Monday, January 25, 2016
Black Iris by Leah Raeder
Laney Keating has been called many things: a slut, a queer, a fag, a dyke, a bitch. She has been laughed at humiliated, manipulated and set up. She is our unreliable narrator. And Laney makes it very clear from the beginning that this isn’t the story about how she changed. There will be no forgiveness. She’s been hurt and she plans on hurting those people that have hurt her. This is a love story. This a revenge story.
This is really freaking complicated and intense. Oh, Laney. How dark and twisted you are. How corrupt, headstrong and bent on getting what you want. How damn well written and believably deranged. Raeder has done it again. Black Iris introduces yet another anti-hero that you want to root for because you understand that some wounds never heal. Sometime inflicting pain is the only thing that makes you feel better. This novel is insane and yet it works. Why? (Because Raeder can do no wrong.) Because Raeder understands what it’s like to be misunderstood and can construct a novel around that pain. There was never a point while reading this novel that I didn’t like Laney. To like her I would have to be able to understand her and that was impossible. Between the drugs, the manipulation and her love life everything was just complicated but that’s what made this novel so good. Raeder places the reader in Laney’s head and the chaos inside is unimaginable.
After reading Unteachable I knew I loved Raeder as a writer. She simple understands how to write about dark, complicated, female characters in a way I haven’t necessarily seen before. I love that. I love her writing style because it’s intense, descriptive and poetic. I don’t know how she does it but I love it. Black Iris gets 4.5 out of 5 stars for me and the reason is simple. The narrative is told in a past to present format that happened so often it became distracting. Part of me wants to read it again chronologically just to see what that would be like. As much as I love Raeder I see how she can be a miss for some readers. She writes about topics that can make some people uncomfortable. Unteachable was about a complicated teacher/student relationship. Black Iris deals with sexual identity in a very complicated, intense and yet brutally honest way. Not to mention the fact that both Laney and Maise were unapologetically bad ass female characters. In my opinion Raeder is the bee’s knees and I am perpetually fan. If you can handle her then go for it.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I hate falling into books with a lot of hype. It can be such a bitter disappointment after hearing great reviews if I don’t like the book. I didn’t have this problem at all with The Girl on the Train even though halfway through the book I still wasn’t sure how I felt about it. This novel is told in alternating narratives between our lead characters. Rachel Wilson is a lonely alcoholic who gazes out of the window of the train as she heads into work every day and has fixated her imagination on what she believes to be the perfect couple. When the woman in the perfect couple, Megan, goes missing she is convinced that she has information that could help solve the case. But between her alcoholic stupor and her extreme insecurity she ends up being largely ignored. What are you supposed to do in that situation when someone’s life may be on the line? Well, in Rachel’s case she starts acting irrationally and makes things worse before they get better.
Well, I sped through this novel. I was so fascinated by the mystery behind Megan’s disappearance that I couldn’t stop reading. These characters were so wonderfully developed and so horribly flawed that it was easy to believe the worst in them. Trying to get through the layers of the story to understand what was going on, both before the disappearance and after, is what makes this novel and Hawkins writing very good. The readers are led to believe the absolute worst in these characters because of how things are playing but nothing is at seems. The moment I figured everything out, all the floating puzzle pieces fell into place and everything made sense.
Hawkins created this suspense novel knowing that the main characters would undergo a lot of scrutiny. These characters are the people you wouldn’t want to have anywhere near your life. I can’t even name a character that I liked in the story. I’m mentioning that because she could have easily lost me and all of my interest if this hadn’t have been a really strong story. I get frustrated with characters that are stuck on making bad decisions and let me just say that this story if full of them. But here it serves a purpose. We are forced to view them at their worst and still try to understand them. It’s not that easy honestly. I did however really enjoy this book and Paula Hawkins style. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars.
Monday, January 11, 2016
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
There are some things you just never want to imagine. One of those things is losing all of your memories and your sense of self because of Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t know how Genova was able to create this novel that so beautifully detailed a realistic look at that struggle but I have to take my hat off to her because Still Alice was amazing. It was heartbreaking in its simple writing style and matter of fact tone. Every moment that seemed to show a little hope was crushed under the staggering reality that this disease, Alzheimer’s, would continue to progress and get worse. The mind would continue to deteriorate and then the world would cease to have true meaning.
Alice Howland is a 50 year old psychology professor at Harvard who thought she was having simple memory lapses because of menopause. That was until she got lost on her usual run and couldn’t remember how to get home. She also went to class one day and forgot to teach. She also completely forgot about a conference she was supposed to attend in Chicago. Alice went to see her doctor and her doctor sent her to a neurologist. The neurologist told her she had early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She would eventually have to quit teaching, speaking at conferences and researching. It wouldn’t be a good idea for her to leave the house without a bracelet registered to Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return program, just in case she got lost again. Slowly but surely she began to forget more things: her daughter’s face, where the bathroom was, the name of almost anything. Alice struggled and suffered stuck in this horrible reality that one day she would forget herself.
I couldn’t put this book down. I finally took it off my bookshelf and was lost within these pages in no time. I can’t describe adequately what makes this book so good. It could be the use of third person POV which kept things impersonal and matter of fact but was still an extremely effective tool in conveying the depth of the character’s emotions. The writing was very matter of fact. There were moments when I felt as lost and confused as Alice. Statements like “How can I be lost in my own house?” resonated loudly because I can’t understand how that is possible and if ever faced with having to ask that question I don’t know how I would handle it. All the characters were well developed, their relationships fully formed, thought out and executed. The progression of the disease was well paced and ultimately disturbing in its persistence. Genova’s writing style and execution simply worked and we are left with a beautiful and deeply disheartening novel about a horrifying disease. This novel was a 5 out of 5 for me. I gained a better understanding of what true loss can be by reading this book.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
Black Cross by Greg Iles
I usually can’t get enough of Greg Iles. He is an author that I have been familiar with for quite some time. When I realized that he had written a historical fiction account of a secret mission during World War Two in Germany, I knew eventually I would have to read it. This novel is the story of Mark McConnell, a doctor who was working at Oxford University during WW2. He was working to find a way to protect the Allies from possible chemical warfare when he finds himself part of a mission to capture a sample of Soman from a concentration camp. The concentration camp is Totenhausen outside the city of Dornow in Germany. It is being used as a test facility for Soman and Sarin gas. Jonas Stern, a Jewish fighter originally from Dornow, has also been recruited for the mission. The two men must learn not only to trust each other but to also trust Brigadier Duff Smith whose been orchestrating the entire event. Both McConnell and Stern know that Brigadier Smith has not been completely honest to either of them but with the plan in place and them in Germany they have to work together if they want to get out alive.
Black Cross is a pretty good novel with a lot of strong elements. The characters are really well developed and complex. It’s a time of war and sacrifices must be made. Seeing how the two characters weighed the pros and cons throughout each situation said a lot about their characters. The fear was palpable and every decision was a life or death choice. The story felt real. The descriptions of a war torn Germany were vivid and horrifying. A lot of research went into creating this story and it shows throughout the pages. The idea of a covert mission that could determine the outcome of the war was fascinating. Sarin and Soman gases are extremely toxic gases and if used on Allied soldiers could have ended the war or life as we know it. Reading about how our characters had to adapt to the changes that came their way was very interesting.
The major flaw of this novel wasn’t the character development or world development or the writing. It was the plot. Black Cross started off very slow. You start off knowing the Mark McConnell survives because you are at his funeral decades after WW2 happens. That killed some of the suspense. It took very long for there to be any action. I was shocked by this because Iles can usually set the pace of a novel pretty well. I’ve never had an issue getting through any of his novels. I found myself wandering a little with this novel. I would read a little, put it down, pick it up, read some more and a hundred pages had passed with not much happening. I was expecting more suspense. I wanted more action. It ended nicely with all the loose ends tied up in a neat little bun. The world was saved. The Allies eventually won. I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. Could have been better but still pretty good.