Book Reviews: October and November 2016

we love you charlie freeman review, eligible review, reading wrap-up, october reads, halloween reads

Eligible

I’ll start right off by saying that this was a disappointing read for me. I expected to like this novel much more than I actually did. I will also state that my reading experience may have been colored by my troubles with the ebook. I borrowed this ebook from the library and constantly had trouble loading the chapters. Since this book is split up into more than one hundred short chapters, you can imagine how stilted my reading experience was.

Plot-wise, you’ll already know what happens in this retelling of Pride and Prejudice if you’ve read the original. The story pretty much sticks to the original script, except that it’s set in the present day in Pittsburgh. In a recent review, I mentioned that my main criteria for a retelling is that it remain respectful of the original story, while adding a new twist. In this aspect, Eligible really fell short for me. Yes, the location was changed and the setting updated, but it wasn’t enough to make the story feel new and fresh. Structurally, as I mentioned before, the novel is divided into many short chapters. Because of this, I felt that the reading experience wasn’t smooth because the story was constantly stopping and starting. In addition, some of the chapters didn’t seem to add anything to the story and I was left wondering why they were included in the first place.

Let’s talk about the characters too. Most of the characters were terrible people. You know I don’t mind an “unlikeable” character (in fact, give me a twisted, diabolical main character any day), but my cardinal rule is that a character must be compelling. I didn’t find these characters very compelling. In fact, they were rather tiresome. I believe that they were purposefully written this way, but I still grew weary of these characters. The character that concerned me the most was Mrs. Bennet. She’s described by her own daughter as racist and makes offensive comments. The other characters react to her statements with embarrassment, but I felt that they should denounce her, or at least call out her bad behavior. I guess what bothered me the most was that Mrs. Bennet has this huge character flaw, but it’s written off as a kooky character quirk.

I guess I’ll stop carrying on about what I didn’t like in this book, but I was just really disappointed. To give the author credit, P&P is a difficult story to tackle. My disappointment in this book won’t prevent me from trying one of her other novels to see if the author and I might get along better with a different story.

In the Woods

I am now one of the many people who sing Tana French’s praises. October was the perfect time to tackle my first Tana French novel, which was sitting on my TBR shelf for months.

When Adam is a young boy, he goes into the woods with his two best friends, but he is the only one to make it back out of the woods. The disappearance of his friends is investigated, but the case is never solved. Several years later, Adam has become a detective, and picks up a case that brings him in contact with his past.

Oooo, this was so good. The pacing is slow and steady, but so engrossing throughout. More than two-thirds of the way through the novel, I still had no idea who did it and only slowly began to understand what happened at the very end. The book is set in Ireland and the descriptions of the setting are vivid. With the woods in particular, I could feel some of the terror that Adam felt on that fateful day when his friends disappeared. French’s characters are rich and I felt like I was investigating this case alongside them. I was wholly invested in the story and felt each defining moment keenly.

In this book, French explores relationships between family members and between friends. There is definitely an air of nostalgia here, as the novel switches back and forth between the present day, the recent past, when Adam is investigating the case, and the more distant past when Adam was a kid. There is much more I could say about this, but I don’t want to discuss anything that might give away the plot. If you’ve read this novel, let me know, so I can talk about the thing that I’m dying to talk about! This was the perfect blend of literary fiction, mystery, crime, and suspense, and I cannot wait to read the rest of the novels in this series.

Through the Woods

I picked up this graphic novel based on a recommendation from Book and Quills in her video on Halloween Reads and I’m so glad I did. This is a collection of short stories with spooky, supernatural elements. I think I’d psyched myself out and expected the stories to be scarier, but actually, I think they had the perfect amount of creepiness. I loved the style of the illustrations as well, and the bold, vibrant colors utilized in some of the stories. One page in particular did give me a real fright- I turned the page and flinched! Anyways, I really enjoyed this book and it made me decide that I need to add more graphic novels to my TBR.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales

I hadn’t read Poe since high school, but I remembered being introduced to his work for class and loving it. October seemed to be the month of switching up my reading habits, as I don’t read many graphic novels and I don’t read many short story collections. I was craving some old school horror though and decided that Halloween was the best time to read the master of the creepy short story.

I’d read a few of these stories before, but many were new to me. Even for the stories I’d already read, I found myself delighted by the twist, as if it were all new to me. The stories that I enjoyed the most are some of the most well-known ones, including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Cast of Amontillado.” I also loved the stories that reminded me of the classic detective stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie (although I suppose Poe came first!). Since the language is a bit dense, I decided to read one or two of these stories a night, and I really enjoyed dipping in and out of the collection.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The only thing I knew when I started this book is that is much beloved. I was excited to read my first Shirley Jackson novel and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Since I didn’t know anything about the plot, I didn’t know what to expect. I was soon captivated by the voice of our narrator, Mary Katherine Blackwood. After finishing the novel, I was surprised to discover the she is 18 years old when she recounts this story, even though it’s one of the very first things she tells us. However, her voice in the novel feels much younger, which I believe works well with the background story we are given.

Since this is such a brief novel, it’s hard to talk about it without giving things away. I will say that Jackson has a way of making the ordinary seem very interesting. I also had a hard time narrowing down the exact time period and the setting, although the introduction in my edition led me to believe that the setting is somewhat obvious if you are more familiar with the area or Jackson’s work than I am. It’s a story about people who are odd ducklings, who don’t fit in, which is a feeling that I think we’ve all felt at one time or another. At first, I couldn’t believe the behavior of some of the characters in this novel, but then I thought about it a little more, and I could. Jackson’s novel clearly contains a timelessness that makes this story as pointed today as it was when it was first published.

A Monster Calls

This book made my heart ache. At the beginning of the novel, Conor’s mother is very sick, and recently he’s been having the same nightmare each night, in which a terrible monster appears. This is a beautifully written story about grief and pain. I found this so moving (yes, I did cry) and so adept at capturing the feelings that you experience if you’ve ever been in a similar situation as Conor. The book is written in a storytelling style which I found very engaging, with conversations between Conor and the monster and stories told within the novel itself. I believe this book is technically middle grade, but I think it would be compelling to readers of all ages. I definitely want to see the movie, but I’ll be sure to have my tissues handy. If you’re in the mood for a lovely and heartbreaking story, then I highly recommend that you pick this one up.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman

I’ve been meaning to read this book since the beginning of this year and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. The Freeman family has been selected by the Tonybee Institute for a unique opportunity. They will adopt a chimpanzee into their family, treat him like a family member and teach him sign language. As you can imagine, each member of the family feels differently about this experience and we follow them as they begin their new life at the Institute.

The premise is certainly wacky and different, which is what drew me in initially. The author uses this premise to explore race. The Freeman family is black and hearing that they’ve been selected to participate in an ‘experiment’ automatically raises some flags, as we know that horrible things have been done to black people in the name of science. There’s a fascinating overlap between race and language in this novel as well. Greenidge writes about the way that race can affect the way that your words are interpreted, and how language can be racially coded. There is language both spoken and unspoken, since the family communicates orally and with sign language. In one anecdote, we learn that the mother of the family stopped speaking for a period of time when she was younger. When she spoke, her words could be twisted or misinterpreted, so instead, she communicated with handwritten notes.

The novel is also about growing up, and how lonely and confusing it can be. Compound that with the fact that they’re black and newcomers, and you can understand why Charlotte, the teenager in this family, feels so isolated. It’s human nature to want to be seen, known, and loved, and Charlotte tries to navigate those feelings throughout the book.

I thought this was a well-written, insightful debut novel. The book is written from various perspectives, including members of the Freeman family, and a character in the past. Race is one of the main themes, but the author also discusses class, family relationships, sexuality, and more. I was reading this book right before and after the election and it felt really timely. I identified with the “otherness” that the characters were experiencing because I was feeling it too. I found this to be a very compelling read and I think that if the premise interests you, you should definitely give it a try.

  • That’s sad that Eligible is a disappointment because I was thinking of reading it, but I’ll probably pass. Through the Woods is beautiful and terrifying!
    ~Sara

    • It was a disappointment for me, but perhaps you would feel differently! I thought Through the Woods was so beautiful. I should check to see if she’s written anything else!

  • Thanks for sharing your reviews,it’s been too long since I’ve picked up a book again and I need to change that.
    http://iamchiconthecheap.com

    • Thanks for reading them! I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like to either, but I’m looking forward to the holiday break and having more time for reading :)