BOOK REVIEW: Warp, by Lev Grossman

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BOOK REVIEW: Warp, by Lev GrossmanTitle: Warp: A Novel by Lev Grossman
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published: September 20th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 192
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

I’ve actually not read Grossman’s Magicians trilogy even though it’s been on my TBR forever (because hello? Harry Potter-esque in college??), but when I saw this on Netgalley, I thought I’d give it a try.

The introduction is the best part, honestly. Grossman’s is overly critical of this first novel, and maybe rightly so. Warp is not terrible, but it’s not great. It’s got its moments, but it seems generally aimless. I don’t think I “got” it, but maybe there’s nothing to get. It reads a lot like many young white guys’ first books in which the nerdy guy gets his manic pixie dream girl. It’s not a trope I really like anymore now that I’ve been exposed to it over and over, and it doesn’t help that it’s still a hugely popular trope. I also didn’t quite get the double narrative? If it’s even that because most that second narrative is just quotes dropped in like a student trying to beef up an essay to meet a page requirement. It has a lot of potential, but it ultimately falls short.

Read it if you’re interested in how a writer’s craft evolves. Read the introduction at the very least (especially if you are in a bookshop this September and see it on the shelves). Perhaps avoid it if you’re not at all swayed by any of that.

Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: The Graces, by Laure Eve

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BOOK REVIEW: The Graces, by Laure EveTitle: The Graces by Laure Eve
Series: The Graces #1
Published by Amulet Books
Published: September 6th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

It was a stupid, pointless thing, anyway, to try and make people love you. Everyone was alone. We were bone alone and we died alone. Whatever we did in between was nothing but a series of attempts to stave off the darkness we knew was always waiting for us.

Laure Eve’s The Graces will appeal to a younger set of YA readers. I think I was a bit too old to find most of this novel entirely believable, but it’s supposed to be, in a way, a little out there and a little fantastic. River meets a family (the Graces) in her new town and, after hearing the rumors about them, decides (obsessively) that she wants to get to know them. After getting to know Summer, River becomes obsessed with trying to be one of the Graces.

I don’t often read much contemporary YA, mostly because I find myself unable to relate to many of the high school situations, hierarchies, and dramas because I was homeschooled, and this is probably one of the reasons why I failed to really connect with the novel. The characters often are too flat or too melodramatic. It tries to be “edgy” without much depth. But that might be because we’re seeing it through River, the “edgy,” melodramatic teen girl obsessed with the Graces, rumored to be witches, and Fenrin Grace, the boy everyone wants.

As the novel unfolds, we learn that River’s obsessions and behavior have severe consequences in her past and present, and she ultimately has to face what she does. Some of the ideas I liked in this novel were that there is something to be said for intention and that there needs to be truth in that intention and that bisexuality (while not named directly) is brought up and treated relatively well in a YA novel by the younger set of characters.

The Graces reads almost like a melodramatic eighties teen film but with more melodrama, if that is even plausible because let’s be real. Teen films from the eighties were sometimes over the top. It wants to be Heathers with witches but it fails to meet the Gothic complexities it wants to have. But The Graces is fast-paced and easy to read and will appeal to readers who enjoy a high school drama with a taste of the paranormal.

This book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

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BOOK REVIEW: The Vegetarian, by Han KangTitle: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Deborah Smith
Published by Hogarth
Published: February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 188
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.   A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is a slim novel that is packed with things and ideas that leave the reader thinking long after the book is closed. While I found the characters and the varying points of view interesting, I found that something was missing. Something that feels lost in translation. I think it’s incredibly impressive that Deborah Smith studied Korean for seven years and then translated this book, but I think that her limits definitely showed in her translation. Some parts of it felt clunky, and some parts of it felt skimmed over. What I felt was lacking was a cultural significance as to why the members of Yeong-hye’s family found her vegetarianism so fundamentally shocking.

But most of all, I liked the different insights from other people in Yeong-hye’s life. I thought it showcased the difficulties one woman faced in the midst of a very personal decision. Her decision was never taken seriously, no matter what her reasons were for making it. Yeong-hye lost everything because of her fastidious decision to become a vegetarian, and her decision affected her entire family, essentially cracking the family’s foundation.

It’s a short novel, and it’s certainly worth reading if you enjoy reading prize-winners, international/translated fiction, and fiction about the lives of women in the aftermath of the choices they make.

BOOK REVIEW: The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin

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BOOK REVIEW: The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie BenjaminTitle: The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Published by Delacorte Press
Published: January 26th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley—this book is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.

Melanie Benjamin’s The Swans of Fifth Avenue is a delightfully gossipy look into the lives of a handful of New York City socialites and Truman Capote from the 1950s to the 1970s. Admittedly, I knew nothing of Truman Capote’s life outside of the film Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and even then details are a little bit fuzzy. I know he wrote In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s with a smattering of short stories, but other than that, I’m a bit lost. I think that helped me a bit with the novel, going into it without knowing much, because it helped shape that fairy tale sort of quality I found in it.

I really liked Babe, and I like that she found some companionship and love in her friendship with Capote. I liked the life Benjamin brought to each of the women Capote befriended. Parts of the novel were told through the eyes of each of these women, and each of their points-of-view added to an excellent character study. These sheltered, beautiful “swans” of New York trusted Truman Capote with their thoughts, ideas, and secrets, and he ultimately betrayed all of them, including Babe, his closest friend out of all of the swans. Capote’s insatiable desire for gossip and his inability to keep it to himself led to some serious consequences. I couldn’t help but see that the driving question behind the entire story is why does one friend betray another? What drives all of them to backstab and spread secrets and lies? I think, perhaps, if you have it all and believe you have nothing left to do with your lives because you’ve “accomplished everything,” what more can you do with your life? Maybe for all of them, in their sheltered lives, all they wanted to do was to create a little drama to distract them from their terrible husbands and other disappointing or awful aspects of their lives.

New York’s high society in the fifties and sixties seems so far gone, but it wasn’t, not really. Beyond the fancy apartments, jewels, all of the designer dresses and shoes, Melanie Benjamin showed us that beyond the perfect veneer, the rich and famous were human just like the rest of us, dealt with similar heartbreaks and dramas the rest of us see in day-to-day life, but we’re so far removed from their world that it seems like a perfect fairy tale to us.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue has made me want to read Capote’s work, especially the pieces he wrote about the Swans and has made me want to read more about this era, because it’s an era in which I’m entirely unfamiliar.

Thank you to Netgalley for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Bradstreet Gate, by Robin Kirman

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BOOK REVIEW: Bradstreet Gate, by Robin KirmanTitle: Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman
Published by Broadway Books
Published: April 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

A tour de force about three friends affected by a campus murder, for readers of Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, and Jeffrey Eugenides.

Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. Moreover, a charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime. Though his guilt or innocence remains uncertain, the unsettling questions raised by the case force the three friends to take a deeper look at their tangled relationship. Their bond has been defined by the secrets they’ve kept from one another—Charlie’s love and Alice’s envy, Georgia’s mysterious affair—and over the course of the next decade, as they grapple with the challenges of adulthood and witness the unraveling of a teacher's once-charmed life, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven. A relentless, incisive, and keenly intelligent novel about promise, disappointment, and the often tenuous bonds of friendship, Bradstreet Gate is the auspicious debut of a tremendously talented new writer.

The copy on the back of Bradstreet Gate compares the novel to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. That’s really what drew me in to choose the book in the first place, and I felt surprised that I hadn’t heard about the book until I saw it as an option on Blogging for Books. The only comparisons I found to The Secret History were the simple fact that this novel revolves around a group of students attending Harvard (and what comes after) and that there is a death/murder of a student. Other than that, the comparison ceases to be relevant.

Bradstreet Gate is a character novel, and there is no blatant revelation over who killed Julie Patel. It could have been Storrow, it could have been Alice, and it could have been Charlie, but nothing is ever made quite clear and I found that entirely frustrating. Halfway through I thought it might have been Alice because of her stilted relationship to everyone else on campus, but as the novel progressed and Charlie became more and more successful with weird little hints and recollections of “what he did,” I have to wonder if Charlie was the one who did it. He was the little brother, the one his father “[looked] for ways to be rid of him.” Charlie had a strained relationship with his father, and his father always referred to his youngest son as “the judge.” Charlie’s the one who shows an interest in Georgia, who has a relationship with Storrow the professor, and he shows a passing interest in Julie Patel and later finds out she has a boyfriend. In his frustration over Storrow’s relationship with Georgia, Charlie could have very easily staged Julia’s murder to destroy Storrow, which did happen. On the other hand, Storrow had a military history and had the working knowledge to execute a flawless murder.

The writing was clean, but I found everything structural in the novel to be lacking clarity and cohesion. The characters lacked depth and resonance (as in I didn’t really feel anything at all towards any of them), the plot and pacing seemed jumpy, like one moment it was one day and years had passed in the next paragraph. I felt like I had to read the last several pages just to make sense of what happened and to see if I’d missed some important, revelatory detail. I didn’t. It just sort of ends, falls off, and nothing’s really resolved.

However, after reading the essay in the back of the book, there is some connection thematically to some of the content of the novel. Kirman writes that she had a charged friendship with a professor of hers as a student with whom she had a relationship ten years later, and it got me thinking of this novel in the sense that she is trying to come to terms with that relationship and the attraction students have to their instructors. At the beginning of the essay, she writes, “Why did people speak of falling in love? Why was the experience of romantic enchantment described as a fall?” In that context, and if that context was advertised with the book in the first place, I might have gone into reading the book differently. The essay in the back of was my favorite part about the book, and I’ll be thinking about some of the ideas she presented for quite a while.

“What George Eliot understood so well about young women – and intellectualism and naïveté and practical life and corporeal desire – can be revealed, also, by experience. Reality inevitably assaults our fantasies and brings the objects of our infatuation down to earth, whether we wish it to or not.”

“Possibly he was after the same idea that I’ve introduced here: the fall from grace accomplished by Eve, thanks to her wish to taste of wisdom reserved for God alone. Such a wish may not drive everyone who falls, head over heals, but I suspect it is present whenever some co-ed finds her pulse quickening as her dark, magnetic professor looks her way, and she begins to dream only about him, and to ignore the boys who sit beside her in the dining hall or stalk the showers of her dorm. Rules may discourage her from doing more than dreaming – they might try to rescue her from her own desires – but now and then she’s bound to fall. That’s just part of the story of being young, human, and hungry: tempted to seek knowledge beyond what is permitted, in the highest places and forms, and in the lowest, too.”

Book provided for an honest review by Blogging for Books.