Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: The Concubine by Jade Lee ★★

The ConcubineI feel like I've been reading this book forrrreeeeevvvveeeerrrrr. It's short. On my Nook it was less than 200 pages. But I just really could not work up any interest in the romance aspect of this book. I just find romances, at least those I've read (which is admittedly few) to be predictable in the worst way. I knew from the moment I learned who the dude in the palanquin was what would happen - it was just a matter of the details. I probably would have known before then if I'd read the book description... but I don't read those, usually.

Anyway. I actually thought that the Chinese political situation and process of finding an empress were the most interesting parts of the story, and I wish that these aspects comprised a bigger portion of the book. For all Ji Yue's abilities in observation and "being a political wife" - the political stuff was extremely limited. Saves room for talk of "jade stalks" and "dragon organs" I guess. You know, the important stuff. (Psst... Those are euphemisms for "penis".) *wink*

I also was bothered by the whole OMG-it's-so-amazing deflowering scene. These girls have guarded their virginity like their lives depended on it (which, I guess, in a way, was the case), haven't even SEEN a penis, let alone know what to do with it, and then Ji Yue, after having learned to give a blowie just the day before... "sits" on Bo Tao's Dragon rod or whatever like it ain't no thang. No pain, not even discomfort, and she just goes to town. I mean, it just rubs me the wrong way (geddit?) when fiction portrays the first time as this wonderful, amazing experience, especially for the girl. It's not. It is not a rainbow sunshine daisy unicorn experience. Usually it's painful, then uncomfortable, then messy, and then it's just over. And then there's the second time, which isn't much better. It takes time and repetition and practice to get to the OMGYES sex. It don't just happen when that hymen breaks.

Anyway. This was OK. Predictable, cliche, unintentionally humorous at times, but nothing special. I wish the history and politics were fleshed out more, as well as the characters' personalities. Their euphemistic sexy times parts were fleshed out quite enough.

NetGalley Review: Helium by Jaspreet Singh

HeliumDisclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book for review from NetGalley.

I was recently browsing around on NetGalley after, oh... Two years of inactivity there, or so. I saw this book, and it looked really intriguing to me. I loved the cover, and the book description sounded fantastic - a story about India's turbulent recent history, the assassination of Indira Gandhi... Intriguing stuff.

I really wanted to love this book. I was hoping that it would speak to me and allow me to learn something of what it was like to live through such things. I was hoping for this book to be beautifully written and expertly told. But unfortunately, almost immediately, I struggled with this book.

I ended up giving up on this at 20%. I just couldn't get into the story. I couldn't follow the narration - it jumped around, not only in time and memory, but between random, unconnected thoughts and observations. There are sentence fragments, sentences that seem out of order, and jumbled phrases that just don't make sense to me.

The writing and the style just didn't work for me. It's told in first person narrative, and I found it extremely hard to get into the main character and narrator's head. In fact, I didn't even know his name until around the 19% mark. (It's Raj.) Not that that's a requirement for me, but it does help to get to know the person I'm supposed to be closest to in the story. It also felt distant and cold, as though Raj's own history meant nothing to him. He describes witnessing a mob of men throw a tire over his teacher - his friend - and set him on fire as though it was nothing. He tells the story as though he's describing paint drying.

And intermixed in all of this is information about Raj's work in rheology - the science of flow.

But there seems to be no flow to this story. It's not fluid or smooth - it's choppy and jumps around seemingly without rhyme or reason. There are many words, and it's possible, even likely, that they'd come together in the end and form a cohesive whole, but even getting to 20% was a struggle for me.

Here's a quote to illustrate, from 8%:
"I shall never forget my last visit to his office. The 19th of October, a faultless day like any other. The laburnum quivered in the sun, I recall, so bright they hurt my eyes. I placed the borrowed item on his heavily cluttered desk; sheets and memos spilling over, glacial mountains and ice fields of exam papers and clogged lava flows of lab reports. Still weak, recovering from jaundice, I was in a way rediscovering the world; everything around me felt new and alien. Even the smells I took for granted in the past, and the dewy brilliance of objects. Without wasting words he checked if I had the energy to walk back to the hostel. I nodded. But he insisted on driving me in his white Fiat, which he drove slowly for my sake. On the way we talked about Maxwell's demons, he was also curious about my recently formed opinions and thoughts on Levi. I was unable to express myself properly. I said something about Levi's dark sense of humour. How he made use of snake droppings once to manufacture lipstick! Then we discussed briefly the chapter that left a huge impression on me. How the author had dealt with hunger. What really happened inside the 'concentration' camp. Up until that day the words 'dilute' and 'concentrated' were simply connected to the density of molecules in solutions (and not human beings). The writing had disturbed me, pushed me out of my comfort level. Those pages were set in a world I did not know."
This paragraph is just all over the place. It's random, and vague. It left me confused and didn't add anything to the story.

I'm sure that this book is amazing, or could be amazing, for the right reader. I don't think that I'm that reader. I no longer have the patience to wade through jungles of words to try to piece them into a story. I need more cohesion.

It's also possible that this is not the final copy as well. I am not able to find anything saying for sure whether this has been corrected yet, so it is likely it has not. If that's the case, further editing may resolve some of the things I struggled with. But as it stands, I just don't think this book is for me.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Library Sale... AKA: I DON'T Have A Problem!

So, yesterday, after breakfast, The Boy spotted a library sale. And then told me about it, which was his first mistake. He then had to wander around after me, bored, for not nearly as long as I would have liked, but out of consideration for him I cut it short to just an hour. 

It was $3/bag day. I got all of the above books in that bag. I would have gotten more, obviously, but almost all of the paperbacks were romances or Dean Koontz, or... Ones I already owned. *cough cough*

Here's my haul: 

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
An ARC edition of Vurt by Jeff Noon (on of The Boy's favorites! Imagine that- he CAN read!)
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
*A Van Vogt Omnibus, containing Planets for Sale, The Beast, and The Book of Ptath
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds
Beware of the Dog by E.X. Ferrars
The Gravedigger's Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates
Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
Tinkers by Paul Harding

* I picked this up purely on a whim. I never heard of any of these stories, but it looked well read, and I always think that I should read more science fiction, and for about $.14, you can't beat the price. ;) 

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
The Rainy Season by James P. Blaylock
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
Dixie City Jam by James Lee Burke
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
The Crisis by Winston Churchill
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton
After the First Death by Lawrence Block
Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow

Obviously, a lot of these books are ones that I wouldn't have likely ever read, or even heard of, otherwise. But getting 21 books for the price of a half off mass market paperback is a good incentive! 

After leaving the sale, we ran a few more errands, and stopped at one of my favorite discount stores, where I bought... yeah, more books. (I SAID I don't have a problem!)
I picked up The Illustrated Sherlock Holmes, which contains 37 short stories and a full novel. I also got The Haunting of Granite Falls by Eva Ibbotson, because a friend loves her, and I've never read anything of hers. And finally, an apparent steampunk book about Jack the Ripper called "Ripper" by Stefan Petrucha... because why not? 

... Now I just have to find a way to fit them onto my shelves. O_o

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review: Rain And Revelation by Therese Pautz ★★★★

Rain and revelationI received a copy of this book from the author for review.

I haven't been accepting many books for review lately, because I dislike the feeling of obligation that accepting a book for review brings with it, especially the past chunk of time, with my reading so erratic and all.

But Therese emailed me, and I checked out the book and it intrigued me. The cover drew me in, and the description left me wondering, and both are good things. So I accepted a review copy, but then all that erratic reading happened again, and I sat on this one for over a month.

I picked it up last night, and I'll admit that right off the bat, I was a little apprehensive. This is written in 1st person present tense, which is honestly my least favorite narrative style. I thought right away that I was going to be constantly distracted by the narrative. I will admit that there were a few times that repetitive wording or phrasing jumped out at me ("If there's a choice, I don't see it" and "If I have a choice, I don't see it" both showed up within 9 pages of each other, for example), but once I got into the story, I was engrossed, and read the majority of the book in one sitting this afternoon. Which is pretty impressive, since, as I've mentioned, I have Erratic Reading Syndrome (ERS).

I am pleasantly surprised by how much I actually did enjoy this story, considering my first impressions last night. I thought that the characters were all well done, and understandable, if a bit frustrating. I truly felt as though I was trying to figure things out with Eliza as she went along - not just about the mystery, but also who Eliza is, or wants to be.

I got the feeling that Eliza had done a lot of growing up in a short time, even before the start of the book, and didn't yet realize it. Her interactions with Fiona just held that awkwardness of friends who are drifting apart but are unsure why or how. This is one of the things that I liked best about the book. We're not in Eliza's head a lot - just when she's actively questioning or piecing things together - but it never feels like there's any narrative missing. She is understandable and relatable, even if I don't always necessarily agree with her reactions, so it's easy to keep up with her moods and changes.

The story itself is interesting, and kept me reading through to the end to find out the answers to the questions, but also to find out what the repercussions of the answers would be.

I felt for Annie, after learning what she had gone through, and though the subject matter was grim, the writing was never manipulative or overly sentimental. I liked that quite a bit. Let the story speak for itself. If you've written a good one, it will. This one did.

Overall, I really enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to someone looking for a good way to spend a rainy afternoon.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill ★★★★★

NOS4A2I have a feeling that this is going to be a rambling kind of review full of leg-humps and drooling.

You've been warned.

But first, I want to get the non-leg-humpy stuff out of the way. Technically, I'm giving this 4 1/2 stars, because there were a couple things that just... didn't feel right to me. Forced, one might say. They were little things, in the grand scheme of the book, but they just didn't really work for me, and took me out of the story. I know why they were there, but knowing why someone painted their house fluorescent orange doesn't make it easier to look at. Appreciating a style of art doesn't necessarily mean one has to LIKE it.

So my first issue is with the carryover sentences from the end of one chapter, to the header of the next. These are abrupt cut-off sentences hanging in the middle of a page, and the header of the next chapter finishes them.

It took me quite a while to get used to this, and it had a tendency not to stick. I don't read chapter headings. This hinders me a lot at times, because, in a book like this, the chapter headings are vital to keeping up with the story. They tell the reader where, and when, we're at in the story. But I find that chapter headers are often times spoilery, or hinty, and this annoys me. I don't want the chapter saying "Hey, watch out for this thing to happen... it's gonna be good!" I just want to read the story and get to the thing when I get to it, and be surprised. I especially dislike the cutesy ones like "Chapter 7, In Which Character A Has Things Happen To Him And Then Learns A Valuable Lesson". Ugh.

So I stopped reading them quite a while back. Sometimes it means that I get a little lost in the story and backtrack, and sometimes it means nothing because the only thing I've skipped is "Chapter 3".

Back on point - As I mentioned, it took me a long time to get used to the end of the sentence being the beginning of a chapter thing here, but I also said it didn't really "stick". What I mean by this is that there would be gaps of several chapters that ended normally, no carryover, and so the next time I'd see it (usually when it was supposed to be suspenseful) I'd have to pause and remind myself to read the next header. And not only read it, but read it as part of the previous chapter's last sentence.

Anyway... Needless to say, it took me out of the story. I've now written more about this carryover thing than some of my full reviews, and I feel like I'm starting to sound like I disliked it a lot more than I did. I actually didn't really mind it so much except that I just had to take that moment and remind myself how to continue. But it DID serve the purpose it was intended to serve, which was to make the reader pause, to wonder where things would go... to create some suspense. And it worked well in my case, for all the reasons mentioned already. Probably better than intended, actually. I tend to... skim. Especially if I'm anxious for characters and need to know what happens.

I know that this seems to go against everything that I hate about spoilers and hints, but I don't see this as spoiling myself, because technically I am reading the page - twice. One quick skim to find out what happens, and then a rescan to pick up anything I might have missed on the first pass. I don't do this with every page, or even every book. But the ones that grab me, that have hooked me and know it, they are the ones that I'm likely to skim because I just have to know what happens. It seems contrary - you'd think that the ones that I don't like would be the ones I'm most likely to skim... but no. Those my cause my interest and desire to read to fizzle out and die, and they eventually are just abandoned. Or abandoned quickly depending on how hard I hated it.

Moving on... The second thing that took me out of the story was the unlikely relationship at the end. I'm not going to give anything away here, but it just didn't seem realistic to me. I feel like I understand it, but it felt forced and... wrong, somehow. Tacked on, perhaps. And that's all I'm going to say about that. (See, I can be brief!)

Moving on to the things I loved about this book... Oh, there are so many. It will be much, much harder to specify these, and much harder to explain just why I loved it... at least without giving anything away.

First, I'll just say that this book was not at ALL what I expected. One expects, with a title like NOS4A2 (Nosferatu, if you don't speak license platenese) that it's a vampire story. And it is, but it isn't. It's so much more than that. That sounds trite, but I don't know how else to describe it. It's a book about the mind, and the power of belief, and in belief in oneself, and parenthood, and the nature of innocence... It's really so much more than I expected, though I feel like I should have known better, considering how much I loved Joe's last novel, and the reasons I loved it.

To date, I've read everything that Joe Hill has published, with the exception of his Locke & Key series, which I'll be getting to very soon. I started reading him, obviously, because he's Stephen King's son, but I've KEPT reading him because he's an amazing author in his own right. His voice is unique from his father's, he has his own style, his own way of using words and images and music to bring a story to life, and I love that about him.

But in this book, there's a distinct shift. Joe's no longer striving to separate himself, it seems, but is now incorporating... There's a kind of linking of the universes. I absolutely LOVED stumbling across the references to other books (The knife Maggie mentions was one that I thought fit perfectly into this story, though not very subtle. :P), but especially from Stephen King's. I highlighted a lot of passages - ones that Constant Readers will recognize immediately. There were a surprising number of them.

In addition to that, I felt like this book felt more like one King would write, especially post-2000 King. Don't get me wrong, Joe Hill's hand is alllll over this book, and it's incredible, but I can see an influence here, that's all. One of the major contributors to this is how Joe writes children. Stephen King is known for writing children with perfection, and it's abundantly clear that the apple did not fall far from the tree in this aspect.

I want to say a little something about the characters... but I'm not sure what I could say without giving anything away. I'll go vague then. I thought all of the characters were perfectly done. Their lives and their hopes and fears were all handled perfectly and I felt like I'd known many of them for a long, long time. Vic especially. I felt like I knew her better than she knew herself. Or maybe I just had more faith in her. I'm not sure there's a difference. I loved her, her strength, her refusal to give in... she's one to admire, if only for her determination. Goodness knows there's not much else to admire there. She's flawed, hugely flawed, and that's what makes her beautiful.

Lou was another one of my favorite characters. I was surprised at how important he became to the story, and by the way it happened, but I almost immediately came to love him. He's the perfect guy to have your back, no matter what it might mean for himself.

Anyway, I'm not saying anymore. To say more will be to spoil. I highly recommend this one, as I do with all of Hill's books. They are all amazing, and should be read and loved forever. The end.