Monday, January 14, 2019

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

In the 1600s, Emer Morrissey was a frightful pirate marauding the Caribbean seas in search of treasure to steal and hoping to once again meet her long-lost love.   That is, until the night she is cursed to one hundred lives as a dog.  One hundred dog lifetimes later, Emer is back in the body of Saffron Adams, the hope of her lower middle-class family.  Unfortunately for the Adams family, Emer has no interest in lifting the family out of poverty through higher education, but she may just know where to find the buried treasure she left behind.

I really thought that The Dust of a 100 Dogs had a really fun concept that I would enjoy, but nearly the whole thing didn’t work for me.  The characters are woefully one dimensional.  The good characters are too good, the evil characters too evil, the conflicts too easily begun and resolved, and the reincarnation portrayed poorly.  At the beginning of the novel, Saffron’s thoughts and actions are nearly entirely Emer’s.  If they are not the same person, then Saffron is utterly controlled by Emer, driven by Emer’s desire to have back the treasure denied to her and filled with Emer’s violent pirate thoughts.  By the end of the book, however, it was like King made a last-minute decision that Saffron ought to have a voice too, but it was too little too late to be anything short of a tack on.  
Flashbacks to Emer’s early life in an Ireland being destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s armies are the best and most compelling part of this book, perhaps because it’s the only part that feels genuine.   Once Emer flees the husband her uncle has sold her to in the aftermath of the war, Emer, desperate, decides she’ll board a ship bound for the Caribbean, where other men are looking for wives or worse.  This is where things fell apart for me.  For one, if you ran away from a lousy, rotten husband to be impoverished on the streets of Paris, why would you think you’d make out any better rolling the dice on a mystery husband in the Caribbean?  For two, I just never really managed to buy Emer as a proper pirate.  She kind of dithers her way into the whole thing after fleeing the next d-bag husband in line, and using her pent-up loathing for all the men who took what wasn’t theirs in a battle.  All the sudden, she’s a sea captain with pirate fleet robbing Spanish treasure ships.  There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for it other than she doesn’t want to get married to a French d-bag and she need something to do while she moons over the lost love her of her Irish youth that she hopes against hope to meet again.  She’s supposed to be this feared killer, but it all seems to be a bit of an act, and a poor one.
Maybe I’m expecting too much.  This is, after all, a swashbuckling YA tale of reincarnation and piracy.  I’m probably not supposed to read so much into it.  I’m supposed to appreciate Emer as a strong female character and enjoy her adventures at sea.  However, despite her murderous abilities, she somehow never stopped seeming like victim to me, and The Dust of a 100 Dogs, with its many lifetimes’ worth of stories to tell never came together into the more multi-dimensional story I was hoping for.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Starters by Lissa Price

Callie Woodland and her younger brother, Tyler, are vaccinated survivors of the Spore Wars.  The Spore Wars wiped out the middle-aged generation leaving behind a class of mostly orphaned youngsters (Starters) struggling to survive and class of wealthy and privileged elderly (Enders) who have become the ruling class of Price’s dystopian world.  In a world where she’s not allowed to have a job or own a home, Callie’s only option to care for her sick younger brother is to go to work for Prime Destinations, a body bank where the wealthiest Enders can rent the body of Starter and relive their youth.  For Callie, it’s a simple matter of going to sleep while her body goes on its own adventure, that is, until she wakes up in the middle of one of her rentals and finds herself tangled in her renter’s web of intrigue.  Who can she trust and why is the voice in her head begging her not to return to Prime Destinations?

Starters is a fast-paced dystopian thriller with no shortage of secrets and plot twists.  Price conjures a main character whose first-person narration is realistic and relatable.  Callie’s desperation to provide for her brother, and her conflict between caring for her brother and uncovering the evil motives at Prime Destinations is palpable.  There are evil villains, unwitting accomplices, and, of course, unexpected love interests which Price weaves together into a compelling story.

Unfortunately, where Starters fails is in its world building.  The Spore Wars are barely explained.  Reasons for why the young generation is so widely loathed and exploited by the privileged class of Enders are never discussed.  Readers are left to wonder why the elderly are not only so without compassion for the younger generation but also often downright evil.  The mystery of the book was enough to overcome these failings and keep me reading, but the lack of depth to Price’s world left me just the slightest bit unsatisfied.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Loose Leafing: Currently

Doing: Aging.  It's my birthday.  I'm getting.....oldish.

Reading:  I was reading and enjoying Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee, but I took a quick break to read Wonder by R. J. Palacio when I found out the book group I (very sporadically) attend will be discussing it next Friday.  Wonder is great so far - I started it yesterday on Kindle and only have about 30% to go.  It's the first book in a while that I lost track of time and accidentally stayed up too late reading - hello, 1:30AM!

Anticipating: Spring.  It hasn't been especially snowy in my neck of the woods, but it certainly has seemed first colder, and now just generally more rainy, overcast, and dismal than usual.  Despite no indication in temperature or conditions (the nor'easters keep blowing through at a good clip), my birthday is usually when I start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  It's cold today, but sunny, and there's something in the light that makes me think spring.

Buying: Books, naturally.  At the winter library book sale, on my Kindle, from Books-a-Million.  At this rate, I'm going to need to be even more brutal about DNFing the bad and the mediocre to keep up with my problem.  So far, so good - I've jettisoned approximately 1/3 of the books I've started so far this year.

Also, I bought this blanket from Society6, and I'm pretty sure it's been about the best thing about the season I loathe most.  It's warm, comfy, and funny.  It's been my constant companion for all reading, TV watching, and napping these last couple months. I think I might need a beach towel in the same design to accompany me through the summer....

Cooking: I love to eat good food, but for most of my life, I've had a complete disinterest in cooking.  Lately I've started to realize that my disinterest lies more in planning and shopping for obscure ingredients I'll never use all of and just end up wasting.  So, one of my life goals this year was to join one of those meal delivery services.  Enter one of my co-workers with a free Hello Fresh box.  Two weeks and four meals in, I'm happy to report that given all the necessary ingredients and a certain level of instruction, I can, indeed, cook.  All four meals have been good (number 5 to be prepared tonight), and I'm pretty super stoked to have culinary variety back in my life along with a nice ego boost stemming from the fact that I am not actually an incompetent cook (just a lazy one, LOL!).

Tex Mex Tilapia!  I made that!

Watching:  Ever since I moved to my new place and subscribed to all the streaming services so I could skip buying cable, I've been dying for the TV show ER to stream all its episodes somewhere so that I could re-watch.  Thanks to Hulu my TV dreams have come true.

I took a break to take in the Olympics - snowboarding and the freestyle skiing are where it's at for me - where the coverage was uncommonly good, for the most part.  But other than that, ER is the star of this girl's winter....and probably spring and, there are a lot of episodes to see!

Planning:  Trips.  I kind of got way behind the eight ball last year planning travel but still lucked out on a few mini vacations.  Not getting fooled again this year.  I've already got all the money down on my portion of a lake house rental in Cooperstown, NY this August with my family, decidedly a different type of vacation than I've ever taken.  Relaxing instead of on the go, and with a good chunk of my family, too, should be an interesting departure from the norm, and hopefully a good one!

Private water front?  Yes, please.

Then, just recently, one of my best and oldest friends accepted a job in Washington state.  I volunteered as tribute to road trip with her across the nation at the end of May, and we are starting to lock in the plans.  I traveled out west to Montana once upon a time with the intention of taking a job there, but it didn't work out as planned.  I'm surprised and a little excited to have the opportunity to take another cross country road trip.  This time in better weather and without the stress of my having to start a new life at the end of it.

What have you been up to lately?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Look at this, people.  Here it is still 2018.  I've finished two whole books, and I'm already writing about the second.  Somebody stop me or I'm going to start having expectations of myself.

Picking up a copy of Murder on the Orient Express, for me, was mostly an exercise in nostalgia. I went through my traditional mystery-lover stage pretty early in my reading career, and when I was in the seventh grade, I was sure I was going to read all the Agatha Christie books, and all those The Cat Who... books, and more, so many more delicious mysteries.  Alas, my reading tastes shifted as I grew older, and my consumption of the entire collection of the delicious new (at the time) copies of Central Columbia Middle School's Agatha Christie collection never came fully to pass, though I did get a few under my belt before my reading tastes shifted to thrillers and horror in high school.  So, reading Murder on the Orient Express was an effort to recapture the reading days of my youth, even though I think I was more of a Miss Marple girl than a Hercule Poirot fan, but, be that as it may, I enjoyed my blast from the past.

Hercule Poirot is returning by train from Syria after solving one case and rushing to England to attend to another when he finds himself in the midst of still a third case when a suspicious gentleman is murdered on the Orient Express.  With no police on board and their progress halted by a snowdrift, it falls to Poirot to gather the evidence of the many potential suspects traveling in the Stamboul-Calais carriage.  Interviewing everyone from the victim's secretary to the honorable Princess Dragomiroff to a Colonel and a young woman from England he'd had a chance encounter with on his previous train, Poirot has to discern the lies from the truth to discover the secrets of both the killed and the killer.

A relative minimum of reliable evidence, an abundance of characters who don't seem quite shady enough for murder, and a healthy dose of lucky guesses make Murder on the Orient Express a fun whodunit.  Its exotic locale in the midst of a snow storm combined with the sinister atmosphere of a marooned train that almost certainly contains a killer adds to its attraction. 

I've always been and still am a fan of the sort of deductive reason, psychologically based crime-solving that marks Poirot's style.  Sure, modern forensics are great, but isn't it more fun to cleverly manipulate potential subjects into tipping their proverbial hands?  There's no doubt that Christie is a master of the genre, and Murder on the Orient Express kept me guessing until the very end when the good detective finally untangles the improbable truth.

(Copy received free from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi

I've done a strange thing this year.  I've finished a book already.  Now I'm going to make it even stranger and try to review it as if I were a functioning book blogger and human.  Look at me go!  What madness does the new year bring?

Anyhow, the first book of the year, well, it's not really anything special.  This is to say, I didn't really pick it for any special reason, like people do.  It's a book the randomizer chose from the thundering neglected hordes on my Kindle.  So yeah, the randomizer followed me right into 2018.  The simple changing of the year didn't transform me into a capable decision-maker.  The foundations of the world?  We won't shake them too hard just yet.

Anyway, the first book of 2018.  It's My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi.

As she enters her junior year of high school, Lucy Moore thinks she's got it made.  As the best actress in her school's drama club, she's sure she's about to land the role of Juliet in the fall production of Romeo and Juliet.  Naturally she'll be playing the role opposite her boyfriend, Ty, the golden boy of drama club.  She's got a pair of supportive best friends - Max and Courtney, and a pair of dads who couldn't love her more. 

In a space of the week, Lucy's world crumbles - the role and the boy both go to theater-camp competitor and high school interloper, Elyse.  When her undependable biological mother shows up at her house trying to make yet another new start, that's Lucy's final straw.  One foolish night of fleeing her problems for an uncharacteristic night of clubbing in NYC is all it takes to change Lucy's life forever.  Now Lucy has a deadly secret she can't tell anyone, and the one person she does tell validates her worst fears.

My feelings about My Life After Now were tremendously mixed.  The beginning of the story seemed wildly exaggerated.  I understand that this almost absurdly bad week had to happen to drive the rest of the plot, but the speed with which things come undone was blatantly unrealistic.  The end, as well, fails in realism, with resolutions that seem to come together far to easily and with too few questions asked.

In the middle, though, My Life After Now really shined. Lucy's terror and shame at what she has done and the diagnosis she receives is expertly rendered.  Her unwillingness to open up to her parents and her friends about what happened and the consequences, for fear of their judgement, disappointment, disbelief, or fear is entirely convincing.  When the truth does have to come out, as the truth always does, Lucy has become so isolated and afraid that her relief is palpable.  Her coming to terms with living her new life is expertly handled.  While My Life After Now suffers a little from a certain YA tendency to wrap things up too nicely and easily, it's ultimately an addictive read about a relatable narrator facing a different diagnosis than is tackled in any of those other YA "sick kid" novels you may have read, which makes it a welcome addition to the genre and well worth a read.
"If you test positive, how do you think you will react?" she rephrased. 
What kind of a question was that? How would anyone know how they would react until actually put in that situation? That was like asking what you would do if you woke up to find your house was on fire. Would you run out immediately? Stop to call 911? Look for your cat? Put on your shoes? Dash around collecting valuables? Until you’re actually in that burning building, flames scorching your skin, there’s no way to know for sure.