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Book Review: Lana’i of the Tiger by JoAnn Bassett (Series, #3)

Orane and yellow hues depict the lagoon of an island.Summary:
Maui wedding planner, Pali Moon, wound up as a key witness against a drug ring, and now she’s been whisked into witness protection, sent to the small boring island of Lana’i, and right at the holidays no less!  The feds seem to be taking their sweet time getting the case to court, and Pali is bored out of her mind, used to the hustle and bustle of wedding planning.  When a small local bed and breakfast advertises looking for temporary help while they go to the main island to have their baby, it seems like the ideal situation.  But when a famous guest’s fiancee turns up dead, Pali finds herself right in the thick of things again.

Review:
I picked this mystery up when I saw it on sale (for free) in the kindle store, in spite of it being midseries.  The punny title made me think it was probably a cozy, and I know those series are totally fine to read out of order.  I was right in that I never felt lost in the story due to starting mid-series, but I wasn’t right about it being a cozy.  Pun-filled title aside, this is an easy-going mystery, ideal for a beach read, but missing the appendixes of add-ons such as recipes or patterns found in cozy mysteries

Pali is a three-dimensional character who jumps off the page, and the supporting characters, while not necessarily three-dimensional, each have enough different quirks and personalities that they are memorable.  That said, Pali may be three-dimensional but she’s sure not likable.  One example, she kisses someone on Lana’i, and then later finds out that her boyfriend may be cheating on her and flips out.  But wasn’t she just cheating by kissing someone else?  The hypocrisy left a really sour taste in my mouth for Pali.  Characters don’t have to be likable, but in light-hearted mysteries where we’re supposed to be rooting for the non-professional PI, it really helps for them to be.

The mystery was fairly good.  I certainly didn’t figure it out until right before the reveal, and the ultimate solution made sense.  This is all I really look for in a mystery.

The setting was probably the best part.  Bassett evokes (what I can only imagine is) the real feel of Hawaii.  Each island visited has its own feel, Hawaiian culture is solidly represented with things like islanders calling all the elderly women “aunty” and locals being able to talk their way onto a ferry for free.  What kept me reading the book was my desire to spend time in Hawaii, combined with a mystery I was interested in the solution to.

Overall, the rich Hawaiian setting and actually mysterious mystery make this a fun beach read.  The main character is three-dimensional but could rub some readers the wrong way.  Those looking for a traditional cozy should be forewarned that this book doesn’t come with any traditional cozy extras.  Recommended to those looking for a light mystery set in Hawaii.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Maui Widow Waltz, review (published 5/3/15)
Livin’ Lahaina Loca, review (published 5/7/15)

 

Book Review: Stinger Stars by Paul Bussard

July 19, 2014 4 comments

Image of what appears to be a golden bird with a glowy bit in it.Summary:
Maria is working on her thesis at a genetics research lab specializing in looking for ways to get human limbs to regenerate.  When the owner’s son brings back a new species from Peru, a tiny worm-like creature with pyramidal tentacles, she discovers that the larger clones made from them are intelligent.  But the owner’s son wants to conduct brutal experiments on them, involving cutting off their appendages, which grow back.  Can Maria strike the balance between life-changing science for humans suffering from disabled or missing limbs and respecting the lives of an intelligent species?

Review:
Near-future books that question where to draw the line in research are a particular favorite of mine.  It’s a gray area in many people’s minds, and scifi lets us explore the myriad possibilities and options at a bit of a distance, which allows for clearer thought.  This book does an admirable job setting up a realistic near-future world to explore this issue, although the characters don’t quite live up to the world-building and story.

The near-future world of genetics research is established both clearly and with subtlety early on in the book.  There are two competing genetics research organizations, and rather than looking into something monstrous or far-flung, they are looking into regenerating limbs.  It’s a logical next-step for a near-future book.  The research labs themselves, as well as how they are run, including the field-work, have a real-world, logical feel to them.

At first I was concerned from the book’s official description that the creatures discovered would be aliens, since alien experimentation would be less of a gray area to explore.  They are not, in fact, aliens, they are a newly discovered species originating on Earth.  The mystery is whether they were always sentient or if something in the modification and cloning process made them sentient.  This makes the conflict of how to use the creatures to help humans without harming them better, because exactly what they are is a bit unclear.  It’s not as simple as if they were simply aliens or some sort of cute, fuzzy creature.  They’re these slightly creepy worm-like things with tentacles, and the conflict is do we still respect these kind of ugly, cloned creatures for their intelligence, or do they need to look cuter or more humanoid to gain that respect?

The plot is complex and keeps the reader guessing.  Even though I was fairly certain things would ultimately end up ok, I wasn’t sure how they were going to get there.  This made it an engaging and quick read.

Unfortunately, the characters are rather weak and two-dimensional.  I never was able to truly connect to any of the characters.  If anything, I connected to the creatures a bit more than the main characters.  There are also a few instances that feel out of character for the small amount of characterization done.  For instance, Maria thinks she can’t date because her family wants her to have an arranged marriage to keep the family Spanish.  This type of arranged marriage situation could definitely happen, but I had a hard time believing that a woman so strong in the sciences, with so much agency for her career and for her grandmother’s well-being would actually even think about not seeing someone she cares for in order to have an arranged marriage.  It felt out of character and simply forced upon her to add conflict.  Similarly, there is an incident that at first is considered a rape and then later brushed off as not a rape.  Without giving anything away, I agree it wasn’t a rape, but I also don’t think the character who at first mistook it for a rape would have made that error in judgment.  It was out of character for their level of intelligence.  This again felt forced to provide extra conflict that wasn’t needed.  The main plot had plenty of interest and conflict to keep the book going without these out-of-character moments.  I also felt the accent written for one of the characters was badly done and distracting.  This character is a scientist with an advanced degree, yet he speaks in an informal, unrealistic accent that primarily consists of him dropping g’s and using a lot of contractions.

In spite of these characterization short-comings, the book still tells a unique near-future genetics research story with a quick-moving, engaging plot.  Recommended to those looking for a scifi-style beach read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Blue cover with four diplomas on it.  The cover contains the title and author's name in purple.Summary:
Celia, Bree, Sally, and April wound up on the same small hall their first year at Smith College.  Celia is from a traditional Irish Catholic Massachusetts family, although she doesn’t consider herself to be Catholic.  Bree arrives at college from the south with an engagement ring on her hand.  Sally arrives full of mourning and despair over the recent loss of her mother to breast cancer, and April arrives as the only work-study student on their floor.  Paying her own way through school and with a whole slew of issues and causes to fight for.  Their friendship is traced from the first weeks at Smith through their late 20s.

Review:
I picked this book up because it was compared favorably to Mary McCarthy’s The Group (review), calling it a modern version of that story telling the tale of a group of friends from a women’s college.  It certainly revisits the concept, however, The Group was actually more progressive both in its writing and presentation of the issues.  Commencement is a fun piece of chick lit but it misses the mark in offering any real insight or commentary on the world through the eyes of four women.

What the book does well is evoking the feeling of both being in undergrad and the years immediately after graduation.  Sullivan tells the story non-linearly, having the women getting back together for a wedding a few years after college.  This lets them reminisce to early years of college and also present current life situations and hopes for the future.  After the wedding, the story moves forward to cover the next year.  The plot structure was good and kept the story moving at a good pace.  It feels homey and familiar to read a book about four women going through the early stages of adulthood.  It was hard to put down, and the storytelling and dialogue, particularly for the first half of the book, read like a fun beach read.  However, there are a few issues that prevent the book from being the intelligent women’s literature it set out to be.

First, given that the premise of the book is that four very different women become unlikely friends thanks to being on the same hall of a progressive women’s college, the group of women isn’t actually that diverse.  They are all white, three of the four are from wealthy or upper-middle-class backgrounds (only one must take out loans and work to pay for school), none are differently abled (no physical disabilities or mental illnesses), and not a single one is a happy GLBTQ person.  Given that The Group (published in 1963) managed to have an out (eventually) lesbian, a happy plus-sized woman, and a socialist, one would expect a drastic increase in diversity in a book considered to be an update on a similar idea.  Women’s colleges in the 1930s when The Group is set were extremely white and abled, but the same cannot be said for them now.  Creating a group of women so similar to each other that at least two of them periodically blur together when reading the book is a let-down to the modern reader.

The book has a real GLBTQ problem.  One of the characters has two relationships.  One is with a man and one with a woman.  She is happy in both and attracted to both.  She takes issue with being called a lesbian, since she states she definitely fantasizes about men and enjoys thinking about them as well.  Yet, in spite of the character clearly having both physical and romantic attractions to both men and women, the word bisexual is not used once in the entire book.  The character herself never ventures to think she might be bi, and no one else suggests it to her.  She struggles with “being a lesbian” and “being out as a lesbian” because she doesn’t think she is a lesbian.  The other characters either say she’s in denial in the closet due to homophobia or that she really is straight and she needs to leave her girlfriend.  It is clear reading the book that the character struggles with having the label of lesbian forced upon her when she is clearly actually bisexual.  This is why she is uncomfortable with the label.  But this huge GLBTQ issue is never properly addressed, swept under the rug under the idea that she’s “really a lesbian” and is just suffering from internalized homophobia.  The bi erasure in this book is huge and feels purposeful since the character’s bisexual feelings are routinely discussed but the option of being non-monosexual never is.  It’s disappointing in a book that is supposed to be progressive and talking about modern young women’s issues to have the opportunity to discuss the issues of being bisexual and instead have the character’s bisexuality erased.

The second half of the book makes some really odd plot choices, showing a highly abusive relationship between one of the characters and her boss.  It probably is meant to show the clash between second and third wave feminism, but it feels awkward and a bit unrealistic.  Similarly, the book ends abruptly, leaving the reader hanging and wondering what is going to happen to these characters and their friendship.  Abrupt endings are good when they are appropriate to the book and mean something, but this ending feels out of place in the book, jarring, and like a disservice to the reader.

Overall, this is a fast-paced book that is a quick, candy-like read.  However, it is held back by having the group of women in the core friendship be too similar.  Opportunities to explore diverse, interesting characters are missed and bisexual erasure is a steady presence in the book.  The ending’s abruptness and lack of closure may disappoint some readers.  Recommended to those looking for a quick beach read who won’t mind a lack of depth or abrupt ending.  For those looking for the stronger, original story of a group of friends from a women’s college, pick up The Group instead.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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