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 ...

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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!

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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.

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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 ...)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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