Friday, April 18, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-03-29 through 2014-04-11

I haven't been doing a whole lot of reading lately, so I put two weeks together for this post. Even then, there isn't much. Books I don't enjoy very much take me longer to read, which just makes them seem that much worse. :-(

Sycamore Row, by John Grisham
John Grisham's A Time to Kill is one of the most popular novels of our time. Now we return to that famous courthouse in Clanton as Jake Brigance once again finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial--a trial that will expose old racial tensions and force Ford County to confront its tortured history.

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County's most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.

The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?

If you saw my status update on Goodreads on this one a few weeks ago, you'll know that it took me forever to get into this book. I'd pick it up and read a few pages and very quickly grow interested in the television or checking my Twitter or washing the dishes. I think I probably had it checked out from the library for almost four weeks before I got myself to chapter four. Considering that I usually take down books in a day, maybe two if I'm really busy or they're especially dense, that's a ridiculously long time for me.

It's not that the book was bad. I would feel extremely stupid sitting here trying to tell you that a #1 New York Times bestseller by an insanely popular author was bad. If a book manages to draw in and entertain that many people, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's definitely got something going for it.

But it turns out that I don't like John Grisham's writing style. I read a few of his books years ago, and I remember enjoying them, but apparently my tastes have changed quite a bit since then. Long-Suffering Husband reads a ton of Grisham and he assures me this book wasn't some kind of weird anomaly. So it's definitely just my tastes holding me back here.

It was just so slooooooooooooow. "Show, don't tell" is not a piece of writing advice John Grisham embraces.

The narrative was drowning in description. There's a dead body right there at the beginning, but all I was being treated to was pages and pages of exposition about routines and settings and who this person is and what business is in that building there and on and on and on. I get that it's a sequel to a book Grisham wrote a long time ago, so there's some need to explain a bit of backstory for the folks who haven't read A Time to Kill (I'm among those folks, so I really can appreciate that) or who haven't read it in a while, but there was just too much.

For Pete's sake, there's even an aside that starts with something like "if there was time, he'd tell this story. . . " and then Grisham tells us the story, before coming back to making the point that there isn't time to tell the story. A story which, by the way, has nothing to do with the novel at all.


Don't mind me; I'll just be over here hitting my head on the wall.

So, yeah, I didn't like this book. If you're a Grisham fan, and/or you can get past the floods of exposition that jerk the plot to halt over and over again, I'm sure there was a decent story in there somewhere. But for me, I couldn't enjoy it and the only reason I managed to finish it as "quickly" as I did (in a mind-boggling two and a half weeks that felt like a year) is that the library loan was about to expire and I think Long-Suffering Husband, who does enjoy Grisham's writing, was kind of sad that it was bothering me so much, so I sat down one weekend and forced my way through it.

The Gift, by Tiffany Reisz
A trained submissive, Eleanor will do whatever her master commands. . . even spend a week with a stranger. Daniel has been a recluse since his wife's death, and Eleanor's lover thinks spending time with her will be therapeutic--especially since Daniel is also a Dom.

Despite her defiant streak, Eleanor can't resist giving in to Daniel's erotic demands. But while she'll let him have her body, she's determined to keep a guard around her heart. Even if Daniel wants to make Eleanor his permanently. . . 

I was trolling through my recommendations for a pick-me-up and found this little novella, which turned out to be perfect. I read the four novels in the Original Sinners series several months ago and enjoyed them, but I somehow hadn't gotten around to this yet.

Overall, I liked it. The story was good and Reisz, as always, wrote some very beautiful and sexy kink here. It was interesting, seeing Nora as Eleanor, knowing where she ends up and getting a glimpse of what came before. I had already planned on reading the prequel novels, but this made me that much more interested in them. And Daniel is a great character. I loved him so much that I went to Reisz's website right away and read both the sequels to this story just so I could get more of him.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I actually liked Daniel Part Two better than this story, so if you read The Gift and like Daniel as much as I did, definitely go check that one out.)

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
One choice can transform you--or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves--and herself--while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable--and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

I felt the character of Tris was really strong in this novel. Roth did a wonderful job of showing her finding her way through stages of grief and survivor guilt. I liked that even though the pacing of the story was relatively quick, Roth still took the time to let Tris react to and process the events of the previous novel. And at times fail to process them, which people often do. It can be difficult to portray a character who thinks they are being rational behaving in a completely irrational way, but I think Roth pulled that off here.

And the series of captivity scenes were, in my opinion, very well done.

All that said, I really didn't enjoy this books as much as I did Divergent. Even though there was a great deal happening, it felt like a lot of filler to me. The stakes are supposedly higher, but as a reader I didn't care as much.

I think the worldbuilding started to fall apart on me a bit in this installment. As I said in my review of Divergent, I was left with some questions about the world Roth has created here, but I understood that there was no good way for the narrative to answer those questions for me, at least not with Tris as the POV character. As I had hoped, Insurgent made some headway at answering those questions for me. Unfortunately, the more answers I got, the less believable the world became.

I could maybe buy into the faction dynamic and conflict as it's presented if the society was completely populated by teenagers. Teenagers are crazy hot messes of hormones and emotions and such and social dynamics are what they are within something like the microcosm of a high school. I can buy into them giving over en masse to melodrama and megalomania. And some adults never really grow out of that.

Some adults. Not all. I have a hard time buying into a world where everyone acts like a drunken teenager and the whole of society functions like a high school cafeteria on crack. Even if you could convince me that we could evolve in that direction, I don't believe it would be sustainable over generations. Heck, forget generationally. I don't buy that a society could function like that for more than a few years at best.

Once I stopped buying into the world, I lost a lot of interest in the story. Plus, my genre awareness started to hurt me here. I'm an experienced reader. In my opinion, you can't build all your narrative tension around "will the secret information be revealed?" in a story like this. If there is secret information, of course it will be revealed. As a reader, I know that, because a decent writer doesn't even bring up secret information unless it's going to be revealed.

In this book, I felt the whole handling of the big secret was botched.

Overall, the characters remained decently strong in this novel, but, in my opinion, the worldbuilding fell apart around them. I went ahead and put a hold on book 3, because I figure I might as well read it, but I'm not exactly fussed that I'm 108th on the waiting list.

Generally speaking, this has not been a very satisfying couple of reading weeks. Which is a bummer, but you can't win them all, I guess. Also, holy genre jumping, Batman! I guess I can't say I was stuck in a rut here, can I?

What about you? Have you read any of these? What did you think? Read anything else lately that you feel like sharing with the class?

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