Friday, August 11, 2017

FUSE


Review of FUSE by JULIANNA BAGGOTT
(second in the PURE trilogy)

It took me a long time to get into this book. Were I someone who gives up on books, I may have stopped reading simply because this didn’t hold my interest for a decent chunk at the start. That said, once I did find myself being pulled in, the book pulled me in hard. I became more and more invested in the story with each page, an ardent fan well before the end. Hard for me to say why, but I suspect because the book feels more plot and action driven near the beginning while what I adore most about this series is the complex, unique characters.

At the end of the first book, Partridge escaped the Dome and uncovered a mess of lies perpetrated by their leader, his father. They send his crush Lyda out after him in the hopes she can convince him to return. The ironic twist is that Lyda ultimately wants to stay outside while Partridge feels he needs to return. Partridge also met his half-sister Pressia. She continues working with her companions Bradwell and El Capitan in an effort to decode each new mystery they encounter.

I expect some people love this story for the worldbuilding, the disfigured Beasts and Dusts left by the detonations as well as the politics surrounding the Dome and its inhabitants. Personally, I skim the action scenes. For me, the characters make this story. I LOVE these characters. Every one feels vibrant and intriguing, the relationships between them very real and layered. In fact, I adore these characters enough to talk about each one by one.

First, there’s Pressia, our original heroine from book one. The detonations left her with a doll in place of a hand and a fighter spirit that carries her through everything. Then there’s her half-brother Partridge, who is only now awakening to the realization that his sheltered life in the Dome has all been a cruel deception. I especially like Partridge’s crush Lyda, mostly because she would hate me labeling her that way. As much as she likes Partridge it only takes a little taste of freedom outside the Dome for Lyda to decide she would rather dangerous freedom than controlled safety; that includes Partridge’s own protective behavior. Pressia has a love interest of her own, the understandably cynical Bradley who shares her inquisitive mind. However, El Capitan has to be my top favorite character. The detonations fused his own brother Helmud to his back, but reduced Helmud’s verbal capabilities to repeating overheard phrases or words. El Capitan is a fierce, merciless man of war battling his own insecurities about being an unlovable monster. Last, I want to mention a new addition in this book, Iralene. She comes into play later, so I won’t say too much, but she’s a tragically convincing portrayal of someone pushed past the boundaries of a natural, healthy human life.

At times I found the villain, Partridge’s father Willux, too hyped for my tastes, more when others discuss him from a distance. I found I most related to the smaller interactions between him and his son Partridge. It’s unsettling imagining the mindset of anyone who can isolate emotions and rearrange his own perspective as needed for whatever he wants to accomplish.

Before signing off from this review, I do want to call out one thought I particularly admired from Pressia’s perspective. Having grown up in a post-apocalyptic world with few resources, no luxuries, and very little human connection, she muses on what she has learned about her mother’s past life before the detonations. Consider this beautifully phrased line: “Pressia can’t help but think of her mother as love-rich, love-spoiled.” In a society that puts so much emphasis on material possessions, I cherish the idea of reflecting on how love spoiled I am.

Friday, July 28, 2017

THE PENULTIMATE PERIL


Review of THE PENULTIMATE PERIL by LEMONY SNICKET
(twelfth in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

At long last we reach the second to last book in this tragic series. Momentum builds for a grand finale as the Baudelaires go undercover as concierges in a hotel that is mysteriously attracting almost every person, good and bad, from their recent past.

As if they don’t have enough difficulty telling friend from foe these days, there are also two managers named Frank and Ernest. One of them is an ally and one is a villain. Oh, but did I mention that they’re identical twins? In the end, the Baudelaires can’t tell who is who, so they can’t exactly reveal themselves or ask for help from either manager.

Nearing the end of the series we also see the Baudelaires straining to maintain their previous code of ethics. They’re starting to wonder what the good of doing good is if it only brings them so much bad. Doing the right thing has never served them well and you can see that harsh truth pressuring them like never before during their stay in the hotel.

My only quibble with this book is the long paragraphs. I haven’t compared, but I could swear this is only a trend with this particular book, not the whole series. The paragraphs run much longer then earlier books, to the point that some paragraphs go on for several pages before a new one. From a format standpoint, a paragraph is similar to a new sentence or a comma: it’s a pause between thoughts. To me, the long paragraphs feel very rambling and like I am not being given a moment to digest anything between these rambling thoughts.

The next book, the thirteenth, is the last in the series and I cannot wait to see how the orphans conclude their terrible story. Fingers crossed that they choose not to give up on good!

Friday, July 14, 2017

PAW AND ORDER


Review of PAW AND ORDER by SPENCER QUINN
(seventh in the CHET AND BERNIE mysteries)

Private investigator Bernie takes his beloved dog and most trusted partner Chet to surprise Bernie’s journalist girlfriend Suzie after she moved away. The sweet surprise turns awkward when Bernie bumps into another man leaving Suzie’s place. Even more awkward when the same man turns up dead less than a day later and the cops suspect Bernie.

The unique spin on this mystery series is that each story is told through the dog Chet’s perspective. A lot of fixation on smells and food, folks! As I’m finding usual with these books, I enjoy the narration more than the actual mystery. It’s worth mentioning that I’m not much of a mystery reader anyway, unless there’s something thematically that appeals to me like a focus on dogs or books. I usually find myself far less interested in Bernie’s leads and theories and even the ultimate reveal than I am in Chet’s tangents, obsessions, and other cute dog behavior twisting and turning the case in unexpected ways.

A fun layer to this particular perspective is how Chet adores his owner Bernie. As far as Chet is concerned Bernie is perfect. Chet’s only begrudging, embarrassed criticism is on the issue of Bernie’s appalling human sense of smell. Along those lines I found myself impressed in this one with how much the author must have thought through all the smells dogs encounter. Chet comments on all kinds of details that never would have occurred to me, but that do make perfect sense.

This is another fun, quick read following an adorable, dedicated dog’s efforts at solving crime.

Friday, June 30, 2017

THE GRIM GROTTO


Review of THE GRIM GROTTO by LEMONY SNICKET
(eleventh in the A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS series)

After barely escaping Count Olaf’s clutches at the end of the last book, the Baudelaire siblings find themselves, of all things, aboard a submarine. Here they continue their quest for answers while evading the relentless villain Olaf.

I like the shift in setting. The ocean is certainly a unique change of pace! In general, I prefer the whole series more when the books moved away from the repetitive going from one guardian’s house to another and on to more original locations.

Even this late in the series, we meet new characters. The Baudelaires make new friends and a possible new antagonist is introduced. Or perhaps an ally? All we know for certain is that this mysterious new person scares Count Olaf, which could be very good or very bad.

As more unfolds on the mysteries of V.F.D., alliances become a constant question mark. People the Baudelaires trusted have betrayed them and other times they discover surprising allies. It’s hard to know what to think anymore, but at least they can always remain confident placing trust in each other.

Sunny in particular emphasizes the passage of time throughout this series. She’s less an infant and more a notably mature toddler now. Her gibberish makes increasing sense, she walks instead of crawls, and her passions shift from biting things to cooking.

As I near the conclusion of this long series, I’m eager to see how it ends. While this is a re-read for me, I only remembered the first few books and from there everything else has felt fresh. I definitely don’t recall how it ends at all. The author has created a complex web of plot threads and I hope the end lives up to everything he’s designed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

CATSKIN


Review of CATSKIN by ARTEMIS GREY

Poor Ansel’s world turns upside down the day he finds a quiet, injured girl hiding in his parent’s barn. Having been teased most of his life for being albino, Ansel’s an introvert not partial to meeting anyone new. But with this girl bleeding out and no one else around, he starts taking care of her. He even nicknames her Catskin based on a fairy tale, and at first she does seem much like a stray animal: she won’t speak, she lashes out sometimes even when he’s only trying to help, and she seems driven by nothing more complex than survival.

Gradually, though, as she feels increasingly safe and loved, Catskin reveals more personality. Though she still won’t share her real name or talk about her past, she and Ansel form a connection he never would have anticipated. Not just Ansel. His entire family takes Catskin into their hearts, no questions asked. And they’re ready to fight for her when someone threatens to take her away.

This book is above all a heart warmer, rooted in themes about finding your soul family, rather than defining family only by blood relations. It’s also extremely romantic but without any actual bodice ripping. Ansel’s parents raised him on traditional values, so against his body’s urgings he won’t sleep with Catskin. Nevertheless, the sexual tension between them is one of the book’s primary drivers.  

My only regret is that I wanted Catskin herself a little more developed. We follow Ansel’s point of view, so we feel very close to his every thought and reaction. Meanwhile, Catskin is a quiet, minimally expressive, closed off mystery. Without being privy to her thoughts I felt like I never got to know her to the degree I wanted.

This is a fun, warm, endearing novel about finding those people who become your home.

Friday, June 9, 2017

SLIPPERY SLOPE


Review of THE SLIPPERY SLOPE by LEMONY SNICKET
(tenth in the A SERIES OF UNFORUNATE EVENTS series)

At the end of the last book the Baudelaires found themselves swept away by the current. Now they’re carried out to sea where a submarine fortuitously rescues them. On this submarine they make some new friends and run into some old, as well as uncover more information about the mysteries keeping them on the run.

I just adore the narrator’s voice in this series. Each book has several quote-worthy lines, but I’ll pick out my favorite from this one: “Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.” Too true, witty and mysterious narrator, too true.

Minor spoiler, but Count Olaf actually doesn’t play as much of a role in this book. At this point he has become a constant background threat even when he’s not around and, for that reason, probably isn’t needed on as many pages. Oh, he does make his obligatory appearance, but he isn’t driving this story anymore. The Baudelaires are far more preoccupied with pursuing answers.

We’re nearing the end of the series now. Even though these are re-reads for me, I don’t recall the ending, so I’m eager to see how the author wraps up all these ambitious plot threads.

Friday, June 2, 2017

THE NANNY


Review of THE NANNY by MELISSA NATHAN

This one was a re-read for me. At first I worried I had misremembered how much I liked this book, as it wasn’t holding my attention yet. Then around page 20 it became clear why this made my re-read list. Our main character Jo starts musing on why she has refused her boyfriend’s marriage proposals three times. “Did he really think she’d want to start their married life feeling like his role was to make the decisions, hers to agree or disagree with them?” I know chick lit novels are meant to be lighter in content, more about entertainment than deep reading, but my favorites always carry at least a small thread of deeper content to them. In this case, I respect Jo’s feminist values and that respect makes all the silly humor of the rest of the novel even more enjoyable.

The premise of this book is that experienced nanny Jo accepts a job in London working for a wealthy family. She’s a small town girl and this means leaving the place where she’s spent her life, leaving her parents, and leaving the boyfriend who keeps proposing. It doesn’t take Jo long to figure out why the salary for this particular family is so high, but she’s up to the task of learning everything she needs to on the job. However, things become a bit more complicated when her boss’s adult son moves in as well, to the room right next to Jo’s. She can deny it all she wants, but it’s obvious to the reader from the get-go that there’s chemistry there...and that Jo sidestepping around the fact that she does have a boyfriend isn’t going to end well.

The dialogue in this novel is particularly fantastic. There’s a big cast and plenty of pages where a conversation turns into a quick back and forth between several characters, often a very entertaining back and forth.

THE NANNY is a fun, light read with some real depth on women’s issues subtly woven into a lot of humor.