I really wanted to like this. I was hoping for an adult version of Harriet the Spy, told from a boy's perspective. Instead, I got a front seat for the end of a marriage told through one boy's love for his mother. The story itself would be fine if the title didn't gear me up for a sleuth-like tale. The spying felt a bit forced, as if it were an after-thought or a device introduced to filter the narrative. Don't get me wrong - the book gathers steam as it goes and the second-half is better than the first, though I think part of that was my willingness to shift focus and accept the story for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be.
So in summary: it's a fine story if you're looking for a book about the complexity of relationships. If you're only buying it because you liked the cover or title - skip it.
This books started strong, but ultimately tested my patience. The very thing that makes the story suspenseful - an unreliable narrator/witness - grows tedious by the end of the book. The set-up was well-crafted and it was fun to speculate who the actual "bad guy" was early on. As the book went on, however, I was frustrated that none of the characters were sympathetic. The end (when it came) was such a twist that it seemed to fall from no where - and was wrapped up just as fast. For a book that spent a lot of time spinning its wheels in the middle, the end seemed too abrupt to be satisfying.
Don't get me wrong - I think this will be a hit with book clubs because there's ample opportunity to speculate and compare notes. And it does start out in a way that compelled me to recommend it to people (before I got further in).
I suspect that like the protagonist, the author just overdid it a little.
This is a great beach read because it's fast-paced and has an ethical question at its core... but it was a bit over the top in terms of the set-up. I think it would've seemed a bit less fantastical if the main character hadn't been an astronaut.
This book bounces between past and present. The present storyline features a ward of the state who is living with foster parents because her mom is in a mental institution for killing her father. In tackling a special project with her foster parents, she stumbles upon the records of a woman many generations back who had also been locked up for mental illness. This provides the mechanism for each chapter to switch between past and present as the girl learns more about her own life through researching the history of an asylum.
Overall this was an interesting and well written story. The one thing that took away from it was the girl's relationship with her schoolmates, and her own blindness about her mom's motivation. Most readers will see the conclusion coming from a mile away.
I'm not a Kate Morton devotée, but I did read another of her books and enjoy it a lot, so I was hopeful when I started this. Unfortunately, I found it fell short - WAY short.
Here were my issues with it:
1. I didn't really care about any of the characters. They were somewhat two-dimensional.
2. Her editor fell down on the job - this book was way too long for a relatively simple plot.
3. The plot was surprisingly guessable for being so convoluted - the whole book felt like a study in patience as I waited (and waited and waited) to have the hypothesis I formed around the 3 hour mark proved right.
If you enjoy behavioral research but aren't a scientist, this is a great read/listen. It touches on many key theories, but does so in a way that's easily accessible and fun. The author has a great conversational tone that makes the material engaging - and the anecdotes helped the different theories come to life for me, so I'm actually likely to remember them. (I tried listening to "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and found that it largely went in one ear and out the other. I was worried this book would be more of the same - but it wasn't. I was surprised by how quickly it flew and how much I retained.)
When I started this book, I had no idea that it was published in 1959. I say that, because while I found much of the book interesting and fun in a post-apocalyptic way, something about it struck me as naive. The characters were doing things that seemed unsophisticated. I couldn't tell if the author wasn't talented or if he was deliberately trying to portray the innocence of the decade. Once I googled the book and saw when it was published, it all snapped into place for me - it was written from a place of innocence. (As an example, the main character - who was otherwise sharp, capable and military trained - hadn't thought about their need for water when preparing his emergency kit. That's something that pretty much any US citizen today thinks of even in the case of temporary power outages.)
While details like that were distracting, the overall concept was fun to explore. The book is strongest in its first half. Once they settle into post-war life, it loses steam a bit. That said, the author did a great job creatively imagining a world in the wake of nuclear war. If you're a fan of this genre, it's probably worth adding to your shelf.
First, let me confess: I'm a big fan of See's other novels, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" and "Peony In Love." So I approached this book with high expectations, thinking it would deliver something along the same lines as those other books. It started out strong - showing us two beautiful and privileged girls in a Shanghai that was on the cusp of war. I wanted to spend more time in that setting, really getting a sense of what Shanghai life would've been like. Instead, we're transported to the United States, where the sisters immigrate to flee the war. This book feels like walking into a shrinking tunnel - what starts with possibilities becomes dark, depressing and limited. I think it's intended to showcase the love between two sisters, but I spent a good part of the book wanting to shake one of them for her selfishness and the other one for her blind love.
If you haven't read a See book before, don't start with this one because I worry you'll forgo her other works as a result. And that would be a shame.
I was prepared to love this book. So many elements hit me precisely the right way: The language was great; the premise was alluring; the idea of wooden model villages appealed to the quirky collector in me; the details about the radio transmissions fascinated me; and the characters were all intriguing. And yet, I found my brain wandering as I listened. Even though I loved this book on many levels, I struggled to stay focused on it, which is rare for me. I'm not sure if that's because it toggled between different storylines and timelines so quickly, or if the same quirkiness that I loved about it left me feeling a bit scattered, but for whatever reason, I never felt like I really LANDED in this story.
Don't get me wrong - it's well written, a jewel of a premise, and rather well executed. It just fell flat for me. Because so many elements were right, I plan to re-listen to it in a year and see if it was simply a case of bad timing on my part. Despite my reservations, I encourage you to check it out and see what you think. There's a lot to love here.
Color me impressed. I went in with low expectations because this was a first-time author, but I was quickly hooked. The writing was solid, the story well-told and the characters well-developed. There were a couple chapters about 3/4 of the way through when I felt like I'd been duped and it was a book with an agenda (trying to help adopted children stop asking questions about their birth families), but that was fleeting and then quickly dismissed. This was engaging and a fast listen, yet I found myself teary-eyed at the end, which means I cared about the characters. If all debuts could be this solid, we'd be spoiled. I plan to recommend this to my book club, because it's great fodder for discussion.
Disclosure: I'm not a pure Stephen King fan. I haven't read any of his long series and sometimes he loses me when things get a bit too other-worldly. That said, in recent years he's cranked out some books that I'm unable to put down, that I anticipate with the same salivation I normally reserve for fried ice cream. Mr. Mercedes falls into that category.
When King dies, I hope he leaves his body to science so they can autopsy his brain because I'd like to know how someone can have such a dark imagination without being a sociopath himself. In this book, he does a fantastic job writing from the perspective of a killer who takes joy in mowing down innocent civilians waiting in line for a job fair, then plots a very dark game of cat and mouse with a retired detective.
The thing that made this book different than some of his others is that the crimes seemed like they were pulled from the headlines. Unlike my challenge with some of King's other books, this plot line and characters were very much of this world. As it turns out, we just happen to live in scary times.
Definitely recommend this if you're looking for a good summer suspense.
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