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This, I think, is the last bookring that I have coming to me. I will think quite hard before I enter any more, at least for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, I sort of liked this book, but felt that I could have liked it more; it was an engaging story that fell short of 'delightful'. I found the constant use of the present tense breathy and irritating, and never really engaged with any of the characters. It felt a little bit superficial and clumsy. The villains kicked puppies (well, they didn't, but they would have done had there been any puppies around); the protagonist wasn't terribly interesting; the love interest's background was spectacularly unconvincing. I did like the background and the setting; Gruen had clearly done her research. Overall, though, it never quite won me over.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10382124
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Another attempt at the Great American Novel. It was good, but other books have since taken its place in my heart. No, that's a lie: it never really got near my heart. It made me smile and laugh and cringe, and occasionally wince in recognition; technically, I think it was brilliant; it was certainly no hardship to finish it - but. But it never quite got there, for me.

It is the story of a family. It is the story of the varied and interesting ways in which a family can fall apart, on account of being composed of a varied and interesting collection of human beings. It punctures egos left, right and centre. It gets into the heads of most of the main characters, which is something I like in fiction. (Although Franzen didn't bother with Jessica, the daughter, and maybe I'd have been more interested if he had.)

3 out of 5, I think. It is a good book, but I didn't love it.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10198179
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I've had this sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but never seriously made an effort to read it until it turned up in the Favourite Book of 2011 roundabout. I'm wondering now why it took me so long to get to it! This is a fantastic novel that moves through the decades with a superb sense of time, place and character. While the title couple remark that theirs is an 'amateur' marriage among the many more professional ones around them, I got the impression that they represent a whole generation of hasty marriages and awkward, yet ultimately loving, relationships. Tyler has a very good grasp of how people work. Recommended.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10047102
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More in the 'creepy and disturbing' vein. The hero is a former construction magnate who becomes an artist after losing an arm in an accident. Doom and disaster result. This was compulsive reading, and kept me hooked most of the way to the end. Fantastic sense of place, though I detected a misogynistic undertone that I didn't much like.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9731584
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One of the best thrillers I've read in a while - three strong female characters, holding their own against ridiculous odds, a horrific yet plausible set-up, glorious technobabble, and a vividly described setting.

I was vaguely surprised to find that 'P. J. Tracy' is actually a mother-daughter team. I'd half-expected that the initials would conceal a female writer (it seems to be the only way to sell to men, these days; see also Rowling, J. K.) - well, they do. P. J. is the mother and Traci is the daughter. I couldn't have told from the writing; the only blooper, so far as I could see, was that a minor character's unseen wife was called 'Paula' in one chapter and 'Cheryl' in the next.

It took me a depressingly long time to work out that the villains weren't who they claimed to be. I have become very cynical about authority figures with guns, evidently.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8338429
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Needs a Britpicker, badly. I am not convinced that the author had ever been to England, let alone Oxford; the only way I could suspend my disbelief long enough to finish the book was to pretend that the landlubbing part of the story was set in some USAian theme park called 'Oxford' and abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for cruise liners to travel to and from. Apart from the more glaring howlers (car numberplate bearing six figures and no letters; travelling from Oxford to Southampton on the M5; schoolgirls of 21 wearing blazers) the dialogue and internal monologues of the British characters were completely off.

Apart from that, the mystery was reasonably diverting, but this was a real struggle to finish.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10013527/
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A collection of short stories, the latest in the 'Favourites of 2011' roundabout. I've lost count of where I am in this, but we must be nearing the end, I think. Anyway, I could see the attraction in this; the stories are very rich, dense and evocative, with a twist of ironic humour, and the best of them stay with you. Precisely because of this richness, however, I found that this wasn't a book to be rushed - in fact, I might have been happier reading one story every week for a couple of months, or something like that, but I have no self-control, and anyway this book needs to go on to the next reader. Consequently, I came away feeling that some of these stories were a bit same-y (particularly the ones about young white American men who are wasting their lives on drink and drugs) and that I'd have enjoyed them much more in isolation. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy them. Chicxulub was my favourite, for what that's worth.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10364136
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I have heard a lot about this author; she seems to divide opinions. I came away from this book without much of one - I didn't hate this, but it wasn't exactly gripping. The basic concept - a big-city attorney defending an Amish girl accused of infanticide - could have been very interesting, but Picoult never seemed to develop any of the themes as much as they deserved. There was some sloppy writing in there - plot elements introduced a little too early and then presented as a big surprise - and I never quite saw the point in switching between first and third person narratives.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9730440
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A charmingly naive (or, if I were in a bad mood, 'painfully earnest') little story set in a future where the USA's first gay Jewish president has just been elected. If all books are really about their own times, however, this one is about the Bush years, the gap between the Florida recount and Obama. The plot is centred around a very similar recount, and a teenager's involvement in same.

I appreciated the idealism, but it seemed very polarised. Thinking from a political system where (for example) all three main parties have come out loudly in favour of same-sex marriage, the 'us and them' mentality feels very contrived. Politics: always more complicated.
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I can't believe I'd never read this. I knew the basic gist of the plot, and most people I've spoken to did it at school. I'm rather glad I didn't, for I don't think I'd have enjoyed it nearly as much. I've been putting off reviewing it, because I honestly can't think of what to say. However, it's a book club choice, so I will eventually have to pick a single word to describe it -

which is -

- gripping

Not the first few chapters; it did take me a while to get into it, though I can see that the slow start is essential background-painting - but once the plot really kicked off I was very reluctant to put the book down. Unreliable narrators again: telling an adults' story through a child's eyes is a very effective trick if you can pull it off, and here it really works, trading off the different levels of cynicism. Favourite book of the year so far.
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'N' in the Alphabet roundabout. A teen book, and none the worse for it. The plot hangs on the real-life murder of Grace Brown, and incorporates the victim's letters into the text - though in such a sensitive manner that it's only just occurred to me how terribly that might have turned out.

The narrator is a waitress at the Glenmore Hotel, where the tragedy is centred, working to support her father and sisters, and to raise enough money to take up a place at college in New York. I think I have been rather spoiled for stories in which the heroine's vocation is to write (I will wibble more about this on the Other Blog) because here was someone for whom this was more of a challenge than usual, and I was just rolling my eyes. A pity. Also, I saw straight through the love interest, but this may have been the intention.

Nothing particularly special, but a good enough read, with a pleasing resolution.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10491432
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Annie On My Mind for the nineties. Same author, and covering the same sort of themes - coming out at high school, experience of homophobia, vocation to the arts. The school is co-educational now, and the setting has moved from the city to the back of beyond, but there are definite echoes of Garden's earlier (and more famous?) work.

Which is not to say that this was not an enjoyable book in its own right. It contained many of my favourite tropes: coming out (to oneself, particularly), platonic female/male friendship, school... I particularly loved the theatrical theme (even if the parallels with The Crucible made me roll my eyes a bit). In places I found it too painful to read much at a time, but it's ultimately a moving, hopeful novel.
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
This came through the letterbox, and I, having decided after 61 Hours that I could probably live without Jack Reacher, thought, 'aw, do I have to?'

But this was the ABC roundabout, so I did. And I am prepared to concede that I may have misjudged the gentleman. While 61 Hours was a real slog, this was compelling reading of the sort that had me reluctant to leave the house until I'd finished it.

It's written in the first person, which may have made a difference. Jack Reacher the character seemed much more interesting here than he did in the other book. I did get fed up with the style at times (seriously, nobody had put a cap on personal pronouns the last time I checked) but there were enough good points that I could overlook that.

Some good points:

- impressively plausible worked deductions
- scrupulous presentation of clues
- I confidently pronounced that character X was bound to end up dead or evil, and they didn't
- genuinely surprising twists

I can see now why people get hooked. 61 Hours may have been an anomaly, or part of a larger mid-series slump. Still not hooked myself, mind.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10398249/
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
A rather pedestrian mystery, notable more for the confidence with which it deals with persons of exalted office than for any particular inspiration when it came to plot. First published 1980, and so I'm probably missing some context, not being very well up in any sort of politics of that era that doesn't involve trade unions. (They do feature in this, admittedly, but only very briefly.)

This rather fell into the trap of misdirecting so hard that none of the really interesting mystery stuff (When you know How, you know Who) got a look-in. The setting and characters seemed plausible, though.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/988847
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As usual, all the bookrings arrived at once, and I read them in a hurry. This one would have been a 'blitz-through-in-two-days' job anyway; it was compulsive reading.

It's a story of a mixed race girl - black American father, white Danish mother - moving away from a tragedy and finding her place in the world. Reading the notes in the back, it seems to have an autobiographical element. It is told from the viewpoint of various characters, and when I realised how these all joined up I was hooked.

Might suggest this one next time it's my turn to choose for bookclub. It rather depends on whether it's readily available in the UK, though - this is an American copy.

www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9675170/
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Memories of, and reflections on the early years of the Metropolitan Community Church, and some of the people involved in it. Sylvia Pennington was straight, but (eventually) a staunch ally of the queer Christian community. The first section of the book deals with her own personal experiences, getting to know gay people and separating homophobia from faith. Some of that made rather painful reading, though I get the feeling that she must have been as embarrassed writing it as anybody reading it. The second section was a number of case studies, if you like - gay men (and one lesbian) and their journeys to reconciling sexuality and faith. Often moving; sometimes utterly devastating.

I will be honest and admit that the style didn't do much for me. Some of this is probably just down to different Christian and cultural backgrounds - I am not the arm-wavy type, and Pennington, by her own admission, was, so there were some assumptions and turns-of-phrase that felt very alien. The other thing that set my teeth on edge was the way that after each case study she would present the subject as a worthy example of 'God's gays'. And... I can sort of see where she is coming from, assuming an intended audience of devout and homophobic Christians, but it did feel terribly patronising.

I didn't learn anything new from this book, but then I didn't really expect to. Its two main messages - that it is perfectly possible to be simultaneously a person of sincere faith and actively other-than-straight, and that the Church can do its best to make it bloody difficult to practise that sincere faith - are ones that I have been hearing, repeating, and to some extent experiencing for a long time.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10202188
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Standard Grisham fare: lawyers, the American South, vast sums of money, yachts, bugging, the lot. In this instance somebody has died, and then disappeared with ninety million. Yes, in that order. The book consists of getting him back from the underworld (to which, of course, he has not gone) and then getting him out of all the trouble he's got himself into.

I didn't really get into this, to be honest, and the only reason I finished it was that I was putting off going shopping. I failed to have much sympathy for the central character, and the twist at the end somehow managed to be both predictable and unconvincing.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9880651
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I've deliberately cut back on reading modern crime in recent weeks, having felt a little overwhelmed by it in the autumn. I think this strategy, combined with the genuine merits of this novel, paid off; Flight of the Stone Angel held my attention in a way that many modern mysteries have failed to do.

It's hard to put my finger on what makes this one so good: partly it's the lush descriptions of the Mississippi landscape, I think (I started out finding them rather pretentious, but they grew on me). Probably nearer the mark, though, is the element of surprise. So many thrillers are so tediously formulaic, and in this one I honestly didn't know what was going to happen next. Wonderfully ambiguous characters, too, with plenty left unsaid about all of them.

And it ended with that satisfying/frustrating revelation: that the entire mystery was laid out before the reader all the way through, and you really ought to have guessed it.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7891852
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Another surprise in the ABC roundabout. It's certainly widening my horizons; this is a contender (though how serious a contender I'm not sure) for the Great American Novel. Set in the early 1950s, it documents a teenager's battle to a) get through university despite his father's paranoia; and b) avoid the Korean War. If that sounds thoroughly depressing, it's because it is. I could appreciate it as a competent and convincing piece of writing, but I will probably never read it again. I think it's partly because I'm feeling guilty about not liking the narrator much...

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10203481/
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
This is a surprise book in the BookCrossing ABC roundabout (I started off the G round with 'Gods Behaving Badly' and we're working up the alphabet). I could have done without another modern crime thriller, having overdosed spectacularly over the past few weeks, but that says more about me than it does about the book, so let's leave that aside.

This is set in a New Orleans radio station, where the star turn, a psychologist who hosts a late-night phone-in show, is receiving phone calls from a mystery man. I felt that the setting was evocatively described, and the mystery was reasonably interesting; however, some of the gender politics made me roll my eyes a bit (a girl ends up dead because she is 'too ambitious', hmm, hmm) and what with that and them glazing over in the sex scenes they got rather over-exercised.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10203084

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