I’m not sure when exactly something can be considered the home stretch, but I think we’re getting there with our move. We have a closing date on our Ann Arbor house and we’ll be moving east at the end of October. However, there is still so much to be done that I’m not able to commit to this blog the way I want to. Bear with me, by November I should be back on track.
September was a big month with lots of new releases. I’ve had mixed results so far, but my reading brain right now is struggling. For this reason, I’m calling these books September misses, but you may disagree.
A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #15) by Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books
Publication date: August 27, 2019
There are times when a favorite author’s book doesn’t work and it makes me furious (you know who you are), but then there are times when it is an author I love so much I’m crushed, not infuriated, by the situation. In this case, it’s even my number one pick for fall reading which makes it feel even worse. I’m talking about Louise Penny’s new novel, A Better Man. I wanted to love this novel! I was frantic to know what happened to Gamache and Beauvoir, but while I got answers they came wrapped in a plot and writing that didn’t hold my interest the way Penny usually does.
One of the aspects hardest to bear is the feeling that characters are moving past charming quirks and familiarity to becoming caricatures. There was no growth or change in any of the Three Pines citizens I’ve come to love. In fact, everything about the novel felt stale and rushed. Gamache is still being vilified and beset by the establishment that hates him and wants to bring him down. It was also unnerving to read over-embellished sentences from the normally restrained Penny. So much weeping, gasping, wringing of hands. This is painful to write because she is at the top of my go-to author list, but I feel as if the pressure to write a book a year is too much. I’d gladly wait two years to read the Louise Penny I love.
The Starlet and the Spy by Ji-min Lee, Chi Young Kim
Published by Harper Paperbacks
Publication date: September 10, 2019
I’ll start this quick review with a caveat: If you’re drawn to The Starlet and the Spy because it has Marilyn Monroe on the cover and the synopsis talks about a South Korean woman’s relationship with Marilyn, then don’t read this novel. It’s not about Marilyn Monroe. The connection between Marilyn and Alice is tenuous at best. They meet when Marilyn goes to Korea after the war—hence the iconic photo on the book’s cover—and Alice is the government interpreter. Beyond that this is one young woman’s story life in the aftermath of the Korean war. It does well in capturing the turmoil and deprivation caused by the war, but falters beyond that.
Educated and wealthy Alice works first for the Communist party and then as a spy. Now, the war is over and she is a refugee shunned by most people. At times, the writing is poignant and beautifully expressed, but the story is convoluted, past and present get muddled, and the end result is a disjointed narrative that falls short.
Polite Society by Mahesh Rao
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: August 20, 2019
Ania is very very rich and very very bored. Her father is hypochondriacal, the only man she trusts is older and cranky, and her best friend is a sweet girl with no money and in love with a completely unsuitable man. Ania is invited to all the best parties and adored by many, but she herself has no interest in marrying. Sound familiar? If you’re thinking Jane Austen’s Emma, then you’re right. Only think modern-day India and the kind of money that’s hard to fathom and that would be Mahesh Rao’s debut novel, Polite Society.
Austen is one of the most often commonly updated and re-imagined authors out there. For this reason, I give author Mahesh Rao credit for expanding Emma’s frothy all-ends-well story into territory that is not so neatly resolved. He echoes many of the themes from the original, but updates them in a way specific to the explosion of wealth in Southeast Asia and the ever-widening economic and social gap it created. It kept Polite Society and its resolution fresh, but I have may set my sights too high because Kevin Kwan blurbed the book and he wrote the outrageous and addictive Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. This didn’t live up to that standard, but wasn’t was September miss. Light, fast fun.
The Other's Gold by Elizabeth Ames
Published by Viking
Publication date: August 27, 2019
I’ve always been a sucker for novels about female friendships, but sadly, I did not enjoy The Other’s Gold, the story of four friends who meet in college. Each of the girls has a defining moment in her life and the novel is divided into the four parts when that event happened. Interesting premise, but I was completely put off by the author’s writing style. There’s a lot of explanation of the girls’ emotions which, when mixed with numerous mixed-tense, run-on sentences aggravated me and killed whatever flow there could have been. The setting is modern day, but these girls’ responses to life events is overwrought bordering on histrionic. I kept thinking the novel was set in the 1950s.
So, the novel didn’t work for me at all, but two of my favorite bloggers loved it. I’ll concede this one could be me, not the book. Please check out their reviews if you’re interested. Susie at Novel Visits and Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves.
How is your September reading going so far? Any books you were looking forward to that didn’t pan out?