Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Fine’s a good word for this novel about a lonely woman.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

Paperback,352 pg.
Penguin Books, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018

I steeled myself as best I could, and, with teeth gritted, using only one finger I typed:

C U there E.

I sat back, feeling a bit queasy. Illiterate communication was quicker, that was true, but not by much. I’d saved myself the trouble of typing four whole characters. Still, it was part of my new credo, trying new things. I’d tried it, and I very definitely did not like it. LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally. Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are. I read that in a magazine at the hairdressers.

I went into this expecting the next Where’d You Go, Bernadette — it’s “quirky,” “wacky” “hilarious” “warm and funny” “warm and uplifting”, Honeyman is the next Fredrik Backman, etc. I did not find it. I’m not sure I laughed at anything — I might have smiled at something sweet, but nothing more amusing than the above quotation. Do I think I’d have liked it more if it had been funny? Probably not. I probably wouldn’t have read it, however, if I hadn’t thought it was. This is not a bad thing, not every book has to be funny. I’m just saying I went in expecting a chuckle, a wry smile, something amusing and didn’t get that.

Instead I got a sad, but ultimately nice story about a poor, lonely, shy and socially awkward woman dealing with her personal (and repressed) demons the best she could — which really wasn’t all that well. I didn’t find her amusing, I pitied her. I felt bad for her. I got annoyed when people made fun of her. And I wanted her to figure her life out so she could be an amusing character.

Eleanor is 30, has been doing the same job as a finance clerk for a graphic design firm since she got out of university — she goes to work, talks to her “mummy” Wednesday evenings, gets a frozen pizza, some wine on Fridays and knocks off two bottles of vodka each weekend (spread throughout Saturday and Sunday so that she’s “neither drunk nor sober”), then repeats the cycle. it’s not much but it’s her life and she’s fine with that.

Her life goes in that way with very little variance for about a decade, until she’s befriended by an IT worker, Raymond, in her company. Through him, and other accidents, she meets people. She also does things like get a smartphone, go online for things non-work related, and sorta cyber-stalks a musician. Shortly before meeting Raymond, she’d attended a concert of some local bands (won tickets in a drawing at work) and became infatuated-at-first-sight with a singer — in the way that a thirteen year-old girl does when encountering NKOTB/’NSync/One Direction/insert your time-appropriate band. Eleanor’s childhood was such that she delayed this stage until now. On the one hand, I thought this was a great instigation for Eleanor’s life to change, but man, I kept cringing every time the story came back to it.

Minor, very minor, spoilers: Her social life is the best it’s ever been, things are picking up at work, but there’s this delayed adolescence thing lurking — all the while she’s having problems with mummy. Things go horribly, horribly, horribly awry — but then there’s a chance for her to put her life together again, and maybe discover what went wrong in her very bad childhood, so that she can have a better adulthood.

The characters are well-drawn, well-executed, and pretty realistic. The situations — all of them — ring true. Honeyman can write really well. I thought the story moved well, and the reveals, the twists, the heart-warming moments (and the tragic ones) were all spot-on. I just didn’t enjoy the book that much, it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. It, like the title character, was completely fine.

Your mileage may vary — and judging by reviews (professional and otherwise), sales, and attention this book is getting, there’s a great chance you’ll think I’m out to lunch on this. I may be.

—–

3 Stars

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See You Soon, Afton by Brent Jones: A Gripping and Eventful Follow-Up

See You Soon, AftonSee You Soon, Afton

by Brent Jones
Series: Afton Morrison, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 102 pg.
2018

Read: August 13, 2018

Argh. I don’t know how to talk about this — it’s so much the second quarter of a story that I’m not sure what to say. Still, I feel compelled to try.

This picks up right after the events of Go Home, Afton and continues the story. It’s almost as good — probably about as good, but since we know this world a bit now, there’s not as much of the joy of discovery. That’s the only negative to getting the story told in novella-length chunks instead of one big book, this part isn’t the next good part of the whole. Still, that’s part of the fun of this kind of story-telling, too.

I’m not crazy about developments and the reveal in the last few chapters, but I’m not sure I get all that Jones is trying to accomplish. I’m prepared to change my mind about it. Even if he doesn’t convince me that this is the right way to go, I can still see myself enjoying the story as a whole.

There’s a crispness, a rawness to the writing that I really appreciate. I’m really enjoying the characters of Afton, her brother and the social circle that she’s found herself with (for lack of a better term), and am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Basically, I liked this. You should read the first book in the series, and this one, too.

—–

3 Stars

Picket Town by Chris von Halle: An Age-Appropriately Creepy SF for the MG reader in your life

Picket TownPicket Town

by Chris von Halle

PDF, 178 pg.
Clean Reads, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018

Amanda is bored. Every day is the same — her life isn’t bad, she actually likes it. But she wants more. She’s not sure exactly what it is that she wants — but it’ll be found outside the city limits of New Pines (she calls it Picket Town). She and her friend Sam spend their days after school playing a computer RPG, eating with their families, playing the game some more and repeating the whole thing the next day.

Then something starts happening — some of the kids in town come down with some sort of bacterial infection that requires them to be hospitalized while a cure is worked on. Amanda starts to wonder if everyone is going to be okay — no matter how often she’s assured that the grown-ups have everything under control. She wants to strike out, she wants to learn something — and on the way home from school, they pass the same sign forbidding them to enter the forest that they walk by every day. But this day, this particular day she decides she’s had enough — and then she convinces Sam to come with her. They climb over the fence and explore the forest. This is the most thrilling thing they’ve ever done. Right up until the point that they find a what appears to be a flying saucer (well, a saucer that’s landed). Pretty much everything they’ve ever known ends right there. What follows is exciting, dramatic, and unexpected (well, at least for the target audience — Middle Grade — adult readers will have a pretty good chance of seeing what’s around the corner, most of the time).

I wasn’t so sure that I was going to enjoy this at the beginning, I’m not sure why, it just didn’t seem like it clicked. But it honestly didn’t take long before it reminded me of the better SF I read in grade school, and I was in it for the long haul. Although, honestly, I’m not sure any of the books I read when I was that age would’ve gone where von Halle took this. That’s a compliment, by the way, it may not look like one.

I’m not crazy about the conclusion, I have to say, as much as I liked almost everything that came before. There’s a good twist to it — and I really liked it. But the ending itself? I don’t know — it relied too much on a big info-dump, and then the reveal for Amanda and Sam could’ve been executed a little better. But I think those are quibbles, and I really don’t imagine that there’s a Fourth Grader out there that’ll say the same thing.

This isn’t a MG novel that transcends the label and that’ll appeal to adults — in other words, not everyone is J.K. Rowling. I’ll give you a moment to digest that revelation. This is a MG novel that knows its audience and that will deliver what it wants. Were I in that audience, I’d be re-reading this a few times. I’m not, so I’ll tell people to give it to someone who’ll appreciate it more.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, given above.

—–

3 Stars

Ophelia Immune by Beth Mattson: The feminist Zombie Book you didn’t know you were missing

Ophelia ImmuneOphelia Immune

by Beth Mattson
Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
2018
Read: July 21 – 22, 2018

We come into this world sometime into the Zombie Apocalypse — or at least Outbreak, it’s tough to say. Most of our information is given to us second or third-hand through the narration of a young girl. Actually, it’s probably more like 52nd or 53rd-hand. North America (who knows what the rest of the world is like) is filled with people traveling from camp to camp trying to make it just another day. Some families drive from camp to camp, others have to risk walking.

These camps, by the way, have fences around them — including overhead. Because at night — the Zombies come. And if you aren’t in a camp, you’d better hope you’re at least in a car, because you’ve got nothing else to stop them than whatever weapon you might have.

Ophelia lost an older sister to the infection, and then her parents had a couple more kids (for people who never leave their car, this is quite the interesting proposition) that she has to look after. At some point, her family is able to get pretty far north (Canada somewhere), where at least in the cold winter, the infected can’t move. They have a house, they start to make a life for themselves — and then disaster strikes.

The title of the book is Ophelia Immune and there’s really only one way to find out if she’s immune, so this isn’t really a spoiler — she gets bitten. But she doesn’t become a mindless people-eating machine. She gets the strength, she gets the ability to carry on while wounded (details are in the book), but she keeps her brain, her personality. Sadly, anyone who looks at her won’t see that unless they get to talk to her.She runs from her family, finds her way to a city and tries to survive. Along the way, she encounters people selling young women — girls — to join polygamous families “for their protection.” She finds corrupt Rangers, who are to protect people from the infected. And much worse. She also finds some scientists, who are happy to experiment on her blood — actual infected blood is hard to find, blood of an immune person? Priceless.

I told Mattson that I didn’t like Zombie stories — by and large it’s the truth, too. And I didn’t like most of this book, because it was a really good Zombie story. It had all the elements and was downright creepy and disturbing. At a certain point, the tenor and focus of the book became something more — it was still creepy and disturbing with mindless ex-humans wandering around eating humans, don’t mistake me — but it shifted. I liked a lot of that.

Next to M. R. Carey’s Melanie, Ophelia is the most interesting Zombie I’ve ever encountered (well, maybe Gwen Dylan . . . ). She’s naive, she’s innocent — which is just strange to say — and idealistic. If you give her half a chance, she’ll win you over. It’s hard to judge the other characters — because Ophelia’s perspective is pretty strange, and you only see them from hers. But there are some good people, and some horrible humans in this world. So many horrible ones that you start rooting for the infection, really. But the rest of them, like Ophelia, give you hope.

Mattson’s writing itself is clear, strong and effective. I’d prefer if she buried the ideology under a couple more inches of narrative, plot and character – but that could just be me. I would definitely check out her next offering.

I’m the wrong person to ask really if you should read this book. If you like Zombie stories, yeah, give this one a shot — I doubt you’ve read anything like it. If you don’t? Ehhhh, think about it anyway, you probably haven’t read anything like it before.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion — and I warned her ahead of time that this was an uphill battle.

—–

3 Stars

The Incredible Ordinary Hero or The Brave Bystander: Burns by Aida Rascanu, Beatrice Magrini (Illustrator): A Nice Book Almost as Long as Its Title

The Incredible Ordinary Hero or The Brave Bystander: BurnsThe Incredible Ordinary Hero or The Brave Bystander: Burns

by Aida Rascanu, Beatrice Magrini (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 28 pg.
2018
Read: June 2, 2018

This is just a great idea — a double-whammy of a lesson for the readers/audience. First, there’s a discussion of what it means to be a hero (doing things that are heroic) and there’s a little first aid lesson — age appropriate, mind you — to help parents/teachers train up young ones.

The writing was good enough — I think it could’ve been written in such a way to connect with readers better, and to be a little less preachy. But my guess is that the audience will have no problem with it, just the adults. I did think things ended abruptly, though — and that’s going to rankle a kid or three. Still, this is solidly-written.

The art will keep the reader’s attention — and honestly, it could’ve gone pretty graphic, but it didn’t.

From Rascanu’s website, it appears that this is supposed to be the beginning of a series — it would probably work better for reading if there was at least one companion volume. If so, it’d be a great investment for parents of wee ones — if not, this would still be a good idea. Just not as much of an investment, I guess.

—–

3 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

Born to the Blade 1.8: Refugees by Malka Ann Older: Pretty much everything goes wrong for everyone

RefugeesRefugees

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.8

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: June 7, 2018

Argh. I just don’t know what to say here — clearly, this should’ve posted on Friday, but I only got one sentence down that I didn’t delete. This is only posting today because I didn’t let myself cut anything. This episode is too short, I think. When I consider everything I want to complain about, it all boils down to length (I’m not even seeing page counts on Amazon/Goodreads for the last couple of these). I do think the episode length is a legitimate problem, but at the same time, it’s part of the design of the series, so I should just shut up about it.

Which is just a long way of saying, I think I liked this episode, but I’m not sure — it sure didn’t satisfy my need as a reader to get a chunk of story big enough to appreciate what’s happening around these characters. I’m not saying these need to clock in at 250 pages or anything. Just 10-20% more?

Which is a crying shame — because there’s real opportunity in these pages for Michiko and Kris to get something done (both to help their people and the readers who like them as characters), but there wasn’t time. Ojo doesn’t seem like the same man anymore — which is completely understandable, but I’m having to do too much surmising to get to my understanding. I did like Adechike’s portion of this episode — that was really well done.

Oh, and Lavinia continues to be just the worst person in this world. but that’s not a surprise, really.

The action here revolves around this world preparing for the looming war — I get why the characters don’t know what actually happened to set off the conflict, but it’d be cool to let the readers in on the secret. There’s preparations for war — both in getting fighting forces ready, and refugees from affected/soon to be affected areas streaming into Twaa-Fei. Which is going pretty horribly — between the stress that an influx of refugees brings to an area and a healthy dose of subterfuge on someone’s part.

Speaking of Twaa-Fei, I’d have preferred to see more examples of this compact on between the nations working (however well it actually functions) before seeing it on the verge of collapse. It’s hard to appreciate just what they’re close to losing without seeing it more.

I’m still in this ’til the end, I think I’m still enjoying this — but I feel the authors are holding out on us, which bothers me. I’m trusting they’ll win me over (again) soon.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.7: Dreadnought by Cassandra Khaw: Things continue going from bad to worse

DreadnoughtDreadnought

by Cassandra Khaw
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.7

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 31, 2018

I don’t know what to say here without spoiling — this series isn’t making it easy for me to write about it.

As bad as things looked last week — there were plenty of avenues that were easy to see for things to work out. Not necessarily easily, but possible. It’s still possible now, I’m sure, but it’s not easy to see how. There’s so much distrust in the air that even people who need to be working together won’t. In fact, everyone’s going out of their way to make it more difficult and less likely to work with each other.

Well, almost everyone. Kris and Michiko seem to be acting like themselves — although, since we’ve met them their behavior has basically been summarized by “try hard, ask a lot of questions, and be somewhat confused,” I’m not sure that it’s that helpful. The rest — whether it’s internally imposed, or naturally occurring, doesn’t matter — are stand-offish, distrustful, and taking steps to isolate themselves.

The carefully constructed peace is in grave danger — the questions that need to be answered are: who started and/or is continuing to orchestrate the events that kicked off this unraveling? Who is gaining from all of this? If the answers to these questions are discovered, does anyone have the ability (singly or as a group) to effectively push back? I have my suspicions, but I’ll have to wait and see.

This was well done, and an installment that had to happen — but it’s hard to really judge this until we get more of the picture. I liked it enough, I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure just how good a job this episode did. But I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here so have a better idea.

—–

3 Stars