Wednesday, June 27, 2018

[Book] Ohio by Stephen Markley

Ohio book cover
Book Cover
This follows four main characters who had gone to high school together back in the early 2000s, and on one night in 2013, all came back home to their hometown of New Canaan, Ohio.

After the prelude, the first section of the book follows Bill Ashcraft, a drifter who is loaded up on drugs.  Appropriate to the character - for the parts where we are following his narrative - the story is jumping back and forth between his past and present with no direct warning in-between, full of non-sequiturs, and frankly - hard to follow.  In my Advanced Reader's Copy, this section is a quarter of the book, and there were several times during this part in which I came close to giving up entirely on the book.  I'm saying it was well written, but purposely hard to follow in places.

The rest of the book is much more straight forward.  We are re-introduced to several characters that appeared in the Bill section, with mostly overlapping timelines.  The story still switches between past and present with little warning, but because the narrative is sober, there is easier context to follow.  I found myself quite eager to continue once the drugged part of the narrative was over.

The past... the parts where these characters are recalling the things that happened in high school reminded me of watching Riverdale, but darker and way more adult.  There is a lot of things going on, gossip, love, infatuation, cheating, and conspiracy.

There are politics and diverse political viewpoints throughout this book from many different characters.  The most obvious view of a die-hard liberal is the drug addled Bill Ashcraft, who comes off as more an anarchist than a liberal.  While the many views of core conservatives included a deeply racist, radical that got his start from family money; an assistant pastor who quotes Leviticus to his gay sister and Rick Brinklan who puts patriotism and following a Republican president above all other political considerations.  The political alignments on these character's other traits felt like caricature instead of character, which is sad because its the only other aspect (after the drugged narrative) that took me out of the story.  There's a lot of politics in this story for it not to be about politics, and the static nature here is offset by the personal relationships.

There are friendships, loves, love affairs, fights, hugs, rape and lots of consensual sex.  While it felt like a lot of sex (especially during the high-school years), the inter-personal relationships were dynamic, complex, and the emotions were nuanced.  Relationships affected other relationships, affairs had consequences.  Rape is not glorified but brutal, and the explanations, excuses and rumors felt all so real.

While there aren't a lot of action sequences, the ones that exist were surprisingly easy to follow.  I, as a reader, often have trouble following fast paced action sequences, and even the ones that occurred during the drugged narrative were crisp and clear, and I felt I understood what was happening the whole time.

Ultimately, this book explores the ripples that happen because of loss.  A job, a whole factory, a lover gone away without explanation or a friend lost to war.  Innocence less lost, but enthusiastically tossed aside, with the emotional consequences no less for irreverence.  This exploration of loss is the theme within this book that really resonates with me.  There's also a plot-line of this book that is a mystery, which will satisfy those who enjoy some mystery as well.

I haven't figured out where to go with the actual rating of books on this blog.  Despite my criticism, the overall story works, and I'm glad I stuck it out.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

[Book] Catching Stars by Cayla Keenan

Book cover
The world building is probably the thing I liked the most about Catching Stars.  There are people who have magical abilities and a larger group of people who don't.  Within magic users, there are different types of magic users.  There are kingdoms and politics, palace intrigue, roving gangs, sailing ships, petty rivalries and fierce prejudices.  Though the story is quite different, the emotional feel of the world is similar to the book Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley.  Take that basic world with its gritty dangers, add magic and remove the detailed economic modelling.  None of this would be interesting without a good story to go with it.

The story is very action packed, every chapter switching back and forth between the perspective of the two main characters, Jayin and Maddix, and the author does this very well.  The book starts off establishing Maddix, and throwing him in front of very powerful magic.  This quick action sets the pace for the rest of the book.

This is the first book in a series, which I say because I wasn't actually aware of it when I read this.  If you want a book to have a climax, this book delivers.  If you want a book to have a resolution, THAT part is probably found in book two.  I was much more disappointed by this when I expectantly turned the page to find the heading ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS than I am now, a few days later.  Now, honestly, I'm just looking forward to the next book.

Nitty gritty:  There was one important thing that was introduced in the middle of the story that I missed.  I think I missed it because it was introduced in the middle of fast paced action scenes.  I tell myself this often, but I need to slow down and read carefully.  I also spotted at least two places where it seemed like a negative was missing, which had me re-reading and hunting context to make sure I understood correctly what was going on.  Maybe I mis-read something, but watch for those.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

[Book] The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman

I got an advanced readers copy of this book from the first day of BookExpo.  It is supposed to be released in September 2018, but that is preliminary, and the date could slip.

Book cover
I don't usually read true-crime genre books.  If I had never read the Nabokov fiction, Lolita, I would have never been interested enough in this book to read The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman.

A note about Lolita

It's been a few years, but I have always been uncomfortable with the book, Lolita.  It didn't present to me in the same way it presented to so many other people.  To me, it was a beautifully written tragedy in which the narrator has circumstances that show him in a better light, but we can't trust the narrator.  I have said to people that I regret having read that book.

The Real Lolita

This book contrasts the journey of Vladimir Nabokov and his wife VĂ©ra while Nabokov wrote his controversial book, Lolita, with the journey of Sally Horner who was kidnapped in 1948 and taken across country herself.  In some ways the book is a little game of what did Nabokov know about Horner, and when did he know it.

I feel better about having subjected to myself to the fictional Lolita after reading this book.  I say this because this book points out the things that made me most uncomfortable about Lolita, and in some ways sets them right.

Ultimately, though this is a true crime story about an 11 year old Sally Horner and her abductor Frank LaSalle.  While I can't recommend the fictional Lolita, I absolutely can recommend The Real Lolita to anyone who has read the fiction, or who is interested in true crime stories.  This book is very well written, and given it still has an edit pass or two to go, I am sure it will be even better in its final version.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

[Book] Piggy and Pug by Anne Wheaton, Illustrated by Vipin Alex Jacob (No-Spoilers)

This is a story about the journey that brings together Pug, who's searching for a new family, and Piggy, who's searching for a new friend.  That text is lifted almost directly from the piggyandpug web site, but it's a short book, so hard to not spoil anything...

This is a children's illustrated book, from Monolith Press, 32 pages.  I was at BookExpo at the end of last week, and I got an opportunity to flip through this book with the book's publicist, Susan, watching me intently for reaction.  I looked up and asked her about the illustrator.  She told me that Vipin Jacob is a Canadian who is greatly influenced by older Disney and Warner Brother's Motion Cartoon art.

It's Anne Wheaton's story, and it's good, but I have to take a few minutes here to compliment the artwork.  The artwork makes the book.  I noted that the framing (especially the use of blur) reminded me of the Don Bluth years of Disney movies.  It really makes the pages feel like they are ready to move, like the whole book is ready to be an animated short.  Check out either of the links on this page (the first to see some samples FROM the book, the second to check out Vipin's Pinterest page).  I want to see this artist everywhere.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

[Book] Oracle Year by Charles Soule (No-Spoilers)

I read this book in only two days, which is way shorter than I usually read, especially a book of 416 pages.  I generally only read on weekends, and usually only for a few hours at a time.  This book really had me hooked from start to finish.  I definitely lost sleep for reading.

Will Dando, a struggling New York musician, dreams up 108 predictions.  A line of information and a date for each.  He writes them down, but doesn't think much of them until he realizes that they are real.  At this point, he has to decide what to do with this information.  This starts the Oracle Year.

The author is Charles Soule.  He is an immigration attorney.  He's written Daredevil for the last few years, and famously wrote the Death of Wolverine before that.  Oracle Year is his first novel, and it's good enough that this is the first time I've decided to write a review on my own blog about it.  [ I don't use this blog enough, so maybe I should fill it with books. ]

This book has a lot of action, but it's smart.  We get to see the big picture as well as the up-close perspective from multiple characters.  This book navigates news and world events in a way that is very hard to pull off while keeping the story focused on the characters.

Anyway, I highly recommend the Oracle Year.