Friday, March 2, 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Week 9

More book finished up over the last couple of weeks.

For week 7's topic, A Gothic Novel, I read Carlos Ruiz Zafron's The Prince of Mist.


Summary: In 1943, Max Carver's father - a watchmaker and inventor - decides to move his family to a small town on the coast, to an abandoned house that holds many secrets and stories of its own. Behind the house Max discovers an overgrown garden surrounded by a metal fence topped with a six-pointed star. In the centre is a large statue of a clown set in another six-pointed star.

As the family settles in they grow increasingly uneasy: Max’s sister Alicia has disturbing dreams while his other sister, Irina, hears voices whispering to her from an old wardrobe. With his new friend Roland, Max also discovers the wreck of a boat that sank many years ago in a terrible storm. Everyone on board perished except for one man - an engineer who built the lighthouse at the end of the beach.

As they learn more about the wreck, the chilling story of a legendary figure called the Prince of Mist begins to emerge.

My Rating/Review:  3-1/2 out of 5 stars.  Good but not as good as The Shadow of the Wind, which I read last year.  Similar themes, but this felt more like a YA book to me.  A mix of fantasy, magic and some historical fiction centering around a young boy whose family has left the city due to the war (WWII) and moved to the coast. Lots of creepiness in the house they are renting, including a cat who isn't what he seems, and a mystery known only to the local lighthousekeeper.  A quick, fun read - but fairly lite reading at that. 

Next, I read It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini for week 8, an "Own Voices" book.



Summary: Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life—which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job—Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That's when things start to get crazy. At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn't brilliant compared to the other kids; he's just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away.

My Rating/Review:  3 out of 5 stars. The author of this book, Ned Vizzini, also spent a week in a NYC hospital being treated for depression in his teens - just like the main character.  While not an autobiography, the author drew heavily on his experiences both in and out of the psychiatric ward to write this book.  (And wound up committing suicide in his 20s after this book was published.)  Here's what I've come to realize about my personal reading tastes.  I don't actually like reading first-person or first-person inspired therapy sessions.  I can sympathize with how awful mental illness is, and the struggle folks have to just get out of bed in the morning and try to live their life without dragging around the added difficulty of depression (or other psychiatric illnesses) with them.  I just don't necessarily find reading about that particularly interesting to me.  So.. just 3/5 stars for this one - it was just an okay read. 

Finally, I finished The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson for week 10's topic - an author's debut book.


Summary:  The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide — for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul.

A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life — and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete — and her time on earth will be finished.

My Rating/Review:  4 out of 5 stars.  I'm not even sure where to begin to try to describe this book. It's got some fantasy and magic components, some historical fiction, some fairy tale, some magic realism, some... other.....  The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred to the point it's hard to tell what you, the reader, believe, and what the narrator himself believes.  Things I liked: The past stories Marianne tells the narrator, the magic that encircles all things she touches, and many lyrical passages in the text.  Things I didn't like: There's a lot more gratuitous description of things than I felt the book needed - I got it - the narrator is a horrible person who has to be at rock bottom in order to move through the narrative to a redemptive status.  I also thought there were some points of disconnect, almost as if the author had written a chapter ahead of time, and then wrote other chapters to string events together but doesn't follow up on certain points crucial to the plot.  I felt like I was missing pages or something occasionally.  

This is a really tough one to review.  I'm not even sure why I liked it as much as I did - it certainly doesn't fit neatly into a genre I normally would say I liked.  The main character is very hard to like, but he's intriguing nonetheless, which perhaps is what kept me as interested in the book as I was.   Recommended with reservations (and definitely not a YA type of book.)




Book Review - Challenge Update - August 10, 2018

I finished up 2 books over the last week.  The first was Lud-In-The-Mist by Hope Mirrless. Book Summary:   Lud-in-the-Mist, the capital...