Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia!Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really struggled with rating this one - I settled on a 3 but it could have just as easily been a 2. It was honestly somewhere in between. I'm kind of sad about this book. I wanted to love it. It had such potential and yet it just didn't quite make it.

Let me start out with what DOES work - Karen Russell is an amazing writer. She blew me away at times with her word play and use of metaphor! There were phrases that literally took my breath away. Which is part of the reason that the novel falls flat overall - you'd expect so much MORE when the author writes this well! (see the end of my review for a list of some of my favorite lines from this novel - it will show you what a wonderful writer that Russell is ...)

What doesn't work so well is pretty much everything else. The plot, the pacing, the ending ... it's just not good. There is a sense of dragging that permeated the novel that is hard to describe yet it made it a very difficult novel to stick with and finish. There were moments that I contemplated just letting it go and not finishing. Yet, I kept hoping that the novel would redeem itself in the end. Unfortunately, that just didn't happen.

Given how well Russell creates a sense of place in the novel, you'd expect the actual story to be fantastic. There were just so many holes and coincidences that I just can't get past. There was a lot of looseness to the plot that I think should have been tightened up during the editing process. There were so many inconsistencies or things that just became clownish. I have to be careful here because I don't want to spoil the book but the big, horrible thing that was anticipated throughout the book happens so late and unexpectedly, just as I'd figured it wasn't going to happen. The effect was AWFUL and made the rest of the book fall apart for me. The ending ... wow. I don't want to give anything away but it was NOT effective. AT ALL. You spend the entire book thinking to yourself, ok, this is not a good idea and cannot turn out well but then it begins to unravel and all I could think is: Seriously - and this is the best you can do? Uggh. So many things occur that are just RIDICULOUS. So many coincidences that just don't make logical sense. It was as if Russell pulled everything after the big event together in a hurry or something - so much was lost, thrown together and left in some way unfinished. I can usually suspend disbelief but this time things were just stretched too far.

I am still so disappointed by this one. I really, really, really wanted to love it. I will give Karen Russell another chance in the future because she has a way with words ... I just hope that her next novel is put together a bit better. I hear great things about Russell and hope to love her next novel as much as I didn't love this one!

I don't want to end this review without sharing how beautifully Karen Russell writes ... she really has a way with words! That alone MIGHT make reading this novel worth the time? You decide!

“Hopes were wallflowers. Hopes hugged the perimeter of a dance floor in your brain, tugging at their party lace, all perfume and hems and doomed expectation. They fanned their dance cards, these guests that pressed against the walls of your heart.”

“The beginning of the end can feel a lot like the middle when you are living in it.”

“No, I don’t have to tell a soul about this, I promised myself. When you are a kid, you don’t know yet that a secret, like an animal, can evolve. Like an animal, a secret can develop a self-preserving intelligence. Shaglike, mute and thick, a knowledge with a fur: your secret.”

“Somehow I wasn't adding up right anymore. My parts weren't summing into myself.” (BEST line ever about the events that this line is referring to - and I'm not going to spoil it but it is)

“I didn’t realize that one tragedy can beget another, and another — bright-eyed disasters flooding out of a death hole like bats out of a cave.”

“Pain collected into deep pockets and I was aware of this painbut somehow I could not seem to feel it. It was like a body-deafness.”

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan

Talulla RisingTalulla Rising by Glen Duncan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think that I may have liked this novel better than the first in the series, The Last Werewolf. But, all in all, it's a very similar tale but from a woman's perspective. I think it was the female voice and her struggles around motherhood that spoke to me the most, pushing this one to a higher place in my mind than the first novel.

This one is dark, violent, gory and highly sexual, just like the first book. If that puts you off, do not read this book. It's in no way a 'nice' werewolf novel. It's extremely violent and has incredible amounts of sexual content. It's definitely not for everyone.

Much of my review of The Last Werewolf could be repeated here ... Glen Duncan is a great writer & this novel continues to be an introspective look at the thoughts and emotions of werewolves which I find interesting. However, I think this novel continues to be uneven, just like the previous one. There are areas of brilliance and then others are eh. The story itself was fine and the pacing was good.

But, all in all, I don't think this novel was much different from the first other than it focused on a female instead of a male. Otherwise, much of the content felt similar to what I'd read in the previous novel with just a few tweaks. It's my understanding that this is a trilogy so I'll probably read the last one but I'm not particularly excited about doing so. Yet, I feel compelled to see the series through.

This novel is definitely an adventure into the dark world of the werewolf. I think its worth the read if you liked the first novel. But, it's not for the sensitive reader. Read only if intense violence and sexuality don't bother you.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, I really enjoyed this book despite its many flaws. It's a far from perfect book but I enjoyed the reading experience and was able to overlook a lot of the little things that could have added up to big things for some readers. I think because the book was right up my alley, I was able to let a lot of the imperfections slide.

Without a doubt, this book had the potential to be something really special and amazing. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite live up to that. Although the book as a whole is more of a 3 star, I'm giving it 4 because there are so many aspects that I really loved, even if they weren't necessarily successful. It's my understanding that this is Robin Sloan's first novel. Perhaps that is part of the problem?

There is an interesting atmosphere to this book - probably because it centers around an ancient mystery being looked at by a group of young,tech savvy characters. Many of the modern tech references in the book are going to be out of date in no time but I think they were fun for the modern reader. The juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern gives the book a really interesting feel. I also think that the book also had a very similar feel to Ready Player One (at least in its narrative voice). Unfortunately, Ready Player One was a much more successful book than this one.

The book also felt much more like a YA novel than one for adults. I'm not sure what the author intended but that is how it feels while reading it. My other issue is that the mystery component of the story and its unfolding wasn't nearly as compelling as it could have been. It fell flat for me and the adventure the characters take to solve the mystery just didn't work for me. Although I enjoyed the read, I didn't completely buy the story or where it takes the reader.

Yet, despite all of that, I really enjoyed the read. I thought it was fun and interesting. It was a pretty quick, easy read. The characters weren't completely well rounded but they worked for the purposes of the story. And I just liked it. Not because it was brilliant but because it made for a nice story - one where I didn't need to think hard or explore things intellectually. It was just a nice little novel. I think that there are probably much better executed novels of this sort but I am glad that I read it.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 24, 2012

Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

EVERYONE should read this book. Seriously. It should be mandatory reading for all humankind.

This is a book about being different, about accepting others and about the being KIND. We could use a little more tolerance, a little more kindness and this novel definitely demonstrates that beautifully.

This novel is about a boy with a severe facial anomaly who is mainstreaming into regular school. It's about what he faces as he tries to assimilate. It's about his family, his friends, his life. It's a special book.

Definitely check out hte author's website which has great info on how she came to write this book, etc. As I was reading her website, something she said there really resonated and simply sums up, for me the impact of this book so I thought I'd share it below -

I hope that readers will come away with the idea that they are noticed: their actions are noted. Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they’re mean, someone suffers. If they’re kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs: whether to be noticed for being kind or for being mean. They get to choose who they want to be in this world. And it’s not their friends and not their parents who make those choices: it’s them.

I love how this book is told in alternate voices - each of which offer a unique and honest view of the world created by R.J. Palacio. I found that to be refreshing (and effective). There is a realness in this book that I just couldn't get over. The voices felt authentic. The characters felt real. R.J. Palacio truly did an amazing job with this book!

I can't say enough about how wonderful this book is. It's not a long book but it is literally one of the most important books that I've read. I was so taken with this boy, this family, these people! I think there is something for everyone in this novel. Don't miss it! It's that good! And my own children will definitely be reading this one when they are a little older! The message of this book is one that I definitely want them to learn!

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The MiddlesteinsThe Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not a happy go lucky sort of novel. This is a fairly dark look at family relationships - well, family dysfunction is a more accurate description! Yet, despite the darkness, I found so much great stuff in this novel. Although there are aspects of this one that are bleak, I didn't find it to be overwhelmingly hopeless. It's a difficult balance but I think Jami Attenberg was able to balance the hopeless with the hopefulness that it needed to not be depressing. In retrospect, I find the balance that Attenberg finds here is part of the reason that I liked this novel so much.

Although I could see where the story was going throughout, I continued to cheer for them and hope that they'd break their negative patterns. I never felt ready to give up on them, despite the darkness they seemed to often bring on themselves. I kept hoping they'd overcome themselves and find a way in the world that was less dysfunctional. I didn't want to give up on them. These characters are so vibrant, so real, so FLAWED that I couldn't help but to want them to be better than they were. This is where this novel exceeded expectations for me - she made these difficult, flawed, at times ugly people real to me. Not book real but REAL real. The ability to do that is simply a gift!

Although the journey that Jami Attenberg takes you on isn't a happy one, it's well worth the time and effort. I got so much out of this novel. It made me think about family and how we treat one another. It gave me a new perspective on some of the family stuff that I've faced.

Attenberg has a way with words and brought up a number of observations that I found quite impactful. For example, I loved how one of the characters, Emily, learns that life can be horrible and painful and then has the realization that now that she knows what life can be, she can't unlearn it. The innocence and carefree-ness she experienced before was gone. Forever. I specifically remember that moment in my own life so seeing Attenberg write about it so eloquently was fascinating to me!

I was so taken with this book and am quite glad that I picked it up! Definitely a top 10 book for me this year!

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book came out of nowhere for me but I'm so glad that it did. I'd heard about it hear and there but nothing about whether or not it was good. And I knew it was historical fiction about a lighthouse - neither of which were screaming out to me to read it! But, then a friend mentioned that she loved it so I thought I'd give it a shot. And, wow! I really loved this book. It's definitely in my top 10 favorites of the year!

The emotional impact of this book cannot be overstated. That is what made it stand out for me. It made me FEEL something. I even cried - several times. This is a well written, well plotted novel. The characters are outstanding. I came to care for them all. The author does a great job of making them come alive for the reader. The setting is as much a character as any of the people. And the author makes that time and place come alive in a way that I found fascinating.

I would have a difficult time thinking of anything that I didn't enjoy about this novel. It all comes together beautifully. I didn't find it to be slow as I think others have said in their reviews. I felt the pacing was fine. It's not a fast moving novel but certainly not a slow one either.

But, in the end, it is the story and the emotional reaction that it produced in me that I think has stuck with me since finishing the book. I cannot wait to see what M.L. Stedman has in store for us in the future!

I cannot recommend this book enough! I think it's a great book for anyone who enjoys a good story. And I definitely think this could be a great book club book since there is a lot of interesting stuff to discuss with this novel.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a huge fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, I was eager to read this one as soon as I heard about it! I found this to be somewhat more hopeful than some of the classics of the genre (The Road comes to mind) which was refreshing. It took me a little while to get used to the way the story is written (no quotation and LOTS of fragmented passages, for example) but I became accustomed to it eventually. In fact, I think the language quirks added to the realism of the novel. And some of the writing literally made me stop and think WOW. The beauty of the writing, simple and quirky, really spoke to me and made this a special gem!

I really loved the characters - especially Hig and Jasper who stole my heart! I think the interplay of the characters and how they are all dealing with the aftermath of disaster was really interesting. This did seem to be a new way of approaching the end of the world subject in some wasy but didn't quite offer me all that i hoped it would. Perhaps it was just that my expectations were high and I didn't quite get them met? That is why I've given it 4 stars. It was a hard decision. However, it is definitely worth a read, particularly for those who love the post-apocalyptic genre!

The story and its themes have stuck with me over the last few weeks so its impact isn't necessarily fleeting. I'm pleased to say that Hig and his world have stayed in my mind - making me think and being a much more thoughtful book than it seems at first glance. Peter Heller is obviously a gifted fiction writer and I'm looking forward to more of his fiction in the future!

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beautifully written and deceptively simple novel with a premise that seems a bit different than the usual literary fiction. I really enjoyed this very quiet and thought provoking novel. I don't think its what I'd call fast paced in any way but its very engaging.

What really stands out here is the writing ... wow. It's breathtaking in places. I found myself just taking in the words and feeling overwhelmed by the pure beauty of the language. Combine that with the fact that the novel lends itself towards opening up self examination for the reader and it had me hooked! The story is a bit old fashioned, as is the plot. I love this about it and think its one of the reasons that the book is ultimately so beautiful!

This novel is thought provoking and makes you examine your own thoughts and feelings about family, marriage, life & death, and how our actions impact others. I rarely highlight in my nook because I find it a nuisance but I was highlighting like crazy while reading this little novel!

I was quite surprised with how taken I was with this novel, its characters and its plot! There is a very refreshing sense of the old fashioned in this one yet its not dated in any way. I highly recommend it to anyone! It's definitely worth the read!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I hate to write this review. I have avoided it for almost a week. I feel almost guilty because I know how many people really love this novel and I just didn't feel the same. I wanted to love it based on all of the great things I've heard about it. Perhaps that is exactly why I didn't like it? Were my expectations too high? Almost everyone I know and respect as readers loved this book and here I am giving it 2 stars. Yikes.

But, I have to be honest and say that I just didn't get it or like it nearly as much as everyone else. I read those reviews and think to myself 'wait, is that the same book that I read?' I think this book was conceptually amazing - the concept itself is fantastic and has so much potential. However, I just don't think this one did a good job turning that amazing concept into a good novel. It's not a bad novel ... it just isn't a very good one, in my opinion. I had to MAKE myself keep picking it up and reading. I really wanted to quick half way through but I stuck with it, thinking that something would WOW me. But, nothing ever did.

Neil Gaiman is obviously a good writer. He makes good use of mythology which is always fascinating to me. The idea/concept is original and unique. However, I just couldn't get myself to actually CARE about the world he creates with the old gods and the new gods. I kept thinking to myself: eh, who cares? Nothing felt compelling. Nothing felt anything to me but blah. The characters never really captured my attention - they were interesting on the outside but it felt like there was no there there, you know? They were like cardboard figures to me. I never warmed up to ANY of them, even those that I liked. I also didn't love the ending - and the plot seemed to meander all over the place for 3/4 of the book and then ended in a place that seemed silly and contrite to me. I don't know. I just didn't get it. It didn't feel impactful at all. It just all made for a very boring and ehh reading experience for me.

Given how beloved this book is by so many that I respect, I definitely recommend those interested pick it up. I hope you'll enjoy it more than me. I'm going to give him another try ... I have a few of his novels so I am going to give one of them a try and see if perhaps this one was just not a good fit for me. I liked Coraline and The Graveyard Book but didn't love them (solid 3 stars for me). I'm worried that Neil Gaiman and I just may not be a good fit ... but I'm going to give him another try because so many that I respect love his work.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think that I've found my favorite book of 2012. THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. IT CANNOT BE MISSED. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone and everyone. It's beautiful - the writing, the story, the characters, and everything else. It's all beautiful.

Books rarely make me FEEL something. But, this one really connected to me in a way that I didn't expect at all. I was so taken with every single aspect of this book. I can't recommend it highly enough. It resonated with me on so many levels. It's a coming of age story but its also a story about compassion, family, love, friendship and growing into yourself.

The main character, June, spoke to me in so many ways - she has such a unique and beautiful voice! She is unlike most people and that is what I really love about her. She knows who she is and she's OK with who she is. She is comfortable in her own skin in a way that I wish we all were.

I am not going to say much because I don't want to ruin the book. All I can say is this - don't miss this book, it's beautiful, it's a GREAT read, and the writing is so good. If you don't read another book this year, read this one. Seriously. It's worth taking the time to read. In fact, its so worth it, that I plan to buy this one and re-read it. I feel like I have to have a copy nearby so I can revisit the story again one day. I rarely (ok, usually never) re-read books. With the exception of Beach Music by Pat Conroy which I have read numerous times. This one is right up there with Beach Music for me - a book you want to revisit again because it gets under your skin!

After finishing it, I immediately called several friends to tell them that they HAVE to pick it up and read it. I loved it that much. I highly recommend it. Without a doubt, this is my favorite book of this year. And I cannot wait to see what Carol Rifka Brunt has coming in the future.

And I also want to note that this book has one of the best explanations of how it feels to be shy (introverted) in an extroverted world ... it hits the nail on the head for me! THIS is how I feel at social events and parties -

“That's what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth. Someone asks me a question and I stare at them, empty-faced, my brain jammed up with how hard I'm trying to find something interesting to say. And in the end, all I can do is nod or shrug, because the light of their eyes looking at me, waiting for me, is just too much to take. And then it's over and there's one more person in the world who thinks I'm a complete and total waste of space.
The worst thing is the stupid hopefulness. Every new party, every new bunch of people, and I start thinking that maybe this is my chance. That I'm going to be normal this time. A new leaf. A fresh start. But then I find myself at the party, thinking, Oh, yeah. This again.
So I stand on the edge of things, crossing my fingers, praying nobody will try to look me in the eye. And the good thing is, they usually don't.” ― Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I'm Home

What are you doing??? GO READ THIS BOOK!!! :)

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff

Bad MonkeysBad Monkeys by Matt Ruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is without a doubt one of the most unusual novels that I've ever read but I shouldn't be surprised ... that is Matt Ruff in a nutshell. He has such a unique voice and gives his readers such amazing experiences in reading! And this novel is no exception!

This is a difficult book to describe but its really a mash up of a lot of different kinds of books - thriller, mystery, and more. It's certainly what I'd describe as a wild, mind bending ride! Twists and turns abound throughout the novel. You're never entirely sure where you are or what is truly happening yet you cannot stop reading because its all so compelling!

I don't think this will be a book for everyone - you have to let go of your preconceived notions and just suspend disbelief which isn't something everyone can or wants to do. It's out there. It's different. It's even odd. But, if you're open to it, I think its a fantastic book that really takes you on a great ride, challenging you to think about things in new and interesting ways!

I've never read anything like this and I think that it was definitely worth the read. Compelling story, great writing and unique plot! Matt Ruff has done it again!

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

The Book of JoeThe Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just love Jonathan Tropper ... something about his writing and characters just speaks to me. Although this particular novel wasn't quite as good as This Is Where I Leave You, it's a really good novel that was a joy to read. I laughed, I cried and everything in between. Tropper just has a way of making you FEEL as you read - the good, the bad and the ugly. This book definitely reminded me of the TV show October Road (which was one of my favs before it was cancelled way too early).

I wouldn't say the plot is mind blowingly original but I think it was well done and kept my interest throughout. It's really the characters that make this book stand out for me. This entire novel is essentially a study of human relationships and emotional growth.

I really liked this one and definitely recommend it to anyone interested in a novel that has warmth, humor, and interesting characters. It's a fairly quick and easy read ... but one that is definitely worth the time.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 5, 2012

Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Memoirs of an Imaginary FriendMemoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this novel - what a cool idea! The world building here is outstanding and really makes this book great! I can't think of another novel that I've ever read that covers this territory in this way - Imaginary Friends!

This is a novel that is deceptively easy to read and seemingly simple. Yet, it's much more complex than it appears as you read. After finishing, I realized just how effectively the author pulled it all together - he took something that could have been very complex and made it feel easy and simple.

As a parent, this book really expressed a number of of things that really resonated with me. I truly enjoyed the experience of reading this book. The pacing was fantastic, the character development was great and I thought the writing was good.

This is a book that I definitely recommend to anyone. Very nice, unique story with a really interesting perspective and voice. I am so glad I took the time to read this one!

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I didn't love this one quite as much as Gone Girl, I think it might be my next favorite of Gillian Flynn's books. She's very dark and twisty but never boring or predictable! I think this is one of those books that will stick with me awhile - it's almost haunting!

As is typically the case with Gillian Flynn's characters, each and every one of them has a myriad of flaws. In fact, most of them are just one big bundle of flaws. And they interact with one another in extremely unhealthy ways. Gillian Flynn's ability to weave all of these different strings into a really interesting, well paced story. And although some pieces were obvious to me as we went along, others really snuck up on me and made me practically gasp aloud as the next thing was unearthed.

This definitely isn't a novel to read when you're feeling down or low but if you can handle the darkness, it's a fantastic wild ride through dysfunction! It is disturbing and definitely made me uncomfortable at moments but I didn't want to put it down. I had to follow it through. And I'm so glad that I did. I definitely recommend it but not for the faint of heart. If you can't handle darkness, dysfunction, violence and ugliness, this may not be the novel for you. But, if you can handle it, this is definitely a worthwhile read!

View all my reviews

Monday, October 1, 2012

Review: The Night Season by Chelsea Cain

The Night Season (Gretchen Lowell, #4)The Night Season by Chelsea Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this next book in one of my favorite series right now. I was worried this one wouldn't be great since I didn't think the previous book in the series was as strong as 1 & 2. I'm hoping that #3 was just an anomaly! If this book is any indication, I think that might be correct!

Although Gretchen Lowell is not really more than a quick mention in this book, her influence permeates every page due to her lasting impact on Archie. I love Archie and Susan so this book really gave Chelsea Cain a chance to give the reader some dedicated time with them!

The story was well done and unique. Lots of intrigue and good overall storytelling. And I love how Susan's character developed throughout this novel - she was Susan at her best! Chelsea Cain does a fantastic time creating a Portland that I can see and feel, almost as if I'm there.

I really enjoyed this one and look forward to getting into the fifth book in the series soon!

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book had so much potential and I was so excited to read it after hearing so many good things from people that I respect! And its a good book but its not quite the book that I was hoping for ... and expecting. I am giving it a 4 star rating but its really more of a 3 and a half to me.

I love mythology so I was excited to read this book which centers around Achilles and Patroclus. The mythological aspects of the novel were fantastic and engaging. Overall, the book really started strong for me but it lost steam somewhere in the middle and I didn't feel like it ever quite recovered from that. And that is what is so sad for me - if it had stayed strong beyond the middle, I think it could have been a 5 star. I feel like it was perhaps in need of a bit more editing to be really great.

Many have called this a romantic book and although the novel centers around a romance, it never felt romantic to me for some reason. I loved getting to know Patroclus throughout the book - such an interesting and multifaceted character as developed by Madeline Miller.

I believe this is Madeline Miller's first novel which could perhaps be part of the problem I had with the book - the pacing was off and a bit more editing was needed. BUT, overall, it was an enjoyable read. I liked it. I just wanted to love it so much!

Definitely not one of my favorite reads of the year but definitely worth a read especially if someone has an interest in mythology. I am eager to see what Madeline Miller brings in the future as she has intrigued me with this effort.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After hearing a number of friends rave about this novel (and seeing that beautiful cover art), I couldn't wait to get my hands on this one! And I certainly wasn't disappointed! What a fantastic little novel! I had no expectations going in. And I was definitely pleasantly surprised by how lovely this novel was to read! It's one of those novels that reads so effortlessly, appears to be a light sort of novel but is really a more complex, in depth novel when you scratch below the surface. Or at least that is how it felt to me.

It took me about 30 pages to get sucked into the story but once I was, I was IN. 100% in. It grabbed me and didn't let go until the final sentence. Which is refreshing and surprisingly rare these days!

This is a novel about so many things - forgiveness, choices, family, and even redemption. Yet, it is a quiet sort of novel. No huge crises or tensions to make you think WOW. It's more of a journey through the lives of a group of people who weave in and out of the novel. They are definitely connected but they are also separate journeys, many in parallel, that each teach another nuance of the overall story. Jess Walter weaves these stories together so effortlessly and makes the entire novel so readable. Yet, its never simple or easy. Just fluid and effortless.

This is a novel that reads like a summer sort of 'beach read' yet it's really so much more nuanced than what you'd usually call a beach read. I think its a special book in that way. This book is a charming read that I really enjoyed. I think its something almost anyone would enjoy and get something out of. What a gem! I'm so glad that I found this one!

View all my reviews

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: The Mirage by Matt Ruff

The MirageThe Mirage by Matt Ruff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard an interview with Matt Ruff about this novel and the discussion was so fascinating that I immediately went and began reading it. The premise is certainly compelling - taking 9/11 and turning it inside and out into an alternative history. What a fascinating idea! And since I loved how amazing Matt Ruff's novel Set This House In Order was, I thought that this may be a great next Ruff novel for me. And its a good, solid novel. It's not quite as good as I'd hoped but its definitely worth a read for those interested in the topic.

My biggest issue with the novel was the pacing. It took me a long time to wade through this one and there were times that I had to make myself pick it up. And other times, I didn't want to put it down. It was just inconsistent in that way. Which is why its being rated 3 stars. Although, in the end, I think the read was a good one, I don't think it was quite as great as I'd hoped it would be.

On the other hand, Matt Ruff's imagining of this alternate history is alone worth the read. I found his pulling all the pieces together and looking at them in a new way fascinating! I think Matt Ruff is a genius at this sort of thing! He is clever and his pulling the various pieces of reality together in the alternate view of history is really breathtaking and thought provoking! Although I didn't love how all of those pieces ultimately played out in the novel, I can look at them objectively and see how clever and current they were. Especially some of the tiny details which made me chuckle (CSI: Halal, for example).

I definitely think this is a novel worth reading but I also think it has a number of flaws that make it less than what it could have been. But, given how complex an undertaking this entire enterprise was for Matt Ruff, I think he and his novel deserve a read! Even with its imperfections, it's pretty compelling!

View all my reviews

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: Broken Harbour by Tana French

Broken Harbour (Dublin Murder Squad, #4)Broken Harbour by Tana French

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tana French does it again! I love how consistently fantastic her novels are ... each and every one of them is well worth the read! She is able to put literary fiction, psychological thrillers and police procedurals together in a way that is unlike anything I've ever read! Although the whodunit pieces of her novels are always compelling, I think its the why and how of her novels where she really stands out. She gives you more than just a mystery or a good police whodunit. Although those aspects are fantastic, the way she gets into the minds of the characters and the way that she explores humanity at its best and worst is where she truly excels!

Although I think The Likeness was and is my favorite of her novels, this one is probably now my second favorite. First and foremost, Tana French is a fantastic writer in every way. She paces so well, making the reading experience such a pleasure. Sometimes I'm not sure where she's going but I'm having a fantastic time getting there. And then, when I get there, I'm amazed at how effectively she got me where she needed me without ever boring or frustrating me. In fact, I suspect that Tana French could write about pretty much anything and I'd love every moment of reading it. Something about her writing style really resonates with me. And, frankly, she is incredibly skilled at bringing people and places alive in ways that most writers can only dream of. Although she does places well in all of her novels, this one is the best yet! The setting of this novel is as much a character as any of the people in the novel.

This novel just got under my skin, making me question everything and anything. There was much in this novel that I could relate to as a mother, wife, child, friend, etc. It was successful for me BECAUSE of how it made me see how close any one of us can be to the brink of so many disastrous things - homelessness, hardship, and even the unspeakable. It was an eye opening and thoughtful look at the economy's impact to individual lives as well as the impact of madness to individuals, families and communities.

I definitely recommend this novel. It's a fantastic novel that will not only keep you on the edge of your seat but it will also compel you to think about things you may not have considered. Really ... this is a well done novel that I can't say enough good things about. I can't wait to see what she has coming for us in the next novel!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1)The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It feels like it took me forever to get through this book for a number of reasons (including misplacing my paperback for several weeks) but I have to say that by the end, I was BLOWN AWAY by this book, its message, and how much it gave me to think about.

The dual narrative helped keep the pacing moving effectively. The reading is dense but not slow. There is just so much packed into each chapter that it takes awhile for the reader to absorb it. Also, there are so many characters and narratives needing introduction and elaboration that it took time for Mary Doria Russell to really prepare the reader for what was to come. In retrospect, she did it so effectively that I can't believe how much she really packed in without ever making me feel bored or irritated. Amazing!

This books strength lies in the philosophical exploration that it takes you on emotionally and spiritually. This is a thoughtful book that makes you look at the world and your inner feelings in new ways. The book is so beautifully layered with nuances that come together so seamlessly as the novel concludes. I'm really in awe of how effectively Mary Doria Russell told this story without going overboard on the philosophy. The story is beautifully told, brutally felt and enormously impactful to the reader.

This is a novel that you need to read and experience for yourself, it would be impossible for me to effectively describe how wonderful this novel is ... it's one that you have to explore for yourself.

I also want to mention that this is in no way what I'd characterize as a Christian book - not that there is anything wrong with Christian books. But, I want to be sure to point out that it is more of a spiritual book that explores issues of faith, religion and humanity. But, it is in no way preachy or heavy handed.

I recommend this one for EVERY one. Take the time to savor it, give it time ... it takes awhile to really get engaged in the story but it is so worth it. It won't be long until you're staying up half the night to read 'just one more chapter.' Off to purchase the sequel which I am also hearing wonderful things about ...

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel has gotten a lot of buzz recently and the premise sounded like something up my alley so I was eager to read it. All in all, I really enjoyed it.

The writing is lovely - there were so many passages that struck me as beautiful and even, on occasion, profound. I found myself highlighting several on my Nook to come back to later.

Although this is very effective dystopic/speculative fiction, its also rather charming and magical which I think is a result of the way Karen Thompson Walker puts words together. Although the book seems to have a depressing premise, the author does a fantastic job of keeping the story whimsical and light while also highlighting the darkness underneath.

The concept of the Earth's rotation slowing down and its consequences on the human race was very compelling but this novel is really more about a girl and her family than about the human race. Both are covered but because of the focus on this family, it feels less a story about the world and more of a story about a family in the midst of something affecting the world. Perhaps its not a huge difference but I think it makes the book have a different slant, one that I think is ultimately more effective. Most of the 'world is ending' type books that you'll find on bookshelves are nothing like this little book. This book is more poetic, more lyrical and more focused than many of those others.

It's not a perfect novel which is why I'm giving just 4 stars but its a really good book worth a read. I think some of what wasn't perfect is the result of this being a debut novel so I cannot wait to see what the future brings for Karen Thompson Walker!

Although I wholeheartedly recommend it, I don't know that it will be interesting to everyone. It's not as fast paced or action oriented as a lot of the 'world is ending' type books you'll find these days - it's more subtle and soft. If you're ok with that, this is definitely a book you should pick up!

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'd avoided reading this for awhile because of my reservations about what I kept hearing about Amy Chau's parenting practices. I wasn't sure that I was interested in reading an entire book about that. But, I didn't find it to be nearly as disturbing as I'd expected. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about ... yeah, she's a nut & I think much of her behavior as shown in the book is borderline abusive but I don't find it quite as egregious as many seem to find it. I felt for her children and her husband but I didn't feel the need to call Child Protective Services or something.

I was disturbed more by her attitude throughout the book - the self-satisfaction and the complete and utter inability to be in any way self-reflective. I also just kept wondering what the point was of the book ... it never clearly demonstrated to me what the point of the entire thing WAS. It's not a parenting book, its not quite a memoir, it's not a cultural analysis. I'm still not 100% sure what it is exactly. But, it was a fairly quick and easy read. Nothing difficult about it. I just didn't find it to be life changing or as disturbing as so many seemed to find it. Not sure that I can recommend it unless you have a strong connection to that particular parenting style and want to explore it further.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: Shadown of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me warn you up front, this review is going to be a mish mash of my feelings about the book. No rhyme or reason. No cohesive thoughts. No worries over writing well or being clear. (I'm apparently modeling my review after the book itself! LOL)

Oh boy! Although I really loved the first in this trilogy, I was disappointed in this one. I still enjoyed reading it but it isn't nearly as good as the first one. Whereas A Discovery of Witches was engaging and interesting and compelling, this one was slow moving, meandering, and at times seemed pointless. I still like these characters and I liked the new characters introduced in this one (although I have to admit that many in Matthew's 16th century close circle of friends were interchangeable to me - and they never really came into their own).

I liked how the novel took you to the late 1500s in England - experiencing that was probably the most compelling thing about the book beyond the characters. I just felt like the plot never went anywhere. It's almost like the author got so involved in setting the place and characters in Elizabethan times that she forgot to actually move the plot forward in any way.

Whereas the first novel had a very well plotted premise, this one was just all over the place. At times I felt as if I couldn't understand why we even went where we went - nothing seemed to be actually moving the plot forward. And, for me, as much as I enjoyed the visit to the late 1500s, I'd also like to feel like we're DOING something while we are there other than exploring a bunch of new characters and 16th century 'stuff.' The glimpses into Diana's emerging magic and the politics of the time were nice but not enough to save the plot for me.

Another aspect that I found frustrating was how contrived it all was - Matthew in the 1500s is apparently the most connected person on the planet - he knows anyone who is anyone in the late 1500s intimately. I just think that is completely and utterly unrealistic - even within what we know of the character. The entire plot while in England seems to be that they (and their entourage) move from place to place, doing not so interesting things and getting into trouble. Diana learns to be a 16th century woman and has occasional 'lessons' in magic while Matthew does goodness knows with the myriad of famous and connected people that he knows. It just never made sense to me. I know why they came to the 16th century but I never really 'got' the sense that they were actually there doing what they intended to do. Going around in circles over and over is just not compelling fiction. Very frustrating for me.

Time travel is not done well here. At all. It's done so much better elsewhere that its really sad to see it so badly managed in this novel - particularly given how central to the plot it is in this novel.

I still love the characters and that was the novel's saving grace for me. I loved seeing the existing relationships grow and new relationships develop.

The book was entirely too long and too under edited. Someone needed to take a red pen to this one and edit all of the nonsense out. It isn't unusual for sequels to not live up to the original. And that is certainly the case here. For those who hated the first, you will REALLY hate this one. For those who loved the first, you will likely either love this one (apparently some people have loved it) or be, at the very least, disappointed by it.

I was so looking forward to this sequel. And so disappointed in the final product. I didn't hate it (despite the long review of all things icky about the novel). But, I didn't love it. Not even close. It wasn't BAD but it certainly wasn't GOOD.

The escapism of the story and my interest in the characters is compelling me to keep reading and finish the trilogy. However, if you can't get beyond unimpressive prose, bad plotting, and horrible pacing, this probably isn't the novel for you.

(Sorry for all of the rambling ...)

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: In One Person by John Irving

In One PersonIn One Person by John Irving
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read someone once say that horrible John Irving novels are still MUCH better than most other people's novels. And after reading this novel, I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly. I think John Irving is a brilliant novelist. Some of his novels have blown me away but all of them have been good. This is not his best by any stretch of the imagination. This is not his masterpiece. But, this is still a good novel that has a great deal to say about identity, tolerance and acceptance.

The Irving hallmarks (boldness, quirky characters, complex plotting) are all here in this novel. You'll also find wrestling, dysfunctional families, prep schools, abortion, single parenting and a reference or two to bears (although not traditional bears).

This novel focuses on sexual identity and really gave me a lot to think about. I think the proportion of sexually unconventional characters in this particular novel is pretty unbelievable but that is classic Irving in my opinion. He takes the quirky and makes it big and puts it upfront and center. So, in the end, I can overcome the fact that there are so many sexually unconventional characters in the relatively small world of this novel.

The pacing of the novel wasn't as strong as some of his other novels. It took a long time for me to get through this novel. I think it is partly because some of the descriptive sequences were under edited. I felt that the narrative would meander around some things for considerably longer than was actually necessary. There was also quite a bit if repetition in the narrative which I found to be too much at times. Although the reading experience was at times slow and meandering, in retrospect, I feel it was an absorbing novel that picked up midway through and stayed strong until the end.

The characters are classic Irving - flawed, quirky, unusual and always compelling. I loved their voices - good and bad. I enjoyed learning about them and what makes them unique. The novel definitely has a strong voice - at times, it reads similarly to a memoir.

Irving really shows his writing prowess during the section of the novel that focuses on the AIDS epidemic. Such compassion and sensitivity there! He really made the terror and devastation of that time in history come alive. That was one of the sections of the novel that was most effective for me.

Upon reflection, I think this is a strong addition to Irving's novels. Although not nearly as good as Garp, A Widow for One Year or the Hotel New Hampshire (my personal favorites), this is a good novel that deserves a read if you're a fan of Irving or if you're particularly interested in themes of sexual identity.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Turn of MindTurn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had such a great premise ... so I was excited to dig in & become engrossed. Unfortunately, reading this one was difficult from the start. I'm not sure why but I never connected with this novel. I had to make myself keep reading it. It isn't that its a BAD book because it isn't. It just isn't a great book. It's an okay book. The concept is so promising but the execution just didn't live up to my expectations. I think that Alice LaPlante did a great job of telling the story from the perspective of someone with Alzheimer's - sometimes she was lucid and other times she was completely out of it. Although disorienting for me as a reader, I think it was an effective technique to help me understand what it was like to be the main character.

The plot itself wasn't particularly strong and there were pieces and parts that I had a hard time believing because of the lack of exploration into certain relationships which may have helped to make the plot stronger. I had a really hard time believing that some of the actions and events in the book were possible given what little we know about the various characters. It made the novel's believability suffer for me.

All in all, it was an okay book. But, I didn't love it and I wouldn't recommend it unless you have a personal connection to Alzheimer's and want to explore that aspect of this novel. That is the strongest part of the novel and worth a read if its specifically of interest to you.

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is going to be an extremely vague review because this is one of those books that can be ruined by saying too much. Ultimately - this is one of those books you just have to read to 'get' why it can be ruined so easily.

This is one of those books that has stuck with me for months after reading it. Reading this book is truly an adventure - it takes you places you never imagined it would go and then back again. The twists and turns in the plot are truly fantastic. Just when you think you know one thing, Gillian Flynn throws something new at you!

This is a dark and twisty book that has a lot to say about a variety of things - but most specifically, marriage. This exploration of Amy and Nick's marriage just blew me away. Dysfunctional relationships and flawed characters abound in this novel.

This novel has gotten quite a bit of buzz and, in my opinion, that buzz is accurate! This is definitely a buzz worthy one! It's well worth reading. It's not like any other book I can recall ever reading. You won't be disappointed if you like to be taken on an adventure! This book has a bit of it all - I think its safe to say its mystery, suspense, THRILLER and literary fiction all rolled into one! Almost everyone that I know who read this one, loved it. So, I can definitely recommend it! Probably one of my 2012 favorites! I liked it so much that I might go back and read it again!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness IndustryThe Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The premise of this book was right up my alley but I found the author's execution to be less than great. It felt like a very uneven book to me. There were times that I found the content fascinating ... and didn't want to put it down yet there were just as many times where I became bored, wanting to move on and into the next section. The flow seemed jagged to me at times. The path of the book was very haphazard to me which was frustrating to me as a reader.

Although this is a fine book, it just didn't meet my expectations and it didn't take me to the places that I expected to go. This book was about more than just psychopathy - it was just as much a commentary on the entire psychological industry as a study of psychopathy. Interesting but not exactly what I was expecting. Jon Ronson is definitely a good writer ... I just feel like he did the topic of psychopathy a disservice by not keeping the more content focused. Again, not a bad book, just not a book that really centers around the topic that it leads you to believe that it is about.

I recommend this if you are interested in learning about more than psychopathy - the entire realm of psychiatry is really more the focus in this one. For a study of psychopathy, you might want to look elsewhere!

View all my reviews

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first John Green novel and I can't wait to read more of his work. I really enjoyed this novel. I thought the story was great, the characters were fantastic and the dialogue alone was some of the best I've read in awhile. John Green definitely has writing chops! I don't know many teenagers who actually speak like the characters in this book but I like the idea that there could be teenagers like this out there somewhere! The intelligence and wit of these two characters was so fun to read. The story isn't all roses and sunshine which I also liked. It felt more realistic and had moments of both dark and light (very much like real life). I feel weird saying that I enjoyed a book about kids with cancer but I did. I think it was a great read that kept me interested. My only disappointment was the Amsterdam storyline which felt like it was thrown in there and didn't really connect with the rest of the book. That piece is the sole reason that I'm not giving this one 5 stars - it was so close but didn't quite make it there. Definitely a strong 4 and a half stars! Beyond the odd Amsterdam piece, I really enjoyed this one and plan to seek out more John Green content soon! I definitely recommend checking this one out!

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

The Violets of MarchThe Violets of March by Sarah Jio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a surprise this nice little novel was! It was sweet and utterly readable! Definitely a nice summer read! I loved the characters and the setting - Sarah Jio does a fantastic job creating both great characters and a setting that comes to life.

There were definitely flaws here but I can easily overlook them because I was so swept up into the novel that I barely noticed them until after I was finished reading. I figured out the mystery very early on but that fact didn't detract from the story for me. And I think some of the story elements were pretty unrealistic. BUT, I think its a nice, engaging read that will capture your attention!

I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a light, engaging read!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Alice BlissAlice Bliss by Laura Harrington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had such potential ... the premise sounded so wonderful. And I understand why so many seem to love it. But, I just didn't love it that way. I liked it. It was a solid read but it didn't capture me the way that I'd imagined it would. I think the story is very contemporary and that it's an important one to be told but the flaws kept what could be great from actually being great.

The characters were very well written. I found them all to be complex, interesting and compelling. The relationships among them is where this novel really shines. There were moment of magic when the characters came together in certain ways. Alice's relationship with her father as well as her relationship with her uncle are two relationships that captured something very real and important. That is such a wonderful part of this novel - the relationships that gave Alice what she needed as she takes her journey.

So what were the things that I didn't love? Well, the pacing seemed off to me so I never really felt compelled to keep reading from chapter to chapter. Although I liked the characters and the story, I just never felt that the story grabbed me in the way you want a story to grab you. The timing/pacing and the story itself felt disjointed ... almost alien from each other in some ways. Sometimes it came together effortlessly and other times it was so disjointed that I wondered why I was continuing to read.

However, this book is worth reading, in my opinion, since the story needs to be told & the relationships are really well written. There are definitely moments of magic in this novel which make up for the flaws, in my opinion. Can't wait to see what Laura Harrington has for us in the future!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

Then Came YouThen Came You by Jennifer Weiner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I keep waiting for Jennifer Weiner to blow me away again in the same way she did that very first time that I read her work. And, I find myself enjoying the books she has written since Good In Bed but none of them have quite captured me the way that one did.

This was a good book. A solid, enjoyable read that kept my interest throughout. I liked the characters and the story itself was fairly compelling. What's disappointing is that it had the bones for a really good novel but never made it past good. It's fine but not one that I will probably remember for the long haul.

I kept waiting for that moment ... that moment that takes a good book to a great one. But, it just never came. And that disappointed me. I hope that Weiner eventually finds the magic again that I found in her earlier couple of novels. This one might be an interesting discussion for a reading group but I have trouble in recommending it wholeheartedly because its not nearly as compelling as so many other books that are out there.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The Weird SistersThe Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I quite liked this novel but I wasn't as wow'd by it as I'd hoped. It had so many fantastic elements but it just never captured my attention the way I'd hoped it would. Although I appreciate Shakespeare, I'm not a HUGE fan so that component of the book, while clever, wasn't particularly compelling to me, in and of itself.

The first-person-plural narration was was new to me - I think it was the first time I'd read something with that type of narration. It took awhile to get used to but in the end I think it added something interesting to the book & really fit into the focus on the relationships within this group of sisters. I thought the three sisters were very well written and I enjoyed getting to know them throughout the novel.

I think my primary issues with this novel were in the pacing and in the fact that I thought the overall story was fairly predictable. The story didn't really bring anything new ... it didn't take long for me to see where all of the pieces and parts were going to fall. So, it was disappointing to be right about that. And the pacing ... I can't really get my head around exactly what it was about the pacing that bothered me except to say that it did.

Overall, I did like this one but it wasn't as wonderful as I'd hoped. I hope we see more from Eleanor Brown in the future ... based on this novel, I suspect we'll see more and more wonderful work in her future!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Night RoadNight Road by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BEWARE - this book will tear your heart out and make you CRY. A lot. A whole lot. Well, it's a Kristin Hannah novel and I've found that most of hers have that affect on me. They pull my heartstrings and I end up curled up, sobbing by the end. She just has a way of doing that to me.

This particular one REALLY struck a chord with me due to the fact that the story centers around boy/girl fraternal twins and I have boy/girl fraternal twins. It was hard to separate the events of the book and my own experience as a parent. I could relate to quite a bit of this novel.

I don't even remember how many times this book brought me to tears but it was at least 3-5 separate times. Wow. Talk about emotionally compelling!

I definitely recommend this one if you're ok with being brought to your knees emotionally and spending 1/4 of the book with tears in your eyes. It really is a great read! Definitely worth every tear!

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so surprised by how much I loved this book! I think its FANTASTIC! And it helped explain a lot of how I experience the world and why certain things do and do not work for me. Being an introvert can be very tricky in today's society and I found this book so reassuring!

This book is very readable. It's a pretty quick read, moving fast & keeping the readers attention consistently. The variety of situations and topics covered in the book were great. There was a good mix of explanation, tips and examples within the book.

I think this would be good for both introverts AND extroverts to read - to help us all understand one another better. I can think of a number of people in my own life that I wish would read this so they can better understand some of the choices that I make instead of treating me as if I'm crazy for those choices. I think it would be valuable for ALL of us to better understand one another and work together to honor the BEST in everyone!

I strongly recommend this one!

View all my reviews

Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although i didn't love this one nearly as much as the first in the series, it was a solid second book in a trilogy. It didn't quite wow me as much as the first but I did enjoy it and I will continue with the 3rd book when it comes out.

I still find the world that Veronica Roth has created to be interesting and compelling. However, I think what this book is missing is the fast moving plotting that was so central to Divergent. This book definitely felt like more of a set up book ... just a gateway to the final book in the trilogy. There was a focus on character development in this one but not much moving forward of the overall plot of the trilogy. I like the characters so I was OK with that but it did make this one a little less compelling than the first.

All in all, I enjoyed this one despite its flaws. I will definitely be reading the last book. I'm interested in seeing where Veronica Roth takes the story next. If you enjoyed the first one, I do recommend this one. It's not quite as good but its definitely worth a read!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: The Expats by Chris Pavone

The Expats: A NovelThe Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was hesitant to read this novel initially because although I'd heard good things (Michael from the Books on the Nightstand, specifically) and the description sounded amazing, the reviews on Goodreads were not particularly strong. Given how many books I want to read, I didn't really want to spend a lot of time reading a book that everyone seemed to not like. However, the premise of the story drew me in so I decided to go for it!

And I'm so glad that I did! Although not a perfect book, it's definitely an interesting concept that intrigued me from page one! I'm not telling you much about it because part of what I enjoyed most was seeing the story come together as I was reading. Knowing too much would take away some of the very thing that I liked about the novel.

The first part of the novel was a bit slow but it did pick up and then sped up, racing to the end. I thought the story was compelling - the idea behind the novel unique. The characters weren't outstanding but they were pretty good. I don't think that took away from my enjoyment of the book. For me, this one was about story and mystery. I overlooked a lot because I thought the story and the mystery central to the novel were so well done.

I will say that I felt the story could have used a bit more depth and texture. There were times when it felt a bit stale and bland. Yet, other times it felt fully realized with a lot of depth. I guess it was uneven in that way, for me. But, I easily overlooked that because I loved so much of the novel.

I thought this was a good literary mystery (hard to characterize this one, in my opinion) and I would recommend it to others. But, know that many on Goodreads didn't care for it as much as I did!

View all my reviews

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was such a treat! I loved the fact that the story is based upon a Russian fairytale - it certainly had a magical vibe. I was very taken with the characters, the story, and the setting. The setting was probably one of the things I loved most - Eowyn Ivey made the Alaskan wilderness come alive. It was certainly a character in the book as much as any of the people. This one is fairly slow - it it told quietly, slowly and deliberately. I liked that aspect of the novel but I can see where some might feel like its too slow moving.

The characters were so well drawn and their relationships were characterized very effectively. I really came to care deeply about all of them. This is a very quiet book that focuses on the characters and their relationships. And its fantastic! Mabel and her relationship with her husband is at the heart of the story and I found myself very enchanted by their love for one another.

Eowyn Ivey has a way with words - her prose just comes alive off of the page. She really made me FEEL like I was in Alaska with these people. And I didn't want to leave.

This book is really unlike any that I've read before which is one of the things that is so special about it. It's outstanding and enchanting and wonderful! I can't wait to see what Eowyn Ivey has in store for us in her future novels! I definitely recommend this one!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Salvage the BonesSalvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really struggled with rating this one - it was really more of a 3 and a half for me. On the one hand, I thought the book was good - interesting characters, the setting was fascinating & the story of these characters is really gripping and feels true to the setting. However, there were some flaws for me - primarily, the speed & pacing was horrible in my opinion. Some of the writing was uneven to me - some places it was so beautiful that it was almost poetic yet In others, it was dense and repetitive and in need of serious editing. In my opinion, that took away from the overall impact of the story. But, its a really good book in terms of portraying a very specific time, place and cultural/socioeconomic reality. So, I'm ultimately torn in my assessment of the novel.

The descriptions of the impact of Hurricane Katrina was extremely well done. I really felt as if I was there - experiencing the impact along with the characters. Although the actual Hurricane Katrina pieces didn't happen until late in the book, those are the chapters that I think stand out. They are so well written and descriptive as to give the reader a true sense of how riding out Hurricane Katrina (and the aftermath of the impact) must have been for the impoverished families in that community. It was just a stunning portrayal of Katrina.

This novel is NOT easy to read. Beyond the pacing of the novel, there is a dog fighting component as well as a lot of poverty and other kinds of darkness. The dog fighting was well done, in my opinion. It's never fun to read about that kind of brutality but I think it gave me a new perspective on the practice that I'd never thought about. I'll still never understand it. But, I thought that component really gave the story itself another layer that complimented the overall themes. And I didn't find it too graphic - just graphic enough to show the true brutality of the practice but not graphic enough to make me put the book down. The poverty and situations the characters find themselves in were certainly disturbing as well. This is not an uplifting novel. It's dark, haunting and raw.

I think this one is definitely worth the read, despite its flaws. I understand why so many people are giving raving reviews but this novel ultimately didn't wow me. I am eager to see what Jesmyn Ward has in store for us in the future.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book really has it all - it's a legal thriller with more nuances than the typical legal thriller. There is family drama, psychological exploration and more. I can't tell you much about the story as there are twists and turns that would too easily give up the story & the big 'twist' that is critical to the enjoyment of the novel (in my opinion).

The narrative is even and polished. The way that Landay weaves the story together is just fantastic. The story is strong as is the writing. Landay does a fantastic job of pushing the story forward, maintaining interest and momentum. Expert plotting combined with excellent dialogue makes for a fantastic read. In addition, the character development is great - I found the teen characters to be very authentic in comparison to what I have experienced with my teen step daughter and her friends.

All in all, this is a really strong legal thriller that is so much more than a legal thriller. It's a fantastic look at family, friendship, parenthood, and love. I definitely recommend this one! It is very readable yet offers much more than the typical legal thriller novel. And the end of the story was very satisfying to me - which isn't always the case with this sort of novel!

View all my reviews

Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

SisterSister by Rosamund Lupton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm still struggling with my feelings about this book. I think a good description is that I liked it but I didn't love it.

It took awhile for me to find a flow with this book, in part because of how the story was told (the primary character talking directly to her missing sister & intertwining the past and the present) and in part because of the pacing of the book. In the end, I think that it was critical for the book to be written from this perspective and that it really gave the story something special. But, it didn't make reading easy in the early pages of the book.

I thought the mystery itself was solid. It was interesting & engaging. It certainly didn't give away the 'who done it' too early. Although I had my suspicions, I was questioning them throughout the novel. The twist at the end was really unique and definitely made the novel memorable. The interweaving of the twist throughout the book was done very well - it was there but I never fully picked up on it beyond something being there. That was a nice, pleasant surprise!

I think the writing was OK - sometimes really good and sometimes less than good. It had the feel of a first novel in that way. I think Rosamund Lupton has quite a future as a novelist. I'd definitely give her next book(s) a read! If you're a mystery fan, I think you'll really enjoy this one - it's a unique take on the mystery genre.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm still not quite sure what I thought of this novel. It was frankly nothing like I'd expected and I'm still not entirely sure if I truly liked it.

It is a superbly written book! There were many places where I stopped to write passages down because I found them so beautifully stated or the thought memorable. Unfortunately, the great writing was not able to save this book for me. It did, however, keep it from being a 2 star book for me!

The pacing was one of my primary issues with this book. It took FOREVER for me to get into the book, to care one iota about the book. And because of how short the novel was, I'm not sure that I ever recovered from that ... it permeated the entire experience for me.

And the story itself just didn't ever quite capture my full interest, even the story's 'twist.' It was frankly a bit anti-climactic for me. I get why it resonated with others but it didn't quite do that for me. I never really liked any of the characters or even really understand them or their motivations. Perhaps that was a factor in my disliking the story. I found the ambiguous ending to be interesting and it did give me something to think about. Part of me wants to go back and read it again to put the pieces together again but I can't bring myself to care enough to actually re-read it given how much I didn't love my first read.

I have enjoyed reading the theories about the twist and the ending in some of my Goodreads groups. It's always interesting to get different perspectives and have people point out the things you missed or to help you see something in a new way!

I do think that there were some really nice pieces around memory and how we reflect on what we've done in the past.

I can see the value of this book and what some have called the author's brilliance at bringing it all together. I completely see that despite the fact that I didn't feel that way about it. Unfortunate, I cannot recommend this one. I think its a love it or hate it kind of book and I just didn't love it. Which doesn't mean that it doesn't have value, it just means that I'm hesitant to recommend it it others at this point!

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After watching the HBO series, I decided that I had to read the series myself because I found the show so compelling. This isn't the type of book that I'd normally pick up. Fantasy is typically not something that I reach for but I loved the series on HBO and was interested in seeing if the books were even better!

I have had this one sitting on my Nook for months but I was a bit hesitant to begin (despite many friends encouraging me) because I wasn't entirely sure that it would actually be readable for me. It's a long book and a big commitment.

Imagine my surprise when I began reading and found it to be incredibly readable! It pulled me right in and was captivating me in every way. But, I have to wonder if having seen the first book come alive on screen helped me in the reading of the book. If it helped bridge the gap for me ...

Let me just say that I am ASTOUNDED at how well HBO was able to bring this book to life. They did an amazing job with every aspect - characters, costumes, setting, etc. It's all wonderful! They made the book come alive and I thought it was a very well done adaption!

There was a nice mix of world building, character development and action in the novel. That mix really kept the pacing and flow of the novel from moving into boredom. The story is truly epic and really sweeping. I was concerned that the history, geography and politics could become too much in the novel (given the content of the HBO series) but it really was well written and compelling.

I've already added the rest of the series to my Nook and I plan to keep reading thorough over the coming months. My primary advice about this book is that if you're having trouble getting into it, consider doing what I usually never recommend - watch the HBO series first, then come back to the book. Otherwise, I recommend it wholeheartedly! It's a fantastic book!

View all my reviews