Sunday, July 29, 2012

Witches on the Road Tonight (review)

1/5 stars

This is a review that I knew I should write. However, this is a book that I wish I could wipe from my memory. Yes it was that bad.  Sitting down to write this review has been a bit of a struggle.  However I am going to try.  There will be spoilers.  I tried to avoid character names and specifics, but the spoilers are necessary to understand why I feel so strongly about this book.

I picked up Witches on the Road Tonight because I always find myself looking for books with Appalachian roots.  We have a great storytelling tradition and rich legends in these hills.  But these books almost always disappoint me.  This might be the most disappointing yet.

This book tries too hard to be literary.  The story alternates between the past and the present.  In the past it struggles to find a child's voice, making a unbelievably grown-up, too sexually aware version of an adolescent girl especially considering those sections take place in the past.

This book wanted to be edgy and provocative, throwing in everything from witchcraft, women who love sex, to abortion, to homosexuality.  There are at least two very disturbing scenes, one where a young teen throws himself naked at his father-figure who suddenly realizes he's gay.  I don't like the implied connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, even though I doubt that's what the author meant.  It just makes me uncomfortable and not in the "testing the boundaries of my beliefs" way but in the "that's beyond creepy" way.  There is also a horrible scene where a woman who's pregnant either has a herbal abortion or miscarries (the book leaves that up to the reader) and it graphically describes her celebrating as the blood flows out.  I don't care whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, that's gross.

The adult-child relationships were pretty much all unhealthy.  Here is a quote, most likely not exact because I listened to the audiobook but the gist is the same.

"Cora is drawing him a bath, almost flirtatiously, the way women do with their grown sons."  This section was either a flash of the future or a daydream or something, once again the book was unclear, but it was confusing and made me very uncomfortable.

There is more I could say.  The characters are unlikable and the plot plodding.  The audiobook narrator's Appalachian accent was somewhat offensively overdone.  But when I remember reading the book, those are annoyances when compared to horrible attempts to be edgy and the disturbing imagery that I want to erase from my mind. Just don't read it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Follow Friday - Fave Required Reading

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: Summer Reading.  What was your favorite book that you were REQUIRED to read when you were in school?
I've actually enjoyed a LOT of required reading.  However the answer is probably going to be the classic answer: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I'm not a particularly girly girl, romance just isn't my thing. Yet I love this book.  At first I found the writing style frustrating to adjust to, especially the unattributed quotes.  Then suddenly, halfway through (I think it's when Darcy and Elizabeth were at Lady Catherine de Bourgh's home) I couldn't put the book down.  I was completely enthralled.  By some weird twist of luck I've read it at least 3 times for different classes.

I actually like a lot of books I read for college.  I majored in journalism, but that was a smaller major at my college and left me loads of time to take different classes.  Most of my extra classes were English classes and I loved picking and choosing whatever I wanted.  I could take American Novel or Multi-ethnic American literature, without taking the more difficult classes that were required for English majors (hence why I didn't minor in English). So I have a few honorable mentions.

A Lesson before Dying by Ernest Gaines
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Also I want to add that I was required to read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for a math class. But since it was already a favorite before that class it seems unfair to use.  If you're wondering why we read that, I think it was a way to help non-math people grades-wise in a required college class. I should probably mention that I loved that professor.

There are probably more books that I could list but unfortunately I didn't use Goodreads back in college.  When you read as many books as I have, sometimes it's hard to remember.  I also feel obligated to mention that college made me fall in love with Robert Frost poetry.  When I was younger I thought it was just pretty words about nature. But when I studied his technique I was blown away and very annoyed at how most people oversimplify and trivialize his poems.

Also, in case you still haven't seen this series I wanted to share (again for my blog followers).

As long as you're in a following mood why don't you follow me on twitter! Though I'm going to warn you: I'm going to be talking a lot about the Olympics for the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Yellowstone Day 2 (2012) & Unearthly

So something funny happened the other day.  I was sitting on a plane flying to Bozeman, MT and my best friend fell asleep.  For once, I didn't have any books that were urgent.  After browsing my Kindle I settled on Unearthly by Cynthia Hand.  It was highly recommended and I've just not found the time to read it yet.

So I'm reading along and it starts talking about a vision of a forest fire.  I make a mental note because I'm headed to Montana during wildfire season.  I continue reading.  One of the very early plot points (thus not a spoiler) is the main character moving to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

That's on the southern border of Yellowstone National Park, one of the 2 parks where I was spending my vacation.  I just finished the book on the plane ride home (my brain is way too fuzzy for a proper review right now).  There were so many experiences and places I shared with the book.  Everything from a character doing an internship in Bozeman, MT where I was staying with my best friend, to encounters with the local wildlife and bear spray.  At least from a tourists perspective, it seems fairly accurate and it's a bit like an easter egg hunt for those who have visited the area.  If you're visiting Yellowstone, Grand Tetons of the Montana/Wyoming area this book is really fun to read as you travel.

The view from Beaver Pond Loop. The amazing thing about Yellowstone
is that once you get on a trail you have so much solitude and space. 

So this is not that pretty or that impressive of a picture.
However, this is the pond where we saw a mama bear and 2 cubs.
We were talking loudly, rounded a corner and there she was.
I didn't look for long but I thought it was a grizzly.
I grabbed the bear spray and backed away. She never saw us.
For those who've read Unearthly, doesn't that sound familiar?
Except I'd read the bear spray instructions beforehand

At this point we joined 2 other groups of hikers, a family of 4 from Texas
and a couple from California. We felt much safer & enjoyed the rest of the hike. 

Beaver Pond

BEARS!!!!!!!!!! Or bear safety info!!!!!!!

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. One of my favorite spots in Yellowstone.
I'm still surprised that I had never heard of it before visiting.

These elks just like to hang out at the Mammoth Hotel.
People don't phase them at all. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yellowstone Day 1 (2012)

I'm currently on vacation (so you won't see your normal amount of book reviews) in Montana. Today and yesterday we drove down to Yellowstone.  I love our National Parks.  Yellowstone is amazing, otherworldly and totally worth visiting.  This is my second trip and there's still massive sections of the park I haven't seen.  Here are a few pictures from our first day, spent between Norris and Old Faithful.

I do weird gymnastical things for no real reason at Norris.
Norris Geyser Basin. 
This was my little friend. I said "Come here" and he did.
It made me feel like a Disney Princess. 
This Elk was down the hill from the roadway.
Quite close. Didn't care that we were watching. 
Pretty geothermal area at Biscuit Basin.
We hiked to Mystic Falls.  There were no vampires.
But nevertheless it is a lovely hike. 
Yellowstone Inn is fantastic. I want to stay there.
This is what happens when you tell me to wait for
Old Faithful for an hour.  I get bored. 
The basin behind Old Faithful. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Once Was Lost (review)

4/5 stars

I have a weakness for books with intelligent discussions of religion, especially books like Once Was Lost with accurate portrayals of doubt.  They speak to my life experience, especially since losing my grandfather 2 years ago.  At times, faith is a struggle. Faith is a central theme without the book feeling overly religious or anti-religious.

As a pastor's kid, Sam's family is supposed to be perfect.  Her father is the young hip pastor of the only growing church in her small town.  Her mother is a functioning alcoholic, except she's not functioning very well anymore.  When her mom crashes the car and is sent to rehab, that leaves Sam and her father.  Only her father's so busy being a pastor he's not around very much to be a father.  So most of the time it's just Sam.

When Jody Shaw, a young girl from Sam's youth group, goes missing the doubts that are piling up begin overwhelming Sam.  She struggles with the big questions and since her father is so busy helping Jody's family and her mother's in rehab, Sam is left to deal with her faith on her own.

The way this story handles faith struggles is realistic and intelligent.  Sam has doubts and questions but feels guilty for having doubts and questions.  Because of her family, she doesn't really feel like she's allowed to ask those questions.  It's very internalized.  You can feel the aching loneliness of lost faith and longing for a miracle so vividly in this novel.

In this book lost does not have just one meaning.  It's about a girl literally lost, missing presumed kidnapped that everybody's looking for.  But it's mainly about Sam, lost without anyone noticing.  It's also about her mother, lost in the alcohol and away at rehab.  There are many kinds of "lost" in the world and the book does a good job exploring the theme.

I recommend this on audiobook.  I'm normally wary of author-narrated books but Sara Zarr does an excellent job.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Follow Friday - Why I started blogging

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: What drove you to start book blogging in the first place?
Originally I start my blog back in 2007 when I was going to Switzerland.  I was volunteering at Our Chalet, a Girl Scout/Girl Guide World Center.  I thought I would tell the world about my adventures and share pictures.  I didn't.  Switzerland was one of the best experiences of my life.  However, because we all shared a computer and I was so busy having fun I never actually blogged.

A couple years later I began reading a lot of writing and book blogs.  I kept noticing LOTS of contests that asked to you to blog for additional entries.  I already had this little blog gathering dust, so I thought why not.  Initially I used it for entering contests.  Oddly enough I very rarely enter contests anymore because my reading schedule is so full due to blogging.

Once I started reviewing books I discovered that I really enjoyed it.  Before I was reading without effort, just plowing through books and moving onto the next.  While I still am forced to plow through books quickly, blogging makes me read more intelligently.  I pay attention to the details --characterization, plot, pacing, etc because it helps me write reviews.  That was something I was missing.  When you're a student you spend a lot of time analyzing and thinking about what you read.  Working fulltime, you normally don't.  Blogging and reviewing filled a void that I didn't even know existed until I started.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Little Woods (review)

2.5/5 stars
Reading The Little Woods felt like watching a battle between the good and the bad.  There is so much potential in this story, but sadly the poor execution is impossible to ignore.

The story itself was actually quite good.  Cally goes off to St. Bedes boarding school.  She gets a scholarship because 10 years ago her sister mysteriously disappeared while visiting the school.  According the police, her sister died in a fire but since they never found the bodies Cally has always been skeptical.  St. Bedes is a creepy boarding school bordered by a spooky forest known as "The Little Woods."  When Cally learns that another student went missing right before she arrived, she begins investigating.  As she investigates the disappearance, she can't help but wonder how it's connection to her sister's death.  The pacing was nice, slowly building a believable mystery, with tension and clues scattered throughout the novel.

But the writing and characterization is where this book fell apart.  By the 15% mark of my e-galley there were already 8 people who had been described as abnormally beautiful (or alarmingly beautiful or disconcertingly beautiful, you get the gist).  At that point I remained hopeful, thinking maybe there was a supernatural reason for their beauty. Nope.  Apparently the students at St. Bedes are as attractive as they are intelligent.

The overdescription was painful to read.  I know they tell you creative writing classes to use all your scenses.  But honestly, who smells everyone they meet?  When you're using scent or taste it should feel natural, not intrusive.  Here's an example of the purple prose.
"Up close, he was ridiculously toothsome, and he smelled so good--like fresh cut grass mixed with the mating musk of some exotic ungulate--it made my face ache."
I had to google "ungulate" and if you're wondering it means "having hoofs" which just makes the whole sentences even stranger.  I'm sorry, the mating musk of horses and goats doesn't do anything for me.  Another example of the overdescription:
"She was black with a cherubic face and a statuesque body. She seemed to be all curves and her her hair poofed away from her head in a magnificent mass of black curls held back by an emerald green bands. Her eyes curved up at the corners like a cat's and her brows arched finely above them."
You can make one character ridiculously good looking and you can over-describe them.  But when you get eight overly longwinded description of characters you've taken away all the impact from your description.  By the way, if you're wondering it the girl in the above passage smells like lilies.

The main character was underdeveloped and not very likable.  She was rebellious without direction, dressed like a 12 year-old-boy, rude, judgemental, but the hottest boy in school starts flirting with her immediately when she arrives.  There would be internal dialogue about how she's so socially awkward, then she'd make a clever joke to her crush.  The pieces of Cally didn't add up to a character that made sense.   So yes, she's a Mary Sue.  She also offended me with a idiotic comment about anorexia.
"When I walked in, he was flirting with a skittish redhead who was clearly quarterbacking the St. Bede's anorexia squad."
Thanks for perpetuating misinformation about a dangerous disease.  As someone who was A. teased for being skinny her whole life and B. has had friends with eating disorders, this offhand comment shows an ignorance that someone should have caught before this book reached even ARC publication.

There are a lot more complaints I could list, from the main character communing with a heron to the brief unnecessary love triangle that helps solidify her Mary Sue status.  Hidden beneath the over description, poor characterization and offensive comment there's actually a good little story.  The pacing, atmosphere and even for the most part the plot was there.  With a little bit more editing and some more time spent working on the main character this book would've been quite good.  Unfortunately it's not.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Long Lankin (review)

3.5/5 stars
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Long Lankin.  The mystery was good and the characters were complex.  But somehow I didn't really connect with the book.  Partially because I was in a hurry (I hate myself for that but I feel in the name of honesty I need to admit it) but also because the pace of the book.  For me it just moved too slow.  I wanted action! Fear! Monsters!  Instead, it's a slow building story about a monster that has hunted generations of the Guerdon family.  It preys on the youngest--not because they are the weakest, but because they have the most life to steal.

Cora is very much the older sister--annoyed by little 4-year-old Mimi, but very protective when she feels that her sister is in danger.  She's the perfect mix of love, protection and revulsion that makes up being a big sister. Mimi, for her part, is not developed.  But she's 4-years-old so that's expected.  For me Auntie Ida is where things get complicated.  In some ways I feel sorry for Ida.  Her whole life is one great big tragedy.  On the other hand, she's overly harsh with Cora (i.e. abusively harsh) and way too secretive.  I get frustrated when stories are prolonged by characters keeping secrets.  Ida didn't tell Cora or anyone else about the monster until it's pretty much too late.

Unravelling the mystery of the Long Lankin involves delving into the history of the Guerdon family, the town and the creepy little church down the lane.  It's the story of a crime, tragedy and witchcraft.  It's a well developed myth, taking into account the region and religion.

After a slow-moving, gradually building story at about 88% everything starts moving at hyper speed.  The action is tense, terrifying and suddenly I couldn't put the book down.  The story flew towards an ending, which I found almost satisfying.  For me the last line kind of fizzled, cutting into the improvement somewhat.    I didn't understand the last line enough to check with other bloggers. (After consulting some wonderful bloggers I found out the last line was from the Song of Solomon.)

Overall the book was interesting and atmospheric but too slow for the reading mood I was in.  In a different mindset I think I would have enjoyed it more.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Seraphina (review)

4.5/5 stars
Despite all the faeries, werewolves and mythical creatures roaming around the current slew of YA novels, I often feel like actual fantasy has gone missing.  Thank goodness for Seraphina!  It has everything I needed -- a believable well-built fantasy world, court politics, cute boys and strong heroines.

This is the type of book where you can tell that a lot of effort was put into world-building.  This world has it's own division of classes--humans, dragons, scholar dragons, and quigutl, that is rich and adds depth to the novel.  It has books, philosophers and belief systems.  But it doesn't info-dump about the world.  As a reader you can tell there's more below the surface, the philosophies are mentioned briefly, quoted, but never over-explained.  They are just there, background behind the story that Hartman is weaving.

Seraphina is set in a world where dragons and humans are living in a reluctant peace.  Humans are skeptical of dragon's trustworthiness, believing them soulless murders.  Even though the knights have been banished, dragons have not forgotten when they were hunted.  The whole peace hinges on nobody breaking the rules  When a prince is killed in a suspiciously dragon-like manner, Seraphina along with the bastard prince Lucian Kiggs, try to unravel the mystery before anyone else dies.

The characters are all well developed.  Seraphina is a likable and realistic main character, trapped by the lies she must tell and learning to accept herself whatever that might be.  Lucian is dogged by his birth, but curious and intelligent.  Glisselda, at first glance is the fluffy pretty princess, but she is intelligent and wise beyond her years.  Nearly every character is nuanced.

Yes there's a romance, but the romance is NOT the story.  I feel like pointing all the paranormal authors towards this book.  It's well done, with all the heart fluttering and giggles that make love believable, but it's not the central plotline.  Without the romance there is still a novel.  The romance just adds additional layers to a story that's already there.

This is Tamora Pierce-esque fantasy.  It's got the drama of court politics, the romance of first love and an overaching story with a mystery to solve.   The women are smart and strong.  Seraphina is not the exception, but Glisselda and the Queen are both admirable women.  Strength is not measured in brute force.  Seraphina's intelligence, along with her bravery are what make her a heroine.  She never wields a sword or slays a beast, but that doesn't make her anything less. Glisselda is a firecracker princess, pretty in her fashions and silk, but strong when necessary.  The Queen single-handedly ended the war between mankind and dragons.  They are all exceptional heroines.

This book has great characters, great world-building and a compelling story.  It gives me hope that YA high fantasy can survive the influx of paranormals and urban fantasy novels.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Follow Friday - Genre Jumping

Follow Friday is a feature created by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It's a fun blog hop where you meet other book bloggers and find people to follow.
Question: Jumping Genres: Every pick up a book from a genre you usually don't like and LOVE it? Tell us about it and why you picked it up in the first place?
I'm not a very romantic person.  I'm a bit of a tomboy, hate weddings and my idea of a date is hiking (okay to be fair this is also my idea of a vacation, hanging out, father-daughter bonding and pretty much my ideal way to spend any pretty day).

It's not that I don't crush on fictional characters.  My favorite love stories always happen in the background.  Take Harry Potter, Tamora Pierce or the Leviathan trilogy, there's crushing and eventually kissing, but it's slow moving and not necessary to the plot.  They're stories that happens to have a romance, not romances that overtake the plot.

That's why I was so surprised when I loved The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan (review here).  Everyone told me to read it.  They told me I would like it.  But it's a romance. On top of that it's a romance with an UGLY cover.  But I trust my friends and the book was everything they'd promised.  The characters were well-developed and the story is well written.  It's proven to me that books can transcend their genre.

While you're in the following mood why don't you go follow me on twitter & say hello. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I am (NOT) the Walrus (review)

3/5 stars
Sometimes you enjoy a book but it just doesn't stick out in your mind.  I am (NOT) the Walrus", was short, fast paced and very readable.  However, it was also not very memorable.

Toby is a shy bass-player, a little stuck on his ex-girlfriend, with some self esteem issues.  His family is living in Port Jackson, struggling to stay afloat financially.  The only reason he even has a bass is that his brother joined the military and splurged on musical equipment.

Or at least that's what Toby thinks.  The more he starts to play, booking a gig as a Beatle's cover band with his mate Zach, the more he starts to realize that the bass may not be exactly what it seems.  While trying to do some repairs, Toby finds a note and a phone number inside the bass.
"PLEASE. If you find this note inside the bass, then the instrument has been stolen. Please, please, please, return it to me as soon as you can. The instrument is everything to me, and without it my entire life will be meaningless." 
That discovery leads him on an adventure with shady characters, old music stores and stories of the "lost" Fender guitars from the 60s.  It's an interesting little tale.  I would have liked to know more about the history of the famous lost instruments.  Somehow the stakes never seem high enough in this book.  Even when a creepy man is chasing Toby trying to steal the guiar, the answer seems easy.  Get rid of the guitar and get rid of the problem.

That wouldn't solve all of Toby's problem.  His mother is running out of money and needs a job.  His brother is most likely a thief.  But since the book revolves around the bass guitar, it would resolve the plot of the book fairly quickly.

Like I said, the book is readable.  The  male leaders are funny, self deprecating and very likable.  I enjoy the interspersed horoscopes and the tidbits of rock and roll history.  The descriptions of playing music were nice, making me understand the feelings without being overdrawn.  But there was something lacking about the story.  But if you're really interested in music and are looking for a quick read you might enjoy this.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Deadline & Blackout (double review)

I read both Deadline and Blackout so quickly it's hard to write separate reviews for each book.  The Newsflesh trilogy is one of those series where every book is a necessary part of the whole story.  The complete series is brilliant, from Feed (review here) to Blackout.  If you like zombies, political thrillers or stories about kickass journalists, then you need to read this series.

5/5 stars
I've become convinced that Mira Grant's Newflesh series has become the peak of the zombie genre.  This book is ballsy, a bit like a punch in the face sometimes because it never holds back.  I was nervous about the sequel because I was so attached to Georgia that I wasn't sure I could cope with Shawn as a narrator.  He's the goofy lovable sidekick who likes to poke dead things! Not my inspiring powerful heroine!  But boy did Shawn surprise me.  He's a tad bit mentally unstable but he's no idiot.  This book manages to avoid the middle book slump.  It's bold, switching narrators, taking us a new adventure to uncover the conspiracy that led to Georgia's death.

4/5 stars
This book is really good. But I'm not sure if it's as good as the other two.  In the end it's almost too...neat and tidy.  There's still lots of zombies, blood and the deaths of major characters.  It wouldn't be a Newsflesh book without that. Yet somehow there is this lingering, dare I say, happiness that left me uneasy.  Happiness is not what I expect from this series.

Some of the formerly minor characters shine in this novel.  Maggie really grew on me, going from someone I sort of ignored to one of my favorite characters.  It's one thing to risk your life when you have to, entirely another thing when you don't.  Maggie's wealth is a little bit of a convenience plotwise, but I like her character growth enough to accept that.

Everything that's been building for three books is lurking in the background, ready to push itself to the front.  You finally start realizing what exactly the CDC is trying to protect the public from.  There are other things, romantic things to be exact, that while the clues were there I wasn't happy to be right.  Yes I want Shaun to have a happy ending. I'm just not sure his chosen happy ending is healthy. Of course in a world full of zombies maybe that's not such a big concern.

This book deals with alot of the same issues I've enjoyed pondering.  Should you tell the truth even if it's dangerous? Do people have the right to know EVERYTHING?  These are important questions, especially now when information is almost a currency.  There are governments around the world who want to "protect" their people from the truth.  When the truth comes out and the crew of After the End Times know everything, they have to make that decision for the whole world.

Despite a few problems, this book is a great conclusion to an even better series.  This is the peak of the zombie genre.  There is no way to top this series.