Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Alexis: Happy National Read A Book Day!

Yesterday, I finished reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. This was my first Ann Patchett read, and I’ve been meaning to read her books for a long time. 

Bel Canto was not my usual read. Here’s a quick summary: In an unidentified South American country, famous opera singer Roxane Coss is invited to sing at Mr. Hokosowa, a businessman’s, birthday party. During the party, a group of terrorists burst into the house and keep the entire party hostage. What ensues is an unusual hostage situation that goes on for months and months. 

This book is basically a giant character study. As a reader, you are launched into the minds of a multitude of characters. You learn about their families, their fears, and their interests in life. You learn about their inner lives.

The book itself is very slow moving. Plot wise, not much happens. About halfway through, the hostage dynamic changes, which leads to some interesting developments. 

To be honest, I was a little bored with the first half. Patchett spend pages and pages on characters that I wasn’t interested in learning about. But most of the book is about Gen, Mr. Hokosowa’s translator. He was by far my favorite character. It was really interesting to see life from his language-based perspective.  

My biggest issue with this book is the ending. After spending so much time learning about the characters, the book ends abruptly. I know Patchett probably did this on purpose, but still. As the reader, it was jarring. Despite the fact that I guessed the ending, it still felt melodramatic when it happened. With some much time dedicated to talking about opera, this book did tend to lean on the melodrama. 

And then there’s the epilogue. I could deal with the ending, but the epilogue was wholly unneeded, and it honestly made no sense. Unfortunately, the epilogue is the thing I was left with, so I still have its bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

Overall, I enjoyed some sections of this book, and found other sections very slow moving. It wasn’t my favorite, but I enjoyed the overarching message. 

VERDICT: 3 stars

Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Nov 13 The Child Seekers

Anna’s review: Read 11/12/18

In The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, Naomi, a private investigator, specializes in finding lost children. She returns to the snowy landscape of her home state of Oregon to take on the case of a young girl, Madison, who went missing in the forest where her family went to find a Christmas tree. But as Naomi learns what happened to Madison, the events of her own traumatic past begin to come to light.

I’m conflicted by this. There were so many beautiful and harrowing parts of this book. Obviously it deals with difficult themes like abduction, pedophilia, rape, and death, which were all handled respectfully by the author. Denfeld herself is a licensed investigator, and you can tell she knows what she’s writing about.

The biggest problem I had with this book is the huge discrepancy in the quality of writing. Half of the writing style was beautiful and lyrical, especially the scenes from the point of view of the snow girl. I found this sections horrifying but masterfully written. You could feel the coldness creeping into your bones, as well as the desperateness of the child’s situation.

The other half was written so differently that it didn’t even feel like I was reading the same book! For example, there is a line on page 72 that reads, “Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she soon would be hungry.” There are other lines like this that are so jarring that I kept noticing them as I read and this impacted my overall opinion of it.

I found the romance between Jerome and Naomi particularly cringey. Their dialogue was cheesy, and Jerome’s character is as flat as a pancake. This is where I felt the most distracted by the different writing style, since the rest was so dark.

The other problem I had is Baby Danforth case that Naomi randomly takes on in the middle of the book. Though I know, realistically, a investigator would probably be working on multiple cases at a time, I found this whole case horribly distracting. The only reason I can think to include this is to show that Naomi’s searches can end badly.

Then there’s the characterization of Naomi herself. Naomi is also a “snow child.” She was abducted as a young child and, as a coping mechanism, she has repressed the memories of the traumatic events. As a result, Naomi is reserved and often cold. She left the safety of her foster home, the only place she felt love, because of her fear of closeness and intimacy. Throughout the course of finding out what happened to Madison, Naomi finally remembers the events of her own abduction. I understand that Naomi’s acceptance of Jerome’s love represents part of her healing, but I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if the romance hadn’t been included at all. There’s also Ranger Dave, who fell in love with Naomi within days of meeting her, which I found completely random.

Something I really enjoyed was the aspect of fairytale retelling, especially the ones that turned childhood innocence on its head. This dark play with cruelty and innocence is one of the biggest successes of this book. Snowy rural settings are typically my favorite books settings, and The Child Finder was satisfyingly atmospheric.

Ulitmately, I was disappointed by this. I loved the parts with the snow child but was disappointed by some of the rest. This had so many great reviews that I expected to love it. I just can’t look past the discrepancies in the writing and the cheesy romance.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

Alexis: Read 9/2/18

I read this book a couple months ago. I had read one of Denfeld’s books before, The Enchanted, which I had a hard time getting through, but which ended up stuck in my mind. I prepared myself for a dark read with The Child Finder and dug in.

Denfeld’s writing style and descriptions struck me. I even took the time to write down a quote: “Like a leaf that drank from the morning dew, you didn’t question the morning sunrise or the sweet taste on your mouth. You just drank.” Denfeld’s descriptions always surprised me, whether from her word choice or from the contrasting, stilted way she delivered them.

While, like Anna, I found some of her sentences to be a bit off, ultimately the writing style served the purpose of the book. Denfeld was descriptive where she needed to be and off-putting when she needed to be. Three of the main characters deal with life-altering issues, and the writing style reflects their troubled thoughts and feelings.

I agree that Naomi and Jerome’s adult relationship feels forced; however, their relationship as children made sense. But was the distance felt between the two adult characters because of Naomi’s isolationist behavior, or was it because Denfeld’s characterization didn’t step up to the plate?

The chapters from Madison’s point of view, when she’s being held hostage, are brilliant, and I agree with Anna that Denfeld obviously knows what she’s talking about. The realism of the kidnapping, mixed with the almost dream-like quality of the snow child, left an impact on me.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books