Seating Arrangements (Maggie Shipstead): For some reason, I tend to read a ton of books like this – books where a group of over-privileged, dysfunctional white people gather at some idyllic New England setting (always on the water) for a big event (typically a wedding) that reveals just how screwed up they all are. Given that, it’s clear I like the genre – but I didn’t like this book very much. The story is told through the perspectives of various family members but especially focuses on the patriarch, Winn, who is one of the most pathetic and out-of-touch characters I’ve encountered recently. The focus on Winn ruined the book for me; had Shipstead developed some of the book’s more likeable figures instead, I think I would have enjoyed this more.
Home Front (Kristin Hannah): If you ask me, Kristin Hannah is the new Jodi Picoult – she writes books that are incredible readable, that you can’t put down, and that you still nonetheless realize are a bit heavy-handed and cliche. Home Front, about a female helicopter pilot who is deployed to Iraq, felt a bit like Army Wives to me – that is, cliched and something that would appear on Lifetime (okay, I’ve never actually seen Army Wives, but this is what I’d imagine the show is like). I admit that I did tear up at multiple points, but overall I thought the book slipped into corniness too often. I’ve also noticed that Hannah’s stories tend to feature certain recurring characteristics: broken relationships between spouses, uber-bratty teenage daughters, and letters from loved ones received after their death. This doesn’t make Hannah’s books bad, per se, but I feel like she should try for a bit more creativity rather than falling back on the same devices.
The Girl Who Played With Fire (Stieg Larsson): This book started out really slowly; I’d say the first 200 pages or so were rather uneventful. For instance: did we really need to hear so much about Lisbeth’s solo travels, particularly given that they didn’t have much relevance to the main plot line? However, once the central mystery was revealed, the story kicked into gear and the book became difficult to put down. The Girl Who Played with Fire was also fascinating in its reveal of Salander’s past, helping explain why she is the peculiar way she is. Overall, the book was uneven, but the exciting latter half made it a pretty good read.
All images via Goodreads