Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with rating this one - it's probably more like a 3.5 for me but I'll bump it down to a 3. I suspect this may be a case of hearing so many people rave about a book which resulted in high expectations that were then let down by the reading of the actual book. In other words, I think I would have liked this one better if I'd never heard how great it was from other bookish people.

Although in many ways this novel is sharp, witty, heartwarming, and entertaining, it was also not nearly as sharp, witting, heartwarming and entertaining as it COULD have been. This felt like a novel that just didn't quite make it to great ... even though it certainly could have. The promise was there but it just didn't quite make it. I so wish that it had ... because I really wanted to love it.

In my opinion, the book cover on this one implies that this is a very different book than it actually is which is kind of a shame. I think it makes the reader think they are going into one thing only to find themselves in a completely different kind of book. I hope that they consider a new cover at some point. (Just to clarify - although I love the cover, I just don't think this was the right cover for this book).

I loved the style of storytelling that Maria Semple uses here - it gave the novel a freshness that I really liked. I enjoyed every moment of reading this novel but it wasn't totally satisfying to me. It was immensely readable but not very impactful. I loved how Seattle and Antarctica were like characters in the novel but the constant negativity about Seattle eventually got annoying to me. I felt myself rolling my eyes a few times while thinking 'OK, I get it ... you aren't a Seattle fan, Bernadette'!

I felt like the story lost steam towards the end of the book. The ending of the novel just didn't feel as strong as the beginning. Perhaps there was a loss of momentum or something? I'm not sure but it was disappointing to me. I probably would have gone to 4 stars if the ending hadn't been so lackluster for me.

But, all in all, it's a really good satire with some interesting quirks! It is definitely getting a lot of love from many of my friends so I think its worth a read, especially if you enjoy satire!

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book to be much better than I'd initially expected. I'd avoided it for awhile because of the whole baseball piece - I wasn't interested in reading about baseball. But, this book is about so much more than baseball. It's a book with much more depth than I'd expected. That isn't to say that it was without flaws ... but it was a pleasant surprise! I understand now why its getting all of this attention and why its sitting on so many best of lists this year!

I was struck by how deliberate every single component of this book was - it felt very .... well, deliberate. I'm not sure how else to describe it. The plotting, the dialogue - it was all very tight. I liked that about the book but there were times when I almost wished for a bit more looseness to shake up writing on occasion. When I think of the novel as a whole, the construction of the story is so well done so perhaps the deliberateness of the writing contributed to that!

Like I said above, this is a novel that certainly touches on baseball and sports but that isn't the primary focus. I didn't think the sports piece was boring or annoying like I'd expected. I found it to be thoughtful and interesting. It added to the story but didn't overtake the story. If you like baseball and know about the sport, I think you'll probably get even more out of it than someone who doesn't. But, it won't detract form the overall story if you could care less about sports or baseball.

The characters in this novel were fantastic and one of my favorite things about the book. It is full of well rounded characters that could certainly have been the star of their very own novels. I loved how they connected with each other, I loved their back stories and I loved the arc of each of their journeys.

I loved the first part of the book much more than the end. Which isn't to say that it ruined the book for me. Instead, the ending just wasn't as effective as it could have been. I found it a bit outlandish and not nearly as good as the rest of the book. But, it was ok. I was just hoping for an ending as good as the early parts of the book.

As an aside - I found Chad Harbach's character names hilarious - several of them made me laugh out loud. Completely unrealistic but hilarious. I mean how many people at one small university could possibly have such crazy names!

All in all, I was very glad to read this one. It's a fantastic read and definitely one that I recommend (even if you aren't a sports fan)!

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Revie: Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Never KnowingNever Knowing by Chevy Stevens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, I'm not sure quite what to say about this one. Although it was a fairly compelling read and kept me interested throughout, this was not a book that I ultimately liked. I think that is primarily because I HATED the main character AND the ending. This was VERY reminiscent of her first book for me. Many of the flaws in that first one carried over into this second novel. Up until the last 50ish pages, I would have given it a 3. Once the 'final reveal' was revealed, it went to a 2. Ugh. That was NOT a successful book for me!

The author seems to be following a pretty clear formula with her stories and characters. There are a lot of moments during the read that I was asking myself why this felt familiar and then I'd realize it felt familiar because of my having already read her first novel. Although distinct stories, there are a number of areas of similarity which made them blend together in some way for me.

I rarely dislike a character, even truly unlikeable characters. Yet, this woman, Sara, that is so key to this novel was just one of the most annoying characters that I've read in some time. She's just annoying, infuriating and simply FRUSTRATING. I can sum this novel up easily - an infuriating character spends the second third of the novel talking/struggling over and over and over with the same thing until it finally ends in one of the most irritating, ridiculous and annoying ending that I have read in ages. Ugh.

The story had such potential but the pacing was off for me in the middle (back and forth, back and forth, no resolution, same dialogue over and over and over again) and it was taken into outrageous territory which made the ending ridiculous and frankly stupid (to me). I just couldn't get behind such an idiotic ending. Once the story culminated in what one would have assumed was the ending/resolution, I realized there were still a considerable amount of pages remaining which was the first red flag telling me that I was going to be annoyed. The author's need to add a SECOND ending/resolution is what really pushed me over the edge. It didn't make sense nor did I even CARE about the second resolution. It was overkill. I'd have preferred to have the earlier resolution be the big reveal & removed the last 50ish pages completely.

Anyway, as you can tell, this was not a novel that I loved. It's got MANY flaws. If you really loved her first novel, it might be worth a read but I wouldn't recommend it to most readers.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong

Waking the Witch (Women of the Otherworld, #11)Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although this series isn't the greatest of literary fiction, it is definitely entertaining and I love re-visiting these characters! This definitely isn't the best of the series. I was thinking this was a strong 4 star book for most of the book and then BAM the ending send it spiraling to a 3 star.

I really like the character that takes center stage here - Savannah. She's a complex person so I was eager to read this novel and see where it would take her character. This book ends up being all about Savannah and her solving a mystery. I was quite enjoying the story until the end. And the ending (including the villain's unveiling) was extremely bad, in my opinion. This one came together in a way that annoyed me and almost made me feel betrayed. Seriously? That's who did it? That's how this is going to end? Ugh. Just not very effective for me! And it left me very unsatisfied. The mystery itself could have been really good if only the ending hadn't happened the way that it did.

I ultimately felt let down despite the fact that the majority of the book was entertaining and interesting. I just wish the ending had been the same. There a couple of more books in the series so I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series. I just hope the next one is as good as I've come to expect from this series!

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)The Gunslinger by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I'm a Stephen King fan, I'd never really considered reading this particular series. It just didn't sound like one that would interest me. I kept hearing the words fantasy and western which definitely were off putting for me. But, after hearing so many good things from friends that I respect, I decided to give it a shot. And, I am so glad that I did! This book wasn't anything that I expected. It's so much more than just a fantasy or a western! Although not a perfect piece of fiction, it is a really good read.

The world that Stephen King creates here is fantastic and intriguing. This book left me with a lot of questions. It really left me wanting to read the next book to get more information and fill in some of the blanks. I'm definitely intrigued to the point of wanting to keep reading. Perhaps this series is up my alley after all ...

*** 3 and a half stars, bumped up to 4 stars ***

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Books I Want To Read in 2013

I've made a list of books that I want to be sure that I get to this year. Many have been on my TBR for entirely too long and others are book club books that I never got to. There are a number that are on my physical bookshelves that I tend to ignore for books on my Nook. So, here we are ... my planned reading for 2013 ...

Twelve Book Club Books to Read in 2013 -

1. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
2. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
3. The Art of Fielding
4. The Bells
5. The Last Child (read in January - one down!)
6. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
7. One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
8. The Surgeon
9. Never Knowing
10. Sworn to Silence
11. The Long Walk
12. The Sisters Brothers

Other Books on the 2013 List

1. Arcadia
2. The Monsters of Templeton
3. The End of Your Life Book Club
4. Cinder
5. The Twelve
6. The Casual Vacancy
7. The Orphan Master's Son (on my list but I just abandoned it 60 pages in - perhaps I'll try again later)
8. Behind the Beautiful Forevers

I'd also like to start the Jack Reacher series, continue to read the Michael Connelly series and perhaps try a Jo Nesbo novel. 

There is a first go at a 2013 plan but I'm sure I'll be adding adidtional books as I go ... what are you planning to read in 2013? I'd love to hear about your plans! 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Favorites of 2012

I know that I'm a bit late with this one but I still wanted to share! I read quite a few great books in 2012 ... but I still have plenty more I want to read in 2013!

My favorite book in 2012 was undoubtedly Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt! It was an amazing read that I didn't want to put down! I cannot recommend it enough! If you haven't read it, make this your next book to read!!

My other favorites (in no particular order) were -

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
3. Broken Harbour by Tana French
4.  The Middlesteins by Jami Attenburg
5. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
6. Quiet by Susan Cain
7. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
8. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
9. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
10. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

There it is ... my top books of 2012! I highly recommend any book on this list! What are your favorite books of 2012? I'd love to hear about them!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok

The Memory PalaceThe Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really struggled through this book. It had all the elements of a five star book but they just never came together for me. I suspect that it may be in part from my years of working with the mentally ill. To those who aren't familiar with schizophrenia, this book is probably extremely compelling. But, for me, it wasn't anything new. So I struggled while reading it. Not that it wasn't interesting - this family is obviously interesting. There is a lot of good stuff here. But, I think the way the book was structured made it seem to just flop all around with no real purpose - which is part of the reason that I didn't find it very impactful. At times, I had a hard time following the jagged storyline and the jumpy style of writing. It just felt all over the place for me.

There were many times when I almost gave up on this book. Where I found myself skimming just to get through a passage of the book. It just wasn't grabbing my attention or making me want to keep reading. I came to moments where I kept asking myself why I was reading if I wasn't actually getting anything whatsoever from it. But, I kept going because so many of my bookish friends loved this one and its one of those books that I SHOULD love based on my own interest in and years of working with the mentally ill. After finishing, I'm still underwhelmed by the book in its entirety. There were moments that blew me away but many more that did not. As a result, I couldn't give it more than 2 stars. But, I want to acknowledge that there is good stuff here - but it is unfortunately surrounded by a great deal of less than good stuff.

It's definitely worth a read for those with an interest in mental illness and its impact on families. Or for those interested in the mother/daughter relationship. Particularly if you don't mind a jumbled storyline.

Although it wasn't a 5 star for me, it was for a lot of people so give it a shot if the themes are of interest to you. Perhaps I am the minority on this one ...

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: The Last Child by John Hart

The Last ChildThe Last Child by John Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am quite surprised by just how much I loved this one! What a great read! It was one that kept me up late in the night to read just one more page and I ended up finishing it in 24 hours! Yes, I loved it so much, I read it most of the night!

This book has been on my physical TBR shelf for ages but I'd just never gotten to it. But, I decided to focus on getting through a number of book club books this year that I haven't read yet and this was on the top of the list. I'm so glad that I finally got to it! It really is a fantastic read. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire book! It's thrilling, fast paced, and compelling! The blend of mystery and psychological exploration is a perfect combination for me! There were so many layers in this novel which John Hart handled expertly!

The story was woven together so well. I was guessing and second guessing all over the place and the author STILL shocked me in the end. There were a few inconsistencies here and there but I was able to easily overlook them because the story and the characters were fantastic! John Hart's writing is vivid and really brings the story alive for the reader!

I highly recommend this particularly if you enjoy a good mystery! This novel won the 2010 Edgar Award for Best Novel which I think is definitely well deserved! I am eager to read more John Hart in the future!

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Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah's Book Club 2.0)The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although this book had a lot of flaws, I was entertained from the first word until the last. This is just the kind of book that tends to resonate with me - family drama, mental illness, and dysfunction. And this book is packed full with all of those things!

I really enjoyed how the story was told through chapters in the voice of the various characters. I thought it gave the reader an interesting perspective on the various characters over time. The only negative about that approach was that some of the characters were underdeveloped and I wish we'd had more time getting to know them and seeing where they land.

The themes of poverty, oppression, sexuality, mental illness and abuse were handled well - the stories in this novel are not happy ones. It's sad and frustrating. There is little hope in what Ayana Mathis shares with these stories. The cyclical nature of poverty and abuse is not a new concept but I think this book does a good job exploring these in a myriad of ways.

I kept hearing about how this book explored the Great Migration but frankly I think that is very misleading. The Great Migration is perhaps 1% of the total story. It's primarily a psychological study of this particular family - it's essentially series of short stories about the various people in this particular family. They are connected yet disconnected at the same time. Or at least that is how it felt to me.

The first chapter resonated with me the most. Perhaps its because I am a mom of twins and can't begin to imagine how I'd react to what Hattie has to face in that chapter. Ayana Mathis was able to make the events of that chapter leap off the page for me, making it feel as if I was there with her, experiencing each and every emotion myself. It truly made me FEEL which I think is the mark of a good story.

The primary flaw (for me) was that the novel definitely felt like it was written by a first time novelist. It had that feeling that first books often have ... as if it was not quite what it could have been. The book didn't quite come together as well as I think it could have. There were structural issues with the novel that made it less successful overall. And I have to admit that there were times when I did find some of the stories to be contrived and even far fetched. Yet, I was engaged so I don't think it had a HUGE impact but it was a thought that came to mind as I was reading. Anyway, I think this one is quite good but not great. It really could have been great, I think. I suspect that we will be seeing great things from Ayana Mathis in the years to come. She is obviously talented and I am interested to see what she brings to the table in future novels. As she matures as a novelist, I think she has potential to blow us away one day!

I liked that the book didn't end with everything tied up neatly with a bow. I liked the ambiguity of what happens to these people. I liked that the ending seemed to acknowledge that there was no magic bullet making everything OK. There isn't necessarily redemption. But let's face it - happy endings aren't always realistic. I thought the ending of this novel fit with the flow of the story and I felt satisfied with how it all ended.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this novel. Although I definitely think it's not for everyone, I really did like this one. I think it's got a lot of interesting things to talk about and explore. But, it's not light and airy - it's dark and sad. If you're comfortable with going to

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