The Child Finder – Likeable and Annoying

If you can like a book and find it annoying at the same time – that’s what I did and the reason for my 3 out of 5 star rating of The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld.

Denfeld wrote a page-turner and, yes, the characters are interesting, but I found Naomi to be the only truly complex, real character. Every other was a struggle to relate to… which is alright in the fact that my experiences are vastly different to Denfeld’s characters, but as a reader you NEED to related to a novel’s cast or you don’t feel as invested.

I completely disagree with the sentiment that The Child Finder is a top book of the year or a thriller. The writing is nice and quick but in no way remarkable.

Our narrator, Naomi, is a young private investigator known in her field as ‘the child finder’ due to her unique talent of locating missing children. The reader follows Naomi through a few cases which seem to echo her own past in ways she hasn’t felt comfortable exploring previously.

While I enjoyed the Denfeld‘s book, I would recommend dozens of others before this.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A Man Called Ove – 3 Stars

As I close A Man Called Ove, I have to admit the ending was the strongest, most emotive portion of Fredrik Backman‘s 2014 novel.

Ove, the narrator,  is a stubborn man learning to navigate a life without​ his wife – an enduring marriage suddenly half empty – now missing her love and her laugh. The reader is walked through how Ove tries to redefine his days, whether by living them or not.

I found myself a bit surprised that the book I’ve been carting around reading is, in fact, an international best seller. Ove is an only mildly complex character – a grumpy, fatigued, lonely and obviously depressed man – newly widowed. While these traits were obvious, Ove and his fellow characters were, in my opinion, only shallowly developed.

Even halfway through A Man Called Ove, I would have expected the novel to have been shelved in the Young Adults section rather than in Fiction alongside the classics. Not to say that incredible reads aren’t lined up neatly with the Young Adults books – quite the opposite. I say this simply as a reflection on the style of writing.

Beyond my criticism, A Man Called Ove was an entertaining read with the necessary pits, arcs, and triumphs that every reader expects. The story structure is intact, if leaving, for me, something to be desired.

Rating: 3 out 5 stars

A Little Life – 4 out of 5 stars

Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is as mysterious as its front-most narrator.

Yanagihara weaves a hard-to-read novel that gives mental health the attention the rest the world rarely does.

Well-written and remarkable while simultaneously grammatically frustrating. As much as I valued the book and rate it highly with full recommendations, Yanagihara’s use of personal pronouns is wildly distracting. I found myself wondering if this was done on purpose or whether the choice in editor was poor.

You see, every main characters is male and each periodically takes a turn narrating. This would be fine if there were any indication whatsoever that a change had or would soon take place. Instead, Yanagihara simply continues with “he” and “him” and “his” while referring to new nouns without bothering to define them. The reader then spends anywhere from a few paragraphs to pages and pages attempting to follow Yanagihara’s train of thought.

While some authors make changes like this with varied chapters, fonts, titles, or the like – it seems like that concept would be, at best, an after-thought in this case. The book would have received an extra star, meaning full five out of five, from me if these and similar grammatical errors had been given more thought.

Pushing grammar, use of fragments, ending with prepositions – none of these elements bother me when done well. But, when writing distracts and confuses the reader, it detracts from the story and puts a damper on the author’s work. You lose your audience. Hopefully your reader keeps trying. With a 700 page book filled with so much the world would benefit from reading, I only hope Yanagihara’s readers don’t give up.

Jude is our human hero who fails to recognise his strengths. Having survived horrid trauma, repetitive childhood rape, abuse throughout his life, assault and battery, domestic violence, and eventually a successful career, hope, love, and an enriching family – Jude is the friend that you’re afraid to walk away from because he’s mysterious, mesmerising, and kind but so hard on himself that you worry when he’s alone.

Yanagihara’s A Little Life is lovely and trying, and a story that happens but not often out loud.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Room: Everything You Don’t Want Read But Can’t Stop – 5 Stars

Room is everything I didn’t want to read. That said – I couldn’t put it down.

Emma Donoghue has created a horrifying masterpiece. She writes in the voice of five-year-old Jack. And she nails it – describing things in a manner only a five-year-old could, in words he understands, with a vocabulary that only expresses more about the little boy Jack is. You’ll learn who he is, about his wonderful Ma, where they live and play and grow, but you’ll go at his pace.

Donoghue does a brilliant job of revealing character development and plot twists through Jack’s dialogue. For instance – why “wardrobe” is so often the safest place for him to be.

Jack takes the reader by the hand and walks through the world that he’s struggling to simply survive… while showing why “room” is the centre of everything.

Room is about our limitations, bravery, sacrifice, and primal instincts for survival.

This will be on your best-read list this year.

Sometimes I find it important to reveal more about a story in my critiques in order to review it more completely, but in the case of Emma Donoghue’s Room, I couldn’t do that to you. The writing is just that good.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Shirley Jackson – Mysterious and Murderous, as always – 3 Stars

That Shirley Jackson sure is an interesting character. Today I finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

As this isn’t my first Jackson story, I had that notion walking in… but she still astonishes me.

Jackson writes in a unique way, for certain. She takes her time in revealing secrets, allowing the narrator Mary Catherine to share what she ordinarily would in her own timid way.

As is customary with a Shirley Jackson story, the words are simple. The plot intense. Horror written around the corner. But in a fact-of-the-matter fashion. I guarantee you that We Have Always Lived in the Castle will take you, at most, a few days or sittings to finish.

The family at the centre of the plot are the Blackwoods and despite being the centre of the plot, they certainly are far from the centre of their small town. “Everyone in the village has always hated us,” Mary Catherine says. Very little of that statement seems to be in Mary’s head. Why? Because their household is notorious for being both mysterious and murderous.

I’ve rated We  Have Always Lived in the Castle 3 out of 5 stars because the story is twisted, dangerous, and enjoyable, but I was, at points, frustrated with the pace. Further, the story concluded in a way I found unsatisfying – as if waiting for something that Jackson was in no mood to provide. And I say that as someone who absolutely adored (if anyone can absolutely adore) The Lottery.

I would recommend Jackson’s writing nonetheless. She has a voice to be drank quickly and cautiously, just as her characters would urge.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Critique: Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin – Yawn

I was less than impressed with Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have ever picked it up if it hadn’t been lent to me by a neighbour. Alas, I finish what I start.

Rubin describes herself as a non-fiction writer. True, but her writing leads the reader to believe she’s aiming more for the self-help style. Rubin herself denies this genre in the book though. If it weren’t for her precise mention of this, I would have remained convinced that Happier at Home was indeed a rough attempt at the self-help genre.

For me, it was:

  • at best – entertaining for a chapter or two
  • at worst – infuriating and frustrating
  • most commonly – a complete yawn

Still, I’d rate it 2 stars, out of 5. Why? Because when you’re finally following one of Rubin’s thoughts, she yanks you out of your focus to tell you about yet another quote. She herself says near the end of the book that she’s obsessed with quotes. My thought: Captain Obvious, sweetheart. Every reader who has made it this far through your book KNOWS you’re obsessed with quotes. They’re a powerful tool when used appropriately, but overuse is distracting, detracts from your overarching goals, and becomes a complete nuisance.

I wanted to like this book. Truly.

At its heart, Happier at Home exemplifies Rubin’s respectable goal to study and experiment with increasing one’s happiness. She chooses a theme on which to focus for each of nine months. Themes include: possessions, marriage, parenthood, interior design, time, body, family, neighbourhood, and now.

The writing is brave, without a doubt. Rubin puts her heart on her sleeve and shares her trials, tribulations, and goals with the reader. I found her writing that centred on relationships and choosing how to think about happiness more worthwhile than the rest, but that comparison doesn’t mean much in this instance because the writing was so completely wishy-washy and self-centred.

I would absolutely not recommend this book. I rate it 2 stars, rather than 1, because Rubin does have a voice, personality and way with her words, but it honestly felt like a memoir of too-often whinging.

To learn more about Gretchen Rubin and her work, visit her website.

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Critique: Salvage the Bones – 5 out of 5 stars!

Salvage the Bones should be read for what it isn’t in addition to what it is. A truth about Hurricane Katrina and a truth about a family living a harder life than most would consider. And, how the elements of the world sometimes pile up against you to make things impossible and all you can hope for is to maybe survive.

Jesmyn Ward illustrates, to be blunt, a rough, extreme poverty-stricken family in Bois Savage, Mississippi in 2005. Ward is so brilliant with her story-telling that you forget the ultimate theme of the book despite the fact that’s written on the back cover: Hurricane Katrina.

As a first-time reader of Ward’s work, I immediately fell headfirst into the mindset of her narrator, fourteen year old Esch. Esch tells, first and foremost, her story, intertwining with her family, and the things that matter most to a young girl just trying to navigate life in the south with a drunk, often absent father, a deceased mother she’s just barely old enough to recall, and a slew of brothers to both watch over and out for. I felt for Esch, and I felt frustrated with her much of the time, as well.

Ward makes impressive use of Mississippi weather throughout her novel. She seems to make the weather work for her rather than the other way around – oft controlling and influencing us, as people. She paints the sticky humidity in the air, the red dust-covered ground Esch’s home sits on, the horror stories of past rain storms, and the ever-impending wind that comes with living near the sea.

Despite careful, gripping writing that you’re sure to remember, you’ll also find gritty, graphic scenes that you won’t like but won’t want to stop reading.

Since completing Salvage the Bones, I’ve, personally, added another of Ward’s books to my To Be Read list. She has a style and a voice that needs to be heard. The book I’ve added to my list is: Men We Reaped.

To learn more about Jesmyn Ward and her work, visit her page on Goodreads.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Critique – 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl has some amusing quips here and there, but overall I found it a bit disjointed and lacking punch or flair.

Awad’s novel is written in pseudo short-story format. However, the short stories had the same themes and most of the same characters. What added to the unusual format was that deciphering time frames was never easy… which might not be a bad thing but in this case it didn’t help the author.

I respect the power of making a reader feel awkward or uncomfortable, or any strong emotion for that matter – well done. But the novel took this furtber; I must stress that the narrator was hugely unlikeable. It’s hard to enjoy a book, play, or story of any sort when the protagonist is hard to be around. Even a murderer, when described in a certain fashion, can be likeable. Sweeney Todd, anyone?

The ending, though I won’t divulge it, was disappointing and sudden. The reader spends the novel hoping that, through all of her self-reflection and often hatred, that narrator Elizabeth, will find a healthy light (and I do mean, light, not body, lifestyle, etc) to view herself in. It was less than iluminating. Not all endings have to be happy, but this one was also far from satisfying.

I’d had a few people recommend the book and felt conflicted while reading it because I simply wasn’t feeling what I expected to.

In fact, I read several reviews after finishing the book’s final page because I thought I was being overly harsh in my criticism. After seeing that so many had the same reaction, I felt less horrible about my 2 star, out of 5 rating.

To learn more about Awad and her work, visit this site.

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Critique – Celeste Ng’s Debut Novel

Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You reads like poetry, with beautiful elaborate descriptions of not only characters but scenes, emotions, and plot twists. It is writing to aspire to, in my opinion. A voice a lyricist would likely respect.

The novel takes its time unfolding, at times at a slower pace than desired. If it weren’t for Ng’s prose, I may have become frustrated with the speed and length of the book.

The themes – family, teen angst, self discovery, 1970s racism – are well portrayed, but I found myself recalling a similar plot within Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. Having adored that book and reflected on it so many times since reading it a few years back, I found myself comparing the two occasionally. The difference in time, tone, place, and dynamics however allow the reader to appreciate both writers’ work.

As a whole, Ng’s debut is enjoyable but leaves something to be desired – perhaps a bit more complexity, a few more pitfalls leaving room for further conflict and, later, potential resolution.

It’s important to note that there doesn’t need to be complete resolution though, especially in a novel where mental health is one of the main threads.

Overall, I would welcome a future book of Ng’s to my Reading List.

To read more about Celeste Ng and her work, visit her website.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars


Real Life

Have you ever met someone that you swore you knew only to realise later that he/she is a real-life version of a character in a book?

I met “Forney Hull” in my local library. I swear, it’s him and it’s not him and it’s him.

Forney Hull is a librarian in Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts.

Read more about the book and movie, here on Wikipedia. The book was lovely. Anyway, Forney and the local librarian are similar from their looks to their shy demeanor to their struggle to make easy conversation. It’s uncanny. I have to wonder if anyone else has made the connection or if I’m just odd. It’s happened before.

The book is about a young woman who struggles through life as a single mother in the midwestern United States. She was abandoned again and again throughout her life, by parents, family, friends, and the father of her child. The last leaves her stranded at a Walmart with barely a penny in her pocket. They’re driving cross-country to find work and make a better life for themselves together in California. They make a quick stop so eight-month-pregnant Novalee can use the bathroom and run an errand. She comes back outside to find her few belongings left in a parking space horribly devoid of the car and the man she was expecting there.

Farther along in the story, Novalee meets Forney. If you pick up the book, you’ll witness the remarkable role he plays in helping her collect the pieces of her life that have been strewn across the floor.

The book, I think, is a solid reminder to walk slowly, know yourself and ask for help when you need it. This canvas tells me the same thing.