Review: A Wild Sheep Chase


A Wild Sheep Chase
A Wild Sheep Chase
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375718946, April 2002, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

Quirky, thought-provoking and strange. In other words, classic Murakami.

The Rest of It:

I’m not sure why it took me so long to finish this one. I purposely held this one back so that I’d have a novel to read before his new book came out, but when I finally allowed myself to read it, I think it took me almost three months to finish it! Unheard of. Seriously.

Why? Well, it’s one of his more quirky ones. It’s very dreamy and surreal in a lot of ways, but at the same time, it’s very “normal” and domestic, if you know what I mean. There is a lot of eating, and thinking and yes…drinking. The main character is sent on a wild sheep chase. No, seriously. He’s sent to find a sheep with a peculiar mark upon its rump. He meets all sorts of strange people, including a woman with magical, seductive ears and a man who likes to dress-up in a sheep costume. It’s all very bizarre but also fascinating. I marveled at each paragraph. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to read.

The story itself did not pull me in like some of his other stories have, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t good because it was. It’s definitely a book to ponder and coming here to share the review, well, is a bit of a challenge. What do you say about a book that is just so odd in so many ways? As I have said before, Murakami has a way of working all the parts of your brain that you haven’t used in awhile. He’s great for putting an end to a reading rut and his writing is somehow comforting in all its strange, little ways. I find myself seeking him out, after reading a lot of mainstream fiction.

After all my Murakami gushing over the years, some of you have taken the plunge and read him. Many of you have come back to tell me that you enjoy his writing. The rest? Some are too intimidated by him to give him a try, but I have hope.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: California

California
California
By Edan Lepucki
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316250818, July 2014, 400pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

In a post-apocalyptic world, is there safety in numbers?

The Rest of It:

The story in California takes place several years after the world has gone to hell. Cal and Frida leave the ruins of Los Angeles to make a life for themselves in the forest. The city has become too dangerous for them and with resources being as scarce as they are, the forest seems like the only reasonable option.

But they are not alone in the forest. Close to them, is a family that helps them and provides the much-needed interaction that Frida craves, but when Frida hints at wanting to know what is outside of their immediate circle, she’s basically told to stop thinking about it. This doesn’t sit well with Frida. Especially since she feels that her husband Cal, knows who is out there and is keeping the information from her. To further complicate the matter,  Frida believes that she might be pregnant, which forces her to consider her options.

I live in California so this book had obvious appeal to me, even without the whole Colbert/Indie bookstore buzz. But I must tell you, as readable as it was, it missed some key elements to really make it a success in my eyes:

  • I didn’t care about the characters. I don’t need to like them, but I need to care about what happens to them.
  • Too much build-up over Frida and whether or not she was pregnant.
  • The secrecy of everything was overplayed. Big time.
  • It wasn’t clear to me who was good and who was bad. You’ve gotta have people to root for and they all seemed a little sketchy.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t bothered by the ending which is what everyone seems to talk about. I wasn’t surprised or miffed or even curious because I didn’t care about the characters or what happened to them. ANYTHING could have happened and I would have been fine with it. I wanted to feel something for these characters but they were either too weak, too secretive, or their motives were unclear.

I know this all sounds very negative but I do think Lepucki captured the isolation of the early days, pretty well. When you are living in what could be the end of days as you know them, you must have hope or things get bleak pretty quick. I liked the story best when it was just Cal and Frida. They don’t entirely trust one another, which makes their marriage rather unique but Cal seems cautiously hopeful about the possibility of a child.

That cautious optimism was enough to keep me reading but then something happened.

The story took a turn and then I was like, what just happened? I thought the story was going one way, and then it went a totally different way. Not necessarily a bad way. I was still curious at this point but then the characters got all weird and their motivation seemed weird too and I suddenly had no patience for any of them.

Does it deserve the hype? Not really. Was it an interesting story? Yes. Is it book club worthy? Could be. There is a lot to consider. Is it better to be isolated or part of a community? When the world is ending, is procreation important or is it a bad idea to bring a child into a world without hope? I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead and when baby Judith was born, I was like… what in God’s name were you thinking? But at the same time, if you don’t populate the earth, eventually everyone will die out, right? So, this is an important question to ask but I am not sure it’s fully explored in the book.

I don’t know if the author has any plans to write additional books with these characters but if she does, then that may explain why some of it felt half-developed. If she does come out with another book as a continuation of this one, I’d read it just to see where she goes with it.

In the end, it was an okay read but it was fun to discuss with other bloggers.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review & Tour: The Home Place

The Home PlaceThe Home Place 
By Carrie La Seur
(William Morrow & Company, Hardcover, 9780062323446, July 2014, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

Home is a place but it’s also something that resides within us.

The Rest of It:

Alma Terrebonne left Montana behind her when she accepted a position as a lawyer and made the city her home. But when her sister is found dead, she’s forced to return to the home place that she left behind.

Everyone knows how it is when you return home. If you left for a reason, then going back is not easy and that is very much the case here. The bleak winters, the isolation and the poor condition of the home place itself leave a lot to be desired, but at the same time, it’s home and there’s always a place for it within your heart. As I read this book, the conflict within Alma is obvious. There is a definite love/hate thing going on with being home, but at the same time, she is the “responsible” one and with her sister dead and her niece without a mother, she feels obligated to step in.

This tug of the heart, would have been enough to explore on its own but La Seur throws in some nasty dealings with mining folk making plays for the land, the ugliness of her sister’s death and some confusion over who she should be with romantically, the guy she left behind in Montana or her new love interest back in the city.

All in all, I think La Seur tried to give us too much at once. The result? Thin characters with very little substance. However, it read well for me. The flow of the writing was quite good which made it an easy and quick read. I’ve not read many books set in Montana and La Seur’s sense of place is strong in this one.  This is one of those books where I find myself scratching my head a little because it was enjoyable to read, and yet, I felt it could have been so much more.

If you enjoy novels that explore home and what it means and you don’t mind some nasty dealings messing up your perfect picture of biscuits and gravy and fried pork chops, then I say give it a try.

Carrie La Seur

For more information on the author, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Martian

The Martian

The Martian
By Andy Weir
(Crown, Hardcover, 9780804139021, February 2014, 384pp.)

The Short of It:

After being left for dead, an astronaut battles failed equipment and a dwindling food supply in what appears to be a hopeless situation.

The Rest of It:

This is a novel with a super simple premise and yet, there is so much to ponder. Mark Watney is like the MacGyver of space. His area of specialty is botany and mechanical engineering, which helps with the food situation as he’s able to cultivate potatoes out of basically, very little. Getting the soil just right and taking into account the limited water and oxygen supply, it’s a challenge to say the least. As a reader, you can’t help but marvel at his resourcefulness.

His crew left him behind because of a fatal tear to his suit during a rather severe windstorm, but when he patches himself up and somehow figures out a way to communicate with NASA, his crew, residing offsite over 400 days away, learn of his existence. As you can imagine, this has all sorts of consequences to their original mission. One, leaving a crew mate behind was never what they had planned to do and the regret over the decision weighs heavily with them. Two, they quickly decide, with the help of NASA that they must go back for Watney. This forces NASA  to come up with a way to extend his lifespan and therefore increase his chances for survival.

While all of this is going on, Watney has to figure out ways to keep himself busy. Days and nights are spent watching TV shows from the past (yes, he has access to shows) or listening to the Disco music collection left behind by another crew member. He also spends hours figuring out how to turn vapor into drinkable water and well, blowing himself up. A chemist, he is not.

There is a lot of humor contained between these pages but there is also a serious amount of math. Not a problem if you can read over it and not feel the need to work stuff out in your head. But for much of the book, especially the first 60 pages or so, I found myself double-checking the numbers to see if the numbers matched up. At one point, I got on Facebook and asked other readers if the entire book was that way. Thankfully, no but you should be aware of it in case you are a math hater and cannot deal with numbers.

I love science and there is just something magical about space exploration and Watney is an interesting character. He’s vulnerable, yet tough. Positive, yet realistic. As a reader, you will find yourself totally absorbed by the rescue mission itself. Can he endure a year of waiting? Will the equipment hold up? Will there be enough food? Water? Will he freeze to death? These are the questions that you will ask yourself over and over again because with each step forward, there is one step back and it’s heartbreaking to see that forward/back thing when it happens.

It’s a good book to get lost in. I mean, you really feel as if you are out there stranded with Watney and that’s saying a lot. Last I read, Ridley Scott was in negotiations to direct Matt Damon in the movie version. I love Scott and Damon. That is a winning combination to me but how will it differ from Gravity? The isolation and the fight to survive and return home won’t be new. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Have you read The Martian? Will you see the movie?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Three

The Three

The Three
By Sarah Lotz
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316242905, May 2014, 480pp.)

The Short of It:

Three strange children, four plane crashes and a media frenzy gives this a ripped from the headlines feel.

The Rest of It:

Four commercial airlines crash within minutes of each other. There are only three survivors, all of them children. Their families don’t know what to make of it, when their personalities prove to be different from how they were before the crash. Religious fanatics think they are the devil or that they are a sign that the end days have begun. The media, ever-present, want answers to all of the numerous questions being asked. Why these three? Are they the chosen ones?

With the Malaysian flight disappearing and then the other Malaysian flight getting shot down, commercial airlines have been in the headlines for quite a while and I happen to read this book between the two events, which gave it a surreal feel, to say the least. But based on the reviews I’ve read, I expected a more horrific read. One blogger said it was “terrifying” and another said it was worthy of nightmares. Really? I thought it was pretty mild as far as plot.

Much of it takes place after the event and with the media presence and the journalistic format of the novel itself, I felt a little detached from what was taking place between its pages. You know how it is. After a major disaster, the TV channels are overrun by footage and first hand accounts. At some point, there is no new info and you just can’t take it anymore. That is how I felt with this novel. About 3/4 of the way through, I got tired of it and moved on to another book. I only decided to finish it just to see if there was any resolution and even that is debatable.

As a quick summer read, it’s entertaining and a page turner but I would have liked the format to be a little more varied. It had too much of a newsy feel to me but I know a lot of readers that really liked that aspect of the book so obviously, it’s my own personal opinion.

Have you read The Three? Want to discuss the ending? If so, leave a non-spoilery comment and I will send you an email.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Regulators


The Regulators
The Regulators
By Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)
New York: Dutton, 1996, New York (1996)

The Short of It:

Brimming with wit but tame as far as horror stories go.

The Rest of It:

One sunny afternoon, an entire neighborhood finds itself the center of destruction when a group of demented villains show up in vans and basically shoot anything that moves. As the residents watch in horror, they suddenly realize that this is no random act and that their quiet little neighborhood is under siege.

The Regulators was published under the name Richard Bachman, but most King fans know that Bachman is the pen name King used for several years. As far as his books go, this is one of the tame ones. There are lots of characters to keep track of in this small neighborhood but their personalities are different enough (in most cases) to keep everyone straight. There is a supernatural element but he doesn’t spend too much time on that aspect of it, just the aftermath and how it affects this particularly unlucky neighborhood. The story is a little farfetched but by the end, I was buying it. It’s definitely not one of his stronger books, but I did enjoy reading it and it was a quick read.

The Summer of King

When I posted about The Summer of King, and how I wanted to spend my summer reading King books, some of you told me that The Regulators and Desperation happen to be related. When I chose those two to read, I had no idea that they featured parallel worlds. Talk about dense. I mean, if you look real hard you can even see how the cover art connects to one another. Anyway, so although this book was a little tame for me, I appreciate King’s classic sense of humor in relation to being blown to bits, cheating wives and annoying kids. I chuckled many times and now can’t wait to re-read Desperation as I read that one when it first came out and cannot remember a thing about it!

Have you read a King book lately?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Review: The Goldfinch


The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316055437,  October 2013, 784pp.)

The Short of It:

Memory, in and of itself, has the ability to restore and destroy.

The Rest of It:

While visiting a New York art museum, Theodore Decker, thirteen, is separated from his mother in an explosion that leaves him dazed and confused. In the immediate moments after the blast, Theo sees, and takes, a valuable painting for safekeeping. Not fully understanding what has happened or why, he stumbles out of the rubble but his life is forever frozen in time. When he realizes he has lost his dear mother, he finds himself floating through life, encountering many obstacles along the way and revisiting those final moments in the museum over and over again.

This is one hell of a book.

It’s long and I know some readers who won’t even touch it because of its length but they are really doing themselves a disservice because it is really a fine piece of work. I had planned to read it “someday” but when it was chosen for book club, I was pushed encouraged to read it a little bit sooner than I had planned and then it was awarded the Pulitzer which piqued my interest even more.

The Goldfinch  is an adventure. It meanders, there is action but not that much of it and it’s repetitive when it comes to behaviors like the excessive drinking and drug use that riddle its pages. But even with all of this going on, it’s incredibly heartbreaking and yes, beautiful. At first glance, Theo seems to be handling his loss quite well, but with each page, his pain and devastation become more real, more tangible and he becomes more reliant on the actions of others to save him. Not to mention the painting and the significance behind him taking it in the first place. Its purpose, so it seems, is to remind him of that fateful day but as it certainly does just that, it’s also a constant reminder of what he needs to do to keep it safe.

This is a book with some memorable characters too. Boris, the Ukrainian kid Theo hooks up with, is part hoodlum, part philosopher but more than anything, Theo’s best friend. Think “The Artful Dodger”. Popper, a mutt that Theo takes pity on, ends up being a loyal companion to Theo and one cannot forget Hobie, the lovable furniture maker who takes Theo in when he has nowhere else to go. These unlikely characters come together to essentially save Theo from himself, but it’s not always evident that that is what is happening. There are lots of pitfalls along the way and the journey can be tedious, but in the end, I found myself loving the story, wishing I had taken more time with the last few pages. It’s about love and trust and redemption and what’s not to like with its art world setting?

Talking about it here, I realize just how much I miss the characters. So, even though it’s long and intimidating to some, I urge you to pick it up because it’s really a book to experience first-hand.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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