Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)Soulless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a pleasant surprise this novel was for me! I had absolutely no expectations going in and was so happy to find that it was a delightful, smart and clever series that I cannot wait to dig into further!

The characters just stunned me. They are fantastic - interesting and multifaceted. I loved seeing Alexia and Connall's relationship grow throughout the novel. And all of the more 'background' characters just jumped off of the page for me!

Adventure, romance, fantasy and some science fiction - all rolled into one novel! Just fantastic! I had a ball reading this one! I didn't want to put it down! I loved Gail Carringer's witty writing style. I found it charming and refreshing.

This was a really nice break from some of the more literary novels that I seem to have been reading lately. I really enjoyed this one and definitely recommend it. I can't wait to read the second in the series!

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: We The Animals by Justin Torres

We the AnimalsWe the Animals by Justin Torres

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There has been so much hype around this book that I have been wanting to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, it didn't make nearly the impact on me as it appears to have made on so many others. Was it impactful? Yes. Was it edgy? Yes. Was it a great book? Ehh. Not so much. I'd say it was good but certainly not great. It had so much potential but it just didn't get there.

I think Justin Torres has a really interesting, edgy kind of way about his writing which I think is fantastic. I think there is a lot of potential for him and his voice. That was the strength of this book - the voice. The first 2/3 of the novel had me mesmerized. I was so there, so interested in this family. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the author goes another direction. It was abrupt. It was unsettling. And, frankly, it took a really good novel down a few pegs to a good (almost ehh) book. If only Torres had invested more time and story (50-100 pages perhaps) to set up the last 3rd of the book instead of just dropping it into the readers lap with no set up or context. If only Torres had given the story those extra 50 to 100 pages. It could have been amazing.

The flow of the story arc is ultimately what I disliked about this novel and why, in the end, I struggle with rating it. This is one of those books that really had potential but it just didn't live up to it. I can see why there are folks who loved it - who felt something as a result of the story. The first 2/3 really are wonderful and impactful. Those initial pages get under your skin and make you FEEL something. Which for me, was one of the reasons that I ultimately disliked the novel so much ... to make me feel so much and then end the novel so badly. I just couldn't get past it. It cheapened the entire novel for me.

I'm not sure that I can even recommend it - that is how disappointing the last 3rd of the novel was to me. It is a very short novel so it's not a huge investment of time. So, if you want to see what all the fuss is about, you might want to check it out. But, ultimately, I'd suggest you skip it and seek out something else.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Zone OneZone One by Colson Whitehead

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book. I really did. It sounded right up my alley but I just didn't enjoy a moment of reading this novel. A zombie literary novel ... um, heck yeah. But, it didn't work for me. At all. This is a book that I almost gave up on multiple times. I stuck with it because I'd heard so many good things ... I kept hoping that it would get better. Unfortunately, it did not.

This is a really well written novel but I just couldn't get behind the story ... or the characters ... or the world ... or anything else beyond beautiful writing. There was an utter lack of depth and emotion to the novel that was frustrating to me. The characters were cardboard. I frankly could care less about the world Colson Whitehead created or the people that he placed in that world. I understand that Whitehead was likely using the shallowness and detachment as a tool but I don't think it was done effectively. Instead of conveying mood, it just made the book difficult to drag through.

There were passages in the novel that just took my breath away with their beauty. But beautiful writing couldn't save this novel for me. It's missing most of the things that I enjoy in a novel and I just couldn't get over that.

Since this is my first Colson Whitehead novel, I'm really struggling with whether or not I should pursue his other works, particularly if this novel is representative of his work.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this novel. There are so many other novels out there that are worth the time and effort but, in my opinion, this one is not. Which makes me rather sad because I had such hope that it would blow me away ... zombie literary fiction ... it could have been amazing.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was intrigued by this novel that featured a main character that was aging out of foster care. Although the story wasn't earth shattering - in fact, it was pretty predictable - it gave a fairly good idea of what some of the kids aging out of a lifetime in foster care can be like - I thought that the author did a good job with Victoria and writing her. Individuals who spend much of their childhood in foster care tend to be challenging in EVERY way - often selfish, rude, manipulative and extremely difficult to like. I think the author's portrait of an individual aging out of foster care was pretty on point. I worked with several of these kids during my time as a social work and let's face it, kids like that aren't for everyone.

What I loved most about this novel was that the author wrote a book that I hope can help people see the foster care system a bit more clearly. I hope it will help readers have a little more sympathy for kids who have been abused and/or neglected and then act out in bad ways. Just understanding what it can do to kids is the first step!

As I said above, the actual story was fairly predictable and didn't offer a lot of major surprises. But, the story was fine - just nothing that wow'd me. The writing was fantastic - there was a lyrical flow in the language that I loved.

I did love the whole flowers & meanings pieces of the novel - that was intriguing to me. Such a unique way for the author to help show the character's grasp of emotion. I love the idea of secret messages that you can pass along with flowers. In many ways, the flower component of the story allowed the author to weave the very intense and often ugly story of Victoria and her life experiences while also leaving the reader with some hope for the future.

All in all, this was a great book - really more of a four and a half star book but not quite a five star novel. I definitely recommend this to readers who aren't uncomfortable with intense subjects. It's a fantastic debut novel that is definitely worth a read!

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Caleb's CrossingCaleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had mixed experiences with Geraldine Brook's novels. Although I appreciate the amount of research she obviously does for each book, I wouldn't say that the first two that I read had blown me away so I was reticent to even read this novel. But, the reviews were so good and the premise so compelling that I gave it a shot. And, I am very glad that I did so. Although not a five star read for me, it was a really good novel with amazing characters and historical context.

Again, this one was obviously well researched ... Brooks made the time period come alive for me. I love that the novel was told from the perspective of Bethia ... I had expected it to be Caleb given the title. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the book came from a female perspective! One of the things I loved most about this novel is the authenticity that permeates the entire novel. The characters were beautifully written. Brooks made them come alive on the page. And, through them, the time period being explored became real to me. I didn't know a whole lot about that time period prior to reading the book. I love how Brooks made that history come alive through the journey of her characters.

There was something about it that keeps me from a 5 star rating that I'm not entirely sure that I can even explain. At first I thought that it was perhaps the fact that the novel is written in the language of the time, the pacing or the old fashioned feel of the narrative. But, I don't think so. All of those things were interesting but something keeps this novel from going from good to great. Something I'm having trouble fully explaining.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, then you will most definitely enjoy this novel. It's well written and brings the time period alive. I really liked it and definitely recommend it widely!

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

V is for Vengeance (Kinsey Millhone, #22)V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes I wonder if my love of each of the Kinsey Millhone books is because they are great books or because I've missed the characters so much that my excitement to visit with them again makes me automatically think highly of them. Either way, I love this series. Without a doubt one of my favorite series of all time.

This particular novel was well written with an interesting plot that kept me engaged throughout. Sue Grafton continues to deliver fantastic stories, with compelling plotting and excellent character development. That is what I love about this series and look forward to when I hear that the next one is coming!

Kinsey just plain rocks! She's such a fantastic character - sharp, witty and complex. I love to see where things take her ... how she grows in some ways and regresses in others. She's one of my favorite characters! I did miss Henry a bit in this one as he typically takes a greater role in the story but I always love the sections with Rosie and William!

All in all, this was a solid addition to the series and I really enjoyed it. If you're a Kinsey fan, you'll love this one!

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this one up on a whim when my Nook was charging and I wanted something to read. I had heard a lot of good things about it and was intrigued at what all the fuss was about. Well, now I know. Kate Morton knows how to tell a great story, how to unfold a story in a way that keeps you racing through the book and how to keep you guessing! I really enjoyed every moment of reading this novel.

This novel contains so much that its difficult to characterize - it's a mystery, a family saga, a fairy tale and a story of betrayal. Although not a 'deep' book, it is a fun, entertaining novel that engaged me and kept me interested until the last page. This novel was enchanting and I completely understand why so many have enjoyed it.

This novel is a well executed fairy tale and Morton has weaved the concept of fairy tales and storytelling into the narrative so effortlessly. Through the interweaving of three women in different time periods, the author tells a great story that contains all of the characteristics of a traditional fairy tale. All in all, this novel is simply fantastic storytelling!

If you're looking for a delightful novel that is more light than heave, I would definitely recommend this one.

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She WokeWhen She Woke by Hillary Jordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When She Woke is a fantastic dystopic novel that examines fairly intense topics such as faith, religion, individualism, choice, and punishment. Hillary Jordan tackles a number of fairly controversial topics - most notably abortion - in this novel. I love that she takes them on straightforwardly and honestly. I thought the author's retelling of The Scarlet Letter was clever but I liked how Jordan modernized the overall story and took the story down a new path with When She Woke.

The concept of chroming (coloring people to categorize them as various 'offenses' such as murder, pedophilia, etc) was really interesting and, frankly, ingenious. I almost wish that she'd explored that aspect even more deeply because I wanted to know more about the details and how the government came to a place of coloring people as punishment. It's a very interesting concept.

What I loved most about this novel was the journey of the main character, Hannah. The novel is essentially about female empowerment. The author did a wonderful job creating complex, believable, intensely human characters overall. However, Hannah's personal development through the course of the novel was particularly well done.

All of the issues in this novel were well written and explored in a well rounded way. I thought her journey was amazing and gave me a lot to think about. The entire novel was a thought provoking journey and I really enjoyed it. I didn't want to put the book down! Despite the heavy material and the thought provoking nature of the book, I would say it is an engaging and exciting book!

There is a great deal of controversial and socially relevant subject matter written with an unabashedly feminist perspective which may be off-putting for some individuals. If that is something that rubs you the wrong way, this book will not be for you. I found the novel to be an inspiring story about the struggle from oppression to empowerment, similar to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaids Tale. I suspect that if you enjoyed that novel, you will like this one!

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me get this out of the way - I'm a Jeffrey Eugenides fan. Although I didn't love The Virgin Suicides, I understand why its so highly regarded. It was a beautifully written book but just not completely up my alley. On the other hand, Middlesex blew me away. Five stars, one of my all time favorite novels. So, I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of this novel. I was intrigued by the subject he'd chosen to focus on but had a tiny bit of trepidation that the subject wouldn't wow me. But, I was wrong. This book is no Middlesex but its very good.

Eugenides' writing is just fantastic. He is clearly a good writer. No doubt about it ... the writing in this novel is clever, wry, and compelling. It drew me in, kept me interested and didn't let go of me even once. I never felt let down by the plot - I think it was beautifully constructed and gave the novel such a great sense of flow and movement.

The novel feels old fashioned in comparison to Middlesex. Given the subject matter and the focus on semiotics and the marriage plot, that makes sense. His deconstruction of the marriage plot in order to make it work in the modern world was so fascinating to me. This novel is pretty non conventional but in the best of ways. Early in the book, I kept wondering to myself why I was enjoying the book so much because it definitely felt old fashioned and I typically am not a fan of old fashioned. Yet, Eugenides pulled it off. He kept me curious, he kept me engaged.

What really stood out for me in this novel is the plotline around living with manic depression. I have a very personal connection to that particular disorder and I felt that Eugenides brought the realities of the disorder to life very well. It was a powerful view into the experience of living with someone who is manic and/or depressed while also giving perspective on what the actual experience of being manic and/or depressed feels like. This is one aspect of the book that I think was outstanding.

I'm not sure, however, that this is a novel for everyone. It's unapologetic about being old fashioned. It certainly isn't a hard book to read. It's not difficult in that way but I think it requires thought and reflection on the part of the reader. It doesn't just tie everything up in a pretty bow. I felt as if I was caught in the web of a master storyteller who also challenged me to go deeper and think about life, love, relationships, literature and adulthood in new and different ways. But, I can also see why the very things that I loved about the novel could put off others.

All in all, I really liked this novel. I recommend it to most readers. And I can't wait to see what Euginides has in store for us next.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Quick Review: Three Bedrooms, One Corpse by Charlaine Harris

Three Bedrooms, One Corpse  (Aurora Teagarden, #3)Three Bedrooms, One Corpse by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I needed something a bit light and this was the perfect book for that ... its a good solid mystery. A quick read! I really like the character of Aurora Teagarden so I love this series of mysteries. The mystery itself and the writing were both a bit better in this one than the previous two (if memory serves). I definitely see growth from book to book. There are certainly flaws but I like them quite a bit! A nice reprieve from all of the heavier literary fiction I've been reading!

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee HoneycuttSaving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I want to say upfront that I suspect I would have loved this book had I read it before The Secret Life of Bees. There are a great deal of similarities between that book and this one. Unfortunately, I loved The Secret Life of Bees quite a bit more than this one. This is a really nice little book but it fails to live up to its promise. It just isn't as good at other books with similar themes and circumstances.

The writing, plot and characters were fine but the novel never went into the depths of the themes and situations in the novel which made it feel more like a fluffy, beach read than the complex novel it could have been. It was nice and sweet but never went anywhere beyond the surface. It definitely has southern charm, a sweet little story and nice characters ... but nothing that really made it great. It wasn't nearly as effective as similar novels that I've read. I kept hoping that it was coming ... some depth, some emotional exploration, some real examination of the issues ... but it never came. Which is a shame - this book could have been so much more than just good.

If you enjoy light, easy to read southern fiction without a lot of depth or examination, you'll adore this book. There’s nothing wrong with the book per se, but it definitely didn’t live up to my expectations. I was hoping for more. I should also add that most of my book-ish friends seemed to love this book so perhaps it just didn't work for me but might work for you!

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night StrangersThe Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fantastic surprise this book was for me! I seem to have a hot or cold relationship with Chris Bohjalian's writing so I was concerned going in about how I'd feel about it. But, I had no reason to be worried. I was in good hands with this novel. It's creepy, it's well written, it's multi-layered and just plain GOOD!

Let's face it, at his best, Chris Bohjalian is a wonderful storyteller. His writing is very accessible yet it has such depth. The story that Bohjalian concocts here is one of the better stories that I've read in awhile. The story is dark & chilling. And Bohjalian's writing brings it to life with wit, depth, insight and versatility! This book has a bit of everything - suspense, horror, paranormal/occult, mental illness

For me, one of the most impressive things about this book was how Bohjalian made the experience of a plan crash come alive. I can't imagine how much research he had to do in order for this book to bring that alive for the reader. I literally felt as if I was in the plane - as if I was experiencing it all first hand. Bohjalian handled the writing of those passages masterfully.

I also thought it was incredible how well he kept the various threads which are interwoven throughout the novel. It would have been a difficult task for a lesser writer. Boyhjalian's skill in keeping the various threads alive for the reader while also moving the plot along and keeping the suspense at a heightened level was simply fantastic! Personally, I felt it was impressive.

This novel keeps getting called a ghost story but it really is so much more than that ... it's a character study, its a horror story and a supernatural tale - all at the same time! Bohjalian brings these things together so well! This book is simply fantastic.

The only reason that this novel isn't getting 5 stars is that I didn't love the ending. It was fine, it was good but it felt a bit cliche and unsurprising in some way. For me, the strength of the novel is the journey you take. The ending didn't quite get me where I was hoping to go. Let me be clear - it's not a bad ending, just not nearly as impactful as I'd hoped. I also wish that there was less mention of the whole Sully Sullenberger landing in 2009. It felt a bit overdone - a few mentions would have been enough. The constant bringing it back up felt like a bit too much.

There were sections of this novel that sent shivers up my spine and made me feel like I was going to jump out of my skin. That doesn't happen to me a lot. So, this was a pleasant surprise for me.

I really liked this book a lot and would recommend it to anyone who loves a good scary, creepy story ... especially one that is well-written!

NOTE: I received the galley of this novel from the publisher for review.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Complete PersepolisThe Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I kept hearing about Persepolis and what a fantastic graphic novel it was so I decided it was time for me to get my hands on a copy and read it. It's really more than a graphic novel - it is also autobiography, history and a social/cultural commentary. The graphics are very well done - they are piercing and really tell this story so well. I loved the historical aspects of the novel - they were fascinating and the graphic novel genre really made that history accessible.

I enjoyed reading this book but it never really took me to that place that you want a book to take you to. I just kept thinking, OK - the great stuff must be just around the corner, I like this stuff but where is the great stuff. And, unfortunately, it just never came for me. Something felt like it was missing. I still haven't quite pinpointed what that might be. I enjoyed seeing the journey, learning about the history, etc. but it just didn't connect with me the way I'd hoped. This is only the second graphic novel that I've read. I loved the first one but this one was underwhelming, especially after hearing so many of my bookish friends rave about it. I wish I'd loved it more. I think it is a good, solid read but nothing that struck me as amazing.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am super conflicted about this book ... I loved so much of it but there were flaws. Flaws that keep me from giving it a 5 star rating ... even though many aspects of this novel deserve a 5 star rating! This is one of those novels that has so much potential that I'm sad not to be able to give it a 'this is my favorite book of 2011' rating!

What I loved most about this book was how Erin Morgenstern created a story unlike any story that I've ever read. It is unique. It is compelling. It is simply wonderful. Seriously - like nothing I've ever read. I feel like most fiction today is just the same few stories told over and over again with different nuances. That is NOT the case with this novel. Until you've read it, you just won't understand the uniqueness of the novel. Seriously - it's that unique. I can't explain it and wouldn't even if I could. Discovering it yourself is one of the best things about this novel.

The structure of the novel is frankly brilliant. Different plot threads are woven in and out of time throughout the novel (which was sometimes a bit confusing, if I'm honest) but they come together amazingly at the end. And you realize just how brilliant Erin Morgenstern was in her structuring of the narrative. It's fantastic! I think I'll go back and read it again at some point because I think it would be interesting to see how she did it, now that I know what I know.

The best part of the book, however, is the creativity that Erin Morgenstern shows in her painting of the world of this novel. There are certain aspects of the circus that literally blew me away. I was amazed at some of what she created with her words and the use of magic. The circus itself makes this book worth reading. It is simply stunning. The setting of this book is, I suspect, the reason for the hype and insane attention this book has gotten. It's unlike anything you will have read about before. In some ways the strength of setting may well be one of the primarily downfalls of the book since it seems to overtake all other aspects of the novel. The characters, plot and story often seem to be taking a backseat to the stunning backdrop of the circus. They simply cannot compete.

There is a feeling of distance and coldness to the story. I'm not sure that I can explain it well but I never felt connected to the people or the places in any real way. They were beautifully described but left me cold. Even uninterested, in some cases. They were so woefully underdeveloped that they just left me cold. A case in point is the romance in the novel. It just didn't work. The two characters never really seemed connected to me - they seemed like cardboard mannequins walking around and saying they love each other but never showing it or even really feeling it. I liked them but I didn't connect with them. I loved the world they lived in but they never came alive for me.

The next thing that I didn't love was the fact that it felt like a truly slowwwwwww moving train at times. I felt like it lost some of its steam at times. Not the entire book but sometimes. I think this is a product of the intertwining of plot lines that didn't always make sense. It didn't allow the novel to flow in the fast paced way you might expect, given the subject matter - magic. It's almost like the book keeps you at a distance. It doesn't let you in at all. It treats you like a visitor, never giving you the sense of being there. Despite it moving slow at times, I was never bored or not interested in going back for more. I just felt like I was watching a really slow movie that I was dying to see but surprised at how long it was taking to get where it needed to go.

Although I love the story generally, I will say that its not nearly as full as it could have been. It's unique, its fantastic but it doesn't go beyond the surface. The descriptions make the world come alive but not the story. The magic of this novel is the writing - there were moments when Erin Morgenstern just knocked me out with her beautiful words. Her wordplay astounded me at times. I would re-read a passage, amazed at how beautiful it was. But, in the end, I wanted a bit more 'meat' in the story itself. I'd prefer to have that AND the beautiful writing. Erin Morganstern has insane talent at creating a unique world & describing it. But, I'd like to have seen a bit more behind that world and its descriptions. It would have taken a good book and made it outstanding.

I completely understand why this book is getting so much attention and praise. I'm sure that it will blow many readers away. I really liked it, for the most part, but I was not blown away. I recommend this book because when it is great, it is great. Just know, going in, that there are flaws here. I may be in the minority since so many others that I respect seemed to be astounded by this novel. Anyway, I recommend it and I truly hope you are astounded in a way that I was not. Happy Reading!

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The LeftoversThe Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first Tom Perrotta novel but I had heard things about his writing style that made me think that he might be right up my alley. And, based on The Leftovers, I think that might have been accurate. Let me just say it ... I really liked this novel. A lot. I think its one of those novels that is more than just a good story. It is definitely a good story but it's also the kind of novel that makes you think.

The novel centers around a community that is dealing with the sudden disappearance of random people (There is no apparent rhyme or reason for their disappearing). It is three years after the event and the bulk of the novel tells the story of the aftermath. Perrotta's focus is exploring how people respond and how they make sense of something unexplainable.

There is no doubt that Perrotta is a good writer. The story itself was unique and interesting. He creates multifaceted characters who really jump off the page. He explores a variety of difficult themes in this novel with a great deal of respect and honesty. I didn't feel that he was ever shoving his point of view down my throat and it appears that he really tried to show a variety of sides to each issue.

I said the following in my blog post about the buddy read that I did for this book but I think it captures a great deal about how this book made me feel so I wanted to share it here ...

The primary reason that I was interested in reading this book is to see what the fiction brought to light about faith and belief, particularly as it relates to religion. I appreciated how Perrotta explored these themes in the novel. Although I will say that I got a sense of where he fell in the 'believe or don't believe' camp, I don't think he shoved his personal beliefs down the readers throat which I appreciated. I found that a lot of the issues of belief and faith explored in the book did lean towards the side of stating that there are great perils in relying on outside structures for meaning in life (religious, political or otherwise). This is a sentiment that aligns closely with my own beliefs so perhaps that is why I was comfortable with the material and the leanings of the themes being explored.

I felt like there was a lot of material in the novel that really gave the reader the opportunity to explore belief and faith in new and different ways. I found myself once again thinking through my own personal beliefs as a result of the themes of this novel. Faith can be a very polarizing issue so I liked how Perrotta handles religion and its exploration in the novel. I will say that, by the end of the novel, much of my personal beliefs about faith were reinforced as a result of thinking that I did while reading the novel.

All to say - I really liked this novel and will actively pursue some of Perrotta's other novels. I like his writing. I like his exploration of interesting issues and themes. I definitely recommend this novel. It is a fascinating look into belief, faith and extremism. You can't go wrong with this one!

NOTE: You can read the entire buddy read that Carrie and I did for this book on my blog at the following link -

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker

The Winters in BloomThe Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that defy categorization - it has a bit of a number of things (mystery, psychological thriller, literary fiction) but none of them are a clear match. All in all, I really liked this book. I think its very unique and interesting. I haven't really ever read anything quite like it, yet its not so out there as to be strange. It's definitely a psychological study of families, love and redemption. All of these aspects really appealed to me as a reader.

The pacing of the novel was extremely well done - giving away just enough to keep me reading but never enough to keep me from wondering what was really going on. The novelist moved back and forth in time effortlessly, giving the reader much to think about as the plot moved forward. Some of the pieces involving going back in time seemed to be short vignettes of their own. Yet, by the end of the novel, everything comes together to a satisfactory conclusion. All of the bits and pieces dropped along the way finally come together. It's obvious that Lisa Tucker is a good writer. She can construct fantastic stories and capture so much with her word.

The characters are what really made this novel stand out for me. I loved how well rounded they all were - fragile, raw, and complex. They are not particularly likeable but they are flawed and interesting to read about. Their experiences and the resulting flaws of character certainly made me think about the effects that our past experiences have on our current lives.

This isn't a happy book, per se. Although I wouldn't call it sad either. It's a fairly dark look into human fragility, family dynamics and forgiveness. But, its not sad or depressing in any way. I didn't find it to be a downer type book at all. But, it was thought-provoking and captivating. I definitely recommend this if you lean towards literary fiction, particularly stories with a strong psychological bent.

NOTE: I received the galley proof of this novel from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for review consideration.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

A Friend of the FamilyA Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels that snuck up on me and surprised me by how much I enjoyed it! I had no idea what the book was about until I began reading. This is a book that I want to be careful not to tell too much about in order to be sure that the future reader will experience the joy of watching this book unfold.

The novel itself is extremely well constructed. It's pacing is fantastic ... keeping you guessing while revealing just enough to keep you engaged and wanting more. The characters are well written and expertly developed over the course of the novel. They are well rounded - flawed, raw and incredibly, refreshingly human. Grostein did an exceptional job of writing the main characters voice - it can be difficult for women to write in an authentically male voice but she excels with it in this novel.

Grodstein's storytelling ability is stellar. Looking back over the novel, I'm amazed at how well she pulled it all together and brought the book to its conclusion. This is a novel about relationships and Grodstein does an amazing job of depicting those relationships as very true to life. The complex relationships and the way those relationships change is where this novel is so successful. This is a gripping tale about family and parental love. It goes to dark and twisty places but is very grounded in love.

I definitely recommend this book. There are some dark places in the book that can be difficult to read. Not scary or frightening but rather disturbing. But, I think that aspect of the novel was handled very well and is not in any way gratuitous. In fact, the story has to go to those places in order to get to the very heart of this novel.

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Review: Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of FriendshipLet's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although I was not taken with this book, I completely understand how someone might be. I didn't seem to connect with the story in the way that it appears others have. I would even go so far as to say that I had to push my way through the book. I didn't feel myself connecting with the material so I was having to force myself through it at times.

Ultimately, this memoir was just ok for me. I can't even say that it was good. Yet, it doesn't feel bad, per se. Just nothing special. Nothing that really will stick with me once I put the book down.

Everything about this book had potential to hit me in the gut but it just seemed to fall short for me. I didn't connect with either of the women or their relationship. Neither of them or their journeys really came alive for me. The reading experience made feel as if I was watching a so-so movie that was constantly failing to make me FEEL anything. I'm reading about this intense friendship and the loss experienced by the author and just not feeling it. I should have been crying. I should have been devastated, given the events. Yet, I just wasn't feeling it. Which is simply disappointing and really made the reading of the book not particularly affecting.

Although there were small moments that I loved in the book - mostly thoughts on loss which spoke to me. Things that I wrote down to think about again later. One that comes to mind readily is Gail Caldwell's statement that "I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures." Wow. That really spoke to me. If only more of the book had spoken to me like those few sentiments. All in all, the writing and the language chosen just didn't do it for me. I felt it didn't live up to the events themselves. The events described in this book are amazing ... the way that these two women came together in friendship and changed each others lives so incredibly. That is fantastic ... however, the telling of those events in this book just missed the mark for me. I'm sorry that I didn't love it as so many others have.

I recommend it if you want to read about an intense friendship, one that is pretty amazing. I recommend it if you've lost someone special to you as there are great things in this memoir about loss and grieving. The bottom line is that most people that I know who have read it really loved it. Perhaps you will as well ...

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Buddy Read/Review of The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

I was recently given the opportunity to participate in a Buddy Read/Review with Carrie from Books and Movies! This is my first Buddy Read and I have had a great time working with Carrie on this. For our Buddy Read, we read  Tom Perrotta's new novel The Leftovers which was released on August 30th.  I had been wanting to read this novel from the moment that I'd heard about it because the concept sounded like something right up my alley! By the way, be on the lookout for a full review of the novel later this weekend!

As part of the Buddy Read/Review, Carrie and I each read the book and then sent one another a few questions about the book. Today we're both going to be posting our responses to the questions sent by the other person. Be sure to visit Carrie at Books & Movies to see her responses to the questions that I sent her. My answers to her questions are below, just after the book synopsis ... I'd love to hear what YOU thought about this book so please post in the comments of this post so that Carrie and I can continue the conversation with all of you!

Synopsis - (from the publisher's website)

What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished?  Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?  That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened—not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children. 

Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne.  Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be.  Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.

With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta has written a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

Questions and Responses -

1.  Perrotta makes an interesting choice to not explain the Great Disappearance, and to keep the novel character-focused. What did you think of this? Did it bother you not knowing what the GD was?

All in all,  I really liked the fact that Perrotta didn't explain what really happened. It kept the novel focused on the aftermath which I think is a unique perspective. It would be so easy for someone to focus on the actual events but I think the more challenging perspective is the aftermath.  However, I will admit that there was a small part of me that, although acknowledging the good reasons for keeping things vague, REALLY wanted to know what his take of the actual events would have been!

2.  The book follows the stories of several characters after the GD. Which one was your favorite character? Why? Which was your least favorite and why?

I think my favorite character was Jill. She really jumped off the page for me and her journey was very relate able and interesting to me! I think her vulnerability combined with her adolescent ambiguity really spoke to me. I don't typically think about a book or a character after I close the cover of a book but I did find myself thinking back to Jill a few times since finishing the book. Something about her struck a chord with me.

I found Laurie to be the most disappointing character so I think she is my least favorite.  I didn't dislike her but I also didn't find her to be at all genuine. The character almost felt more like a plot device than a well rounded person. I still struggle with making sense of some of her choices, given what we know about her situation at the start of the book. And my reaction to her character got worse over the course of the book. I suspect that much of my reaction to the character was the result of deliberate decisions that Perrotta made in order to help explore the world of extremism.

I feel that I also have to mention Matt Jamison because he was a VERY close second to Laurie in terms of being my least favorite. His inability to believe he could possibly be left behind and his decision to call attention to all of the indiscretions of those who disappeared made him very unlikeable to me. I do understand the role he played in exploring the aftermath of the GD but I found myself reacting very negatively to him each time he popped up in the plot.

3.  What did you think of the theme of religion in the book?

The primary reason that I was interested in reading this book is to see what the fiction brought to light about faith and belief, particularly as it relates to religion. I appreciated how Perrotta explored these themes in the novel. Although I will say that I got a sense of where he fell in the 'believe or don't believe' camp, I don't think he shoved his personal beliefs down the readers throat which I appreciated. I found that a lot of the issues of belief and faith explored in the book did lean towards the side of stating that there are great perils in relying on outside structures for meaning in life (religious, political or otherwise). This is a sentiment that aligns closely with my own beliefs so perhaps that is why I was comfortable with the material and the leanings of the themes being explored.

I felt like there was a lot of material in the novel that really gave the reader the opportunity to explore belief and faith in new and different ways. I found myself once again thinking through my own personal beliefs as a result of the themes of this novel. Faith can be a very polarizing issue so I liked how Perrotta handles religion and its exploration in the novel. I will say that, by the end of the novel, much of my personal beliefs about faith were reinforced as a result of thinking that I did while reading the novel.

I am interested to see how someone who is a devout believer in a particular religion might feel about this book and its themes.  In my opinion, that would be a very interesting perspective to hear.

4.  There was such a huge variety of responses to the GD. I was especially intrigued by how Laurie, who hadn't lost anyone in her immediate family, had such an extreme reaction, changing her whole lifestyle, leaving her family. Did her reaction make sense to you?

Her reaction completely befuddled me. I just could not understand her decisions in the aftermath. They felt 'wrong' to me after all of the background that Perrotta offers about Laurie early in the novel. I'm assuming he was using her as a tool to show the potential extremism that can occur in the aftermath of a life changing event. And I guess, if that is the case, then she is exactly that. But, given the level of extremism she demonstrated in the novel (particularly in the latter sections of the novel), I was more irritated with her and her choices than anything. Despite my visceral reaction to her and her choices, I did like how Laurie's journey in the novel demonstrated so clearly how extremist groups can damage and heal people simultaneously as well as how easily good intention can morph into evil.

5.  This is my first book by the author. Have you read anything else by Tom Perrotta? If so, how did it compare to this one?

This is my first Tom Perrotta book as well. I've seen movies based on his books but I've never read anything by him. I really enjoyed this one so I have already picked up another of his novels The Abstinence Teacher, which I'm looking forward to reading. I like his mix of satire and insightful poignancy.

Okay, so there are my responses to Carrie's questions ... please tell us what you think about these questions (or anything else about the book) in the comments section! Looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks! Thanks and happy reading!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

The ReservoirThe Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Reservoir is a historical novel that is built around a true story that took place in Richmond, Virginia in 1885. It is obvious that the author has done exhaustive research into the original case and into 19th century Richmond, VA . He brings both alive in vivid detail! Goodreads describes this book as "a novel of lust, betrayal, justice, and revenge, The Reservoir ultimately probes the question of whether we can really know the hearts and minds of others, even of those closest to us." This is a really good description of the novel as a whole ... law, lust and deception are at the center of the story.

My feelings about this novel are a bit jumbled. I enjoyed it. I felt it was a good, solid read. But, it didn't capture my imagination in the way that I'd hoped. It was good but not great. Perhaps this is partly because the novel is loaded with ambiguity. by the way, if you’re looking for a mystery with solid resolution, then this book is not for you. You are not given answers, you are left with a lot of ways to look at the situations in the novel.

The writing is superb. John Milliken Thompson puts words together in ways that I found enchanting. I loved how the book felt like a mix of historical fiction and psychological thriller.
Given all of the things that I liked about this book, I haven't been able to pinpoint what it is that didn't take it from a good novel to a great one. I can't seem to put my finger on why it didn't completely wow me.

I definitely recommend this novel if you love well written historical fiction. And if Richmond, VA is a city that you care about at all, this is an excellent way to see the Richmond of 1855 come alive!
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits by Jack Murnighan

Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest HitsBeowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits by Jack Murnighan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book ... I loved that I was able to dip in and out over time as I was able to read a bit. I liked to read what Jack Murnighan thought about each of these classics. His perspective on these novels is interesting. I didn't always agree with him but it was nice to see what he thought of the books that I love (and hate). There are a number of books on his list that I will probably never read so it was nice to get a taste of them through this book. Although they may not be what I'd like to spend time reading, I appreciated reading about the author's take on them. There were books that I was on the fence about that are now solidly on my TBR and others that are now solidly NOT on my TBR!

If you love books, I think you'll like this unique way of exploring some of the greatest books written. It's interesting to see what he picked as his top 50 and think about what I'd have included that he did not. Really interesting read!

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not a science fiction fan. I'm not a huge gamer. I'm not all of things that you'd think you'd have to be to enjoy this book. I wasn't sure going in that I was going to enjoy it. What a pleasant surprise! Wow. Just wow. I loved this book. Completely, totally and utterly loved it. Between the 80's references that took me straight back to my childhood and the unabashedly 'geeky' story, it was almost like coming home for me!

I love the world building that Ernest Cline has done so effectively in this novel. The characters just jump off the page, the world at large so familiar yet completely changed, and the great writing ... it all adds up to a fantastic, can't put it down read! I want to go back and read it again because it was so packed full of amazing things, that I'm sure I missed a few. I very rarely want to read a book a second time, given the size of my TBR list but this is an exception. This is, so far, my favorite book of 2011.

It might be a good idea to give a quick synopsis of the book (which I usually don't do in my reviews). This novel takes place in 2044, in a world that is essentially a wasteland. The main character (and most people in the world) spends most of his time in a MMO (massively multiplayer online) virtual reality game known as OASIS. Upon his death, the creator of this online game has decided to give away the game (and his financial empire) to the first person who can complete a quest created by him that takes place in OASIS. The plot entails the main character and a group of fantastic other characters working on completing the quest.

The entire premise of this novel was fantastic, believable and intriguing. The idea of a 'egg hunt' within an alternative reality - an interesting take on the idea behind Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory - is fantastic! All of the clues, riddles and puzzles were fascinating to me! I couldn't wait to get to the next one, to learn more about the world of Oasis and its creator. Halliday, Wade, Art3mis and the rest of the cast of characters came alive for me. I found the writing to be witty and multi-dimensional. I couldn't stop reading this novel. I wanted more and more and more. I was not happy when I reached the end and had to leave the world that Ernest Cline has created in this book.

The book is extremely easy to read and it's pacing is fantastic! It moved quickly and efficiently but it never felt rushed. Although technically a science fiction novel, the concepts of the book are easily understood and there isn't a lot of science fiction or any of the stuff usually associated with science fiction. It is in some ways science fiction for people who don't love science fiction. The endless 80s references and other 'geeky' references are fantastic if you're someone who likes that sort of thing. As a child of the 80s, I related to it. If you aren't a fan of the 80s, perhaps this aspect of the book might become tiresome.

I definitely recommend this novel. Without a doubt. Pick it up ... you will not regret it! As I said before, this may well be my favorite novel of the year! It's a great book!
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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was highly recommended by a number of my bookish friends and the concept sounded amazing. This book is a thriller built around a woman who has a form of amnesia that causes her to wake each morning with no idea what happened before that morning. The concept alone was fantastic.

I found this book to be uneven - at times it was riveting and contained the kind of tension that you want in a thriller. However, at other times, it was slow and repetitive. Perhaps its inevitable for it to be repetitive, given the subject matter. But, for me, that aspect made the novel less successful than it could have been. The structure of the novel is one of the most impactful things about it - when it was GREAT, it was GREAT. When it was slow, it was excruciatingly slow. The lack of balance in those areas made this a less successful novel.

I think that S.J. Watson is a good writer and I liked the reading experience (with the exception of the slow bits and pieces). I liked the characters and felt compelled to see their journey through. I was eager to get to the 'big twist' which I think was done fairly well. It didn't come out of nowhere for me, it was fairly predictable. But, its predictability didn't make it bad for me. I still enjoyed the twist.  I did feel that the book, after the twist is revealed, seemed to lose steam. The rest of the novel felt forced to me. It felt as if the author just wanted to get on with it already or something.

All to say, I did enjoy this novel. I don't think it's a great novel but certainly worth reading if you like thrillers, particularly psychological thrillers. This isn't an action filled thriller but it is an examination of identity that is worth checking out!

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Domestic VioletsDomestic Violets by Matthew Norman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a fantastic read! I think that really sums up how I felt about this novel. It's just wonderful - hilarious, compelling, and laugh out loud funny! I've heard Matthew Norman compared to Jonathan Tropper which I totally get ... they have a similar vibe about them. Funny, sarcastic, rather smart. If you like Tropper, I suspect that you'll like this novel as well. I think this one may almost be better than Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You. During my review for that novel, I called it wry, sarcastic, and witty - all of which is also true of this one!

It is very rare that an author is able to make me laugh out loud ... but Matthew Norman had me chuckling throughout this book. I liked the plot - found it to be interesting and unique in a number of ways. But, what I loved the most was the characters. Wow. Matthew Norman truly created an amazing cast of characters in this novel. The interactions and complexities of these characters really are the heart of the novel. And the main character, Tom Violet, is one of those characters that I wish I knew in my real life - charming, funny, self-deprecating! It was kind of sad when I reached the end of the book and had to say goodbye to Tom Violet and his world!

Although extremely funny, the most fascinating aspect of this novel was the weaving of a touching story into the humor that is so central to the book. The ending was quite bittersweet for me - I was sad to leave the world that Matthew Norman created. For me, this book has it all - humor, realism and heart! I definitely recommend this book. I think readers will be charmed by Tom Violet and the other characters in the book!

I will be actively awaiting a second Matthew Norman book ... I think he has amazing literary potential. I can't wait to see what he has for us next!

NOTE: NOTE: I received the galley proof of this novel from the publisher, Harper Collins, for review consideration.

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Review: Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews

Summer RentalSummer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I generally love Mary Kay Andrews ... I find her books nice places to retreat in between the heavier fiction that I seem to read a great deal. They are fun escapist novels for me. And this one was a pretty standard chick lit kind of book. Nothing earthshaking. Nothing that knocked me off of my chair. It's a bit disappointing as her earlier novels were very strong. I think they were the best of the chick lit genre. This one just doesn't live up to those earlier novels.

This one is literally a light beach read. It's about a group of women and their experiences during a month-long girls vacation to the beach. It focuses on friendship and love as most of these sorts of books do. It's very light, very easy to read. Nothing difficult in the pages of this novel. If you want something light, a vacation of sorts, this might be of interest to you. However, I think that there are MANY other chick lit novels that do that very thing much better than this novel. Earlier Mary Kay Andrews books, for example!

I found the plot lines of this novel to be pretty predictable and not all that engaging. I knew what was happening and what was coming. No surprises and nothing unique. There were times when I rolled my eyes at the 'twists and turns' of the plot. They were almost annoying in their predictability!

The characters didn't wow me ... they were okay (and often boring), but no characters really stood out as a fantastic character. They were all pretty broadly written, not given a lot of individuality. The hardest thing for me with this novel was the dialogue. It felt very clunky and unreal. It was not seamless, in fact it felt forced. It made the experience of reading much less enjoyable than it could have been.

Overall, I was quite disappointed in this novel. Which is sad for me as a Mary Kay Andrews fan. I wish I could recommend it but I'd suggest you check out her earlier novels (Hissy Fit is my personal favorite) instead. This book just doesn't do her writing justice!

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Linger (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #2)Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second in a trilogy and has been written as a bridge to the final book. This may be why I didn't enjoy it as much as the first in the series. I liked this one but it didn't quite make it to the level of liked it a lot or loved it.

I think the plot was fine - nothing earth shattering but a good solid story. I do think the pacing felt off to me - it felt slower than Shiver. There were moments where I just wanted the pacing to pick up and just GET ON WITH IT. I'm hoping that the pacing issue is a result of this being book 2 of 3.

In terms of the characters, I really like the addition of Cole to the mix. I was already a fan of Isabel and that was only reinforced with this book. In some ways, I find her more compelling than Grace and Sam. However, I liked having the four perspectives in this book rather than the two in Shiver. That felt right to me.

I think that Stiefvater's writing is stellar - she has such a way with words! Her writing is lyrical and enchanting.

Although not nearly as exciting or compelling as Shiver, I do think this is a solid second book in a trilogy. I'm still interested in reading the last book in the trilogy as I want to see the trilogy through. However, I'm not chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. I just know that I'll get to it eventually.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

MaineMaine by J. Courtney Sullivan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an intense character study that follows four women in one family. It doesn't have a great deal of action but I loved the emotional journey that I took while reading this book. I have an affinity for books that explore the emotional lives of other people. I think this book is a great example of of that type of novel. I was swept into the inner lives of the Kelleher women and enjoyed every moment of it.

I tend to enjoy books with multifaceted characters - complex, interesting and not entirely likeable women, in particular. This is not a book with nice characters who most anyone can relate to. This is a book with tragic, complex, annoying and sometimes ugly women. They all have their own issues and blind spots and there are moments when you want to shake some sense into them. But, as the novel unfolds, the reader begins to see all of the pieces and parts of these women and their issues come together in what I think was a beautiful character study.

One of the things that I loved most about this novel was how Sullivan conveyed how impossible it is for any of us to really understand anyone else. Especially within a family. We think we know each other but we're really just playing out the same patterns that were developed early on. I found these women heartbreaking in this respect - their disconnection so sad, their connections so tenuous, and their stories so compelling. Alternately narrated by the four women, the story is told through the subtle differences revealed in repeated stories. This is obviously designed to illustrate the various ways an event can be interpreted. And this is what Sullivan really excels at - showing you exactly how different people experience the same situations, how one small, seemingly insignificant thing can change relationships forever, how difficult it can be to care about someone that you perceive through a lens of the past.

As you can see, I was very taken with this novel. My only complaint is the pacing - it took awhile to get moving for me, to pull me in. I think that may be one of the things that put some readers off. I noticed that the reviews seem to be mixed in the blogosphere and on GoodReads. I think this is one of those love it/hate it books ... for me, I loved it!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

The Murderer's DaughtersThe Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had such big hopes for this book and ultimately felt a bit disappointed. It's a okay book but it is not a great one. The concept behind the book was really interesting and gave the author a huge amount of content to work with.

What I liked most about this novel is the characters - although not particularly likeable - they were well written, complex and felt real to me. They transformed into people for me rather than just characters on a page. They are honestly what kept me reading.

Much of the actual plot was just okay for me. There were times when I had to force myself to keep reading when I would have rather read something else I had been reading. There were also times when I couldn't put the book down (most of that was in the later sections of the book). It was just uneven for me. That is part of the reason that I'm so conflicted about the novel in its entirety. There were moments that were great, but as a whole, it fell short of great.

I am not sure that I can adequately describe the overall feeling that this novel brought up in me. As someone who worked with in human services for years as a counselor and social worker, I had hoped that this story (given its very nature) would come alive for me. But, it just didn't. It felt, at times, to be over dramatized and over blown. There were aspects of the story that felt contrived in some way. As a result of all of this, I just didn't connect with the story as I'd hoped.

However, it is a good book in terms of helping you understand what it must be like to have one of your parents kill your other parent. To be "The Murderer's Daughters" for the rest of your life. To try and grow up 'normal' when your life is so abnormal as a result of something outside of yourself. The author did a good job of showing the reader what it might feel like to be in that situation.

All in all, this was a okay read, albeit a slow one. It wasn't one of those exciting, can't put it down kind of books. But, it does create compelling characters and situations. I wouldn't generally recommend this one unless the subject matter is particularly interesting to you. Given how many other great books there are out there, I'm not sure I can honestly recommend this one otherwise.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that I kept hearing about here and there since it's release. And it sounded like something right up my alley. And, let's face it, that cover is AMAZING! One of the best I've seen in awhile.

All in all the book is very well written. There is great world building (although I wish more of the world had been explained). I liked the character development and the pacing. I will acknowledge that this is a great story concept ... I was totally taken with the world that Condie built and wanted to know more and more about how that world works. In fact, one of my primary complaints about the novel is that I kept being distracted by the details of the world that Condie builds and how there are things that don't add up or aren't explained enough. Just a bit more attention to those details would have made this more of a 4 star book for me. I also felt at times that I was reading the Giver ... there were too many parallels to that novel for me. Frankly, it made me uncomfortable. I wish it had been less similar to that book which is a classic. Lastly, I found the plot to be predictable. Although I kept reading, I suspected very early on where the plot was going and I was ultimately right. That's always disappointing.

In the end, this is a good, solid young adult novel that I think many teens would love. I thought it was good but could have been better. At this point, I will continue to read the series because its compelling enough that I'm interested to know what happens next. However, I am hoping that Condie fixes the problems I found in this novel as she finishes out the trilogy.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

The Last WerewolfThe Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I struggled with rating this one and I think it's really more of a 3 and half for me. This book was getting insane amounts of buzz in the book blogger community so I had high expectations going into the reading of the novel. In the end, I liked it but I didn't love it. It was not nearly as good as I'd hoped. I'm worried that this is a case of the book buzz impacting my reading of a book - it was so built up in my mind that it couldn't live up to that hype!

All in all, this is am interesting take on the werewolf story. It is dark, violent, filled with sexual content and yet also funny and compelling. It is NOT a book for everyone. Many will be taken aback by its frank sexuality and gore. If either of those things put you off, this is not the book for you. If you aren't bothered by those things, you should pick this one up.

What redeems this novel for me and ultimately pushed me into giving it a 4 star rating is the writing. Glen Duncan is a masterful writer. I'm not sure my description can do it justice but its smart, humorous, provocative, and delightful. He is obviously a smart man and his construction of the story combined with his fantastic writing took this novel from a 3 to a four for me. That alone is worth reading this book, in my opinion. I liked how Duncan made this novel an introspective look at the thoughts and emotions of his werewolf. It was very compelling for me. The entire idea of a werewolf having an existential crisis is pretty interesting and clever.

Now for the things that I didn't like as much ... I read a review somewhere that discussed how this book was uneven - going back and forth between clever brilliance and pretentiousness. And that is a good description of what I didn't love about the book. There is clearly amazing stuff there but there was also stuff that just left me feeling 'ehh.' There were times when I felt the barrage of cynical comments didn't add to the enjoyment of the book. In fact, that was often distracting to me as it felt over the top.

Another thing that I felt could have been better is the settings that Duncan drew in this novel - the atmosphere. It wasn't particularly unique or well drawn. It was what one would expect - gothic and dark! I just didn't get a sense of being taken anywhere special yet there was so much opportunity to do that given the story. I was also a little less than taken with the ending. I thought it was pretty predictable - nothing out of the ordinary or particularly compelling. Again, it felt like it didn't live up to its potential.

All in all, this is a very exciting and thrilling novel with fantastic pacing and moments of brilliance. But the story was thinner than it could have been, considering all the action. Ultimately, I enjoyed it and didn't want to put it down.

I recommend this one to anyone who thinks that they can stand the extreme violence/gore, bad language and intense sexual content that is woven into the entire novel. It's not for the faint at heart. However, if you like a good werewolf story and enjoy good writing, this might be one that is right up your alley! It's gotten a lot of buzz for a reason so it might be worth checking out if that sort of thing compels you to read a novel!

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ann Patchett does it AGAIN! I was reluctant about reading this ... the description of the book did not intrigue me. In fact, I was sure that I wouldn't connect with it. But, the magic of Ann Patchett made it all okay! No matter what she writes about, I seem to love it!

Patchett's ability to take you into a world that is unknown to you, make it come alive, and write it all well is her magic! She is an incredible writer. The Amazon CAME ALIVE in this book. All because of Ann Patchett's incredible writing ability. All in all, the writing is lush, beautiful and engrossing. One of the things I love most about Ann Patchett is that each of her stories is a complete shift from that which she's written before. I never know where she's going to come from, where she's going to take me. For me, all of her novels are amazing - but amazing in completely different ways! And part of the treat in reading a Patchett novel is not knowing where you'll be going from the start. She defies my attempts to pigeonhole her every time!

Although State of Wonder isn't my favorite Patchett novel (I think Bel Canto and Run are overall better novels), it is an EXCELLENT book. Definitely worth reading!

The characters are wonderful, flawed, interesting and compelling. The major and minor characters seem to walk right out of the book, through Patchett' words. They come alive. I love that her characters are never cookie cutter men and women. They tend to be flawed, true and real. And the characters in this novel are no exception. The characters in this novel are multifaceted. They are good and bad - just like you and me!

One of the most impactful (and enjoyable) aspects of this novel is how Patchett makes the jungle come alive. The insects, heat, trees, critters and the suffocating heat/humidity come together for the reader in a way that makes the jungle a critical character in the novel. Each aspect of the jungle is conveyed incredibly!

I admit that the premise of this novel wasn't particularly compelling BUT Patchett surprised me and made it WORK. And made it work well. Although the focus is on the Amazon, fertility, anacondas, cannibals, pharmaceutical companies and a mystery, it is SO much more! Don't let the premise keep you away!

I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys a good story with wonderful writing! If you've enjoyed Patchett's other novels, you won't be disappointed!

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper LeeMockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this is a solid biographical account of Harper Lee. I don't know that I really knew much about her beyond her having written an amazing novel and then stepping out of sight. I vaguely knew of her relationship with Truman Capote and their work together on In Cold Blood but I didn't have any context or details on it. This portrait of Harper Lee was enlightening in that respect but it still didn't go very deep into her life. Although I suspect that the lack of depth is due to the extreme privacy that Harper Lee lives her life in. Although the author was able to interview a lot of people about her, I'm not sure that he had the insider view that would have been necessary to make this book anything more than a satisfactory biography. It's solid. It's good. It's interesting. But, it didn't go as far as I suspect most of us would have liked.

The most compelling things for me after reading this book -

1. How much of her own life she used when writing To Kill A Mockingbird. I had no idea. I knew she grew up in a similar place but I had no idea how much she really leveraged!

2. Her relationship with Truman Capote. Wow. He was something else! The story of their friendship and its projectory over their lives was fascinating.

3. I found that I liked what I learned of Harper Lee much more than I'd expected - she appears (based on the account of her in this book) to be a feisty, intelligent, complex and kind woman. The kind of women that I like. A woman that I'd like to know.

4. I better understand WHY she may not have written another novel. Although that isn't solved per se, it is better understood after acknowledging her experiences with Mockingbird (the book and movie) and In Cold Blood. I can certainly understand her desire for privacy and her decision to remove herself from public life (for the most part).

In the end, I wanted to go sit and have a cup of coffee with Harper Lee. She seems like a person that I would enjoy knowing. I have an even greater respect for her and the novel that she wrote. Her novel is an American classic for a reason.

The writing of Charles J. Shields is clunky and ultimately made the reading experience drag on a bit. It took almost 10 days for me to get through it which is a very long time for me. Particularly since it isn't a long book. It just felt very dense and clunky to me. I enjoyed it, in the end, but getting there was sometimes a chore.

If you love her novel and want to know more about her, her life, and perhaps get a glimpse into what she's chosen to do, this is definitely something you may enjoy. You have to push through the writing at times which isn't something that I would recommend to someone who isn't a fan of her novel or interested in her life.

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Review: The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

The Good ThiefThe Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This really is good book. Definitely worthy of a read. The story is strong - it's unlike any book that I've read before which I found refreshing. Many books seem to be recycled in ways but this one felt very new and unique to me throughout. Perhaps its the fact that it was an adventure story with a lot more than just adventure. I'm not sure - all I know is that it felt like nothing that I've ready before!

I have read a lot of comparison's to this novel & the work of Dickens, Twain and others. Although I can see that, I think that Tinti takes the adventure story to a new place with her novel. Although perhaps reminiscent of the 19th century adventure story, it's really a unique take on the traditional adventure story.

The main character, Ren, is a very interesting character and I kept wondering what might come next for him. His experiences and how he reacts to them were fascinating to me! The mix of people (many of them 'villains') that he encounters make for a compelling narrative that keeps you wanting more. Ren's voice was original and memorable. His navigation through the world created by Tinti really made this book special. Although places here and there were slower than I'd have liked, the parts that picked up made up for the slower parts.

I think that Tinti could have done more with some of the plot lines and characters than she did, which may have eliminated some of the slowness that came through. For example, the character of Mrs. Sand's brother was fascinating and I would have loved for that part of the story to have been expanded upon. There were quite a few places that left me with questions, i.e. - memorable characters whose actions were not adequately explained, for example.

Although I liked the entire story, it was the end (last 1/4 of the book) that really knocked it out the park! Hannah Tinti really pulled all of the pieces of the plot together and created an outstanding ending! In the end, what sticks with me is the world created by Tinti and how compelling she made a world that is fairly dark and twisty. It could have fallen into the dark places and never come out. Tinti's skill at keeping the story moving, creating compelling characters and showing glimpses of light in the dark make this a very special book. She has a very unique viewpoint that was fascinating to visit. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work!

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus EatersThe Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was nothing like I had expected ... I'm not sure what I felt I was getting into but it certainly wasn't what I found in this book. This is a very good book. It's a very well written novel that put me directly into the shoes of a photojournalist during the Vietnam War. At moments, I felt as if I were walking through the streets and experiencing things myself. Tatjana Soli made the setting of the novel come alive. She has a gift for descriptive language. The way that she weaves the horrors of the war with the love story is simply fantastic! It felt real and natural. She brings this dangerous time and place alive and does an amazing job at showing the reader the intricate details of the life of a photojournalist during war and how the war changes them and their lives.

This is a book that will most definitely transport the reader into the frightening and humid jungles of Vietnam as well as the filthy streets of Saigon. This alone makes the book worth the read. I didn't think the love story (or love triangle, to be more accurate) was as strong as it could have been. I just didn't 'feel' the love triangle in the way I believe the author intended. It didn't resonate with me in the way that I would have liked.

In the end, however, this novel was outstanding and I definitely recommend it. If nothing else, its a well written novel that will transport you to an entirely different world more effectively than you can imagine!

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: Lover Unleashed by J.R. Ward

Lover Unleashed (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #9)Lover Unleashed by J.R. Ward

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love this series but I only liked this particular book of the series. It was good, very readable. I was intrigued by the story but I wasn't as taken with it as I usually am with this series. I think the primary reason that I didn't love this one was that I wasn't particularly taken by the relationship between Manny and Payne. It was ok, but not nearly as breathtaking as some of the other couples. In fact, I wasn't that interested in Payne. I didn't find her compelling or particularly interesting. Again, she was okay. Just okay.

I love the Qhuinn and Blay storyline and look forward to seeing where J.R. Ward plans to take that in future books. She was obviously setting up a lot of things for the two of them in this book and I can't wait to see where that will go.

I also love Viscous and Jane so their having a large presence in this book was a good thing. I find their relationship interesting and complicated and compelling. They helped to heat things up when the Manny/Payne storyline withered out.

Overall, a solid book. But, definitely not one of the best of the series. Looking forward to the 10th in the series ... hoping it will take things to the next level!

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