Posts tagged ‘Adult Fiction’

How to Stop Time

How to Stop TimeTitle: How to Stop Time
Author: Matt Haig
ISBN: 9780525522874
Pages: 325 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

I am old.
That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.
I am old — old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old.
To give you an idea: I was born well over four hundred years ago on the third of March 1581, in my parents’ room, on the third floor of a small French chateau that used to be my home. (5)

Estienne Thomas Ambroise Christophe Hazard has lived a long life under many names. Now going by the name Tin Hazard, he has earned a position teaching history at a prestigious school in London. As Tom told the head of the protective Albatross Society, a group that purportedly aids people like him who age slowly and live longer than most, he wants “an ordinary life.” But as a reluctant member of this society billed as safeguarding his existence, there is no such thing as an ordinary life. One of the rules of this society is to never fall in love, which Tom has no trouble with after loosing his first love, wife Rose, and second love, daughter Marion. The main reason he continues to hide from society is so he can continue to search for his daughter, who disappeared after her mother died while he was away trying to prevent their persecution. However, when someone new enters the picture and questions his lonely connection to this world he’s lived in, Tom wonders if he’ll be breaking this rule in order to break free. And if he does, what will happen to the person he’s finally started to care about?

I find myself more focused on the characters then the writing style, which I guess says all you need to know about the narrative. When asked to describe this book, I find myself comparing it Time Traveler’s Wife meets Tuck Everlasting, although I guess it’s more a romantic version of Tuck Everlasting. Which is to say that unexplained longevity and the challenges that come with it are not new to literature. There is definitely a romance afoot from the very first time Tom (along with readers) is introduced to French teacher Camille, as he describes himself as “momentarily mesmerised” by her laugh-lit face. Camille herself however seems to be more an impetus  for Tom to pivot his thinking around. He is resigned to his existence, however melancholy, until he meets Camille, whom we learn very little about but who’s existence forces him to reconsider his secretive brooding apathy. At one point she relates Tom how as a child with seizures “I was scared of life. […] I was always worrying I could die at any minute.” Of her time working in a grand hotel, she says that she “would be speaking to people all the time, all day, checking in, checking out, but there was never anything deep and meaningful to it” and that philosophy so closely mimics Tom’s attempts at blending in with life but for the complete opposite reason. Even though their reasons are the exact opposites — Camille afraid of a short life, Tom afraid of a long life — they face the same demons of loosing love and being afraid of opening themselves up again. (237 – 238) And slowly, eventually, they both come to accept the advice that Tom gets from an older woman finally approaching the end of her life who also suffers from Tom’s condition; “There comes a time when the only way to start living is to tell the truth. To be who you really are, even if it is a dangerous.” (265)

The book time jumps quite a bit though (hence Time Traveler’s Wife), as we see Tom’s “original” life in the late 1500s, some snippets during his employment with Shakespeare, Captain Cook, and Fitzgerald, and finally a more modern day environment. Tom’s desire to stay off the radar is understandable when we see how first his mother and then his love were persecuted by his inability to age. It’s interesting to compare the injustice done to these women (they were accused of bewitching him) and Tom’s damnation through association, rather than Tom facing the public stigma directly. As told by someone Tom later met, “She had cast a charm and killed a man to give her boy eternal life.” (156) As a final cherry on top, the one other person he trusts with his secret, a doctor exploring aging named Dr. Hutchinson, also is on the receiving end of consequences due to Tom’s condition. How does that compare today, when women’s actions are used to justify strange appearance or behavior of another guy? Maybe I’m stretching here, but I can’t deny that my brain made that connection.

Hendrich, the only other person that we actually see for most of the novel who shares Tom’s condition (there are others who pass through), is more of an enigma then Tom. Throughout the course of the novel, we receive very little background information about Hendrich, who seems to be the brains behind this organization that operates under the guise of protecting the afflicted. However, we don’t know any details regarding its establishment, Hendrich’s early life, or his ability to continue to serve as it’s defacto head. Also, Tom and everyone else’s blind acceptance of his authority is never fully explained, except that Hendrich catches Tom at a weak point in his life and seems capable of manipulating people’s emotions. He continues to promise Tom his help in Tom’s search for his missing daughter, but I wonder at what point even someone with such a long life as Tom and Hendrich would finally get tired of waiting. It’s also difficult for others who have this condition to envision anything different then this agreement because they are intentionally left isolated from each other by Hendrich. He seems to pull power from his unlimited knowledge of the others and his own unhindered activities and mystery, much like the Wizard of Oz, and his methods are never elaborated.

A lot of options for discussion direction, possibly particularly with a book group with older participants as they grapple with their own questions of longevity and loneliness. I end this blog with a final quote, almost at the very end of the book.

“Why are you the one scared of time? You’re going to live for ever. […] It’s strange.”
“What’s strange?”
“How much time you spend worrying about the future.”
“Why? It always happens. That’s the thing with the future.”
“Yes, it always happens. But it’s not always terrible.” (323)

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Barking Up the Wrong Tree.jpgTitle: Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Series: Bluff Point Romance #2
Author: Jenn McKinlay
ISBN: 9780399584749
Pages: 315 pages
Publisher/Date: Berkley Sensation, published by Berkley, , an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.

“Are you flirting with me?” he asked. His voice was a low rumble that resonated somewhere in Carly’s tailbone, making her entire body hum like a tuning fork.
“You started it,” she said.
“I thought you were set on doing the ‘friends’ thing, buddy,” he said.
“I am,” she shrugged. “It’s just kind of a new thing for me. I usually don’t see a man after I’ve slept with him, but I do enjoy flirting with my guy friends and it’s hard to shut off. You’re kind of a new category for me.”
“I like that,” he said.
He was too close. […] She had to get a handle on this thing between them before it spiraled out of control–again. (142)

Carly has moved back into her parents’ house after she lost her job to downsizing. Although they’ll be out of town for the immediate future, her pain of a younger sister will still be living there. Add into the mix the dog and the foul-mouthed talking parrot she inherited from a neighbor, and Carly is less then thrilled. Looking for a distraction at the local bar, she meets James Sinclair, and sparks fly. While James is anxious to continue this relationship, Carly’s policy is one and done, and she is not keen on changing that for anyone, no matter how good the kisses (and other physical acts) make her feel.

I think my favorite part of the book is when Carly and James are placed in a position where they have to explain to James’ family how they met. They alternate coming up with one outlandish scenario after another, from jail to a charity bachelor auction to a strip club. This sort of humor runs throughout the novel, especially when Carly’s new pets interact with the people and James’ disabled dog Hot Wheels. Past relationships with family members complicate things for both James and Carly, but they work it out. James is a sweetheart, a fact that Carly recognizes repeatedly. Carly has more hesitancy in seeing where this heads than James, although her attempts to keep him at arms length are half-hearted at best as they share simmering gazes, flirty banter, seductive physical contact (arms around waists and necks) and sultry kisses through most of the book. There’s never any question that these two will end up together, and it’s only amusement at the lengths Carly will go to prevent it and the persistence James showcases in making it happen that encourage readers to continue to the end. Reoccurring characters from About a Dog, the first book in the series, will show up. The friendly banter is a little frank for my taste at times, but the friends truly care for one another and look out for each other, even if it’s not what the person thinks they want. It’s unnecessary to read them in order, and this one continues the trend of being a light, funny, fast read for fans of flings that turn into love at first sight.

SP4RX

SP4RX.jpgTitle: SP4RX
Author/Illustrator: Wren McDonald
ISBN: 9781910620120
Pages: 116 pages
Publisher/Date: Nobrow Ltd., c2016.

“Well the thing is, STEVE, they’re literally removing people’s brains and replacing them with manufactured ones —”
“That’s where you’re wrong, DANA, it’s the same brain, just altered for efficiency.”
“And what? That makes it ethically sound?? These impoverished low-level people are now being forced to work 36 hour shifts for God’s sake! And they are supposed to take ELPIS PROGRAM as a blessing?!”
“Dana, Look. Do you know how much these workers can make in a 36 hour shift? ELPIS gives them the means to provide for their fam-”
“PLEASE! Is that what you tell yourself[…]?!” (27)

In an unspecified dystopian future, SP4RX is a Bitnite, a hacker for hire. He doesn’t ask questions, only delivers the goods, until another hacker named Mega steals the program he heisted. It leads him to meet with a small resistance force with the self-assigned mission to stop a corporation implanting people with upgrades that allow them to be controlled remotely. Initially opposed to joining them, SP4RX realizes that their way might be the only way to maintain the slim direction over his own destiny.

Reminiscent of Fifth Element meets the Matrix, with maybe a little bit of Futurama and Dr. Who’s daleks thrown in for good measure, it’s not uncommon in this world for people to have cybernetic enhancements, communication takes place in person as often as in the virtual world, and the word “eliminate” has replaced “exterminate”. The art work is done in black, white, gray and purple, with the story segmented by full page graphics that feel like filler, or chapter or volume dividers, even though they aren’t labeled as such. A distracting feature is that characters are drawn sometimes with noses and sometimes without with little consistency as to which or why one way is chosen over the other. The story feels like a generic end of the world mashup, with little in the way of a back story explaining how they got to this point. By the end of the book, I was most interested in the minor character of the OBD droid, whose bodyless head steals every scene it’s in, as its implanted empathy drives the dogged search and loyalty it shows for SP4RX. Give that little guy its own series next time, and leave the rest to become more efficient.

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.

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.

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