Playing with Fire by T. Gerritsen

Three stars is only for the effort to discuss some socially relevant ideas for this type of books. Granted, this is the evil that is easy to condemn and explore because it is an obvious evil. It is the one that the humanity should remember for a a long time; otherwise, its repetition is inevitable, but still it is the social issue that has been universally condemned – the Holocaust.

It is only a pretense that this book is a literary novel. No, it is not, it is a mediocre thriller with the important social message, and the book gets three stars for the attempt of this message. The message aside, the book suffers from the usual things thrillers usually suffer – poor and shallow characters, no insight into human psyche, all is easily there – one should not go far and beyond emotionally to read these characters.
The funny thing is I read Tess Gerritsen’s blog about how e-books turn readers into sloppy ones because they are less likely to ‘page back’ and find the clues authors have left. The statement is made in reference to some inexplicable plot twists as her regular readers pointed out. I listened to the audio while commuting to work, so it was impossible to ‘page back’ for clues, but the mystery became not so much of mystery after 30-35 minutes of listening to the book. It was so obvious even for the audio version … What kind of readers do you have, dear author?

How about truly challenging your readers with some serious stuff? Oh, well, then books will not sell so easily, I assume ….

The biggest pet peeve is the main character. I attended secondary musical school that supplements regular secondary education in Russia, and it take 7 years to graduate when one attends the classes in the evening on a daily basis, and it is hard work, even if it only voluntary supplementary musical education that requires daily effort. The main character in the book played the violin three times, each time less that 5 minutes …. yeahhh … Miss Gerritsen, the life of professional musicians is even more strenuous that attending arts school on a daily basic just to supplement one’s secondary education. What is the conclusion if some brain candy conservative right-wing reader reads this novel (and thrillers are their domain, after all)? They will confirm their beliefs that those artsy good-for nothing people still do nothing and never ever worry a day about bills and daily errands.
This is what the main character is – a butterfly without any social worries, money issues, concerns, and other things that make us human.

A bad thriller with literary pretense, and an extra star for an attempt to deal with some serious topics.

On the other hand, why can’t a genre writer write a a thriller about racism or other genocides, like the one against the Native Americans? Do you think your readers will never buy your books again?

P.S. The musical piece is beautiful and haunting. I would not call it a waltz, but it is a matter of opinion here 🙂


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The Dead Lands by B. Percy

It is more like a two-and-a half star book – it does have some nice potential, and the writing is at times raw, brutal, and unbelievably poignant, but there are too many ‘buts’ as well.
Characters are mostly flat, and their emotions and thoughts are mostly on their sleeves; the premise is a bit too hackneyed nowadays – there are too many post-apocalyptic novels wit the outbreak of flu or any other disease, but the biggest weakness is its plot.
The plot might have worked better for me if I had physically read the novel, but I opted for an audio version, and this might have ‘killed’ the other half a star for me. The author used too many plotlines for several stories – main plotline, prequels, other parallel lines, not all of them happening at the same time, not all of them are told from the same perspective. I could not find any reference points for different narratives and different time lines while I listened, and every time the P-O-V changed, it took me some time to ‘locate’ the voice, place, and time for a specific character … I usually enjoy these lit games, but not this time.

I truly enjoyed the writing occasionally, but three stars would be a crime after I gave three stars to some decent novels.

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Plot-wise and character-wise, it is definitely a tree-star novel, but historical fiction is also appreciated for its attention to detail and the reproduction of a certain age, manners, zeitgeist, and this novel is a good example of historical fiction and research, plus some citations, linguistic investigation and analysis, so four stars, even though it is definitely a stretch! Three and a half!

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The House of Hawthorne by E. Robuck

What a pile of something.

I do question the five star reviews, I really, really do. Call me a snob or an angry hormonal someone, but this book was one of the most unpleasant ones I have read this year. And what is more, it is going to be the last one this year, how cool is it?

The premise was quite interesting, and the blurb sounded exciting, but nowadays most of the historical novels are geared towards the family housewives with the life style and pretentious morality I do not share.

The book is in the first person singular, so it does have a pretense of being modern and edgy. Let me remind you the the present tense narrative techniques were hardly ever used in the nineteenth century, and it was the time of story telling when novel as a literary form reached its pinnacle. Present tense was hardly, HARDLY ever used. O’k, we want to sound modern. It is totally fine, if not somewhat confusing out of time, but heck, the author is master of his or her creation.
If the author was trying to achieve edginess and uncertainty (another feature of the first- person narrative), the only edginess is the prolonged agony of the tooth that is slowly being pull out without anesthesia.

Moving on … The vocabulary is saccharine ad nauseum , preposterous, and out of place. One might say that was an attempt to imitate the discourse of the 19th century. Well, it was an attempt, not a very successful one. I would recommend to look at the works of Fowles, Byatt, Waters if the intention is stylization.

The character was the most annoying creature, totally focused on her feelings and emotions, turning herself into a perpetual sacrificial victim. The character should have been a creative person, with the strong personality, but she was a most annoying, judgmental housewife. Not a single glimpse of artistic life force, not a hint at creativity, whether it was her husband’s or hers. Nope … not a single insight into the magic of human imagination. The books were mentioned, and he fact that she was painting, the names were generously dropped throughout the book, but it is not how it works when one writes about artists, writers, poets, and sculptures.
If the author’s intention was to create this kind of character, then I will personally applaud her because the mission was accomplished with the amazing precision. I could not stand that shallow woman on many, many levels. Something though is telling me that it was not the real Sophia Peabody, and if she had been very similar to this one, my condolences, Mr. Hawthorne…

And finally, I hate being spoon-fed in a book. I prefer to make my own assumption and conclusions based on character’s behavior and actions. When every thought is explained, every motive is revealed, and every nuance is enlarged for my brain, my brain feels offended … Please give me some credit …

They don’t call it chicklit for nothing …

That was one angry review …

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The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi

The book has an interesting premise, but it is so genre-driven that the existential ending without any ending is somewhat inappropriate. Or is it Bacigalupi’s take on post-modernism in popular fictio? Not only the book is quite eclectic genre-wise, the ending is also absolutely inconclusive a la existential novel …. Hmmm… left me scratching my head.

The writing is not bad at all and quite well planned, the topicality is quite on par with our modern global issues – the world disintegrating into a chaos, the entropic USA and it is all caused by the shortage of clean water. All this is definitely a plus in this novel, but the novel is quite … incomplete, and the open-ending is inappropriate, and the narrator also caused frustration. She made the unlikable characters even more unlikable, exaggerating the Hispanic accent for men, and as a result the two quite different MALE characters sounded very much alike and confusing … I do appreciate ethnic minority characters as leading ones, though.

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The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

It barely made it to three stars. Most of the time, I was not sure what I was reading about. I do like linguistic experiments – present/past, first person narrator/ third person narrator, etc, but in this novel it was not organic. it does look artificial as if the author was trying too hard to impress everyone and was trying to show her skill. Yes, skills are obvious, descriptions are long, numerous, and detailed, coincidences are amazing, and overall it is a big stretch. Most of the book I was willing to give it only two stars as I could not find head or tail in this convoluted, slightly bland, and insipid story.

To each, its own …..

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Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

A beautiful, lyrical, and quirky novella that explores creative identities and temporal and spatial literary horizons that first resembles fragmented modernistic discourse; then it acquires a post-modern flair, later magical realism of her Latin predecessors, and eventually a slightly absurdist Kafkaesque ending.

In a way, it does remind me of How to be both by Ali Smith; to be fair, the novella Faces in the Crowd is about the two authors who are writing about each other in several temporal planes; no wonder, the voices of two story-tellers echo each other in these two books

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