[Book Review] Sometimes an Elephant is Just an Elephant

Meg’s Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

(If you feel like hacking a canary, then 3.5.)

My mother’s not an avid reader, but when she finds something she likes she proceeds to force it upon everyone. And by everyone, I mean me. The format has worked well in the past (I may not have ever read Harry Potter had she not bought the books and locked me in my room to read them), so when she started harping on about Water for Elephants, I assumed it would be another terrific find.

And it might be. Or it might not. I can’t decide. Water for Elephants has got my feathery panties in a twist; I still can’t figure out if it was a good book or simply a fluff book hiding under the cape of capital-L Literature.

The story is narrated by the 90-something Jacob Jankowski, as he recalls his twenties. The majority of the plot revolves around the sudden death of his parents, which indirectly leads him to join the circus. The words ‘joining the circus’ should send up red flags; after all, nothing but ridiculous shenanigans (or crazy killer clowns) have ever followed the phrase. But I will say one thing about Gruen’s writing: she keeps things grounded. When big, over-the-top events are happening, the narrative is so firmly controlled by Jacob’s thoughts and emotions that the story never runs away from the author completely.  That’s quite a feat considering the ending, which caught me by delightful surprise.

However, I have issues with said narrator. Continue reading

[Book Review] Wil Wheaton in my ears!

Meg’s Audiobook Review: Boneshaker

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Audiobook read by Kate Reading and Wil Wheaton

I’m happily haphazard in my audiobook tastes. Whatever Audible recommends, I take without too much investigation. So imagine my surprise when I pushed play on Boneshaker and heard:

“Audible presents Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, read by Kate Reading and Wil Wheaton.”

Wait. What? Back up there, Audible. Wil Wheaton. THE Wil Wheaton? Wesley is going to read me a story along with my #1 favorite reader, Kate Reading?

Oh, please don’t suck, plot. Please don’t suck!

Boneshaker is an alternative history novel that is part steampunk, part zombie horror. When an invention created by Leviticus Blue rips up downtown Seattle, it releases noxious gas that turns anyone who inhales it into flesh-hungry rotters. The poisoned part of the city is walled off, and the former booming city is left to wallow out a living while the Civil War wages off to the east. But when Zeke, Leviticus’ son, goes back into the city to find evidence to clear his father’s name, his mother and Leviticus’ widow, Briar, must chase after him, fending off the rotters and fighting a mysterious new villain, Dr. Minnericht.

The world in Boneshaker is amazing, a place where Firefly meets Dawn of the Dead. I was completely drawn into the story, eagerly listening as Priest builds the drab, dangerous land of Seattle bit by bit. Priest is gifted with the ability to write with just the right amount of purple prose: not so descriptive that it is distracting, but a little more verbose than most would dare tempt without going overboard.

The prose and world building are so well done that I didn’t even notice that the characters are extremely one-dimensional and there is very little by way of plot. Nothing really happens in Boneshaker. There’s a lot of appearance of action: running from rotters and flying about in air ships. But it’s just hand-waving, distraction from the fact that the overall story trajectory is superficial at best. There’s no second level of meaning in the book — just movement and dialogue that does not leave a lasting impression. But it is so well done that I didn’t mind. Hell, I didn’t notice until I was past the half-way marker.

I was in love with the novel. Completely and utterly, gushing to Canary The First at every beautiful turn of phrase. And then, about three-quarters through, the book took a nosedive that knocked two canaries off the rating perch and left me feeling very disgruntled.

Where the novel really falls apart is in the villain. For most of the book, Dr. Minnericht is this enigmatic rumor, a person described differently with each new story, every account making him seem more deadly and more dangerous—and each time it’s made more clear that the man may in fact be the infamous Leviticus Blue. I was so eager to finally meet him, to see the man around whom the entire world revolved. And when he did appear, he was such a whiny bitch that the entire story deflated. The weakness of Priest’s characterizations became so evident that it made the rest of the book completely lifeless.

As far as readers go: Kate Reading was brilliant as always. And Wil Wheaton was pleasantly good. The whole thing was very easy on the ears, even if the plot wasn’t too interesting to listen to.

I do think that Cherie Priest is an author to watch. Her style of writing is superb, and she clearly knows how to make a world. She just needs to find a stronger plot on which to hang her words.