I’ll level with you for a second here: I *did* enjoy reading The Hangman’s Daughter…but it wasn’t the literary/historical fiction I was expecting. It’s a murder mystery, and a mediocre one at that. It’s fun, but not terribly well written.
The fact that it was mis-marketed is not the author’s fault, but there were some issues with the writing he COULD have changed to make it a better story.
So, below are the spoilers:
I was angry that the scene where the bad guy (“The Devil”)is finally killed takes place “off stage.” I feel the reader is robbed that satisfaction of seeing that vindicating scene and it really should have been included in detail. Additionally, The Devil’s back story is only revealed in part – and not enough for the reader to “get” him. We only get one glimpse in to his past, and it’s not about how he becomes the bad guy – it just shows him being a bad guy, but in the past. I wanted MORE of his story – WHY is he so twisted? What happened to him? Where did he come from? What are his motivations now? He was just too – BAD.
There were too many times when the same character was introduced as though the reader were an idiot. The Hangman’s wife is mentioned like, 15 times and EVERY SINGLE TIME she’s introduced as “Anna Maria Kuisl, Jacob’s wife” or some variation. It gave me the impression the author didn’t trust the reader to remember simple details.
The book wasn’t actually about The Hangman’s Daughter. It was about the Hangman. And the Physician. The daughter was just a supporting character.
The denouement feels rushed and, frankly, sloppy. Too many loose ends are wrapped up too easily and too fast. I wanted the satisfaction of seeing the intrigue that had to go in to “fixing” the problems left over after the climax.
The plot was just…too thin. Too easy to see through.
What the author did WELL was creating characters who show empathy and depth (aside from the bad guy, who was purely 2 dimensional). He also clearly did his research and loved digging in to what life as an executioner, or physician, or child in 17th century Bavaria was like. He would be a brilliant archivist or historian, but not a fantastic novelist.
Just my 2 cents.
A sweet coming-of-age story, very British, very beautiful. It was easy to get caught up in Cassandra Mortmain’s world since I’ve always dreamed of living in a castle, even one as run down as the one her family lives in. In her journal, Cassandra logs the events and people that pass through the castle. In doing so, he inadvertently captures a gorgeous story about first love, poverty, riches, hard choices, hope and disappointment.
While there are certainly a few things about this book that I could pick apart and criticize, I’m slapping a huge 5 star review on it because it just sucked me in and made me enjoy it so gosh darn much.
David is a boy who’s life is in flux. Changes are happening in the world around him, both in his immediate family and the world at large. While World War II threatens on the horizon, David’s mother passes and he finds himself retreating in to books and fairy tales as a way to cope. Amidst these changes, David notices that the line between the fantasy world of his books and the “real” world becomes less and less clear. We are flung, with David, in to a world of legends and fairy stories where the choice to be honorable can be a matter of life or death.
I LOVE Connolly’s twisted fairy tale world. I love the empathy with which he treats his characters – the good ones and the bad ones. Connolly is clearly a master of storytelling who knows the power of restraint.
Augh, I want to tell you how it ends. But I won’t. I’ll just leave it at this: the prose is beautiful, the story is engaging, the characters are real. Go pick up this book as soon as you have the chance – and be prepared to be a little scared.
The thing is, I picked up this book because of the bold title. Who names their book “Winner of the National Book Award”? Surely someone who takes risks and has a wicked sense of humor. It sold me, it worked. And I do believe Willett is capable of those things. The problem is, this book reads like a first draft. It’s a jumble of great ideas and clever punchlines that get lost in masturbatory prose, poorly developed characters and a weak framework.
The story focuses on twin sisters Dorcas and Abigail. A man comes between them, Abigail kills him, goes to jail awaiting trial, and Dorcas (a librarian) sits down to read her sister’s newly published biography. Each chapter (mostly) begins with the opening paragraph of each chapter of the bio until Dorcas butts in and tells her own version of the events.
The biggest “uh-oh” moment I had as a reader was when I reached a particularly clever line spoken by Dorcas about “power and dignity.” I even went to underline it. And then Willett spent the rest of the book patting herself on the back for being so clever. It was unbecoming, at best. It only highlighted to me how clever Willett thinks she is in general, and the constant comparisons of her characters to mythical heroes and beasts were insufferable by the end.
There is no discernible character arc for Dorcas or the intruding man or…any of the other characters except for Abigail. I felt no empathy whatsoever for any of the characters – none were endearing and none had qualities I could connect with. Dorcas, arguably the main character, consistently made unexplained choices that only made her unlikeable and unpredictable. This, if I had to choose one thing, is Willett’s fatal flaw. There are countless side characters, NONE of which have anything to do with the plot. And you know Chekhov’s gun rule? “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” That one. There were about 18 figurative guns in this book, and none of them were fired.
Finally, in theory, the framework is clever, but in practice Dorcas gives away too much of the story of the murder for the reader to care about getting to the end. There’s no surprise – no drama. Save yourself the time and don’t bother picking this up.
Really sweet little story. A book I might go back to someday if I just wanted to escape to Guernsey in my head.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My only regret is that I can never read this again for the first time.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A fun little road trip buddy story. Cute brain candy, which I needed.
Extremely good, and a little bit Morose.
Okay, not morose, exactly. Just…not THE most upbeat book I’ve ever read.
But oh so beautiful.
Oskar Schell pulled me in to his world so completely, I started thinking like him and seeing the world through his eyes even when I wasn’t reading EL&IC. The trauma of nine year old Oskar losing his father in the 9/11 attacks is the centerpiece of the book. But the event echos back to other tragedies in Oskar’s family which ultimately brought his grandparents together. Their story is one of the most painful and poetic relationships I’ve ever seen in print.
The plausibility (or lack thereof) of Oskar’s story happening in real life ceased to matter to me about half way in. Oskar is an everyman living in NYC after 9/11. His search for what’s lost and finding hope in what’s not lost is…okay, I can’t come up with a better word than “beautiful” so I’ll go with that. I’ll admit it. I cried. I actually bawled. It’s okay. It needed to come out.
The prose was absolutely gorgeous. Stunning, even.
While the main character made your heart break with his pathetic passiveness…. so did the plot.
All of the really important scenes happen “offstage” or are implied.
I really wanted to give this book a better star rating but…I honestly felt like I only got to read the first 250 pages of a really really great 500 page novel.
Will definitely seek out Wodicka again and see what he comes up with in future novels
A tiny bit Wizard of Oz, a dash of James and The Giant Peach and a sprinkle of X-Men, I love love loved this little book. Interestingly, I read a book for adults not too long ago called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake that had amazing similarities. In both stories, a young girl discovers she has a secret ability to find out what those around her think or feel. I would almost suggest reading the two as a pair to illustrate differences between adult and young adult lit.
I’m not going to lie, the cover was the thing that drew me to this book, but the simple loveable voice of the main character is what kept me in the story. I’m already hoping there’s a sequel in the works.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read James and the Giant Peach seven times when I was in second grade.
I have since read (and re-read) every one of his books for children.
The the very first day I ever read the newspaper, when I was nine I found his obituary.
And I cried. For a long time.
Dahl had a huge impact on my formative reading years, I had every reason to be excited about this new biography.
Donald Sturrock had unparalleled access to Dahl’s letters, private files, and family members for this biography and, boy oh boy, was it thorough. While I loved the detail and access to the life of Roald Dahl, it felt like Sturrock had SO much information, and SUCH a big job given to him, that he couldn’t figure out what information could be left out. After the third or fourth description of nasty letters back and forth between Dahl and his publisher/editor/agent/fill in the blank, I was tired of hearing how difficult Dahl was to work with. Additionally, I found several typos and fragments of thought which went undeveloped.
Long story short: Being a huge Roald Dahl fan, I started reading this bio to get a better picture about an author who influenced me greatly. Even so, I think about 1/4 of this bio could have been cut and we still would have gotten a very fleshed out idea of who he was.
This is a delightful, delicious little book. It’s so much more than I expected.
Don’t be deceived by the cute little premise about a girl who can taste the feelings of people through the food they make. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake touches on some pretty deep coming of age themes that everyone experiences in some way or another – whether or not we have super powers. There is loss, disappointment, anger, fear and joy all tossed together here. I’ll be seeking out more of Aimee Bender in the future.
One of my favorite college professors once told me a story about being on the Senior English Portfolio Committee. (I promise, this connects to Oscar Wao.) (No really, I promise) He told me that one day he and a bunch of other Profs were sitting around a conference room reviewing a portfolio and they came across a poem. They each read the poem, and nobody thought it was particularly good upon their first read.
They all sat there gazing at it when one professor suddenly announced “AH! It’s a sestina!” (If you don’t know what a sestina is, just start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sestina and know that it’s a particular kind of poem that is deceptively simple and a devil to try and write) and suddenly everyone in the room leaned back, straightened their glasses and went “OOooooohhhhhh”.
So. That’s kind of how I feel about Oscar Wao. As I was reading this book, I was:
a) impressed by the narrator’s very distinctive voice
b) completely disappointed in the author’s ability (or, rather, lack thereof) to make me care about the story
c) impressed by the number of Spanish slang words Google Translate cannot (ehem) translate
d) impressed by the number of geektastic references that even *I* didn’t get.
Honestly, I felt alienated by this book. I felt like I didn’t belong in the world of Dominican slang. I felt uncomfortable with the characters who weren’t fleshed out. I felt almost like I was invading in a story that didn’t need to be told to a white girl from the suburbs.
And then I got it. I had my “aha” moment and realized I was reading a *superbly* written piece of post-modern literature. Of course, I felt alien and uncomfortable in this book. So did Oscar. His geekiness, his too much flesh, his Dominican-ness kept him in this unknowable limbo – separated him even from other geeks, other Dominicans.
After a day or so of reflection, I’m starting to understand and respect the circular nature of the story – the parallels between Oscar and his mother who, at first glance, seem soooooo different. I’m still picking out the parallels between this story and Lord of the Rings.
As for whether or not I would recommend this book to someone else?
I don’t know. I still might tell someone to brush up on their Tolkien and pull out a Dominican slang dictionary first.
Yeah. It was alright.
You know when you see an old movie that has a special effect in it, but because it was done three decades ago and the technology is antiquated or obsolete, it looks totally fake? And you know how you make fun of it and laugh at how stupid it was? And you know how you have that moment when you’re making fun of it when you realize that three decades ago, that special effect kicked ASS and made everyone in the theater jump out of their seats and applaud in the aisles?
I feel like, if I were a little more mature and thoughtful, that’s how I’d feel about The Metamorphosis.
Please read this book. Immediately. Move Middlesex immediately to the top of your list and go buy it or check it out from the Library as soon as you can.
There. That being said: This book came highly recommended to me and I ignored that recommendation for years. Shame on me.
The voice of the narrator, Cal/Callie Stephanides, is so clear, so delightfully witty and intelligent and articulate. Somehow, Jeffrey Eugenides manages to write this main character with such love and humanity that when I was done reading Middlesex, I missed Cal’s voice and opinion and insight.
Cal tells this epic story of his family (and his genes) starting with the romance that brought his Grandparents together. It often reminded me of a Hellenic Forrest Gump due to the narrative flow interacting with the changing of time and major events highlighting the experiences of his Grandparents’ and Parents’ generations. Tied in with it all is the biology that immigrated from Turkey, through Ellis Island, to Detroit which would make Cal (genetically male, complete with X and Y chromosomes) appear to be a Callie until he was 14 years old.
I know it’s pretty cliche in any book review, to say that a book is “heartbreaking” and “funny” and so many other things that thousands of other books are. But this one really got to me. It was heartbreaking as well as funny, and I don’t feel ashamed to say it.
Still not entirely sure how I got away with 28 years of my life without reading Jane Eyre. So Sweeping. So beautiful. So utterly romantic (not in the cheesy $3 novels kind of way, but in the old school way) and gothicy and frightening and lovely.
I’ll almost definitely read this again.
I have a confession to make: about 2/3 through this book, I started comparing it to Twilight.
I know just about every English teacher I’ve ever known is going to faint when they hear me say it, but hear me out on this:
A pretty girl with no emotional capacity outside of caring about herself is attracted to a rich unattainable guy who is also too self absorbed and delusional to care about how his actions affect other people. Rich unattainable guy flips out, leaves town and leaves pretty girl in a selfish downward spiral. Pretty girl toys with the emotions of a big hairy blindly loyal local guy and pines away for rich unattainable dude.
‘swhat I thought.
Luckily, that’s where the comparisons stop. George Eliot (thankfully) has the ability to string a sentence together using real actual grammar, complete with allusions, metaphors and other literary devices.
I’ll stop. This is not a ‘bash Twilight’ review. It’s a ‘praise Adam Bede’ review. Sorry.
Most of the main action of the plot occurs WELL in to the second half of the book, while the first half meticulously immerses the reader in to the world of late eighteenth century rural England. It is a beautiful, brief window in to a different time and way of life.
Eliot’s true gift lies in her ability to put real, very complex human emotions on to the page with elegance. You feel for each character. You see their strengths discussed right along with their faults and you love each character – sometimes *because* of their faults.
Adam Bede came highly recommended to me, and I will highly recommend it to you.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Holy hell, what a heart wrenching story. This is the first book I’ve read by Joe Hill, and I’ll definitely be seeking out others by him. I really can’t remember the last time I felt so strongly pulled in to a book that I could find myself laughing through tears.
The premise is wonderfully simple. A man wakes up one morning and finds he’s sprouted horns. As Ig slowly changes emotionally and physically in to a demon, he literally wrestles with his own humanity. Hill explores the gray areas of good and bad/right and wrong and is a phenomenal story teller.
I will be giving this one away for All Hallows Read next year.
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My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Honestly, I’m a little confused as to why this book is so popular. The first half of the book is aaaaaaaall back story revealed to the reader through painfully uninteresting conversations like this:
“I am a character who is Swedish and I’m going to tell you something really important and interesting, but first, would you like some coffee?”
“I am still Swedish, here is your coffee. There is lots of important stuff I have to say in this conversation, but I have to draw it out as long as I can. Please be patient, are you with me?”
“Yes, go on.”
“There’s this important stuff that I’m supposed to tell you but first I have to make sure I can trust you. I’m telling you a little bit of information now, but not enough to make this conversation worthwhile.”
Etcetera. Ad nauseum.
The story does pick up in the last half of the book, but the payoff wasn’t worth it for me as a reader.
The only good thing I could talk about? The character arcs of the two main characters seemed non existent to me 75% through the book, until I realized that Stieg Larsson is just a master of the slow boil here. This is his one strong suit, creating characters that you could expect to meet in your every day life and then getting to watch them grown in teeny little increments – just like in real life. Well done there.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Mkay, here’s the thing: I read this book on the suggestion of several people. When I was 80% through the book, I just did not see the point. I thought maybe all of my friends had gone mad and that perhaps none of them were even literate. Why would they glow and rave about a series that starts off with a book where VERY LITTLE HAPPENS?
And then? About 83% in to the book, stuff happens. And I knew that what happened was going to happen, I had just hoped that it wouldn’t happen. And then it did. Happen, that is.
And then? Other things happened and when I was 100% through with the book, I thought, “Huh. Well, now I know my friends aren’t idiots. I guess I’ll have to get the second book in the series now.”
So. Now I have to finish up this review so I can go start the next one. Just so you know though: this book IS just a book-long prequel, it seems. I’m settling in for the long haul, I suppose, and plan to read the rest of this very long series.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First: I would never have read this book of my own accord if it hadn’t been a result of a bet.
Second: I’m really glad I made that bet.
Adult fantasy novels are just not my thing. I LOVED young adult fantasy growing up (A Wrinkle in Time, The Giver, The Redwall Series, anything by Roald Dahl, etc.) but I was just never ever interested in carrying around brick sized tomes about men in crushed velvet doublets and how much they love their swords. Until now.
The bet was a trade: I would read Game of Thrones if my husband would read… well… I’m embarassed to admit it was Twilight. I was almost offended at the thought of reading Game of Thrones, so I countered with what I thought would be an equally unredeemable slog for James. Needless to say, once I was three chapters in, I changed my end of the bet so the tradeoff would be even. (James now has to read Pride and Prejudice.)
I will admit, I was annoyed at the following things throughout the book:
Men in velved doublets
How much everyone loves their swords
The constant use of the suffix “-ling” to describe various lesser races in the world (ie, halfling, wildling, lordling, etc.) I don’t know why I hate that.
But there were things I experienced reading this book that I have rarely experienced before. George R.R. Martin creates caracters who are so believable, so real, so flawed and yet you fall in love with them… even the bad ones. He takes risks that few other authors are bold enough to take. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that there are life changing things that happen to lead characters and it changes the whole world… and G.R.R.M. doesn’t do the fakeout thing where you think someone’s dead or hurt and then voila, they’re fine! It’s like real life and not fantasy: something happens, the story has to change to adjust.
Beyond the characters and the story choices, there were a few times when I did get annoyed with the language and some pretty obvious metaphors within the story… but there were some truly poetic moments and some truly enjoyable laugh out loud moments that balanced out the slight cheese flavor.
The only REAL problem with this book? I just read an 835 page prequel to the rest of the story. There is very little resolution, and a lot of reasons to read the next in the series. *sigh* Maybe that’s not such a bad problem to have.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’m not sure where to start, but I’ll go ahead and admit that the reason I gave The Master and Margarita two stars is my own damn fault. Pretty sure if I’d been more savvy regarding Russian politics/culture/mindset, I would have enjoyed it more. (Note to self: take Russian culture class, visit Russia if possible, stay away from talking cats)
I will say that even through the translation, I could tell the language is beautiful. The imagery is astounding and the part of the devil played by an enormous bug eyed cat is… well, it’s part of what I’d consider hell.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I hated this book from beginning to end. And that was before I found out it was fiction. Not sure why I read it all the way through except that I have a hard time walking away from a book once I’ve started it. It was poorly written…. I felt like I was skimming over one cliche after another just to get through endless chapters vacillating between bravado and “here, feel bad for me because I went through stuff that was hard.”
Don’t read it. I even hated the cover art.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Love love love love love this book.
If you’re in to reading about why we read, and how we connect with black marks arranged on a page, you MUST read this.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A short read, a little “on the nose” in its commentary, but completely original and engaging. So worth picking up.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Blankets changed the way I thought about graphic novels. I used to be among the masses who consider them glorified comic books. But this is literature. Thematic visual and literary elements are woven together so artistically and articulately that it left a deeper impression on me than well, I’ll say it, MOST other things I’ve seen get published lately.
This autobiography is a coming of age tale that is more than worth visiting. Plus, it’s a fairly fast read, so if you’re dubious about graphic novels, at least it won’t take up too much of your time
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As I read through The Red Tent, I would refer occasionally to the original version of this tale in the Old Testament. The original (as many OT tales do, to me) seemed flat and distant and in many parts didn’t make sense. Anita Diamant did the hard work fleshing out characters and shedding light on (or, maybe, just plain making up) cultural customs of the time that would connect the dots for the modern reader.
A well crafted, intriguing bit of fiction.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Every page is poetry. I haven’t cried while reading a book since I read The Giver in 5th grade.
Markus Zusak has my undying love.