A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki I can't decide on a star rating for this. I loved Nao's segments so much - they were quirky in the best possible sense of the word. The tale of her losing and finding herself (and her family) will stay with me for a long time.

However, while I understand the function of the author self-insert chapters, I didn't think their execution was all that brilliant. It comes across as a self-indulgence on the part of Ozeki, when the same effect could have been created by a greatly reduced presence of the reader character in the book, as well as perhaps not having the reader and the author be the same person. I can see the argument that perhaps it is the author herself because she's examining the relationship between reader and writer - that is, while she's the reader in the novel and Nao is the writer, in "real" life she's the writer and you are the reader. I get that idea - but I don't think it made for particularly enjoyable or thought-provoking reading, as these sections were much less strong than the Nao sections; in particular, I could have done without all of the interjections from Oliver and the residents of the island because they strongly detracted from the narrative.

Definitely worth a read though! I really did enjoy most of my time with this book.

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty This was alright. I'd read The Husband's Secret, and I thought this one was much better as it's dealing with a slightly smaller cast of characters. I liked "young" Alice from the off, and it was nice to be inside her head. The plot isn't terribly original but it putters along nicely and as I was reading this while I couldn't sleep, I wasn't in the mood for anything that was reinventing the wheel.

I think, for me, the key flaw was that we never really found out what the spark for Alice turning into a super-(obnoxious)-mum was. I understood that she changed over the course of having three children and doing the bulk of the heavy-lifting in terms of caring for them. I also understood that meeting Gina had an effect on her behaviour as regarded herself. However, I felt that none of this was really sufficiently explored. It's strongly implied and I think actually outright stated that Alice's behaviour around about the time of the birth of her third child is not much different from her behaviour as "young" Alice, and I can't see why the thing in the above spoiler would turn her into some kind of crazy obsessive mother. It's unclear how long her completely insane and unhealthy behaviour has been going on and why she would change from being a seemingly normal but flawed mother into a weird Stepford nightmare. I mean, Nick seems like a bit of a dick, but I kind of couldn't blame him for a lot of the stuff she cited as a problem. Like, why was he supposed to dump Mike as a friend after he cheated? Don't most people understand that when you're friends with someone and your spouse is also friends with them, and then you split up, the other person might feel a bit awkward? Like, Mike didn't do anything wrong to Nick. You can disagree with someone's actions and still be their friend! Also, regarding Gina's funeral - if Alice wanted him there so badly, why didn't she just put on her big girl pants and TELL HIM THAT?! She explicitly makes him feel like he shouldn't want to go, and then blames it on him. Similarly, Nick seems to go from a normal guy to a career nut with no explanation. Nothing in the way his character is explained to begin with indicates that he has any interest at all in his own career, then, BOOM, he's a CEO or something. What?! Alice is genuinely one of the most frustrating characters I've ever come across, and the worst of it is that I don't even understand how she became that way.

Regarding the ending it was rushed. I really didn't enjoy the way she gets all of her memories back, and, once again, I didn't really feel like it was necessarily a positive. Alice just seems like a horrible person to be around, and Gina also seems like a miserable, petty, irritant. I just disliked everything about "now" Alice, and I think my least favourite part was how Alice actually seemed proud of becoming a miserable spoilt bratty cow. I could go on and on and on about how, apart from Gina dying, none of her problems are actual problems that couldn't be solved without her TALKING ABOUT THEM IN A REASONABLE MANNER. Alice is just so much kinder, more understanding, more empathetic in her younger form. She hasn't learned anything over those ten years except how to be an awful human being and the worst thing is that she takes it out on her children. She is a genuinely awful mother.

On the children I really sympathised with Madison. She's bratty, yeah, but unlike her mother, she's a child and she's gone through a lot. I hated that Alice made her favouritism towards her other children, in particular Olivia, so clear. At least Madison seems real, even if she is annoying. The middle child might as well not be there for all the attention that gets paid to him - oh, he has dialogue, but god forbid anyone do anything but quickly acknowledge him and move on. Olivia is sickening and I wish she hadn't been in the book because every word out of her mouth made me want to vomit.

But I can't end this review without talking about Elisabeth. Oh, Elisabeth. I wish this novel had been about you. Yes, you were bratty and ill-tempered, and possibly moderately mad, but I Felt everything you felt, and understood everything that you were going through, despite never having been there myself. Your pain was so visceral and real and I couldn't have been happier when you got the ending you deserved; although in some ways I think the braver narrative choice would have been to have her remain infertile, I couldn't begrudge the only real-seeming adult character happiness.

No more Liane Moriarty for me, which is a shame, because she can write. It's just a pity the vast majority of her characters are completely vacuous and insufferable.

East of Eden

East of Eden - John Steinbeck This book is beautiful. It's so simply written and yet it explores the complexity of a million different issues with a deft hand. Yes, it is flawed - but it hardly matters when it offers the kind of reading experience that it does. I get the feeling your perspective has a lot to do with how you interpret the book, but that may be the best thing of all about it - no matter your perspective, I genuinely believe this book has something to offer to you.


Disgrace - J.M. Coetzee This book was not for me. The dialogue was wooden, and I felt thoroughly unengaged throughout the whole story. I couldn't get into the mindset of any of the characters. Events would occur - many of them horrific - but they felt rather flat and distant. It's not that I wouldn't recommend the book, but definitely for a different kind of reader than myself.

Fugitive Pieces

Fugitive Pieces - Anne Michaels I'm hovering between four and five for this. A million stars for the sections narrated by Jakob, but I was less fond of the latter two or three narrated by Ben. Still, reading some reviews, I was expecting something more obfuscating than what I got. This hit my sweet spot of lyrical but intelligible. Recommended!

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Paul Torday I really didn't hate this novel or anywhere close. However, I had a few problems with it that meant I couldn't rate it any higher than I did.

1. The structure. While I love (love love LOVE) epistolary novels, a lot of the switches in medium really didn't work for me here. The excerpts from Peter Maxwell's biography, the newspapers, Hansard, and some of the police interview things are superfluous and don't work as well as the diary, email, and letter portions. I got really bored during some of the former kind of sections and found myself glazing over.

2. The way Harriet's character was portrayed with relation to Fred. It felt like her whole story, in particular her relationship with Robert, was structured in order to enable Fred's character development. Although I am glad they didn't end up together, I wasn't terribly happy about the way Harriet and Robert's story played out. Ultimately, I wanted to know more about Harriet and was more invested in her as a character than any of the others. She really suffers in this story and it feels a bit unfair that she is so sidelined to Fred and his marriage issues. The sex scene was icky and felt completely out of character - I would also have preferred if the author had maintained the repressed longing aspect rather than have had that scene in there.

3. The ending. Having two of the best characters in the novel die for no reason just... ugh. It was such a crap way to end the story. I mean, what for? Blugh.

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson I'm torn on how to rate this one - I didn't think it was as good as SYBG as the characters were less well-realised, but when it was good, it was very good.

Also... ROGER? Someone else needs to name this author's male characters.

Since You've Been Gone

Since You've Been Gone - Morgan Matson This was exactly my kind of cute. Like, exactly.

But, still, "Frank"? REALLY?

Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things - Scarlett Thomas What a load of horseshit.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden - Jonas Jonasson What a silly, fun book! Not quite as good as The Hundred Year Old Man... - I can't say I laughed out loud once - but charming in its own right. Nombeko is a lovely main character, as is Holger Two - I just couldn't help but want everything to work out for them! The side characters can be a bit annoying (for example, Celestine is a bit repetitive) but I never found it dull and I even learned a couple of things!

If you like Alexander McCall Smith, I think you'll like this. It's hardly groundbreaking, but the author's tone is delightful.

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith A book you appreciate at so many different levels depending on what age you are. I love Cassandra.

The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now - Tim Tharp Eh, it was okay.

I just didn't care. Sutter was a bit of a jerk, but you could see why, but it never really mattered that you could see why. Amy was just a wet noodle. She just goes from a complete wet noodle to a wet noodle who relies on her boyfriend to fix all her problems. Sutter's friend is also a jerk and his girlfriend Beth is annoying. Sutter's ex-girlfriend Cassidy is probably the best thing about this book and I wish the book had been about her instead of stupid Sutter.

And on and on and on.

There was some nice writing, I guess. But I felt like I'd have been better off rereading The Catcher in the Rye. Holden's also a jerk, you know, but the writing was much better.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe - Jenny Colgan Oh dear. I really wanted to like this. I've seen Jenny Colgan on the telly a couple of times and she seems so nice, as well as being from my neck of the woods, roughly speaking. However, this book was a hot mess.

The basic gist is that Issy, an HR admin (I think?) in a big property development company gets made redundant, and goes into the former family business of baking. She gets messed around by a skeevy property development dude, and finally ends up finding happiness with some investment banker guy, her cafe, and some new friends. Sounds like a pretty sweet story, right?

Look, I was hardly expecting high literature. And I'm able to tolerate a lot of plot stupidity - I love the Divergent trilogy for god's sake. But this was just plain stupid. Issy sometimes seems fairly smart, but then is idiotic enough to run back to Graeme every time he appears on the scene, despite him showing little evidence of having corrected the flaws that she herself has already recognised in him! Austin never goes to his job and is incompetent when he is there, but this doesn't appear to bother anyone! Pearl's behaviour... generally.

The first two thirds of the book is just about good-natured enough to save it from being dull, but the last third became so full of contrivance that I could barely stand it. I began to dislike the characters, and I found the storyline to be trite and irritating. Finally, the ending was just pathetic. The happily ever after part was a complete anti-climax as you'd known for too long exactly how it was going to play out - I mean, the story was overly predictable, but literally every detail of the climax is spelled out about 100 pages before it happens. The bittersweet part with Issy's grandfather's death was probably the best thing about the book as it really brought the story full circle. However, I didn't really believe Issy's reaction to it - I feel like this relationship should have been more central and properly integrated to the book. Finally, the end twist was what really sickened me on the book. Did Issy learn nothing from her experience with the cake shop and her mistakes with Graeme?

So, I'd give this three out of ten.

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson This was a Very Good Book.

For a start, I thought it was a refreshing take on the theme of grief. It had a believability that other titles - in particular, I'm thinking of All the Bright Places - I've read recently lack. I felt like the relationship between Lennie and her sister was completely honest. I could really see that they had been close, that the way they interacted was true to my experience of female friendships and what I imagine it would be to have a sister. Lennie's reaction to her sister's death (not a spoiler, it's in the first few pages) is something I could really relate to. It's neither histrionic nor unrealistically easy. Bereavements can be tricky to write (as opposed to deaths) and I think this is something that is really well portrayed here. I can give it no higher praise than to say that I would recommend it for someone who is experiencing or coming to terms with feelings of grief. Possibly not directly in the middle of the grief, but afterwards. I know I could certainly find elements of my experience with grief in here.

Lennie is such a fantastic character. I think she's such a good portrayal of a strong woman who is nuanced and complex. She makes a lot of mistakes, but they're completely believable in the context. She isn't a wallflower, but she's not a ridiculous "strong female character" (those are okay in some scenarios, but I tend to prefer my characters with a fraction of light and shade - more light, than shade, but still). I was always rooting for her throughout the story, even when she fucks up. I also never felt like the narrative was shaming her for her actions - she blames herself, naturally, but everyone else can see the bigger picture.

Joe was a decent love interest too. He's definitely overly pretentious, but he pretty much fit the profile of every overly pretentious musician I ever knew at school, so I think that works. It's interesting that while he's pretty much justified in his anger at Lennie (though, to be fair, they weren't actually going out, I suppose) you definitely feel a little like he's being unfair. That is the nature of being stuck in the main character's head, though - and like I said, I was rooting for Lennie the whole time. The renunion at the end is pretty sweet - I definitely would have liked that at Lennie's age. I did like a lot of the secondary characters too. Lennie's gran and uncle really made up for her shitty excuse for a mum.

Agh, I never know what to say about books that I love. This was just a sweet and true book, and I'll be reading it again some day.

Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island  - L.M. Montgomery This might be the world's most frustrating story ever told.

At first it's so enticing. College! Phil Gordon! Intrigue! Romance! Drama!


Let's skip over six months for no apparent reason! Let's have a pages and pages long letter from Davy that make me wish he'd just been sent to a damn orphanage instead! Let's have a long and boring interlude where Anne goes somewhere, meets some people we don't care about, learns something she could easily have learned in Avonlea, and hears the phrase "jog along, black mare!" about seven million times more than was necessary! Let's limit the amount of screen time Gilbert gets for no reason other than to fill the pages with people who are not him and are supremely unfit substitutes for such! Let's give the reader time to wonder how Anne chooses suitor with such terrible first names! Let's include a few extra housemates for Anne that we never get to know because... LM MONTGOMERY WHAT WERE YOU SMOKING?!

I'm done. No more for me.

Anne of Avonlea

Anne of Avonlea  - L.M. Montgomery Yeah, this was less good than the first one.

I hated every single one of the stinking children in this one, for one thing. Stories with young children in them from this era never attract me, and this was no exception. They were all so cutesy and blegh. I especially hated Davy and Dora - as well as the super-fucked-up treatment of Dora by Marilla and Anne. Also the phrase "you know teacher" will never be utterable in my presence without me throwing something. URGH.

Some nice Shirbert moment though. I still like Anne, generally. Everyone else is fairly shite, though.