Sunday, February 21, 2016

February Hibernation Reads: The Good Liar (Searle) and Green Island (Ryan)

I've been busy squirreling away with blankets and books as we march through February (ha! little pun in there, well sort of).  While I must admit we've gotten off easy with this winter thus far, I still find February a dreary time when it feels like the sun and the warmth have been gone forever and are far from returning.  Still, I know each day is growing longer, and there's the added benefit of it being cozy reading weather.

Without further ado, a few reviews (prioritizing my Advance Reader's reads, taking my time with a couple re-reads and random "new-to-me"s):

This piece of historical, place- and culture-oriented fiction opens as a woman goes into labor with our unnamed narrator.  She is born amid a clash between Taiwanese people and their government which has been passed from Japan to China with little regard for the thoughts of the people themselves.  She is delivered by her father who, after making a simple comment at a community meeting, is dragged off as a political prisoner.  The book tells us about the father's experience as a prisoner for over a decade and the daughter's experience growing up as the youngest of four trying to understand her place in her family and culture.  After over a decade, the father is released and the family tries to navigate the gulf created by the experience.  In time, the narrator marries and moves to the U.S., but the political climate of her homeland remains a major force in her adulthood impacting her marriage (her husband is involved in Taiwan's political struggle as well) and her relationship with her native country.

Before moving on to a more general review, an admission of my own limits and how it impacted my reading experience -- I never excelled at history class (I blame the fact that memory is not my strong suit...), but I'm fairly certain I never learned much about Taiwan or its struggle to be heard.  One of the most interesting parts of this read was the chance to remedy that, at least a small amount.  However, my limited knowledge also proved a hurdle at some points (to the similarly clueless, "Republic of China" and "China" are not synonymous, which the narrator eventually tells her American-born daughter in a latter chapter).  It seems unfair to "blame" the book for my own knowledge gaps, but it did make it a bit challenging to follow the political side of the story.

Trying to put that aside and moving on....  I'd give this 3.5 stars, a pretty mediocre, decent-but-not-great rating from me.  At times, I was fascinated by both the history and the fiction.  There is some beautiful language here and the author paints some vivid pictures of places and times.  Likewise, parts of the narrator's story (and her father's too) were engrossing and captured me.  However, it got far too long for me.  It is apparently took fourteen years to write and at times felt like it had fourteen years worth of ideas in it.  I got tired, even winded with the effort, which was at times emotionally appropriate but became a more general readiness to be finished.  I didn't care for some of the latter story points and had much more difficulty feeling the narrator's adult relationships than her childhood ties (despite both periods being complex).

This certainly isn't an easy read by any means, including emotionally.  There are many difficult scenes including some involving torture.  I think it is best suited to true lovers of historical fiction and narratives of place.  I'm a character-focused reader (although I do enjoy well-painted places) and I did find some interesting players here, but I'd have preferred a much abbreviated version.  This review is based on an Advance Readers Copy provided by the publisher.

Everyone has secrets -- a truth that forms the backbone of TGL.  Roy is an aging conman out to conduct his final swindle, targeting a woman in her senior years and eventually setting his sights on Betty.  As he moves in to her life, the reader slowly becomes privy to the fact that Betty has her own secrets and her own motives.  While the modern-day tale progresses, we also watch Roy's story in reverse and learn his truths.  The stories eventually coalesce, something the reader certainly expects but in a way I didn't predict.

I only read thriller/intrigue books on occasion, often as a bit of a respite between weightier tales.  I'm not going to reveal where this one goes, but I'll say that it ironically became more like my traditional fare towards the end.  I must admit not seeing the ending coming at all which is a good thing.  Usually.  This ending just felt like it didn't fit.  Still, the characters intrigued me and I felt compelled to continue reading which isn't always a given for me in more mass-market (read: less "literary") books.  

Three stars, maybe 3.5 if the sites would permit it.  A clever tale and a decent representative of the genre.  Fits my "airplane fare" category....enough to keep you interested but easy enough to put away when it's time to deplane.  This review is based on an Advance Readers Copy provided by the publisher.