Tag Archives: literary fiction

Review of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by, Michele Young-Stone

I was short a Y-author for my yearly alphabet challenge (where I read a book by an author with a last name starting with every letter of the alphabet). So, I borrowed The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors (by Michele Young-Stone) from the library.

Description from Goodreads:

BECCA

On a sunny day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, eight-year-old Becca Burke was struck by lightning. No one believed her—not her philandering father or her drunk, love-sick mother—not even when her watch kept losing time and a spooky halo of light appeared overhead in photographs. Becca was struck again when she was sixteen. She survived, but over time she would learn that outsmarting lightning was the least of her concerns.

BUCKLEY

In rural Arkansas, Buckley R. Pitank’s world seemed plagued by disaster. Ashamed but protective of his obese mother, fearful of his scathing grandmother, and always running from bullies (including his pseudo-evangelical stepfather), he needed a miracle to set him free. At thirteen years old, Buckley witnessed a lightning strike that would change everything.

Now an art student in New York City, Becca Burke is a gifted but tortured painter who strives to recapture the intensity of her lightning-strike memories on canvas. On the night of her first gallery opening, a stranger appears and is captivated by her art. Who is this odd young man with whom she shares a mysterious connection? When Buckley and Becca finally meet, neither is prepared for the charge of emotions—or for the perilous event that will bring them even closer to one another and to the families they’ve been running from for as long as they can remember.

Review:

I really loved the ending of this book, which tends to make me forget that I didn’t actually love the rest of it. I liked the characters and the mechanical writing is fine, but I hate all the jumping around in time. I couldn’t temporally keep up, never knew anyone’s approximate age at any one point (and this book starts in childhood), and never knew how those ages related to one another.

Further, the main characters don’t meet until like 80% into the book and then immediately separate until the end. (It’s not a romance, by the way, I’d expected it to be.) And until the end, everyone is miserable.

All in all, I didn’t hate it and I can recognize it’s well written. But it wasn’t a huge winner for me (other than the ending). I did think the narrator did a good job though.

Review of Love on a Train, by Colleen L. Donnelly

I received an Audible code for a copy of Colleen L. Donnelly‘s Love on a Train.

Description from Goodreads:

The moment Martha noticed Raymond on the train, everything her mother warned against erupted – romantic notions, palpitating heart, the desire to write it all in a novel and tell the world. 
Martha lived and wrote that love story until the day Raymond handed her a sketch. “Want to see a picture of the girl I plan to marry?” The penciled profile resembled Martha… But when Raymond went away, she knew. She wasn’t the girl he planned to marry. 
David was her father’s apprentice, everything Martha’s mother said made a good husband – hardworking, no romantic tendencies, no tolerance for writing about it. 
Martha added a fictional happy ending to her and Raymond’s story and published it. Cleansed herself of romantic love, ready to marry David. Until a copy of her book appeared. Full of sketches, Raymond’s version of their love story, drawings that enticed her heart to beat once again. 

Review:

My rating (which was a 2 star) is based on my enjoyment—or general lack there of—and the fact that I had to force myself to finish the book. The writing is solid and I’ll even concede that the book within a book mechanism was clever (though occasionally repetitive). And the narrator (Amy Deuchler) did a good job with the audio version. However, I didn’t enjoy the book.

I understand that it was supposed to be set just after the end of the world war and women of that time period had different responsibilities and restrictions. But my god, Martha was a fucking doormat. She didn’t stand up to her mother when they pushed her into an engagement she obviously didn’t want. She didn’t push pack when her fiancé (and mother) expected her to give up all of herself to be a wife. She somehow fell in love and thought to marry a man she met on the train, but apparently didn’t actually know that well. She just went along with everything, internally hand wringing the whole time. And despite being obviously smart, she had NO AMBITION beyond getting married.

Then there was the fact that said man was already engaged to another and just disappeared for months without a word. But as soon as he shows up everything was forgiven and it’s supposed to be a happy ending. Ummmm, no.

And Donnelly should seriously be fined for making the reading of a novel take weeks, dragging the plot out interminably and then, after hundreds of pages of ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ marry him, having the decision and event (arguably the most interesting thing to happen in the book) happen off page, such that the reader is denied it.

I imagine this is just a case of wrong reader for the book. There will no doubt be some that enjoy this. But I did not. I was almost insulted by it.

Review of Saman, by Ayu Utami

Saman, by Aya Utami is one of those paperbacks that has been on my shelf so long that I no longer remember how it got there. I’m imagine I bought it at some point, perhaps someone left it in the Little Free Library, I don’t know.

Description from Goodreads:

Saman is a story filtered through the lives of its feisty female protagonists and the enigmatic “hero” Saman. It is at once an expose of the oppression of plantation workers in South Sumatra, a lyrical quest to understand the place of religion and spirituality in contemporary lives, a playful exploration of female sexuality and a story about love in all its guises, while touching on all of Indonesia’s taboos: extramarital sex, political repression and the relationship between Christians and Muslims. 

Review:

I think maybe a lot of this just went over my head. I loved Saman as a character and I liked the others well enough. I recognized the thread that held them all together as a cast. I appreciate that the book pushed boundaries when published in Indonesia, touching on the cruelty and oppression in famers’ lives, repressive sexual attitudes, religion, transmigration and politics, etc. But in the actual reading of it, I thought the whole thing felt disjointed. At one point (about halfway through) I actually turned the book over to reread the synopsis to ensure it wasn’t actually a series of interconnected short stories. And the little twist at the end (especially the last two emails) came so out of left field that I was left baffled. For all that, there is some beautiful writing here and Saman is a character you can’t help but root for.