Sunday, December 17, 2017

Teen Angst, A Missing Child, A Motley Crew at Work...Three Books I Won't Even Try to Connect: Mirror, Mirror (Delevigne), The Child Finder (Denfeld), This Could Hurt (Medoff_

I'm making good on my promise to myself to make a dent in the book backlog. I love my job, but after sitting in front of a screen all day, I simply can't bring myself to engage with a screen beyond the tv (or the tablet posing as a tv).  But, I AM trying...I'm definitely prioritizing my Harper books since they deserve it for being patient, but I have actually read a handful of others including at least one semi-recent bestseller, a book I missed in the "middle grades" years, and a few random picks.

A brief note -- I'm not usually a reader of young adult novels, but I also know the category holds some of literature's very best from serious stories to jaunts that remind readers young and old that they are not alone. So I harbor no negative association with young adult novels, but they don't make up a very large share of my book collection.

I received this young adult book (def older young adults...I'd say 16+) from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The novel is narrated by Red, one of four high school students who went from being something of an outcast to a member of a much-loved, tight-knit band (one was popular...but, as is easy to see coming, misunderstood). A year or so after they formed, one of the girls suddenly goes missing. This story is about finding out what happened to her, and also about what happened to them...the story of the four kids becoming incredibly close and each kid's struggles with family, friends, and general teen-dom.

I saw several of the "surprises" coming, including the element that Red holds back from the reader for a good chunk of the book. There are a LOT of issues in here, though identifying them would pretty much mean revealing spoilers. I think this could be great fodder for discussion in the right forum...maybe some mix of older teens and parents or something...but it just wasn't quite for me. I certainly didn't despise it by any means, but I felt removed from it. I often read books where I can't relate directly to the plot or the characters, but here it almost felt more like I was watching a made-for-tv movie. I never really connected (admission: maybe I was jealous that I didn't find a little clique like this in HS).

Two-and-a-half to three stars. Liked the mixed formats (text conversations etc.), liked some of what the author had to say. But, it felt like too much tossed together and like other stories that try so hard to not paint cliched portraits that they become another sort of cliche. Oh, and I really liked Ash...the sister of the missing girl who is an unapologetic computer nerd and pretty darn cool (ok, you are probably supposed to think that...but I did....)

FYI -- If you're a parent or just someone who is bothered by such things, know that there is "foul language" and it does include depictions of sex, drug use, and violence (in a range of lights).

Five-year-old Madison wonders off while her family is looking for a Christmas tree in rural Oregon. The bulk of the novel occurs three years later when Naomi, a private investigator known as The Child Finder joins the (stale) search. For Naomi, every lost child is a personal mission. She has only snippets of memories from when she fled from...someplace...and ran to a group of strangers and eventually found herself in the care of an incredibly loving foster mother who also cares for a young boy with his own troubled tale. The reader hears from Madison throughout the novel, so we know quickly that she didn't simply suffer the fate of many a lost hiker who succumbed to the cold. We know she is with a man who keeps her in a below-ground room and, well, "loves" her in ways no adult should love a child.

There's a lot more here. In fact, as with far too many books, there's too much. There are several different plotlines and cutting a few would have. I like complex, full characters, and Denfeld has a talent for creating them. I just wish there had been a bit of extra editing here.  A second missing child case would have made a better short story....or might have been fine here if other lines were trimmed.  The number of plot paths made this book more challenging for me. And I truly disliked portions of Naomi's present-day personal tale. Her romantic storyline failed completely for me.

Still, there were elements here to enjoy. Madison's chapters are a bit unusual, but they rang true to me as a child's effort to survive the unsurvivable. They carried a disturbing beauty that showcases Denfeld's talent. As noted above, I didn't like where Naomi's story went, but I did like the peeks at her past (put another way, her backstory was a positive for me, but her present-day personal life was not). Another positive for me was the mixture of emotions that the ending to Madison's tale carried the shades of grey that tend to make books ring true for me. Both this ending and the chapters about Madison's survival show that this is the same author who crafted The Enchanted.

Overall, the positives were muted by the negatives. I struggled to pick the book up because so much of the novel was a slog through mud, pushing through the parts I didn't care for to get to the moments that felt like gems. Three stars .

Readers should know there are a lot of disturbing elements here and be ready for that...

With organizational charts sprinkled throughout (and used as an epilogue), this book focuses on the members of the human resources team at a large, struggling services company.  We meet a full cast of characters (the charts helped me keep track of who was who!) at various staged of their careers and their personal lives. Some live to work, some work to live. They are all navigating the complex balance between the two and facing the reality that working in an office means working with each other.

There were several places in this book where I stopped and read aloud to my husband (who is mid-career and getting a master's in an HR-related field), usually because a particular passage was at once humorous and observant. I've been in a few workplaces myself, and even worked in recruiting so have an HR element of my own, and I could imagine these characters in the office (or cubicle) next-door.  

I can't say I like every character. I can't say they were all as full and round as I usually prefer. And a large part of the central plot didn't really ring real for me. There's a Weekend At Bernie's style plotline that serves to tie the rest of the book together and I didn't really care for it. But, while it was very much a central driving force, it was also largely a device to tie everything together -- so while I didn't necessarily buy into it, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. 

But that was okay. Some books are nourishment, some are mind candy. Some are literature, some are...well...just books. This was the latter, but sometimes "just books" are perfect for your mood. They have an important place on a complete least for me...a "real" bookshelf versus one for show. It made me laugh and I enjoyed watching the relationships between the characters shift over time. This book was a fun diversion from a stressful time in my world (not work stress...though I can see this being particularly apt as a diversion from workplace drama).

4 stars. Review based on an ARC from the publisher provided in exchange for my honest thoughts.

P.S. Had to smile when I caught the HR chief struggling mightily with orders to rest and finding herself watching a tv movie called Hunger Point....since I group books by the same author together, this one will sit next to Medoff's novel, Hunger Point.