Friday, March 27, 2015

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah  For the past few months I've been reading mostly genre fiction - mysteries, romances, fantasy, and paranormal or a combination of two or more of the above.  Americanah is literary fiction, that is to say it is a novel of ideas and characters.  Reading Americanah was an abrupt change of pace for me and it took some time to adjust to the rhythms of reading a novel that was more about ideas than plot.  It was a welcome change.

The novel begins with Ifemulu and Obinze, two childhood sweethearts in Nigeria.  They have dreams of going to America but Obinze's visa application is rejected.  Ifemulu goes alone, while Obinze eventually makes his way to the United Kingdom.  One's dream of a place and what life in the place is like never quite matches up with the real thing.  Inevitably there are differences between one's imagination and reality, both good and bad.  Ifemulu and Obinze discover this first hand as they make their way in the countries they have chosen to travel to.  Eventually both of them find their way to back to Nigeria, and back in each other's lives.

Several ideas are explored in Americanah: immigration, race, class, romantic relationships, success, and perceptions of non-Africans about Africa, to name a few.  In particular Adichie explores what it means to be Black through the character of Ifemulu.  In Nigeria Ifemulu was simply Nigerian.  In the US with this country's complicated racial history, Ifemulu is Black.  Having grown up in a country where the majority of people are Black, life in the US takes some getting used to.  Ifemulu continues her formal and informal education upon arriving in the US and later begins a blog about being a "non-American Black" in the US.  Some of my favorite parts of the book are her blog entries. 

I have so many thoughts about this book but it is difficult to discuss them without revealing plot points.  Suffice to say Americanah was well worth the read.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Darkest Pleasure by Gena Showalter

The Darkest Pleasure (Lords of the Underworld Series #3)  The Darkest Pleasure is the third book in Gena Showalter's  Lords of the Underworld series about immortal warriors who have been cursed to carry a demon inside them as punishment for opening Pandora's box.  The warrior at the center of The Darkest Pleasure is Reyes, the keeper of pain, and the woman he falls in love with is Danika.

Reyes enjoys pain.  To keep himself from hurting others he hurts himself.  Basically, he's a cutter.  He stopped dating after his ex-girlfriends starting liking pain and violence a little too much after being with him.  It's like bits of his pain demon leaked into them and they began hurting others.  To prevent further harm to humans, the warriors are all about protecting or at least avoiding innocent humans, Reyes keeps to himself.  Then he meets Danika.  Danika and her family - her mother, grandmother, and sister - are on the run from the Greek gods who want them dead for reasons no one seems to know.  From the moment he saw her, Reyes was determined to protect, and resist, Danika.  Not surprisingly, the second part of that plan doesn't last long.

Ever since I read Twilight years ago I became aware of what I like to call the imprint love trope.  I suppose this trope has existed since romance stories existed but Twilight just really drove it home.  Basically it is the combination of the ideas of instant love the moment two people to meet and soulmates that simply must be together no matter what.  Imprint love seems to be at the heart of the Lords of the Underworld series.  First there was Maddox and Ashlyn, then Lucien and Anya, and now Reyes and Danika.  As soon as they meet there is an instant attraction despite the obvious reasons why the two should not be together.  Reyes was one of the guys that initially kidnapped and imprisoned Danika and her family, for heavens sake!  But love conquers all.  As in the first two books, Danika's presence calms Reyes's demon.  He's still a cutter, but less so, and sometimes she even helps him.

The Darkest Pleasure is definitely full of pleasure and full of darkness.  I liked the character of Danika the most.  Her character was actually introduced in the first book when she and her family were kidnapped.  After the kidnapping Danika was determined to never feel helpless again.  In the ensuing time between the first book and this book she took all the self-defense classes she could and learned to protect herself.  Of course, she is still no match for any of the immortal warriors but she has a streak of determination and mental strength that is nice to see in a female romance lead.

In addition to the main romance story, The Darkest Pleasure continues the overall story of the warriors quest to find various artifacts that they hope will eventually lead them to Pandora's box.  Story lines relating to some of the other warriors also continued.  Torin, the keeper of disease seems to be striking up a friendship (or maybe more) with Cameo, the keeper of misery and the only female warrior.  Paris, keeper of the demon of promiscuity, continues to struggle both with his demon and his guilty over the death of a past lover.  I can't wait to get to their stories.  I'm definitely enjoying this series so far.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Ironskin   Ironskin is a retelling of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.  As in the original work, a woman takes a job as a governess to the daughter of a mysterious man who lives in the country.  The woman is Jane Eliot and her mysterious employer is Edward Rochart.  Connolly changes the story by adding in a supernatural twist: fey, which are basically evil fairies.

The story begins five years after the Great War, that is the war between humans and fey.  Humans won, or at least forced the fey to retreat.  Jane was injured during the war.  Her injury takes the form of a scar on her face and the curse of rage.  Fey curses are particularly dangerous because they flow inward and outward.  Not only can Jane's rage overwhelm her, it can leak out and make the people around her feel rage as well.  There are other injured people like her, each with a different kind of curse.  One victim is depressed and makes those around him similarly depressed.  Another person has the curse of hunger.  No matter how much he eats he feels like he is starving.  To prevent their emotions from leaking out and effecting others, Jane and others like her wear iron.  Jane's iron mask covers half of her face.

What a strange read this was.  I've read Jane Eyre, though not in several years, and knew the basic story.  Though Ironskin was clearly inspired by Jane Eyre it doesn't mirror it.  I was fine with that and was looking forward to seeing how the addition of the fey mythology might be used.  Now that I've finished the book I have mixed feeling about the addition of the mythology.  From the beginning we the readers are told that humans and fey lived in an uneasy coexistence for a time, with humans making liberal use of fey technology.  Then there was a war and as with any war, some people died, some people survived but bear literal and figurative scars, and others emerged with barely a scratch or a memory of the war.  We are told that the fey are dangerous but aren't given much of a reason why until the last third of the book when the fey return.

The problem might have been one of proportion.  For the first two-thirds of the book the mythology hardly seemed to matter.  Fey were the bogeyman, a scary story that had little impact on present day.  Then all of sudden the fey reemerge and become a thing that matters.  I wanted to like this more than I did, but frankly I had a hard time staying interested during the first two-thirds of the book.  It wasn't until the last 100 pages that things got interesting.

Ironskin is the first in a series, with each book taking on a different classic story.  It did seem like the author was laying down groundwork for something bigger.  Now that the foundation has been put in place and the fey have reemerged in the world, the next two books in the series might work better.  Only time, and reading, will tell.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Son by Jo Nesbo

The Son  The Son by Jo Nesbø is about fathers and sons, revenge, justice, and redemption.  The son of the title is Sonny Lofthus, son of Ab Lofthus, a disgraced police officer who committed suicide after admitting to being a mole in the police department for organized crime.  Sonny's life fell apart after the father he idolized killed himself.  His depressed mother started self-medicating, first with prescription drugs, then will illegal drugs and alcohol.  Sonny tried to take care of her but soon he was self-medicating too.

Young and poor with no money to feed his habit, Sonny turned to crime.  When he ran out of things to sell or steal, he accepted a proposition that promised him a steady stream of heroin.  In exchange for confessing to murders he did not commit he would get all the heroin he wanted in prison.  Twelve years pass.  Now thirty Sonny is still in prison and has even confessed to a few more murders, anything to keep the heroin flowing and his pain and sorrow at bay.

One might wonder how such a scheme could possibly work so well for so long.  It was an elaborate, yet simple scheme involving gangsters, prison officials, other prisoners, and the prison chaplain.  A hit would be ordered on a person.  The hit would be carried out.  The chaplain would feed Sonny the details of the crime so when the police and the prosecutor questioned him Sonny would know what to say.  Evidence would be planted at the crime scene if need be.  Sonny would confess and the heroin kept flowing.

Brief Sidebar: One of reasons I like to read books by non-American authors set in countries other than the United States is in order to find out how things work in other parts of the world.  At the time that some of the crimes occurred Sonny was already in prison.  In order to make it plausible and possible that Sonny could have committed the murders he confesses to, the gangsters and prison guards arrange for the crimes to take place on the same day and time that Sonny is outside the prison because apparently in Norway convicted murderers get to take field trips outside the prison every once in awhile.  Not for a work furlough or a court date, but just to walk around, see the sea, and get some fresh air.  And they are not handcuffed or otherwise confined on these field trips.  On one such field trip, Sonny meets a stranger at a park and tells him he should go see a doctor soon because Sonny can tell, maybe by the way man walks, that something is wrong with his heart.

Everything changes for Sonny when another prisoner who is dying of cancer decides he needs to get something off his chest before he meets his maker.  The cancer patient tells Sonny that his father Ab wasn't the mole.  He was trying to uncover who the mole was and was murdered to stop him from doing so.  With unheard of amounts of willpower, or maybe it's just adrenaline and anger, Sonny gets clean and escapes prison, all in a matter of days.  Once on the outside he sets about finishing what his father started, exacting revenge and distributing justice as he deems fit.  Sonny has to dodge both the police, including his father's former partner Simon, and the leaders of the criminal world.  Everything gets very bloody pretty quickly.

Sonny is not a completely believable character.  He kicks heroin a little too easily (a steady user for more than a decade, he's as good as new after a few days going cold turkey) and adjusts to life outside of prison pretty quickly for someone who has been behind bars for twelve years.  But whatever flaws there are in Sonny's evolution from drugged out prison inmate to revenge mastermind are compensated by his very believable thirst for revenge and for answers.

I cannot adequately explain why I liked this, other than to say it was hard to put down.  Sonny does bad things for understandable, I can't quite bring myself to write "good", reasons.  He thinks he owes it to his father to punish the people that ruined their lives.  A couple people question that and Sonny doesn't have a much of a response to their doubts about why he's doing what he's doing.  Still even though I knew Sonny wasn't exactly a hero I was compelled to follow him on his journey.

The weakest part of this story for me was the love story.  It was unnecessary and not at all believable.  Sonny falls in love with the woman who runs the shelter where he goes after escaping from prison. The woman appears to be relatively intelligent and stable.  Sure she has an annoying boyfriend but are we really supposed to believe that Sonny, a man she soon learns is suspected of several murders, is the better choice?  Why not dump the boyfriend and stay away from Sonny?  (Another sidebar: The shelter is for active drug addicts, meaning if you stop using drugs you get kicked out.  Seriously, who came up with such a policy?)  I get why Sonny might fall in love with her, after all, as he points out, she is the first woman he's seen let alone touched in twelve years and she is kind to him.  I don't get at all why she falls in love with him, even if he really does have nice eyes.

This review is turning out to be longer that planned.  I'll end by saying read this if you're interested in dark mystery-thrillers.  This is the second book by Jo Nesbø that I've read, the first being Headhunters.  I want to try his Harry Hole series, even more after reading The Son.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

One Kiss With a Rock Star by Amber Lin & Shari Slade

One Kiss with a Rock Star Recently I came across a fabulous book blog called Romance Novels for Feminists, and there I found One Kiss With a Rock Star.  Like the other erotic romance rock star stories I've come across, it involves a bad boy rock star and the woman who loves and eventually, who tames him.  I knew more or less what to expect when I picked this up, but the premise, as described on the above mentioned blog, suggested an interesting take on the story.

Krist is the rock star bassist of the band Half-Life.  One Kiss With a Rock Star is the second book in a series.  I haven't read the first book but apparently it ended with a threesome among Krist, Half-Life's lead singer Lock, and Lock's girlfriend Hailey.  The three of them couldn't wait to get to a hotel room and got hot and heavy in an elevator (cue Aerosmith's Love in an Elevator).  Shortly thereafter video footage of their time in the elevator was leaked online.  Part of that footage showed Krist on his knees pleasuring Lock.  As Krist notes he could have yelled at a fan, forgotten a song on stage or even slept with an underage girl - and he would have been forgiven.  But the idea of a bisexual male rock star, that's unacceptable in the testosterone driven world of rock.  The guy at the music store even refuses Krist to sell him a vintage bass when he realizes Krist is the guy in the elevator video.  The band's record company threatens to cancel the band's European tour, as Krist's agent deals with the public relations fallout.

Madeline Fox has a problem.  She's a super star pop princess who came up through the ranks of kid TV and now sells out stadiums singing her brand of bubblegum pop.  At age fourteen she signed a contract that requires her to maintain the image of the squeaky clean girl next door.  Trouble is Madeline is now an adult and she's tired of pretending to be something she's not, particularly when it comes to her personal life.  Like Krist, Madeline appetites are broad.  She's been going off script and her label isn't happy.  Ward, Madeline's agent, comes up with a solution to help both Krist and Madeline: a fake engagement that will make Krist look straight and Madeline like a good girl planning her wedding.  Reluctantly, Krist agrees.  Madeline is easy to convince, having had a crush on Krist for years although secretly she would love to blow up her contract.

One Kiss With a Rock Star was mostly fun.  If you're looking for an erotica romance that's heavy on the erotic, look no further.  The one thing I was a bit disappointed by was the minimal exploration of Krist's feelings about the night he spent with Lock and Hailey.  Krist seems ambiguous about his bisexual identity, worried and unsure about the effect of that night on his friendship with his best friend Lock, and generally unsure about the person he wants to be in private and in public.  It would have been interesting if the story had explored that side of Krist more.  Oh well.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (B&N Exclusive Edition) (Divergent Series #2)  Middle books in a trilogy must maintain a delicate balance.  They have to keep the story in a holding pattern while moving it forward enough to keep readers interested in continuing with the series. The first book in a trilogy can be a complete story.  It almost has to be in order to get readers to trust the author enough to want read the next book.  By the time you get to the third book you're ready for the big climax and for the loose ends to be tied up.  The second book, on the other hand, is inherently incomplete, serving as bridge between the first and second and usually presenting more questions than it answers, perhaps even negating much of what had seemed to be resolved in the first book. For that reason, second books can often be more frustrating than entertaining or informative.

Insurgent is the second book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy.  In the world of Divergent society is divided into five factions:  Dauntless, Candor, Abnegation, Amity, and Erudite.  The Dauntless believe in physical bravery.  They are the soldiers of society.  I can’t remember what Candor actually does but they believe in absolute honesty and truth.  Abnegation believe in serving others and selflessness.  They run the government and divide resources among the different factions.  Amity is all about getting along and keeping the peace.  They grow food.  When I picture them in my head I think of hippies on a commune growing vegetables.  Not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing; that’s the just image that comes to mind.  The Erudite believe in knowledge and intelligence.  Their members are doctors, scientists, inventors, and teachers.  Then there are factionless, people who either chose to leave or were forced out of their faction.

A person can only be in one faction.  There is an aptitude test to help people figure out which faction they are best suited for.  The test is only a suggestion.  No matter what faction a person was born into or what the aptitude test indicates is best, at age 16 people get to choose what faction they want to spend the rest of their lives in.  Some people show an aptitude for more than one faction.  They are called Divergents.  Many believe Divergents are inherently dangerous.  As such Divergents are forced to hide their status out of fear for their lives. 

Between the irrational fear of Divergents and the exile of people into factionlessness, it is clear from the beginning that there is going to be a showdown at some point.  That showdown comes in the form of the Erudite tricking the Dauntless (by drugging them) into attacking the Abnegation.  The flaw in the Erudite plan is that the drug doesn't work on Divergents.  Tris is a Divergent.  She was born into Abnegation but chose Dauntless.  Since the drug doesn't work on her Tris, her fellow Divergent/ Dauntless boyfriend Four, also known as Tobias, and others manage to stop the attack.  Insurgent picks up right where Divergent ended, with Tris, Tobias, and others fleeing the city after stopping the attack.

As noted before, the main job of a second book in a trilogy is to keep the story in a holding pattern until the third book arrives, and that is pretty much what Insurgent does.  Tris spends much of the book in a state of depression, after seeing family and friends die during the attack on Abnegation.  Unfortunately the war is only just beginning so there’s no time for her to sit and reflect.  She’s forced to keep going.  This isn’t good.  Filled with guilty and anxiety, Tris makes bad decision after bad decision.

The story inches forward.  It was obvious from page one of Divergent that the faction system couldn’t last.  It was also pretty clear that there was more to the attack on the Abnegation than just the Erudite wanting to take over the government.  It isn't till the very end of this second book that we readers get a hint at what the real motivation for the attack was, and when it comes it isn't a huge surprise.

It’s hard to love a middle book in a trilogy.  I did not love this, but I liked it enough to continue with the series.  I have, well not exactly high, but hopes for the third book in the series.  I hope the third book brings the story home and presents a good reason for the redesign of society without completely dismissing some of the characteristics of the different factions.  Fingers-crossed. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February In Review


February was another good month for reading. I finished eight books, half of which were from my pre-2015 TBR pile.  One book had been in the pile for more than a year.  I did buy a few books in February, but not nearly as many as I bought in January.  I like to think of that as an improvement.  My favorite reads for the month were Trust Me, I'm Lying and Started Early, Took My Dog.  Dirty Rowdy Thing was also pretty great.

This year I've taken on several reading challenges.  The Book Riot Read Harder and genre challenges are going well.  The challenge that is proving to be the most challenging is Reading the World.  I have read a couple books by a Canadian author, but honestly that wasn't much of a stretch because the books were part of a series I started last year.  In March hopefully I will manage to read a book by an author from a continent other than the one where I currently live.