The book that ticked me off

wildaloneBook Review:  Wildalone by Zourkova Krassi

Ever since she was a young child, when she discovered the piano locked away in a room her parents forbade her from entering, Thea has been drawn to music.  She’s an accomplished pianist by the time she leaves her home in Bulgaria to attend college at Princeton, the same university her mysterious older sister Elza attended 15 years ago.  Thea is passionate about music, particularly Chopin, but she is consumed by her quest to discover what happened to her sister on campus all those years ago.  Between Thea’s attempts to delve into her family’s past and her questions about her future, however, stand two very different men hoping to claim her present.

The potential for an intriguing, multi-layered story is here.  It’s obvious early on that the myth of Orpheus is tied into the story and I was curious to see how it came together  — I wasn’t completely sold on this storyline but I was able to go along with it.  The musical aspect of the story is excellent — Thea is a talented pianist and the concert scenes are among the best in the book.  Even though I couldn’t hear it, Krassi made me feel the music.

Nothing hooks me like a good mystery, however, and it was this aspect of the story that kept me turning the pages, even as I became more and more annoyed with the “romance”.  The main mystery circles around Thea’s older sister Elza, the sister who died on the very campus Thea now attends.  Elza was older than Thea, Thea has no memory of her, and her parents have done their best to keep her from knowing she ever had an older sister.  Why?

There’s also mystery surrounding one of Thea’s love interests, Rhys.  Some of it is because he’s a jerk who doesn’t think it’s important for the girl he’s “claimed as his” to know anything about him, some of it is because what he’s subjected to once a month and why is a bit of a stretch, even for a girl whose own family has its ties to folklore.  Had he been more likable, this could have been good.  Or had Thea been less captivated by him.  What doesn’t work for me is that Thea is a strong, independent, intelligent character who enters a relationship with a guy who makes her uncomfortable and mocks her discomfort.  Okay, she originally thinks he’s someone else, someone she has romanticized in her head, but his behavior should have dashed those romantic notions out of her head immediately.  Aside of him mocking her, aside of him storming off when he doesn’t get his way (like when he wants to have sex with her up against a tree in the middle of the neighborhood in the middle of the day and she has the audacity to say NO), there’s also the ick factor.  Rhys may be devastatingly handsome but he’s at least in his late 20s  and still partying with frat boys.  He’ll explain that later but I still say ick.

There’s another love interest, the guy Thea originally thought Rhys was.  Jake annoyed me too, but less so.  I was annoyed that he decided to step aside for his big brother “because Rhys is a good guy and no one deserves happiness more than him.”  ???  I read all 374 pages and I never saw that Rhys.  I only saw an entitled, controlling jerk.  Whom Krassi wants us to believe is madly in love with Thea.  Rhys wants her, yes, but at what point did he fall in love with her?  The girl who looks exactly like the girl who’s been making his life miserable for the past 15 years or so (he only sees a passing resemblance, by the way, which also asks the reader to suspend their disbelief just a bit too much).

And there’s Thea herself.  She wants to be with Jake, she wants to be with Rhys, she wants to be with Jake, she wants to be with Rhys.  It’s the romantic storyline that Krassi absolutely butchers.  This storyline is far worse than bad Twilight fan fiction.  Meyer at least gave us a somewhat believable love triangle  — and, as annoying as Bella Swan could be, at least she wasn’t promising herself to whichever guy she happened to be alone with at the moment.

Adding insult to injury, Krassi decided to end the book with a cliffhanger and that’s a major pet peeve of mine.  The “love” triangle will continue in sequels but I have no plans to see how it plays out.

 

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The AwakeningBook Review:  The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Pontellier family is vacationing on Grand Isle on the Gulf of Mexico.  While her husband spends most of his time either working or at the club, Edna spends her time with friends, particularly Robert Lebrun.

Edna’s awakening comes as she realizes that she and her husband live separate lives.  He expects her focus to be on raising their children, maintaining a well-kept home, and polishing their social standing.  She realizes that she wants more for herself.

And so this novel, written in 1899, addresses a host of issues people simply didn’t address in that time period.  Traditional gender roles, loveless marriages, infidelity, a woman’s rejection of societal expectations, a woman’s passion for someone other than her husband.  I didn’t like Edna but I felt for her situation.  Keenly.

 

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The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Phantom TollboothBook Review:  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Milo is BORED.  Nothing seems worthwhile until the day he comes home to find a package in his room with a miniature tollbooth and a map of the Lands Beyond.  It’s mysterious enough to engage him and he indulges his curiosity, soon finding himself on an amazing adventure.  He will visit several lands and meet some unusual characters.

My boyfriend’s daughter LOVES this book and gave me her copy to read.  Despite the fact this book was around when I was a kid, I somehow missed it until now.  It’s a quick, fun read especially if you love wordplay.  Puns abound, as do events illustrating the literal meanings of many popular idioms.  Best of all though, it encourages readers to notice the world around them and make each day count.

 

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Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Best Friends ForeverBook Review:  Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Despite being very different from one another, Addie and Valerie become practically inseparable at the age of nine, the day that Valerie moves into the house across the street.  Things change after Valerie spends some time in California with her father and comes back with a whole new look.  And something happens their senior year of high school that ends the friendship forever.  Or so Addie thinks.  Because when Valerie shows up on her doorstep fifteen years later with blood on her coat, Addie takes her in and promises to help.

Eh.  I liked each girl’s backstory.  I found it hard to believe that Addie didn’t pick up on some things when they were kids but I’ll allow that what stands out to a 47 year-old may not be obvious to a 9 year-old.  Aside of her personal journey, which I thought was excellent, adult Addie didn’t quite ring true to me.  Her family situation being what it is, and her being who she is, I frankly can’t see her skipping town.  And I know, this is supposed to be a grand story of two friends who reconnect, but, for me, the foundation wasn’t there.  Addie and Valerie work as individual characters but their reunion?  Not so much.  And the resolution was much too easy.

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The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming StaircaseBook Review:  The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

No one knows why, but over the past fifty years, all sorts of ghosts have been appearing throughout London.  While characteristics vary from one Visitor to the next, the one thing that seems consistent is that they all pose some sort of danger to the living.

While anyone of any age can be harmed by the Visitors, young people are typically the only ones who can see or sense them.  Several Psychic Detection Agencies have emerged, employing young people to seek out and remove the threat.

Lucy, Anthony, and George are Lockwood & Company, the only Psychic Detection Agency without adult supervisors.  Before the story is over, they will agree to take on Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read them but this series-starter reminded me of The Three Investigators series I loved so much growing up.  The difference may be that while Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews investigated baffling phenomena, they typically found living people at the heart of the mystery.  The supernatural is very real in this series, although the living are just as likely to be behind disturbances as well.  Well-crafted, believable mystery with truly spooky moments.

Special Note:  you must read Stroud’s Bartimaeus series.  Must!

 

 

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A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

A Cold Day for Murder

Book Review:  A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

Winter in Alaska is brutal.  When a young ranger disappears, most assume that he was too inexperienced for this remote part of the world, he froze to death somewhere in the park, and his body will be discovered in the spring.  His Congressman father isn’t willing to accept that and pulls some strings to have an investigator look into the disappearance.  And the investigator disappears as well.

Enter Kate Shugak.  At one time, she was the star investigator of the Anchorage District Attorney’s Office.  She’s been in self-imposed exile for over a year, haunted by her last case.  With two people missing in the Park she grew up in, one of whom she knows, she’s pulled out of her exile.

Stabenow excels at setting:  the dangerous beauty of the wilderness, the sometimes ugly imprint of man’s determination to live in such harsh conditions, the liveliness of Bernie’s Roadhouse.  Stabenow also seamlessly weaves the conflict between the Aleutian traditional way of life and modern America into the story.

The characterization wasn’t as seamless for me.  Kate’s anger toward Jack — and her quick relinquishment of it — felt forced.  The narration also jumped a couple of times, pulling me out of the story.  My biggest complaint though is that Kate tells Jack and Bobby that she’s figured what happened and she shares the details with them — but makes the reader wait a few pages.  This annoyed me.

That said, the mystery itself was well-plotted.  The biggest clues were fairly obvious, although I missed one of them.  The suspense comes from knowing that while the Park is vast in size, it’s small in population — it’s impossible to hope that the person Kate is looking for is not someone she’s close to.

While I found the first book in the Kate Shugak series interesting, I’m not sure if I will continue.  Shugak’s world is harsher than I typically like to visit but . . . maybe.  Someday.

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High Country by Nevada Barr

High Country

Book Review:  High Country by Nevada Barr

Four Yosemite park employees have gone missing and no one wants to talk.  Enter Anna Pigeon.  A ranger from elsewhere in the national park system, she’s able to fill in as a waitress at the Ahwahnee Hotel and gather what information she can from her unsuspecting coworkers.  True to form, Anna soon uncovers connections which lead her to the scene of their disappearance.  Unfortunately, she’s quickly spotted by people who don’t mind making one more park employee disappear.

I’ve fallen behind on reviewing, again, so it’s been a couple of months since I read this.  A few things stood out to me at the time though.  One, Anna remains a force to be reckoned with.  She may be tiny but she’s sharp and she’s a fighter.  She gets banged up, quite often, but she tends to do more damage to the bad guys than they do her.

Two, as much as I love Anna, and you know I do, there were a few points in this book that didn’t make sense to me.  Anna found the scene quite easily — and the reason for the disappearance.  It was a common trail, one that someone had seen one of the hikers on.  I have to assume that someone checked out that trail — why didn’t they find what Anna found?  Why didn’t aerial searches spot what Anna saw so clearly?  Why would a bad guy give such obvious clues to several people he was partying with?  Okay, he was probably drunk (I don’t remember) BUT  the scene rang untrue enough to me that I still remember thinking it as I read it, a couple of months later.

Those issues aside, Anna herself does not disappoint.  I loved this book — her overnight ordeal in the Sierras is one of her most challenging survivals yet.  The 12th book in the series and Anna is as compelling a character as ever — as are the various parks which she serves.

Looking forward to Hard Truth and dreading the day when I don’t have another Anna Pigeon novel to look forward to.

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