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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