Book Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Rating:  ★★★★

I am not going to give you either a blurb or a summary of events here.  I think the blurb is super spoilerific – so if you can go in blind, please go in blind.  I’m going to avoid spoilers here as much as possible.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with The Glass Hotel.  I read Station Eleven last year via audiobook and it was one of the few audiobooks that managed to capture my attention for the full eleven hours.  For an untrained audiobook listener, that was a big deal. I was even more amazed that I could so completely enjoy a book that lacked any serious plot direction.  It was the characters and the snapshots of their lives driving me onward, and I’m happy to report The Glass Hotel is structured similarly.

The book meanders from one POV to the next and back again.  For the most part, I enjoyed all the perspectives, even if I enjoyed some a smidge more.  These are fully realized characters.  We follow them through the high and low points of their lives.  We bear witness to all their ugly sins and fatal flaws.

Reading print instead of listening, I had the opportunity to appreciate Mandel’s writing in a way I previously hadn’t.  It is compulsive. It flows beautifully.  It’s accessible and literary all at the same time.  It convinced me that I need to read pretty much everything she has ever written.

As for the story, well, I found it to be a good bit darker than I remembered Station Eleven being, despite the fact that this contains no apocalypse inducing pandemics.  Most of the characters aren’t the sort you’d want to be friends with, and they leave other characters devastated in their wake.  Especially haunting considering parts of this were based on a true story.

The are some speculative, supernatural elements to this story – but ultimately I’d categorize it under contemporary literature.  It’s not a significant part of the book.  In retrospect, I wish she’d done a little more with that piece, fleshed it out just a bit, given us more of a reason for it’s inclusion.

The ending for some characters is slightly ambiguous. Not so much that it annoyed me but it just felt a little anticlimactic.  Despite the darkness of some events, Mandel still manages to end it on what feels like a hopeful note. Ultimately, my complaints are minor  and I found most of the novel completely engrossing, and ultimately difficult to put down.

Despite my numerous comparisons to Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel stands on its own, and I highly recommend picking up if you enjoy Mandel’s writing.   It releases on tomorrow, March 24, 2020, and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Someday, when I bust out of this reading slump, or conquer all these ARCS, I’m going to read whatever strikes my fancy for a month.  So there’s likely no sticking to this list.  Here’s what I’m excited about, ARCs or No.

11-22-63 Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen King – Planned buddy read with the fabulous Nicole @ Book-Wyrm-Knits!  I’m holding you to it. End of May.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi – This was gifted to me by the equally fabulous Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy!  Thank you!  I can’t wait to read it.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway – Gnomon was a mind bender that made me work for it.  While I think I’ll put this off until my reading slump is definitely over- I’m eager to get back to his work.

Full Throttle by Joe Hill

Full Throttle by Joe Hill – Now that I’m thinking about it, a Joe Hill anthology is probably exactly what I need to dump the slump.  Short attention spans aren’t really an issue in a book of short stories.

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee The Machineries of Empire

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee – I want to get this read before I forget what happened in Nine Fox Gambit!  (For a review that explains the Machineries of the Empire better than I ever could, please check out Ola’s review at Re-enchantment of the World.)

Killing Gravity by Corey J White

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White – This was a Tor Freebie not too long ago.  It’s a novella so perfect for the amount of attention I seem willing to give books lately, and one that’s been on my radar for awhile.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – This is one of the few ARCs I have that I am still super excited for!  It also is neither fantasy or sci-fi, so it will give me a much needed break from the genre.

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon – This is another that falls outside my usual genre, but I’m eager to get to it.  I’ve heard great things about Lawhon and historical fiction usually makes me all happy inside.

The Last Kingdom Saxon Stories 1 by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – Keeping with the theme of Historical Fiction (and in my desperation to seek out comforting reads in turbulent times) I’m eager to reread this.  Especially since the final book in the Saxon Stories was recently announced.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones – Because Horror.  That’s it.

 

We all know I’m not likely to stick to this TBR… and there are probably 30 other books I could put here.  What have you got planned for the spring?

Three Mini DNF Book Reviews

As a follow up to yesterday’s discussion post, it only seems fitting that I follow it up with my three DNF reviews.  I’ve decided not to rate these, because although I know why I’m not finishing, I don’t want to say I’d recommend or not recommend them, not knowing how they end.

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

I was so excited for this book when I first heard about it.  It seemed like a dystopian novel with some fantastical elements (ESP) and a bunch of dreamers for characters.

What it actually is, is contemporary literature.  This is not my thing.  If I had realized that’s what it was I would have NOPED it right away.  

I made it to page 140 before I decided I didn’t want to continue.  In that time, we read three chapters, so that was strike number one.  Chapter one is 72 pages long.  That’s not a chapter.  It’s a novelette.

In that time I actually did grow to like Leif and Matthew, who I originally thought were the two main characters in the book.  If the book had continued to keep Matthew as the POV character, I actually might have continued.  Unfortunately, it jumped POVs to a character named Chris, who at that point, was one of the least interesting characters.  Chapter three switched POVs again to a character named Elspeth.  Chapter four, the point at which I decided I had no desire to continue, saw yet another shift in POV, to Julia.  Whose presence in the novel at all is questionable, nevermind the utter lack of necessity to give her a POV.  The POV shifts were strike number two.

And the final nail in the coffin was the world building, or lack thereof.  These characters seem to be protesting something, belonging to a wider movement called Occupy.

I have no idea what the hell they were protesting.

Their smaller group within the larger group, whose name I can’t recall (but whose initials are something ridiculous like RFTGFP) believes that people should strive to perceive other people’s feelings.  Leif is really good at it.  He can sense your email password. Chris cannot do it, but believes in it and believes that it’s the most important thing ever.  Or something.

I just didn’t get it.  I mean- yeah I get the larger message, we’d all be better people if we stopped to put ourselves in other people’s shoes once in awhile, but I don’t know why or how the government fits into it.  There’s some talk of Homeland Security, and tapping phones and monitoring computers… but no indication that any of it was done prior to the group hacking someone’s email.  The whole premise is bizarre, and seems overly complicated while also being too simple, and ultimately just not what I wanted.

Just a note on the writing- the author appears to be some kind of literary journalist, so he uses a lot of obscure words and fancy language that feels superficial at best because he didn’t give us a lot of insight into what the characters were actually feeling.  I consistently felt like I was missing some of the context.

Anyway- this is probably going to be a wonderful book for someone, just not me.

I won a free copy of this book in a giveaway on GoodReads.  Links if you want to check it out for yourself: GoodReads and Amazon.

tld_cs

This book has the misfortune of being one more science fiction horror novel in a long list of science fiction horror novels I’ve read this year.  I’ve read at least two other books (and one novella) this year that, simply put, did it better.

This was a buddy read, which is usually sufficient reason for me to push through (no person left behind!), but my two fabulous buddies finished it in a couple of days while I was still hanging out on page 94.  At which point they advised me it did not get better and they’d forgive me for DNFing.

I happily took their advice.

I don’t have any specific complaints except that this felt more like a set up to a bad romance than there was any actual horror being included and I was extremely bored.

The setting was cool.  But I saw almost this exact setting done in The Last Astronaut by David Wellington and Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky, both of which were far more atmospheric than The Luminous Dead (not to mention less time consuming).

It’s a shame because I think it could have been good if it had been a novella, or if it had booted the romance and pitted our two MCs against each other as hero and villain.

I am not finishing and I have no regrets.  Links: GoodReads and Amazon.

A Hero Born by Jin Yong

This is the one I feel guiltiest about, because I don’t even think there is anything particularly wrong with it, except that we are just not jiving right now.

I attempted to read the introduction three times before I decided it was way too dry and skipped to the beginning.  In the beginning, we meet two heroes, Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang, that feel earnest in their desire to be heroes, but also a little like SpongeBob and Patrick in their competence.

SpongeBob and Patrick Gif

I hate saying that- because I know this is a cherished piece of literature in China, but the whole thing just felt a little cartoonish.

The part that I read was technically all backstory for the hero: what happened in the months leading up to his birth.  I might have continued if the introduction were dropped and the back story was reduced to 10-15 pages.  (If we’re looking at the blurb: “Guo Jing, son of a murdered Song patriot” this is as far as I got in the book, the murdered Song patriot.)  If the pacing is this slow, 15% of the book is back story, I just don’t want to continue.

The action scenes weren’t very exciting to me.  I read once, that the difference between a good action scene and a bad one, is that a bad one will only describe what is happening.  Good action scenes will describe how a character feels when they are in the action.  This is a case where the movements are described adequately, but entirely without feeling.

I had a hard time envisioning the setting and the characters.  The villains, from what I read, seemed like they weren’t going to be very fleshed out at any point in time.  Just hooded figures, evil magistrates, maybe a shadowy emperor or something.  It’s a dated method of story telling.  Understandable, since it was originally written in 1957, but also something I don’t want to read right now.

I might come back to this at some point, knowing what I know and skipping the back story because the premise does sound very exciting (Genghis Khan!) but it’s not going to be any time soon and I don’t want to leave the book unreviewed on NetGalley.  I attempted it.  I made it through 70 dense pages or so.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley who provided a copy in exchange for review.  A Hero Born can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Ninth House Alex Stern 1 by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ninth House

Series: Alex Stern

By: Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 480

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Release Date: October 1, 2019

Blurb from GoodReads: Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Why I’m excited for it: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are two of my favorite books.  I devoured them both in just a couple days.  I loved the characters, their banter was witty and fun, the plot was action packed, the pacing was perfect, the world was gritty, and the cast was diverse.  When I later tried to read the Grisha trilogy, I was less enthralled.  Maybe if I had read them first, I would have liked them more, but at the time they felt fairly generic.

From Leigh’s tumblr page book announcement: “I should mention that [Ninth House] is adult, not YA and will be published as such. It goes some very dark places and it is meant to disturb.”  Being an adult novel won’t make it inherently better, but I feel like Bardugo excels with dark and gritty.  If she’s going full adult I’m super excited to see what she can do with it.

I’ve also seen the words thriller, supernatural, and occult kicked around in relation to Ninth House, and there’s no better place to do that than New England!  It does seem like a vast departure from her usual fare, but I’m hoping that’s a good thing.  I can’t wait to see what she’ll do with it.

What about you?  What new releases are you excited for?