June 13, 2016

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Before I say anything else about this novel, let me just say this: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is one of the most compulsively readable books that I've read in the last little while. Darn near un-put-down-able.

I'd almost 100 percent attribute the completely compelling nature of this book to the voice of its narrator. Tucholke immediately and firmly establishes in her readers' minds the type of person Violet White is: bookish, curious, prone to analysis...even a little bit contrary. She lives with her twin brother, Luke, in a mansion by the ocean. No jokes, a mansion.

Our story begins when a mysterious boy named River West comes to town and rents the guesthouse from Violet. And all of a sudden, weird stuff starts to happen. A bunch of children think they've seen the Devil in a cemetery. Meanwhile, River is staying in the guesthouse and charming Violet White in spite of the very, very bad feelings she has about him.

So this is where I'm torn: inevitably, we find that River has a form of magic. And he sometimes uses it to do bad things. I'm talking murder bad. And while Violet White tries to tell herself that she's wary, she falls for him.

Like I said, this book was highly readable--but this is where I struggle, plotwise. River's magic only works when he touches something and he touches Violet (obviously). But part of what his magic does is make her forget what has happened. And there's every indication that his magic basically takes over sometimes and makes things happen... It's worrisome.

Let me be honest, since this is the part of the review where I'll tell you about my caveat. The part of the novel that makes me say, "I liked the novel BUT'...

But as a mom, I'm starting to take issue with some of these young adult novels. You know the type I mean. They've got a male protagonist who is magical or immortal or....something...and they have a female character who is drawn to them. It's bad enough when a female is 'drawn' to something as though she has no agency and can only act on the pull of something else.

When, as with this book, we find out that the 'being drawn' is actually the love interest actively doing something to REMOVE her agency. Well, that rankles me. The more I think about this type of scenario, the angrier I get. Because in a sense, these types of plots are teaching girls everywhere that boys doing something like that is OKAY.

For the record, it's not okay. Obviously. And I worry worry worry...because there are books like this that are so highly readable that make it seem okay. Make their young protagonists seem okay with it. (Seriously, people. I became a mom a little more than 16 months ago, and I've discovered...even though my daughter is little, I still can't help but look at things with a mom brain. Is this normal?)

June 9, 2016

I Let You Go

Clare Mackintosh's I Let You Go is the kind of book that, back in the day, I would have just barreled through in a day. Since I no longer have that luxury, I read it as quickly as I could. It's told in what seems to have become a conventional, multiple point of view structure. Let be frank here: while the story is good, I'm feeling a little bit that this format is getting old.

In this particular instance, the multiple voices are from a woman we start off assuming is one person but who is really another; a police detective; and an abusive husband. In a way, this is how a chunk of the mystery is generated. Who exactly are these people? What are their relationships to each other?

The mystery itself is compelling. A five-year-old boy is the victim of a hit-and-run. Two detectives get invested in solving the case because... who does that? (Mackintosh used to work on the force, and the story is apparently inspired in part by a hit-and-run from early in her career.)

As we get engaged with Jenna Gray, we initially assume she must be the mother of the boy who is hit based on some of the context. As the novel moves along, we learn that's not the case--but she's definitely tied to the hit-and-run. Guess who her abusive ex-husband is?

This particular format has its pros and its cons, and there is definitely one surprising twist. That said, I think I mostly kept reading so I could get to the end. I wanted a satisfying conclusion. I suppose the ending was satisfying enough, but I still couldn't tell you whether I really feel it was worth it. That's likely because it just seems so much like any number of mysteries I've read recently. I suppose I might be getting a little pickier as I age.

June 3, 2016

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

I've read this book approximately a million times now. Maybe not a million, but it's been a lot because my daughter loves this book. In particular, she loves the slide and find feature so that she can slide the text blocks back and forth over the pictures of animals.

It's a well-illustrated book and definitely a classic for a reason. In addition, it's nice that it's all animals (until the people at the end). My daughter loves to make the noises for the animals that she knows--the cat and the dog.

I've always been fascinated and the smallest bit weirded out by the art. The overlapping colors and the paper cut-out quality of the pictures definitely make the book unique and are immediately recognizable as the Eric Carle style.

Best of all, this book so far seems pretty darn near indestructible and there are few things better than well-structured books when you have a child that likes to test the limits of objects.

The Rosie Effect

I honestly can't recall whether I reviewed The Rosie Project when I read it, but I will tell you this: it's hands down one of the most delightful love stories I've ever read. In that first novel, Don Tillman (who clearly has Asperger's though he doesn't realize it) sets out to systematically find himself a partner. He ends up finding Rosie, an excellent partner who is not at all what his system dictates he would fall in love with.

In this sequel, Don and Rosie are living in New York. He has, once again, created his own structure and his own rhythm. He has adapted somewhat in favor of Rosie's spontaneity, which means that he tries his best to schedule some spontaneity. Things become a little too spontaneous, though, when Rosie announces that she's pregnant.

Don, in typical fashion, finds a way to turn this new baby into a project. It's what he does; he wants to be able to structure his world. Unfortunately, he's also deeply struggling because a woman he met once at dinner with friends told him not to have children. He does himself no favors, either, by inviting Gene and his infidelities into the apartment.

What happens throughout the novel is a succession of frustrating events that look as though they may lead to the demise of Rosie and Don's  relationship. Don is well-intentioned but clueless when it comes to taking care of his pregnant wife, and Rosie (in what is most frustrating to me) seems a little unwilling to communicate her needs--which Don needs because he otherwise tries to control situations in loving and sometimes hilarious ways.

Advisory: semi-frequent swearing.