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Monday, December 10, 2018

Shrew's Reviews - A Gentleman in Moscow

Finished a Gentleman in Moscow (18 hours) by Amor Towles today and wow.  I had remarked to someone the other day that the problem with a character-driven novel is that if you don't like the character, you're left out in the cold for the duration of the novel.  Let me assure you this is not a problem with A Gentleman in Moscow.  I fell in love with the dashing Count Rostov, sentenced to house arrest in a Moscow luxury hotel.  I was blown away with his grace, dignity, elegance.  You would think being stuck in one place - even a posh hotel - would grate on one's nerves, but he doesn't ever seem to be confined.  

I don't usually do it, but I did read a bit from the back of the book on this one but I felt that it was a bit misleading, once I got into the book:

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

I thought it was going to be a story about a spoiled aristocrat that is put in his place.  Kind of Scrooge-esque, I suppose.  But no.  He was a lovely human being from page one.  And when they move him from his suite of rooms up to the attic, he takes that in stride. I can't type enough positive adjectives.  Count Rostov is a classy, well-bred, charming aristocrat.  I didn't want the story to end.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Shrew's Reviews - Since We Fell

I struggled a bit with Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane (12 hours).  The first third of the book is mostly backstory for the main character, Rachel Childs.  To be honest, it felt like filler.  None of the information is crucial to later events.  The highlights could easily have been incorporated into a conversation or a memory or something to let us know that Rachel’s relationship with her mother was contentious at best and that she never met her father. Look, I just summed it up in a sentence!  

For the first half of the book, I didn’t like Rachel.  As the main character, I wanted to feel something for her even if it was contempt.  But I just didn’t really care.  This is dangerous because I wanted to set the book aside and give up, and that would be a shame because it got better!  I think the problem was during the first half of the book even though Rachel has a full life – she goes to college and has a job she’s good at, even gets married – we never get too close and never get to see Rachel reflected through anyone else’s eyes.  Maybe this was done deliberately, because the first section is titled “Rachel in the Mirror”.  If so, it was brilliant writing to keep everyone at arm’s length.  I don’t think it was necessary, and it kept me from connecting to her.  We didn’t get to see that friends worried about her mental health.  She was kind of a non-entity.

The story doesn’t really start for me until she meets Brian (again) on the day her divorce is final.  That’s when she starts becoming a person I could sympathize with and like.  She seemed real then, not just a ghost. 

Speaking of ghosts, there is a scene that puzzles me (SPOILER ALERT).  In fact it puzzled me so much I bought the ebook so that I could look up the same scene and see if it was a glitch of the audio book or if it was in the print version as well.  I’ll try not to give too much away here, but if anyone has read this and figured it out PLEASE comment or shoot me an email.  This is the kind of thing that will fester.

So, Rachel is with a bad guy who threatens to kill her if she does anything more than slip a hat through the crack of the door.

She pulled her bag off the hook, crossed the threshold, and handed him his hat, pretty much all in the same motion.

The bullet entered her back, cut her spine in half, spewed the bone chips into her bloodstream as she collapsed into Detective Kessler.  The fall kept him from clearing his own gun.  Ned kept firing, shot Kessler in the head and the shoulder and the arm.  He fell with Rachel.  They landed in a heap on the marble floor, and Ned and Lars straddled their bodies.  They looked down on them with nothing in their faces and fired into their bodies until their corpses jumped…

And then she and the detective get up like nothing happened and walk out of the building…the bad guy (Ned) even follows them out on the sidewalk for a forced conversation.  At first I thought she was a ghost (as was the detective) but no, she goes on interacting with the living like nothing happened so I’m assuming that this was all just in her imagination, what she FEARED would happen when she walked out the door…but it’s never made clear.  It’s not in italics (in the book, I realize I put it in italics) or separated in any way.  There’s no sigh of relief when she realizes she’s still alive. It’s all just awkward.

SO much happens after that scene that it's not really a spoiler, I don't think.  Two thumbs up for the second half of the book and one big stifled yawn for the first half.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Shrew's Reviews - I Am Not A Monster

I recently won a copy of I Am Not A Monster by Carme Chapparo.  I had high hopes for this book.  The title hints at something unexpected.  Is there anything better than a piece of writing where you end up sympathizing with someone you should despise??  This story centers around the search for (ultimately) 3 little boys who all disappear from the same mall under similar circumstances. The first was two years ago, the second and third were about a week apart. The offender is dubbed “The Taker” by the press, and at first I thought it unusual that he would earn a nickname after the first kidnapping, but it sorta makes sense by the end.

Overall, the book delivers, but the first half was a bit of a struggle for me.  I think part of my problem was that this book was translated from Spanish so I suspect some of the word choice that felt “off” was due to that.  For example, early on there seemed to be a lot of incongruous conversations.  Police officers calling one another “sweetie” or “baby”.  Sure, they were female, that just felt so wrong.  There also seemed to be needless repetition of information we’d already learned.  Midway through the story the Police Commander was changed to someone the main character did not like or get along with.  I know this was to introduce more tension into the book but attempts at making him into a belligerent ass seemed a bit…forced.  And, in my opinion, completely unnecessary.  Oh, it was good to have that pressure from above, but he didn’t need to be such an asshole.  Commanders often have to make decisions that are unpopular with subordinate officers.  Their authority is absolute, so they don’t need to be jerks about it  But again, the awkwardness of some of those conversations could be due to the translation. 

By the second half of the book, the action picked up and things clicked into place much better.  My mind raced ahead knowing that the current suspect *couldn’t* be the one…or could he?  That’s the whole reason to read a mystery/thriller, isn’t it?  The joy of figuring it out before the author makes everything painfully obvious to the rest of the readers. 

All in all, a good book.  I expected the killer to be someone in the story, (I was holding out hope they’d find a way to pin it on the evil Commander, but sigh, not to be.  Oops, spoiler.) but I was surprised at the final revelation.  I was also surprised at the motivation… the clues were there the whole time but I overlooked them! 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Mock Me Monday - Doggone It

We have a lovely, sweet border collie.  I call her Guardian of the Bathroom because she spends the majority of her time in a little nook in there.  When we remodeled a few years back, we put a dimmer switch in the bathroom because she's afraid of the dark.

If you have pets you know that the hair tends to accumulate in weird places. You can vacuum as religiously as you like, but you'll never get it all and it will cling to rugs or corners or all manner of places. 

So I was blow drying my hair the other morning and happened to direct the hair dryer underneath our vanity and OMG dog hair started rushing out from underneath.  Feeling rather proud of myself for finding such an efficient way to collect the fluff, I blasted it full on for a few seconds.

And then I stopped.

Because the hair had gone airborne and it was EVERYWHERE.  It was like snowing dog hair.  Took forever to clean that up. more hairdryers under the vanity....and maybe stick the Swiffer under there a little more often. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Shrew's Reviews - Cloud Atlas

It took me three (count them) three attempts to read The Cloud Atlas (20 hours) by David Mitchell because I thought something was wrong with the audio file.  About an hour into the story it jumps to a completely different part of the story -- right in the middle of a sentence.  So I sent the book back to the library and 6 months later I saw it was available so thought I'd try again.  I have had some book downloads get corrupted and downloading a 2nd time fixes the problem.  Nope. After I sent it back the second time I learned that the book is supposed to do this so I downloaded it for the 3rd time and prepared myself for the crazy jumps in the story.

This is definitely a book that would benefit a 2nd reading.  I'm sure there are a lot of clues I missed the first time through that would enrich the experience. If you can hold on until the end, everything loops back and gaps are filled in so you're not left hanging, but it's not always easy waiting for the clarification and closure. 

Other than the abrupt changes in narration, I don't have a bad thing to say about the book.  The characters felt well developed and distinct from one another and I liked how they were all tied together, even centuries apart.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Mock Me Monday - Not Again

I'm pretty sure if you search the Mock Me Monday archives you'll find more than one story about wardrobe malfunctions on my part.  Wearing things backwards, inopportune slippage of a top, that sort of thing.  Well, it happened again.

It was a normal day at work.  Doing this and that.  I talked to I don't know how many people.  One of the guys brought in a puppy and so I got some great puppy cuddles in.  After I gave the dog back, I kept feeling the front of my top as it felt cool against my skin and I kept thinking the dog had peed on me. 

Finally I look down and notice that the rhinestones on the front of my shirt are facing inward -- no wonder it felt cold! 

120 people in the building, I'd been mingling among them for the better part of 6 hours and not a single one said a word.  

I think I'm going to be a hoot when I'm old. I might not remember to put a top on at all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Shrew's Reviews - Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I loved Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.  I'd heard about it for years and finally got around to reading it last year.  It was fresh and funny and quirky.  

42.  I finally understood what the cackling was about. 

So it was with great expectations that I picked up The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams.  

But I was so disappointed.  Oh there were some funny parts, but by and large it just felt off.  Like he was trying too hard to be funny.  Trying too hard to recapture the magic of Hitchhiker. And it just fell flat. 

In fairness, I read this in ebook format mostly before bed or when I woke at 3 and couldn't get back to sleep, so maybe I just wasn't alert enough to appreciate the humor and story line. I'm hesitant to try another of his books though.  

That's a good question.  So when the follow-up to a book you love fails to measure up, how many more novels do you attempt before you give up and declare him/her a one-hit wonder?