Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Program glance-throughs 1

I was recently preparing for a program that includes book talking six books to adults.  I keep a list throughout the year as I order and then try to narrow down a short list of books that 1) will largely appeal to a wide range of readers, 2) represent several genres, 3) include a nice balance of male and female authors,  4) include a nice balance of male and female main characters, 5) are well-reviewed, and 6) have not yet circulated too many times.  It is certainly a challenge, but if the books aren't perfect it doesn't matter too-too much, because the program involves wine.  After the first or second book, I'm not sure how much people even notice.  Below is the batch of contenders and my impressions from speed-reading a limited number of paragraphs. 

The books are organized alphabetically, because surely some organization is needed, but that isn't necessarily the order they were reviewed in, so I apologize for any continuity breaks.

I have to break this post into parts because blogger is complaining about the number of applied tags.  

The 6:41 to Paris by Jean-Philippe Blondel:  It’s 26 pages before there is any dialogue from anyone else.  That's plenty of time for the main character’s voice to get established and her emotional state is strongly conveyed.  But it would be hard to maintain.  Paging ahead, there are whole chapters without dialogue or any other input from other characters.  It would be hard to be inside someone else’s head that long.  It tastes like teenage angst.

All the birds in the sky did not come in in time to be reviewed.  Maybe next time.

The beautiful bureaucrat by Helen Phillips: This starts off good but then—and this might be more the fault of the skipping and speed reading—it gets weird, in an uncomfortable way.  I kepy it on the table as a wild-card option but did not have to use it. 

A Bollywood affair by Sonali Dev: I’ve taken The Bollywood Bride home at least three times without ever actually reading it.  This is interesting and could be a good match (international cultural information, romantic storyline).  It's a toss-up between this and The decent proposal.

The core of the sun by Johanna Sinisalo: There is a lot in here to wade through: chapters from different points of view, transcripts of interviews, chapters from in-story books, text from pamphlets, letters, etc..  This fantasy world is a rather bigger jump than the more paranormal Touch.  Not a good choice for this kind of program.

Darkness the color of snow by Thomas Cobb: The writing is quick-- short sentences and fast-moving paragraphs, but it fits with the storytelling.  There is some strong language.  The book description makes it sounds like a suspense read, typical of the genre, but leafing through it I’m not getting any of that.  It reads more like a problem novel with a cast of male characters.  It has some nice elements, but nothing grabbing, nothing out of this world. 

The daughters by Adrienne Celt: A little mythology, or may magical realism, like Sarah Addison Allen.  The sentences flow and pool like water, not choppy or clipped.  A better pairing, I think for the Malbec (“intense,” “sultry,” with “depth”) than the Tempranillo (“spicy,” “flashy,” “full”), although either would do.

The decent proposal by Kemper Donovan: A lot of character set-up in the first few pages, more telling than usually preferred, but it hooks.  I’m personally interested, and it will do a good job fitting the general romantic/women’s fiction—What Alice forgot was hugely popular last summer.

The good liar did not come in in time to be reviewed.

The heart by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Sam Taylor: Present-tense writing, never my fave, but the book gets off to a great start with complex, artsy but accessible, understandable language.  No quotation marks, which makes it read differently, makes one read differently.  Certainly a novel with potential, but not a good fit for the wine I had it pegged for, which is described as spicy, flashy, full, and sharp.  This book is more compelling, powerful, dark and deep.  A good book, but not a good match.

The last witness by K.J. Parker.  I’m not sure how I felt about the last of Parker’s books I read, but they both were well-reviewed.  I think the writing makes it not widely appealing—vague, no exact place or time period, not very many names (some people never named, sometimes just an overabundance of pronouns).

Love, love by Sung J. Woo: An appropriate family-saga-centric novel, accessible, enough characters, each deep enough to appeal to a wide range of fiction readers, but I think The decent proposal will fit the bill better this go-round.

Man tiger by Eka Kurniawan: More magical realism?  Did I write down anything else on my list?  In my quick perusal, it feels like it’s all telling, and the sentences feel pretty uniformly short; not an engrossing read.

Minnow by James E. McTeer II: This is wonderful; it’s magical realism and an engrossing read—the language is captivating.  It also fits into the coming-of-age/self-discovery spot.  I ended up not using it this time because non-real universes can be a hard sell, and I picked a different one.  Still a great choice!

Morning and evening by Jon Fosse: My, this is a tiny book.  The premise from the back of the book is intriguing; unfortunately, it’s not a good thing in a small package.  There are no quotation marks but a fair amount of dialogue, making it difficult to read.  There are commas, but no periods.  Sentences bridge paragraphs, leaving off mid-thought and starting on the next line without capitalization.  The characters have no voices.  Accessible only to a narrow group of readers.

My name is Memory by Ann Brashares: I’ve had this one on lists for over a year and never quite work it into a program, although I couldn’t recall why.  The sentences are jerky and short, which strikes me as extremely odd for a story about an overarching, ancient life.  It’s hard to fall in to. 

Nakamura reality by Alex Austin: Plenty of people, including some of my coworkers, seem to enjoy novels that are supremely depressing.  This has so much angst and depression.  It’s like reading a Lifetime Original Movie.

November 9 by Colleen Hoover: An interesting start, but the New-Adult angst is strong with this one, and unappealing in general.  It’s more of a YA-feel.

Our endless numbered days by Claire Fuller: the synopsis makes it sound interesting, but it starts very slowly, too slowly.

Piece of mind by Michelle Adelman:  This is excellent.  It hits the high-notes people are looking for in books about the differently-abled—which is actually the same thing as what we’re looking for in most other problem novels: what is going on inside someone else’s head?  This is good like Border Songs, avoids the pitfalls of A Desperate Fortune.  The main character is shown in a realistic (or at least believable), understandable way, without being whiny.  She’s relatable: we all have trouble prioritizing sometimes, we forget direction, we understand these struggles, but how scary would it be to have to deal with that all the time?  Family issues, self-discovery, wonderful.

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