mini reviews #7: audiobooks with long titles & an ARC

You can see all my previous mini reviews here, and feel free to add me on Goodreads to see all of my reviews as soon as I post them.

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A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
audiobook narrated by Colin Farrell
★★★☆☆
date read: July 2019
Audible, 2019
originally published in 1916

In spite of my whole ‘Irish lit thing’ I have never once felt compelled to pick up Joyce. But then Colin Farrell went and narrated this audiobook, so that was that. And though he does a terrific job, this is, unfortunately, probably a book that I should have read in print – I’m just not an auditory person at all and there is a lot going on in this book. So I’m not going to lie and pretend that I got as much out of this as I arguably should have, and I’m sure I’ll want to revisit it one day. But I ended up surprising myself with how much I did enjoy it – Joyce’s language isn’t as impenetrable as I had feared, and more mesmerizing than I had expected, and Stephen Dedalus’s journey was occasionally, unexpectedly, thrilling. There’s a lot to unpack here about religion and family and nationality, and if I ever reread this I will vow to attempt to unpack it all then.

You can pick up a copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man here on Book Depository.

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BUT YOU DID NOT COME BACK by Marceline Loridan-Ivens
translated from the French by Sandra Smith
audiobook narrated by Karen Cass
★★★★☆
date read: August 2019
Faber & Faber, 2016

This is a slim, hard-hitting book that doesn’t dwell on the horrors that Loridan-Ivens experienced in Birkenau so much as examine their aftermath. Returning to a family who was spared from the concentration camps while losing the only other family member who was sent to Auschwitz with her, she writes this memoir as an extended letter to her father, whose death overshadows her own survival. Sparse and poignant, But You Did Not Come Back is certainly worth a read even if you feel oversaturated with WWII lit.

You can pick up a copy of But You Did Not Come Back here on Book Depository.

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THE NEED by Helen Phillips
★★☆☆☆
date read: September 2019
Simon & Schuster, 2019

Right book, wrong reader. I don’t have much else to say. I think The Need is a smart, unexpected book that blends genres and arrives at something unique that I can see working for plenty of readers who are willing to embrace a bit of weirdness. I just don’t like books about motherhood, and at the end of the day, that’s what this book is. The science fiction/speculative element is only there to enhance the main character’s anxieties about juggling motherhood with her career, and if that’s a theme that usually makes you reach for a book, by all means, give this one a try; I unfortunately was just bored senseless.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

You can pick up a copy of The Need here on Book Depository.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think? Feel free to comment if you’d like to discuss anything in more detail.

book review: The Heavens by Sandra Newman

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THE HEAVENS by Sandra Newman
★★★☆☆
Grove Atlantic, February 12, 2019

The Heavens is essentially Sandra Newman’s novelized meditation on the Great Man Theory – the idea that history has been shaped by a few influential individuals. Kate, a young woman living in New York City in the early 2000s, believes she’s one such person, as she has dreams which propel her into a past timeline where she lives as a mistress in Elizabethan England. When she wakes up, she begins to notice that details about her life have changed overnight, and as she becomes increasingly convinced that her dreams are affecting her reality, her boyfriend Ben becomes concerned about her mental health.

It’s particularly difficult to talk about the plot of this book when it’s ever-shifting. At the start of the novel Kate and Ben live in a New York that resembles our own, except that we aren’t at war and we’ve elected a green party president named Chen, until one day she wakes up and is informed by her concerned friends that Gore is president, and has been president all along, doesn’t she remember? Newman excels at playing with this inherently tenuous atmosphere; whether it’s Kate’s mental stability or the fabric of the universe that’s really on the verge of collapse, there’s a palpable fragility at play while you turn these pages, never sure which details are going to shift from one page to the next.

But despite its clever construction, this doesn’t completely work from start to finish. Kate’s dream narrative is noticeably weaker than that of the present, and the depiction of 1590s England feels almost caricaturish. It also plays with many different lofty ideas and doesn’t always follow through with seamless execution; certain plot threads feel abandoned and under-examined, and I thought the resolution undermined a lot of what came before it. But, I haven’t completely made up my mind about this book and I’m sure to be mulling it over for days to come, so I’m very curious to see how others will receive this wildly unconventional tale of love and fate and time travel.

Thank you to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

You can pick up a copy of The Heavens here on Book Depository.

book review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

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THE POWER by Naomi Alderman
★★☆☆☆
Little, Brown and Co. 2017

 

Well, that was… anticlimactic.

I’m sure there isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about The Power, as I’m rather late to the party with this one: it’s set in a dystopian future where suddenly girls have developed the ability to generate electric shocks from their fingertips. The novel mainly follows four characters: the feisty British girl Roxy, the American politician Margot, the Nigerian journalist Tunde, and the teenager Allie who escapes from her abusive foster parents and turns to a self-made religion.

So, it’s undoubtedly a great premise, but problem #1: I was bored to death by each one of these characters, and I was also frustrated by the unwieldy execution of the point of view shifts. The entire book is narrated in a third-person omniscient POV, but is broken up into chapters whose headings are one of the four characters’ names. But, the head-hopping always felt arbitrary; for example we’d have a chapter called ‘Roxy,’ where the focus is actually on Allie, and it was all a bit ironic given the fact that everyone in this story just blurred together anyway. I do not need to personally care about the characters to enjoy a book, but I do need there to be a certain level of intrigue, a certain understanding of why this person’s story in particular is worth telling, and I just didn’t get that from any of the four protagonists here.

But, my bigger issue with The Power was the distinct lack of narrative. You’d think, with the amount of literary fiction I read, that I wouldn’t need a clear-cut plot to keep me engaged, but I’m learning that with SFF, a good idea alone isn’t nearly enough to sustain my interest. I can’t help it – I want a good story. And there just wasn’t one to be found in these pages. The narrative felt scattered and uneven, potentially interesting plot threads were underdeveloped, and the pacing was either rushed or stilted. Each chapter would read as a solitary vignette before we skipped ahead another year and the characters would be doing something else entirely, and while the sections themselves were counting down to some big event – ‘9 years to go,’ ‘8 years to go,’ the section headings would read – this didn’t provide enough tension or intrigue to counteract the boredom that mainly characterized my reading experience. I wasn’t wowed by the ending, either. I did think the novel’s framing device was effective, if a bit heavy-handed, but I put this down feeling nothing but relief to finally be done with it.

And I mean, it’s undeniable that the premise is brilliant and that certain themes in this book are fascinating. As others have observed, this is less a book about gender than it is about power; gender may be the vehicle that Alderman chooses to use, but it’s less a ‘feminist dystopia’ than a relentlessly dark fantasy that interrogates humanity’s innate blood-lust. But the fact remains that this was just so, so much better in concept than in execution. I thought Alderman’s writing was simplistic and downright lifeless, which is also how I felt about her Jewish lesbian romance Disobedience, another book that fell short of its potential for me. I was hoping that my experience with this one would be different as it’s a completely different genre, but I think I should just accept that I don’t get on with Alderman’s writing.

You can pick up a copy of The Power here on Book Depository.