A God in Ruins (Todd #2) by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins (Todd #2) by Kate Atkinson

godinruinsEven though Kate Atkinson took readers back into the beautiful world that she created for the Todd family, this story wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as Life After Life.

This time, the story focused on Teddy. It is told through the mixed up timeline that I’ve come to expect from Atkinson. We get to see Teddy’s relationships, family and inner thoughts.

It didn’t have the magic of Ursula’s story, in my opinion. In Life After Life, I was enthralled. For the majority of A God in Ruins, I was not.

I was surprised that I liked very few of the characters. Viola, in particular, was awful. I realize that that is partially the point, but still- it’s hard to appreciate the story when you don’t like most of the major characters.

The writing was still lovely, but I didn’t connect to this book the way that I did with the other one. I’m rather disappointed actually.

Thanks for reading.

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor

joanofarcThe review that I’m about to give Joan of Arc: A History has nothing to do with the historical accuracy of the book. On the contrary, I found this to be an extraordinarily well researched and cited biography.

Unfortunately, that mega-effort did not lend itself to a readable or enjoyable book.

The general idea behind Joan of Arc is sound. Helen Castor wanted to present Joan’s story in context with an extended history of France for years before and after her appearance on the world stage.

In that way, she thought that the legend of the woman could be separated away from the reality. The reader could appreciate the main players, the attitude towards spiritual visions, the belief of divine will in war and the monarchy, and capture the overall general flavor of the time period.

It was a good premise, but it just didn’t work. Maybe this was a doctoral thesis that Castor tweaked a bit and published? It reads like that.

Why is it that experts on topics are rarely able to translate that interest and depth of knowledge into stories that the general public would enjoy? I love medieval history, especially the backgrounds of the handful of female figures who made it into print during that period. This should have been right up my alley.

Joan of Arc: A History read like a school textbook- the dull kind.

Actually, it reminded me of translating Livy’s History of Rome from Latin into English during college. It should have been fascinating stuff as he was writing about a particularly exciting period in Roman history when Hannibal was crossing the Alps to invade. But, sadly, Livy got caught up in listing endless details, particularly the size and shape of the elephants. Through description after description, the pace of Hannibal’s army slowed to a trickle and then it turned into a snooze-fest.

That also happened in this book.

If you enjoy scholarly research to the point that you just have to have it and nothing else will do, read this book. If you want history to come alive and punch you in the face, pick up something (anything really) by Margaret George or Bernard Cornwell.

I particularly liked The Memoirs of Cleopatra or The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers. George may not have the exacting research standards of this biography, but her historical fictions are informative in addition to a delight to read.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. Thanks for reading!

Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

authorityThe mystery of Area X continues with an FBI agent’s entry into the Southern Reach. What’s going on? Why can’t anybody remember anything? Why is everyone so antagonistic? And why does everything smell bad?

Rarely have I been so disappointed with a book as I was with Authority. The first entry in this series is a gripping, psychedelic adventure that reads like a nature-gone-wild acid trip. This book, on the other hand, is like going to work with a punishing hangover. You don’t know what’s going on and everybody is pushing piles of paper at you.

“A shadow had passed over the director’s desk then. He’d been here before, or somewhere close, making these kinds of decisions before, and it had almost broken him, or broken through him. But he had no choice.” pg 18. On and on it goes. No answers, only confusion and bewilderment. I honestly thought, up until the very end, that something mega-cool was going to happen to make up for all of the so-so stuff that had happened so far. Unfortunately…

I also got super excited anytime Area X was mentioned, sort of like passing an old fling on your way to a funeral. Take this passage: “But the truth did have a simple quality to it: About thirty-two years ago, along a remote southern stretch known by some as the “forgotten coast,” an Event had occurred that began to transform the landscape and simultaneously caused an invisible border or wall to appear.” pg 35. Yes! And then we were immediately back into the boring office work/politics stuff.

“You’ve heard of the Southern Reach?” He had, mostly through a couple of colleagues who had worked there at one time. Vague allusions, keeping to the cover story about environmental catastrophe. Rumors of a chain of command that was eccentric at best. Rumors of a significant variation, of there being more to the story. But, then, there always was. He didn’t know, on hearing his mother say those words, whether he was excited or not.” pg 71. And that, my friends, is pretty much the whole book. Let me save you another 250 or so pages.

I exaggerate. A bit. It’s just that I’m incredibly disappointed in the turn this story took. I suppose I’ll read the last one in this series because I’m a completionist, but that is the only reason.

Thanks for reading!

Galore by Michael Crummey

Galore by Michael Crummey

“An intricate family saga and love story spanning two centuries, Galore is a portrait of the improbable medieval world that was rural Newfoundland, a place almost too harrowing and extravagant to be real. Remote and isolated, exposed to savage extremes of climate and fate, the people of Paradise Deep persist in a realm where the line between the everyday and the otherworldly is impossible to distinguish.”

-Description from Goodreads

galoreGalore is all over the place. And I didn’t like it.

I like epic historical fiction. (The Far Pavilions) But, this one wasn’t epic. It was more a collection of pointless stories strung together than a rich tapestry with unifying threads.

I don’t necessarily mind plot lines about priests who act in un-priestly ways. (The Thorn Birds) But there was nothing redeeming about this priest.

In fact, I can’t think of a single character that I cared for much. That’s a shame because there were so many to choose from.

On to the next book. 🙂 I recommend giving this one a pass.

Thanks for reading!

Sarah (The Canaan Trilogy #1) by Marek Halter

Sarah (The Canaan Trilogy #1) by Marek Halter

sarahA historical fiction about the early days of Abraham from Sarah’s (Sarai’s) point-of-view.

I think that this novel wasted an opportunity for a great story. Like a majority of women in the Bible, Sarai’s life was largely untold. So, Marek Halter had a blank slate to work with.

And what he wrote for Sarai was a life of waiting. Waiting for Abram to talk to his god. Waiting for Abram to come back from war. Waiting to become pregnant. Waiting and wandering, looking for a home.

If I had written this story, Sarai would have been so busy doing something spectacular that she would have hardly even noticed Abram’s absence or presence. Maybe she invented a new form of weaving. Maybe she started her own business selling those herbed loaves that she was so proud of. Or, to introduce a fantasy twist, maybe she was secretly a vampire hunter, like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

My point is: for a story about a woman, it was mostly about the men in her life. Which makes it not very different than the source material. And, in my mind, a disappointment.

Thanks for reading!

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

theshininggirlsA killer travels through time picking his victims and leaving mementos behind.

I thought I’d venture outside of my comfort zone with The Shining Girls and I certainly managed that. It was far too gory and violent for me.

The trouble is that almost half of the story is told from the killer’s point of view. The reader gets a front row seat at the crimes, usually immediately after a series of passages describing the girl so that an emotional connection is formed with the victim.

I was on a run listening to the audiobook… now, let me be honest. I was on a mildly taxing walk listening to the audiobook and I had to turn it off when he attacked Kirby. It was simply too much with all of the horror, violence and the bit with the animal too.

Perhaps if I had been reading a physical book, I could have skimmed the awful bits. But even then, I think it would be safe to say that this was not the book for me.

I was really excited when Beukes introduced the reader to the newsroom of the Chicago newspaper. Her description of the reporter’s cubes all stacked up on one another with the sports and feature writers off to the side was eerily accurate to where I work.

I also enjoyed the interactions between Dan and Kirby- those two were snappy and fun.

Overall though, the gore of the story was too much for me. Only recommended for readers who can handle that type of thing.

Thanks for reading!

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #1)  by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

shadowofthewindI’m incredibly embarrassed that I didn’t enjoy The Shadow of the Wind. So many of my Goodreads friends gave this five stars, I feel like I’m missing something. Perhaps my taste in books is all in my head. 🙂

I thought this was going to be a fantastical story about protecting books and defeating an evil that was trying to destroy them- sort of a magic librarian/coming-of-age/historical fiction adventure. It was not that.

It is more about the character descriptions and the scene descriptions and… well… descriptions. Not much happens. If I had to meet one more character and absorb one more backstory, I was going to freak out.

The Shadow of the Wind has been called “gothic” and “lyrical” and “beautiful.” I can think of a few different descriptions, but the most pertinent one would be: “not-for-Heidi.”

I just couldn’t get into this book. My apologies to its fans. If we all enjoyed the same things, what a boring world this would be.

Thanks for reading!