Showing posts with label 5-star. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 5-star. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ★★★★★

Gone Girl

That was my immediate reaction after finishing this book. Pretty clearly that's not how it ends. It doesn't END that way. Yet, when I tapped Shadow's screen to turn the page (Shadow's my Nook's name, FYI) - there were only acknowledgements.

And then I thought about it... I gave it just a few minutes' thought, and I decided that I thought the ending was appropriate. Fucked up? Oh my, yes. But fitting too, in a way. We do dig our own graves, don't we?

This book kind of reminded of Lemarchand's Box. Every time you try to figure it out, it draws you deeper in, and in the end, reveals the kind of depravity that seemingly knows no bounds. Ineffable.

And I kind of loved it.

I thought I had this book figured out so early. I even thought I was being clever, despite knowing, KNOWING, that I was being carefully, artfully led to these conclusions. I was creative though. I had it all figured out. All I was waiting for was the vindication when the book caught up with me.

And then WHATTHEFUCK?! The twist. Oh my. I never, never saw it coming. Despite having accidentally seen the table of contents, which kind of give it away. But, then if you know me, you know that I don't want to know anything - so I put it out of my mind. And I'm glad that I did.

The first line of the Chapter of the Twist floored me. I read it four times, and still felt sluggishly stupid. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. I had never read Gillian Flynn before, only knew that her stories were dark, thriller types. But in that one sentence, I wondered if all along I've been reading a haunting story and not even realizing it. In a way that was right, but it's just haunting in the wrong sense. Or the right one, depending on your point of view.

This book kind of... resonated. It's easy to get caught up in it - or it was for me. I could see myself, my boyfriend, my friends and their significant others, pretty much ANY relationship, in this book. And that's disturbing. Everyone changes in a relationship. Everyone. I thought, early on, "Oh, this is a story of how relationships go bad when expectations aren't met - when people change, and grow lax in their status quo relationship..."

And it was, in a way. If the When-Relationships-Go-Bad-O-Meter goes to 11. Why not just make 10 more intense? Because this one kind of situation requires it go to ELEVEN.

The thriller aspect of this book was fantastic. It's not one of those non-stop rollercoaster thrill-ride books, where every page turn is another exciting development. This was like watching the water drain out of a tub, slowly, allowing you to see, little by little,what lies under the surface. And you realize that it's recognizable but stunted and deformed, horrifying, and clearly dead inside. But you can't quite stop looking. I loved every second of it. Learning about Nick and Amy's relationship, both how it was so right, and how it went so very wrong. The characters were real, disturbingly real. Every word was expertly placed to take the reader along on this journey, and it was brilliantly done. Loved it.

The moral of this story: Make an effort. It won't kill you... ;)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver ★★★★★

We Need to Talk About KevinI started this review 6 times, and each time, I deleted it because it didn't quite convey the right thing. I think the problem is that I'm not sure just what that thing is. But one thing I do know is that I love books that make me feel like this... that "I don't know what I need to say but I need to say something, to talk about this with someone because this book won't keep quiet in my mind" feeling.

I guess it's lucky that this was chosen for our latest group read then, because I filibustered there with every jumbled, messy, half-formed thought that my tired-because-I-stayed-up-until-nearly-2am-with-this-book-then-worked-a-full-8-hours mind could think of... Because this book won't keep quiet in my mind. I finished it last night around 1:30am, tears streaming down my face, hurting for everyone and furiously heartbroken over something so unnecessary and so seemingly unavoidable as what was depicted. Then I slept, and I dreamed about this book, with hazy, distant figures without names or faces, but bigger than life aspects.

It's rare that I dream about books. It doesn't matter if I read it up until the minute I drop off; I only dream about a book I'm reading, or have read if it pulled me into its world first. I dream about the books that touch my soul. *cue dramatic music*

This book was just... wow. If I were to nitpick anything, it would be that Eva's pen wandered a tiny bit too much into the outside world. I wanted to see her world, the world of her family, or her lack thereof. It took a little bit to get there, and for a while, there were hints but the narrative meandered along in its own time. But oh my, once it got going, it really got going. I don't think it was just my last minute mad dash to read this the day before my bookclub meeting that helped me to read 75% of this book in one night after work... it was unputdownable. Once I glimpsed this family's world, I couldn't look away.

There is... so much to talk about in this book. And I don't think that I could even attempt to do the topics or themes any justice (as I didn't in my bookclub, not for lack of trying). This is a book that begs to be turned around to the beginning again and immediately re-read. It's like one of those optical illusions. At first, the picture is simple, but then once you see the hidden picture within it, you gain a new appreciation for the whole.

This book was beautifully written, insightful, questioning and heartbreaking. It was nothing at all like I expected, and even guessing the things that I guessed (which turned out to be true), it didn't make the impact any less. This book was so incredible at making me sympathize and empathize with each person's perspective, though we only see these through Eva's brutally honest memory, that it was impossible for me to lay blame anywhere, even though the potential for assigning blame was huge.

This was expertly executed (pun intended), and it is not one that I will forget any time soon.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey ★★★★★

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)Confession Time: I'm very bad at categorizing genres and sub-genres, so it didn't dawn on me that Leviathan Wakes would be considered a "space opera" until I saw it in the genre listing on the book's Goodreads page. I still don't really know what that is (space opera, not a Goodreads page), despite having read the Wikipedia page and stuff. I think of "space opera" and this comes to mind:

Probably not the same thing.

But I did realize that my last attempt at reading a "space opera", The Warrior's Apprentice, left me distinctly underwhelmed.

So, if not for Audible, this book was probably a Lifer. By that I mean a book that will just sit on my radar forever, but never actually get picked up and read -- at least not for a long, long time. I have lots of these, unfortunately. There are just too many books, and too little time in the day. (If only my job would stop being so insistent that I show up!)

How did Audible, that evil (MWAHAHAHA!) Amazon company, factor in you ask? Well, not only did they give me a $10.00 credit for my 1 year anniversary of having an account with them (woohoo! free money!), but then they also put this audiobook on sale for $4.95. So Audible bought me this audiobook. And it rocked. Thanks, Audible!

So let's get down to business and talk about how much I loved this book.

Wait, wait... no... I was right before. This much:

Because I loved The Fifth Element, and I loved Leviathan Wakes.

This book had everything. Great, believable, and realistic characters, an interesting plot, fantastic scope and worldbuilding, just the right amount of plausibility to make it terrifying, brilliant humor that was perfectly timed and hit just the right notes to make me laugh out loud, and it had what were awesomely called 'vomit zombies'.

In fact, the only thing I can find to criticize, and it's more of a nitpick, is the overabundance of saids peppering the narrative. Holden said, Miller said, Naomi said, Fred said, Amos said, etc etc etc. Listening to the many saids being read was a little tedious, but only occasionally; it was mainly noticeable during long stretches of pure dialogue.

Otherwise, I loved everything about this book, and the reading. The reader did a great job at letting the story do the talking, and despite only getting to listen to this in small chunks at a time, I was engrossed in the story.

I loved the characters, and especially enjoyed the way that the two main characters, Holden and Miller, interacted with each other. They are from different sides of the personality spectrum, with two completely different ways of handling a situation, but when the shit (or the zombie vomit) hits the fan, they effortlessly slip into "Let's discuss this when we aren't dead" mode, and just kick ass. I loved it. I thought they complemented each other wonderfully, and the arc of their working relationship was realistic and understandable, from both sides.

Which brings me to the dual narrative. This story is told by alternating viewpoint chapters, and I thought it worked perfectly. We get to see things from two different perspectives, and it allows for so much more story information to be conveyed without huge info-dumps. I liked the noir detective story feel of Miller's chapters, and it contrasted nicely to the more high-tech, adventure feel of Holden's chapters. And then when they run into each other and become a sort of hybrid, I loved that, too.

Speaking of the technology, I thought it was brilliant. We've colonized other planets, and moons, and we can mine ice from Saturn's rings, and travel through space at 7+ Gs. The methods of combating nausea and blackouts during travel at these speeds is interesting, and plausible. The technology that allows us to live on little rocks millions of miles away from the sun is fascinating. But it's still familiar, in a way. RADAR and LADAR are things I've heard of. It's not too much of a stretch to get from where we are now, to where this story shows us in just a few short centuries.

The Protogen project is also plausible, and frankly terrifying, as is the reaction to it. I was totally Team Miller on this one, despite usually landing on Holden's side of the opinional axis. I shudder to think of situations like the ones depicted in this book, and can't help but think that it would happen exactly like this if it were to one day come to pass. I would hope that we've learned from past mistakes... but we don't. This is not-too-distant-future, where we've colonized the solar system, but we're still human. Racism and bigotry is larger scale, because our bodies have adapted to living off-earth, but our minds are still stuck in the 'us vs them' small-town mode, and now we just have more differences to divide us.

But I digress. I loved this book. I loved the world(s), and the characters, and, well, everything. This worked perfectly as a stand-alone novel, but I definitely cannot wait to read more of this series.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck ★★★★★

Of Mice and Men"Guy don't need no sense to be a nice fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus' works the other way around. Take a real smart guy and he ain't hardly ever a nice fella." - Of Mice And Men

I really think I love John Steinbeck, which is surprising to me, because I never would have thought of myself as a Steinbeck reader. There's just something about the way he writes that cuts through all the bullshit and pretense and just tells it like it is, and I find that really refreshing. Sometimes they aren't easy, and sometimes they hurt, but it's the kind of hurt that, hopefully, makes us want to be better. At least it makes me feel that way.

I know it'll be hard for those of you reading this to believe, but I can sometimes be a bit of a bitch. I can be demanding, irrational, impatient and moody, and sometimes my annoyance and irritation is taken out on unsuspecting innocents, or at least people who don't really deserve the hell I serve up on a platter. So, this book resonated with me. George resonated with me, and I felt myself willing him to be patient, to just try to understand Lennie's perspective, all while my face is flushing red from the knowledge that I don't always practice what I was preaching. I'm a damn hypocrite.

I really felt this book, as seems to be the case with the Steinbeck books I've read lately. I could identify with all of the characters in some way, and I love that. In such a short book, it's easy to get the characters very wrong... either they are caricatures, or they are cliches or they just plain stink and are boring. I really felt like I understood these characters, even if I didn't like them. At the end of the book, when Lennie asks George to yell at him, isn't he going to hit him, isn't he going to tell him he'd be better off without him, I found that just heartbreaking... that Lennie's sense of normalcy stems from George's frustration with him. I felt for George too. He only wants to take care of Lennie, but sometimes it's so hard. He can't be everywhere at once, and has had to make so many sacrifices in order to keep Lennie out of the kind of trouble that just comes from not knowing any better.

This story is just a smidge over 100 pages long, so it won't take you long to read at all, and I highly recommend it. Or you could take about 3 1/2 hours and let Gary Sinise read it to you, which is what I did. I wasn't sure about Gary at first, but he grew on me really quickly. I've never seen the movie, so I didn't know that he'd starred in the remake. Gary Sinise has a very recognizable voice, at least I think so, and it's kinda the opposite of my "preferred reader", but I thought he did a wonderful job reading this. The voices and the characters were all just right, and I'm not normally a "voice" fan when it comes to audio... I want the story to speak for itself.

This one definitely did that. This is the kind of story that will stick with me for a long time. As I was listening, I kept writing notes about thoughts that struck me, feelings that I had, concepts and themes in the book, and all sorts of interesting stuff that I don't really know how to express without spoiling this wonderful little story.

"The best laid schemes of mice and men oft' go astray." -- Robert Burns

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Top Ten: Best of 2011

Happy 2012 ever'body! I'm sure that most bloggers (or in my case, lapsed bloggers) are kicking off the new year by posting their Best/Worst lists from the previous one. So here's my contribution: A Top Ten Best of 2011 list.

I'm not doing a Worst list this year. Not because I've made some whack New Year's resolution to be more positive in my reviews (Cain't nobody hold me back! *cough*YA Authors who can't take criticism*cough*), but rather because the books I didn't enjoy were just not that memorable. And if I didn't like 'em enough to remember 'em in the first place, I say, let 'em stay forgotten and unmentioned...

Anyhoozle! Here's my list for your reading enjoyment. As a side note, if you click on the bookcover images, it will take you to my full Goodreads reviews. (Some of these reviews are on the blog, but that was just easier, and we all know how lazy I am by now, right?)
Oh! And if you did a list of your own, I'd love to see it, so please comment and link! :D

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?Can YOU Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier
(Read 5/29/2011)
This book was fantastic. I received a signed copy for review from the author, and it was so much fun to read! I've since encouraged my friend to buy a copy for her nephew (who loves zombies as well), and herself. There are a multitude of ways that this book can be read, so it's the type of book that lingers and continues to excite over and over again. There are some situations that are for a more mature audience, but overall, I think this was a fun, and very well done book. Definitely a keeper! :D

Danse MacabreDanse Macabre by Stephen King
(Read 11/25/2011)
If you are a fan of the horror genre, whether it's books or movies, you should read this book. This is such an interesting examination of the genre, and the books and movies that have really been centerpieces in it, that it is a must read for fans. So much insight and knowledge is crammed into this book, it's really fascinating. Plus, it's got a whopper of a recommended reading list. CHA-CHING! I haven't come even remotely close to reading every book mentioned in these pages... life goal? ;)

Rosemary's BabyRosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
(Read 10/19/2011)
Another amazing book... well, I should say trio of awesomeness. The book is great all on its own, but it inspired a fantastic movie adaptation (one of the closest adaptations I've ever seen), as well as a damn near perfect audiobook, read by Mia Farrow.
This story is one that is part of pop culture now - mention the name "Rosemary" and someone inevitably mentions the baby. But there's a difference between knowing this story in a pop culture way, and really experiencing it for itself. I highly recommend the latter, preferably the audio if possible. Farrow reads it with such emotion and depth, with just the right amount of tension and fear... I got chills listening to it. Do yourself a favor and give this one a try.

Full Dark, No StarsFull Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
(Read 1/21/2011)
This collection of short stories by Stephen King really highlight why he is a master at his craft. All four stories in this book (or 5 if you pick up the edition with the extra story, which I did not, sad to say... *sigh*) are dark and a little disturbing (OK, sometimes a lot disturbing -- but this is Stephen King!), and all examine humanity and choice and life in stark terms that really made me ponder...
It's hard for me to choose a favorite, because I loved all of these, but if you REALLY want to know, I'd have to say '1922'. It's gory and as disturbing as some of King's earlier work - Pet Sematary comes to mind - but as beautifully written and heart wrenching as anything I've seen him write lately.
"Rats in the corn again..."
I don't think that line will ever leave me.

The Grapes of WrathThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
(Read 11/24/2011)
I've only recently discovered that I enjoy Steinbeck. The first book I read of his was 'The Pearl', which was OK. Just OK. Next came 'Travels With Charley', which I enjoyed more than I thought that I would. I discovered then that I like Steinbeck's voice, when he's writing for himself and not writing a parable.
On Thanksgiving of this year, I discovered 'The Grapes of Wrath'. This is an amazingly beautiful, heartbreaking book of struggle and hope and determination in the face of overwhelming opposition. I stood in my kitchen, listening to this on audio, with tears running down my face while I cooked, and it absolutely made me thankful for everything I have in my life. I'm so glad that I was able to experience this book as I did, because I am able to appreciate it properly now, both in terms of Steinbeck's writing, and where I am in life. It was perfect timing, and an exceptional story.

11/22/6311/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King
(Read 12/11/2011)
Yeah, another King book on the list. What can I say? He's my favorite author for a reason!
This book was brilliant. I loved how it examines the implications of a major, world-changing event... what led up to it?, what did it mean?, could it be changed?, and what would THAT mean?... all the while telling us another story of love and loss and regret and how the choices we make have far, far wider consequences than we might ever think.
I loved the concept of this book, and how it was handled. I loved the ties to Stephen King's other works and loved the feel of just reading this book. It was amazing.

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
(Read 10/31/2011)
This was another dark, emotional ride of a book. Another audio that I cannot recommend highly enough, as well. This book deals with some hefty issues - a parent's illness, loss, fear and confusion and powerlessness, among other things (as if those weren't enough) - and does it with grace and honesty.
This was the first full Patrick Ness book I read, and it completely wowed me. It dragged me into the story, under the surface, and then held me there until I couldn't breathe. This book broke my heart and then I fell in love with it. Absolutely recommended.

Mistborn SeriesThe Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
(Read 3/12/2011)
This includes the entire trilogy ('Mistborn: The Final Empire', 'The Well of Ascension', and 'The Hero of Ages').
I absolutely loved these books. They made me a Brandon Sanderson insta-fan. The characters, the world, the history, the magic... everything about these books was just amazing. If you haven't read them, I can only assume you're waiting on handwritten, personalized, and engraved invitations to do so. I'll get those in the mail ASAP.
Seriously, there was so much in these stories that I didn't want them to end. I am super thrilled that Sanderson has written another book (and more hopefully!) in this world. I don't want to give anything away... but spoiler alert: I bet it's amazing. :D

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
(Read 4/20/2011)
Speaking of amazing... This book. ;)
One of my friends on Goodreads didn't care for this book much, and there's quite a bit of contention about it on her review. This is one of those books that people love, or hate, and I can easily say that I absolutely loved it.
It's not for everyone... there are aspects of the story that made me cringe several times, but I couldn't look away. I was so drawn into this story, and these characters, that even after reading the next 4 books in the series, I still cannot look away. I loved this book, this series, and for a while there, it ruined reading epic fantasy for me, because nothing I'd read after it really lived up to the level of investment I felt in these characters and this story...

The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
(Read 12/29/2011)
...Until I read this book. I begged Brandon Sanderson to bring awesome back to my reading life, and he delivered spectacularly. I was blown away by this book. It was so great, so vastly brilliant and detailed and... just, well, EPIC, that even now, a little over a week and several books later, it still lingers in my mind.
I am in awe of how incredibly good this book was, and the potential of this series, which is a proposed 10 books long, is just mind-boggling. I can't wait to see what the next book holds in store... :D
My SQUEE-O-METER is through the roof!

So there ya have it. My horror and fantasy heavy Top Ten list. Eh, I can't help it... I likes what I likes! ;)

PS. That's totally not my real handwriting... I just like it. ;)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson ★★★★★

The Way
of Kings (Stormlight Archive, #1)This book. Wow.

I kinda don't even know what to write about this book. The scope of it, the detail, everything is just so... epic. And then I think about the fact that there are a proposed nine more books, and I just...


As I was reading this, I admit to being unable to see how this story, already ginormous all on its lonesome, could expand to a whopping 10 book series and do it well. Keep the pacing, the excitement, the world, the magic system, the awesomenes all consistent.

Oh me of little faith. O_o

This is BRANDON SANDERSON. I should have known better. His leg hath been metaphorically humpeth'd by thy humble review writer thrice previously, and I anticipateth this trend to continueth.

The last 150 pages or so of this book brought things together in such a way that... well, a whole world of possibility has opened up. It seems a bit silly to say that, because a book, any book, EVERY book opens up a universe of possibility just by virtue of what it is... but in regards to my not seeing how this story, which seemed as though it could be a standalone for so much of it, could spawn a potential 9 sequels... the last 150 pages clinched it. And then I went back to the beginning and read the prologue again (having to stop myself from just continuing...) and it becomes clearer just how vast this story could be.

The world-building alone here is fantastic. This whole world, so many peoples and creatures and beliefs and societies, the weather patterns and landscapes and the history... all of it has the feeling of both being barely touched upon and described in depth. I can see it all so clearly in my head, it's almost as if I were there. I need my own Worldsinger to come tell me more. I am so curious and so excited about the scope and depth of this series, I can't even describe it.

And that's just the "background" stuff.

One thing about the beliefs in this book. Religion plays a big part in the daily lives of the characters here, as it did in his Mistborn series as well. If you aren't aware, Sanderson is a Mormon. I don't know anything about Mormonism, but I remember worrying as I was reading the Mistborn series how the religion in that story would be handled. I hate being preached to.

I don't worry about that anymore with Sanderson. I think that the way he approaches religion in his books is intriguing and unique and thought-provoking, but never preachy. These are fantasy-world religion/belief systems that one can think about and take with them as they will, but Sanderson doesn't force or push his beliefs on anyone. And I very much respect that.

The characters in this book... I just have no words. No, I lie. I have a word: Amazing.

But before we get into that, let me tell you about this bad habit I have. I don't read chapter or section titles. There, I said it. It's true. I don't read chapter or section titles. Too often, they give something away, which I really don't like. So I skip them. Which means that, unfortunately, sometimes I miss key things and have to either pick them up elsewhere, or backtrack.

I had to backtrack a couple times while reading this one. There are a lot of perspective shifts, and sometimes they threw me off. A switch to a known character is one thing, but there are these sort of 'intermission' sections with characters that come into the story only briefly to give us something and then leave again.

So, getting back to my point about characters, I was a little thrown off when I realized that the Jezrien and Kalak I'd met in the very beginning (aka: the prologue I didn't realize was a prologue until much later) weren't the characters I'd be following and that the world was very different. One backtrack later, and it makes sense... 4,500 years separation between prologue and chapter 1. Got it.

I have no regrets regarding the characters that I spent the last two weeks with, though. Like I said: amazing. I loved all of these characters. All of them. Even the horrible ones. And the weak ones. All of the characters have such a depth to them. Their lives seemed 100% real to me, as if they could step right off the page (or screen in my case, since I read this whopper on my nook) and into my life.

I cared about these characters. A lot. They live in a world in chaos. They are in the midst of a lingering, brutal war. The seasons are in a constant state of flux. Highstorms are only semi-predictable, but seem to be getting stronger and stronger. There's betrayal everywhere and trust is a luxury that almost nobody can afford. Is it any surprise that I read in this sort of state of constant fear about What Might Happen? It was thrilling, but at the same time, I was a nervous wreck.

I love that feeling... of actually caring what happens to characters. I like exciting books as much as the next person, but if I don't invest anything in the characters that the excitement is happening to, then it's just kind of hollow. Enjoyable? Sure. But forgettable.

I want reading to affect me. I want to feel it. I want my hands to shake, my heart to race, or break, or ache, my eyes to be filled with tears and my stomach queasy with worry. And it was. This book gave me all of that, and more.

The more I think about this book, the more I piece together. The more theories I form, the more excited I get for the next installment. I loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. In case you hadn't noticed.

This feeling that I have right now, this awe and wonder and excitement... This is why I read.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin ★★★★★

Rosemary's Baby4.5 Stars

I admit that I'm a little torn on what to rate this book, so I split the difference, although I'm really tempted to go all StarSearch™ up in this piece and do 4.75 stars. (Wait, did they have a 5 star rating system? No, I think it was only 4. Crap. Well, anyway, you get the point. That is, unless you're younger than me and don't even know what StarSearch is. In that case, you're a jerk, and go away.)

Anyway, I'm torn because, having seen the movie before, I think that Roman Polanski nailed the ending... He stopped at just the right point, and left us with that lingering empathetic horror, the mystery, the "What the fuck?!" feeling. We get just a hint, and the rest is Rosemary's reaction, and that subtlety's often better than the giving up the whole shebang.

The book takes the ending just a smidge further, and with a smidge more detail to the what, and that smidge further opens a line of possibility that is horrifying in itself. The things that a mother will accept, the things that a PERSON can accept, it's scary to think of in extremes like this. Imagine raising this baby with the eye of the world watching. Jeez. The terrible twos would be... apocalyptic. So... yeah, I'm torn. I don't know which ending I prefer. They are both great in their own ways.

I listened to this one as an audibobook, and I LOVED it. It was read by Mia Farrow and honestly, I think that her reading may have upstaged her movie performance. Not that she wasn't great in the movie, because I think she was, if a teeeeeensy bit melodramatic, but the audio relied solely on her voice, and so it was a bit more subtle and intense at the same time. I'm not sure how to really explain it, but just trust me, it was awesome.

Mia portrayed Rosemary's naivete perfectly. Perfectly. I feel like, perhaps if I'd have read this, I'd have found some of it a bit ridiculous. The things that Rosemary goes along with, I'm thinking, "No! Don't drink the putrid drink again! Are you STUPID?!" but then Mia does such an insanely great job at showing us this small town, kinda sheltered girl on her own in the big city, with her barely-married-a-year husband, in way over her head, super excited that she's FINALLY pregnant, and just wanting to do the right thing, even though she's not sure just what that is. She's manipulated on all sides, she's tricked and fooled over and over, and even though she's smart, she just doesn't know to be suspicious until it's too late. Mia Farrow shows all of that perfectly. The wavery quality in her voice, the whispers, the hesitation, the doubt and fear... all of it comes through, and really adds a lot to this story, I think.

Then there's Ira Levin's writing in general. Really great stuff. It's so... layered. But it doesn't FEEL layered. It feels straightforward and almost simplistic, but it's like seeing tree after tree after tree, and then finally stepping back far enough to realize that it's a forest after all. It doesn't change what it is, but the big picture is a sum of the parts. I loved the little things, the tiny details that Rosemary saw as a whole lot of trees, never realizing that she was too close to see the forest.

Also, I was really kind of impressed by Guy Woodhouse in this, although it feels very strange to say so. He managed such a ridiculously fine line of manipulation, it's hard not to be impressed that he carried it off for so long, even while being feministically pissed at his audacity and selfishness.

I was also struck by the emotional and mental abuse tactics that Guy used to keep Rosemary in line. Always keeping her home, with no money and no means of getting any, cut off from friends and family. She was always watched or followed. He didn't even let her do her own shopping - the neighbors would do it in the guise of being neighborly and helpful in deference to her sickly condition. Even without the paranormal bent of this book, it would be terrifying just for those reasons. I kept hoping that she'd leave, go to a friend's house, anything, but she didn't. I knew the storyline already, but I still wanted her to just GO. Guy wasn't physically abusive, but he was emotionally neglectful and distant and cruel (not to mention all the rest), and she just wanted so badly to have a happy family that she couldn't see it.

This is a fantastic book. I'm so glad that I splurged on it. Highly recommended.

Horror October 2011: #8

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier ★★★★★

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?Before we start, a big thank you Max Brallier for sending me a signed copy of this book to review.

That out of the way, I can sum up this review in 5 words: "Yes, it is that awesome."

I love zombies, so when I saw 1) that such a thing as a zombie choose-your-adventure book existed, and 2) that I could get a signed copy to review, I jumped ALL over that! And I'm thrilled that I did. This book is fantastic, cover to cover. Speaking of the cover, it is great. I love the vintage look it has, as if it's a well-read 70s favorite paperback melded with a graphic novel. I love both versions of the cover art, and the artwork inside is amazing. Pen and ink, comic-book style sketches that perfectly fit and complement the stories inside.

I don't think that I've read all of the variations and storylines yet - there are a surprising amount of them in the book. So many that it could keep me busy for a LONG time going through them. I read a whole lot of them though, and not a single one disappointed me at all. They were everything I've always wanted in zombie fiction: Well thought out, believable, well written, vicious, original and interesting, with just the perfect amount of humor thrown in.

I liked and could identify with the characters, especially me (AKA: the main character), who was a perfect blend of Regular Joe and Rambo as needed and as fit the story for the choices made. The secondary characters were very human (until they weren't anymore). I loved the tension of reading this, not knowing if my choice would be the right one, or if it would be the one that led to disaster.

I could continue to rave about this book... but really, all I have to say is this: If you love zombie fiction, this book is a must read.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

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: 5 of 5 stars

Before I read this book, I had read some reviews which had me wondering if this one would be something I'd like, reviews from people whose opinions I trust. I am willing to read anything though, so the book stayed on my "TBR Someday" mental list... Until I decided to read it along with some friends. Friends who then got me so excited to read this that all of my reservations were hanging by a thread and blowing in the breeze.

And I can honestly say that not only did this book not suck, but that I loved it so much that I feel like other books I've loved should now be re-evaluated on this new scale in my head. I love it when a book exceeds my expectations and leaves me kind of lonely afterward because it's over. But luckily, this story isn't over... I've only just begun. SQUEEE!

I'm not going to discuss the story in this review. I wouldn't even know how to do it justice anyway. I will say that it kept me completely enthralled all the way through. Reading this book was less like reading and more like living it vicariously through the characters. I loved the characters, and reading about them had me a bundle of anxiety almost from the very beginning. I HAD to know what would happen, and at one point I had my fists so tightly clenched in nervousness that I left fingernail marks on my palms. One event was so gut wrenching to me that it took about 10 minutes to fully hit me, and then I was lost. I was so angry and shocked and hurt by this event that I had to vent and let it out and I was left seething and miserable... and then the sadness hit.

THIS is the kind of thing I read for. All of those feelings and reactions are why I read. The bar has been raised.

I loved the writing as well. In fact, it worked so well for me that I barely even noticed it - which to me is a great thing. I don't want to notice the writing - I feel like if I do, the author should have done better at making it invisible. The subtleties in the writing were awesome, especially the voices of the characters in their point of view narration - not their dialogue, but their interpretation of things going on around them. The foreshadowing was so perfectly done that I didn't even realize it was being used, even though it was serving its purpose and making me into that little bundle of nerves, until it was mentioned.

I loved this book. I cannot wait until the next one. Fantastic.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Review: Shine by Lauren Myracle ★★★★★

Shine(I received a copy of this book for review through Star Book Tours.)

I've never read any of Lauren Myracle's other books. I'm not much into the whole "txt-spk" thing, so those books have never sparked my interest. Not my cup of tea. Other than those, I couldn't have named another book Myracle had written before today. But this... this book called out to me. Not only because of the absolutely gorgeous cover, but because of the premise, and because it's set in the South. I love me some books set in the South. And because it has Issues. Issues with a capital 'I'.

And boy, did this deliver. If it hadn't been written with such grace and honesty, and a light touch and sense of innocence, it could have gone so very, very badly wrong. The Issues in this book are the kind that outsiders abhor and denounce, while those living in and around and with them are almost oblivious to their existence as an 'Issue' at all. To those people, it's just life. Normal. Everyday. This book touched on a lot of things. Poverty, addiction, class division, alcoholism, abuse, homosexuality and homophobia, fear and hatred, small-town politics, friendship and loyalty, etc. So many things that some could have easily gotten lost and confused. But even with all of these issues entwined throughout the story, I never felt that it forgot what it was.

I loved the way this story was written. I love the way it was parceled out, little by little, edging closer to the truth and the consequences and the brokenness, like a hungry mouse sneaking closer to a crumb not far from the cat's bed. The mouse knows that rushing will cause it to lose its chance, to be hurt -- but caution and stealth may win it a chance to survive. This book was like that. It crept along, building momentum, until it reached where it needed to be.

I instantly fell in love with these characters, especially Cat and Patrick. My heart broke for the things that they lost, both before and after Patrick is beaten and left for dead. I loved their friendship, and the simple acceptance of it. I loved Mama Sweetie, Patrick's Grandma, and her kindness and wisdom and faith. I usually find it hard to accept religion in books, because so very often it comes across as preachy. That was not the case here. It was less religion and more a matter of faith - a simple knowledge that there's something and someone there for us. No judgment, no fire and brimstone, no recriminations for every little thought, just a sense of "If you want, you can - if not, that's OK too." I liked that.

This book is gorgeous and amazing from cover to cover, and I was so wrapped up in this community and these lives that I almost didn't want to see, but I couldn't look away. I found one thing, one little thing, about the very end to be a bit unbelievable, but I understand it, and I wasn't disappointed. All in all, I loved this book and I think it's one that I will need to own, to re-read and absorb and love.

It's that good.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Flashback Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman ★★★★★

Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

I've been on something of a Neil Gaiman kick lately. In the past couple weeks I've read Fragile Things (which I loved) and Stardust (which I thought was just good). I really love the way that Gaiman sees the world though, and this week I thought that I would highlight one of my favorite Gaiman books, American Gods.

I read this book back in February 2009, but it is one that has stayed with me. So, without further ado, here's my review of American Gods:

American GodsThis was my first of Gaiman's novels-- not counting Good Omens, which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett-- and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both books took well-known themes and twisted them into something new and unique, and I really enjoy that. I will definitely be reading more of Gaiman's work.

I really liked the concept of this book. In a very amateur way, I enjoy mythology, mysticism, religions, rituals and belief structures. By "amateur way" I mean that I am interested in these things, but I'm too lazy to actually "study" it. I like the entertainment that mythology and the like offer, I like the escapism. One passage that I really liked from the book represents this perfectly:

"Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives." (pg. 323)

Anyway... This is one of those rare treats of a book that never fully give up their secrets on the first reading. As I was going through, I marked some passages that made me sit back, reread and just absorb them. One, which I found almost heartbreakingly sad and cruel, is:

"A whole life in darkness, surrounded by filth, that was what Shadow dreamed, his first night in Lakeside. A child's life, long ago and far away, in a land across the ocean, in the lands where the sun rose. But this life contained no sun-rises, only dimness by day and blindness by night.

Nobody spoke to him. He heard human voices, from outside, but could understand human speech no better than he understood the howling of the owls or the yelps of dogs.

He remembered, or thought he remembered, one night, half a lifetime ago, when one of the big people had entered, quietly, and had not cuffed him or fed him, but had picked him up to her breast and embraced him. She smelled good. Hot drops of water had fallen from her face to his. He had been scared, and wailed loudly in his fear.

She put him down on the straw, hurriedly, and left the hut, fastening the door behind her.

He remembered that moment, and he treasured it, just as he remembered the sweetness of a cabbage heart, the tart taste of plums, the crunch of apples, the greasy delight of roasted fish.

And now he saw the faces in the firelight, all of them looking at him as he was led out from the hut for the first time, which was the last time. So that was what people looked like. Raised in darkness, he had never seen faces. Everything was so new. So strange. The bonfire light hurt his eyes. They pulled on the rope around his neck, to lead him to the place where the man waited for him.

And when the first blade was raised in the firelight, what a cheer went up from the crowd. The child from the darkness began to laugh with them, in delight and in freedom.

And then the blade came down."

After finishing the book, I came back to this passage and found it even more interesting after learning the implications. I feel like when I revisit this book there will be a TON of missed references sprinkled throughout the book. I look forward to it.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens ★★★★★

The Emerald Atlas (Books of Beginning)I requested this book thinking that it would be a fun and magical children's story aimed at 8-10 year olds, like with the Percy Jackson series, but I was really surprised by the complexity and depth in this book, as well as the darkness, and loved every minute of reading it. I'm actually a little disappointed that I'll now have to wait for so long to read the next book and see what happens.

Kate, Michael and Emma have been shunted from orphanage to orphanage for 10 years, since being removed from their parents' house one Christmas Eve with a kiss and a promise that they'll be reunited again... one day. Then, after missing their last chance at placement with a foster family, they are sent to Cambridge Falls, where they stumble on an adventure that has been both 15 and thousands of years in the making.

This story reminded me of other children's stories - but only little bits and pieces. There was nothing I could really point to and say, "Oh, he was inspired by THIS story here," or anything like that, it was more just an impression that I had. I was reminded of Harry Potter, only kind of in reverse, with the opening scene of the children being taken away from their home. I was reminded of E.Nesbit's stories as well throughout the book, mainly by the tone and the family loyalty theme. I was reminded of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a few times, and The Hobbit a few times, etc. But again, these were more like impressions that I had, rather than feeling like anything was actually borrowed from what came before.

Despite feeling a vague sense of familiarity with these books, I felt like The Emerald Atlas was very original and different. I loved the concept of time travel, and how it actually came about. I thought it was just the right level of complex to logically and magically work, but was still explained in a way that everyone could understand and follow. The storyline was exciting and the creatures and characters were all interesting.

I loved the characters - they were all believable and identifiable to me, and I couldn't help but love them and their loyalty. Kate is the eldest, and promised her parents that she would watch out for the others. She's got a load of responsibility on her shoulders to match Atlas (which is pretty significant, actually), and she's got a heart of gold. She just can't stand seeing anyone suffer or hurt, and instantly falls into a nurturing role when needed. Emma was my favorite, I think. She's the youngest, and the type of girl who's strong and forceful because she cannot take being hurt, not when that's all she's ever known. She's quick to love though, and her love is a little desperate and fierce. I loved her and I can't wait to see her next adventure. Michael, the middle child, was hilarious. A studious Dwarf-scholar, he is the smart and logical one of the trio. He was constantly making me laugh by his bald-faced awe in a lot of the situations they were in. I truly loved how each of the children brought their own unique aspects and each played and intricate role in the story and worked as a team. I was glad that they had trials, because they each had time to shine.

There was a lot more that I loved about this, but I think that I'll just recommend that you read it yourselves. I highly recommend this one - for readers of all ages.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (11): Tim by Colleen McCullough ★★★★★

Tim Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen at The Introverted Reader.

Wow... There is so much that I want to say about this book, and I don't know if I will really be able to do it all justice. I think I'm just going to go for my tried and true method and just ask you to tag along with my ramblings... Hopefully it will make sense at the end. :)

On the surface, "Tim" is a story of an unlikely relationship between a child-like 25 year old mentally retarded man, the title character, and a 43 year old straight-laced and emotionally distant spinster, Mary Horton. Naturally, their relationship is mutually beneficial, with each of them teaching the other how to live.

But the surface story, while absolutely moving and beautiful, is just the bottom layer of the cake. McCullough supplements that base with layer upon layer of detail and depth and insight and truth. While the finished product by another author may have been a tasty and even nice looking cake, in McCullough's expert hands it's something too amazing to actually mar by eating it. You want to keep this cake. You want to cherish it and remember every beautiful detail of it.

We're introduced to Tim, and from the beginning he's impossible not to love and want to protect. Tim's child-like innocence is what really broke my heart. He is tricked and fooled by his "friends", and is upset afterward, but not because he was tricked. His is not a knee-jerk reaction to being laughed at that causes him distress, it is the fact that he knows that he is not able to understand WHY he is being laughed at that distresses him. He seeks acceptance and understanding and love just like we all do.

All of us, that is, except Mary Horton. From the age of 14, she struggled and worked hard on her own to make a life for herself. Unfortunately, due to having a very hard childhood, her idea of "life" is one devoid of any personal relationships. She's never had a boyfriend, never wanted one, doesn't have any personal friends, and her only pleasures are solitary ones, her successes are material ones.

After a chance meeting with Tim, who fascinates her simply because of his sheer attractiveness, they each begin to fill a hole in the other person's life that neither knew they had. This isn't recognized until much later, but it warmed my heart to see them teaching each other what life is really about.

McCullough's descriptions of emotion and perception of the world is amazing. I'm not sure I've ever read anything like it. Her way with words is brilliant. It's like she's imparting secrets that you already knew, but just couldn't understand because the words are just words without MEANING. Even sitting here writing this, I'm at a loss to describe just what it is that touched me so deeply, but I'm close to tears just thinking about the way that she makes simple concepts turn into life-altering truths.

But more than that, she made me think of things in a way that I would never have thought of before. For instance, at one point when Tim is sleeping, Mary ponders what his dreams are like: Did he venture forth as limited in his nocturnal wanderings as he was during his waking life, or did the miracle happen which freed him from all his chains?

I had to stop and think about this. On the one hand, dreaming that you are not fettered by a mental handicap would lend the dreams a wonderful freedom, but on the other, I would imagine that waking up to realize that that freedom was only an illusion would be torture day after day. So, I hope that is not the case.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about McCullough's writing was its vividness. Her characters are just ALIVE and jump off the page. Their local slang and way of speaking had me laughing even while I had tears in my eyes, because while the phrases they use are hilarious, what they are actually saying is true in any language.

The characters are memorable, and none of them, not one, pulls any punches. I love that they say what they mean, and mean what they say. Brutally honest, perhaps, but if what needs to be said is important enough, sometimes it takes a brutal delivery to make it sink in.

I also loved the little snippets of Australian life and culture we get to see. I love reading about other cultures and people, and the only thing that I wish was extended was the small section dealing with the Australian bush. I wanted to see the people and find out how Mary would interact with them.

Anyway. I loved this book. I'm immensely glad that I read it, and can safely say that I will soon be reading much, much more of McCullough's writing.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (9): Horns by Joe Hill ★★★★★

Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen from The Introverted Reader.
This review was originally written on April 3, 2010.

HornsRemember, way back at the beginning of the year, when I said that I wanted to hump Hugh Laurie's leg for writing The Gun Seller? After reading Horns, and just the ARC - not even the finished, shiny and perfect masterpiece - I want to hump Joe Hill's leg for writing it.

Not too long ago, I read Hill's short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, and in the intro, Christopher Golden says that Hill is subtle writer, that his stories are "promises fulfilled". I think that Golden's words about Joe Hill are even more apt when it comes to Horns. This is Joe Hill fulfilling his promise to readers. Horns is his promise to the world that he can keep pulling new and amazing tricks out of his bag, and each one will be better than the last.

I'm sad that I'm finished, that it's over. I feel like I should just flip back to the beginning and read it again, because I know, without a doubt, that it will be even more brilliant the 2nd time around.

Joe Hill's subtlety and brilliance is much more in evidence and has more effect in this book than any of his other books I've read. I don't even know how to gush enough to do justice to what I want to say! I feel like with every line that I read, there was another line behind it that added to the depth of the one I'd just read. The way that he wrote Lee was amazing. Seeing things through his eyes was truly scary and disturbing. (I don't want to give too much away about his character, but I will say this, I think that Joe Hill wrote Lee Tourneau better than his father, Stephen King, wrote Junior Rennie.) When Ig sermonizes to the snakes, I was proud of him in that moment. Not simply for finally realizing that the snakes were his, but for his understanding of truth, and life, and love in that moment, and for accepting Merrin's decision that last night as being her right, even though it destroyed him. I feel like Joe Hill wrote these things, but then I also feel like he didn't write them, that he doesn't have to write them because they just seep out of the pages and into me. Merrin's letter is another one of those 'between the lines' bits. My heart hurt reading her letter to Ig, I felt like I was losing something myself, and I hurt for them. I definitely had some sympathy for the devil at that moment.

Which brings me to my next couple of points. I love how music works its way into Hill's writing and stories, and the depth that it gives them. It's not just there for set dressing or for a pop culture stamp to place the story into a familiar territory for the reader, one gets the feeling that not only is music important to Hill, but that it is vital to him. I feel like he was speaking through Ig when he was appalled at Lee's lack of music appreciation, his plain statement that music is simply the background noise to events or action. Music is something that some people live and breathe, and I feel like Joe is one of those people, and because he is, so was Ig.

I also loved the devilish humor inserted throughout the story. I love when a book can take me from one extreme to another, and this was no exception. I went from confusion, to shock, to laughter, to tears, to laughter, to more tears, etc. Every page brought some new revelation, and to me, Hill's timing with the humor and the heartache were spot on.

I further loved the full picture of Merrin we got, even though we never got to really meet her. We got a composite of her from various other sources, like a police sketch artist making a picture from one person describing the nose, another describing the shape of the eyes, another giving us the hair, or the mouth, or the jawline, etc. Merrin's loss hit me like a ton of bricks, even though I knew about it from the beginning. But it still hurt, because I came to love her the way that Ig did - even though there was a brief time that I disliked her when I saw her through Lee's eyes. Even though I knew it was hopeless, I still wanted to hope that something would happen to magically reverse what actually DID happen. That was wishful thinking, but what I'm saying is that Joe Hill made me feel that way, despite knowing what I knew about the impossibility of that.

I both loved and hated the way that people would spill their deepest and darkest thoughts to Ig, and I really felt for him having to endure the awful things that people thought about him. I couldn't imagine hearing those kinds of things from the people I love, and the people who are supposed to love me. Everyone claims to want the truth about how people feel about us, but I think that the plain, unvarnished truth is awful and unbearable. In my head, I can hear Jack Nicholson yelling, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" and it's true. I would have probably just crawled in a hole somewhere if people had said to me what they said to Ig. So, kudos to him for being stronger than I am.

I think that's enough gushing... There's a lot more that I wrote down to mention, but I think you all get the point now, don't you?

If you haven't already, read this book. Discover the greatness that is Joe Hill. I'm waiting! :)

 Oh yeah. :D

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly ★★★★★

RevolutionI received this book via Star Book Tours.
This is the second of Donnelly's books that I've read, the first being A Northern Light (or if you're in the UK, "A Gathering Light") which I loved. I loved the wordplay and the characters and the story... it was just beautiful to me, with a bit of innocence almost.

This story is nothing like that, but if anything, I like it more for it. There are some similarities between the two stories, though. Each features a girl who stumbles upon a link to the past that is surrounded by mystery. Each features a girl struggling to find herself and happiness against all odds. And each features a girl who shares an intense love of something with a boy who understands that love completely. In "A Northern Light" it was words and language and writing, and in "Revolution" it is music.

It seems to me that lately there have been a lot of new books, particularly YA books, which feature music in such a way that it is almost an extension of the character as well as a character itself. Music featured as not only something to enjoy, but as a necessary component to life, like water or air or food.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is one of these books, as is Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (although I've only discussed this book with a friend so far, I haven't read it myself), and Horns by Joe Hill, which is not YA, but features music in the way I'm talking about. These books show beautifully how important music is as a method of communication, as art, as life.

"Revolution" is no different in that aspect. The main character, Andi, is in pain due to the death of her brother, and nothing helps except for music. It's her lifeline, her one passion, her air. Without it she has nothing and no reason to go on from day to day. But it's more than just a life-preserver, it's who she is. I'm a reader. I can't pass a word without reading it. Andi is a musician. She finds music in everything, and feels and understands music in a way that most people probably never will.

When she's in danger of flunking out of school and of not graduating, her absentee father makes her go with him to Paris, thinking that the change of scenery would give her a new outlook and help her to focus. While there, she begins work on her thesis, which is about the composer Amade Malherbeau and how his work has influenced music to this day, and during the course of that research, she stumbles on a mystery that goes all the way back to Revolutionary France.

I don't want you to think that this book is only about music, because it is not. It's about so much more. It's about understanding who we are, and where we came from. It's about heeding our past to prevent it from recurring. It's about making mistakes and surviving them. It's about being willing to give everything for what you believe in, even if it we don't succeed. It's about learning to live again. It's about the parallels between the past and the present. It's about the value of someone who takes the time to care and be there for someone who needs it. It's about all of these things and more.

This is a beautiful, layered, and intricate story that I could not stop thinking about. When I wasn't reading it, I wanted to be. It seemed to suck me in almost from the very first page. I wanted to know more about Andi, and why she is hurting as badly as she is, what makes her so jaded and bitter and angry. I hoped for her to find that something in life that makes it worth holding on to.

There's a running theme in the story of being haunted by our pasts, both in the present day story line and the Revolutionary story line. It reminds me of a song by Paramore, off of their "Brand New Eyes" album. It's a beautiful song, and I think it fits the story as well, especially considering the music theme.

Misguided Ghosts by Paramore:

I am going away for a while
But I'll be back, don't try and follow me
'Cause I'll return as soon as possible
See I'm trying to find my place
But it might not be here where I feel safe
We all learn to make mistakes

And run
From them, from them
With no direction
We'll run from them, from them
With no conviction

'Cause I'm just one of those ghosts
Traveling endlessly
Don't need no roads
In fact they follow me

And we just go in circles

Well now I'm told that this is life
And pain is just a simple compromise
So we can get what we want out of it
Would someone care to classify,
Of broken hearts and twisted minds
So I can find someone to rely on

And run
To them, to them
Full speed ahead
Oh you are not useless
We are just

Misguided ghosts
Traveling endlessly
The ones we trusted the most
Pushed us far away
And there's no one road
We should not be the same
But I'm just a ghost
And still they echo me

They echo me in circles

Overall, I loved the story. I loved the dual storylines, and the parallels and the small details that Donnelly included that made the story that much more tangible. I highly recommend this one.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (6): The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding ★★★★★

"Friday Flashback" is a weekly feature created by JG, The Introverted Reader.
Disclaimer: Some of these reviews may not be the best I've ever written, so just be forewarned! ;)

The Haunting Of Alaizabel Cray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was browsing the YA section of my local library and I stumbled across this book. Or maybe I should say that it called out to me. The blurry cathedral on the cover just promised to be dark and mysterious. I'm a sucker for dark, broody, creepy, gothic (etc) type stories, and this delivered just that.

I haven't read anything by Chris Wooding before, in fact, I'd never even heard of him until I picked up this book. As soon as I'm done writing this review, I'm going to be adding his other books to my TBR. I only hope that they live up to the expectations I have from this book.

The story takes place in an alternate version of Victorian London, a bleak and foreboding place where night is treacherous and unpredictable, wych-kin roam and wreak havoc and serial killers pick their victims off with shocking ease.

We first meet Thaniel Fox, son of England's most reknown wych-hunter, on the hunt for a Cradle-Jack which has been plucking babies from their cribs for a tasty little midnight snack. Thaniel is independent, courageous, smart, resourceful and compassionate - all the things that an English gentleman should be. Add to that that he is simply bad-ass, and you have the making of one sexy hero. His fight with Curien Blake was... well, it was exciting to read and too short. I'll just put it that way. There's just something about a man with a big knife that knows how to use it that gets my blood flowing. :)

Anyway, so we meet Thaniel, and soon meet with a mysterious girl that is in obvious need of help. He brings her back to the house that he shares with Cathaline Bennett, another wych-hunter and Thaniel's tutor, if you will. The three of them discover that there is an ancient wych possessing Alaizabel, and embark on a journey to find out why, and how to get the wych out of her. From there, everything starts to go downhill, and the shocks just keep coming.

I loved all of the characters in the story. They all felt real, and acted according to how real people would act. The romance bits between Thaniel and Alaizabel were a little rushed, but I can overlook that when I consider that he saved her and therefore felt responsible for her, and she was saved and was grateful. Both of those things can easily run a bit deeper, especially among teens who have both been alone for a large amount of their lives. To suddenly meet someone that plays such a role in your life, I would imagine that's a kind of big change.

I also really loved the London that Wooding created here, complete with it's own Jack the Ripper-esque killer, Stitch-face. It was dark and creepy and definitely not the place one would want to take a casual midnight stroll. I loved all of the little mini-stories that he incorporated into the bigger London-story. It gave me an idea not only of what the city as a whole was facing, but who the people facing it actually were, and what kind of people a city this dark and menacing breeds. It's unforgiving, and that's represented in the characters depicted. I thought that it was a nice touch to add those little personalizations, even if they were only a page or two long.

Wooding's imagination is awesome when it comes to the creatures that he brings to life here. I've read a goodish amount of horror in my life, but there were things in this book that gave me goosebumps, and that's not an exaggeration. The thing on the ceiling of Alaizabel's bedroom is seared into my memory as if I saw it myself, which is pretty commendable, as it was only very roughly described. I think that's a testament to a good author, to be able to subtly show us each what we fear without describing it into the light of perfect knowledge. Once we know what the heck we're dealing with, it's not nearly as scary as when we have no idea what's chasing us.

I also loved the blending of mechanical inventions and superstition here. Airships on one hand, and cultish Rites and ceremonies and charms on the other. Wooding perfectly brought these two very disparate things together in this book, and made it believable and plausible. I really loved it, and look forward to more from him. :)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (5): Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran ★★★★★

"Friday Flashback" is a weekly feature created by JG, The Introverted Reader.
Disclaimer: Some of these reviews may not be the best I've ever written, so just be forewarned! ;)

Cleopatra's DaughterMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was chosen for the May/June 2010 group read in the historical fiction group that I moderate on Goodreads, and I couldn't wait to read it, so I read a teensy bit early and finished it before the group read technically started. *blush* I'd been wanting to read one of Michelle Moran's books for a while, since I hear so much praise for them, and I'd planned on starting with "Nefertiti" with a friend, but that kind of fell apart due to other obligations. So I was thrilled when "Cleopatra's Daughter" was chosen, as it gave me the perfect excuse to shove all of my obligations off to the side for a day and read this.

And it literally only took me a day to read it. I could not put it down. I've always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt and Rome, so this one was right up my alley. (All of Moran's books at this point are right up my alley, actually!) I was not disappointed. The book starts with a bang with Cleopatra's rule crumbling around her, and follows Selene (Cleopatra's daughter) as she's taken from her home and country to Rome, which is rife with danger, uncertainty, spies, cattiness and political roller-coasters. Selene and her twin brother, Alexander, are guest/prisoners of the royal family, and never know what the next day will bring - an unwanted and unhappy marriage, slavery, death?

It's fascinating. I would have gladly read another 400 pages. There was so much going on between these covers that even though it was not action-packed, it felt like it was, and I just had to know what would happen next. This is the kind of book that made me love historical fiction - books that can bring a name and date-range to life, and make me not only intrigued by their life, but care about them, and empathize with them. So much in history is distant and boring that unless you have a real interest and passion for it, we forget to keep it alive. And much of history was so brutal and harsh that we forget that people who lived it were really people, and had hopes and dreams and fears that were probably cut short by the brutality and upheaval. It's easy to distance ourselves from that brutality, so that 30,000 deaths in such and such battle becomes just a number, and not a staggering atrocity.

But this book brought these ancient people to life, and I crossed my fingers for them, and mourned with them, and was angry on their behalf even though they've all been dead for 2000 years. I loved Selene's character. I admired her courage to do the right thing even when it could have cost her her life at any time. Her life was one thread away from forfeited as soon as she stepped foot off of Egyptian soil, but she still spoke up for those who could not speak for themselves. And this, in a time when callousness and bloodlust seemed to be an artform, is admirable.

I also loved the way that Octavian Caesar's loyal men were humanized, rather than just being expressionless moving statues which do the Caesar's bidding, they were men who were able to think and feel and hope themselves.

I also loved the political and societal issues depicted. Octavian's fear of any potential threat, his genius political maneuvering and manipulation, his ruthlessness all gave me chills. Livia's too, and her pure maliciousness made me want to slap her. I couldn't imagine living under the thumb of people like that. But then to counter them, Octavia, his sister, was kind and compassionate and charitable, even when she had cause not to be, and when it was almost pointless given the attitudes of the time.

Moran pulls no punches with this book, and shows the harshness of living in Rome at this time. Slaves were everywhere and harshly ruled and even more harshly punished at their owners' and/or corrupt judges' whims. Babies are cast out for being born the wrong sex, or for having a deformity, or for no reason at all other than that they are unwanted and are left to die of starvation or by the elements if not for charitable wet-nurses. It's appalling, but all of this combined to create a Rome that felt real to me.

I also liked the subtle nod to homosexuality in the book, and how it's accepted in private, but kept quiet in public. I'm glad that we're at a point now where being gay is socially accepted (by most) and doesn't need to be hidden.

Anyway, in short, I loved this book. The only thing that I can think of to complain about is a single misspelling: quite should have been quiet, and that should have been caught by an editor. ;) I will definitely be reading more of Moran's books. If they are half as good as this one it will be well worth it. :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride ★★★★★

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerMy rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was SO MUCH FUN! I devoured this book, and had to put it down so that I could sleep around 3:30am, but I had a little internal tantrum when I did, because as tired as I was, I was enjoying the book so much that I just did not want to set it down.

I really loved everything about this book. I loved all of the characters, all of them, even the deviously evil ones. But I especially loved The Quad, as I lovingly referred to them in my head: Sam (the main character), Ramon (his best friend), Brooke (the awesome girl next door) and Frank (the up & coming flunky friend who tries really hard). They were all hilarious and so down to earth and awesome that I wish that they were real people. They all came off with some off-the-cuff one-liners that made me envious, because I can NEVER think of pure comeback awesomeness in the moment. It's always like 4 days later and I'm like, "DOH! I should have said...!!"
And then there were the secondary characters who were just as great. Brid especially. I loved her spunk and her charisma and tenacity and ass-kickery. Sam's mom and neighbor were also hilarious without even trying. All of them felt real and true, and I felt like I knew them rather than like I was reading about them.

I will say that this book is more for the mature teen set. There was a bit of cursing, a bit of defiance, and a bit of sex, all of which fit perfectly in the story and didn't feel out of place at all, but might be a bit more than someone looking for a more innocent brand of YA is bargaining for.

The paranormal characters and characteristics felt fresh and true to the story as well, and I loved the way that it was represented here. The "creatures" felt traditionally modern, if that makes sense. Like they are true to how folklore represents them, but also are changeable and adaptable to modern times to stay ahead of the curve. I really enjoyed that, because the paranormal genre is in an upswing in popularity right now, and things can get a bit stale. But this wasn't like that at all, and I really liked the way that things were subtly modernized without that taking over the whole story.

Because this story is about Sam, full name Samhain Corvus LaCroix (yes really), and he is full of awesome. Between him and his friends, I was hooting with laughter so much that my boyfriend started looking at me funny. This book was chock full of my favorite type of humor - sarcastic, dry wit that you could almost miss if you blink. In fact, I read a few lines that hit me later and had me cracking up and feeling slow at the same time, because I'd missed the funny the first time around. Sam's voice and personality is just so great that you just can't help but love him and root for him.

I loved the narration as well, how it shifted between Sam's first person narration and then a omniscient third person narration. You'd think that this would be distracting, but it wasn't at all. It was like scenes in a movie - some of them contained the main character's thoughts as a voiceover, and some showed action elsewhere.

Overall, I loved this. I hope that this is the first in a series, because I definitely want to revisit these characters again... and again. This is definitely going on my Wishlist and To-Buy list. :D

Plus... There was a zombie panda. O_O

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Review: Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby ★★★★★

Hurt Go HappyMy Review: 5 of 5 stars
In one of the Goodreads groups I’m in, Wild Things: YA Grown-Up, we do a bookmark swap with other members (Round 5 is currently taking suggestions!). For the 3rd round, we each chose three favorite books for the bookmark maker to choose from. The person that was chosen as my recipient, Kellee, chose “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, and “Hurt Go Happy” by Ginny Rorby. I’d read the other two books, and as much as I love them both, decided against using them as they are both so popular and well-known. “Hurt Go Happy” on the other hand, I’d never even heard of, and the premise interested me, so I decided to use it, sight-unseen. I read a preview chapter on B& and when that was AMAZING, I ordered a copy.

Thirteen year old Joey is almost completely deaf and struggles to read lips in a world of hearing people because her mother refuses to allow her to learn sign language. Her mother is full of excuses, everything from “It’ll make you lazy so that you won’t be able to read lips to understand people who can’t sign,” to “It’ll show everyone that you’re disabled and they’ll pity you.” So, needless to say, Joey is isolated and largely ignored by people who aren’t able to communicate with her, until she meets Charlie, an elderly man who lives nearby and his chimpanzee, Sukari. This chance meeting changes all of their lives.

All I can say is “Wow”. If you know me at all, you know that I love a gut-wrenching story, one that breaks your heart and hollows you out. This book did all that and more. This book made me something of an emotional train-wreck. I feel like I need a thesaurus to even correctly assign my emotional states. I couldn’t breathe through the last half of this book, and I could barely even see. I can’t remember ever having cried so much during a book as I did with this one, but I didn’t feel manipulated or that Ginny Rorby was playing with my emotions. Rather I felt that she took this story, and all that it represents, incredibly seriously and portrayed it as honestly as possible. The fact that it crushed my soul is inevitable, because both subjects in the book are ones that nudge my overactive empathy gland into the mass-production red-zone. I’m an animal lover, and protector of small and defenseless things of all kinds, and so the events that occurred in this book were painful. I’m not deaf, but in her love for Sukari, I identified with Joey to the point where what happened to her felt like it was happening to me. And it felt incredibly real.

Whew. OK. Picking this back up later. I wrote all of that on June 24th, but I couldn’t stop being a weeping mess, so I set it aside. I couldn’t post it until Kellee’d received her bookmark anyway, which was definitely a good thing because it gave me a chance to put a little distance between this story and my heart, even though all I wanted was to rush in to talk to her about it, because it had affected me so strongly.

I don’t want to talk about the story itself in this review, although I will say that it is one that made me both proud and ashamed of being human. Proud because we have the capacity for learning and growth and empathy and understanding one another, but ashamed because we don’t use it, and worse, we exploit anything and anyone to reach an end. And regardless of how supposedly noble that end is, exploitation to reach that end is wrong. Horribly. I want everyone to read this book. It’s incredibly important. I know that many of you will read this review and say to yourselves, “Why on earth would I want to read that? She said it CRUSHED HER SOUL! O_O” but sometimes we need to have our souls crushed so that we can rebuild them better and containing more caring, compassion, and understanding than they had before.

That’s all I’m saying. Read this book.

And, if you're curious - here is the bookmark that I made based on the book. This is a scanned image.

PS. Sukari is a chimp, and the image on my bookmark is of a monkey. They are not interchangeable, but I couldn't find a chimp that did not look angry or dressed up or something that didn't represent the book - so I made a compromise as I wanted to represent Sukari as being happy.