other main character). The two sidekick detectives weren’t fleshed out at all, but I simply pictured the two from the show.

The book gave a greater sense of New York City than the TV show, and the comparatively slow-motion action scenes allowed for a lot more detail about police stances, tactics, etc.

There was a mystery whodunit aspect to the story, made enjoyable with the smart twist that the detectives were teasing the main character (a journalist riding along with them for background for an article) about not having figured out the killer. I hadn’t either.

Witty dialog and romance are also big selling points for this book. The crime feels somewhat small and domestic to me after reading part of Andrew Gross’s The Dark Tide, and I liked the less complex scope.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lee Rowan's Tangled Web

The conflict that is central to most (all?) books in the romance genre feels so much more natural in Lee Rowan's Tangled Web: An M/M Romance because it is a romance between two men in Regency London. There are details of horse riding and breeding, old army days, a young woman's high-society courtship. There is a secret underground sex club with a feeling of escape and subculture within a culture of propriety reminiscent of parts of Sarah Waters's Tipping the Velvet.

This is a gentle romance between a younger and older man (although it is a fresh twist that the younger is the more active seducer) and a quick read. The tone is sensual, mysterious, exciting, taboo, tense. The characters are simple yet relatable and their progression of feelings is clear and universal.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Notes on The Dark Tide

I didn't finish Andrew Gross's The Dark Tide. Again, I think it comes back to characterization--I didn't know that was so important to me until I started reading thrillers. Other genre fiction, like Romance, Mystery, and Sci Fi, in my experience often have fewer narrators and main players and spend more time describing their thoughts, feelings, and motivations.

As far as the other appeal elements in The Dark Tide, the tone is sad, scary, mysterious, hopeful. I'd call it a fast-paced international financial thriller, and story line themes include oil importing, investing, cargo docks, business vs. muscle and intimidation, working in and beyond the police department, sailing, upper-class life in Greenwich, CT, guilt, losing loved ones, and the emotional toll of one's child at risk.

I started the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge to familiarize myself with the genre, but I may have to read more mysteries than I had initially intended. Psychological suspense also tends to explore characters more in depth.

I'll do some research, too, but does anyone have recommendations or know of lists of thrillers with strong characterization?

Friday, April 9, 2010

RAview: Fingersmith

I'm going through a breakup, and Sarah Waters's Fingersmith was thankfully a satisfying companion. The tone is dark enough to make me feel that at least I don't have it that bad, but it is not so emotionally devastating as I feared it could be as an overall reading experience.

The beginning of the book feels like a depraved romance novel--there is a Gothic mansion, a young, sheltered ward, and a dark, mysterious gentleman. It is a story of cons, love, trust, nature vs. nurture, knowing and perceiving.

The book is full of foreshadowing. It is suspenseful and feels like a fast read as one races to understand the whys of the plot points. Characterization is strong, and readers identify with scared, confused, angry characters trying to make sense of their situations. Two alternating narratives tell the stories of two girls similar yet living within different worlds. Lots of fully developed side characters appear but the story remains focused on a few main players.

Storyline themes include the London underworld of thieves, madhouses, a perverted, suffocating, sequestered upper class lifestyle, and being a lady's maid.

This is a sketchy write up, but the point of Readers' Advisory is to address how a book makes you feel rather than the plot. Plus this book is way better if you go into it with nothing, and I feel as though the reviewing community has been relatively good about keeping the experience pure for other readers.

I was reading this book at the same time as Sacred Hearts. They have similar themes of trapped and cloistered young women and the affect this has on their mental health, but the overall tone of the books is very different. The leisurely pace of Dunant's book also makes it dissimilar.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

RAview: Sacred Hearts

Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts is detailed, lush, slowly unfolding historical fiction. In The Readers Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (which, unfortunately, I had to return to the library before I finished with and is expensive), Saricks devotes a chapter to Women's Lives and Relationships, similar to what many call women's fiction, but this category is not self-contained (i.e., books in other genres are often good for readers who like this type of fiction), and Sacred Hearts is one of them.

The narrative perspective switches between two women in a convent in 16th-century Italy--one a young novice who is in love and was unwillingly sent there by her family, and the other an older nun who provides medical care for the other nuns and comes to grow in dealing with the young woman who seems to be wrecking havoc on the peace of the convent.

Details of early medicine, religious ecstasies, convent life, freedom, convent politics, gardening, explorations of faith. The tone is lush and warm but at times strange, fearful, and suspenseful. Faith is manifest as a sort of creepy magic that may or may not be real [at least to a heathen like me], but there is a sense of comfort and belonging that the convent also evokes--this variable tone likely comes from the two main characters' perspectives.

The best readalike from my own reading is Lisa See's Peony in Love. It shares a theme of young women with no control over their lives taking back a sort of power (albeit self-destructive) by starving themselves. It's rich historical fiction about women and love and feeling lost. The tone of Peony in Love is darker and sadder, and the elements of the supernatural are more pronounced.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Characterization and me

I recently stopped reading two books without finishing them, and in thinking about why, characterization stuck out as an important appeal aspect for me as a reader. As far as I can tell now, I like books with well-hashed-out complex characters or, if they're tropes (common in plot-centered genre fiction to help get to the action quickly), I want to relate to them or at least like them (which is surprisingly not necessary for all readers).

The Reckoners by Doranna Durgin is a paranormal romance about spunky 25-year-old ghost hunter, Garrie. As I was reading it, I thought it was a later book in a series (though it's actually book 1) because Garrie's mentor is referenced but not present (she has passed on), and Garrie's ghost-hunting support team come off as a stereotypical geek and a Latina princess. One of the characters is an "energy-based creature" that often appears in the form of a cat. I didn't understand Garrie's emotions or concerns. To illustrate the necessity of a reader's advisory interview, though, I give you reviews in which the book is praised for its characters (on Amazon, Goodreads, and blogs).

A totally different book in all other appeal aspects, I also stopped reading Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. I'll admit, this was partly
owing to the trouble I have with reading more than one nonfiction book at a time. However, I had a hard time with this book's tendency to use real-life examples of women but barely introduce them. This is an effective means of writing history, but, as a reader who has specific characterization requirements, it irked me. I wanted to know more about who they were (not just some representative experience they had four decades ago) and why they were being referenced.

My point is not criticism but to figure out readers' advisory, and these two books gave me new insight into what's important to me as a reader reading for personal entertainment.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

RAview: J.A. Jance's Desert Heat

After much internal debate, I decided J.A. Jance's Desert Heat is softer-edged suspense, which is hilarious since the subtitle is "A Brady Novel of Suspense," (see my preliminary attempt to understand thriller-related genres). It's the first in her series featuring Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady.

Being in one of the adrenaline genres, the pacing is fast. Regarding characterization, Joanna is identifiable with. Jance includes a quote from Mostly Murder on her web site: "Every woman in America is obviously not a sheriff, but Joanna Brady is every woman.” The protagonist has a nine-year-old daughter and an overbearing mother who drives her nuts, and the book opens with her husband, a cop running for sheriff, being shot. The police (Andy's colleagues) think it was a suicide attempt, but Joanna is convinced they're wrong.

Story line: Perspectives alternate among her point of view, that of the hired killer who wants Andy dead, and his former-prostitute girlfriend, Angie. Suspense lies in Joanna's fears that the killer will return to finish the job, in Angie's slow understanding of what her boyfriend does for a living, and in her escape from him. Of course, Joanna winds up in danger, as well.

The Arizona setting is more apparent in the characterization--"In a world of bola ties and Stetsons, he was the only officer...who consistently showed up for work wearing knotted ties and three-piece suits"--similar to Sophie Littlefield's A Bad Day for Sorry. As is common for the genre, details and language aren't a big part of the appeal. The tone is--shocker--suspenseful. It's also sad, validating, and proud.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mysteries, thrillers, suspense

I finally got The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction from the library holds list! This year, I'm using the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge to expose myself to and start to get a handle on thrillers, but I've been unsure if what I'm reading are even technically thrillers, and it's starting to drive me nuts.

Joyce Saricks groups thrillers and suspense together (along with adventure and romantic suspense) under the umbrella of "Adrenaline Genres," while mysteries are grouped (with literary fiction, sci fi, and psychological suspense--which explains why I didn't find Lippman's Every Secret Thing all that suspenseful) under "Intellectual Genres." So, the first question is whether a book's strongest appeal lies in a puzzle that engages the mind (mystery) or in its fast pace (suspense and thrillers).

In mysteries, solving a crime drives the plot, and the culprit and motive is revealed by the end of the book. In suspense, readers know something bad is going to happen, especially as the protagonist doesn't. The central focus is on suspense, and information is not withheld from the reader as it often is in mysteries. In mystery, "something has happened," and in suspense, "something is going to happen." Saricks' defines thrillers for their emphasis on details of a profession and the way the protagonist uses his or her professional skills to get out of a dangerous situation.

Obviously, this is more nuanced, and I've only just begun to read the book. But I wanted to get a basic primer down with definitions. To keep things interesting, I will read these three genres for the challenge, but I do want to focus more on thrillers and suspense, since I think I have a better handle on what defines a mystery.

*Edit: I should also add adventure, one of the adrenaline genres, which seems to include a few authors I had previously considered thriller writers, e.g., James Rollins and Clive Cussler. Saricks defines adventure as the story of a hero overcoming dangerous obstacles to find a treasure or save the world, and they typically are set in exotic locales and/or historical periods.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Knitted vegetables

I finished three amigurumi vegetables from Amigurumi Knits. The veg section of the book is easier than the insects and sea creatures also in the book, but they were still a challenge. I did learn short row knitting from the carrot, how to pick up stitches from the eggplant, and a few different decreases and increases.

The yarn I used for the tomato was actually the color the book recommended for the carrot--but when it arrived, it seemed too red to me. Then I got an exaggerated orange sherbet color for the carrot so there would be enough contrast.

After all this tiny, specific knitting, I think I am ready to take a break from it and try a sweater or a dress. Now just must find a good pattern and come to terms with how much it's going to cost to buy all that yarn...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

RAview: Blankets

Craig Thompson's Blankets is a graphic novel that follows Craig from boyhood to adulthood, and focuses on his first love.

I don't know how applicable pacing is to graphic novels, but despite being a shockingly fat book, this was a quick read. It has a higher proportion of images to words, which I prefer in GN. It's a character-driven story; the protagonist is sympathetic and likable. The girlfriend is complex but appealing, and the secondary characters are understandable tropes.

Story line themes include religion, faith, the pain of childhood, bullies, teenage sexual frustration, love, desire, abuse, teens shouldering excess responsibility, divorce, family, changing perspectives, drawing.

The wintry setting is meaningful as a symbol of change and innocence. Details illustrate Craig's love for Raina and his self-doubt/inner struggles with his faith. The tone, to me, was quite sad, but that could be unique to me as a reader. Other more common feelings are probably awe, wonder, longing, frustration, warmth, nostalgia.

The only book I've read that comes close to a readalike is Skim, which is a similarly quiet GN story of coming of age, contemplation of love, youthful angst. But it is slight compared to this book, and more visual and impressionistic. Weather and seasons also play a role. Blankets is more directly about a love relationship.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

RAview: Last Journey: A Father & Son in Wartime

Last Journey by Darrell Griffin Sr. and Darrell "Skip" Griffin Jr. is a nonfiction book about Skip's two tours in Iraq before he was killed in action in 2007. He had planned to write a book about his experiences, his take on war, and how to resolve the conflict, but his father finished the book by compiling his emails, journal entries, photos, and a blog post.

The pacing is fast, because of the organization of emails set amongst the father's narrative about Skip's tour and because battle scenes make readers anxious to find out what will happen and if Skip's men will survive. Skip is a philosopher, and he often discusses philosophies, although they aren't explained in detail in the book, so readers seeking a leg up learning philosophy should look elsewhere. Rather, these details help us get to know Skip and understand his beliefs and feelings.

Anyone who has thought about our troops, has conflicting feelings about the war, or wondered what it was like to be there will appreciate this honest, ungarnished firsthand account. Specific U.S. political views are nearly absent even though Skip does discuss reasons for going to war, the absence of WMDs, the opposing Iraqi factions and the corruption of their police and military, and what could or should have been done instead.

There is violence and gore, but it is described as Skip experienced--a horrifying fact of his life that caused him to question his faith and made him nearly unable to come back to the U.S. and live within our sheltered world for his time off. The tone is searching, fearful, proud, deep, sad, and honorable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rose of No Man's Land

I just went on a one-hour, seemingly hopeless online search for a coming-of-age novel I read a couple of years ago. When I was reading Every Secret Thing, I made a note in the margin: "look up novel. teenage girls. friendship. drugs. putt putt. neon. elephant." That's all I remembered about it, but the girl friendship psychological stuff in Lippman's book and how it's so easy to tip into very bad territory reminded me of this primarily forgotten book that somehow stuck with me.

LibraryThing saved the day! Michelle Tea's Rose of No Man's Land came up when I searched a tag mashup of coming of age, drugs, fiction. Prior to that, I had spent a long time trying to find a site on which I could search plot synopses or browse by BISAC codes. I also came across Whichbook, which was fun, but not fruitful. I read on the fiction_l listserv that FictionDB is good for finding books that are escaping you, but I couldn't access a lot of the site since I don't subscribe.

I was on the edge of giving up, but I'm glad I didn't. Now I want to find more books like it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

RAview: Laura Lippman's Every Secret Thing

Laura Lippman's Every Secret Thing is psychological suspense--I think it would qualify as my first thriller! I was anticipating something a bit more suspenseful, but I was intrigued by questionable characters and slowly revealed details from multiple perspectives.

I feel like I'm looking at this book as representative of all thrillers and I was looking for differences in this book and the mysteries I read. I think that's a flawed approach, though, so I'll try here to consider strictly the appeal of this book alone, not as a genre.

The pacing feels moderately fast, especially as vignettes of crimes (kidnappings) are occasionally rattled off. The characters were either not too complex or very mysterious--those working the case and the victims were fairly straightforward, and the suspects were obviously very confusing. I think I would call this a character-centered novel, though I did find myself eager to find out what would happen next.

Story line themes include child criminals, kidnapping, parental guilt, paranoia, one's story and perspective versus another's, preteen girl friendship, race. The narrative is told chronologically but from various characters' perspectives. However, we don't get everything from everyone--and the suspects' sections are short and their perspectives seemingly unremarkable.

Details help characterize the mother of one of the suspects as well as the psyches of the police detective and the suspect's lawyer. There are also details of working as a journalist and police as well as of what it's like to be poor or black in Baltimore and a young girl with a past that won't go away. The tone is eery, sad, absorbing, fearful, speculative.

At the end of the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge, I hope to have a better understanding of characteristics of the genre as well as an ability to do readalikes. For now, I'm glad I'm not too scared of thrillers so far, and what interests me about Law & Order was definitely satisfied with this book.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Knitted aubergine

The first of three veggies I'm knitting for a foodie friend. Wish I could get them done in time for Valentine's Day, but, although small, they require a lot of attention to make and are harder to do while doing other things.

When I started knitting the purple body onto the leaves and stem, my outside was in and my inside was out. However, I just started purling in the round, instead of knitting as the instructions advised. I was worried the make-one increases would look weird but I followed directions for those exactly, and I guess the wrong side looks nearly as good as the right side! This was also my first experience with picking up stitches, but it wasn't too bad at all. Pattern is from Amigurami Knits, a fun book!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

RAview: This Is Where I Leave You

Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You is a character-centered novel that packs an emotional punch. The tone is humorous and profoundly sad at the same time. The narrator's voice (a thirtysomething man who recently caught his wife cheating on him and is back at his parents' old home to sit shiva for his recently deceased father) is so authentic, this reads almost like a memoir, save the occasional too-well-timed-to-be-real irony.

Story line: I would classify this as the male equivalent of chick lit, if such a pigeonholed classification existed. Themes include family, sex, loss, nostalgia, becoming an adult, parenthood, adultery, love. The book is organized chronologically, following the seven days the four adult siblings and mother are sitting shiva. In addition to the present storyline, Judd, the narrator, has dreams and recalls childhood events and times before his marriage fell apart. The pacing is leisurely, mirroring the time the family is meant to be reflecting on the dead but sometimes feel trapped together and forced to face serious drama.

Details primarily help promote characterization--from Judd's mother's too-short skirts to his younger brother's somewhat pathetic habit of quoting pop cultural references at inappropriate times. Language isn't hugely important, but Tropper uses similes--e.g., "the girls are vacant and beautiful and wield their budding sexuality with a certain lack of control, like a toddler with a power tool" and "But this being late August, we get our fair share of men in shorts, showing off pale, hairless legs with withered calves and thick, raised veins like earthworms trapped beneath their flesh who died burrowing their way out"--to help establish characterization. Setting doesn't largely contribute to the appeal of this book, which readers will seek out for its realism, tone, and characterization.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Knitting: eyelet hat

I recently made this eyelet hat from the "Beach Beanies" pattern in Hats: A Knitter's Dozen. Much in this book, published in 2005, feels out of style, but this pattern appealed to the 90s girl in me. I used leftover cotton yarn that I bought for a stripe on a baby hat, so it was essentially free to make. I adjusted the number of stitches because I was using larger needles and heavier weight yarn--unfortunately, it turned out a bit too small for my head (circumference is good, but it's not quite long enough).

It was a fun, easy project that is nice a change from the typical starter hat and scarf.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

RAview: Laura Joh Rowland's The Cloud Pavilion

I'm going to count this as my first review of 12 for the Thriller and Suspense challenge, per the rules, although I do intend to focus more on thrillers, and Laura Joh Rowland's The Cloud Pavilion is a mystery. I'm not sure I entirely know the difference between thrillers and mysteries, but I think it has a lot to do with tone. In the Cloud Pavilion, readers aren't sitting on the edge of their seats in suspense. It's more of a slow reveal as we follow detective Sano Ichiro investigate kidnappings and rapes happening in his 1701 Japan.

Story line: This is the 14th in a series, but it works very well on its own, as the mystery is self-contained and characters recall events from previous books to establish context. This is a historical mystery, and the setting and details are important. Food, markets, clothing, and legal, class-related, and cultural aspects of the 18th-century Japan setting are described in rich detail. There is also a focus on samurai extrasensory capabilities, which lends an air of mysticism to the book. Although there are descriptions of violence, this is not a grisly book. There are domestic scenes among Sano and his family as well as political posturing and Sano's experiences working for the shogun.

I listened to this on audio, so pacing is more difficult for me to identify, but I would say the 10 discs felts like they were flying by. There is a sense of anticipation regarding the case, although there's not much nail-biting suspense as the characters are generally not in immediate danger through most of the story. Characters are well-established and Sano's familial and political relationships drive the plot. Despite the realities of the historical time and place (e.g., rape was not actually illegal), Sano's wife, Reiko, is pretty tough.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I've decided to post the occasional photo of things I knitted here, too, as I don't think Twitter (follow me @bananakatt) is an adequate record-keeping device. I hope this doesn't anger the blog gods too greatly. I figure it's easy enough not to read a post. Also, when the pattern comes from a knitting book, I'll mention that, too.

This is a scarf I finished about two weeks ago (no pattern used) to match a crazy looking hat my cousin has. She loves it and says it matches well, but I haven't seen the two together, and I picked the colors from memory. It's double-stranded, and I left the tails dangling to save time and because she obviously wanted something crazy looking (believe me, that hat is even more nuts than this).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

RAview: Cherie Priest's Boneshaker

First of all, long time no post, I know. Happy New Year! I have this crazy notion that once I get a Sony reader (next week!), I will magically be able to read faster, so I should be less neglectful of my little blog.

I'm also about halfway through Laura Joh Rowland's The Cloud Pavilion on audio, so there is more fun coming soon!

For now, I just finished my first steampunk novel, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. It was a lot more accessible than I thought it would be, if only because I prejudged it based on the sf subgenre's intimidating name. For the uninitiated, here's a Steampunk 101 article that helped me a lot.

The details of Boneshaker are primarily related to gadgetry/inventions/mechanics, which seems like a standard of the genre. What makes it more generally appealing, I'd say, is the characters. A mother and her son, both plagued by their family's past, end up inside Seattle's walls, where the Blight, a gas leaking from the ground, turns anyone who breaths it into a zombie--Going into this book, I didn't know there were zombies involved, and I'm a little sick of them having just read World War Z; however, they're not the main point or even the main conflict of the book, so it didn't bother me too much.

The narrative alternates between the two main characters' points of view, and they both have distinctive, stubborn, kick-ass personalities. The boy, Zeke, has the attitude and perspective of a the young teen he is. In their separate adventures, both meet sundry people in rag-tag clans who've, against all logic, made a life inside the abandoned, poisonous city. The pace is quick, as the reader knows if the two separated characters are close to each other and don't even know it or are trusting the wrong people, and the alternating chapters make for suspense as you naggingly wonder what's going on with the other character who we last left in peril.

The tone is suspenseful but somewhat uplifting, as the mom and son have left a dull life and are on a [dangerous] journey of discovery. The technology is intriguing and exciting. Transporting.

Story line: motherhood, romp, steampunk, Seattle, Victorian technology, alternating narrators, family pasts, local/underdog heroes, the drug world, zombies, airships, determination, character judgments and misconceptions.