The Caretaker of Lorne Field, by Dave Zeltserman

You may vaguely remember this title from my post on books that followed me home, like, forever ago. I had given Zeltserman’s other book, Killer, first dibs on being read, but I didn’t get very into it and this A to Z Challenge isn’t going on much longer so I picked up Caretaker instead, hoping it would be better.

Boy, is it. The non-alphabet-related reason I had picked this book up was that it mentioned James M. Cain, whom I currently adore, on the cover, and I’d say that NPR is right with that comparison. Zeltserman creates an odd situation, throws a bunch of people into it, and then sees what they have to do to fix it.

I’m not kidding about the odd situation, either — the caretaker of the title spends his days out at the field of the title pulling up monsters that look like weeds but that if left to grow for only a few days will get ginormous and eat the entire world. Nomnomnom.

Or… maybe they’re just weeds. The caretaker, Jack Durkin, certainly thinks they’re monsters, and so do some of the older community members who have been around to see other Durkins take care of the field (there’s a 300-year-old contract involved), but the majority of everyone is pretty sure they’re just weeds, including Durkin’s wife, who is getting a little sick of being ridiculously poor and thinks that Durkin needs to just get a new job already and stop being a lazy person who weeds for 12 hours a day.

Durkin doesn’t like being so disrespected, so he figures out a way to prove that the weeds aren’t weeds, but in the process of doing so some TERRIBLE HORRIBLE things happen that might be the monsters’ fault or might be Durkin’s fault or might be just an accident. And I changed my mind about which one it was just about every page for the last half of the book.

So it’s pretty exciting, and a little brain-exploding, and it also throws in a ton of Cain-style completely depressing. Zeltserman takes it a little too far at the end, making the book several pages longer than it strictly needs to be and passing up a few good stopping points, but I was thoroughly satisfied with the ending so that’s all right.

Recommendation: For the person who doesn’t like to know what’s happening at any given moment and/or who likes an existential crisis or two.

Rating: 9/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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Death Note Vol. 6, by Tsugumi Ohba

Oh. Em. Gee.

This is another of the books I’ve read recently only because they were due back at the library. After things got very wonky in the last book, I was not sure I was going to like this next one.

But I did.

Things? Still wonky. L still doesn’t trust Light, which is as it should be, but now also he’s decided to go after Kira whatever the costs while the ex-police guys are like, um, shouldn’t we try to stop him killing people even if we can’t catch him? So there is a split, and Light gets caught on L’s side even though he doesn’t like it on account of the handcuffs that keep him attached to L at all times. Oh, and also on account of his girl-thing Misa being really excited about being used as bait to find Kira.

But! While Misa is doing the bait thing, she discovers that in fact she used to be a Kira and that Light was also one (they had made themselves forget this previously), so now she has even more leverage with the new Kira, provided she doesn’t slip up in front of the people who want to capture her. Who are also the people she is acting as bait for. And it’s all crazy and stuff.

But but! It gets even crazier when the plans start to come together and the new Kira is being chased and herded and almost caught… but then the book ends in a bit of a cliffhanger. And to make things worse, my husband says that what happens next is EVEN MORE INSANE. I am going to have to go track down book 7, like, yesterday. Sigh.

Recommendation: This stuff is insane, yo. Read it if you don’t mind your brains EXPLODING EVERYWHERE.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

How to Be Alone, by Jonathan Franzen

I was so sure this post was going to go up after my book club discussed it, but unfortunately our discussion has been postponed indefinitely. I say this because I found myself not particularly enjoying the essays in this book, but I am almost positive that I will like them more after I have a chance to talk about them with people who did like them.

And I think my dislike stems largely from something that Franzen mentions in his essay “Mr. Difficult,” in regards to a particular woman that once wrote to him. “She began by listing thirty fancy words and phrases from my novel, words like ‘diurnality’ and ‘antipodes,’ phrases like ‘electro-pointillist Santa Claus faces.’ She then posed the dreadful question: ‘Who is it you are writing for? It surely could not be the average person who just enjoys a good read.'”

This woman makes Franzen out to be a “pompous snob,” but I wouldn’t go that far. And I am certainly not afraid of big words or opposed to working through a difficult book that has an excellent payoff. I just found, as I was reading, that Franzen was writing this book for a set of people of which I am definitely not a part, though I couldn’t tell you what particular set that might be. Writerly people? Big word collectors? Hipsters?

Whoever it is, it’s a group that follows Franzen Logic. To me, his essays tended to ramble on, hopping from topic to topic without terribly much in the way of transition and sometimes without much in the way of sense. I often found myself thinking, “How did we get here? Didn’t we start somewhere else? Whatever, I’ll just keep going and hope it comes back.”

On a small plus side, I really only felt this detachment from the writing in Franzen’s more personal essays, the ones where he talks about himself and his life and his opinions a lot. Most of the essays in this book fall into that category. But he also throws in a few journalistic pieces, about things like crappy Chicago mail delivery, the history of cigarettes and cigarette companies, and a high-security prison and the town that surrounds it. And those, I thought, were incredibly well-done, possibly because they required more focus than the personal essays and definitely because I have more interest in strange facts than strange opinions.

Now I’m curious to read some of Franzen’s fiction, which I hope to be more like these latter pieces. I suppose I should pick up Freedom anyway, what with all the hype about it, yes?

Recommendation: Again, I’m not really sure what sort of person would like all of Franzen’s essays, but I’m pretty certain that everyone can find at least one essay in here to like.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook, by Eleanor Davis

I love volunteering at the library. The other day I found myself roped into hanging out in the children’s section, shelving their series and “display” books, which usually means graphic novels. One of those latter books was this one, which I grabbed right off the cart and kept with me through all the rest of the sorting and shelving I did that day, just so no one else could take it from me!

And I am very glad I did. This is an excellent book! We have our hero, Julian Calendar (teehee), who is a Big Ol’ Nerd but sees a chance to reinvent himself when his family moves to a new school district. Of course, being a Big Ol’ Nerd is not a curable disease, and so Julian finds his new persona slipping away rather quickly. Luckily, there are some other kids in school who are equally as nerdy, and they group together to form a Secret Science Alliance (with an AWESOME secret hideout) with the goal of inventing things useful to 11-year-olds, like secret message pens and a flying machine. Unfortunately, these things are also useful to crotchety old inventors who are too lazy to do their own work…

I adored this story and the wonderfully crammed illustrations that go with it, and I’m pondering getting this for my 12-year-old brother who loves science-y things. There’s so much stuff to look at that it will definitely do well under incessant re-reading, which is always a good thing. 🙂

Recommendation: For Big Ol’ Nerds, especially those with ADD who will have lots of shiny things to look at.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Book Nut

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hmm. I almost don’t want to talk about why I didn’t quite like this novel, because it might cause the same problem to others who have never read it. But at the same time, if someone is in the same boat I was…

Okay, so. Somehow, going into this novel, all I really knew about it was that it was a dystopian novel with an underlying secret akin to that of The Unit, which I loved. So I was expecting The Unit. This was a problem.

There is that plot component, yes, but it is barely hinted at throughout the book until all of that tension culminates in an interesting but very exposition-y confrontation.

What the book is actually about is friendships and other relationships — how they can get ridiculous and necessary when they last a long time, how it is difficult to break into new circles, how friends become much nicer after the passage of many years apart. The main setting is a boarding school, which of course intensifies these relationships, and even more so in light of the twist dystopia.

But unfortunately for me, I thought the twist would be untwisted far earlier, and spent too much time waiting for that. And then when I finally gave up on that and started reading the story for what it was, that’s when the twist came in, all “surprising” and whatnot and it was a little too much.

I think this is a book I’ll have to read again in the future to better appreciate it.

Recommendation: For people who understand (or want to better understand) the intricacies of friendships, and don’t mind a little dystopia along with it.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Library Queue
Park Benches & Bookends
At Home With Books
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

So. The movie version of this series came out a while ago, and I was intrigued but not movie-going-money intrigued, but my brother was like “OMGSCOTTPILGRIM” and so I decided to get the first book and see what it was about. Of course, the queue for it at the library was forever long, so it took me like a month or two to get it, and by then I wasn’t really super-interested anymore, but then last week I realized it was due back at the library the day after I looked that information up, so I figured I’d read it.

And boy, am I glad it was short, both because I was able to finish it before it had to go back and because I didn’t really like it. Now my brother is going to complain at me.

But… really. There’s this kid… well, I say kid, but he’s 23 and I’m pretty much that old too, so whatever. This kid, Scott Pilgrim, and he’s dating some high-school chick, and he has a band, but then some girl starts entering his dreams, like LITERALLY, and then he meets her and he likes her but he has to fight her evil ex-boyfriends first but that’s okay because Scott’s the best fighter in Ontario which we find out when he’s fighting the first ex and also there’s some musical-style choreographed backup dancing fighting something….

That’s pretty much the entire story. Sorry for spoiling it for you? But I’m still very very baffled. I think this might actually be something I’d like more if I could watch it. Onto Netflix this movie goes!

Recommendation: Good for people who don’t need any of that fancy “logic” stuff interrupting their story. Also people who are rock-band-y nerds, I think.

Rating: 5/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Before we get into this review, I must make a slightly rambling confession about how terrible I am at challenges this year. I quit two earlier this year for lack of caring, promising myself I would instead focus on the challenges I wanted to do. But somehow this Orbis Terrarum one just completely fell off my radar. It was looking like I would fail, but then I discovered that there were a few foreign books that I hadn’t counted, them being from places like Canada and England, but even then I still needed one more. So I grabbed this book in audio form, intending to listen to it on the trip to Cleveland, but then I didn’t, and then all of a sudden it was practically the end of November (the ending date for the challenge) and I was like, “Noooo I’m going to faaaaail,” but then I found the book in print form at the library and I was like, “Yaaaaaay I’m not going to faaaaail,” and then I read this in a few hours because it’s rather short and finished the challenge with probably two hours to spare.

Ahem. What you should take away from that story is that I did not spend as much time with this book as one really ought to. It is strange and slightly difficult to follow at times, and while I think I understand some of what the book was trying to say, I am positive that I don’t have it all. I think this is one of those books that you need to read several times before you can stop only pretending to know what it’s about.

After reading number one, though, I can safely say that a major theme here is that everyone has something they need to do, and not terribly many people ever do that. The story follows along with a Spanish shepherd as he has a strange dream, finds out that the dream means he should go to the pyramids in Egypt and find a treasure, and then sets off to do that. He gets stopped several times along the way and thinks, “Ah, perhaps this thing that is not finding treasure is what I am really meant to do, I should just chill here for the rest of ever,” but always something pushes him on to his goal, and he eventually makes it to the pyramids and also learns how to become the wind, which is a pretty cool trick, I’d say.

This theme is interesting, because at first when the concept of a Personal Legend (this thing you need to do) came up, I was thinking it was along the lines of following your bliss or doing what you want to do rather than what others want you to. But that’s not it at all — there are many times when the shepherd knows exactly what he wants to do, but if it’s not finding that treasure then something happens or someone talks to him to change his mind. So that’s rather disappointing, because I’m sitting here not even knowing what I want to do, let alone knowing what strange path has been carved out for me that I ought to go seek out to find true happiness and fulfillment. Scratch disappointing, that’s downright depressing!

But another interesting thing that Coelho touches on is that people get even more depressed if they figure out what it is that they ought to be doing but for whatever reason, actual or mental, are unable to do it. So I suppose I could be feeling worse right now!

This is definitely a book that I will read again sometime, and probably will tell other people to read so that they can talk about it with me.

Recommendation: For those with some time for deep thought and at least a passing interest in philosophy.

Rating: 8/10
(Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.