Monday, July 25, 2016

The Secret Place by Tana French

Image result for the secret place tana french  The Secret Place is the fifth book in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series and it's so good! Detective Stephen Moran is toiling away on cold cases waiting for his chance to join the murder's squad. That chance appears in the form of sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey. A student at the girls boarding school St. Kilda's, Holly arrives at the police station with a card she found tacked on her school's Secret Place, which is basically a bulletin board where students can post anonymous confessions and other secrets. Moran couldn't be more thrilled.

A year earlier the body of Chris Harper, a boy from St. Kilda's brother school was found on the grounds of St. Kilda. His murder remained unsolved despite the efforts of Detective Antoinette Conway and her former partner. The anonymous card Holly brings is a photo of Chris with a note purporting to know what really happened to him. Moran practically skips into Conway's office with the photo. Solving this case could be his ticket to the murder squad.

Conway and Moran quickly narrow their suspects down to eight girls: Holly and her friends Julia, Rebecca and Selena; along with four other girls, Joanne, Gemma, Orla, and Allison. The entire novel takes place over ten to twelve hours with Conway and Moran trying to navigate their way through the complicated world of teenage girlhood and figure what happened that might have caused one or more of these girls to kill Chris Harper.
A good book tells a story. A great book goes beyond that and says something about some aspect of the human condition while still telling a good story. French does that here. Holly and her friends are considered freaks and weirdos. Why? Because they dare to decide for themselves who they are rather than letting others decide for them. When Rebecca wears jeans to the Valentine's Day dance, for example, people lose their shit! The way Rebecca sees it she likes dancing but didn't feel like wearing a dress and wasn't trying to impress any of the boys so why not wear what she's comfortable in?
Moran puts it like this:  
"It took me till then to put my finger on it, what was different about them, or some of it. This: Joanne and all hers were what they thought I wanted them to be. What they thought guys wanted wanted them to be, grown-ups wanted them to be, the world wanted them to be. Holly's lot were what they were.  When they played thick or smart-arsed or demure, it was what they wanted to play. For their reasons, not mine."
Repeatedly other people remark in various ways that Holly, Rebecca, Julia and Selena need to learn their place; they can't just do what they want. The world doesn't work that way. At its core The Secret Place is about female friendships, loyalty, strength, and figuring out who you are. The crime element kept me guessing but it was the story of the girls' friendship that really drew me in.

I've been in a bit of a reading slog all summer. Not quite a slump, I've been reading just super slowly. It isn't that the books haven't been good, just that nothing that has been un-put-downable. The Secret Place is the first book in awhile that I eagerly tore through. If not for the fact that I was traveling this past week I would have finished it much sooner.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz


Product Details
I've been meaning to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for over a year. My book club, Mocha Girls Read, selected it to read for the month of June, providing the necessary motivation for me to finally pick it up. My fellow Mocha girls had mixed feelings about this book, as do I.

The description on the back of my copy describes Oscar of the title as a "sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love." Unfortunately Oscar never quite how to exist in the world. Blame it on the fuku, the curse that has followed his family for multiple generations. Or, blame it on his crazy mother. Or, blame it on his tendency to wallow in self-pity and his inability to get out of his head.

I found this book incredibly frustrating. On the plus side I liked that it was about a Dominican family. I haven't read many, or any really, books by or about Dominicans or the Dominican Republic. It was a new perspective for me, one that I found refreshing. I also really liked the character of Lola, Oscar's sister. She grew up in the same crazy, unloving household as Oscar and yet she turned out so differently. Both Lola and Oscar were smart; both went to college. In the end Oscar seemed stunted, like he stopped growing mentally and emotionally at age 12.  Lola on the other hand, not only survives her childhood, she thrives. She travels the world. She has adventures. I would have rather read the wondrous life of Lola Wao.

The down side of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was Oscar. I am not sure if the character is meant to be seen as mentally ill but I kept hoping that someone would take him to a therapist. His obsession with women a little creepy. At times his behavior came a bit too close to stalking for comfort. Perhaps Oscar would have been a more sympathetic character if the story were told from his point of view rather than a third person narrator. (Not to say I didn't have some sympathy for him.) Coming from a third party, it was never quite clear why Oscar acted the way he did or how he felt. It might have helped to have been in his head. Then again that might have been an equally frustrating place to be in.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Undoing by Shelly Laurenston

Image result for shelly laurenston books  It's strange how at times media that I am consuming end up relating to one another in unanticipated ways. Over the last few days I've been watching the final episodes of the last season of Showtime's Penny Dreadful. (Yes, I know it ended weeks ago. I am perpetually behind on my DVR list.) At the same time I've been reading Shelly Laurenston's The Undoing. Unexpectedly both have feminist underpinnings with a particular focus on women refusing to conform to what men (or society or large) want or expect. On Penny Dreadful this is most evident with the characters Vanessa Ives and Lily. On the episode Ebb Tide (season 3, episode 7) Dracula gives a great speech in which he tells Vanessa that he loves her for who she really is and that she need not conform herself to what others expect, as she has tried to do for so long. Meanwhile the murderous Lily is bent on avenging herself and the multitudes of prostitutes, abused wives, and other women who society turns a blind eye to when they are beaten or otherwise ill treated. In The Undoing there is Jacinda "Jace" Berisha, a once abused wife who woke up in her second life filled with rage. 

This is the second book I've read by Shelly Laurenston and the second in her Call of Crows series. Whenever I think of the Crows I can't help but picture a biker gang but they are something much cooler than bikers: The Crows are Viking inspired warriors. Long story short, there are various Viking clans on present day Earth whose job is more or less protect humanity from itself and from the misdeeds of various supernaturals. Each clan was created or put together by a particular god or goddess, like Thor or Odin. I can't remember which goddess created the Crows, but whoever she was she takes women who died, usually violently, and offers them a second chance at life as one of her Crow warriors. In their second lives the Crows are stronger, can sprout wings and fly, and are generally bad ass in every way. 

I would classify this series as paranormal romance with lots of action. Each book in the series focuses on a particular Crow woman and her budding romance with a guy from one of the other clans. Plus there is always some big bad they have take down. The Undoing focuses on Jace, who aside from having the usual Crow powers of super strength and flight, manifests berserker level rage when she is really pissed off. Her fellow Crows find Jace's rages both helpful and frightening. When she is in a rage Jace is unstoppable but she is also has a tendency to lose control of herself. The reasons behind her rage are undoubtedly rooted in her first life when she was forced to be the wife of a crazy cult leader who believes the end of days are near. In The Undoing Jace has a lot on her plate. She has to (1) deal with her crazy ex-husband who wants to forcibly bring her back into the fold, (2) figure out how to stop a vengeful, ancient goddess who is wreaking havoc on the world, and (3) contemplate dating when the only other relationship she has ever been in was one that was forced on her at the age of ten.

I really liked this. How could I not? When not in a berserker rage, Jace is a quiet girl who prefers reading to small talk. She hides in empty cars, up in trees, wherever she can to escape the constant chatter of her sister crows, love them as she does. When Ski Eriksen of the Protectors clan, whose is also known as the "Keeper of the Word," asks for her help with translating and organizing a bunch of books his clan took from a Russian mobster Jace is all in. For the books, that is. She is completely clueless that the cute guy offering her job is in interested in much more than an employee/employer relationship.

There was also something about an enchanted necklace, an unkillable goddess causing all kinds of trouble. Truthfully I  focused less on that part of the story. That part of the story was fine, and the parts about the other clans and how none of them get along was funny, but really it was all about the romance for me. Can't wait for the next book in the series.