Malcolm’s Wine by Hugh Gilmore

Read: 22 August, 2014

A series of coincidences bind together a petty criminal and two bookshop workers. In the course of an evening, Brian’s friend is murdered and a bottle of wine – bought for his now-deceased son – has been stolen.

I received this book from the author via his wife – a friend of my mother’s who stitched together a beautiful baby blanket for my son. An odd connection given the theme of the book, but I suspect it had more to do with my mother’s need to tell everyone she meets that her daughter is “into books.”

The plot of Malcolm’s Wine hinges on an incestuously small cast of characters. If something happens anywhere in Ann Arbor (and surrounding area), it seems that at least two of our three characters will be involved. While the story was still being set up, it was rather too much of a stretch and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep reading.

Once the stage was set, however, it was no longer an issue. The characters behaved predictably and with consistent rationale as the plot played itself out. This is where the many loops and ties between the characters added to my enjoyment of the book, providing a measure of absurdist humour.

There are two really bad characters in the book, Klaus and Claudell (I’m guessing the naming was intentional). We don’t really see inside Claudell’s head, but we do see in Klaus’s, and the vision of the psychopath was – I found – very well done. He is disconnected from reality, but in a way that has internal logic. He was simultaneously pathetic and believable (though pathetic with a gun, which is absolutely terrifying – particularly when read so soon after the Isla Vista killings). Both Claudell and Klaus reminded me of bullies – unpredictable, riding a high or a delusion that gives their victims no way out. It made their scenes rather difficult to read through, though I appreciate the realism of their handling (not to mention their ends).

Unfortunately, I think the book would have benefited a great deal from a having had a strong editor. The narrative is a little rough around the edges – female characters, in particular, are a little cardboard and there’s some cringe-y assumptions of sexual dimorphism, particularly earlier on, that deserved some red pen striking – but the good ideas and reader handling shine through. My edition also suffered from a number of unfortunate typos, including one right on the back cover. There are enough of them to be noticed, though they don’t ruin the book.

Overall, I found it a very interesting read – a one-off mystery with believable characters that made me care about the outcome.

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    And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole

    Roy and Silo aren’t like the other penguins at the New York Central Park zoo. When all the other boy penguins pair up with girl penguins, Roy and Silo just seem to want to spend time together. When their keeper notices that they are displaying parenting behaviour with a rock, he finds them an egg that needs caring for. Roy and Silo are delighted! Finally, the egg hatches and little Tango makes three.

    This is a really sweet book about families and caring for babies, with the added bonus that the parents are two male penguins. My son found the illustrations interesting (and baby Tango’s big grin had him cooing over how cute baby penguins are), and the text is just the right length on each page. It’s a solidly good book, with the benefit of being a great conversation starter about different kinds of families.

    I really can’t recommend it enough!

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      Divergent Trilogy #2: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

      Read: 11 August, 2014

      In the second installment of the Divergent trilogy, we find Tris on the run from Erudite. As she travels through the factions and the factionless areas of future-Chicago, she seeks both revenge and to understand why Erudite attacked Abnegation.

      As I read the series, it keeps occurring to me that Divergent is really just a speculative fiction version of The Breakfast Club. Everyone has partitioned off into little cliques that rarely mix, each has its own narratives, it’s own traditions, and each has its own (false) beliefs about the types of people in the others. Then something happens and members of each clique are forced to spend time together, and to recognize their shared humanity. Sounds familiar?

      Then I was describing the plot to my darling gentleman friend and, when I got to the part about choosing factions, he asks, “did they wear a special hat?” That’s when I realized just how much of Harry Potter is in here, too. I don’t think I even need to bother talking about The Hunger Games, ’cause, yeah. That one is a little too obvious.

      And that’s all okay. Divergent isn’t great literature. I’m borrowing the books form the library and I won’t be bothering to buy copies of my own because I doubt that I will want to reread or reference or just build book forts out of again once I’m done with the series. And that’s all okay. It’s proving to be a fun read, if cringe-worthy at times.

      It’s the kind of serious I like to refer to as “filler.” It’s a series you read between two amazing, impactful books when you just need to give your brain and your emotions a little rest.

      As a side note, here is a hilarious Honest Trailers about the first movie:

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