It’s been a while since we’ve done this! I’ve been busy hosting the plague and SuperTummyBug 2017 and also a wicked reading slump that certainly doesn’t help. I feel like my books are split 1/3 towards re-reads (which I usually don’t review again), 1/3 towards books so bad I can’t finish, and 1/3 towards books that are actually worth mentioning. Add to the smaller numbers of a slump and…well, you see why I haven’t been popping around for my usual Thursday soiree. But let’s pick it up again, shall we?
Far to Go, by Gina Ferris (1993, Silhouette Special Edition, 193 pages, paperback). I had to hunt down this used edition through Amazon Market (love the way they connect independent sellers) because I remembered reading the Family Found series one summer while I was in…what? Junior high? Early high school? Which maybe explains why I remember liking this book so much more the first time around. Yes, the premise is cute – seven siblings orphaned when they were young and now reunited a book at a time as their love story is told – but the writing is simplistic. I vacillate back and forth between thinking it’s simplistic in an annoying hey, try harder way and an encouraging hey, I could write books! sort of way. All in all, the book did its job in that it distracted me from the Trump Administration for another day or two. But it did kill my desire to read the last book in the series, even if it’s sitting on my shelf waiting patiently for its turn. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.
The Lost Time Accidents, by John Wray (2016, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 512 pages, eloan). I found this one on the long list to this year’s Tournament of Books and since I was out of free reading material I could read on my phone in line and at red lights…well, I gave it a whirl. Even though it mentions both saloons and time travel in the summary, two things I loathe in a story. No Westerns. Super picky about my sci-fi. Everyone knows that. I thought maybe this room in Manhattan where the narrator was stuck, unmoored from time, the one that was jampacked with all sorts of trinkets and gizmos, inventions and gadgets, curiosities and all manner of things from all manner of ages – I thought that surely would be enough to win me over because that sounds like my idea of heaven right there, getting to explore an apartment like that! Unfortunately, as interesting as the device was, the narrator was of the Stuffy Old White Man variety and I just couldn’t. Also because my brain kept thinking how plausible the unmoored-from-time ploy really was, and, well, I came pretty close to calling for a straightjacket. So the plot wasn’t for me. The characters weren’t for me (the ones who weren’t the sounded so preposterous that I kept being reminded that I was reading). And the writing… I could see that the writing could appeal to some people. It wasn’t bad writing. It just wasn’t custom-ordered for me. And, well, that’s a problem because I was the one reading it. Yep, not for me. But, hey – I got more than just the “Nope” review I originally wrote. 1 of 5 stars.
Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine., by Diane Williams (2016, McSweeney’s, 131 pages, eloan). Another find from the Tournament of Books longlist, and one I almost skipped because I don’t do short stories. Short stories make me get invested. I get a bite of cheesecake, melt at how good it tastes, or intrigued at a new flavor, and go to investigate more with a second bite, only to discover…there’s no more dang cheesecake. I’d rather forgo altogether than resent everything that’s now left unresolved. And I don’t know what made me change my stance and give Fine a chance – I hadn’t heard a single word about either the collection or its author. But I did and…wow. Someone described the stories as “hammering like a nail gun” (I may be paraphrasing a bit) and I wondered how, but it’s because they’re so short that they wallop you and you’re catching your breath at what just happened before the numb wears off and you’re all OH MY GOD. They’re disturbing and poignant and funny and dry and all more than a little bit off. But that’s okay, because I’m pretty off-center myself. Maybe that’s why with more than 400 ratings on Goodreads the collection still rates at less than 2.75 stars whereas I’ve adopted it as a cult-favorite? I recognize that it’s not going to be for everyone, but with stories as short as just a few pages each, why not dash through a few and see if you find them as dazzling as I did? 5 of 5 stars.
Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer (2016, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 571 pages, library loan). This was one of the books on my personal Most Anticipated of 2016 list. Foer isn’t quite as prolific as fans would like, and while Everything Is Illuminated was…a bit different for me…Foer’s other book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – the one I read first – about a very young boy reconciling his grief over the loss of his father in the 9/11 attacks is one of my favorite books about 9/11 that I’ve read. It’s one of my favorite books about the loss of a parent told from the perspective of a young child. It’s incredibly vulnerable and walks the fine line of letting a kid be a kid as he processes all of these incredibly big life moments (moments we all were processing as adults), without losing the connection with the adult audience. Naturally I wanted more of that! But this…oof. This was a Nope review if ever there was one. It’s a biblical parable about how we juggle multi-tasking our incredibly numerous and demanding rolls without losing sight of who we are. Except. You know. In a What would Abraham do? sort of way. BECAUSE SO APPLICABLE TO MY LIFE. Yeah, no. Or, rather, Nope. 1 of 5 stars.
The Last of August, by Brittany Cavallaro (2017, Katherine Tegan Books, 336 pages, ebook). I actually bought the first book in the series, A Study in Charlotte, because it was the deal of the day and because I loved the stuffing out of it when I read it last year. The re-read held up incredibly well, thanks to the incredibly characters drawn by Cavallaro. The believable and refreshing new spin on the Sherlock Holmes saga – which, really, I didn’t think was even possible – was still fun, even when I knew whodunnit. I liked the romance. The chemistry. The timewarp back to early college days. But that was my happy re-reading of Study. That was all in prep for this month’s release of the second book in the series, Last of August. I was nearly cartwheeling with joy that the next book was out so quickly; I am not used to authors of my favorite series being so obliging. And while I loved that August still celebrated the geektastic smarts of overachievers everywhere, it felt like something was missing. Maybe because the second book felt like it had to create some tension between Holmes and Watson after the first book ended so happily? The old bring-them-together then smash-them-apart trick? Perhaps. I definitely wasn’t digging the tension. The easy cameradie and witty foil of the two playing off each other was what made the first book click. I don’t think it was burnout of reading the books practically back-to-back. It was just…eh. Something. Something elusive. Something I hope I figure out – and Cavallaro figures out – before the third book. Because this was a promising series I was excited to make my nerdtastic daughter read. It’s still good, it’s just not great. And with all of the available Holmes spinoffs, you have to be great to be worthy of being singled out. 3 of 5 stars.