Monday, April 7, 2014

Terms & Conditions by Robert Glancy

Terms & Conditions 
Robert Glancy
3/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

Terms and Conditions is the story of Frank, a lawyer who specializes in the fine print terms and conditions of contracts, as he recovers from an accident-induced case of amnesia.

The arrangement style of the novel is clever: it is divided into small chapters (from as short as one page, up to a few pages long) titled "Terms and Conditions of ____" with the blank being filled in with the topic of that chapter, followed by a by-line. The chapters often have footnotes, some of which have their own footnotes, adding to the feel of a document with small print. I enjoyed this aspect of the novel immensely.

It is written in the first person point of view, with Frank as the not-always-reliable narrator. The reader discovers bits and pieces of his past at the same time as Frank does, with the other characters shifting likable to unlikable as Frank remembers more.

The plot itself is not particularly complex, and I was easily able to "figure out" what would happen in advance. The denouement tied up everything into a too-perfect ending, which I found unsuited to the story itself.

Frank, as a narrator, was amusing and sad, yet I could not feel empathetic toward him, possibly because he did not appear to have the depth needed for a character undergoing such circumstances. The other characters (major and minor) were also not fully developed, and at times the motives and motivations were not convincing.

Despite this, despite not being fully interested in the plot or the characters, I found myself compelled to finish. Glancy's prose was smooth and the unusual style worked well. I will be most interested to see his next work, to see if he can develop plot and characters to the level of his style and prose.

Note: This is my opinion; on Amazon, 47% of the reviews were 5 stars.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Quick: A Novel by Lauren Owen

The Quick: A Novel
Lauren Owen
3/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

The Quick is an ambitious novel of Gothic and preternatural styles that takes place in Victorian London. It follows the traumatic adventures of James (the rather stereotypical shy poet just down from Oxford trying to find life and excitement in London) and his sister Charlotte (another somewhat stereotypical character from Victorian literature, being the sheltered damsel who bravely takes on the world to help her brother) as they discover a shocking, sinister, secret society.

I think that Ms. Owen did herself a disservice by not hinting enough during Part One of the events that were to come. I had understood this novel to be of the alternate history and preternatural genres, and therefore had to push myself to continue to read the rather generic love story until the first clue surfaced during Part One, thinking perhaps I had been misinformed.

On the other hand, I do feel that the publisher's attempt to keep the topic "secret" by not being upfront about the paranormal topic of The Quick will be a source of frustration to most readers. Called "suspense", with alluded mystery, it will not draw the appropriate audience. Called what it is--a vampire novel--the right readers will flock to it and be able to give it balanced reviews.

Ms. Owen's great strength is her ability to write in different voices, points of view and styles. I particularly enjoyed her use of journals and letters. I will confess, however, that due to the amount of characters telling this story, I did find myself overwhelmed by frequent changes of narration style and voice. Instead of being an asset, the varied points of view/style began to create interruptions, cause a jumpy narrative, and keep the novel from flowing smoothly.

I was also overwhelmed by the detail and amount of the plot. The Quick contains an extremely interesting story, but I found myself bogged down again and again by the vast amount of information I needed to retain to keep up with the action. This amount of detail often led to a slow, laboriously paced story.

I was also, sadly, unable to feel a connection to any of the important characters. None were strong enough to be the "hero" of the novel, and some were not convincing in action or motive.

The Quick is certainly an ambitious novel, showing that Ms. Owen is talented as a writer and has a highly gifted imagination. Her prose is generally polished and often elegant. She also did a wonderful job evoking the atmosphere with historically accurate details.

As this is a genre for which I have a particular fondness, I expected to be enraptured over The Quick and am disappointed to have to give it only three stars.

Note: This is my opinion; on Amazon, 24% of the reviews were 5 stars.

The Confabulist: A Novel by Steven Galloway

The Confabulist
Steven Galloway
2/5 stars

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

According to the blurb, The Confabulist is a "narrative that weaves together the rise and fall of world-famous Harry Houdini with the surprising story of Martin Strauss", whose fate was tied with that of Houdini's. Given that, I expected to read a fictionalized account of Houdini, "woven together" with that of Strauss. What I got instead was a few chapters about Martin and his mystery (that was easily solved long before the end of the book), a small part where the two lives do come together, and the rest of the book being a fictionalized and alternative account of Houdini's life (sadly written in rather dull prose).

Martin's life and story were interesting, the only reason I continued to read, and so I was disappointed that the focus was not actually on him. I am, honestly, not quite certain as to why Martin was even introduced as part of this novel--so little did he feature. Given his obvious interest in Houdini and apparent disinterest in Martin, Galloway would have done better to have simply written the life of Houdini (hopefully with more verve and liveliness) and left out Martin's "mystery" entirely.

Note: This is my opinion; on Amazon, 47% of the reviews were 4 stars.