Open Season by C J Box — New Review

Cover: penguinrandomhouse.com

As well as recording what I read, this blog challenges me to read ‘a little bit of everything’, and I still have a checklist of genres I have yet to review. Some of those — including ‘western’ — are genres that I’ve never read. So, I thought I’d ease my way in with a book that combines the unfamiliar with something I know well: a detective story. Open Season is a western/crime novel, and it’s won a bunch of awards, so I was excited to get going!

Open Season certainly delivered on being both a western and a crime novel. Within about a page, Joe Pickett had adjusted his cowboy hat, shaken the dust off his denim Wranglers and unholstered his Smith & Wesson.

There was plenty of drama, too! Not only in the opening chapter, which was action-packed, but throughout the novel. The ‘black hat’ is genuinely frightening — one of the more aggressive murderers I can remember encountering.

Joe concluded that he knew no more about Clyde Lidgard than when he entered the trailer, but because of the penis photos, he now knew more about Clyde Lidgard than he cared to.

Open Season, C J Box

I have to admit, at this point, that I don’t often read detective stories. I’m much more used to listening to them in an audio format, and maybe I notice issues with the writing style less in that medium. I definitely found some of the sentences in Open Season to be almost unbearably clunky. As an editor, I wanted to take my red pen to places where a lack of contractions made dialogue sound unnatural, or paragraphs where the same word was repeated over and over.

To the west, snaking along a four-wheel-drive road, was a single white vehicle. The occupants of the vehicle were below the rim of the plateau where they could not be seen by the herd. From the movements of the antelope, Joe could tell they had not yet noticed the white vehicle.

Open Season, C J Box

Of course, just because I didn’t get on with the writing doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. And, realistically, the prose isn’t the most important part of Open Season. The thrilling climax, which contrasts Joe’s narrative with that of his daughter is far more likely to leave an impression.

I don’t think I’ll write off C J Box completely. I might try another of his novels in book form, and if that doesn’t work, then I’ll give it a whirl on audiobook.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott — Additional Annotations

I think Little Women is the first annotated book I’ve read, and I didn’t quite know what to expect going in. I was hoping that the annotations would give me some context for the time period and country that the book was set in. Not living in America, my knowledge of the American Civil War is hazy, at best. (And mostly comes from pop culture, since it’s not a topic any of my many schools elected to cover.)

However, colonial America, especially New England with its Puritan heritage, associated billiards with taverns where men gambled, smoked and drank alcohol. When John Quincy Adams placed a pool table in the White House in 182, many people questioned his moral character. Michael Phelan (1817-1871), often called the father of American billiards, helped change the popular attitude toward the game when he opened an elegant pool hall in New York in 1850.

Annotated Little Women, ed. Daniel Shealy

Daniel Shealy’s annotations didn’t quite give me that. In fact, judging by the annotation explaining what cricket was, I think this was annotated for American audiences. Many of the annotations were about how much of Little Women corresponds to Louisa May Alcott’s actual life. (More than I thought!) Those were mildly interesting.

My brave old mother, with the ardor of many unquenchable Mays shining in her face, cried out: “Tell [Lucy Stone] I am seventy-three, but I mean to go to the polls before I die, even if my three daughters have to carry me.

Letter, Louisa May Alcott

The annotations explaining where various places in Europe were, however, I could have done without. Especially in the latter part of the book, when Amy is living in Europe, these were so thickly-scattered through the paragraphs that it became hard to read.

So a bit of a mixed bag. I probably didn’t get enough out of the annotations to make it worth the extra price and shelf-space this edition takes up. But I would still be interested to try other annotated books in future! Perhaps when they are less based on one person’s real life, they’ll annotate more about cultural context.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott — Firm Favourite

Cover: amazon.com

Since I’m working from home every day, I decided to make the most of it by reading one of my hardback books — one of the ones too big to carry around in my handbag! My parents gave me this annotated Little Women for my birthday two years ago, and I’d never managed to get around to reading it! And since I saw the new film earlier this year, I’ve been craving a return to the March family.

Little Women didn’t disappoint! I’ll do a post about the annotations next week, so this review is exclusively about the novel in it’s original form. I think my first introduction to Little Women was an old picture book I had as a very young girl. And then I had a book-on-tape which, while abridged, was extremely accurate in its dialogue. Reading Little Women again now, I can still hear the voices of that book-on-tape which I must have listened to dozens of times!

“That’s my good girl; you do try to fight off your shyness, and I love you for it; fighting faults isn’t easy, as I know; and a cheery word kind of gives a lift. Thank you, mother,” and Jo gave the thin cheek a grateful kiss more precious to Mrs March than if it had given her back the rosy roundness of her youth.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Though I’m sure, at times, I have said that Amy is my least favourite of the characters, I actually love all of them. They’re all imperfect, they all grow up through the course of the story, but even at the end, none of them are perfect. Little Women is basically all character development, and I love it for that.

The feeble fingers were never idle, and one of her pleasures was to make little things for the school children daily passing to and fro. To drop a pair of mittens from her window for a pair of purple hands, a needle-book for some small mother of many dolls, pen-wipers for young penmen toiling through forests of pot-hooks, scrapbooks for picture-loving eyes, and all manner of pleasant devices, till the reluctant climbers up the ladder of learning found their way strewn with flowers, as it were, and came to regard the gentle giver as a sort of fairy god-mother, who sat above there, and showered down gifts miraculously suited to their tastes and needs.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Perhaps because I’m older now, or just because it’s less familiar territory, I actually found myself responding much more emotionally to the second half of Little Women. (The half that would be published as Good Wives in the UK.) I cried my way through 70 per cent of Beth’s scenes. The above is a passage I didn’t even remember being included, but it’s so exactly the kind of person that I want to be.

When I was little, I most identified with Beth, because I was shy, too. As a young adult, Nickie convinced me that I was Jo (because I like to write), she was Meg (because she likes to keep house) and Giles was Amy (because he likes to flirt). And no one was Beth, because it’s too sad. But reading it, I don’t know that I necessarily am like Jo. My burdens to bear are not that I get angry too easily, or forgive too late. I don’t have ambition or any sense that genius is burning. I resonated far more with Beth, who worried that her unambitious, uneventful life wasn’t of any use to anyone.

I wonder, when I next revisit this old favourite, where I will be and what will strike a chord with me.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Little Men.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert — New Review

Cover: goodreads.com

The Hazel Wood is one of those books that has been sitting on my ereader (nicknamed ‘Wendy’) for so long that I don’t remember where I heard about it. On reading it, I instantly assumed that Rebecca must have recommended it, because it sounds exactly like her kind of thing, but apparently not! I picked this to read on my recent flight back from Portugal, and the conditions meant I didn’t take many notes, so this may be a shorter-than-average review.

I don’t usually go in for books that are creepy. I’ve never been a big fan of horror. But I can appreciate that The Hazel Wood was definitely doing things right in that regard. The mystery of ‘Tales from the Hinterland’ drew me right through the opening chapters, and the sudden onslaught of an intruder definitely took me by surprise.

I’ve read a lot of books that borrow from fairy tales, but not many of them actually make up their own stories to borrow from! At least, as far as I know the stories of Alice Three-Times and Twice-Killed Katherine are unique to The Hazel Wood. They both succeed at having that fairy tale feeling while also adding something unusual.

Even once I got off the plane, I wanted to finish The Hazel Wood. Sadly, I don’t think the ending quite lived up to the promise of the beginning. It wasn’t bad, just not particularly memorable.

All in all, an enjoyable jaunt into something outside my usual reading habits. I wish I could remember where I’d picked up this recommendation from!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri — New Review, Bookclub Edition

Cover: amazon.co.uk

For books that are all classed as fantasy, my book club has introduced me to some very different types of books. Empire of Sand, though it did have a fantasy plot of saving the world from evil magic, was a lot more of a romance than I’d expected. I was eager to see what the different personalities in attendance would make of it. Sadly, I’ll have to wait until these social-distancing measures have been relaxed.

Until then, I only have my own feelings to go on. Empire of Sand certainly packed an emotional punch! I read it over the course of a week, and made very few notes as I went along, so this review is somewhat flying blind. I loved the relationship between Mehr and Amun, especially as they slowly came to trust one another. Right away, I was emotionally invested in them as individuals, and also as a couple.

“No one is killing her,” Laita said sharply.
“That’s good to hear,” Mehr said faintly, but no one was listening to her.

Empire of Sand, Tasha Suri

The threat they faced was brilliantly menacing. There was at least one moment where I recoiled in horror from what I thought they were going to have to do. And later, I was on board for the sequel even before I’d finished the main plot.

In some ways, Empire of Sand reminded me of Finnikin of the Rock, in that they both paint some really dark and raw emotions. Mehr’s story is, perhaps, slightly less harrowing. The world and the magic are much more interesting and original in Empire of Sand. I loved that it was based on a non-European culture, you don’t see enough of that in fantasy.

Overall, this is definitely worth reading. Especially if you enjoy an exploration of romantic and emotional relationships alongside your usual fantasy storyline.

Rating: 3 out of 5.