I’d Recommend to: The fella’s sister (a current Vermont resident), my freshman year American lit professors
In 2012, I discovered I love mysteries/thrillers – anything that’s designed to build suspense. As part of that love, sometimes I find a few bad apples in the mix. Cloudland was, unfortunately, one of those bad apples.
I guess that’s not completely fair – it’s not bad in the sense that it’s terrible. In fact, it was an okay book. I doubt I will reread it or go for another Olshan anytime soon, but it wasn’t a total dud. The suspense factor was decent, and “twist” was not one I initially predicted. I enjoy when novels (even ones written to do so) surprise me, especially when that surprise absolutely makes sense in the context of the chapters leading to it.
I enjoyed most of the characters. Catherine’s daughter had a tendency to annoy, but she was still relatable and made rare (but necessary) appearances. Catherine seemed a little out of her element at times, despite being a former “major reporter.” In fact, Catherine came across as loopy and childlike; her phrasing and tone were not helped by the narrator, who really played it up. I found this distracting and irritating, and I almost added this to my DNF list .
The Bottom Line:
There’s a nice twist, but you might not want to go down the road leading to it.
I’d Recommend to: Nola Céspedes (Joy Castro’s Hell or High Water), Lavinia (Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House)
I was more than a little disappointed with The Cutting Season. The description sounded like something I would love, and I really enjoyed The Kitchen House last year; I was expecting something a little more in that vein. The “secrets of its [Belle Vie's] past” seemed secondary to the mystery. The focal point was certainly on the murder, but I was hoping for more of a focus on a past historical mystery. It seemed to take a backseat and arose only when it would “dramatically” relate to current events. If it were going to be a subtle thread, I wished it had been used in a more delicate, less heavy-handed anvil of a way.
My other concern with the book was that Caren was just unlikeable. She came across as highly intelligent but completely selfish and socially inept. I’m sure this is my own interpretation of her and her choices, and I’m sure others read her as being complex instead. This is no fault of the narrator, who did an excellent reading to help build tension. The scenes in which Caren traverses Belle Vie are some of the most tense, even in daylight.
I enjoyed the overall sense of mystery, and Locke is a talented author – but personally, there were elements with which I did not connect.
The Bottom Line:
I could certainly see readers enjoying The Cutting Season, I just wasn’t one of them.
The only reason this one is getting docked a star is due to the pacing. At times I found myself wanting the next plot point to show up. I also didn’t buy the suspense – George’s secret was a little obvious, in my opinion. When the big reveal occurred, I wasn’t satisfied and felt irritated that the mystery was so easy to guess. Amina’s past resurrects itself with more subtlety and nuance.
Freudenberger has written a brilliantly complex and driven heroine with Amina. Her past, present, and future are multi-dimensional entities in which we, the reader, operate. Initially, I chalked her up to a “fish out of water” housewife – the language and cultural barriers were cute, but they were just a soft introduction. Amina is a little out of her element in America, but don’t mistake modesty for meekness. When she returns to Bangladesh, we see her really operate with confidence and cunning.
The Newlyweds also provides an opportunity to see what happens when the traditions of two cultures must coexist. Amina’s “fish out of water” moments provide some comic relief, but there’s a much deeper current. Both George and Amina made the ultimate commitment, each expecting the other to compromise certain elements of their lives together. For Amina, this expectation is more an unintentional awareness of American values and norms; George seems inconsiderate in his expectation or disregard.
The Bottom Line:
The Newlyweds offers a new take on an old institution.
Not everyone is a fan of Gaiman. I know after I read Stardust I would have put myself in the “Gaiman is overhyped” category. I just wasn’t a huge fan; it seemed jumbled and awkward. However, in 2012 I kept seeing Anansi Boys and American Gods pop up on recommendation lists. I decided to give Anansi Boys a try since it was shorter. That’s when I discovered that Gaiman is one of those authors I need to hear to appreciate. To me, Gaiman is a storyteller. Maybe some people would say that all authors are storytellers by definition, but to me one does not equate to the other. I feel like this review could get derailed by a philosophical discussion on storytelling vs. writing, so suffice it to say this will be some kind of Writer Wednesday post in the near future.
Anyway, American Gods. I thought it was really enjoyable. The full cast audio version really added value – at 20 hours, one narrator might be a little tedious for listening (for me at least). Having the variety made it a more dynamic listening experience, and it was easier to follow different strands and stay engaged. I’ve read a couple of reviews on Goodreads that voice some concerns about buying into the “stakes” of the plot or feeling a connection to the protagonist. I didn’t experience this while listening. In fact, I occasionally found myself feeling earnest for the next major development or a new character to emerge. I just kept wanting to be immersed in this world.
The author’s preface really sets the tone for some of the origin narratives throughout the novel. Gaiman notes that he set out to tell different kinds of stories, one of which was a “coming to America” thread. Frankly, these were some of my favorite parts of the book – how different groups (and thus, different gods) came to America ties in quite nicely with some Gaiman’s interwoven mythology.
The Bottom Line:
American Gods is a bold fictional exploration of mythology in America and what binds us.
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