My edition is poorly edited and possibly poorly translated as well, but even with those things aside, I just don't think the story itself gelled withMy edition is poorly edited and possibly poorly translated as well, but even with those things aside, I just don't think the story itself gelled with me. It's an interesting point in Chinese history and the way the stories entwine around a pivotal point in time is a tactic I usually like, but this seemed to be wandering, with many changes of point of view from first to third person that were bewildering and some scenes that just left me going, "What? Why?"...more
Short! Even less relationship development than in most historical romance. But very well-written and not something in a vein I'd read before; a welcomShort! Even less relationship development than in most historical romance. But very well-written and not something in a vein I'd read before; a welcome read fitting one of the last categories in my 2018 reading challenge....more
Blah. Uninspiring writing that manages to be preachy at the same time, female characters whose primary purpose is as sex symbols (one who fights in flBlah. Uninspiring writing that manages to be preachy at the same time, female characters whose primary purpose is as sex symbols (one who fights in flared knee-high boots that reveal skin before the start of her miniskirt, one who wears a gown that "suggests that s lip of the fine silk off her shoulder would leave her naked before the banquet hall," and another who is literally just there for men to lust over and have sex with), a lack of understanding of the grammar related to dialogue, and multiple instances of misused words such as "wrenched" instead "retched" (also "wretched" instead of "retched") and "shoot" instead of "chute."
Will not be pursuing this series further or this author again....more
Full of righteous rage and equally righteous-rage-inducing. Particularly in our current climate, this book makes me want to punch people in the face.Full of righteous rage and equally righteous-rage-inducing. Particularly in our current climate, this book makes me want to punch people in the face. More of a memoir than I thought it would be, it covers the experiences Valenti has had that so many women have fallen subject to, mainly at the hands of men. She wraps everything up with a sort of end note consisting of a collection of some of the woman-hating communications she has received, from strings of "fuck you"s to statements that she should be raped and murdered. This is what happens when women dare to speak up against the patriarchy. But more than anything else, a line in very beginning of the book struck me strongest: "Who would I be if I didn't live in a world that hated women?"
Found the ending a bit weak, though. I get that it was supposed to entail hope for the next generation of women, as embodied by Valenti's daughter, but it just didn't resonate with me....more
Hmmm. Obviously this is semi-fictionalized, and not knowing the extent, it's hard for me to take it seriously. Also, Abagnale's attitude toward womenHmmm. Obviously this is semi-fictionalized, and not knowing the extent, it's hard for me to take it seriously. Also, Abagnale's attitude toward women really rubs me the wrong way.
Read for the 2018 Popsugar! Reading Challenge for the category "A book about or involving a sport," in this case, horseback riding.
Hated the heroine.Read for the 2018 Popsugar! Reading Challenge for the category "A book about or involving a sport," in this case, horseback riding.
Hated the heroine. She is determined to not only destroy her own life (which, yes, some shitty stuff happened to her and she got into a spiral; I'll give her that one) but the lives of everyone around her (which I will not give her)....more
I'm becoming convinced that Bardugo can't write a satisfying end to a series. Her first series could have used a climactic character death; this one sI'm becoming convinced that Bardugo can't write a satisfying end to a series. Her first series could have used a climactic character death; this one suffered from it.
Here's the thing. Not all characters need to live happily ever after--but the ending needs to suit the tone of the book. A good example of this would be THE AMBER SPYGLASS. The ending isn't all happy and perfect, but it suits the story and how the characters had grown and learned throughout their journey. This book is not an example of that. Killing a character seemingly for the sole purpose of making readers wail "WHYYYYYY" is cheap manipulation. It doesn't advance the plot, it doesn't add to the development of other characters, and really it just feels sloppy, like the author decided, "Well, I don't know what do do with this person, so I'm just going to kill them off." Add to that the approximately 3 lines of "mourning" that were offered for this character and then their complete disappearance--along with associated character--while all the others got wrap-ups, and it just feels very off.
But hey. Maybe Bardugo just isn't for me. While I think this duology was overall much stronger than her original trilogy, ultimately, if you can't wrap it up in a satisfying--if bittersweet--way, it's just not a great book....more
This is a book that I eagerly waited for before its release, then didn't purchase because iMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
This is a book that I eagerly waited for before its release, then didn't purchase because it was too expensive--seriously publishers, what's up with the ridiculous prices for Kindle books? If authors were getting more of it I'd understand more, but that doesn't appear to be the industry standard--and I was hedging on the library to purchase it, and then finally got when it was on sale...and then proceeded to not read for ages because something was always more pressing. But I finally queued it up for my 2018 reading challenge for "a book with alliteration in the title."
Salt & Storm is the story of Avery Roe, the youngest in a line of woman who possess magical powers on the fictional Prince Island, which is based on Nantucket. The island's industry is whaling, and the women of Avery's family have a tradition of supporting the industry through their magic, one at a time. But Avery's mother forswore magic and her heritage and left her mother, and eventually took Avery away, as well. But Avery wants nothing more than to claim her birthright and become the Roe witch, taking over the position from her aging and ailing grandmother. Cursed by her mother and unable to find a way to use her own magic, she turns to a young sailor from the South Pacific, Tane, for help in exchange for reading his dreams which he hopes will help him gain revenge for the murder of his family.
This book got off to a slow start, but things started building when Tane entered the picture and he and Avery began working together. I had high hopes for this book at that point. Tane's magic conflicting with Avery's was an interesting aspect, and while I knew Avery's mother couldn't be quite the raging bitch she appeared, I was unsure of how she was really going to enter the narrative. I wanted Avery to reclaim her magic and become everything she wanted--maybe even save the island from some disaster! Cliched? Yes. Satisfying? Also yes. But when Avery came under fire for being a witch, rather than being lauded for it, I was good with that, too. After all, it was the logical course of things based on how the story had happened up until that point. And things were finally building, obviously coming up to some big, climactic finish...
But let's talk about Tane, shall we? An interracial romance set in New England? Yes. Please. More. He possesses his own magic and is looking to reclaim it, and his heritage, in a similar way to Avery, making them an ideal pair. But then there's that Roe curse in play...but it could have played out so much better. I can think of a billion ways that this could have ended rather than the way it actually did, which is Tane fulfilling the Magical Negro trope. Unfamiliar with this? It's a trope in which a character of color, usually from a much less privileged background than the white protagonist, enters the story only to help the privileged white protagonist achieve her goals, rather than existing as a character with his own path and journey. Tane seemed to have so much more going on at first, but ultimately, no, he was tossed to the side so Avery could go off and ~be free~. Utter garbage. I expected more of Kulper than this.
What Kulper does really well here is, ultimately, the atmosphere. I listened to In the Heart of the Sea as an audiobook last year, and Salt & Storm really nailed the way that I expected a Nantucket-based fictional island to feel. The way that the Roe magic had changed the island, and eventually turned on it, made perfect sense. Despite the slow pace, all of these things really had me rooting for this book. If only Kulper hadn't gone and fucked it all up. And don't get me wrong--I can really go for a good bittersweet ending, one that has me thinking for days, wondering and wishing, "What if...?" But this was not good. Characters of color deserve to be characters in their own right, just as white characters are, rather than just tools for white characters to find fulfillment and then toss by the wayside.
I picked up Burn for Me while it was on sale a while back because another member of the UnaMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
I picked up Burn for Me while it was on sale a while back because another member of the Unapologetic Romance Readers group had given it a really good rating. And Ilona Andrews does really good paranormal fantasy with romance elements, which is right up my alley, so it was perfect. But it sat on my Kindle, unread, until I slotted it into my reading challenge for "A book by two authors," because "Ilona Andrews" is actually a pen name for a husband-wife writing team, Ilona and Andrew Gordon. This isn't actually hard to find--they're very open with it--but it's not apparent by just looking at the book cover.
The best-known books by these two are the Kate Daniels books. Burn for Me and the other Hidden Legacy books take place in a different world from Kate's story. In this world, a substance called the Osiris Serum was discovered in the nineteenth century and unlocked magic in many people; the unlocked magic became genetic, and in our current time, despite the serum no longer being in use, magic is still rampant. Heroine Nevada has magic that allows her to tell when someone is lying, though she hides it because she doesn't want to be forced to become a human lie detector for the government, military, etc. Instead, she runs a private investigation business that brings in money for her family. But when bad boy Adam Pierce starts burning things down in Houston, Nevada is put on the case of bringing him back to his family against her will by the man who "owns" her family for various reasons. And to make things worse, she ends up falling with bad man Connor Rogan, aka Mad Rogan, aka the Scourge of Mexico, who can literally level cities with just the power of his mind. Yikes.
I really, really enjoyed this. I stayed up too late reading it, which I haven't done in a long time, and immediately bought the second volume, White Hot. Nevada is an imminently likable character. She is smart and gorgeous and can kick butt, which is all par for the course in this genre, but her devotion to her family is something new, because most people in this genre tend to be orphans or estranged from their families, for some reason. Her sad and quiet mother, her kooky grandmother, and her annoying-but-helpful younger siblings and cousins were all so charming and really added a lot to this book. I have mixed feelings about Rogan--and I actually wasn't sure if he was going to be the love interest for a while (I thought maybe something would end up happening with Adam) because he and Nevada don't meet until so far into the book. But he's a little psycho. Nevada is keenly aware of this herself, and purposefully keeps distance between herself and Rogan because of it. But Rogan is the very typical paranormal romance alpha male, and he is determined to have Nevada. Which really makes her resistance of her, her shutting him down and backtalking, even though she is definitely attracted to him, even more admirable.
Of course, the fact that this is a three-book series and this is only the first book probably helps, too. But what's best about this is that Rogan is fucked up and brutal, yes--and Nevada doesn't let him use that as an excuse. It's not "Oh, he's broken, he will be so sweet and perfect once I fix him!" Instead, it's "Yes, he's sexy, but he is dangerous and probably doesn't want me for more than sex and I really cannot deal with that now, so I'm going to nope out of here as fast as I can." This is the type of stuff that strong heroines are made of, and I really liked it.
This is a great, fun, sexy paranormal fantasy/mystery--there's no sex here (though Nevada is interested, somewhat despite herself) and the tension is really drawn out, so don't expect a resolution in that department. But White Hot is already shaping up pretty well, so I have hopes there!
One of the reading challenge categories that was posing a problem for me this year was "A bMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
One of the reading challenge categories that was posing a problem for me this year was "A book by a local author." I live in Washington, DC. I knew that there could be no shortage of local authors with great books available. However, when I Googled, the ones that came up, the Big Names, were ones that I either wasn't interested in (David Baldacci, Tom Clancy) or I'd already read their works (Laura Hillenbrand). Thankfully, I eventually found an article by DC Refined, "5 D.C. authors you should know (and their latest books)". While a bunch of the authors and books listed there caught my interest, one in particular stuck out: Harmony by Caroyln Parkhurst, because she has her MA from American University, which is my school! Also, the premise seemed very interesting.
Told from multiple perspectives, Harmony is the story of a family (the Hammonds) who seek help for their brilliant but troublesome daughter, Tilly, who has a non-specific disorder along the autism spectrum. In the search for help, they fall in with Scott Bean, who gets them to come to a camp, Harmony, in New Hampshire that is, for all intents and purposes, cut off from the outside world. They will live and work at the camp, grow their own food, avoid pesticides and stimulation from screens, and anything that's needed from outside, Scott will get while the rest of them stay at the camp. A few other families are also present, for similar reasons. But while Harmony initially seems like it might be exactly what the family needs, might it perhaps be a little more sinister?
Camp Harmony treads along the thin line--is it a cult or isn't it? At some times, it seems like it is, and at other times it seems like it isn't. Scott Bean is a masterful manipulator. He gets the families to feel like they are accomplishing something, and every time something unnerving happens, he backs off, reassures them...and then continues on with his own plans. There's a menace here, but not one that that's obvious,or even always present. It leads to a strange balancing act in the mind, which I'm sure is exactly what Parkhurst intended--is this okay, or is it not? Some of it is, and some of it isn't, and some of it is questionably...and it all adds up to a big, big problem that will shatter the Hammond family's existence.
The writing style here was interesting. There are three perspectives: Alexandra, the mother; Tilly, the older sister; and Iris, the younger sister. Alexandra's parts are written in second-person, which I typically dislike, but in this case I think it really worked. It made her struggle more empathetic, made it easier to see where her difficulties were coming from. Iris has a more traditional first-person perspective, relating the "present" events; she is our main narrator, telling us the story as it unfolds, whereas Alexandra's parts are more of a "how we got here" set up. And then there's Tilly. Tilly's narrative is neither here nor there, first person nor third person, just a sort of weird, floating imagining that happens at an ambiguous place and time, and yet perfectly suited to Tilly's character.
This was a book that intrigued me, but that I was unsure I would actually like. And while the pacing is somewhat slow, the building unease in the background propels the story forward to its climax. I do wish there had been a bit more closure here--we are definitely left with the question of, "What happened to the Hammonds, anyway?" I mean, will the daughters be giving TED Talks about growing up in a cult when they get older? Or will everything be all right? These are the things I'm left wondering--and while I would have liked more closure, I gather that the wondering was rather the point.
Anyway, I'm very glad that I picked this title for my "local author" reading challenge category. It wasn't something I would probably have picked up on my own, but I enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to reading other books by these local authors.
A Discovery of Witches had been on my to-read list for a while, in a sort of vague, "That sMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
A Discovery of Witches had been on my to-read list for a while, in a sort of vague, "That sounds interesting, maybe someday" way. It bumped its way up towards the top when I needed a book involving Halloween for my reading challenge--while books that take place entirely on Halloween seem to be few and far between, books that have a climax or conclusion involving Halloween seem to be more common, and this book is one of them.
Diana is witch in a world where there are basically four types of humaoids: humans, and then three types of "creatures," witches/wizards, vampires, and daemons. But Diana has scorned her witchy ancestry and tries to use magic as little as possible. This changes when, in the course of conducting research for a conference, she stumbles across an enchanted manuscript that no one else has been able to get for hundreds of years. Diana doesn't really care for it, and sends it back to the stacks, where it vanishes again--and finds herself being stalked by all kinds of creatures who want her to get it back for them, including vampire Matthew, with whom Diana quickly develops a romantic attachment.
This is a long book for its type. The pacing is decidedly better in the first part, when Diana is in Oxford and is being increasingly stalked by creatures and little bits of her magic occasionally pop up. Once she and Matthew decamp for France, however, things slow down. There's meals and horseback riding and dancing in a castle he built. Yes, there's a little bit of drama while they're there, but overall the pace is much slower, and the slow pace continues--again with one anomaly--once they move on from France to the US. And while I normally like a strong romantic plot in my novels, no matter what their primary genre falls into, this one just didn't seem to hit the right points. There's no sizzling chemistry or attraction between Diana and Matthew; in fact, the repeated reminders of how cold he is seems like a complete turn-off. There aren't any good kissing scenes, or any sort of other scenes, if you know what I mean. (Which, you know, aren't necessary, but if you're going to write a 600-page book relying heavily on romance...)
Diana herself is also a Special Snowflake Supreme. She has All the Powers, which of course no one else has, and is the only witch--literally the only one--to be stronger than her parents were. Now, I am not entirely against Special Snowflakes. In some cases, I actually quite like them. Diana was obnoxious, though. Not as a person, but as a concept. There's no sign of her magic her entire life, and then suddenly she views a report of her DNA and they start popping out all over the place, stronger than anyone has ever seen. This seemed a bit odd, honestly. Apparently the use of her magic is tied to "need," but that didn't seem to be the case in most of the instances in which her magic made its appearance.
Overall, this was an okay one. It was one I found myself picking at rather than just reading, which is generally an indication that I'm not enjoying it very much. There were some interesting concepts here, but the pacing and romance were off, and Diana's Special Snowflake status was annoying. I also have absolutely no interest in where Diana and Matthew are going next, so I think I'm probably unlikely to read the second book.
"Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptoMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
"Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary. It’s also a symptom of narcissism."
How right Levy is in putting that statement out there so early in the book. It sets the tone for what is to come after, when Levy's entire life falls apart in pretty short order. It's not a book of great reflection, but in a few small moments--like that one--she hints that maybe, just maybe, she was being narcissistic, and some of this dissolution--not all of it, but some--was partly her fault.
Ariel Levy presents in her memoir the story of a life coming unraveled. A happy marriage maybe wasn't so happy after all, on either side; a baby died; and everything else went down the drain, too. Levy starts her account at the end, or nearly at it, and then unspools back to the beginning before everything went right, and then wrong, to tell things in chronological order. Well, mostly chronological order; there are some flashbacks to her younger days, but mostly the chronology isn't disturbed, and it's easy to see when the timeline changes.
That said, Levy isn't necesarily the most reliable narrator for her own story. Though there are a few short sentences, buried in the rest of the book, that hint that maybe, maybe she sees her complicity in some of the things that happened here, much of the book is very entitled white girl whining. (And as an entitled white girl, I know how that looks.) Levy is, of course, not to blame for her miscarriage, no matter what some of the people in her life seem to think. However, she barely pauses to consider that hey, her wife's alcoholism might have had something to do with their marriage falling apart, but maybe Levy's own ongoing affair had something to do with it, too? Just maybe?
Levy has a background in journalism, and it shows here. The sentences and some of the imagery are wonderful; the pictures she paints of Africa, of the lions, of Mongolia, all of that is wonderful. It's so wonderful that it's easy to miss how unreflective and unrepentant Levy truly is. She admits in some small degree that maybe she's a narcissist, drops two or three sentences here or there about, "I didn't think about this then," but never reflects on it later, and ultimately never seems to grow as a person. There's not a lot of resolution in the book for this, either. Of course, you can easily Google her name and find out what happened to her, but including something of it might have shown some personal growth, and that's something that was sadly lacking here. Perhaps this is because there was no internal struggle that would have propelled growth, but rather instead just a stream of whinging, "But it's not fair! No one understands me!"
Levy's writing carries this book. But she doesn't seem like a great person, and the lack of reflection or evidence of growth in this book lowered it quite a bit from what I was hoping it would be.
This is a book that I had seen many, many times in various contexts, but avoided like the pMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
This is a book that I had seen many, many times in various contexts, but avoided like the plague. Why? Because it sounded depressing, that's why. The author, Paul Kalanithi, was finishing up his time as a chief resident in neurosurgery when he was diagnosed with extensive lung cancer, and then eventually brain cancer. Having struggled with life and medicine and the meaning of it all throughout his life and career, Kalanithi set out to make sense of his own life--and death--and purpose before the end came. You know all of this from the flap of the book, or the foreword at the very least. It sounded like a serious downer and possibly preachy as well, which was not a conversation I wanted to delve into. However, when I needed a book on death or grief for my reading challenge, it seemed like an obvious choice.
I was very much surprised by this book. It's not religious at all, which I appreciated--a lot of people who aren't even really religious turn to it in the end--though it is deeply introspective. In his career as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi worked with the brain which, he points out, ultimately contains the self. Part of this book looks at what makes life living--is it worth living if you have an injury or disease that takes away your language and ability to communicate? If it leaves you in a coma or a vegetative state? And in the process of coming to terms with his own death, he sees the people around him go through their own stages of grief--not only for him, but for things that they thought might be, especially when hope briefly seemed to be so close.
One thing that's worthy of noting is that the writing here is absolutely beautiful. Kalanithi certainly had a way with words, and his aspirations to spend the second half of his career--the half he never got to experience--as an author were certainly well-merited. He faces down some of the things that were piling up, such as a dissolving marriage that even most of his family wasn't aware of, the deep pain he was in all the time, and the terror he faced at leaving his life not fully lived, and turns it all into poetry. When I read the foreword and saw how Verghese lauded Kalanithi's writing, I had to roll my eyes. Surely the book couldn't actually be that good. And honestly, depressing as it sounds, it really sounded kind of gimmicky as well. But no, Verghese was right--the writing really is that good.
This is one of those books that it feels weird to say you enjoyed, because hey, does the average person really enjoy reading about a real person dying tragically? No, not really. But it was a wonderful book. Was it ground breaking in anything it revealed? No, not really. But just as Tuesdays with Morrie or The Last Lecture were sad books but lovely at the same time, so was this. It's not a book that's going to reveal the secrets of the universe. But it's a personal, insightful journey, and hey, you can learn some about neurosurgery to boot.
I liked this much more than THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT. It has a bit of fantasy or magical realism about it--nothing that is outright crazy, buI liked this much more than THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT. It has a bit of fantasy or magical realism about it--nothing that is outright crazy, but just enough to drive the story. I appreciated the limits put on it and that there was nothing magically fixing everything at the end, but instead the universe playing by its own rules, even if some of them were creatively interpreted....more
Clocking in another book for my 2017 Reading Challenge, I've tackled my third Mercy ThompsoMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
Clocking in another book for my 2017 Reading Challenge, I've tackled my third Mercy Thompson novel for the year and the fifth in the series, Silver Borne. This is a book that was a bestseller the year I graduated high school (2010). I was actually pretty excited to see this, because books in this vein seem to rarely hit bestseller lists and so seeing it there was very refreshing.
One thing about the Mercy Thompson books is that they seem to pile one right after another. One book picks up exactly after another one lets off, or at least within a few days of it. Let me tell you, it must be absolutely exhausting to be Mercy, because she never seems to get a break. Someone or something is always trying to kill her, and despite her protests that she does nothing to deserve it, she does seem to always be poking her nose in places it probably doesn't belong. Keeping her head down is not something she excels at. In this volume we find Mercy, just after the events of Bone Crossed. Mercy is still settling into her role as Adam's mate in the face of a lot of opposition from the pack, dealing with an increasingly-depressed Samuel, and is also sucked into a missing persons case involving the magical book she's been toting around for several volumes.
I liked this a lot more than Bone Crossed. BC felt like a lot of politicking and hemming and hawing without much happening. While this one wasn't full of fight scenes, it still felt like things moved. Mercy developed in her relationship with Adam and with the pack; there were some pack intrigues, but they didn't take over the book; Samuel started to come into his own and we found out more about his past and his potential future; and the characters overall just seemed more integrated into both the story and the world than wandering around trying to resolve events that really should have been left a few books behind. All of this was a definite improvement over BC, which was tired in comparison.
This book breathed some fresh air into the series, which I think it really needed. Fifth books are tricky; by this time, it's either clear that the series should have ended a few volumes ago or that it's good for the long haul. After Bone Crossed, I wasn't very hopeful, but Silver Borne really brought it back up and gives me hope for a series that doesn't really seem to have an end in sight.
Several years ago, I read the first book in this trilogy, Cobweb Bride. The story revolvedMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
Several years ago, I read the first book in this trilogy, Cobweb Bride. The story revolved around several fictional European kingdoms and a world where death suddenly stopped occurring, with horrible consequences--and Death himself will not set the world aright until he is brought his "Cobweb Bride." Persephone "Percy" Ayren sets out in hopes of either being the Cobweb Bride or finding her so that she can help her grandmother, who is trapped on the verge of death but is unable to die. With many adventures and various kingdoms in political upheaval along the way, Percy finally finds her way to Death's keep and learns that she is not the Cobweb Bride--but Death makes her his Champion and sends her out to find the Bride in the world beyond.
This book picks up shortly after the end of the first, with Percy and her traveling companions, including the Black Knight, aka Beltain of Chidair, who Percy inadvertently kidnapped when she whopped him over the head with a skillet when he and his men tried to stop her from reaching Death's Keep. But now they're traveling in easy companionship, more or less, and dropping off the other girls that Percy fell in with along the way. Upon arrival at Percy's hometown, they find out what her being Death's Champion really means--it means that she is the only one who is able to put the dead truly to rest when death itself seems to have stopped. With that newfound knowledge, Percy continues south, in search of the Cobweb Bride. Meanwhile, we encounter the mysterious Sovereign of the Domain, the lands south of the Realm, which is actually composed of a bunch of realms, I guess? The political entanglements and geography here are kind of confusing. But in any case, this Sovereign is up to no good, and is clearly planning on starting a war and it seems might be immortal. Whaaaat? And then there's a few other minor story lines floating about as well, dealing with imprisoned nobles and spies and so on. And numerous little scenes that don't have anything to do with the central characters or plot but seem to serve only to illustrate things that we've already learned about in the main narrative.
This is the second book in a trilogy, which means that it is The Walking Book. This is the volume of a trilogy in which the main characters mostly spend a lot of time walking from place to place, in pursuit of a plot that won't really pick up until the third book. And indeed, Percy and Beltain do a lot of walking--and more precisely, a lot of riding while avoiding looking at each other. The Sovereign spends a lot of time listening to reports and scheming. The imprisoned nobles spend a lot of time pining for freedom and then a bit more interesting time escaping, though it doesn't really get them anywhere in the end. But ultimately, the growing attraction between Percy and Beltain, while painfully awkward and stilted, was the most interesting part of this book, and it's not really a riveting romance and is resolved quite quickly with brash declarations of "I love you!" after a flurry of kisses. Meh.
Additionally, this book has some editing problems. There are words that are misspelled, missing, or very occasionally misused. And then there are the commas--something that Nazarian doesn't seem to know how to use, being as they're sprinkled about. The commas and the ellipses! It briefly occurred to me to count the number of times Nazarian ended a sentence with an ellipsis, but I quickly found that the endeavor would be futile, because there are just so many of them; and this is coming from someone who really likes the ellipsis as a punctuation mark.
Overall, I wasn't terribly impressed with this. I might continue on with the third book, but at this point I'm unsure. The plot seems to be getting far-fetched instead of fantastical, and the constant sidetracking from the main plot to talk about this vanished field or that island got old quickly. And logic seems to be going missing along with proper pacing; why would an immortal being have a death shadow, after all, if immortals can (obviously) never die? Hm... We'll see.
The Sparrow was the Deliberate Reader's book club book for June, for discussion in the FaceMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
The Sparrow was the Deliberate Reader's book club book for June, for discussion in the Facebook group, and also the sci-fi selection for the year. It also conveniently slotted into one of my reading challenge categories, for a book set on another planet.
The Sparrow is an interesting and immensely frustrating book. It is interesting because it is as sci-fi book with a religious bend, and it involves first contacts with another intelligent species elsewhere in the galaxy--something that put me in mind of The Three-Body Problem, though that is a much "harder" sci-fi book than this. It is immensely frustrating because all I really wanted was to slam these characters' heads, and the heads of their superiors, against a brick wall for being so incredibly stupid and ignorant of the Fermi Paradox. I highly recommend reading Wait But Why's Fermi Paradox article, but ultimately it boils down to, in the words of Hank Green, "If they're out there, why don't we hear 'em talk?" That is, if there is intelligent life out there--and statistically speaking, there should be--why do we not hear anything from other, extraterrestrial species? There are a few different possible answers to this, but the one that always always always seems to come up in sci-fi is, "Because aliens are bad news," meaning that one of the reasons we don't hear from other intelligent species is that they know better than to be broadcasting stuff out into the void, because they know something we apparently don't, like there is something big and bad and willing to hurt us out there. There are a few other explanations, too, of course, but obviously danger is a big driver of plot in sci-fi novels, so this is the one that comes up a lot.
Well, it turns out that you don't have to be big and bad and able to travel through space to hurt humans. You just have to sing well enough to get them (us) to come to you (aliens; hi, aliens!).
So, as you have probably figured out by now, this book's central plot revolves around an act of astounding stupidity in which a group of humans, consisting of a Jesuit-led mission, set out to make contact with a newly-discovered intelligent species in the proximity of Alpha Centurai, despite not knowing anything about said other species other than that they exist. Most of the book takes place significantly after this mission sets out, after the sole survivor (see, we knew it was a bad idea from the beginning) has returned to Earth, and his superiors are trying to figure out what has happened, particularly since the people who rescued him have also gone missing and are, presumably, dead. The main character is Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest and linguist who is the one to first suggest sending a Jesuit mission to this other planet (BAD EMILIO!) without, you know, anyone with any idea of what should actually be done weighing in. As a result of the horrible events that take place on Rakhat during the mission, he suffers a crisis of faith, and the timeline of the book set after his return greatly focuses on him trying to answer that great question: if God exists and is both omnipotent and benevolent, then how is it possible that horrible things still happen?
This is a book that aims for spiritual rather than preachy, which was good. Some of the relationships between the characters were intriguing; watching them grow and change provided the real reason to read this book, because the characters here are emotionally intelligent even if they are naive and lacking a serious dose of common sense.
This is a slow book. Nothing happens for much of it, and then everything happens in just a handful of chapters. When I was close to the end of the book, I couldn't believe that it was supposed to be wrapped up in under a hundred pages, because there was so clearly so much left to go. Russell resolves this by just dumping it all in a narrative Emilio puts forth that takes a few pages; not exactly ideal. While the dark subject matter could have made for a very heavy read if broken out separately, this particular way of relating events did nothing for the book's pace.
In other problems, the "sci" part of the "fi" is fairly soft, without a lot of technicalities to it, and with a lot of things that left me raising an eyebrow and going, "Hm..." Sherwood Smith, an author whom I quite admire, noted in her review that the book overall lacks world building, a statement with which I would agree wholeheartedly in its applications to both her version of Earth and to Rakhat. Much of the book is focused on other characters' fascination with Emilio's celibacy, and so it's not entirely surprising when it turns out the build-up of the entire book ends up being rape, much like in Outlander--but it also raises the question that, when you can write about literally anything in sci-fi, because you have the entire universe to play with, why turn back to rape? Is there no way to have a crisis of faith without being raped? Because, ultimately it's that which causes Emilio's breakdown--not any of the other horrible things to which he is witness.
Overall, a book that, while it has some interesting aspects attached to it, is immensely frustrating from conception to finish. There is a second book that follows this, but I have no interest in reading it; from the book description, it promises to be nothing but more of the same.
Watership Down is one of those children's books that I never read. It's not that I dislikedMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
Watership Down is one of those children's books that I never read. It's not that I disliked books about animals--in fact, I loved the Redwall books when I was younger, and the Narnia books have a good number of talking animals as well. But for some reason, I thought this was a book about rabbits going to war. And like in rabbit-y ways--like, basically World War II with rabbits. I'm not entirely sure where I got this idea, but I think it might have been the title; it just sounds like some sort of distress call from a boat that's been struck by a torpedo: "SOS! Watership down, I repeat, Watership down! SOS!"
I finally got around to reading it because it was the Deliberate Reader book club selection for April in the Facebook group. It also slotted nicely into my reading challenge category for a book that is a parable; while Adams did not intend the book to be a parable, saying that it was just a book about rabbits, it seems it's frequently read as a parable, and that's good enough for me.
The plot here is fairly basic. Adams builds a society of rabbits, but keeps them in their natural habits and forms; they talk and act and think, but they're not necessarily anthropomorphized in the way that, say, Mickey Mouse is. Within this society, some rabbits are gifted with seeing; in the warren of rabbits that starts the book, one of these seers if Fiver, the best friend of the main rabbit, Hazel. Fiver predicts some unknown devastation for the warren, and on his warning, Hazel convinces some other rabbits to leave the warren with them. They strike out into the countryside, seeking a place to build a new warren. Along the way they encounter other rabbits who fled their warren, and encounter other rabbits not of their group. And even when they establish a new home, they can't live in contentment, because without any females, they can't sustain a new colony. And it's this struggle for survival, both immediately and in the long term, that drives the book.
Throughout the story, Hazel grows from an undersized, un-listened-to rabbit to the leader of the group, using logic instead of emotion and pushing on in the face of fear in order to take the new warren to safety. We also get to see several different modes of warren society; the home warren, the one they encounter on the way, the one they establish on Watership Down, and Efrafa. We also encounter other colorful characters, such as General Woundwort and the best character in the entire book, the bird Kehaar. Human society is glimpsed through the rabbits' eyes and the story is bulked up by tales of the mythical rabbit who was the original rabbit leader, in the style of Br'er Rabbit and other trickster stories.
The writing was surprisingly engaging. While it got off to a slow start, I soon found myself wrapped up in the story. I didn't expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I did, but the different types of rabbit societies offered a wonderful study of contrasts, and seeing our core group of rabbits come together and learn to triumph as a cohesive group rather than a bunch of misfits was a great central propulsion. Hazel was also definitely the proper choice for a central character. The other two obvious choices would be Bigwig or Fiver, either of whom would have quickly become annoying as a main character--Bigwig because of his impulsivity, and Fiver because of his Timidity. The other types of animals also held enough difference and interest to not make the book bland, which it could have easily become.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by my reading experience. This is another one I can cross of my classics list, and I even recommended it to a few people who'd had similar misconceptions about the book. A worthy read.
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky; little boxes on the hillsidMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky; little boxes on the hillside and they all look just the same.
Shaker Heights is a seemingly perfect community. The Richardsons are a seemingly perfect family; sure, the youngest daughter, Izzy, is completely odd, but--oh, wait, Izzy burned the house down? Okay, maybe something is up here after all.
This story focuses around two families: the Richardsons and the Warrens. The Richardsons, including Mr., Mrs., and children Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy (in descending order for age) have lived in Shaker Heights for Mrs. Richardson's entire life, and those of her children. Izzy is odd, yes, but the family is basically a perfect picture of upper-middle class America in the late 90s. The Warrens are a much smaller family, just mother Mia and daughter Pearl. They've lived a nomadic life driven by Mia's artistic tendencies, but have finally settled in the Richardsons' rental property so that Pearl can have some stability in high school. Soon Pearl, Lexie, Moody, and Trip are hanging out regularly, and Izzy seeks out Mia, who she feels understands her better than her own family does. The two families are intertwined, and then abruptly split apart by a custody battle in which neither family is directly involved.
This seems like something of a strange premise for a book, and I was skeptical; how would Ng make this work? I liked Everything I Never Told You, but I wasn't amazed by it. Still, she has a way of writing family life and making it compelling, and that comes through in this book as well. And while EINTY dealt with suicide (or did it?) this book revolves, deeply and intimately, around issues of motherhood. What makes a mother? What makes a good mother? Is being a blood relative enough? Or does love matter more? Or connection to culture? What matters most here? And it can't all matter most, and there can't be a balance of it, because that's not a possibility in this particular custody battle, and there are no easy answers surrounding it. Ng has crafted the ideal scenario for this battle to play out, because everyone is right to some degree, and no one has the right answer--for May Ling/Mirabelle, or for anyone else in the book.
The crafting of the central scenario was well done, though it didn't come into play until fairly late in the book. Much of the page time is spent building up the characters and the relationships between them so that Ng can later tear them apart, though this is not a tapestry that unravels from all angles; no, there is a central person behind that, and despite having good intentions, she is not very likable. However, several parts of this book didn't quite work as well as they could have. First, Izzy was an underutilized character, getting far less page time than the other members of the cast. I suppose this is because she is supposed to be the person who is sitting back and watching everything, and then acts when no one else is looking. However, this isn't apparent until much later, and if it had been woven more throughout the book that Izzy knew things that people weren't giving her credit for, there could have been a much better sense of foreboding built up. Second, the mothers' time lines weren't well woven throughout the rest of the story; they were just dropped in big chunks, and if they'd been broken up a bit and better interspersed with the main timeline, then it would have come across as more even character development instead of info-dumping.
Still, I quite enjoyed this. I'm not raging that I didn't pick it up from Book of the Month back in 2017, but it was a good book nonetheless and I'm glad I got to it now.
One of my reading challenge categories this year is a Goodreads Choice Awards Winner, and IMore reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.
One of my reading challenge categories this year is a Goodreads Choice Awards Winner, and Into the Water won the category of "Mystery & Thriller" for 2017. I also already had it as a Book of the Month extra, since I had enjoyed The Girl on the Train.
The story here centers around a pair of drownings in a small English town. Told from the perspectives of a multitude of characters, the plot tries to unravel what really happened with these drownings, who is responsible, etc.
This was not as good a book as The Girl on the Train. While the central premise--the Drowning Pool, a place both for suicides and to get rid of difficult women--is hypnotic, there are too many point-of-view characters running around to easily keep straight. Additionally, despite this being a mystery, there's not really a mystery here. Why? Because we're pretty much told who is responsible for the events here early on in the book, practically bludgeoned over the head with it for the duration of the story, and GASP! It's supposed to be a big reveal! Of course, there is a little twist at the end, but it was nothing earth-shaking or life-shattering.
One thing that Hawkins does get right here is atmosphere. The small town, the rain, the river, the pool, the way that Jules speaks to her dead sister, the creepy and decrepit mill house--all of it combines for a very spooky feeling. This would be a good rainy day read. Or maybe one for when it's storming and the power goes out and you're reading by candlelight. None of the characters are very likable, either, which also adds to this. Now, I don't think that characters necessarily need to be likable for a book to be good, but if you feel differently, you might not like this very much. The pace is slow, which I think suits the story, though the frenzy of characters sometimes makes it feel faster than it really is.
But ultimately, if this book is supposed to be a suspense or mystery novel, it fails. As I mentioned before, the end is put out there very early on, and the little "twist" can easily be inferred from what we're outright told. With that in mind, the book is too long by far, because we spend all of it watching the characters bumble around going "Whaaaat?" and wanting to smack them upside the head for their blindness. By the time someone finally put it together, I was ready to drown the lot of them in the same river that was causing all of the problems.
Overall, not as good, shocking, or suspenseful as I had hoped. The atmosphere was strong, but not strong enough to sustain the book as a whole.