Book reviews: Tillermans, war-riddled America (that isn’t CNN), and writing advice.

I started out this morning happy to blog because somehow, some way this past week I diddled the lock (in the great Steve King parlance) that was holding my reading habits hostage. I read a whopping ten books in the past two weeks (!!!), so I feel fully returned to former glory. Only time will tell if I can stay this engaged (please, baby jeebus), but I hope so.

Of course, because I tend to expect things to fall this way lately, my morning fell apart when I heard the news about Chris Cornell. He was always a favorite of mine, the top-rated singer on my List of Five Twenty if we were judging by voices only. (Um, everyone has a Voices-Only list, right?) Music was always, even this spring, the one thing that could soothe me, and to lose such a favorite at such a time really throws me for a loop. He’ll be missed. And not just because his voice was fine AF.

And so, I’m choosing to focus on reading and reviews because music right now is a basket of nope. Good thing it’s Book Review Thursday.

DreamsOfGodsMonstersDreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor (Daughters of Smoke and Bone series #3) (2014, Little, Brown & Company, 613 pages, ebook). This isn’t going to be a full review, because I have several friends reading it right now and I don’t want to color their experience. I will say this: of the trilogy, this was the weakest novel. The story pacing was all over the place. Taylor finally pulled it together for most of the third-quarter, finding some snap and sass and her sense of timing, but the last big reveal? I have a sense she was trying to find a larger But what’s it all for? but it seemed tacked on, undeveloped, and unnecessary. I’ll flesh out my review after everyone I know has had a turn, so for now: Novel: 3 1/2 of 5 stars, Series: 5 of 5 stars.

YearofYesThe Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person, by Shonda Rhimes (2015, Simon & Schuster, 311 pages, ebook). To state it simply: I enjoyed this book an awful lot for not liking it at all. I wanted to like it. I wanted it to be a grown woman’s oasis of advice, an introvert’s survival guide, a way to feel like we were in our pajamas in front of Thursday night TV every time we had to drag ourselves off the couch and out the garage. And Shonda did have me turning pages…the problem is that I was looking for her point. I liked the premise: you have to say yes to everything that comes your way in the course of a year, no take-backs, no changesies. I wanted the book to be more engaging, and I don’t think Rhimes walked the fine line between gossipy revelation and Introverts Survival Guide as she’d hoped. Like I said, I kept turning pages, because Rhimes is charming even if you can see through her game, but I’m glad the book was a deal of the day, because if I’d paid more than a couple bucks, I’d be annoyed. At least I can say YES! I read that trendy coffee table book and read people based on their own reactions. 2 of 5 stars.

HomecomingHomecoming, Dicey’s Song, and A Solitary Blue, by Cynthia Voigt. These are all re-reads for me; battered, beat-up paperbacks (though not my originals; those were lost to my mom’s attic years ago). They’re my favorite books of the series: Homecoming, the original book in which Dicey leads her three younger siblings from suburban Connecticut to Providence, Rhode Island, then down to the Eastern Shores of Maryland, searching for the meaning of (and a literal) family; Dicey’s Song, the second book of the series, which picks up where Homecoming left off, as everyone figures out their new roles and start to put down roots; and the third book, A Solitary Blue, a wonderful optional stand-alone that looks at the backstory of Dicey’s friend Jeff, who was abandoned by his mom first as a boy of 7, and then again at a critical juncture in his adolescence, that was almost his undoing. I could – and sometimes do – reread these three books every year, and I’m not surprised I returned to them during a time I was looking for reassurance. They’re 5-star re-reads, each and every time.

WritingLifeThe Writing Life, by Annie Dillard (1989, HarperCollins, 113 pages, paperback). This was a find from the used book store found its way to me at Christmas. I finally stayed awake long enough at bedtime to make my way through. It was a lot more philosophical than I expected; the first few chapters I had to divine what I thought the parable might be, and how it related to writing. The style itself wasn’t quite my favorite, either, so the entire experience was a little off-putting. That being said, any words of wisdom about writing can be put to good use, and it’s short enough that I knocked it out in an hour, so I can’t wish away the experience. I just probably won’t ever revisit the matter. 2 of 5 stars.

BlindsidedBlindsided, by Priscilla Cummings (2010, Dutton Books, 240 pages, eloan). I borrowed this based on BookRiot’s recent Buy, Borrow, Bypass column, with Blindsided getting a hard Buy. It’s built for the middle-grade audience, about a girl growing up as an only child on her parents’ goat/dairy farm, as she slowly loses vision due to mysterious medical reasons. Natalie is sent to a special school to learn how to be a blind person navigating a world built for the sighted. Though she (and her parents) initially resist, the heart-warming story inevitably comes around with Natalie’s change of heart. And just like it sounds, the story was a bit too schmarmy for me. I’m sure it’s a better sell for the tween and early teen set, much as the Lurlene McDaniels stories were for my generation. There’s something about the worst-has-come-to-pass stories that are just what you need right then – if only to overshadow all the trivial embarrassments you’re forced to ensure day in and day out. But for me, it felt like the backstory of WHY was glossed over, rushed, and too two-dimensional. I wish more time had been spent mounting evidence, building worry, delving into what-if as Natalie (and her parents) dealt (or not-dealt) with what was happening. Instead, the story centered around Natalie learning practicalities and building a new corps of support. Ultimately, framing the story this way felt like ableism as fashion accessory that was too hard to stomach. 1 of 5 stars.

AmericanWarAmerican War, by Omar El Akkad (2017, Knopf Publishing, 352 pages, eloan). A brilliant debut novel imagines America’s second civil war, with some plague, some mid-apocalypse, and heavily cinematic language telling the story thrown in there for good measure. The borders are reimagined (don’t worry, there are maps), the threats are all too possible, the scenarios familiar – the resource-rich South has seceded because petroleum has been outlawed (climate change is a background kickstarter for the plot), and tempers are hot all around. El Akkad does a beautiful job of making the story both fresh and relevant and somehow new despite the politics of it happening every day in every headline. This is going to be one of the it books of the year. 4 of 5 stars.

Okay, folks – there are others I haven’t gotten to, but I’ll have to append them to next week’s bounty. Let’s not enjoy all the spoils the first week back!


One Response to “Book reviews: Tillermans, war-riddled America (that isn’t CNN), and writing advice.”

  1. Kim Says:

    Ooooh, dibs on American War!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: