Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Being Santa Claus by Sal Lizard

Review based on ARC.

There's a lot of magic in a book like this.  It was encouraging and hopeful reading about all the ways in which the spirit of Christmas is alive and well.  I personally agreed with a lot of Mr. Lizard's points and perspectives.

Sal Lizard is a "Genuine Santa" and has spent the past two decades reminding people, young and old, that the spirit of Christmas is what matters.  The book really is a "feel good" book, and I spent many pages smiling, reminiscing, and, yes, wiping away tears.

The book does a nice job of going through the life of this genuine santa and many of his experiences, painting a complete picture of why his persona is more "genuine" than the rest.

What I didn't love about the book was really just that at times it seemed that the focus was more on Sal's good-deeds.  BUT, to be fair, the book was not actually written by Sal.  Sal told his stories, and the form they took in final publication may have been someone else's doing.

Indeed, Sal did do a lot of good in the world.  I didn't necessarily agree with all of his lessons or goals, but I didn't have to, to enjoy the book, the stories, the people, and the spirit of Christmas.  I particularly loved the story of Donna and have often hoped that I can someday make a similar, faceless impact on someone else's life.

Overall, a great "feel good" book for the holidays.
Definitely recommend!
FOUR of five stars.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

On this, here, Election Day... a book review.  Nothing about the election ;)

Breathe is yet another dystopian, not-too-distant future, young adult novel about the dangers of taking something essential for granted, and, of course, some romance.  But don't get discouraged by that description.  When I first started reading the book, I sighed in resignation.

YET.  It was a great take on the "same-old."  In this instance, the essential element that we've taken for granted is, you guessed it, air.  We've cut down all the trees, and now we must subsist on manufactured air in a bubble.  The bubble is, of course, tightly managed by the elite, and there is, of course, a resistance.

But the story was very well told, the characters were vivid and believable (plus flawed! but not too flawed ;)), and the plot moves along at the perfect pace.  I read the book quickly, and I was very satisfied when I turned the last page.

For its audience, this book is definitely a stand-out.  I highly recommend.
FOUR out of five stars.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

First, I would like to link to my book group's Anne of Green Gables review, which is largely my review ;), posted here.

Ok, Bernadette...
This was also a book group book and, in fact, it was recommended to us by a non-book group member!  I am posting my separate review here because I expect that a lot of the Desert Girls will have a lot to say about this book, separate from my thoughts.

I really really really enjoyed this book.  I FLEW through the first half... as my bath got cold.  Bernadette is a sort of mixed media book, using letters, emails, transcripts, etc. to tell the story.  There is a little bit of narration by Bee (daughter) throughout the first 2/3 or so, and then quite a bit more narration in the latter portion.  The Desert Girls recently read Wife 22, which was also a mixed-media book, but Bernadette took the concept and, really, showed the world how it should be done.

The book is touted and/or implies that it is a mystery.  Bernadette has disappeared and we must discover where she went.  This is not a particularly accurate description.  Bernadette does disappear, but not until more than halfway through and then... well, you're not really unsure about where she went.  You don't know for certain, but you can piece it together pretty well.

Instead, the book is really a wonderfully told story about a rather dysfunctional family (aren't they all), with a mother (Bernadette) who is a genius hermit former architect, the daughter (Bee) who is a brilliant young girl with a medical history and a love of life, and the father (Elgie) who is a workaholic genius microsoft project head who loves his family, if from a distance.  Blech, sounds boring the way I just did that.  Trust me, it's not.

The characters are quirky, crazy, relatable, totally un-relatable, enraging, off-putting, loving, spiteful, and the complete heart of the story.  Semple does not describe her characters in the traditional sense; rather, she provides enough information to give you an outline, and a bevy of personality traits for the reader to fill in the details.  The story is less the point, focusing instead on the development of the characters and their character.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bernadette, and I highly recommend.  What made the book not perfect was the ending, which sort of dropped, just a little, in its intrigue.  The resolution was just a little less climactic than I would have hoped.  But it did not detract from the book as a whole, and it did not leave me feeling frustrated... just a little less than perfectly satisfied.

Highly recommend.
FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman

Review based on ARC.

This book is listed for ages 9+ .. it's not far off.  This book is perfect for kids in the 8-12 age range.  It is a fun, fast-paced, entertaining read.  Robert Arthur has been transferred to the brand new Lovecraft Middle School, where he knows no one and has no friends.  Unfortunately, there is just one other student from his old middle school - the bully who appears intent on continuing the tradition at a new school.  Robert meets a quick friend in a girl who sympathizes with him after a bullying episode, but it takes him some time to finesse the relationship after Robert initially pushes her away in embarrassment.

Robert quickly learns that things at Lovecraft are not always as they appear.  By the end of the book, without presenting any spoilers, Robert has discovered the secret of the school, has found 3 (or perhaps 4) best friends, and is ready for the year ahead of him, whatever that year may bring.

The plot is simple and the characters are engaging.  The more sinister aspects of the book are not too dark and not too scary.  There's just a touch of it all, which is perfect for the 3rd to 7th grader who loves Halloween.

As a side note - the "lenticular cover" (it changes images) is beautifully done.  My husband said to me the other day, "I really like Professor Gargoyle!"  Based solely on that cover ;)

FOUR and a HALF of five stars.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shadow Show by Sam Weller and Mort Castle (Editors)

Review based on ARC.

It is difficult to rate something written in honor of the eminent Mr. Bradbury.  Part of the rating must assuredly originate from the topic.  Part of the rating is in the appealability thereof.  And part must be from the writing and/or stories themselves.

In Shadow Show, many authors who themselves are worthy of celebration, gather to honor the works, life, and influence of Ray Bradbury.  I have only actually read two Bradbury novels, though 'the rest' have been on my wish-list for as long as I can remember.  Shadow Show renewed my desire to jump to it and start gathering the Bradbury tomes for my reading pleasure and intellectual enlightenment (according to those featured in Shadow Show ;)).

Some of the novels take a theme in a Bradbury piece and run with it; some are merely written in his honor; still others written in what the author hopes is his style.  All of the stories are followed by quick blurbs from the author explaining the impact Bradbury had on them in their lives and/or careers.

I enjoyed the collection as a whole, and, as stated above, I am eager to grace myself with other Bradbury pieces.  There were some stories that I loved, some that I liked, and just a couple that I felt were "meh."  (For those interested in a story-by-story blurb, see below.)  Overall, I highly recommend the collection.  Obviously, Bradbury fans will want to partake, but I equally recommend the collection to all readers -- people who love discovering new stories, new worlds.

Overall, FOUR of five stars.

The stories, individually blurb'ed, without acknowledgment of their added explanation/blurb.  The following is not a description OF the story (since they're so short) so much as a brief response TO the story.  I've noted after each whether they fit into a sort of fantasy/sci-fi category or a more "real-life" (drama) category:

A Second Homecoming by Ray Bradbury
This is more of a second introduction than a story.

The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury by Neil Gaiman (drama)
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, so I was actually a little disappointed with this one, the one I was probably looking forward to the most in the collection.  It was good, insightful, well written... but just didn't jump out at me and didn't do much other than pay homage.

Headlife by Margaret Atwood (sci-fi)
I particularly liked this one.  I've read one other Atwood (so far) and this one easily trumped it. As with the Handmaid's Tale, Headlife made a point about society, but does not shove your face in it.  This story was was also reminiscent of Twilight Zone and, dare I say, Futurama....

Heavy by Jay Bonansinga (drama)
Heavy was thought provoking and emotion-making.  It was simultaneously touching and grim; hopeful and morose.  Bonansinga did an excellent job of channeling what I think of as the Bradbury-spirit.

The Girl in the Funeral Parlor by Sam Weller (drama)
This one was a little creepy and had a wonderful concept.  I'd actually like to see this one developed into at least a novella and maybe put at least a little more into the sci-fi (or fantasy) category.  Regardless, I enjoyed reading this short and am looking into Weller a little more...

The Companions by David Morrell (sci-fi (fantasy))
I loved the way this one started and middle'd.  I did not love where the author went with it, but I understand it.  I imagine that this short will appeal to a lot of people, but for me, I wanted something more "fireworky" at the end.  The short felt, perhaps, a little self-indulgent.

The Exchange by Thomas F. Monteleone (drama)
This was another one that was okay and felt a little self-indulgent. It was a little sentimental in the way that it feels like you're listening to a story by a grandfather type, about that "one important person" who really impacted his whole life....  It was fine, but not spectacular.  Enjoyable but not staying (I had to re-read a little bit to remember which one it was just now...)

Cat on a Bad Couch by Lee Martin (drama)
I really loved this one and, whenever I think about "Shadow Show" as a whole, this is the story that first comes to mind.  It was so nicely put together, very complete, and impressive in its subtlety.  Martin's character is somehow relatable and even endearing in his weaknesses and very human desires.

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain by Joe Hill (drama'ish)
Another great short.  Hill leads the reader around corners effortlessly, never hinting at what is on the other side of that corner.  His characterization is impressive given his subjects and, in the end, satisfies the reader while leaving her (me) longing...

Little America by Dan Chaon (sci-fi (fantasy))
He never comes right out and says it (and neither will I), but Chaon dances around his story - a theme that has become much more popular in the past couple decades - with a lithe leap.  The perspective is impressive, the plot is brief and to the point, and the end is, again, satisfying, and I appreciated that Chaon did not attempt to think for his reader.

The Phone Call by John McNally (sci-fi)
This one is right up my alley.  When I realized who the author was, I was not surprised and was, instead, reinvigorated in my desire to read more McNally.  His topic is not new anymore (though, as he states in his after-the-story blurb, he's been toying with the idea for a couple decades), but it is presented with a fresh spin, a modern perspective, and a thoughtful end.

Young Pilgrims by Joe Meno (sci-fi)
Another excellent story.  Exploring the next frontier in the context of a zealous religious group could, in another's hands, be inaccessible.  But Meno approaches both with an eye toward present, modern, and very-Earth concerns and ideas.

Children of the Bedtime Machine by Robert McCammon (sci-fi)
The story begins bleak and hopeless and slowly, subtly, moves into hopeful and bright.  I loved the concept, and I thought the characterization was really excellent.  I did, however, think the end was just a little too neatly packaged.  I like my happy endings, but with short stories such as these, leaving room for a little wonder is welcomed

The Page by Ramsey Campbell (drama'ish)
I really liked the way Campbell weaved just a touch of the possibility of supernatural into the everyday, the potentially mundane.  The story was informative and complete, yet still left room for the reader to question everything in the short -- the presence of perhaps a ghost and the influence of such an existence on everyday life.

Light by Mort Castle (drama)
I've read other Norma Jean / Marilyn Monroe pieces, but this one was really well done.  It was insightful and aware.  I don't know if any of the experiences and thoughts described therein were documented and merely re-played here in an effective manner or if Castle created it all from his, apparently vast, imagination.  The short was a believable account, deftly, efficiently, and emotionally told.

Conjure by Alice Hoffman (drama'ish)
I went out and bought another Hoffman this weekend as a result of this story.  I love exactly how she told it.  Nothing more needs to be said.

Max by John Maclay (sci-fi (fantasy)'ish)
I liked it, but I didn't love it. It was just a little too much like reading history for my tastes... a little too memoir and not enough story.  But, fine.

Two of a Kind by Jacquelyn Mitchard (sci-fi (fantasy))
This was probably my least favorite.  It was good, well-written, well-told.  It had a little bit of spook and a little bit of creep.  But in the end, it felt more like someone was trying to educate me than spin me a tale of two boys...

Fat Man and Little Boy by Gary A. Braunbeck (sci-fi'ish)
Another one I loved.  Braunbeck touches just enough on human frailty and conceit, the ego and insecurity.  He dabbles with the future and establishes a life.  I am interested in more of what he has to say...

The Tattoo by Bonnie Jo Campbell (sci-fi (fantasy))
I have, for some reason, mixed feelings about this one.  It is right up my alley, but I was, nevertheless, dissatisfied.  I love the concept, and I think that Campbell did a great job of describing the details.  I think that what was dissatisfying for me was the relationship side -- perhaps realistic, but unmoving.  Intriguing, but I feel like the story could have gone just a little bit further.

Backward in Seville by Audrey Niffenegger (sci-fi)
For those who know me, you know that I am the anti-fan when it comes to Niffenegger's Time Traveler's Wife.  Nonetheless, I purchased her second book, and I read this short with an open mind.  I felt, after reading Time Traveler's Wife, that Niffenegger has potential that could have been better illuminated by a more aggressive editor (vis-a-vis cutting about 150 pages from the 500-page book).  But I digress....  Backward in Seville was nice.  It was sentimental, which was not even slightly surprising.  Overall, I felt that with this (much) shorter foray, Niffenegger did a (much) better job telling her tale.  It was good.  Possibly even very good...

Earth (A Gift Shop) by Charles Yu (sci-fi)
I have heard of Yu and was eager to read this short.  Yu presents the tone just right. I mean, just right.  It is completely convincing in what it endeavors to accomplish.  You are reading (listening to audio of) a marketing brochure for Earth, a Gift Shop, written by (told by) a wry, self-defacing marketer.  Looking forward to more Yu.

Hayleigh's Dad by Julia Keller (sci-fi)
Awesome.  Am definitely going to look into more Keller.  Maybe it's this one.. maybe this is my favorite...

Who Knocks by Dave Eggers (sci-fi)
This is in the tone of an urban legend.  And it was fun.  Not deep, but fun.  And creepy.  Enjoyed my first tiny jaunt into Eggers-land.

Reservation 2020 by Bayo Ojijutu (sci-fi)
This was well told, but it felt a little preachy.  I understand that a lot of authors are moved by Bradbury's ability to preach so effortlessly, but that's the point -- it's effortless.  In Fahrenheit 451, the reader gains a sense of Bradbury's opinion, perspective, and, as far as he is concerned, truth.  But it's a story first.  Ojijutu's story has intrigue, and I loved (loved) the interaction between Joseph and the Governor, but overall, I felt that the tale fell flat -- onto a moral message and not a story.  It was not bad, and it was certainly well-written, it was just not my favorite.

Two Houses by Kelly Link (sci-fi)
Kind of awesome.  Reminds me of Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk for some reason.  Fun, light, deep, and provocative.  I'm curious about Link...

Weariness by Harlan Ellison (sci-fi)
His name is trademarked, which made me feel like I've missed out on a lot of good sci-fi.  I thought the story was OK, a nice thought, a well-done conclusion to "it all."  But what I really enjoyed from Ellison was actually his after-the-story blurb.  He sounds like just the sort of person I'd love to have a long conversation over tea with..


Monday, September 17, 2012

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

This book was, apparently, the third in a series.  Having read it out of turn, the mystery stands on its own, but some of the side points were left unexplained -- the fact that the author did not re-explain every interesting point is something I definitely would have appreciated, had I read the first two books.  In this one, it left me wondering, but did not interrupt the story.

Semi-rookie Peter Grant investigates crimes in London when "other" explanations are required.  His partner Lesley wears a mask because, as she explains at the beginning of the book, her face fell off.  I imagine this whole story is encompassed in book 2, but in book 3, it merely adds to the overall ambience of the book.  Nightingale is their boss and they live at the Folly with Molly, who I assume is their ghost housekeeper (again, probably detailed in a prior book).

The mystery in this book is fun and Aaronovitch spends time going through the hoops of crime investigation.  It's an entertaining read for a saturday afternoon or a plane ride (where I did most of my reading).

On the cover is a portion of a review that claims that this book is the perfect mix of Harry Potter and CSI.  As a Harry Potter fan, I beg to differ.  This book is more like the Dresden Files, without the same level of darkness or angry wry humor, and with more investigation and cop-speak.  I can only assume the Harry Potter reference on the cover is due to a few Harry Potter references throughout the book itself, and the fact that there are wizards and "fae."  Perhaps if I had read books 1 and 2 I might understand the comparison more -- being brought through a new world and learning of magical creatures as the main character does is part of the magic of Harry Potter.  Harry Grant spends more effort not being shocked because cops are supposed to know  more than the public and, necessarily, an element of wonder is absent.

Overall, I enjoyed Aaronovitch's sense of humor (quite a lot at times), and I appreciated the distinctly london feel and dialect.  I would recommend the book, particularly to someone who is interested in a detective solving crimes involving the supernatural.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by

Another one.  I mean, another good sink-your-teeth-in book.  I read this one in a matter of hours.

Christmas Day, Tara returns home.  Tara's been gone for 20 years but, upon her return, has hardly aged at all.  She looks tired, maybe wiser, but otherwise, she appears to be a 36-year-old in the body of a 16-year-old.  The story is told from various perspectives.  When Tara is telling her story, it is from her perspective, though the listener varies between her brother Peter, her ex-boyfriend Richie, and her shrink Vivian (Mr. Vivian Underwood).  Tara's story is the heart of it -- what events led up to her disappearance, where she was, what has happened since she has been back.

Sometimes the story is in first person, sometimes in third.  Sometimes the author uses quotes to indicate conversation, sometimes merely logic (e.g., He told me, don't do that).  Joyce uses a variety of quotes to intro his chapters, which quotes set the mood for the chapter and the perspective, the best of which are a transcription of the trial of Michael Cleary for the murder of his wife Bridget Cleary.

The book is well paced and pulls you through.  I really didn't put it down until I was done.  I was impressed with the way Joyce implemented the various perspectives and thought his voice was largely convincing for most if not all of the characters.  I particularly enjoyed Dr. Underwood's report, perspectives, conversations.

The first 50 or so pages aren't the best in the book.  It almost feels like a little too much set up before we get to "the goods."  I didn't think I really loved the ending, either, but I felt like I understood the reasoning behind it.  Then, upon further reflection, I was very impressed with the window that was left open.  It was all cinched up *just* enough to keep you wondering about absolutely all of it.  Which I am surprisingly very happy about because I normally like nice, neat packages.

I definitely recommend the book.  It falls somewhere between magical realism and fantasy.  It's interesting and well told.  And best of all, it's a real novel.

FOUR of five stars.

Niceville by Carsten Stroud

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into with this one.  I read about it, some quick little blurb somewhere, and it seemed like it could be a "lose yourself in here" kind of book.  I think the quick synopsis is something like "boy suddenly disappears, like caught-on-camera disappears. town in a tizzy.  something's weird in niceville."

I thought to myself, sure! that sounds good to me...
Now that I've read it (rather quickly), I find myself having a difficult time really describing it.  So, the little two-liner above isn't inaccurate.  it's just not accurate either.

Niceville is like reading a Stephen King without the gore.  Or maybe a Grisham with ghosts.  Or maybe nothing at all like Stephen King or John Grisham because it just doesn't fit.

It was well written.  It was VERY well populated with characters.  It was intriguing.  It was funny (surprisingly).  It was a horror story, kind of, but not gory, really.  It was a thriller, maybe even psychological, but maybe it's more of a crime story.  It would make a good crime tv series.  Especially since I know that there are more coming (yay!).

So, what's it about?  It's about this town, Niceville, where things aren't so nice.  (that's not surprising, I don't think, from either the title or the cover image).  There's a cliff and a sink hole that seem to make people act ... odd.  There's a missing boy, then something happens (i hate spoilers), and then the boy is back.  Kind of.  Or maybe not.

But then there's also the bank robbers.  There're the pervie side-characters.  There's the genius techie.  There're Nick, Kate, and Kate's dad.  There's Glynis Ruelle.  And there's Claire Mercer.  There's also so much more.  Again, I was impressed with the amount packed into this book, particularly because it read so quickly.  I find that a rare skill -- the ability to introduce a reader to a high number of characters, to allow the reader to really get to know the characters, and to do so while moving the plot(s) along quickly and effortlessly.

I highly recommend, but I also warn it's dark.  If you want something light & fluffy... well, if you want something light & fluffy you probably don't read this blog.  But this is on the darker side of dark.  But not squeamish.  Not nightmare.  Just ... you know, that slight discomfort in the quiet 2 a.m. when everyone else in the house is asleep...

FOUR of five stars.

Advent by James Treadwell

There were some things I didn't know about certain legends before I started reading Advent.  Like, I had not heard of Cassandra and her curse.  And I did not know anything about Faust.

Having read Advent, I now want to read more about both of these legends.  I typically do not read intros and authors notes because, frankly, they're not really relevant to me.  I am reading a story and I don't really care what someone says about the author or the impact the story has one some community... or what the author wants to "extra point out" after you've taken the time to read his book.

When I DO read these extras, I know that I have enjoyed the book.  I am in a place to read more ... often times, anything more I can get my hands on.

In this case, the author's note at the end of the book was a rewarding (and thankfully brief) read.  It explained that the legend of Faust is like that of Arthur -- little solid is known, allowing for great flexibility in the telling of the story.

Advent was great.  Whether you know anything about Faust / Cassandra or not, it is just great, a well-told story with vivid characters and a colorful setting.

Advent starts with a teenage Gavin who is escaping from the stifling rule of his parents' upbringing.  He has a dad who seems to hate him, a mother who weakly mimics love while cowering under the heavy handed rule of her husband, and a friend - a best friend - who isn't real.  As he has been told countless times by the adults in his life, who know better.

Gavin has been permitted a brief escape to his aunt's house in a small town a train-ride away, while his parents are on vacation -- largely from him.  Gavin's aunt is unlike the other adults in his life - in fact, while others have assumed imaginary friends, his Auntie Gwen encouraged his visions and often asked for details -- a little too excitedly.

However, when Gavin arrives, his scatter-brained Aunt is not at the train station to pick him up.  Gavin, fortunately, has made friends with Professor Hester who drives him home, around the long winding road, to his Aunt's lodge at the front of the Pandora Estate... oh, i'm sorry, Pend*ur*ra.  ;)

As you can see from the above, which truly is just the very very beginning, Treadwell packs a lot into each sentence, pulling the reader into the world at Pendurra completely.  The entire book occurs over the course of a weekend, or so.  But rather than being weighed down with the details, Treadwell's book instead brings the world therein alive.

Treadwell is a gifted writer and I am eager to read more.  I found myself often straying back to Advent, even when time did not actually permit.  I savored the book and found myself with an appetite for reading again.  After so many "false-starts," it was nice to find a real book-book.  A book with a hearty plot, believable and endearing characters, and an intriguing story line.

It wasn't a five-star book only because it wasn't.  I don't have any precise criticisms and I can't point out specific flaws.  But this book wasn't the next Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, though it had flavors of it.  And it didn't make me rabid for more, but it almost did.

I highly recommend and I will certainly read more Treadwell.
FOUR of five stars.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ballerina by Edward Stewart

I discovered this book over twenty years ago in the public library.  I was in 7th or 8th grade and I had a voracious appetite for reading and had already read through several Stephen Kings, all of the available Christopher Pikes, most of the R.L. Stines... well, you can see the type of book I was reading back then.  But I was looking for something different.. something I could really get lost in.  I found this hard-cover, largely nondescript book somewhere on one of the back walls.  I was with my best friend who was newly obsessed with the Clan of the Cave Bear series, which I couldn't get into.  I started reading this and never looked back.  I often think of it as the first non-horror book I really enjoyed.

Fast forward about 18 years and I'm feeling particularly nostalgic.  I am certain that somewhere in the back of my head the title of "that one book that was SO good" was Ballerina.  I start in on Google, amazon, goodreads, biblio, etc.  I really searched.  I could not find it.  Until I thought... you know, maybe it IS that out-of-print one by Edward Stewart.  I ordered two copies - just in case.

How pleased I was when it not only WAS that book, but that upon reading it again as a lawyer in her early thirties, I discovered that it was JUST AS GOOD.  Such a well done novel that simultaneously makes the ballerina world look enrapturing, exciting, and devastating.  It delves into the pain, the politics, the pressure.  And it also brings the reader with it into the highs, the accomplishments, the glory.

I am so happy to discovery that others agree (e.g., Amazon.com reviews).  I highly recommend this book.
FIVE of five stars.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Investigation by Philippe Claudel

Review based on ARC.

Yup.  I really liked this one.  So I started reading it, and then kept reading it, and kept reading it, until I was about a third of the way through and realized i was starving.  So we went to go eat.

Then I went home and kept reading it.

And here's where it gets trippy.  Admittedly, I was exhausted... just... so .... tired.  But, see, I kept reading.  And I started questioning reality, and my existence, and WHY is that light so bright... and who's keeping my husband away from me? AM I real?  What's happening?...

and, normally, I'm not that kind of girl... ;)

Then I was interrupted and was not able to finish until the following evening.  Overall, I was very pleased with the book.

And, gosh, what's it about.  It is almost an everyman type of story... the characters are identified by their duties.  And the Investigator is sent to Investigate an unusual circumstance with the Enterprise.  There are, to say the least, obstacles in his efforts to uncover the truth he was sent to investigate.  I think I can safely say, just read it.  I hate spoilers, especially any hints regarding this kind of book.

But I will say, there are the "surreal" aspects that other mention; it's just that it's more than that.  It's an allegory and a warning, and a tale to which many of us can relate.  Plus it's creative and thoughtful.

Interestingly, my break in reading the novel occurs around the same time as the Investigator's.... ah, discovery of sorts.  The tone seemed to shift.  It had a satisfying end.  But it just wasn't perfect.

But I Definitely recommend the book.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

Your Body is Changing by Jack Pendarvis

I gave this one a few days to settle in...
and all I'm left with is "Blech..."

The writing is definitely not bad, but ... a lot of times it felt like I was going up a roller coaster... up, up, up.... up... up?  i.e., I kept expecting something else to happen.  something, anything type of thing.

But there are a few gems.


Lumber Land
This one, I really liked.  This one is the reason I read this book, despite pressing obligations otherwise.  This is the best of the bunch.  The characterization is great, the descriptions are vivid, the dialogue is convincing, the scenery is invasive.  All good, recommend.  It's dark and, since this is a book of short stories, I won't summarize.

This is one of those where I kept waiting for "it" to happen.  There are good visualizations and decent characterization... but it sat still.  If you like the type of "some stuff happened, and then some other stuff happened" fiction that is well-written?  I imagine this book may be just perfect for you...

Tollboth Confidential
Ditto.  And as I go back through these and write this review, I feel like there are a lot of good ideas for stories that could use a plot and more development.  Good ideas.  And then just ... plateaus...

Courageous Blast  
This one is funny.  Amusing, more than funny.  The dialogue format worked for the message conveyed.

The Train Going Back
... I have nothing productive to say.

Roger Hill
This one was ok... it didn't really *go* anywhere either, but I felt that a point was made in a unique way.  I appreciated the perspective and, again, the visualization.

Your Body is Changing
yeah... the title piece.  the raison d'etre ... blech.  And this one is really where that comes from.  Reviewing the book as a whole, I think Pendarvis deserves credit for his skill -- he paints a nice picture and creates realistic characters.  This is not untrue of Your Body is Changing.  It's just that, for the longest piece, the one that the rest built to... it was too much up-rollercoaster with no pay off.  And it's hard because I don't feel that I can really pinpoint the problem.  I liked certain characters.  There were definitely points of interest.  I liked the direction it began to go... and maybe that's just it.  It began.  Certain aspects could/should be fleshed out into a full novel.  Or something.  It might just be one of those where you WANT to like it, you WANT it to be good... but it just kind of... blechs.

TWO and a HALF of five stars.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

Review based on ARC:

Also, my book group, Desert Girls, read the book.  See the group's review at desertgirlsbooks.blogspot.com.

I thought the book was OK.  I didn't hate it, but I found it cliched and predictable.

I found the characters to be somewhat dull and 2-dimensional, and a lot of them seemed to have a lot of anger and negativity.  The so-called best friend of the protagonist seems to love her friend by offering good advice, but seems to turn her back on the emotional sufferings and baggage of bad decisions.  She was a friend who seemed present only when it was convenient for her to be so.  The various "mother" figures in the book were interesting and ... well, probably the only likeable characters that were really there. 

The writing and the story-telling, however, were quite good.  I thought Gideon did a *great* job interweaving various social networking, texting, emailing, etc. to tell the story.  I also felt that there were a lot of realistically drawn characters, but I felt that the "resolution" was altogether too easy for the lack of self-reflection and growth the characters seemed to exhibit or experience in the story.

Overall, I would recommend to someone who likes suburban stories about the emotional struggles that we experience as a result of our own decisions.  The book isn't challenging, but it's funny at times, light at times, thoughtful at times, and written well enough to not throw.

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman

Review based on ARC.

I was initially intrigued by this book because its title and brief description made me think of reading a cozy psychological thriller.  Fortunately, Nayman moves the reader seamlessly into an intriguing story.  I say fortunately because there are portions of the book that don't move the reader along as effortlessly as others, but the initial intrigue of Oscar's situation drives the reader through those less exciting portions.

You can read the basic description of the book in other reviews & on the book jacket, but very briefly, Nayman presents a story of mystery and intrigue through the perspectives of Oscar and two women in his life, Christine and Marilyn.  Oscar may have committed some horrible crime and may be the victim of mistaken identities, or perhaps both.  Christine is his love who has left upon discovery of his crime, and Marilyn is his companion, a war photographer who enjoys the life of his mansion and his parties (it is this part that seems to remind people of the Great Gatsby, though I find Nayman's portrayals more interesting).

Oscar's incredibly brief introduction somewhat sets the stage for the reader to be pulled into the overall story.  But the book truly starts with Christine, after she has left Oscar, after she has become addicted to Opium, and near her point of desperation.  Nayman flits between past and present with ease, and I even thought at one point that the book, written by a lesser writer, would have left me confused and annoyed.  Instead, Christine's tale is convincing and understood, artfully written and non-gratuitously told.  I felt that Nayman was a little brilliant in her ability to present Christine so well, despite my discomfort with some of the subject matter (for you more sensitive readers, please know that this story involves various types of sexual assault, but Nayman does not gratuitously divulge the details).

Then we are rather abruptly moved to Marilyn's main story.  It is abrupt largely because it is so very different from where we are left at the end of Christine's "chapter."  There is some darkness, but Marilyn is not currently staggering through the darkness, which is (essentially) where we left Christine.  As others have stated, her portion is, overall, the least moving, but it serves its purpose in the book.  I'm not yet sure if I would have preferred more depth into Marilyn's character, or a quicker foray...

And we are finally reintroduced to Oscar.  The discovery, the tied up loose ends, the conclusion... well I like satisfying ends.  I know it's trendy to leave the reader frustrated, but I appreciate a writer who is willing to actually conclude a tale.  It does not, of course, conclude the lives of the characters therein, but it leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction.  I appreciated Nayman's decision and felt she did a nice job of wrapping up this dark and anxious tale.

Overall, a thoughtful read, a dark read.  I recommend to people seeking something more challenging -- particularly more emotionally challenging.

THREE AND A HALF of five stars.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

BossyPants by Tina Fey

See BossyPants by Tina Fey for my book group's review on BossyPants.
As you'll see at the end of that review, my personal feelings are "READ THIS!"

FIVE out of five stars.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oxford Messed Up: a novel by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

Review based on ARC.

Phew, where to start.

Let's see, perhaps the beginning...
The beginning was not the strongest part of the book and I felt somewhat patronized - like the author was trying to both trick me into not understanding Gloria's true relationship with Oliver and giving me obvious clues.  So the first 20-40 pages I read because I was intrigued by the topic, pleased with the title, and because it was easy enough to read... but not because any of the characters were particularly compelling.

Around page 40/50, however, I began to lose sight of "the topic," "the title," or anything but the story, really.  And in the end, that's always what I'm really looking for -- a well told story.  In this case, it was even better because it was accompanied by good writing.  Very good writing (though not spectacular).  There were moments when I felt that the author wanted to educate me, more than share with me the story.  But these moments were few and far in between.  Although the novel IS educational on many fronts, it is first and foremost a story about Gloria, Henry, and Oliver.

I actually cried.  I certainly laughed.  And I read it quickly and voraciously.  It was convincing, not terribly contrived, and redeeming.  I felt strong emotions for Gloria, Henry, and Oliver... I felt *some* emotions for the more peripheral characters Claire, Nicholas, Margo, Gladys, and Frank.... so much so that I even remembered their names!  I will not say *which* emotions I felt for them, but I imagine that, in a conversation with someone else who has read the book, some of my responses will be surprising...

Kudos to Ms. Kaufman.  I appreciate that she did not give into some of the traps that often result in cliched stories and contrived endings ... while still providing a complete and satisfying story.  I won't say more... just, read it.  If you know someone who suffers from any level of OCD, if you yourself suffer from any level of OCD, if you know of no one who suffers from OCD, if you don't even know why I keep repeating those letters.... read the book.  It's a lovely story.  It certainly is as it is touted to be -- a story about "messed up" people, about cognitive behavior therapy, about fatalistic optimism... but it's also just a good story.  A story about people with their own quirks, with their own histories, with their own demons, their own choices to learn and live.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Odditorium by Melissa Pritchard

Review based on ARC.

There is no doubt that Ms. Pritchard has a talent with words... However, i feel she is lacking in story and flow.  I have often said that I love a well-written book, but even better, a well-told story.  The conflict is apparent in the Odditorium.

It is clear that she has a poetic and lyrical method to her prose.  But I don't care about the characters, not a single one has been endeared to me, and it feels like a well-written, albeit dry, history book.  One that I know is fiction.

But she's smart.  She is evocative with her language.  She is creative and presents thoughtful and involved perspectives.  I was almost intrigued.  I was almost interested.  I kept wanting to fall into the tales.  But I remained above, reading from an outside perspective.

If you want something literary, intelligent, thoughtful.. pick it up.  If you want to lose yourself in another place, another world... hold off.  You won't lose yourself here -- you will merely be intellectually stimulated.

THREE of five stars.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Jokers Club by Gregory Bastianelli

Review based on ARC.

I am always grateful for a book that is intriguing *and* a page-turner.  Fortunately for me, amidst the too-busy life I have been living the past few months, I found such a book in Bastianelli's Jokers Club.  I have a pretty broad history with horror, suspense, and King, all of which are found in this book.  Without the hundreds of pages of "details" that King employs, Jokers Club is almost a novella, quickly developing characters, background, and plot.

I was impressed with Bastianelli's narrative and flow.  Geoffrey Thorn and his mates were involved in a horrible accident that they kept secret into adulthood.  When they return to their reunion, they begin to die, one by one.  Sure the plot is a little cliche for the genre, but Bastianelli wrote it well and added a nice element of haze into the narrative with Thorn's brain tumor.  I liked the little twists, the uncertainties, and the overall feel and flow of the book and appreciated the quick escape.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in the genre (horror, suspense, thriller).
FOUR of five stars.