Posted in Book Review Tuesday, Books

Book Review Tuesday (3/2/21) – The Punch

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

The novel I’ve decided to review this week came in my last library haul. This is only my second foray into Noah Hawley’s novels after I fell in love with Before the Fall last month, but I can tell from just these two novels that he’s become an auto-buy/borrow/read author for me.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Punch by Noah Hawley | Grand Central Publishing

The Punch – Noah Hawley

Joe Henry is dead, but what he leaves behind is a dysfunctional family in tatters. His wife Doris, has all but given up on life, his eldest son David struggles to keep two separate relationships (and his constantly teetering emotional state) afloat, and his youngest son Scott grapples with paranoid cynicism and a luckless love life. The three surviving members of the Henry family are brought together to scatter Joe’s ashes, bringing to light everything that Joe kept in check while he was alive and leaving all but chaos in their wake.

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I know I just put this gif in a book tag but the opportunity was too good not to miss

TW/CW: loss of loved ones, description of illness, substance abuse (mainly smoking), mild physical violence (hence the title), cheating

As I mentioned earlier, this is only my second Noah Hawley novel, but judging from this one and Before the Fall, he’s easily earned a spot as one of my favorite authors. The Punch had a very different feel to it than the latter, though; all at once tragic and laugh-out-loud funny, a superbly written story of the trials and tribulations of a dysfunctional family.

Let me just start off by saying…I think The Punch boasts one of the best opening scenes/images that I’ve ever seen in a book; the story of the Henry family begins/ends in a hospital on Valentine’s Day, with sickly and injured patients being wheeled about amidst cheery heart decorations and a pianist playing “Wonderwall” in the background. It’s hysterical, it’s so well-crafted, and in one scene alone, the mood of the entire book is encompassed–equal parts tragedy and comedy.

Having a novel with a cast of unlikable characters is usually hit-or-miss for me; I had a hard time getting through Watchmen for the first half or so because of how despicable most of the characters were. (and on that note, PLEASE πŸ‘ STOP πŸ‘ ROMANTICIZING πŸ‘ RORSCHACH πŸ‘ HE’S πŸ‘ AWFUL πŸ‘ [ahem] I digress), for example. The difference between my being able to enjoy a novel with an entire cast of characters like this is usually a mix of whether or not you’re supposed to like the characters and how well-written they are. (And no, that’s not a dig at Watchmen – it ended up being a four-star read for me in the end.) Clearly, the cast of The Punch are all deeply, deeply flawed people, but they’re not framed as the “good guys,” but simply protagonists. That, coupled with Hawley’s stellar writing, made me stick around even when the characters were at their all-time lows (which were…pretty low, not gonna lie.)

What also made a difference with the characters was the familial chemistry that they had with each other. They all bounced off each other so authentically, behaving exactly how you’d believe a dysfunctional family would, producing no shortage of weird occurrences and plenty of quotes that made me laugh out loud. (I can’t seem to find the quote, but there was this one that made me just WHEEZE…it was something along the lines of “It’s like it says in the Bible. All is full of love.” “No, I think that’s a BjΓΆrk song…”) (I wish I’d written it down, I borrowed a copy from the library…)

But in its (tragically) short entirety, The Punch was a perfect blend of tragedy and comedy, a story of family, dysfunction, and a whole lot of miscommunication and shaky relationships. Clever writing, memorable imagery, and hysterical quotes – this one really has it all. 5 stars!

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The Punch is a standalone, but Noah Hawley is also the author of Before the Fall, Other People’s Weddings, The Good Father, and A Conspiracy of Tall Men. He is also the creator of FX’s TV adaptations of Fargo and Legion, the latter of which in association with Marvel Television.

Today’s song:

okay I was yesterday years old when I realized that this was a cover this whole time

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

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Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (2/23/21) – Game Changer

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a long time know how big of a fan of Neal Shusterman I am; I fell in love with the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, then discovered Everlost, Dry and Challenger Deep. So when I found out that he was coming out with a new book, of course I had to preorder it! I got around to reading it last week, and while the masterful writing and world-building is still present, Game Changer was a lower point in Shusterman’s body of work for me. (Still entertaining, though.)

Enjoy this week’s review!

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman
this cover: “MR. STARK I DON’T FEEL SO GOOD”

Game Changer – Neal Shusterman

My copy ft. a cool filter and my new Nightcrawler Pop! figure, because why not

Ashley – Ash for short – lives and breathes football, scoring for his high school’s team. But an unexpected injury on the field leads to consequences that he never could have dreamed of: the hit sent him into another dimension. Each time he collides with another player, he’s launched into different dimensions, each one stranger than the last. His only clues to this bizarre occurrence are the Edwards, a group of multi-dimensional trickster entities who multiply every time he hops through dimensions. Will he be able to return home – and take the knowledge he gleaned from the other dimensions with him?

starfallingstims | Tv static, Overlays transparent, Aesthetic gif

TW/CW: descriptions of injury, racism, homophobia, hate crimes, sexism, abuse, attempted murder, substance abuse

Neal Shusterman is clearly a master storyteller (one of the greatest in YA today, I might go so far as to say). And I’m so glad that he tried to make Game Changer as a response to all of the hatred and prejudice that’s going on in the world today, to make something that inspires people to make change in their communities. But while there’s clearly good intentions behind this book, Game Changer definitely missed the mark in several respects. At its heart, it was still a decent sci-fi story, though.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Shusterman’s prose continues to be incredible, chock-full of clever metaphors and authentic descriptions. There were passages that made me laugh out loud and passages that sent a chill down my spine in equal parts, making for a well-written story. And the worldbuilding was similarly stellar! The inter-dimensional mythology that Shusterman created in Game Changer was fascinating and so well-thought-out. I loved the concept of the Edwards as well – they added an element of simultaneous comic relief and suspense, and they were such an original addition to the novel.

The plot was also very fast-paced and suspenseful, and I loved seeing all of the inter-dimensional elements build up along with the mystery and Ash’s struggle to get back home. So at its heart, Game Changer was a great sci-fi story. Thing is, everything started to get…not-so-good the further into the dimensions we hopped.

The main problem presents itself in three of the dimensions that Ash encountered; In one, segregation is still legal, he’s gay in another (he’s straight in his “normal” dimension), and in one of the final dimensions, he’s a girl in an abusive relationship. Now, the message Shusterman was trying to get across with these dimensions was certainly well-intentioned, and I thought it was a great one, the fact that you can’t solve everything that’s wrong with the world, but you should still make an effort to learn/change things. But seeing as Ash is a [Bo Burnham voice] straight white male, the message didn’t come across in the best way.

My main problem was with the dimension in which Ash is gay; the narrative mainly focuses on him coming out and the reception following it. I saw a quick video on this the other day and reading Game Changer made me think of it; in a lot of straight-made LGBTQ+ media, the narrative is highly centered around the coming-out experience. And while that’s certainly an important aspect of queerness for a lot of people, it doesn’t encompass the entirety of the queer experience. This part in Game Changer largely fell into the same trap, and even beyond that, it felt rather contrived. So that whole section of the story didn’t quite sit right with me.

And then there’s the deal where Ash enters a dimension where not only is he a woman, but he’s also in an extremely abusive relationship with one of his teammates. Again, as with the dimension where Ash is gay, Shusterman definitely employed some sensitivity readers and tried to tackle a very important issue, but still missed the mark. It’s nice that Shusterman’s trying to raise awareness for these kinds of issues, but…again, straight white male character experiencing it, male author writing it, so it didn’t translate super well. It felt a bit like Quentin Tarantino trying to have a message about motherhood in Kill Bill vol. 2 (and missing the mark by miles), but not quite as drastic. Again, did not sit right with me as a woman, but…at least he tried? I dunno…

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All in all, a book that was well-written and well-intentioned, but missed the mark in trying to depict issues of racism, homophobia, sexism and abuse. 3.5 stars.

Not Quite GIFs | Tenor

Game Changer is a standalone, but Neal Shusterman is also the author of the Arc of a Scythe trilogy (Scythe, Thunderhead & The Toll), Challenger Deep, the Skinjacker trilogy (Everlost, Everwild & Everfound), and many other novels and series. He also coauthored the standalone Dry with his son, Jarrod Shusterman.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!