Category Archives: reviews

Book Review: Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014-09-23
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 256
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A wise and entertaining novel about a woman who has lived life on her own terms for seventy-five defiant and determined years, only to find herself suddenly thrust to the center of her family’s various catastrophes Meet Florence Gordon: blunt, brilliant, cantankerous and passionate, feminist icon to young women, invisible and underappreciated by most everyone else. At seventy-five, Florence has earned her right to set down the burdens of family and work and shape her legacy at long last. But just as she is beginning to write her long-deferred memoir, her son Daniel returns to New York from Seattle with his wife and daughter, and they embroil Florence in their dramas, clouding the clarity of her days with the frustrations of middle-age and the confusions of youth. And then there is her left foot, which is starting to drag. With searing wit, sophisticated intelligence, and a tender respect for humanity in all its flaws, Brian Morton introduces a constellation of unforgettable characters. Chief among them, Florence, who can humble the fools surrounding her with one barbed line, but who eventually finds there are realities even she cannot outsmart.
My Review:

I read a book recently about an older man who was grouchy and all “get off my lawn!” and…well, you know the type, surely you do.  I loved that book.  I wanted to meet that old man and live in his world and keep him company as he went about his daily routine.  When I picked up FLORENCE GORDON by Brian Morton, I have expected to have found the companion to that book – now I’d be reading about a grouchy old lady and I’d be falling in love all over again.  What I got was something totally unexpected.

FLORENCE GORDON was a helluva surprise.  I laughed in shock and shook my head more times than I can count.  Florence, the title character, is quite the character. She’s brash, borders on rude but leans more toward the very outspoken side of the thin line, and she makes absolutely no excuse for who she is because she doesn’t need an excuse.  She’s Florence Gordon, a leading feminist voice who lived during a time when women’s rights made huge strides.  She married a disappointment of a man, had a son who married a woman that views Florence as some kind of saint, and she has a granddaughter who, she might admit, to having a feeling here and there of sentimentality toward.

Unlike that first book I was talking about, there is very little heart-warming going on in FLORENCE GORDON.  Instead, Brian Morton paints a picture of how this generation of women differs from Florence’s generation.  How little we actually know about the feminists of the 70’s and how little, yes this, how little respect is actually shown for them.  Florence is not a mean, bitter old woman.  She’s a woman who learned early to speak up and to make her voice heard.  She’s a woman who felt so much passion that she refused to bow to societal norms – even to the end of her story.  I loved that about her and I am very, very thankful that this book did not bow to what society may expect from it as well.

FLORENCE GORDON is not a sappy story about an eccentric, endearing old woman.  It’s a story that motivates and inspires and I’ll take that kind of story over one that has me weepy and lovey any day.

Have you reviewed FLORENCE GORDON by Brian Morton?  If so, leave a link to your review in the comments!

Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Review: Afterworlds by Scott WesterfeldAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Published by Simon Pulse on 2014-09-23
Genres: Love & Romance, New Experience, Paranormal, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 640
Format: eARC
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three-stars
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Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she's made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings… 

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’m a fan of Scott Westerfeld, but his books make me often frustrated.  He has this knack, this ability to come up with really interesting ideas and then get about 80% of the way into really knocking them out of the park but then the last 20% of that effort just never seems to match up with the rest of it.  I was hoping AFTERWORLDS would finally push that 80% to a 90% or even, dare I say it, 100% … but unfortunately, it fell right into the same trap that LEVIATHAN and UGLIES did for me.

What do I mean by that 80/20% thing?  Well 80% of AFTERWORLDS was absolutely fantastic.  I loved having a heroine last name Patel, I loved hearing descriptions about a life that is different from your average, run-of-the-mill white girl experience that YA fiction seems to center around.  I loved the introduction of a very adult, very out-of-the-norm for YA fiction relationship as well as the family’s reaction to it.  I adored Darcy’s little sister to pieces.  But there were so many missing pieces connecting all of these things that I felt a bit, at the end of the book, as if I’d been smacked around.

While I love the concept of a novel within a novel (and the book is told in alternating chapters, we read Darcy’s story in-between chapters of her own real life story), I think the effort put into creating a book like this means that something had to give.  Unfortunately, in this case, it was Darcy’s real life story.  AFTERWORLDS became more believable in the Afterworlds sections of the book than in the real words section.  I had a hard time getting behind an instant love connection.  I had a very, very hard time with the simplistic budget that Darcy seemed to be able to live on (and honestly, $150k/year is not much at all when it comes to NYC).  It felt very unreal that she was able, for example, to find an apartment that was large enough to host a fairly good size party and she didn’t need a roommate to help with the payment of rent.

Then there’s the Aunt figure, that mysterious family member who is able to grant wishes because it’s inconvenient for the parents to do so.  I just wasn’t buying it all.

That said, I did love the introduction to the Hindu death god, and the whole incorporation of the Hindu religion.  Not something you see in literature and something I would love to see explored more.  I really enjoyed the AFTERWORLD part of the story, and although there were issues there as well, they were nothing as glaring as the real world story.

Would I recommend picking up AFTERWORLDS?  That depends.  If you are a huge fan of Westerfeld and have faith in his ability to tell a good story, yet still can accept some disappointment and move on, then sure – pick it up.  If you don’t want to sink into this 600+ page book without knowing that it will reward you for your efforts, I’d say move on.  In fact, I wish it would have been possible to release this novel in a two-set book or something, allowing us to read AFTERWORLDS before, or after, we read Darcy’s story.  Probably impossible, but something neat to think about.

Check out these reviews!

  • I think each storyline could stand on its own and be good, but paired, the stories each become exceptional. –  ginny writes
  • “The writing is masterful — for both Darcy’s life and Lizzie’s story. The stories, however, weren’t quite as riveting as I’d hoped.” – Proud Book Nerd
  • “I really liked this book and would recommend it to those looking for an unique read or who loves stories within a story. ” – Shelves of Books

Book Review: Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Book Review: Stone Mattress by Margaret AtwoodStone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc on 2014-08-28
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Bloomsbury Publishing Pic
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five-stars
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A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet's syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly-formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. And a crime committed long-ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion year old stromatalite. In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle - and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

I received this book for free from Bloomsbury Publishing Pic in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t been reading as much as I want to – well, I haven’t been reading fiction “for fun” as much as I have wanted to.  The reason is that now that school is in session and I’m focusing on a specific area of literature and navigating my way through graduate school, I just can’t afford to set aside time to read for pleasure.  But then, the other night I was thinking about that and I realized that it shouldn’t be the case.  Just because I’m in school and reading other things doesn’t mean I can’t pick up a book for fun and so the first one I picked up was STONE MATTRESS by Margaret Atwood.

There’s a reason I went to Atwood.  She never fails – not once – to get me out of a reading slump.  Her style of writing just grabs me by the throat and, essentially, forces me to continue to read until the last page has been turned and the story finished.  STONE MATTRESS was no exception.  I loved – no I adored this collection of short stories.  I think it’s Atwood at her absolute sharpest in wit and her best in storytelling.  There’s a story in here where a woman commits the “perfect murder,” a connected group of stories about the art of writing and what makes for good literature and what doesn’t and explores the lives of people who think they determine these things… the stories just go on and on and every one kept building on the one before until I felt completely overwhelmed (in a good way) with the sheer genius on the page before me.

I know it’s a stylish thing these days to gush over Atwood.  If you are any serious sort of book lover, it seems to be expected that she ranks high on your list, but I have to say all that aside, she’s just a damn fine writer and deserves every bit of praise coming her way.  STONE MATTRESS is testament to that and I highly recommend you pick it up as soon as possible and discover what I found in there.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Check out these reviews!

Book Review: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Book Review: The Children Act by Ian McEwanThe Children Act by Ian McEwan
Published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday on 2015-06
Genres: 21st Century, Contemporary, Fiction, Literary, Literary Fiction, Values & Virtues
Pages: 240
Format: ARC
Source: Nan A. Talese
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five-stars
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Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child's welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. 


But Fiona's professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. But Jack doesn't leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

I received this book for free from Nan A. Talese in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

There are three types of books I enjoy reading and, as a result, there’s generally three types of authors that go along with those books.  Sometimes an author will cross over and write something that dabbles a little bit (or jumps completely into) one of those other two types of books, but generally speaking, they stick to what’s been done before under their name.  One of those types of books (and authors) I really enjoy employs beautiful language and a storytelling ability that transcends everything else.  When I read this type of book I can feel my world view expanding and my thoughts and ideas and preconceptions being challenged and tested.  Ian McEwan writes books that not only deliver a sucker punch to my gut, but makes me grateful for being there to get punched in the first place.  THE CHILDREN ACT delivered yet another punch and, while it didn’t hurt as much as ATONEMENT or SOLACE did, the after-effects are still rocking me a bit.

There are really two stories happening in THE CHILDREN ACT. One story deals with the marriage of Fiona Maye and the bomb that’s dropped into her lap by her husband of 30-odd years.  The other story deals with the legal system in England, specifically those cases which, repeatedly, brought to mind the old stories of Biblical Solomon that I was taught as I was growing up.  You know the cases – the separation of twins that will lead to the death of one of them; the determination of which parent takes the child home when, quite frankly, neither may deserve it, and finally, the case the book centers around, the battle between religion and medicine.

This second part of the story is a big part.  It trumps even the issues within Fiona’s marriage, but rather than completely overshadowing them, it brings details like the discussions and interactions of Fiona and her husband into delicate, crystal-clear view. Everything seemed so sharp and the case had me on such pins and needles that everything else just seemed to poke and prod at me in all my weak spots.  If it was affecting me, the reader, in such a way, man…my imagination goes crazy on how it would have affected anyone living this in real life.

McEwan is a masterful storyteller, there’s no doubt about that.  In the pitch I received for this book, the writer said he experiences awe and envy at the ability that McEwan has with words.  There is absolutely no doubt that McEwan’s vocabulary and, more importantly, his perfect execution of that vocabulary, makes anything he write a masterpiece.  It’s such an added bonus when the story lives up to it.

Have you read and reviewed THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan?  Leave a comment with the link below!

Book Review: The Memory Garden by M. Rickert

Book Review: The Memory Garden by M. RickertThe Memory Garden by Mary Rickert
Published by Sourcebooks, Incorporated on 2014-05-06
Genres: Contemporary Women, Family Life, Fiction, Ghost
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: Incorporated
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three-stars
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Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own

Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn't know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all Bay.

I received this book for free from Incorporated in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I finished reading THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert last May and now, months later, I still have conflicted emotions when I think about it.  I remember thinking that this should be the perfect story for me – an old family secret, a girl surrounded by characters who have rich pasts, conflict, friendship, love – maybe even a little magic, be it of the supernatural or the chemistry kind.

Unfortunately, I think THE MEMORY GARDEN really fell short for me on most of these.  I remember, while reading, that I would feel these little kindling thoughts like.. this could be it, this could be where the story really gets moving – but instead those bits of kindling died out and, instead, I found myself trudging through more story and more text (because some of it, honestly, was quite dull).

That’s not to say it was all bad.  There were those moments.  And that’s why I’m having a hard time giving this book less than a 3-star rating, in spite of my reservations about it. Because those moments were…almost… magical.  I can practically feel my fingertips tingling a bit as I remember the bits and pieces, and I just wish that the rest of the book would have followed suit.

THE MEMORY GARDEN by M. Rickert may just have been one of those books I read at the wrong time.  Perhaps it needed to be read when there was rain outside and fall colors and a cup of tea by my side instead of in sunny Hawaii while sitting at the beach.  Maybe I’ll try it again and see if the setting can make a difference.  I wouldn’t discourage anyone to not pick this one up because maybe you will just have better luck with it than I did this time.

Check out these reviews!

  • The novel is very finely written. With its single location and limited cast of characters, it feels almost like a play. – Strange Horizons
  • I enjoyed the read, it just fell a little flat for me.” – The Book Stop
  • Even though this book didn’t work for me, readers who like quirky tales, ghost stories, and magical realism might want to give it a try..” – Book of Secrets

Book Review: Wake by Anna Hope

Book Review: Wake by Anna HopeWake by Anna Hope
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2014-02-11
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, War & Military
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Random House
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two-stars
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Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed—she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"—and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

I received this book for free from Random House in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

Nope. No.  Not at all.  WAKE by Anna Hope did not work for me.  The problems were plentiful and the good things.. well, good thing, it was scarce.  I was so angry through this book but even that anger sputtered and died as I felt myself careening toward an end that was sure to disappoint.  And, honestly, maybe that’s exactly what that ending was supposed to do.  I hate literary devices like the one used to end WAKE and that was the final nail in the coffin for me.

The only, and I do mean only, reason WAKE gets a generous two-star rating from me is because of a single story that’s told.  A story that lays out the events of three men on the front and finally put my mind at ease.  Why didn’t Matthew come home and why didn’t his mother get a second letter?  That was the only pressing question I had, and even so, it was not a hard pressure at all.  Just a mild…. ok, I’m a bit interested.

The whole four-person narration thing, and one of those narrators being a collective people suffering from the war, did not work at all.  I was constantly confusing Evelyn and Hettie and their brothers (Ed and Fred?).  I still had to check to see which brother belonged to which girl, and then which girl belonged where.  Then I’d think, Oh yeah.. Hettie is the dancer and Evelyn the pensioner…but then the brothers would enter the picture or something would happen with some other man.. Robin or Gus or.. oh man, I don’t know. I’m so confused and it wasn’t at all engrossing like I had hoped it would be.

I walked away from WAKE with a splitting headache and a desire to kick something.. my wall or a desk.  I was frustrated and angry and, yes, as I said before, the ending it sucked.  I hate, hate, hate tricks and “literary expressions” like the one used to end WAKE.  I would really only recommend this book as a doorstop – I don’t get what all the people out there are raving about.  Unless you are really, really good with keeping names and places and professions straight in your head while a bunch of random strangers are thrown at you with the fourth narrative (which should have been the clear, center focus of the book and it was not), steer clear of this one.

Check out these reviews!

  • Wake is not one to miss, and in the centenary of WWI, essential reading. –  Book Snob
  • Wake was an intelligent, thoughtful read and I would love for there to be a follow up.” – Time Waits for No Mum
  • Anna Hope wove her spell and managed to conjure up an intriguing tale, quite rich with emotion that held me entranced until the last page.” – Lynn’s Book Blog

Book Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

Book Review: The Returned by Jason MottThe Returned by Jason Mott
Published by MIRA on 2013-08-27
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 338
Format: eARC
Source: MIRA
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four-stars
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Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time ... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

I received this book for free from MIRA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

It’s been quite a few months since I read THE RETURNED by Jason Mott, but the story still lingers and every once in a while, when I see someone experience a loss on television, or hear of someone losing a loved on via my Facebook feed, or even the happy news of lost strangers being united with their families, my mind returns to the story in THE RETURNED.

It’s quite the story.  Imagine losing a child or a loved one and then, years later, they appear on your doorstep, completely unchanged.  And it’s not just happening to you – people around the world are experiencing the return of their loved ones.  For Harold and Lucille, the story becomes very real when their son, Jacob, appears on their doorstep as a young, nine-year old boy, just the same age as when he was lost to them.

But Harold and Lucille have changed.  And soon the town finds itself divided as some families seek to protect their returned and others fear who may just turn up on their doorstep; the fear being for various reasons.  But even more than an interesting story line here is the light it shines on our society and our grief and coping mechanisms.  Additionally, it questions just what our definition of life should be.   Now, granted, I don’t see a story like this happening any time soon, but it’s really not a surprise that the Returned (as those who were dead but now aren’t are dubbed) are treated in some sectors as less than human.  There is so much in this world that is evidence of the inhumane treatment of those living that I can’t say that I was really surprised by the events that unfolded in THE RETURNED.

I saw that THE RETURNED was also being made into a television show and, while I think that the concept would play well on the screen, it’s not something I would care to see recreated.  While the story still lingers in my mind, it’s not a story that begs for me to return to it.  Still, it was quite the interesting read and I can remember staying up late into the night to finish it.

Check out these reviews!

  • There’s so much to think about after finishing The Returned. Days after I reached the final page, my emotional reactions are still coming in waves. It’s definitely a book to check out. –  Rather Be Reading
  • “I highly recommend this book, it made me cry by the end of the story and also made me think throughout the telling of it.” – Just Add Water, Silly
  • So, I implore readers not to get so wrapped up in the how and why it happened but focus on the characters and their response to this life-altering experience. Highly, highly recommended.” – Jenn’s Bookshelves

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen OyeyemiBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Published by Riverhead on 2014-03-06
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Riverhead
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two-stars
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In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

I received this book for free from Riverhead in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

I’m struggling so much right now because I really, really wanted to fall in love with BOY, SNOW, BIRD by Helen Oyeyemi.  I’m sitting here, struggling with a lack of words to convey my disappointment and struggling as well to try to articulate what exactly about BOY, SNOW, BIRD disappointed me.  I asked myself when I finished reading if maybe I had expected too much – Snow White has always been one of my favorite stories, but I really went into this book without reading much of anything except the brief synopsis on the back.  My mind was open to the possibilities and I had absolutely every hope of being drawn in.

What happened was that, ultimately, I got bored.  I had a reasonable amount of interest during the entire first section, but after a while it felt like I was reading fragments of a story loosely bound together.  When the sections shifted to a new voice, I struggled for almost 30 pages with trying to get my head in the right place.  I felt like I’d been rudely ripped from one story and thrust into another without so much as a warning.

I really, really think that what Oyeyemi was attempting to do here is a fantastic thing.  I really wanted to be blown away with her insights and strong characters that would pummel me from the pages and make me think long and hard.  Unfortunately, my thinking was solely to do with wondering when the book was ending and asking myself if I should just put it down and DNF it.  I didn’t, but there’s a strong part of me that wishes that I had, because BOY, SNOW, BIRD ended up being, in my humble opinion, a pretty cover, a cool concept for a story, but something that ultimately just did not deliver.

Check out these reviews!

  • Nevertheless, even though the final result is unfortunately, not as perfect as its promising beginnings, Boy, Snow, Bird is still a notable read of 2014. –  The Book Smugglers
  • “I’ve started to notice this book popping up on more and more blogs so it probably doesn’t really need my endorsement to gain well-deserved attention, but I’m going to endorse away anyway.” – Nylon Admiral

Book Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

Book Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris BohjalianClose Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday on 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 288
Format: eARC
Source: Doubleday
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four-stars
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A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a meltdown, and both of Emily's parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault—was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer's house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily can't outrun her past, can't escape her grief, can't hide forever-and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

I received this book for free from Doubleday in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My Review:

If you are at all familiar with my reviews, then you know that I am a fan of Chris Bohjalian.  He first won me over with THE DOUBLE BIND, then he wrecked my heart with MIDWIVES, and it’s all been over since those two books.  While I’ve loved some of his books more than others, I have to say that CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, is by far the most inventive and out-of-his-box book I’ve seen yet.  When I finished CLOSE YOUR EYES, I didn’t even know what to think and, I’m not even kidding here, I even double-checked to make sure that the author was the same guy I thought it was.  But that’s not a bad thing at all because, let me tell you, I can always count on Bohjalian to throw me for a loop and this time he did it with the very style of writing he was doing.

But let’s talk about the story because there were several things about this story that I loved.  The style of story-telling reminded me of a book I read by N. Scott Momaday called THE WAY TO RAINY MOUNTAIN.  Now, the similarities stop at the style only – because the content is very, very different.  But in RAINY MOUNTAIN, Momaday tells three different narratives – a legend, an historical account, and a personal story or anecdote, if you will.  Similar to this style, Emily Shepherd is, in bare-bones terms, telling three stories.  The history of the girl Emily before the accident, the history of the girl Emily before we know her, and the current narrative of the girl Emily.  All three of these stories come together to form a confession of sorts that tore at my heart and had me crying in sympathy and sorrow by the end of the book.

Then there’s the way that Bohjalian handled being inside the mind of a teenage girl who has suddenly found herself bereft.  She’s lost her parents, she’s lost her dogs, she’s lost her home, and she’s lost her identity.  Not only the last of these, but she’s learned that she is hated by anyone who hears her name.  It’s no wonder that her primary goal is to go home – even if that means a loss of her life.  She’s 14 years old, life as a 14 year old girl isn’t concerned with your mortality, it’s about needing to feel safe and secure and loved.  And Emily is sorely lacking in all three of those things.

I really, really loved CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS in a way that I’ve not loved Bohjalian’s books before.  I loved the way it challenged me and made me think.  I loved how it realistically portrayed the life of a 14 year old girl during a disaster that is not all that far-fetched to imagine.  Once again, I was not let down by Bohjalian and I cannot wait for the day when I can shake his hand and thank him for the hours of reading pleasure he’s given me.

Check out these reviews!

  • While the writing style and organization of the book didn’t always work for me, I still couldn’t look away or stop reading – Bookshelf Fantasies
  • For, the story is Emily, her thoughts, her experiences, and her emotions. It is painful, gut-wrenching, emotionally difficult, and brutally honest. It does not get much better than that.” – That’s What She Read
  • Emily Shepard is a character who will mark herself in your memory and Bohjalian is an author whose books you will reach for repeatedly.” – Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Book Review: Decompression by Juli Zeh

Decompression by Juli Zeh
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Romance, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 272
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An explosive thriller about two couples who are caught in a web of conflicting passions while deep-sea diving off the beautiful Canary Islands Sven Fiedler is a young lawyer in Germany who decides he's had enough. No more competing with coworkers for his boss's attention, no more flaunting this or that new purchase to keep his friends impressed, no more endless workweeks under fluourescent lights. So he withdraws from the bustle of modern life to the island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, where he and his girlfriend, Antje, establish a simpler routine. Sven sets up a business as a deep-sea diving instructor while Antje has her own real estate agency, and the two happily cater to tourists who come to bask in the warm sunshine and explore the silent, gleaming marine paradise that makes this island such a remarkable retreat. In November of 2011, two German tourists, Jola von der Pahlen and Theo Hast, engage Sven for an expensive two-week intensive diving experience. They stay in a guest house on Sven and Antje's property, and the two couples quickly become entangled in a mess of jealousies and suspicions. Sven is struck by Jola's beauty and her evident wealth. Theo quickly leaps to the conclusion that Sven and Jola are conspiring against him, but oddly, he seems to facilitate their affair rather than trying to stop it. Antje, looking on, grows increasingly wary of these particular clients. Shifting through various points of view, the reader is constantly kept guessing about who knows what, and more important, who is telling the truth. As the tension builds, it becomes increasingly clear that someone will meet a violent end, but a quiet one, down in the underwater world beneath the waves.
My Review:

This is not going to be a long review.  To be honest, it’s been two months since I read DECOMPRESSION by Juli Zeh and the most excitement I can gather when I think of it is a mild, distracted, “meh.”  That sounds really bad, but I was so taken in by the interesting cover and the synopsis and setting (The Canary Islands!) that I couldn’t help but imagine something exciting and thrilling.  What I got, instead, was something that made me feel slightly dirty and more than a little frustrated that I spent so much of my valuable free time trying to muddle through the whole thing.

Honestly, this should have been a DNF (did not finish) book for me. I kept hoping that the story would get better, that it would be revealed that there actually was a good person in all of this, and other than a brief glimpse at the end of a character who was really kept in the background, I didn’t really get that.  Instead, I got a story about some self-centered, rich people who live in seclusion in paradise and who have been hired out to cater to some more self-centered rich people.

The suspense was all built around sexual tension.  That’s not to say there can’t be suspense there, but it never actually felt dangerous.  Instead, it felt like Zeh was trying too hard to put suspense and tension into the book and was way overshooting the mark.  I didn’t believe it, I didn’t believe that the characters actually had passion and drive and desire.  Instead, what I felt like was that I was reading a mediocre play that involved a mediocre cast trying to put some life into it.

I was deeply disappointed by DECOMPRESSION, but I’m more disappointed in myself that I got sucked in by yet another pretty cover and the idea of a story that really wasn’t delivered.

Check out these reviews!

  • “The characters’ relationships slowly smother each other, yet I found myself not really caring about the final outcome. –  Curious Animals
  • “Ultimately, the novel’s best scenes describe the landscape or the underwater moments between Sven and his troublesome clients.” – His Futile Preoccupations
  • Decompression by Juli Zeh is a so-so novel for me. While it is well written, I think it may have lost some of the flow of the original German.” – She Treads Softly