Monday, January 30, 2017

Ursa Rising by Sheila Englehart

Ursa RisingUrsa Rising by Sheila Englehart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Ursa Rising begins, the ex members of the once popular band, Ursa, are in BAD shape. Their problems include cancer, a paralyzed spouse, a jail term for statutory rape, an extreme case of guilt, and a rhythm guitarist who has been dead for ten year. Their drummer, who is still trying to make it in the music business, faces problems getting work because there is a widespread belief in an “Ursa curse.”

Then Vanessa, the daughter of the rhythm guitarist, comes back into their lives, intent on filming a documentary about her father by exploring the lives of the others in his band. She's nineteen now. They haven't seen her since she was nine. Benny, the keyboardist/lead singer welcomes her into his home and, by doing so, into all their lives. Vanessa's style is to film as much as she can, mixing interviews with candid moments. She often leaves her camera rolling while she and the men go about their daily routine. The novel takes off from that spot with twists and turns that would be spoilers if I chose to write about them.

Sheila Englehart's writing shows a solid knowledge of both film making and the business of rock music, in particular the backstage side of performing. The negatives of life on the road are exposed as well as the beauty of having a goal worth the sacrifices. A healer named Eden shows up a little ways into the novel. Her life is an interesting comparison to the life Benny led while Ursa was big and to his current life as well. There's an underlying question in their stories, of what success is. Is it recognition or quality?

I also love the way many of Englehart's characters speak, as if maintaining their image is as important as communication. Here's a sample:

Slowly the coughing calmed, and he could breathe again. All was quiet for a couple of minutes before Chris blurted, “We gotta get Lucy.”
“Who's Lucy?” Vanessa asked.
“Love of my life. I had her at the audition. They wouldn't let me take her in the ambulance.” He coughed some more. “I gotta find out if she's still there or if one of the guys took her home.”
“Guitar,” Benny said to Vanessa. “We need to get him something for that cough.”

Ursa Rising is a fun read that's hard to put down. It offers a chance to go backstage with some fascinating people.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang is a powerful book, one that is difficult to put down. I read it based on a Goodreads recommendation, without knowing much about the story. At first, I thought it was about the life of a woman in a conservative society. After that, I thought it was about a victim of mental illness. Then, I thought it was about the reactions of the people around a person suffering from mental illness. In the end I came to the conclusion it is about all those things and more. There are some graphic descriptions of sexual acts that are appropriate for the novel, but very disturbing.

The book is divided in three parts. Although some sections are written from the point of view of the main character, Yeong-hye, for the most part these sections are from the perspective of Yeong-hye's husband, Yeong-hye's brother-in-law, and Yeong-hye's sister. Yeong-hye is the perfect wife, which means she complete's her tasks well and lives a passive life. Her only act of rebellion is found in her resistance to wearing a bra. Then she has a dream, a surreal dream she interprets as a call to become a vegetarian. In American society this doesn't seem like a radical decision, but apparently it is in Korean society. Also, Yeong-hye does not replace the food she's determined to avoid with vegetables that provide necessary nutrition. She becomes emaciated, causing some bizarre and outrageous reactions from the people around her.

The Vegetarian was written in Korean. The language is concise and compelling. Since I read the English version, it's hard to know how much of the text is Han Kang's work and how much is due to Deborah Smith's translation, but the final result is impressive. Here's a selection:

Yells and howls, threaded together layer upon layer, are enmeshed to form that lump. Because of meat. I ate too much meat. The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1)Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a mystery with great suspense, or for a lead character who has flaws she needs to overcome, Maisie Dobbs probably isn't the book for you. But if you are looking for an interesting, romantic, story set during World War I and in the years following, you'll like this one.

Maisie is an extremely beautiful woman with superior intellect, compassion, and intuition. She does show one human failing toward the end of the novel, but most of the book's interesting character flaws are found in the people around Maisie, not in her. And even the minor characters seem to come around to the right way of thinking or have a good excuse for not doing so. There's a social climber who works for the war effort in a dangerous situation and a party girl who volunteers for the service. I won't mention others, to avoid including too many spoilers.

The story starts out with a typical mystery, a man believes his wife is having an affair and hires Maisie Dobbs to check on her. But the book takes a long detour back to the war years, where we get to learn about Maisie's time as a battlefield nurse. There's a wartime romance as well as an interesting friend, who serves as an ambulance driver.

The book also deals with the separation of classes that existed in England. Maisie plays a role in Winspear's portrayal of that era's social discrimination, giving the reader something to think about.

I listened to the audio and enjoyed it. The narrator, Rita Barrington, did a wonderful job and Jacqueline Winspear writes with a clear, interesting style that isn't overdone. It doesn't gets in the way of the story, yet she uses colorful language appropriate for the period.

Steve Lindahl - author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children I'd heard it was the next Harry Potter. I suppose that's a valid claim, since they are both YA novels with odd schools requiring something akin to magic just to get there. I haven't seen the Peregrine film yet, but plan to soon. The Rotten Tomatoes ratings are above average, but not as high as the first Harry Potter film. It will be interesting to see how far this idea can go.

I enjoyed this novel, especially Jacob's relationships, first with his grandfather then with Emma, one of the students at the Peregrine school. Jacob starts out as a lonely sixteen year old who has trouble fitting in. He only has one good friend and is working at a job he hates because it is his family's business. He loves his grandfather, but long since lost his belief in the wild stories the old man tells. Then a tragic incident causes Jacob to be on the other side of unbelievable stories.

His story is so strange he doesn't believe it himself. On the advice of a therapist he's been seeing, Jacob goes on a trip with his father to a remote island that was central to his grandfather's tales. Here's where he meets Emma and the rest of the peculiar children. Jacob's relationship with Emma also feels real, with the appropriate awkwardness for two teenagers who like each other, but have their own backgrounds and agendas.

The plot includes time manipulation, which is, in this case, a complicated form of time travel. Every time travel book I've ever read has some conflicts and this one is no exception. Overall it's a fun read, with a well written plot. I recommend it to anyone who likes YA novels.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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