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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