The Wedding Party (CBR11 #40)

Sometimes I just don’t want to write a review, but I feel the need to do it anyway, just to purge the book from my system and make room for the next. It usually happens with the mediocre books, the ones where you think “well, that was fine I suppose”. That is exactly how I feel about Jasmine Guillory’s third book The Wedding Party. It was decidedly fine.

When I read The Wedding Date last year I noted that her debut showed the possibilities of her handle on craft – that the writing was there, but that there were some hiccups, specifically an over-reliance on certain phrases. I had hoped it was something that she would grow out of as she continued but The Wedding Party was unfortunately weighed down both with repeated phrasing, but repeated situations and character reactions. Like in The Proposal (and The Wedding Date before it) Guillory built herself some very believable and nuanced characters here as she has before, each has their strengths, each has their weaknesses, and they don’t magically solve the other persons weaknesses, which makes for good reading. What made for just fine reading was that these characters have very shallow growth arcs.

Maddie and Theo start the book despising each other, barely keeping it civil as they share a best friend in Alexa. Because this is Romancelandia the characters fall into bed together after Theo’s birthday party and decide to keep up this physical relationship until Alexa’s wedding, which they are both in. Over the course of the engagement the characters fall in love as you might expect, but each – and particularly Maddie – have the same bout of mental anguish over and over and over again. By two-thirds of the way through I was getting a bit desperate for the big dramatic moment to arrive so the plot could start heading downhill.

There were some reveals I thought were handled poorly and I really don’t like that this title is so like the first in the series, but on the whole, it was a fine addition to the world of more diverse romances. I just wish these interesting characters had a more interesting story, or more dynamic inner lives.

Advertisements

Emergency Contact (CBR11 #39)

Image result for emergency contact choi

When Rainbow Rowell says a book is her favorite of the year, I am going to add it to my to-read list and am likely to track it down relatively quickly. In the case of Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact it fitting into a CBR11 Bingo Square category (Youths!) made it all the better.

Let’s get the big verdict out of the way early: this debut is very good and Choi does the thing that I like best about Rowell’s work, she builds imperfect and entirely understandable and relatable characters who feel real and whose world feels lived in. If Rowell is your jam, or you are in the mood for a college age YA (several of our main characters are 18, one is 21) then this one should be on your list.

Now to the less fun portion of the review. It would be poor form on my part to ignore the rabble being roused on the internet (and specifically on Goodreads) about this book. There is the debate about between flawed and unlikeable, as well as the notion that a book that contains problematic characteristics for its main characters is, in and of itself, problematic. To the first, I believe that’s a matter of taste – whether a character is too “unlikeable” for you to read the book is something only you will know for yourself, but I find it to be a method of judgement that I have simply moved passed. Penny’s as a character is judgmental and a tough cookie, someone difficult to get to know. She is also at times quite immature and has internalized some trauma – in other words she is 18.

As to the problem of problematic contents… a lot of the criticism I’ve seen elsewhere leave out authorial intent. Or, if they are discussing it, they are undervaluing the craft. Choi’s book contains shaming, assumptions, stereotyping, sexism, and racist comments because the realistic characters she is writing exist in a world that also has these things. This is YA, not a morality tale.

Is it perfect? No, of course not. Choi doesn’t nail the vernacular of young adults today, instead her characters sound more like the young adults we were (Choi and I are of a similar age). Choi’s next book Permanent Record will be released September 3rd, 2019.

A Study in Scarlet; Scandal in Bohemia (CBR11 #37 & 38)

Image result for complete sherlock holmes

My previous Sherlock experiences have all centered around visual adaptations, starting with The Great Mouse Detective (1986). My mind’s eye had a very specific versions of Holmes and Watson cobbled together over many incarnations Watson, to me, is an intelligent everyman who is aware of the things he does not know – as well as being a man of responsibility and duty. Sherlock is a bit testy, has a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to solving a problem or getting information he needs and is how I was taught the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. I got a little burst a pleasure when a classic Sherlock expression would show up. But, on the whole, A Study in Scarlet left me feeling a bit underwhelmed so I’m glad I also read A Conspiracy in Bohemia before walking away from Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.

Image result for great mouse detective

For A Study in Scarlet we are meeting these two iconic characters as they meet each other for the first time. Dr John Watson needs lodging upon his return from war in Afghanistan (a plot point utilized in the contemporary BBC Sherlock adaptation) and a friend introduces him to Sherlock Holmes who is looking for someone to share expenses at 221B Baker Street. Holmes makes his living as a consulting detective which serves as a point of fascination for Watson who becomes the de facto memoirist of Holmes. For their first mystery, Sherlock is summoned to a south London house where a dead man is found. The police are baffled by the crime and its circumstances: the body is unmarked, but a mysterious word has been written in blood on the wall. Sherlock asks Watson to accompany him so that he can understand as Holmes applies logical deductive reasoning to uncover a tale of deadly revenge.

The story falls apart for me the minute we enter Part II. Doyle decided to completely change point of view and present the backstory of the victims separately. We lose the Watson narration, and with it, the heart of the story. Add in to that the very sensational way in which Doyle presented his Mormon baddies and my modern sensibilities were not having it.

For Scandal in Bohemia the portions of A Study in Scarlet which I had quite enjoyed were present and all the things I didn’t were gone. I haven’t read enough Doyle to know if he perhaps is just a stronger writer in the shorter form (this one is a short story to the novella length of A Study in Scarlet) but a few years into his journey of writing the exploits of Holmes and Watson he had dialed down admirably into his characters and provided moments for their successes and failures.

It seems to me that Doyle is using his characters to critique various aspects of British society. He wrote them in particular ways to get at something; whether it be class structures in England or the expectations assigned to the different genders with the introduction of Irene Adler. Watson, and to lesser extents Lestrade and Gregson, are the more everymen – they have ordered outlooks on the world. Holmes is their reverse, he is unordered, without concern for the things many would be concerned with. Doyle lays out the differences in a shorthand of how the men use their reasoning, be it inductive or deductive. A Study in Scarlet; Scandal in Bohemia It seems to me that Doyle is using his characters to critique various aspects of British society. He wrote them in particular ways to get at something; whether it be class structures in England or the expectations assigned to the different genders with the introduction of Irene Adler. Watson, and to lesser extents Lestrade and Gregson, are the more everymen – they have ordered outlooks on the world. Holmes is their reverse, he is unordered, without concern for the things many would be concerned with. Doyle lays out the differences in a shorthand of how the men use their reasoning, be it inductive or deductive.

Northern Lights (CBR11 #36)

Image result for northern lights nora roberts

I’m glad the CBR11 Bingo Square is Summer Read, not Beach Read because I have a very peculiar definition of what I read at the beach and it is not vacation “light reading”! Northern Lights might not count for some (there are a few murders and a male protagonist fighting through depression) but a Nora Roberts romance will always be a Summer Read for me.

I’ve read Northern Lights before, but its been a long time. In Northern Lights we follow Nate Burke as he moves from Baltimore, Maryland to Lunacy, Alaska to take the newly founded job as the Chief of Police. Nate is also running from the death of his partner less than a year ago. As you would expect in a town called Lunacy, it is teeming with an cast of characters rightfully called Lunatics. Amongst the Lunatics are Burke’s officers, townspeople convinced that someone from Outside should not have been brought in as the Chief, and those who doubt the need for a Police force at all.

An unexpected meet cute with the always dressed in red Meg Galloway leads to what you would expect in a romance novel, but what I love about Meg is that she is entirely self-sufficient in the world which is saying quite a lot for a character who lives in remote Alaska. She is the kind of character I’ve come to expect in 2019, but Roberts had her on the page 15 years ago. It can be easy to take hits at Roberts, her books are often formulaic, and I probably don’t need to revisit many of her trilogies. Nevertheless her standalones, and particularly those focused around some sort of mystery, are reliably good reads.

This is one of those reliable reads, in Lunacy things heat up as a former resident is discovered to have been murdered 16 years earlier. Nate suspects the killer in an unsolved murder is still in town and his investigation unearths some of the secrets that lurk beneath the frozen surface of the town, further complicating his burgeoning relationships in his new hometown, including Meg. I remembered *most* of the plot but had thankfully forgotten the identity of the killer and enjoyed this book as much on reread as I had remembered doing when I decided to request it from the library. Afterall, Roberts is the queen of romance for a reason.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Bone People (CBR11 #35)

Image result for the bone people

I don’t know if I knew what to expect when I decided to read The Bone People. I knew it had won the Booker Prize, which isn’t always a great indicator if I’m going to enjoy a book or not, and that it was an Own Voices book by a New Zealand author. Keri Hulme spent over a decade crafting a story of people of Maori heritage in the part of the country she still lives in, and she was steadfast in writing the novel in the way that made sense to her – notoriously refusing to let any publishing house edit the work and finally publishing by Spiral, a small feminist collective press in New Zealand, and eventually by the Louisiana State University Press in the States.

The Bone People is an ambitious work that uses the clash between Maori and European cultures to paint the background of its world and the inner lives of its mixed heritage characters. The book focuses on the complicated relationships that develop among its three protagonists: Kerewin, a painter, who leads a hermetic, solitary life, convinced that art is sufficient to sustain her and that relationships with anyone can only lead to pain; Simon, a mute 6 year old, who has suffered a terrible wound in the past, and his adoptive father, Joe, a laborer with a nasty temper.

In its attempts to mythicize the lives of its three peculiar heroes, The Bone People never quite lives up to the introduction. Hulme’s storytelling is vivid, backed up by some poetic and evocative descriptions of the New Zealand coastline and Maori myth and legend, which allows her to explore ideas about ownership, stewardship and cultural survival that add real heft to the book. The book is also, at its core, an all-too realistic story of abuse and trauma. The craftmanship Hulme shows in the interior monologues, and even in the seemingly disjointed narratives is very obviously building to something. Then we reach the end of the first section and the reader is left adrift.

The Bone People won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction and the Mobil Pegasus Prize for Maori Literature and with some judicious pruning, the book might well have been the unmistakably powerful visionary fable Hulme was after and that the judges clearly saw, but in some ways escapes me. As it is, and reading it a generation later when I cannot reconcile the extreme violence against a child with the actions of the middle of the book, it is still a very good book about love, redemption, and renewal. But it is unevenly written and considerably overlong.