Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Book:  The Kitchen House 

Author:  Kathleen Grissom

Grade:  C-

Recommended to: perpetrators of stereotypes. 

"Book Club Favorite" is a sure sell when a book it trying to get me to read it.  I love my book club, I love favorites, and I love books.  What I didn't love was The Kitchen House.  This book sucked a bag of donkey dicks.  Maybe just a small lunch sack, but still, a whole bag.

The Kitchen House is Kathleen Grissom's first book and you can really tell.  She had such a good idea for the plot.  A young white Irish girl is indentured to a plantation owner and works in the kitchen with the house slaves.  There are also quarters slaves who work in the fields, but these do not feature prominently.  The book follows Lavinia's whole life with short chapters from Lavinia's childhood caretaker, Belle.

Here are my issues with the book:

First, the dialogue.  The only characters that speak in this book are the black characters and their speech is so sterotypically "slave speech" that it was distracting and disgusting.  When a white character is involved, they rarely speak; instead its just narrative that describes what the white people are doing.  It was so weird.  Even Belle, the slave that could read, and write spoke in this terrible southern dialect that was so awfully contrived that I cringed while reading it.  It was not convincing and not good.

Second, a bad thing happens to the at least one of the characters in this book every 15 pages or so.  The book is 300 plus pages which means there are 20 disastrous events that take place in the book.  It was exhausting.  It is absolutely true that horrible things happened on plantations all the time, but it felt like this author was just going for shock value instead of historical accuracy and all of these terrible events made me want the book to be over.

Third, the romances in this book are horrible.  It cannot be true that there was no communication in 1806.  One person loves another person, but they think that person loves someone else, so they marry a third person and really that third person is the secret brother of the next person.  Why can't they just open their mouths and say what they are frigging thinking for once?  How hard is it to say, "yeah I really like him, but I think he is the father of my pseudo-mother's baby, so I feel that that would be inappropriate." Do you know how much time that would save?   About 100 pages, easy.

Number three is actually one of my pet peeves in books.  Communication failure is not an effective plot device.  It is a device used in crappy romance novels that they sell for 2 bucks at walmart, it is not the stuff of well-written books.

Fourth, the short chapters from Belle were strange.  They were all about two pages and didn't seem to add much to the story except to give the reader information that they could never have gotten from Lavinia's perspective.  Although that information was valuable, a third person narrative account with good dialogue would have served the same purpose and likely would have turned out better.  

This book got a C- because it had lots of potential.  I hadn't read something before about indentured servitude and that's why I picked it up.  Unfortunately there was very little about the history of indentured servitude in this book.

So, read at your own risk I guess.  Yet another below average review for this blog, but I have to admit they are much more fun to write!

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Book:  Sharp Objects 

Author:  Gillian Flynn

Grade:  B

Recommended To: Gillian Flynn Lovers. 

Nearly everyone has read Gone Girl, but Gillian Flynn wrote two books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places before she became famous for Gone Girl and in my opinion both are slightly better that Gone Girl.

In Sharp Objects, Camille is a news reporter and is instructed by her editor to go back to her home town to investigate and break the story on two child murders that are suspiciously similar.  She does so, only to confront her frightening mother, half sister and complacent step father.  Much of the book is about Camille confronting her past and childhood experiences in a place that she hasn't returned to since leaving for the big city (Chicago).

I know that everyone thinks that Gone Girl was excellent and it was.  But I am of the opinion that Dark Places and Sharp Objects were better than Gone Girl.  Here's why:

Camille is a likable character.  She's seriously flawed and has a strange cutting habit, but deep down, she's a good person.  You root for Camille.  That was not the case in Gone Girl; once that book was done twisting and turning you hate everyone and if you don't then maybe you were reading a different book.  I have trouble reading books where all of the characters don't have a single good characteristic.  See Jonathan Franzen.

This book has its own unique share of twists and turns which kept the story moving.  I finished this book in one day on the plane ride home from Colorado and it was well worth the time spent.  I recommend this book to anyone looking for a dark, twisted read that Gillian Flynn has become known for.

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book:  The Book Thief

Author:  Markus Zusak 

Grade:  A 

Recommended To:  Everyone.  Could be a book for teenagers since I got it off the "Hot Reads for Teenagers" shelf at the library. 

I have been writing a lot of bad reviews lately.  And I started to wonder, am I reading bad books?  Or, am I reading an assortment of books and it is just much much more fun to write about the bad ones.  In the case of The Book Thief, the latter is true.  For the first time since 2011 when I began tracking my book read goals and progress on Goodreads, I am actually ahead of schedule to finish 65 books this year.  That's especially exciting because I am going on a week long cruise vacation where I expect to do a lot of reading and relaxing.  I might actually crush this goal.

So, since I only review the bad books and who wants to be told to stay away from things instead of what they should read, here is a good review:

The Book Thief  was excellent.  It is written from the perspective of death, which makes this book very unique and interesting and tell the story of Liesel whose mother and brother die and she is given to a German family for adoption or possibly foster care.  It isn't quite clear.  This book is about Liesel's life growing up as a German girl in a small town outside Munich during World War II.

I liked this book because I don't believe I've read a single book from the perspective of an average German family stranded in Germany during WWII.  They suffer bombings, food shortages, lack of work, and suffering at the hands of the Nazi Party members in their small town.  Much of the book was about small events in Liesel's life that made a big impact on her life and relationships.  These portions were very well done and the book didn't slow down because of seemingly small events.

The book is especially interesting because of the perspective of Death.  The theme that death is indiscriminate is very good, particularly because good and evil are so sterotypically portrayed in novels about World War II.

I cried at the end of this book and basically if I cry and it isn't from anger or frustration, then the book gets five stars.  I cry at commercials, television, movies, all the time (that makes me sound crazy, but there are some really powerful commercials out there!).  I read a lot and for some reason, I rarely cry over books.  This book was so beautiful and the writing was so good that I couldn't help but weep that it was over.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a powerful read but prepare yourself for a wide range of emotions while reading.  Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Book:  Divergent 

Author:  Veronica Roth 

Grade:  C

Recommended To:  Young Adult Fiction Fans 

SPOILERS:  Approach with CAUTION.

 I feel like I'm going to catch a lot of flack for this review, but since this is the internet, I don't care.  Divergent wasn't the book that I expected it to be.  I did not expect it to be like the Hunger Games, but I did expect it to be well written.  In a world where Fifty Shades of Grey is considered the greatest story to have ever been created, I realize that expecting good writing is a lot to ask.

My one big issue with the writing of this book was the present tense.  It is hard to write in the present tense. Typically, we relay events and stories about our lives in past tense, because of course, those events have already happened.  Not so in Divergent, the present tense of this book is distracting simply because Roth is bad at writing in the present tense.  The book also seemed unnecessarily dumbed down.  This book is Young Adult fiction, but does that mean the sentence structure has to be poor, or that the vocabulary limited?  No, of course not.

My other issues with this book center on the plot, so if you are reading this and you don't want the plot to be spoiled, just stop right here, read the book, and come back.  Don't say I didn't warn you, twice!

This book is post-apocalyptic fiction.  Everyone has been divided into one of five factions, or they live poor and factionless.  I suppose that people typically choose the faction that they are born into, but some deflect from their factions on faction-choosing-day and then they are basically shunned for life from their families.  Obviously, the narrator of the book shuns her old boring grey faction and chooses the exciting Dauntless faction where the characters regularly die by jumping off moving trains.

The first 70% of the book is about how the narrator, (god help me, I've already forgotten her name, that's how average this book is) is trying to survive initiation into the Dauntless.  Then shit starts to get weird and there is some vague plot to overthrow her old faction by the smart people faction.  Then, everyone gets injected with some stuff and they become robots and start killing......I don't even know if I can finish, it sounds so realistic absolutely ridiculous when I write it out.  

I expect my apocalyptic fiction to at least be believable.  Okay?  Yes, of course you have to suspend your disbelief about the apocalypse or whatever when you read books like this.  Of course.  But, World War Z was about zombies and it was hands down one of the best five books that I read in 2011, so I don't have a problem using my imagination.

My issue is that the characters and the backstory of this book are incredibly weak.  The book ended with many many more questions than answers, and the characters were not strong enough to make me care about the answers.  The characters were flat and shallow.  The writer frequently told me instead of showing me and these flaws I cannot forgive.  You cannot hide behind the guise of "Young Adult Fiction" and have poor writing, plot and characters.  Young adults and this occasional reader of teen fiction deserve better.

In all fairness, Roth has seriously hit it big with this series. They are making a movie out of the Divergent series which is sure to make her gobs of cash so she never has to write an under developed novel again.  She's raking it in and good for her, someone has to make it.

There were some good parts in this book; it did keep me guessing.  I could not predict how the story would end and there were some good surprises along the way, but these were not enough to overcome the flaws.

I will likely read the rest of the books in this series, not because I particularly liked Divergent, but because I read this book in a day and I really want to make my Goodreads goal this year.

Happy Reading!