Posts from the ‘Adult Literature’ Category

Homesick for Another World

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.
Homesick for Another World.jpgTitle: Homesick for Another World
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
ISBN: 9780399562884
Pages: 294 pages
Publisher/Date: Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

A collection of short stories that all emphasize the desperate, the desolate, the depraved, and the depressed nature of people as they question and search for connections in their restricted social spheres. A older man attempts to seduce a much younger neighbor during her separation. Another guy tries to seduce his neighbor’s wife into having an affair. A third guy suspects his dead wife of cheating on him during their last vacation together. A struggling actor runs away from home in search of his big break. Two musicians get locked in a practice room. It’s difficult to describe these characters sufficiently in a short blog post. All of them though seem to be seeking validation from others of their worth and existence. Honestly it was a depressing read, and not one I expected or want to repeat.

Advertisements

Under Her Skin

Under Her Skin.jpgTitle: Under Her Skin
Series: Blank Canvas #1
Author: Adriana Anders
ISBN: 9781492633846
Pages: 344 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks, Inc. c2017

“Old hag in need of live-in helper to abuse. Nothing kinky.”
Uma read the ad again.
Jesus. Was she really going to do this?
Yes. Yes, she was. She’d come all the way back to Virginia for the hope its free clinic offered, and if this was the only job she could get while she was in town, she should consider herself lucky to have found it. Especially, she thought with a wry smile, since it’s one for which I’m so qualified. (1)

Uma had fled a relationship with a possessive prosecuting attorney, one that has led scars scattered across her body in the form of a multitude of tattoos. Hearing of a clinic that provides free laser surgery to abuse victims, Uma bravely returns to that state of suffering, securing a job as an elderly woman’s live-in aid. Next door lives ex-con Ivan, who takes in strays and strives to avoid his own past with metal work and martial arts. Uma is just as set at not getting involved as Ivan is to learn more about his secretive and reclusive new neighbor. But Uma is right to worry that their paths might collide and cause trouble for both of them.

Long time readers of this blog know that I rarely read adult titles. This year is my attempt to change that and expand my exposure to other genres. So a new romance title it is, even though I rarely if ever read romance. I personally find them predictable, but people could say that about most genres. Murders get solved, bad guys get captured, worlds get saved, and good triumphs over evil. But sometimes you can appreciate a little predictability, and I know that’s one reason I return and reread favorites over and over, so I can find my favorite parts and live through them again. Maybe that’s the draw of romance, is that you see people find love, and who can fault someone for doing that?

Ivan’s character might be a tough ex-con, but he’s learned methods to control his anger, for the most part. His overprotective demeanor towards Uma and the animals makes sense when you learn of his past. Uma’s self-sufficient spirit and continuing dismay over the position she’s found her in is also understandable: she doesn’t want help, doesn’t want pity, and wants to resume her life with as little fanfare and notice as possible. But she suffers, just like any abuse victim would, and her thoughts and struggles to deal with the nightmares, the physical scars, the skittishness around men, her dire financial situation, and more makes for a very sympathetic character.

The loves scenes were steamy. Ivan takes it slow, and you HAVE to give him props, because Uma’s situation is everything but predictable. They are inventive in the beginning, and it was refreshing to see they are both willing and able to adapt to the needs of their partner. Uma is a strong woman underneath all the hesitancy and uncertainty, and Ivan is able to recognize that, coax it out of her, and allows her to receive and take the lead as needed. Towards the end, someone comments to Uma “Now don’t go running over there all pissed off that he’s taking your ability to choose away and all that crap, ’cause he’s not. He’s giving you a choice. Another option.” (336) I think what I liked about this book is that there was no “will they or won’t they.” The attraction is evident from the very first meeting, they are both drawn to each other, and the pull for readers is the journey, and seeing how they get together, not whether or not they do. Obviously with any romance the main couple ends up together, but this one doesn’t have misunderstandings and blow up arguments engineered to keep them apart. The final hurdle between them allows not only the loose ends to be tied up, but for Uma and Ivan to stay in character. Uma wants to ensure that her wishes are heard, respected, and adhered to, something she never got in her previous relationship, while Ivan needs to reassure Uma that he can do that and reassure himself that he’s not going to regress back to the man he used to be. Overall, I think everyone involved, including readers, walk away satisfied.

Vicious

Vicious.jpgTitle: Vicious
Author: V. E. Schwab
ISBN: 9780765335340
Pages: 364 pages
Publisher/Date: A Tor Book, published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, c2013.

Victor perched on the tub, clutching a drink as he stared down at Eliot Cardale’s corpse.
Eli hadn’t screamed. Pain had been written across every one of the forty-three muscles Victor’s anatomy class taught him twined together in the human face, but the worse Eli had done was let a small groan escape between clenched teeth when his body first broke the surface of the icy water. […]
Victor took another sip of his drink. Eli was a very unhealthy shade of whitish-blue.
It hadn’t taken as long as he’d expected. (75)

Roommates Victor and Eli are also rivals, playing leap-frog with the top spot at competitive Lockland University. Eli’s fascination with the possibility of superheroes influences his science thesis research, which begins to overlap with Victor’s research on the causes and effects of adrenaline on the body. What if becoming a superhero resulted from the application of stresses on the body, specifically those found with life and death situations. That’s when their hypothetical becomes experimental, and ends in tragedy. Ten years later, one young man is hunting other super-powered individuals while being hunted by his former friend. They are both aided by women with extraordinary powers of their own, and both vow that this will only end when one of them is dead.

Flipping back and forth from when events began in college to ten years later, details are doled out sparingly, slowly, without any urgency. Even when death is happening, you sense a remoteness and detachment from the narrative. Factoring the repercussions of Eli and Victor’s experiments, this choice feels successfully intentional. Does personally experiencing death detach the instigators from another’s death? Is humanity lost when you become superhuman?

Readers never really discover much about any of the characters’ lives and histories, just cursory details and snippets of everyone’s past. Their complicated thought processes are alluded to in telling off-handed remarks. Someone remarks they feel cold after using their talent, and they prefer holding a cold drink over a warm drink because “I like knowing at least I’m warmer than the can.” (181) One pair (I’m trying really hard to intentionally keep things vague until you read the story and find out who is who) bonds over their mutual disgust for what they have become and their efforts to rid the world of others like them, who they see as monsters, and it’s horrifying at how far they take this crusade. Eli’s assistant’s motives could have definitely used some more development in order to make her motivations more understandable. More than one person I spoke with was left wondering about the one non-extraordinary person in the bunch. That character could have also benefited from some additional development, explaining why he was so unfazed by the events around him and his almost instant connection with a little girl, who ends up playing a bigger role than initially assumed.

As a result of debate between the boys, there’s a bit of talk about God, and whether they are playing God, and multiple questions are raised. There’s the question of souls and whether people maintain their souls after death or a near-death experience. There’s the question of what makes a hero and a villain. The amount of religious discourse included was surprising, as one extraordinary seems to fashion himself as a modern day crusader. It reminded me of Hitler, who was said to have had Jewish ancestry and yet hunted and killed so many Jews.

It’s a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) nod to this discussion that scenes are separated by a simple black outline of an eye mask. One character towards the end even dons a mask, when methods and habits change, and assumes the costume of a superhuman, although I’ll leave it to readers to discover if it’s the villain or the hero. I guess that depends on your own personal opinion of what qualifies as humanity, death, and survival. The ending is stereotypical of the superhero genre, where the foes may be destined to continue the fight, and it leaves enough niggling uncertainty that makes readers wonder if there aren’t some future unknowns that will influence events.

Slade House

Warning: This review contains things that some may consider minor spoilers.

Slade House.jpgTitle: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Narrators: Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues
ISBN: 9781101923672 (audiobook), 9780812998689 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 7 hours
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015.

Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door. Down the road from a working-class pub, along a narrow brick alley, you just might find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to someone who’s different or lonely; a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside? For those who find out, it’s already too late… (back cover)

I don’t think I could have more efficiently summarized the plot or the tone of this novel which is why I quoted the back cover rather than reveal any of the details that are slowly spooled out. David Mitchell’s story is masterful and I need to add him to authors that I need to read more often. The suspense and intrigue are palatable, as readers slowly gain knowledge of how Slade House works. In the first chapter, we meet Nathan Bishop and his mother, and every subsequent story builds on the first. That I think is the first mistake, as the connections between the events every nine years spiral outward.

Narrators Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues invoke an appropriately eerie mood and captures the unique personalities with equal skill. Judd’s younger Nathan Bishop has the naiveté of a young man, possibly with Asperger’s, who doesn’t understand social cues and probably makes him the most humorous character:

“The next three windows have net curtain, but then I see a TV with wrestling […] Eight house later I see Godzilla on BBC2. He knocks down a pylon just by blundering into it and a Japanese fireman with a sweaty face is shouting into a radio. Now Godzilla’s picked up a train, which makes no sense because amphibians don’t have thumbs. Maybe Godzilla’s thumb’s like a panda’s so-called thumb, which is really an evolved claw.” (5)

Detective Inspector Gordon Edmunds is the stereotypical English “copper”, with clipped, no-nonsense, jaded sarcasm who takes his job seriously, even if it’s just to avoid his boss. Chloe Chetwynd’s voice is also appropriately whispery and tentative. Rodrigues’ is tasked to provide not only the majority of the book, but also has her voice slightly modulated to provide voice to electronic recordings. Between Sally’s confusion, Freya’s trepidation, and the cautious professionalism of Marinus, she showcases an impressive range. The shift in narrators for each chapter is understandable but the choice in narrator for the last chapter is jarring and questionable until the chapter progresses, and especially when you get to the last page and fresh goosebumps arise at the ending’s implications.

The only quibble I have is that the nature of Slade House necessitates huge revelations of information in the guise of investigations, by both amateurs and professionals. It’s like watching a spider weave its web around the prey, and then gloating about how easy it was to catch the fly in the sprung trap. The reason these summaries don’t grow boring is that new information is always provided, leading readers to a nesting dolls affect where each layer is unveiled. Readers are yelling at the victims the entire time to get out, watch out, and just when you think you have it figured out, the next layer is revealed. While I was slightly disappointed by how that last chapter progressed and the new information that explained everything seemed slightly contrived, that previously mentioned last page almost makes up for the easy out. When you get to the end, you realize just how much foreshadowing has been sprinkled like breadcrumbs through the entire novel, and you want to go back and identify the clues. I predict this might end up on Adult Books for Teen Readers lists. There’s definitely appeal for those intrigued by the mysterious, spooky, and unexplained horror found in the plot.

Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun.jpgTitle: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Narrator: Katharine McEwan
ISBN: 9780307989925 (audiobook)
Pages: 366 pages
Discs/CDs: 12.5 hours, 10 CDs
Publisher/Date: Books on Tape, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2015. (Penguin Random House, LLC, c2015.)

I closed my eyes and tried to scream, but only released a puff of air. I felt Paddy’s mouth again and knew I had no chance at all. He would eat me here or drag me off to a glade or valley only he knew of, a place from which I’d never return. The last thought I remember having was This is how it feels, then. This is what it means to be eaten by a lion. […]
The doctor gave me laudanum, and then stitched me up with a hooked needle and thick black thread. […]
“He must have been ready to let you go. Or perhaps you weren’t ever meant for him.”
I felt the tug of the needle, a pushing and pulling, as if just that part of my body were caught in a small current. His words were another kind of current. “What am I meant for then?”
“How wonderful that question is, Beru.” He smiled mysteriously. “And as you did not die on this day, you have more time in which to answer it.” (39-41)

Ironically enough, she did spend the rest of her life trying to find her place in the world. A fictionalized account of a real woman I have never heard of, author Paula McLain elaborates on the details of Beryl Markham. Beryl is a modern woman living in the turn of the century, in an English colony in Africa. Her father moves the family to a farm, even though he’s not a farmer. Her mother leaves with her brother Dickie after only two years, and Beryl is left with her father. She thrives in the bush with a native Kipsigis tribe and a particular young boy Kibi who becomes a life-long companion. But as she grows, she realizes that her upbringing was anything but conventional, and she balks at becoming a cultured woman with nothing to do except tend the hearth and home. From horse training to eventually learning how to fly, Beryl charts her own course, looking all the while for a man whom she can trust with her heart and high hopes.

Provided with engaging story-telling, which sounds quite frequently like you are gathered around a campfire in the safari leaning in to hear the speaker’s words, Katharine McEwan’s narration complements McLain’s descriptive prose. It drops to a whisper when she’s sneaking outside as a child after dark, and has a sense of urgency when faced with dangers and decisions. Beryl’s dialogue is higher pitched and more attitudinal when she is younger, separating it from her older experiences and the “looking back” narration that the rest of the book takes. While I have no idea how accurately the foreign words are pronounced or the people are portrayed, having never visited the country much less the continent, her pronunciations are beautiful. Distinctions between the African residents and those from the English areas are clear. With a novel that spans decades and two continents, it’s an impressive accomplishment.

Readers should read the author’s note at the end, which is where McEwan provides insight on the inspiration for her novel. Drawing information from Beryl’s autobiography West with the Night, McEwan elaborates on this unknown aviator’s accomplishments. First soloing in 1931, she was one of the first women to receive a pilot’s license. She pioneered the practice of scouting ahead for animal herds for safari groups. In 1936, she flew across the Atlantic and made headlines in the United States, but garnered barely a mention in the English papers. Earnest Hemingway recognized her writing skills, which was ultimately what resulted in a reprint of the manuscript 50 years later when Beryl was 80 years old. It’s a book that other readers intrigued by this fictional account may want to search out for the original inspiration.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.jpgTitle: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Author: Susanna Clarke
Illustrator: Portia Rosenberg
ISBN: 9781582344164
Pages: 782 pages
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Publishing, c2004.

“I have studied histories and biographies of the Aureates to discover how they began,” said Strange, “but it seems that in those days, as soon as any one found out he had some aptitude for magic, he immediately set off for the house of some other, older, more experienced magician and offered himself as a pupil.”
“Then you should apply to Mr. Norrell for assistance!” cried Mr. Honeyfoot, “Indeed you should. Oh! Yes, I know,” seeing that Mr. Segundus was about to make some objection, “Norrell is a little reserved, but what is that? Mr. Strange will know how to overcome his timidity I am sure. For all his faults of temper, Norrell is no fool and must see the very great advantages of having such an assistant!” (222)

Reclusive Mr. Norrell is intent on being the only magician in England, buying up every book on the subject, refusing to take students, even causing the society of magicians to be disbanded in a bet intended to dissuade any potential rivals. But after a more elaborate display of magic, Mr. Norrell finds himself moving to London and years later taking a self-taught pupil named Jonathan Strange. Mr. Norrell rationalizes that if he teaches Mr. Strange, his ideas will be the ones to be spread and there will be no dissenting opinions on the matter. If only it were that easy. As Mr. Strange’s involvement in military matters takes him farther and farther from Mr. Norrell’s influences, he becomes bolder in his practices and disagreements with Mr. Norrell. A feud is afoot, possibly encouraged by forces outside of either magician’s control, one that will impact the lives of others both living and dead.

Clocking in at over 700 pages, this hefty novel is unlike anything I have ever read. Spanning a decade in the lives of the two magicians, the episodic prose is dense, scientific, and old-fashioned in tone and spelling. This is the only novel in recent memory that I have read to include footnotes, especially footnotes that are sometimes so complete they require several pages to conclude. Understandably some parts are more entertaining than others, with huge sections requiring concentration in order to slog through detailed accounts of magical preparation, study, and history. It’s unquestionably one of the most exhaustive backstories of fantastical creation, and the magic invoked by the two main characters is almost incomparable, following the rules outlined in the world building. Some readers may appreciate the thoroughness of the details while others will want to (and most likely will) skip ahead and find the more narrative portions, where the plot progresses more rapidly. An ambitious debut novel certainly, which the back jacket reveals took almost a decade to write, but one that readers need to be in the mood to start and commit to reading, otherwise they may find themselves resenting their efforts to complete the endeavor.

The Sculptor

SculptorTitle: The Sculptor
Author/Illustrator: Scott McCloud
ISBN: 9781596435735
Pages: 496 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, c2015.
Published: February 3, 2015

“So what if the art thing didn’t work out? Is it really that important?”
“It’s all I have.”
“What would you give for your art, David?”
“I’d give my life.” (32-33)

With those fateful — or maybe fatal — words, David sets the next 200 days in motion. David has spent so many years trying to accomplish his life’s goal of making a name for himself in the art world. But he’s currently a down on his luck sculptor who has no future work prospects, no girlfriend, no family, little money, and will soon be homeless. So he’s spending his last dollars on his birthday getting drunk at a local diner, until two unexpected visitors – one is an angel and the other is death – deeply impact the next six months of his life.

Visually stunning and satisfying. These are the first two words that come to mind after finishing. Scott McCloud literally wrote the book on comic books. This graphic novel proves that not only can he talk the talk, he can also walk the walk. The writing and drawings are equally affecting, and in some cases I paused to not only process the plot but also come up for air as I was immersed in this world. The monochromatic colors change the mood with the flip of a page, with one section using a much darker blue color scheme to convey the dark emotions and some panels and pages being completely devoid of color. Some pages are more traditional in their layout, whereas others change the tone of the narrative by either switching from a white gutter to a black one, and in some cases doing away with the gutter completely. The full-page panoramic shots are eye-catching, but the varied layouts add interest and keep readers engaged. Sometimes they feature detailed street scenes with identifiable individuals in the crowd, other times focus on a single character close-up which draws readers into the dramatic relationships, and that unique final sequence feels like a flip book as it follows one character’s descent.

David, the epitome of a starving artist, just can’t catch a break, at one point claiming he’s cursed, being told it’s just bad luck, and asking “What difference does it make?” His grand goals and aspirations are what continues to drive him. He can’t think small, he can’t be confined by what others in the art world dictates. He needs to succeed in a big way and make a name for himself, which is especially influenced by his having to distinguish himself from an already successful artists with the same name. He has made promises to himself that he refuses to break, which bring morals and character to an otherwise selfish and self-centered persona. In fact, he’s criticized for his impatience and his inability to consider anyone else’s needs, whether it deals with his life personally or professionally. His life of ongoing disappointments make it difficult for him to connect with others, and you see through his few relationships how loyal he is to them, although those friends have long recognized that they can’t count on him to “act normal”. His awkwardness in social situations is stereotypical (think of any geeky, artistic character, in any romantic comedy, and you have David) but if you have a problem with the stereotype don’t blame the artist and it’s also endearing to watch David try to navigate this space.

Meg is beautiful. Her unexpected meeting with David is rooted in today’s culture, but we view things from a previously unseen perspective. She is so full of energy and life, even though as we later learn she has her own scars and past to confront and manage. Her spontaneous, optimistic, romantic heart contrast against David’s more pessimistic mood swings, but David comes to realize that he can’t just take those attitudes for granted. Many have complained that Meg is a foil for David’s character development and she isn’t as developed as she could be. I feel that while this is a valid complaint, we see her primarily from David’s perspective when they are alone together, so I feel like this point of view is justified within the context of the story. Meg’s background is a mystery, sure, but that’s because David is so self-absorbed he doesn’t think to ask and when he does she is reluctant to reveal and let him in, going so far as to warn him not to let her push him away. While David’s attraction to her is fast, Meg holds him at bay until she is sure of her own feelings.

The presentation of Death is interesting, and David’s conversations with him bring to mind questions of death, memory, fame, art, and immortality. Some questions that spring to mind for possible discussion, if I ever get around to using this as a book discussion:

  • Do you continue to “live on” after death when others remember you?
  • Is David’s pursuit of fame on par with the pursuit of immortality?
  • How did events in David’s past influence his current goals? What are his goals, and does David accomplish them by the end of the book?
  • Is art for the sake of the artist or the public?
  • How often do artists intend their symbolism in art, is it found after the completion, or is sometimes a square just a square?
  • What qualifies as art, and who decides between underground and mainstream pieces?
  • On page 217, there is a discussion about rules, and how you “can’t break the rules”. Is this true? What are some of the rules that David tries to break and what are some of the rules he tries to keep?

Although some have called it cliched with the presentation of Meg as a “Manic Pixie Girl” and David as the starving artist ready to do anything to catch a break, this hefty tome is definitely thought-provoking. The plot twists, while somewhat expected, are no less gut-wrenching as we watch these two characters try to navigate this world. Portrayals of frontal nudity cause me some hesitation in handing it to younger teens, but high school students could definitely empathize with David’s struggle to make a name for themselves and garner fame as they pursue their own futures.

%d bloggers like this: