Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Review based on ARC (Advanced Review Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

The Roanoke Girls is set up as some kind of mystery  (by the book - from synopsis on back of book) -- Lane Roanoke's mother commits suicide, so Lane comes to live with her grandparents and cousin Allegra in a small town in Kansas. Lane "discover[s] the dark truth at the heart of the family" and runs away. Years later, when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing, Lane returns to figure out what happened to Allegra -- did she run? or "something worse"? Lane must now face the "secret" that made her flee while she attempts to discovery Allegra's fate and, at the same time, maneuver the relationships with her grandparents, friends, and ex boyfriend that she left behind.

Well, the "secret" is not really a secret -- although it is not explicitly discussed early in the book, it is fairly obvious what it *is* fairly early in the book. Although I don't give spoilers, I will say that this garners "trigger warners" for some readers. Fortunately, Engel did not feel the need to go into too much detail with her descriptions, for which I commend her. Although it is obvious what is happening, when, and with whom, the heart of the story isn't Engel's ability to shock her reader, but, rather, in her ability to explore one girl's response to such behavior.

I was impressed with the way Engel delved into a sticky and difficult area and show her readers how some would respond in such an extreme situation -- both the common and the uncommon responses. Although I thought some of Lane's thought processes were a bit repetitive and redundant at times (not so much in her *thinking* repetitively, which is likely, but in her presentation of the "shocking secret" as such to the invisible reader in an oddly redundant way), and although I probably would have liked a little more of the snippets we receive into the thoughts of various other characters, overall I thought that this was a great read. Uncomfortable at times, yes but worthwhile and definitely readable.

As for Engel's writing style, I found that I was immediately engaged in the story and found myself itching to return to the book until I was finished reading it. At a time in my life when I am otherwise rather preoccupied, this was a noteworthy feat! Recommended as a quick read with a touch of mystery (what happens to Allegra, not what the so-called "secret" is), a touch of romance, a touch of dismay, and a touch of hope. FOUR of five stars.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Welcome to the Club by Raquel D'Apice

Review based on ARC (Advanced Readers Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review)

This appears to be a blog-turned-into-a-book (and if that's not true, then it certainly reads like one!). I am currently pregnant and read the book as a sort of "welcome" that the title announced. In reality, I think the book would probably be a bit more preferred by people who are already parents, especially those in their first few years of parenting.

What D'Apice essentially does is lay out, in a humorous and often sarcastic way, many "firsts" that new parents experience, such as First Time Baby Accidentally Head-Butts You in the Lip or First Time Your Child Refuses to Eat Something or First Car Ride Alone with the Baby When He's Screaming His Head Off. D'Apice does not generally offer advice, so much as camaraderie. She lets new parents know that all the crazy new stuff they're experiencing is normal, not that crazy, and experienced by others. She thus addresses many new parents' fears and frustrations in a funny, light-hearted way.

I think, for me, although I found it generally humorous and fine, I wasn't really blown away. Although I am a soon-to-be parent, I don't think I'm typical in that I am not really concerned about all these things that could and likely will go wrong... this is likely due to the fact that I'm on the older end of "new parents" and the fact that most of my good friends have children, so I've already "seen it all" (not all, of course, but a lot :)). So, it was enjoyable, a quick read, fine. And I think that a lot of new parents will really appreciate it, but it wasn't my favorite, my most amusing, my most helpful book.

Overall, still, Three and a Half of five stars. Solid and certainly recommended for the new parents who feels overwhelmed and alone.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Eep! It's been a while! Well, here you go... :)

Review based on ARC (Advanced Readers Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

I loved this book. I have struggled with reading lately primarily because my focus is so hard to keep... life and what not. But this book kept me trapped in its pages when other failed!

Brief synopsis: (nothing more revealing than what's on the inside jacket cover) Jason Dessen is a physics professor at a small college in Chicago, married to the love of his life and with a beloved teenage boy. One night, he is abducted by a masked stranger and asked if he is happy with his life right before he is knocked unconscious. He awakens to a life he does not recognize, unmarried with no children, but wildly successful in his career. Any more description is essentially spoiler, so I'll leave it at that....

I'd describe this book as a light sci-fi (there are definitely sci-fi elements, but the science itself is pretty light and in no way overwhelms the story), very light horror (just a little dark at times), thriller. It is fast-paced and the concept does not lose intrigue over the events of the story itself. (This is a peeve of mine - when stories drop their fascinating concept in favor of over-characterization or over-describing scenes, etc.) Jason Dessen is relatable and charismatic; his wife is somehow both perfect and quite imperfect in a way that does not grate; and the other characters (who I'll not name so as to not spoil anything) are lovely and well filled in. It is also a love story that is not sappy and, in my opinion, perfectly shows a scientist's split attentions and focus, while still prioritizing the thing that, of course, would matter the most. (no more details ;))

I have already recommended this book to my husband and mother and plan to recommend it to anyone else who thinks it sounds interesting because I think it won't disappoint! Also, very excited for the movie that is supposedly in development! (Note: This is in NO WAY related to the syfy tv series.)

An easy 5 stars from me!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Curious Beginning: A Vernoica Speedwell Mystery by Deanna Raybourn

Review based on an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

This is one of those books that fall into the category of "I really wanted to like it..." I really did. I love the cover and I've heard very good things about the author. The plot sounded interesting as well: a young lady in late 19th century London is orphaned by the death of her aunt and decides to set off to continue world travels to study science, with the occasional fling along the way. But Veronica's plans are thwarted by her attempted abduction and the help of a mysterious German baron who apparently knows who she is (and her parents!) and offers to keep her safe. Veronica accepts the help in the hopes of learning more about her past/parents, and she is deposited with Stoker, an ill-mannered, angry, reclusive natural historian. Next Veronica and Stoker know, the baron is suddenly found murdered, and Veronica and Stoker choose to go on the run, hiding and seeking the truth.

Veronica Speedwell is apparently one of those beautiful ladies that every man must admire, and she has spunk to spare. Her character felt more like a caricature of a person than an actual person. She is steadfastly, annoyingly stubborn and insistent on repeatedly getting herself into trouble. I believe this was meant to show spunk, but it just felt immature and idiotic most of the time.

Stoker is supposed to be some sort of manly, gruffy gentleman-in-a-beast's-body sort of thing, which, again, was rather two-dimensional. In light of his actual personal history -- both his upbringing and what has happened since then -- his whole personality felt forced and intended to create attraction rather than a realistic character. I also found Stoker terribly annoying.

And worst of all was the relationship between the two. It was insufferable. If I actually knew these people in real life, I would probably need to remove myself from their vicinity ... as far as possible.

The bit characters were okay -- some were even intriguing. But with the book revolving around Veronica and Stoker and their forming relationship, I just found the whole thing rather boring and uninspired. I would probably recommend to people who enjoy those types of romance stories that are surface and obvious, with cliched tension and resolution. I didn't really think the mystery was much to speak of. It... just didn't matter to me.

Overall, TWO of five stars.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mountain of Black Glass (Otherland Series #3) by Tad Williams

This book is massive and, for me, dragged a bit in the middle. However, it dramatically picks up in the second half and the ending gets rather exciting, forcing the reader (me) to pick up the next book right away (another 1000 pages). The characters are richly drawn in the Otherland series, and the 3rd book is no exception. The reader is drawn closer and closer to the characters, and Williams delves deeper into their minds and psyches. It is rather impressive how many different voices are present in the series, with each having a separate and unique personality.

The series presents chaotic situation and baffling scenario after chaotic situation and baffling scenario, yet the story as a whole continues to move forward, answering some questions and leaving more in its wake. The series shifts a bit into a more fantasy-like genre for much of book 3, but the sci-fi is still definitely present, and I am continually impressed with the depth of Williams' thinking and exploration. Although Book 3 lagged a bit in the middle for me, I am still overall very pleased with the series.

I am not saying more because ... any discussion of the plot of book 3 would be spoiler. :)
But a few thoughts for those who've read them already (highlight to see text):

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
I absolutely love the developing personality of the Other. It is interesting how child-like he seems and I get the feeling that he is protecting the children that have been taken hostage, even if he needs them to operate. 

I also am very interested in the developing relationship between Dread and Dulcie Anwin... and the developing case that Calliope is working through. I love that it is culminating in Sydney.

I am pleased that Jacoubian and Wells' stories developed the way they did... even in the apparent death of Jacoubian. And it's sooooo interesting that the ceremony didn't work for any of the brotherhood except partially for the one guy (whose name is evading me right now). BUT I wonder if the brotherhood may actually somehow be revived at some point in book 4 --- after all, they are, at this point, "merely code" anyway.

There is definitely more to !Xabbu than meets the eye.. his response was interesting when Renie said he was back in his real form (or however she phrased that)... and he didn't respond as expected.

Ooooh, and I loved who Emily was. But 2 questions remain at this point... if one of her other selves killed her... why was the baby she may have been carrying such a central point of her character for so long? Maybe something will develop where the presence of the baby was crucial... And the 2nd question is ... Dread said he "left something behind" with Martine when he was killed (when in Quan Li's body).... I don't think we know what that is yet... If so, I completely missed it!

Mmmmm... that's all for now. :)
This book gets another FOUR of five stars .

Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights (Wrong Questions Series #4) by Lemony Snicket

The series is wonderful. I love the way Snicket writes and the way he perfectly presents the psyche of an intelligent, precocious 13-year-old in the middle of a terrible situation. I loved all the characters and thought the mystery(ies) was(were) wonderfully presented and "resolved." (Many things are not actually "resolved" in Snicket books.) I also thought Liam Aiken did a wonderful job reading the books, improving with the series. He was a perfect voice for Lemony Snicket. I will definitely be buying this series for my goddaughter! I believe this is age-appropriate for mature 8+ year olds (there is death and sadness) and middle-grade children. Of course, Snicket can be enjoyed by adults as well. :)

The book, FOUR of five stars , and the series as a whole, FOUR of five stars .

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

This was as good as I wanted it to be. It is a meaty but well-paced young adult first-in-trilogy that is set in a world in which The Library is the overarching governmental institution that Rules over All, who have mandated that originals (actual books with paper pages) shall ONLY be in its possession and the rest of the world has access via ... sort of futuristic eBooks, which are almost like kindles, but are loaded with only 1 book at any given time. The two largest opposing groups are smugglers, who deal in the black trade of originals for collectors, and burners, who seek to burn originals to prove the point that The Library should not have total control over all originals. The main character is a young (18?) man who comes from a family of smugglers, yet seeks to become a member of The Library.

There's intrigue, subterfuge, discovery, friendship, enemies, frienemies, romance, and action packed into the novel. I really really enjoyed reading it. EVEN the Romance parts!! It was so well done, I didn't find it annoying at all. ;) The world is well developed and interesting, the characters are well-developed, interesting, and dynamic, and the story/plot is interesting and moves at a good pace. Definitely recommend to YA/dystopia fans! Also, I note that, although it's YA, it's probably more along the lines of [Red Rising] .. a little bit denser and more mature. Can't wait for the 2nd! It's at early reviewer phase right now, so juts a little while to wait... ;)