Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: The Tiger's Wife

Author: Tea Obreht
Title: The Tiger’s Wife
Description: Natalia’s grandfather, a doctor, grew up in a small village and befriended the tiger’s wife. He also had several run-ins with the deathless man. The novel opens on the day of her grandfather’s death, and Natalia, away from home on a medical assignment, remembers his tales and seeks more information about the circumstances of his death. The novel moves back and forth between the present day, where Natalia, herself a doctor, visits a village where a mysterious family comes to dig in the vineyard, and the past, both that of Natalia’s childhood and that of her grandfather’s youth. Folk tales blend with magical realism in this tale of family, war, and hope.
Review source: Netgalley
Plot: There are several storylines going on in the novel, and some are more successful than others. I found the story of the deathless man to be the most fascinating, and always welcomed the sections of the book that dealt with him. The story of Natalia herself, though, was not as gripping—probably because it did not have the supernatural pull.
Characters: Natalia, her grandfather, her grandmother, the deathless man, the tiger’s wife—they all struck me as fairy tale characters; in other words, they have things happen to them, but they don’t seem like people I would relate to. 
Writing style: I enjoyed Obreht’s writing style; she doesn’t back off from strong symbolism, for example, or stories embedded in stories embedded in stories. There was a certain lack of urgency—Natalia herself was never in danger during the novel, so the reader has the luxury of savoring the stories without worrying about the outcome.
Audience: This is literary fiction; I read a review that compared it to YA, and although I disagree with the review, I do think that teenagers would probably like it. The book won this year's Orange Prize.
Wrap-up: The book reads as if it is a collection of tales connected by a loose overarching story; as such, when the tales are gripping, the book is worthwhile. I enjoyed this read, though I kept waiting for more to happen than eventually did. 4/5*

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review: The Vanishers

Author: Heidi Julavits
Title: The Vanishers
Description (source): Julia Severn, a student at a psychics’ training school known as The Workshop, seems to be cursed by one of her professors. Meanwhile, she becomes involved with research on an avant-garde filmmaker of the 1980’s who may have a link to Julia’s deceased mother. The “Vanishers” of the title are those who have disappeared from the lives of their loved ones, either via suicide, or by simply vanishing—although they may choose to leave a video for their families to watch.
Review source: Netgalley
Plot: This book was strange. The overall theme was women’s relationships, and Julia encounters several strange women—Alwyn, Madame Ackermann, Dominique Vargas, and, perhaps, her own mother.
Characters: Nearly all of the characters in the book are women, and the book is really about how women, especially mothers and daughters, relate, or don’t relate, to each other. I didn’t get the feeling that I really knew any of the characters, though, even the narrator.
Writing style: The book is sort of surreal—things happen that really aren’t explained, other than that the book is set in some kind of alternate universe in which psychic powers are real. There are some other differences as well, but they aren’t ever really explained. Everything seems sort of dream-like. If you’ve read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, it’s that same sort of feeling.
Audience: literary fiction. From the description, though, it sounded like it could be women’s fiction, paranormal, something of the sort, but it’s not upbeat and cohesive enough.
Wrap-up: The book was an interesting read, but not riveting or especially rewarding. So I’ll give it 3/5*

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: The Prague Cemetery

OK, the one you've been waiting for: the worst book I ever read. DO NOT PURCHASE THIS BOOK; YOU WILL HATE YOURSELF

Pub date: 11/8/11
Author: Umberto Eco
Title: The Prague Cemetery
Description: Nineteenth-century Europe—from Turin to Prague to Paris—abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate Black Masses at night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies both real and imagined, lay one lone man? What if that evil genius created its most infamous document?

Eco takes his readers on an unforgettable journey through the underbelly of world-shattering events. Eco at his most exciting, a book immediately hailed as his masterpiece. (Publisher description)

Review source: Netgalley

I hated this book. Hated it. Let me say up front that I absolutely hated it.
Now that that’s off my chest, I’ll try to do a decent review. I read the blurb above, and it sounds like the kind of book I normally go for, with mysteries and conspiracies and intricate plot twists and revelations. Don’t let this fool you. Maybe I’m doing a spoiler here, but I don’t think so. There is one central character who has absolutely no redeeming qualities. His life is built around hatred, most especially hatred of Jews, and the book explores that hatred in all its dimensions. He is surrounded by other despicable people. They plot against one another. The reader never cares about any of them, so their ultimate fates are of no interest. There is plenty of hatred and invective spewed around for everyone: Jews, first and foremost, but also Freemasons, priests, especially Jesuits, communists, and women. The book is foul to the point where one almost feels dirty to continue reading it; I can’t imagine anyone writing it without either having the pustulence within himself gushing out, or else being permanently tainted by creating these thoughts. The blurb asks “what if one man were behind all of this?” but the book basically answers “so what?” Not nearly as intriguing as the question might suggest.

I don’t know who will hail this book as a masterpiece, but undoubtedly someone will. I, on the other hand, advise you to stay far away from it.

Now, it’s time to bathe my soul and try to forget this book exists.