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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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