Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

Unravel Me (Shatter Me, #2)Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Conceptually, I liked the story line. Juliette returns after the first book with a new home; a literal and metaphorical group of rebels who are readying to take down a corrupt government. They are in a safe training center where they each learn to harness their Energy, a natural gift they have that tends to manifest in different ways. Juliette happens to have two very strong manifestations of Energy. One is that nobody has ever been able to touch her without suffering death or severe bodily damage. Until she met Adam. That's Book 1. Also Book 1 is the accidental discovery that one other person can touch her. Someone who is clearly very evil. Or maybe he's just misunderstood and has daddy issues.

So Book 2 begins with Juliette frustrated because she can't seem to control her energy and she and Adam never have time alone. When they do have time alone, the time is spent with very few uttered words, sensual descriptions (not sexual) and I can appreciate how well written these first encounters are worded. I felt the sexual tension and only vaguely recognized afterward that they were clean. I'm not suggesting you hand this book over to 12 year old girl but it is descriptively inoffensive. One scene pushes the line, but still well written.

My problem with the book is the way it is written. It's all through Juliette's tortured and slightly OCD and tangential mind. She has diarrhea of her thoughts and nothing is filtered. It analyzes and over-analyzes every little thing, repeating words and phrases and it just. Moves. So. Slowly. A question is asked. The reader has to wade through 3 or 4 pages of tangential thought, some not even connected, then maybe the answer will be given. There is no rhyme nor reason to Juliette's thoughts and I felt ambivalence for both her and Adam. And, Adam? Written far too angsty. Not even realistic. I found I much preferred Warner for his pragmatism. Some angst but he is written to believe himself to be damaged and heartless. Yes, we realize he's human too, but there are much fewer wasted words surrounding him.

Have a story to tell? Tell it. Use words judiciously. There were times the author was masterful at using words. Other times it felt contrived just to keep the reader hanging on for the answer to a question by filling pages and pages of a confused, innocent teenage girl's mind in free association.

There is a good story here. When action happens, it happens fast and without many words. The majority of the book is free association. I just found myself irritated with the writing style.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All ThingsThe Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Gilbert is an incredibly talented author who writes beautiful prose and provides pondering points in human history. I love a good novel that incorporates history and intellect while maintaining the integrity of the writing process. Gilbert does this and ties many but not all of the themes together. I understand why readers have rated this book so highly. It is difficult to summarize the huge task of Gilbert's novel. Yet for all the positive points I've listed, it simply failed to engage me. The story does not gallop or trot. It spreads as slowly as Alma's moss. Moss does not fascinate me. Ambrose's orchids did not fascinate me. I drew the conclusion of the symbolism and appreciated it but I found the story far too slow and inclusive of every thought that crosses Alma's brilliant mind, every sexual fantasy of Alma's frustrated "quim" and frankly, I completely missed the point of those interludes.

I don't know why I don't stop reading a book after the first 50 pages or so if it hasn't grabbed my attention. For this I apologize. This novel has received rave reviews. Besides a few a-ha moments, I thought the story was pointless and somewhat redundant.

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Fields of Grace by Hannah Luce

Fields of Grace: Faith, Friendship, and the Day I Nearly Lost EverythingFields of Grace: Faith, Friendship, and the Day I Nearly Lost Everything by Hannah Luce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've said this often and I'll say it again, I'm always hesitant to read memoirs and I really have to want to read about the person or the subject matter. I'd never heard of Hannah Luce but I have been following another airplane crash survivor, Stephanie Nielsen, as she has healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I wanted to hear Hannah's story.

Hannah is young and there are times in the book that her perspective reflects her inexperience. Yet the final product of Hannah Luce is a young woman with a lot of life still to live, experiences to have, made up of the experiences she's already had and learned from and she is, in some respects, more mature in her evolution of growth. I am, no way, disrespecting her as I give the forewarning to not expect a finished product of a mature woman who has lived decades and spent those decades reflecting. She is young woman who articulately expresses herself and her spiritual growth. It's a personal story with many nuggets of truth.

I found her experience in San Francisco particularly poignant as she describes what I have been unable to articulate myself. Her father is an evangelical minister with charisma and a pure heart. He made his opinion known regarding gay marriage then went to preach in San Francisco. The group was met with a mob full of malevolence and spewing hatred. They were angry that the minister was against same sex marriage and accused him of hatred while yelling vile insults and threatening violence. Hannah wanted to understand and quietly crossed the line to gain understanding. These were the outcasts, those who are different and on the fringe. Hannah, like many people, felt an affinity for them because she felt different and on the fringe. They have something in common. But the truth was that they were not truly victims but bullies who fight on pure emotion of hatred. They turned on her. It shocked her.

I found her frank description very well written and resonating. What was a physical battle line is my own metaphorical stance. She didn't agree with her father's belief on gays. On the other hand, she couldn't align herself with a group full of hatred and hypocrisy. Her reaction solidified my own stance on the subject.

I am ambivalent. My church took an active part in the fight for defining marriage as one man and one woman. I applaud their commitment. Had I been asked to help with battle, I would have respectfully declined. Fundamentally, I agree that, in order for society to propagate, marriage needs that definition.

I also know of people in my profession, in the community, and even the neighborhood who are in a same sex relationship. I respect their commitment to each other, particularly those who have been together for so very long. We like each other. We respect each other. We help each other. Their sexual orientation does not define them and what they stand for. They are each persons that I seek out for different reasons at different times and never for questions regarding their sexual orientation. I would not want to stand in their way of continuing their personal lives and happiness.

I resent the battle line that has been drawn. I resent the pressure by both sides to stand on either side. I love people on both sides. So Hannah's reaction to the pressure she felt to choose was perfect. I would have done the same thing.

I didn't mean this to be a political post, I simply found Hannah's questions provoked my own thoughts and clarity. Hannah sees herself as rebellious since she doesn't accept doctrine on faith and dogma like she did as a child. She questions her father's teachings and allowed resentment to build. The accident gave her a beautiful moment of clarity which she extends to her view of God. Her parents are black and white when it comes to being "saved." There is heaven and hell. Yet Hannah never turns her book into a parent-bashing soapbox. She loves them. They adore her. Their hearts are pure. She believes they are misguided. They believe she is misguided. Yet there is still a deep, resonating love and acceptance of one another that never falters.

Hannah's conclusion of her current belief in who God is closely mirrors the feelings between herself and her parents. It is her personal journey and so the reader might or might not agree with her. I did. She is a spiritually gifted woman who did not allow the plane crash to define her but to enrich her. It's well written and I look forward to seeing Hannah's growth in the upcoming years.

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Forgiving Lies by Molly McAdams

Forgiving Lies (Forgiving Lies, #1)Forgiving Lies by Molly McAdams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A matter of secrets...
Undercover cop Logan "Kash" Ryan can't afford a distraction like his new neighbor Rachel Masters, even if she's the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. To catch a serial killer, he needs to stay focused, yet all he can think about is the feisty, long-legged coed whose guarded nature intrigues him

A matter of lies...
Deceived and hurt before, Rachel would rather be a single, crazy cat lady than trust another guy, especially a gorgeous, tattooed bad boy with a Harley, like Kash. But when his liquid-steel eyes meet hers, it takes all of Rachel's will-power to stop herself from exploring his hot body with her own.

A matter of love...
As much as they try to keep it platonic, the friction between them sparks an irresistible heat that soon consumes them. Can Kash keep Rachel's heart and her life safe even as he risks his own? Will she be able to forgive his lies ... or will she run when she discovers the dangerous truth?

Why only 2 stars? Obviously it is a popular book and a popular author. It has steamy sex scenes. The story is filled with tension and jump scenes. The truth is, it lacked depth, was very predictable (except the last humdinger), and I thought the writing style was sophomoric. True, one of the protagonists was only 21 but the author isn't. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a teenager's diary. Repetitive visions in the mind that spilled out on the page and poor use of language. I'm not even talking about the swearing, although the language is much more harsh than usual. Like I said, it read like a teenager's diary. When I say diary, I kind of man fantasy world.

I'm making it sounds worse than it is. it's a fine way to spend an evening. I did find myself skimming repetitive ruminations. There is a psychological Ted Bundy aspect but too many people involved in such an elaborate ruse to get the girl. Too many loose ends for it to be even slightly believable. It was just dumb.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

How To Be a Good WifeHow To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Description: In the tradition of Emma Donoghue's Room and S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, a haunting literary debut about a woman who begins having visions that make her question everything she knows

Marta and Hector have been married for a long time. Through the good and bad; through raising a son and sending him off to life after university. So long, in fact, that Marta finds it difficult to remember her life before Hector. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife—as advised by a dog-eared manual given to her by Hector’s aloof mother on their wedding day.

But now, something is changing. Small things seem off. A flash of movement in the corner of her eye, elapsed moments that she can’t recall. Visions of a blonde girl in the darkness that only Marta can see. Perhaps she is starting to remember—or perhaps her mind is playing tricks on her. As Marta’s visions persist and her reality grows more disjointed, it’s unclear if the danger lies in the world around her, or in Marta herself. The girl is growing more real every day, and she wants something.

My thoughts: The mystery of Marta and what is happening to her is well paced. An astute reader may recognize her diagnosis and past quicker than I did. I kept my mind open for all possibilities until the evidence seemed irrefutable.

It is a dark psychological thriller and I did not enjoy being in Marta's head. On the other hand, it seemed necessary in order to solve the mystery of the possible apparitions, Marta saw. Much happens even though it seems to happen quietly. I liked it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Where the Stars Still ShineWhere the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She's never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love--even with someone who seems an improbable choice--is more than just a possibility.

Trish Doller writes incredibly real teens, and this searing story of love, betrayal, and how not to lose your mind will resonate with readers who want their stories gritty and utterly true.

Well written book about that reminded me a bit of "If You Find Me." This one is written more toward the YA reader but much grittier. Callie was kidnapped by her mentally ill mother and kept on the run for 12 years. When she is discovered and returned to her father and his new family, she is also accepted into an entire big, fat Greek family. Callie struggles with fitting in but immediately is smitten by the Greek god, Alexandros, the sponge fisherman. And he with her.

It's a good book and leaves you with a "feel good" feeling.

Solid 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

My thoughts: The easiest way to summarize this book is simply state that I am disappointed in myself for not reading it earlier and this is a book I will purchase and keep forever. Much more than that detracts from this book.

Not only is it an incredible story of unbreakable spirit and survival in every aspect, the way the story is told is beautiful and timely. The lessons that could be learned, so powerful and personal are interspersed throughout the book. The description of the flashbacks, particularly the last one is incredibly poignant.

I am not quoting because I don't have the book right here with me, but Louie suffered a particularly cruel prisoner of war commandant who sought him out daily to beat him on his head and face. I had some psychological thoughts and epiphanies as I read these experiences having to do with how people in a position of power; at work, at war, or starting a war, are insecure adolescents who have had a few decades to stew over their feelings of powerlessness thus act out in an attempt to feel powerful, superior, and to compensate for that adolescence. That was my epiphany.

Louie's and/or Laura's epiphany was much more poignant. While this guard clung to Louie, sought him out, chased him and beat him down during his years in the prison camp, Louie's obsession with the guard/commandant and his hatred tied him to this monster, keeping him in a self-imposed prison. How often do we do that? Do we have the courage to unconditionally love and forgive? Could we pour the poison down the drain and never look back? Could we metaphorically embrace our enemies and pray for the best for them?

That is only one aspect of this non-fiction novel. This man survived some incredible experiences.

Well researched, written, paced, and I am completely enamored by Louie. Particularly after seeing the photos of him in his sixties plus. The book could just as easily be called "Indomitable." I will not lie. What mended Louie, the scene he described with his last flashback and what he did when he got home brought me to tears.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

My thoughts: I had no idea what I was getting into when I started this book. Once I started, I felt like I was reading a Stephen King book. So I did a little research and realized I was reading a novel by his son which then made so much sense. It's nice that Mr. King has someone to share his weird little world that horrifies and fascinates us. Of course, that is the premise of this book; our two worlds. We have real life then we have our imagination. Some people have strong inscapes and can mix the two worlds like Vic and Mr. Manx.

Mr. Hill is not getting by riding his father's coattails. He is a creative storyteller and writer in his own right. The guy can write a fantastical and detailed horror story. There were also possible echos of his dad's work but nothing so blatant as to seem out of place.

If you like Stephen King, you'll love this book. My problems with the book were personal. There was more detail than I needed and the language is filthy. Not only is it full of cursing but uses gynecological and phallic terms often. I get that Vic is a tough chick. I loved Lou and Mr. Manx sounded and looked like Mr. Burns from The Simpson's inside my head. The language was distracting and detracting. It wasn't clever and witty, simply crass and unimaginative. For all that raw and refined talent, that kind of language was unnecessary and distracting.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Home Again by Kristin Hannah

Home AgainHome Again by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good, cozy book. One of Kristin Hannah's earlier books. Predictable and not as well crafted as some of her more recent books. If you don't mind cliches and predictability, it's an enjoyable book.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Description: Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water. 

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

My thoughts: It is an apocalyptic world where chaos is guaranteed. Using spare language, Lynn's world is revealed in a drab color built on hard work and discipline. Lynne and her mother are alone. They protect what they have with everything they can and don't ask questions before squeezing the trigger. One exception is a man named Stebbs, a neighbor.

The story played out in my head as a movie at times and the humor caught me off guard. New characters make their way into the story which is surprising given how Lynn is raised to treat strangers and the unknown. Each character brought a new perspective and more than a few times, there is an ironic twist of fate and they have to make ethical decisions that seem different than what they have done or been taught. They discover later that sometimes there were lessons learned via quiet example even as one loudly protests.

I actually would give this a full four star rating except that I am experiencing my own temper tantrum regarding one character. This is my protest. Aside from the cavalier event that wronged my expectations, I recommend it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Tilted World: A Novel by Tom Franklin

The Tilted World: A NovelThe Tilted World: A Novel by Tom Franklin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set against the backdrop of the historic 1927 Mississippi Flood, a story of murder and moonshine, sandbagging and saboteurs, dynamite and deluge-and a man and a woman who find unexpected love-from Tom Franklin, author of the bestselling Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and his wife, Pushcart Prize-winning poet Beth Ann Fennelly

The year is 1927. As rains swell the Mississippi, the mighty river threatens to burst its banks and engulf all in its path, including federal revenue agent Ted Ingersoll and his partner, Ham Johnson. Arriving in the tiny hamlet of Hobnob, Mississippi, to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents on the trail of a local bootlegger, they unexpectedly find an abandoned baby boy at a crime scene.

An orphan raised by nuns, Ingersoll is determined to find the infant a home, a search that leads him to Dixie Clay Holliver. A lonely woman married too young to a charming and sometimes violent philanderer, Dixie Clay has lost her only child to illness and is powerless to resist this second chance at motherhood. From the moment they meet, Ingersoll and Dixie Clay are drawn to each other. He has no idea that she's the best bootlegger in the county and may be connected to the missing agents. And while he seems kind and gentle, Dixie Clay knows he is the enemy and must not be trusted.

Then a deadly new peril arises, endangering them all. A saboteur, hired by rich New Orleans bankers eager to protect their city, is planning to dynamite the levee and flood Hobnob, where the river bends precariously. Now, with time running out, Ingersoll, Ham, and Dixie Clay must make desperate choices, choices that will radically transform their lives-if they survive.

My thoughts: The details of the story includes incredible imagery so the reader is transported to this small town and, more specifically, to 1927. The talk is accurately written in 1927 style which makes it authentic but a little more challenging to understand.

The book is an excellent summary of the way of life in small town Mississippi where the floods are threatening all the people have ever known, the respectable men have served in the Great War and still dream of it, Hoover is coming into his own power, Prohibition is a reality but often ignored if the right bribe is offered, and orphanages littered the country.

I liked the book but I found myself struggling to get through it until about the halfway point where it picked up a bit on the action and relationships. It is authentically written and gives a realistic snapshot of life in a small town along the Mississippi where folks are divided over Prohibition and whether or not to take the payout to straighten out the river and flood the town or not.

Blackout by Robison Wells

BlackoutBlackout by Robison Wells
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Description: Laura and Alec are trained terrorists.

Jack and Aubrey are high school students.

There was no reason for them to ever meet.

But now, a mysterious virus is spreading throughout America, infecting teenagers with impossible powers. And these four are about to find their lives intertwined in a complex web of deception, loyalty, and catastrophic danger—where one wrong choice could trigger an explosion that ends it all.

My thoughts: Robison Wells is a master storyteller, particularly catering to the adolescent reader and science fiction. I immensely enjoyed Variant and look forward to reading Feedback.

Blackout is a little X-Men Ninja Teenager. The protagonist, Aubrey, living in little Mount Pleasant, Utah, has been keeping a secret from everybody but Nicole, popular and beautiful best friend. Although Nicole plays a minimal part in the story, the story line exists because of Nicole's encouragement of Aubrey's secret. Aubrey can disappear. Not literally go invisible but those around her tune her out when she goes black. She can spy, listen into private conversations, even steal. And so while Aubrey has disappeared at her high school prom, the excitement begins. The entire school is rounded up and each student is tested for a virus that mutates the carrier into a super powered humanoid.

The virus manifests itself differently with each teen but the virus only impacts a person within a certain time frame due to the growth spurts and patterns of a teenager. Interesting.

So there are a bunch of teenagers with the virus wreaking havoc and mahem around the country. Their movements are somewhat organized and unpredictable. Enter the armed forces who proactively "recruit" those who test positively for the virus.

So it's an interesting premise with a lot of promise. And yet.

The reader has no idea who the terrorists are or what they are terrorizing against. What is the objective and who is the enemy? More personally, how does the government get clearance to kidnap all the children in an entire nation and test them for a virus? How do they get the green light to keep the citizens detained for an extended period of time? And how is it morally or ethically correct practice to, not only kidnap and detain, but also do what they do to them?

I had a lot of problems with the story. I know that times of war breed a different thought process but it seemed a little too foreign and extreme. I'm not saying it can't happen nor am I saying that fiction is factual. I'm simply saying that it stretched my imagination a little too far.

That said, it's a great premise with super powered teenagers power housing the and dominating world leadership. Of course, we haven't really gotten to world leadership but it is escalating in that direction. Even causing enough chaos in the United States in order to take control is intriguing. And terrifying.

Worthwhile read but be prepared to stretch your imagination in more ways than science fiction.