Tag Archives: contemporary

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girlonthetrainAlthough perhaps not the most twisted, surprising whodunit/mystery thriller that I’ve ever read, I do give this book an A for atmosphere. Paula Hawkins did a wonderful job crafting the atmosphere of the novel—which was mostly set in a suburb of London. Yet with the rickety trains and the dark skies and Rachel’s (our primary narrator’s) inner demons, the atmosphere definitely feels a bit gothic. Also, I loved that Hawkins gave us not one, but the perspectives of three unreliable narrators. The first being Rachel, an alcoholic who has blackouts, the second being Megan, a young woman who we find out about a quarter of the way into the novel has died, and sometimes Anna—the woman who Rachel’s husband left her for. In the end, for me, I think the questions that the book poses are much more interested than the answer to the murder mystery. Can addiction be overcome? Is there such a thing as a second chance, a new start? Can you ever trust anyone, even the ones you love?
Hawkins does an excellent job weaving the three women’s perspectives together and creating the rules of her suburban London world. Honestly, though, I’m not a big fan of the thriller genre. I probably wouldn’t have read the novel if I hadn’t heard an interview with Paula Hawkins on one of my favorite BBC podcasts. I’d be interested to read her most recent novel, although I most likely won’t be picking up a mystery again for some time.

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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

RavenKing

The Raven King is the fourth (and final?) book in the Raven Cycle. I believe it is the last book and it certainly does tie up the loose ends of the major conflicts of the first three books.

I will be honest–it had been so long since I read the third book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue that I actually needed a recap on the plot before delving into The Raven King.

Strengths: The strength of Stiefvater’s writing in this book is much the same as in many of her other novels. Her strengths are the fascinating details she gives to her unique set of characters, the little revelations about them she offers up that help build their voice and their realness, and also, I think, the lyricism found in her particular style of writing. I personally loved the repetition of certain words or phrases and parallel structuring throughout the book–it lends a feeling of orality/storytelling to the novel, which I thought was only fitting since Welsh mythology has a lot to do with this novel. The Raven King, more than the other books, almost felt more poetry than prose. Or perhaps poetry in prose. In any case–I greatly enjoyed the actual structure of the writing. I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I thought it worked very well.

 

Weaknesses: I have had some trouble with the feasibility of the main characters (as amazing/unique as they are)–especially Gansey. My favorite character is Ronan and I think that is just because I love the way he is described–so fierce and so fragile. Certainly an interesting view of masculinity and adolescence combined. As much as I am super happy that Ronan got to experience some romance in this novel (finally!), I’m not sure if I truly believe Adam’s feelings for him. Everything between them in this novel seemed to happen so fast. That is another one of my critiques–pacing. I thought that the pacing of Blue Lily, Lily Blue was a bit sluggish and in this novel it seemed to go at warp speed. Ronan and Adam kiss. Henry Cheng and Gansey become instant best buds. Blue discovers her true identity and what her father really is. All of these things were important. All of these things made for wonderful reading–but everything happened SO FAST that it was a little difficult to really get into the story.

I will have to say that overall I was happy with the ending to this series. I loved Ronan’s graduation gift to Blue. Adam’s confrontation with his parents in the end felt like closure in real life–ultimately somewhat disappointing, but ever so important.

I would definitely recommend The Raven Cycle series to anyone looking for unique YA fantasy. However, I think my favorite Stiefvater book will remain The Scorpio Races.

 

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Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

herfearful As I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Three Incestuous Sisters, I decided that I would enjoy another book by the same author and bought this on a whim at Barnes and Noble.

I was also drawn to the book by the title–I love the literary allusion to one of my favorite poems (William Blake, FTW) and also how “symmetry” is so close to the word “cemetery.” Just FYI, do not read this book if the thought of cemeteries/embalming creeps you out. Highgate Cemetery is one of the major settings within the novel. The person who interviewed Niffenegger in the Q&A at the end of the book even goes so far as to say that Highgate is its own character in the novel–I wouldn’t go that far, but nonetheless it plays an important part in the story. I don’t want to give too much in the way of a plot synopsis, because I think this is one of those rare books that unfolds itself perfectly for the reader. I love its similarity to my favorite Victorian novels–the symmetry, the doppelgangers, the plot twists, unexpected bestowals of wealth, and family you thought you knew, but didn’t really.

This is a book about love, twins, death, ghosts, London, and growing up. And I loved every word of it!

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Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name CoverI would never have read this book if I hadn’t first listened to an interview with the author, Vendela Vida, on NPR while working on a filing project at work.

I liked the way that Vida spoke and the stories that she told the interviewer. Her voice had a certain whimsical quality–at first I thought she must be a poet, not a novelist.

Later, I searched for her book, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, which had been the main topic of the interview, while I was selling some books back at Half Price. They didn’t have that one, but they did have a copy of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. On a whim, I decided to use the money I got from selling my books to buy this one, instead of holding out for her newer book.

I am very, very glad I did. Northern Lights tells the story of Clarissa, a woman whose father has just died. A woman whose mother left her when she was fourteen. A woman whose identity is shaken to the core when she finds out that her father was not her biological father.

Clarissa sets out on a journey to Lapland–to the Sami (the Indigenous people of Lapland)–to find her biological father, a Sami priest. On the way, Clarissa learns about her mother, about the Sami people, and even a little bit more about herself.

I really, really enjoyed this novel. Contemporary realist fiction can be a hit-or-miss for me. I usually want the fantastic, the extraordinary. And contemporary fiction can often times seem depressing, even hollow to me–the words are so carefully chosen, the sentences are so beautifully crafted, but sometimes I just feel like the FORM of the novel takes over the story.

In Northern Lights I felt that Vida did a good job of creating an intriguing story and balancing the beautifully crafted language she used to create it. Even as a first-person narrator, Clarissa retains an air of mystery. She is in shock and not even the reader is allowed to get too close.

My only complaint: more reindeer! I’ve always wanted to see reindeer. Now Lapland and the Ice Hotel are definitely on my travel bucket list!

Also, I liked how my hometown–San Antonio, Texas–was involved in Clarissa’s story. Vida could have chosen Austin, Dallas, or Houston–any of the cities I would have expected an NYC/California-dweller to have chosen. I might be biased.

I found a copy of The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. At some point in my life (probably not this semester) I plan on reading that one as well.

Here is a picture of a Lapland reindeer for your enjoyment:

reindeer

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Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

afterworldsAfterworlds contains both a novel about Darcy Patel, a debutante writer just out of high school who has moved to New York and the novel that she wrote, about a girl named Lizzie who can will herself into the afterlife.

**warning: spoilers ahead**

The thing about having two brilliant novels combined into one is that sometimes it can be a sensory overload. However, I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading. I loved living in both Darcy and Lizzie’s world. Darcy’s story especially stood out to me. Her interactions with the other YA writers and the lessons that she has to learn the hard way (about budgeting, falling in love, being an author versus being a writer) make for the kind of story about a writer that I’ve always wanted to read: a YA writer. The only thing about Darcy’s story that didn’t ring true for me was the romance. While I can totally believe that Darcy would be a little bit obsessive about her first love, I find it hard to believe that she and Imogen would have settled down and moved in together so fast and that they would have repaired their relationship at the end of the novel. It read as a bit unrealistic to me, given that Darcy would have to move and finally become a college student. I can see them more as being exes on friendly terms rather than trying for a relationship again. Also, this is just a side note, but I loved the little sister/accountant Nisha! I loved the dialogue between her and Darcy. Another favorite side character of mine: “Standerson,” who is so obviously based on John Green.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was an amazing, unique concept that Westerfeld was (of course) able to pull off with fabulous writing.

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The Problem with Borrowing Things, in Particular your Best Friend’s Fiance: A Review of Something Borrowed

SomethingBorrowedSomething Borrowed by Emily Giffin

So, this is a short rant about what I found wanting in this novel, rather than a conventional review. I actually watched the movie based on the book long before ever reading the novel. I didn’t have very many positive things to say about the movie, either, but I decided to give the book a try–because it is my own personal belief that the book is always better (best). And for all the negative things I’m about to say about the book, I can say that it was a fast read, with fairly engaging writing. However, the following are the main three problems I had with this novel:

1. Darcy is as Flat as an Inhabitant of Flatland

Rachel narrates the novel and that means we are privy to her most unflattering thoughts of her best friend since childhood. So as a reader, our view of Darcy is already skewed. I had a problem conjuring up very much feeling for Darcy at all–in Rachel’s head she was constantly bitchy, shallow, and self-obsessed. There was one scene, the morning after her bachelorette party, that was supposed to add a little more depth to her character and make Rachel’s moral struggle with her affair more conflicting. However for me it just fell flat.

2. Please Stop Taking a Dump On Female Friendships

Do we all, at some point, feel jealous of our friends’ lives or their awesome accomplishments? Of course! But having an affair with their fiance just because they’re constantly “one-upping” you in life is drastic and absurd. Perhaps this was what really bothered me about the novel. Sure, Darcy may have a great paying job that she enjoys and an attractive fiance…but every one is on their own path in life.

3. It’s All Dexter’s Fault. All of it. Everything.

So you think this girl in your Torts class is cute, Dex, but she turns you down for a potential night of hanky-panky, which you only vaguely hint at–what’s the next logical move? Is it ask her on a real date? Make even more effort to speak to her outside of school and let her know you’re interested VERBALLY WITH YOUR WORDS? Nope. It’s actually to start a serious relationship WITH HER CHILDHOOD BEST FRIEND, ask the best friend to marry you, then FINALLY MAKE A MOVE ON THAT CUTE GIRL SEVEN YEARS LATER. Oh yeah, smooth move, Dex.

So guys, this was just not the novel for me–though I did enjoy all the food mentioned in the book. It had me craving pizza for three days straight. And just like Rachel, I’m not one to count the calories.

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