The first time I ever laid eyes on The Secret Life of Souls, I actually thought it would be a contemporary feel-good story about dogs. But then again, I’ve also never read a Jack Ketchum novel before, and was completely unfamiliar with his work. A quick search on Goodreads brought me to his author bio (which proudly proclaims that his first book Off Season was once scolded by the Village Voice for being “violent pornography”), prompting a swift re-evaluation of my first impression. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. Short this book might have been, but sweet it wasn’t. And while it might not have been strictly horror, certain parts of it were certainly horrifying.
The story begins with an introduction to Delia Cross, her twin brother Robbie, their dad Bart, and mom Pat. Talk about your dysfunctional family! On the surface, everything looks copacetic. Delia is a talented child actor, already making a name for herself at eleven years old. In fact, she’s so successful that she’s the sole breadwinner for her entire family. Pat, a former drama student, is now living a life of stardom vicariously through her daughter, pushing Delia hard through her numerous appointments and driving them both to and from auditions and film shoots. Bart on the other hand does nothing but spends his days in the garage obsessing over his muscle car and shopping online for “great deals”, squandering his daughter’s earnings on things they don’t need. And when it comes to quiet and mild-mannered Robbie, it would appear he is happy as long as his family is happy, apparently content to let his sister take all the attention.
But underneath this picture of success is a festering bitterness, and everyone around Delia is too self-absorbed or in denial to see the truth. The only one who seems to have any clue what’s going on is Caity, the Crosses’ two-year-old Queensland Heeler. This gifted dog is also confidante and best friend to Delia, who hasn’t had a chance to make many friends her own age due to her rigorous schedule and being tutored at home. Everyone else seems to have a plan for Delia, not caring how she feels about it. Not surprisingly, all those toxic ambitions finally come to a head on the eve of Delia’s biggest gig yet when a terrible tragedy befalls her and Caity, causing the collapse of everything the Cross family had come to take for granted and leaving their future in jeopardy.
The Secret Life of Souls gave me all the feels—and they weren’t necessarily all good ones either. Believe it or not though, that’s sometimes a positive thing. After all, I would take a story that gives me raw, painful or visceral emotions over one that leaves me cold any day, and say what you want about this book, but it definitely evoked some powerful reactions. Case in point, I wasn’t even halfway through this novel when I became almost overcome by this blinding urge to go berserker mode on nearly everyone in it. In case you ever need a reminder on how much people can suck sometimes, just look to Pat and Bart Cross. I’d be even angrier at them if they weren’t so pitiful, these two clueless, selfish parents who are clearly stuck in the past. Bart is immature and irresponsible, driven by instant gratification and delusions of being a bold “risk-taker”. Pat is even worse, encompassing all the most reprehensible stereotypes of the aggressive, domineering stage mother. Meanwhile, poor Robbie is relegated to the sidelines, an already introverted child further marginalized by his oblivious, materialistic parents.
So many times while reading this book, I just wanted to yell and scream and hit something, but thankfully in the middle of all this darkness there were also many points of light. The story is told through half a dozen or so POVs, switching frequently between them so that we could get into everybody’s heads—including the dog’s. Caity and Delia’s sections were the best—and not just because they were two of only a handful of characters I didn’t want to punch repeatedly in the face. From their POVs, I could sense the pure and uncomplicated love between a girl and her dog. The two of them have a special bond, Caity loving Delia the only way a dog would, without demanding anything in return.
For that alone, I would probably recommend this book to dog lovers, with the caveat that some parts can be very difficult, very disturbing to read. This is a tragic story that’s heartbreaking at the best of times, and yet there is a beautiful, mesmerizing quality to it too, perhaps even a beacon of hope once you look past all the human evilness. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded a bit more elucidation on this point, since everything seems to go to hell in the last twenty pages, with the intended goal of the epilogue coming off as scant comfort after watching everything spiral out of control like that.
All told, The Secret Life of Souls was an eye-opening read—highly emotional and gut-wrenching, even maddening in places, but that just goes to show how deeply, effectively Ketchum and McKee have managed to draw me into their story. This was a book I simply couldn’t put down....more
I knew before starting The Lost Boys Symphony that it would not an easy book to review, and now that I have read it, I find I am no closer to figuring out how to put my thoughts into words. What I do know is that when it comes to the prevalent theme of time traveling in sci-fi, few books these days can still make me see the subject in a different light—but this one did. Making a home for itself in that narrow niche between the literary and the speculative, this book probably isn’t going to be for everyone, but I personally enjoyed it a lot.
Time travel stories, by their nature, are not easy to describe. The Lost Boys Symphony presents an even greater challenge because it is unlike any time travel story I have ever read before. On the surface, the focus is on the lives of three friends: Henry, Gabe, and Val. Henry and Gabe have known each other since they were children. In high school they meet Val, and Henry starts dating her. The three have been inseparable ever since.
Partway through college, however, Val suddenly decides to break up with Henry and transfers to another school. Understandably heartbroken, Henry immerses himself in his other passion, music, while Gabe stands by and offers whatever support he can. But then Henry gets sick. Very sick. And his illness is manifesting in very strange ways, making him hear things and see things that he knows should be impossible. Searching for answers, Henry follows Val to New York City, but then ends up passing out on the George Washington Bridge. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a room with two strangers—but in truth, they aren’t strangers at all. They are him, Henry, at 41 and 80. His future selves have kidnapped the 19-year-old him to give him a message, placing several lifetimes of responsibility on his troubled young shoulders.
Rather than summarizing the book though, it might actually be more helpful to describe its themes, like the disillusionment of youth, the lasting regrets for the paths taken and not taken, not to mention the devastating effects of mental illness—for those who suffer from it as well as for their loved ones. At first, I was intrigued by the ambiguity surrounding Henry’s time traveling. Was he in fact seeing his future selves, and as an extension to that, capable of revisiting the past? Or was he simply experiencing an elaborate hallucination, as a symptom of his deteriorating sanity? Associating time travel with a person’s mental state is also interesting, and likewise the mode of it, linking Henry’s ability to travel through time by becoming one with the music and rhythm of the universe.
However, time travel is not the point of this story. It’s not even a big part of it. At its heart, The Lost Boys Symphony is about relationships, growing up, and coming to terms with the decisions you make in life. Henry’s character along with all the versions of him at various ages show how a person can change over a lifetime, and his efforts to go back and alter his future don’t always work out the way he wants them to. Val is another example of a character feeling lost and untethered, after leaving everything behind (her old home, her old school, her old boyfriend) to remake herself and start completely fresh. But it’s unclear that she even knows what it is she wants, and her life does not turn out the way she expected either. Unquestionably, the most melancholic parts of the book are the moments where the “what ifs” and the “what could have beens” come to the surface. If you were offered the choice to find out what your life could have become if you did things differently, would you want to know? For Henry, Gabe, and Val, not knowing might be less painful.
Needless to say, fans of time travel fiction will definitely want to check this book out, though be wary, for this is far from your typical time travel story. It’s easy to get confused if you don’t follow along closely, keeping track of all the different Henrys and the branching paths his life takes as well as how those paths intersect with those of his friends, Gabe and Val. Still, the way the time traveling was handled was one of this book’s most compelling aspects.
In the end, it’s probably safe to say The Lost Boys Symphony is one of the most unique books I’ve read this year. This is a very different book than what I’m typically used to, but the relationship dynamics and mix of emotions really spoke to me. Mark Andrew Ferguson’s novel is a very human tale about life and love, exploring a young man’s grief for lost dreams and hope for a better future. A fascinating read....more
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is definitely an audiobook you should avoid listening to in public, lest you want the people around you to think you’ve completely lost your mind. Folks generally don’t react well to someone bursting into spontaneous maniacal laugher, I find.
And to think, I almost let this gem pass me by! A book like this doesn’t technically fall under the Sci-fi and Fantasy purview, which is what I mostly read and review, but I could not resist checking this one out after learning about the MMORPG angle. From Ready Player One to Reamde, video games and gaming have been the inspiration for many works of speculative fiction, but of course not all gaming-related books are SFF. That doesn't mean I can't still geek out about them, though.
And geek out I did. If Nancy Drew were a millennial and grew up to become a gigantic mega super geek, you would probably get Dahlia Moss, the titular main character of this delightfully witty book. Thing is though, I can also see Dahlia being popular with more than just the geeky crowd; fans of underdog stories and readers who love rooting for the long-shot protagonist will be sure to love this book as well. Unemployed, flat out broke, and living off the largesse of her kooky roommate, Dahlia could not believe it when she was suddenly offered a job by some rich kid hiring her to track down a stolen object. Her only qualifications for the job appear to be 1) the one time she temped at a PI agency and 2) the fact that she has played Zoth, the massively multiplayer online game in which the theft itself actually took place.
That’s because the stolen object in question isn’t even a real object, but a bunch of pixels—more specifically, an ultra-rare spear that’s one of its kind in-game. It should be an easy enough job, Dahlia figures. All she has to do is to find out which of her employer’s guildies made off with the highly coveted weapon and call it a day. But then, that’s when things start to get weird. Jonah, the client who hired her, ends up dead the next day, skewered through by a very real, very sharp full-scale replica of the pixelated spear that was stolen from his Zoth account, right down to the very last gem stone.
Dahlia’s hunt for a thief soon becomes one for a murderer in this quirky little whodunit. Sure, our protagonist is not exactly the most savvy of detectives, but that’s all part of her charm, along with her propensity to leap into situations without thinking them through (this book isn’t titled The Competent and Well-thought Out Decisions of Dahlia Moss for good reason). She also has this bad habit of digressing a lot, but those runaway trains of thought often lead to hilarious asides about geeky pop culture and gaming references, so I let a lot of that slide seeing how Dahlia is a woman after my own heart. I also pardoned the character of her roommate, who is bizarre for the sake of being bizarre, as well as the many times this story grew too silly to the point of absurdity. Still, I couldn’t believe how often I literally laughed out loud at Dahlia’s exploits. With me, that happens to go a long way.
Also, books about MMORPGs really get to me. Especially books about friendships in MMORPGs. Even if you don’t consider yourself this book’s audience, I think you’ll be touched by some of these relationships. I’ve known some of the people I play MMOs with for years and there’s definitely a unique culture among online gamers; tight guilds often have their own code and customs, which is even more pronounced on RP servers. Though you’ll likely never meet most of your online gaming friends face-to-face, you definitely connect with them on a whole other level (no pun intended). I love how this book taps into all that, and I totally found myself relating to a lot of the characters.
A final shout-out has to go to Lauren Fortgang, the narrator. I’ve listened to her work in the past (most recently in the audio production of Six of Crows) and it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. She has so much more energy as the voice of Dahlia Moss. Audiobooks are always so much more enjoyable to listen to when you can tell the narrator is really getting into the performance (this is why I loved The Martian audiobook so much) and this is most certainly the case with this book and Ms. Fortgang. All her sardonic inflections and snarky deliveries were spot on. Just a brilliant, brilliant performance.
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss was just an all-around fun book. You can bet I’ll be telling all my gamer friends about it, though I am also highly recommending this book to both geeks and non-geeks. Simply put, it’s awesome!...more
After hearing about this book from so many people, I just knew I had to experience it for myself. And now that I’ve read it, When We Were Animals may well be the most interesting book to hit my shelves this year. I’m still finding it difficult to categorize this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which combines elements from a variety of genres including mystery, paranormal and horror.
Most of the story is told in retrospect, as protagonist Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood growing up in a small, quiet Midwestern town with a big, dark secret. For a few nights every month during the full moon, the town’s teenagers run naked and free through the streets like animals, seized by a mysterious and uncontrollable urge known as “breaching”. Every resident of this town has gone through it and know to also expect it in their children, which typically coincides with puberty and lasts about a year. Breaching is just something everybody goes through, an unavoidable and natural fact of life about growing up in this town.
But is it really inevitable? Lumen hardly remembers her mother, who died when she was very little, but she is intrigued by the stories her father tells, about how Lumen’s mother never went breach. Always the good girl, the high achiever who never gets in trouble or gives cause for worry, Lumen makes a promise to her father that she will never breach either, determined not to succumb to the call of her baser instincts and join her peers in the unrestrained orgies of sex, violence and wild abandon during the full moons.
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to figure out When We Were Animals is an allegory for growing up, specifically for the tumultuous period when a young person transitions from adolescence to adulthood. What fascinated me is the story’s ability to illustrate a range of perceptions towards the concept of breaching. Residents seem both proud and ashamed that such a phenomenon is unique to their town, and parents of breaching teenagers treat it with a mixture reverence and trepidation while children both dread and look forward to the day when they too will be called. It is beautiful and magical, but also messy and frightening. What everyone in Lumen’s hometown can agree on though, is that breaching is an important rite of passage – once you enter and emerge from the other side, childhood ends and the journey to adulthood begins.
What singlehandedly made this book so great was the character of Lumen, whose personality gives this coming-of-age story an even more unique spin. Small and unassuming, our protagonist isn’t someone who would stand out in a crowd. At school, she would be the one hanging out on the edges of a group, the girl you don’t really notice is there. Ironically, the fact that she’s different from the other kids just makes her even more invisible, and being a late bloomer doesn’t help either, widening the divide between her and her peers.
Lumen’s introspective nature means that this is a very personal narrative, light on plot but heavy on character. She loves to read and learn, and her very unusual way of looking at things made it so that I hung on her every word. This story isn’t the kind where a lot of things happen, and instead emphasizes internal dialogue over action. But I was captivated by it nonetheless. In Lumen, I saw not only a teenager struggling to find her identity, but also a girl trying to reconcile her desires to fit in and yet still stand out from the rest. It’s a motivating factor in all that she does, whether it’s asking her dad for stories about her mom or looking up definitions of her peculiar name. It shines a new light on her determination not to go breach, which becomes more than just a way to connect to the mother she never knew. Not breaching ultimately becomes something she hopes can define her, an achievement she can call her own and make a part of herself.
I was completely charmed by Lumen, who is now an adult in a new town with a new name with her own family, telling us about her past. This is what made the audiobook such a pleasure to listen to. The only downside was sometimes not knowing whether we’re in the past or present, since the transitions weren’t always obvious in the audio, but the narration was simply fantastic. My praise goes to narrator Suehyla El Attar bringing Lumen to life. Her voice became the character’s voice, and after that it was just a matter of letting go and allowing the story to transport you to another time, another place.
At times eerie and unsettling, at others powerful and heartwarming, When We Were Animals has a lot to say about topics like independence and teenage rebellion and peer pressure. There are the moments that disturbed and horrified me, many of which are related to the descriptions of what goes on when the teenagers were breaching, but there were also scenes that touched me, especially those featuring the closeness between Lumen and her father. This an absolutely fantastic and well executed story about the stark realities of human nature and growing up. I’m still reeling from the rollercoaster of emotions....more
Atlanta Burns is the kind of book that takes time to percolate; after finishing the last page it had me feeling all discombobulated and I needed time to think on it for a bit. If you’re familiar with Chuck Wendig’s work then you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. Never let it be said that the guy ever holds his punches when he tells his stories, and you can be sure this is not your run-of-the-mill Young Adult fare.
The book’s protagonist Atlanta Burns is a high school student who no one wants to mess with. But she’s been through some traumatic stuff, and her reputation came at a high cost. However, Atlanta’s not going to let what happened to her stop her from doing the right thing, and she’s definitely not one to stand by while bullies prey on the weak and the defenseless. There are some terrible people in this world, and armed with her shotgun and the moxie to match, Atlanta is going to do whatever it takes to stop them.
Two stories make up this book, “Shotgun Gravy” and “Bait Dog”. Both are powerful, yet not easy to read. In the first, Atlanta and her new friends go up against Neo-Nazis, crooked cops and bigoted bullies. The second story sees her attempting to break up a dog fighting ring and deals with the themes of animal cruelty and abuse. Atlanta’s world is a bleak and brutal place to be, and reading about things like lynching, sexual assault, tortured puppies, kids being burned with cigarettes and such, it’s hard not to get through this book without thinking, wow, people SUCK. It made me sick sometimes, it really did.
But works like these also have a place in YA fiction. Like this quote in the book says: “Life is equal parts strange and beautiful and horrible, and we’re tossed into it without a map or an instruction guide. Poems and stories have a way of helping us make sense of things.” And that’s how I see these stories in Atlanta Burns. It might not be pleasant and it might not be comfortable, but it’s important to face some of these issues head-on and not soften the blow because it’s true – one can argue that Wendig is painting things too dark but the sad reality is the things in this book do happen, and it would be a mistake to pretend they don’t. Atlanta Burns is a book that explores difficult subject matters, and exposes them in all its ugliness so that we as readers can process it, make sense of it for ourselves.
Wendig has a message here. It’s not so surprising that he went with the Neo-Nazis as his main baddies, though this book is peppered with a lot of despicable scum-baggy types as a whole. Thing is, in any slice of society you look at there’s bound to be good folks and bad folks, but in Atlanta Burns there seems to be an overrepresentation of the bad, and if I’m to be honest, even Atlanta herself is not entirely likeable. To Wendig’s credit though, he does attempt to shine a light in the dark of this whole “things don’t get better” bleakness. In this world of bigots, bullies and corrupt cops are characters like Mrs. Lewis, Steve AKA “Chomp-Chomp” or Detective Holger who show Atlanta that things can be different.
This was a wonderful read. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you against some of the shocking, horrible things that are in this book. It’s categorized as Young Adult, but definitely not typical of the genre. Calling Atlanta Burns a dark book is an understatement; it deals with some very mature themes, and even some adults may find parts of it difficult to read especially if they are sensitive to those particular subjects. I really enjoyed this book, but as always with Chuck Wendig, reader discretion is advised....more
So I don't usually read contemporary Young Adult, but when I saw the description for Second Star I was instantly intrigued. My tastes typically run towards speculative fiction, but I figured a reimagining of Peter Pan, one of my favorite fairy tales, is still close enough to be in my comfort zone. Then I heard there was also going to be a Peter, Wendy and Hook love triangle in it and ... well, okay, my curiosity just got the better of me.
I'm so glad I read this one, though. Speaking as someone who can count on one hand the number of contemporary YA books I read in the past year, I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. But keep in mind, if you're looking for a story that stays true somewhat faithful to the Peter Pan mythos, you might not find it here. Second Star isn't so much a retelling but a complete reinterpretation, with a lot of elements that are only loosely based on the original classic.
Firstly, the characters are all surfers. Wendy Darling, newly graduated from high school, takes off on a search for her missing brothers John and Michael, twins who disappeared months ago, suspected to have drowned in a surfing accident off the coast of California. But Wendy believes they are still out there, and follows a series of clues to their whereabouts. Her search leads her to meet Pete, a mysterious boy who takes her to a secret cove called Kensington (presumably a reference to Kensington Gardens, where Lost Boys who fall out of prams when their nannies aren't looking are swept off to Neverland to live with Peter Pan) where he lives in an abandoned house with his gang of surfers, all young runaways and squatters who have no place else to go. One of Pete's constant companions is a quick, small and blond girl named Belle, who immediately dislikes Wendy out of jealousy, and is always trying to turn the other boys against her. On the other side of the beach lives Jas (a short form of James, as in James Hook) a surfer dude and drug dealer. Jas' peddling of a new drug called "fairy dust" had led to a falling out between him and Pete, and now the two are bitter enemies. Oh, and there's also a dive bar in this book called The Jolly Roger, described as "a bad scene".
There are tons of other little references like this, which are really fun to spot and to see the author spin the various elements of the fairy tale to make them fit in the story. The title Second Star and how that term was used in context is in itself one of the best examples. Of course, the only downside to a book like this is that the characters themselves are limited to an extent by their roles and archetypes in the original story. After all, you can try adding depth but only go so far before they become totally unrecognizable from the characters that inspired them, but I think for what she had to work with Sheinmel did a really good job putting her own flair and originality while staying as close as possible to the spirit of Peter Pan.
I also don't know much about the author, but I would not be surprised at all if she surfs. I thought the idea of using surfing as a metaphor for flying in this book was simply brilliant. Surf culture fits this story so well, and the way the author describes the feeling of being on the waves is so realistic and passionate, I can practically smell the salt water, suntan lotion and surfboard wax. The exhilaration that comes from riding a huge wave is so palpable I can see why Sheinmel chose to compare it to flight.
As always, there will be no spoilers in my reviews, but I just have to say the ending kept me awake for two hours even after I finished the book. I just couldn't get it out of my mind. I thought about the many ways one can analyze the story of Peter Pan and how J.M. Barrie himself had explained in the novel the nature of Neverland, a boundary-free and adventurous place in the minds of children that are never the same from one child to the next. In the end, I can't say the conclusion in Second Star was really what I wanted, but I suppose it was also very fitting.
This book was fun, but also poignant, which I did not expect. I don't regret picking it up....more
Ouch. This one literally made my heart hurt to read (incorrect use of literality!), despite its thick layer of humor, and the hope in its message. PerOuch. This one literally made my heart hurt to read (incorrect use of literality!), despite its thick layer of humor, and the hope in its message. Personally, I think it's still one hell of a depressing book. It's about kids with cancer and dying, so just be prepared to feel gutted.
I also find myself struggling to put my thoughts into words. First of all, I want to make it clear: I felt this was a great book. It's beautifully written and I certainly can't fault it much at all on technical terms. Thing is, I still can't shake this strange feeling after reading it. You know the kind of book that strives so hard not to be a cliche, but in doing so ends up being cliched because of that anyway? This one definitely has that vibe.
I also almost feel kind of guilty for liking it. Don't take this the wrong way, as I'm sure John Green had the best of intentions, and I have nothing by admiration for his history with working with sick kids, but I can't help feeling this was almost exploitative in a way. I felt something similar after watching the "twist" ending of the movie Remember Me. Both I felt were constructed in a very careful and specific way to shoot for maximum emotional impact. There's just a distracting air of artificiality hanging over this book that I couldn't seem to ignore -- everything from the addition of profound poetry quotes and the pretentious use of big words (thank goodness for my built-in dictionary function in my Kindle) to the the star-crossed teenage protagonists who don't sound anything AT ALL like real teenagers and the heartbreaking Nicholas-Sparkseque plot line -- all to be devoured by its intended young adult audience.
I'm sure it works too. Not that there's anything horribly wrong with that. John Green is a great author. This is a great book. You should like this book. It's almost hard not to like. Still, I just can't help but feel very conflicted. And quite melancholy too. ...more
Like the legions of people who have picked up this book lately, I was first intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film based on it. Now that I’veLike the legions of people who have picked up this book lately, I was first intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film based on it. Now that I’ve read it, I’m more curious than ever. It’s not particularly an ideal book to make an adaptation.
It’s like six separate stories all nested within each other like a Russian matryoshka doll, its characters only having a tenuous link to each other. Like six novellas, the first five split in half, interrupted right in the middle, only to be continued after the sixth story is told to completion. Does this even make sense? Every time I try to explain it, I’m given arched eyebrows and confused looks. You can see why I am curious how this will fly as a movie.
The stories are set in different times, different places, each has its own themes and even its own written style. As such, I don’t even really know how to classify this book — it is science fiction, it is fantasy; it is also historical fiction, and it is mystery. It also has a dash of romance and a bit of thriller. David Mitchell has done something amazing, giving each of his six protagonists a distinct voice and personality. The book is thematically quite heavy, with lots to think about during and after reading, but ultimately also very enjoyable to read.
My one gripe is I found that "first halves" of all the stories to be so much more interesting. By the time I reached the second halves, I found my interest waning a bit for each story. The build up is always better. ...more
This was a departure from my usual genre (science fiction, fantasy, other types of speculative fiction, etc.) but I have to admit that my curiosity waThis was a departure from my usual genre (science fiction, fantasy, other types of speculative fiction, etc.) but I have to admit that my curiosity was piqued by the hype surrounding this book. Its synopsis, vague as it was, also interested me so that was why when my next Audible credit became available, I used it on the audiobook version of Gone Girl.
And now that I'm finished with it, I can finally understand why the all the plot summaries and reviews for this book have been so vague. It's going to be hard to describe what I liked and what I disliked without revealing any spoilers, so I doubt this review will make much sense to those who haven't read it. But I'll try my best.
The book opens with an introduction to a what appears to be an average couple, Nick and Amy. They have fallen upon some hard times in the recession, and were forced to move back to Nick's hometown in Missouri after both of them were laid off from their their jobs back in New York City. Like most couples they have their ups and downs, until one day Amy simply disappears from their home and deeper investigation reveals disturbing secrets as the layers are peeled back revealing the truth of their seemingly normal marriage.
The book begins by alternating between two points of view: Nick's narration which starts the day his wife goes missing, and Amy's part of the story which is told through diary entries starting from when the two of them first met.
Here's where my review will probably get confusing, because while I will talk about my feelings for this book I won't be able to really explain why without spoiling the story. Anyway, you will probably find that most reviewers will talk about this book referring to its three parts. The first part of this book, which deals with the circumstances behind Amy's disappearance, was incredibly addictive. You start to get to know the characters a bit more, form your opinions about them, and the way this part was written I was just riveted the entire time. Maybe this has something to do with the fact I listened to the audiobook, because the two narrators were absolutely fantastic.
The second part, however, while still good, was a bit disappointing. Here, the plot takes a turn, and basically I felt that the book lost a bit of its suspense. Some people adore this second part though, so really, it's a matter of taste and how you like your mystery stories. Regardless, this next part completely changed my perspective. You start to wonder just how reliable your narrators are, how deep the secrets really go, and just who is telling the truth.
The third and final part of the book took me through a whole bunch of emotions. Mostly, I was angry. Angry at the characters, angry at the story, angry at the ending. But taking the reader on a roller coaster ride of feelings was no doubt intentional, with the author wanting the reader to feel a certain way after reading this book, and she definitely had me. So maybe it didn't wrap up as neatly as it could have, with the ending being a bit unrealistic and the characters feeling a bit forced, but ultimately this was one hell of a fun read....more
Based on the tepid reviews I've seen for this book, I thought I'd end up with pretty mixed feelings for it as well. So no one is more surprised than IBased on the tepid reviews I've seen for this book, I thought I'd end up with pretty mixed feelings for it as well. So no one is more surprised than I to find myself on here after I'd finished this, contemplating giving it five stars.
I almost didn't want to, because while it's true I could barely put this book down after I started it, I almost feel like I liked it for all the wrong reasons. I devoured it with the fervor of someone sitting down to their favorite soap opera with a bowl of popcorn, because that's the best way I can think of to describe my almost perverse addiction to this book.
While I'll also agree that she's got an incredible imagination and is absolutely fantastic at world building, to me, J.K. Rowling's strength will always be the way she writes her characters. There are a great many of them in this book, and it'll probably take you a while to get them and their relationships all sorted out. Once I did, however, I was amazed to find myself interested in all of them.
Usually, in books with multiple points of view, one or two characters would jump out at me, while the rest would sort of feel like filler. Somehow, I found everyone in this novel equally fascinating, and yet none of them are particularly likeable people (some more abhorrent than others) and all of them are messed up in some way. I think that's it, really; it's like their lives are each these individual train wrecks I couldn't peel my eyes away from.
Is that a good enough reason to give a book five stars? Well, to me it is, though it makes this novel feel almost like a guilty pleasure. I know this book was trying to say a lot of things, among them commenting on societal issues, life and death, truth vs. hypocrisy, etc. but I have to admit it was mostly all the drama in the characters' lives that I ate up with shameless zeal.
Also, I think most people are curious to know what an adult book written by the author of Harry Potter would be like. Here's the thing, it's almost like Rowling was trying to make the point to get as far away from Harry Potter and children's books as possible. This book is gritty, a little dark, and deals with some pretty heavy topics like sex, drugs, addiction, rape, domestic violence, poverty, racism, child abuse, and that's just a small sampling.
Rowling described A Casual Vacancy as a "tragicomedy". I honestly didn't find any of it particularly funny, but then again, I would hardly consider myself an expert on British humor. It's certainly tragic though, so at least she's got that part down. Thematically speaking, this is a pretty heavy book, and downright depressing in places.
If you know you normally wouldn't pick up or enjoy a book like this, you probably won't like this one either. If you've read the description for this book and don't find yourself interested, and yet still want to pick it up just because it's by J.K. Rowling, I would strongly recommend against it. Most of the disappointed reviews I've seen so far seem to be from readers comparing it Harry Potter, expecting the same kind of magic, either literally or figuratively, from The Casual Vacancy. But it's just not that kind of book.
If you read this, it might be best just to pretend the author never wrote the Harry Potter books, which was somewhat easier for me to do since it's been years since I read them, but I knew even after reading a bunch of mixed reviews I wanted to give this book a fair and unbiased shot. In the end, I'm glad I did....more
I'd seen the movie before reading this book so I knew what was going to happen, but geez, it's still a punch in the gut. Here's a story that follows tI'd seen the movie before reading this book so I knew what was going to happen, but geez, it's still a punch in the gut. Here's a story that follows two people on this one day each year for twenty years, so of course you can't help but get invested in the characters.
Mind you, neither Emma or Dexter are very likeable characters, at least not to me. For twenty years it's like they never grow up, still the same whiny, self absorbed and pretentious people year after year. So many times while I was reading, it was like wow, shut the hell up and get over yourselves!!! But I guess a part of me also liked that they are flawed people, and that was what made them feel so real.
As time passes, they deal with the kind of common problems that I suppose all people have to overcome as they go through life. In a way, this book is less a romance and more about a story of growing up for adults. It's interesting to see Dex and Em go through the different life stages and events from their early twenties to early forties, and that will make it easy for many people to relate. I'm sure a lot of the things they experience will resonate with other readers as they did with me.
Just a heads up though -- this is NOT a happy happy joy joy read. Do not pick this up if you're looking for a feel-good book, as this is definitely not the book you're looking for. In many ways One Day reminds me of stuff by Nicolas Sparks, being a tale of a great love and all, but with a heart-wrenching, depressing and tearjerking spin to it....more
What I love about this book is that it's not just a story about a dog, but it's also a coming-of-age story about a girl coping with a troubled life.
AWhat I love about this book is that it's not just a story about a dog, but it's also a coming-of-age story about a girl coping with a troubled life.
A Dog's Journey is a direct sequel to the book A Dog's Purpose, in which we follow the different incarnations of a dog as he is reborn each time. Living his lives as Tobey, Bailey, Ellie and Buddy, he discovers his main mission: to love and look after his boy Ethan as he grows up.
At the end of a Dog's Purpose, Ethan passes away as an old man after living a long and happy life, with Buddy by his side. Thus A Dog's Journey begins with Buddy believing that he has finally fulfilled his purpose...that is, until he meets Clarity, Ethan's rambunctious granddaughter who is always getting into dangerous trouble in part because of her irresponsible and negligent mother.
When Buddy dies, he is reborn as Molly, a poodle-mix who decides that her new purpose must be to look after Clarity, now a teenager who goes by CJ. Thus begins a tale of a love between a girl and her dog.
The first book was a total impulse buy when I picked it up, but I'm so glad I did. It's a heartwarming story, at times funny, at times sad, and you don't have to be a dog owner to enjoy it. As someone who owns and loves dogs, though, the book really touched me, and I admit I cried several times while reading it. I didn't cry with A Dog's Journey, however, but it's no less poignant and impressive.
I've mentioned before that I'm usually not too keen on the anthropomorphizing of animals, but W. Bruce Cameron writes so well in the dog's point of view that you can't help but be drawn in by the narrative. It takes you so deeply into a dog's mindset that you start to wonder that, hey, maybe that's really how dogs do think. And that's also the way the greater story of CJ's life unfolds in this book -- through the eyes of our canine protagonist.
It's a method and style of storytelling that is surprisingly effective...and addictive. I had the audiobook version of A Dog's Journey, and what I usually do is listen right before I go to bed, so it's like I can get sleepy and drift off to someone reading to me. The thing is, it backfired with this book because I always wanted to keep listening to get further into the story, and as a result it actually kept me awake. This book isn't intense or action-filled or anything like that, but it still got me very anxious to know what would happen next. It also didn't help that the narrator is really, really good.
I recommend this book if you're a dog lover, but also even if you're not. If you are a dog owner as well, I guarantee you will want to hug your dog afterward. If you haven't read the first book A Dog's Purpose though, I would advise reading it first before tackling this one. ...more
Talk about a dysfunctional family. I swear, every character you meet in this book is a nutjob.
I recently rented the movie from Amazon Instant Video,Talk about a dysfunctional family. I swear, every character you meet in this book is a nutjob.
I recently rented the movie from Amazon Instant Video, and since the service gives me 30 days to start watching it I figured that would give me plenty of time to read the book since it has been in my to-read list for a while now.
To my surprise, I really liked this. That was not what I expected when I first picked it up. The writing was so awkward, made even more jarring by the use of present tense. Not to mention the narrator, a grown man, tells his story like a child -- with short, halting sentences and a seemingly short attention span.
It took me a while to get used to it, but I did, and only after that happened was I able to start enjoying this book. Matt King, our protagonist is the heir to a lot of undeveloped land in his native home of Hawaii because his ancestor married a Hawaiian princess, and now he has to sell. However, the real story is the drama of his family life, which was what got me hooked. Matt's wife Joanie is in a coma and is taken off life support; meanwhile Matt discovers that she may have been having an affair before her accident that put her in the hospital, and together with his two troubled daughters he struggles to find closure and a way to deal with a future without the most important woman in their lives.
A very touching and heartfelt story, and at times humorous and just plain twisted. ...more
How about, extremely pretentious and incredibly gimmicky?
I see a lot of reviewers have enjoyed this book, and certainly whether you love it or hate iHow about, extremely pretentious and incredibly gimmicky?
I see a lot of reviewers have enjoyed this book, and certainly whether you love it or hate it will ultimately depend on your personal taste, but it was just too contrived for me. The writing style with its "creative" typographical choices and mangling of punctuation all screamed to me, "Wow, is this guy trying way too hard, or what?"
The novel weaves two stories together -- a 9-year-old boy's grief over his father's death in the 9/11 attacks, as well as the tale of his grandparents' lamentably dysfunctional relationship and their survival of the bombing of Dresden. It all begins when Oskar finds a mysterious key in his parents' closet which belonged to his father. The question is, what does it open?
Of course, an undertone of sadness pervades this book, felt especially keenly when reading about Oskar's attempts to make sense of his father's death and understand the effects that it has had on him. It should have been powerful and overwhelmingly emotional, and yet I couldn't help but get distracted and irritated by how unbelievable the story and the characters were, or how much their voices reeked of artificiality. This should have been a great story, and yet I can't help but feel that it was ruined by a self-indulgent author who got carried away with trying to be unique and clever....more
4.5 stars. It has long been a shameful secret of mine that I've never read a Neil Gaiman novel. Sure, I've read his Sandman comics and a few of his sh4.5 stars. It has long been a shameful secret of mine that I've never read a Neil Gaiman novel. Sure, I've read his Sandman comics and a few of his short stories, but somehow, the opportunity to read a full-length novel of his has never come up, despite the fact that books like American Gods and Neverwhere have been sitting in my Kindle gathering metaphorical dust for like, oh, I don't know...the past two or three years.
That's why this summer I made it a point to lose my Neil Gaiman virginity, and decided to give the honor to American Gods first of all because it is considered one of his "classics", and second of all because the Tenth Anniversary Edition of the book I owned also had the added benefit of an audiobook Whispersync bundle deal, which I'd picked up as well. As it turned out, this worked out for the best.
And now I have the hefty task of actually trying to describe what American Gods is about. The book begins with the introduction of Shadow, a man coming up on the end of his three-year prison sentence and looking forward to get back to his life. Days before his release, however, he gets news that his beloved wife was killed in a car accident, along with his best friend. Freed from prison now but with his life in tatters, Shadow agrees to work for a mysterious stranger he meets on the way home, a man who calls himself "Mr. Wednesday".
Shadow travels across America with Wednesday, meeting his new boss' unusual friends and colleagues, and here's where things start to get cryptic and mystical. Wednesday and his peers turn out to be incarnations of the Old Gods of ancient mythology, whose powers are waned since the rise of modern life and the technological era, these aspects themselves manifesting as the American "New Gods". Everything Shadow thought he knew has been turned upside down. Nothing is as it seems; legends and myths are real, secrets are everywhere, everything is connected...and war is coming.
You ever read a book where you know very early on that it's not the kind for you, but you end up enjoying it a lot anyway, because it's just so beautifully written and profound? This was definitely one of those for me. I'd known what I was in for, of course; like I said, I've had some experience with Neil Gaiman's style of writing and know that his stuff is often allusive and metaphysical, surreal and abstract in nature.
In other words, totally not my thing at all. And thematically, the book turned out to be exactly as I'd expected. By all rights, I shouldn't have liked it, but I did. Wow. And now I finally understand the reason it's considered a contemporary masterpiece, and why Mr. Gaiman has so many fans.
Recall how I said I also had an Audible copy of American Gods, and that's actually how I read this novel, going back and forth between the ebook and the audiobook. I wanted to bring this up because I feel the excellent production quality of the latter definitely bears mentioning. Sometimes, great voice actors can bring the words to life, and that can also certainly make me enjoy a book much more than I normally would. The Tenth Anniversary version I had included a full cast featuring excellent narrators, which made it all the more engrossing, not to mention Neil Gaiman himself narrated some sections of the novel as well as the foreword, afterword, and other extras.
This edition is also the newly updated and expanded version with the author’s preferred text, so I definitely appreciated the chance to read this book in a state that's closer to what it's meant to be. One thing I think everyone agrees about Neil Gaiman is that you can count on him to be original and innovative, and the uniqueness of the themes and ideas in American Gods unquestionably reflects that. The extras included in this version really tied everything together and provided a lot of insight into this intellectual work of art -- because yes, after having experienced this book, I definitely consider it art.
Like a lot of people, I read this book after reading "Water for Elephants". Unlike most of them though, I wasn't impressed with "Water" at all, but deLike a lot of people, I read this book after reading "Water for Elephants". Unlike most of them though, I wasn't impressed with "Water" at all, but decided to read "Ape House" anyway because of the subject of the book. I studied primatology for my physical anthro degree in college, and bonobos were my favorite great apes. Like the author, I found their intelligence and their behavior fascinating, and when I read her blurb about how she fell in love with these animals, it really resonated with me.
My interest in bonobos did not help me like this book more, however. I debated giving it 2 stars before deciding to give it a 2.5 and rounded up. I felt the book suffered from the same issues I had with "Water for Elephants", in that Gruen started with an excellent premise that was full of potential -- but then totally crashes and burns when it comes to the execution. I can't help but feel sometimes that she writes like she lives in fantasy land, or expects that the reader does. Many of the story's scenarios are over-the-top, and the characters are often ridiculous caricatures and their descriptions silly and cartoon-like. My willing suspension of disbelief can only be pushed so far. This will probably be the last Sara Gruen book I'll read....more
Interesting novel, an impulse buy which I knew very little about but turned out to be pretty good. Has a bit of a "Crash" feel to it, in the way the nInteresting novel, an impulse buy which I knew very little about but turned out to be pretty good. Has a bit of a "Crash" feel to it, in the way the narratives of multiple characters actually end up fitting into a larger story as a whole.
Given the title, it's not surprising that psychological disorders play a major role in this book, and questions and themes about what is normal and expected/accepted of us in society. There are some controversial topics and most of the characters are not your usual protagonists, which made this book a fun but sometimes difficult read....more
The Art of Racing in the Rain begins on the eve of Enzo the dog's death, and we follow his narration back to all the joys and struggles he and his famThe Art of Racing in the Rain begins on the eve of Enzo the dog's death, and we follow his narration back to all the joys and struggles he and his family has been through, especially in the years following the death of Eve, his owner Denny's beloved wife. In the ensuing aftermath, Enzo remains by his master's side as his loyal companion, watching Denny juggle a messy custody battle for his daughter Zoe while working towards his dream of becoming a successful race car driver.
Before I say anything else, I apologize for the many comparisons I'm going to be making between this and W. Bruce Cameron's A Dog's Purpose which I very much enjoyed and has many thematic similarities, and I just can't help but base a lot of my thoughts and comments on this using it as a reference point. In any case, the two are often recommended together for dog lovers, and they both have their strong points. I've enjoyed both.
However, though The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully written novel with a solid story, as a "dog book" I would have to give the upper hand to A Dog's Purpose. For starters, I would have to say this book isn't so much a "dog story" but a "human story" narrated from the point of view of the dog. While Enzo relates his feelings and insights throughout the novel, the focus is ever on Denny and Eve and Zoe, and it's what happens in the humans' lives that ultimately drives and shapes the story. Contrast that to A Dog's Purpose, where I felt the dog's life and point-of-view were always in the forefront. Its themes are also more pertinent to the topical issues regarding dogs in this country today -- puppy mills, animal shelters, working dogs, etc.
Also, quite simply, Enzo just doesn't not sound like a dog. While I understand that this is part of the author's intent, it was really difficult to truly buy into the idea of a wizened doggie narrator who can wax philosophical, but at the same time holds some very innocent and naive beliefs about the world.
Finally, even though I enjoyed this book overall, parts of it were quite heart-wrenching and difficult to read, as it's obviously and neatly designed to pull on your heart strings. On the whole, it's a feel good and inspirational read, but much of it was painfully cliched and predictable....more