Whitewavedarling Reaches for 100 in 2019...
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Well, last year, I didn't technically make it to 100 books. I say technically because I only count the books I read for pleasure.
I'm a full-time book editor, so my work always has me reading 4-5 novels a month as an editor, and sometimes more than that. I don't count those books for a couple of reasons. First of all, it feels weird to rate and review books I worked on and authors I know--it's hard to do it honestly, and I'd never want to post a less-than-stellar review of something that could affect reviews when I worked on a book to begin with, and I've got such high standards for five-star reviews. So, 99.9% of the time, the books I work on don't get counted. If I did count them, I'd get to way past 100. The ONLY exception is when a book totally blows me away, and I just can't help myself from writing a raving review and recommending it to everyone I can. That doesn't happen often as I'd like... maybe once or twice a year. When it does, though, I only post a review once the book has been published, and only if I read the finished version.
On a side note, I usually do go over my last year's reading and come up with a list of my favorites from the year, which I'd whole-heartedly recommend. I haven't had time to do it yet, but I promise to do it in the near future.
For now, I hope everyone had a great new year, and that we're all set up for a great year of reading!
So, all that said, on to 2019....
1. The House by Christina Lauren
I've got such mixed feelings about this book, but in the end, it wasn't at all what I expected, and I can't say that I'd give the authors another try either, much as I loved the concept and wanted to love this book.
First of all, this is a YA book--and there's no indication of that on the cover or in the blurb on the jacket. The ONLY indication is in small print, running sideways on the inside of the jacket, where it says 'Ages 14 up'--but, beyond that, there's no indication at all that this is YA or a book for teens. The author writes both YA and Adult works (supposedly), so that's also no help. Genre is also something of a surprise. This book is more romance than horror, and while it's meant to be a mash-up of the two, it seems clear that the authors were more engaged with the romance aspect than the horror. Considering that the book looks like a horror book and the blurb makes it sound like a horror book... again, it's a surprise. If I'd gone into the book expecting a YA romance enmeshed with a YA horror book, then maybe I would have fallen in love from the start, but instead I was incredibly put off.
Then again, I love haunted house stories, and have never had any desire to try a YA romance, so maybe I'm just the type of reader that the marketers wanted to draw in. Well, that be the case or not, I was kind of disgusted and dismayed when I first started the book--it wasn't for me, and I wish the marketing had been on point enough to make that clear from the beginning.
The thing is, the concept is interesting, and I wanted to love this book--I kept going, hoping the authors would move more toward horror, balancing things out since the beginning was more focused on romance, but that just didn't happen. I did get more interested in the book as it went on, but the genre never really satisfied. There were some creepy moments, yeah--not scary, certainly, which is what the blurb promised--but that's about it. Making things far worse, the horror element of the plot was wrapped up in one quick chapter that felt like it was over almost as soon as it began, so incredibly easy and happy-ending-ish that it kind of disgusted me... like the writers got to the part of the book that a horror reader would most love to really get wrapped up in, and were either too lazy to write it or just not interested in doing so. I read the last chapter, thinking there'd be more... and it was just an epilogue-ish wrap-up of the romance to ensure that that side of things got its forever-ago predicted happy-ever-after. (And, no, that's not a spoiler because this book is so clearly a romance, from the very beginning, that there's no question at all, ever, that that's where the authors are heading.)
I'd also be remiss, considering the romance element, if I didn't mention that I never did get to like the female protagonist. In the beginning of the book, she simply annoyed me, and as things kept going, I got used to her... but I never really cared. I cared about the male protagonist and the horror element of the book, but both of those were given far less attention than the female voice.
So, yeah, I didn't enjoy this. I'm giving it two stars only because, if I'd known exactly what I was getting into, I might have felt a little bit more generous toward the romance. Then again, if I'd known it was so much more romance than horror, I don't know that I would have bothered picking it up. And I've never read YA romance, so maybe this is a great, spooky read for that audience. But, for a horror reader, who loves both YA and Adult horror, it just doesn't measure up.
I wouldn't recommend it, and I won't be giving the author another try, no matter how spooky r good a book looks or sounds since, quite obviously, the marketing for this book was intent on selling books at any cost rather than actually representing the story written on the pages.
And, a much better read that didn't disappoint one bit...
2. Terra Nova by Shane Arbuthnott
Terra Nova is the follow-up to Dominion Shane Arbuthnott's debut novel, and the truth is that it's just as fantastic. This second book focused on Molly Stout is even more magical and action-packed than the first book, bringing her world more alive and giving readers that much more reason to fall into the book and remain enchanted. Parents should definitely be aware that this is a bit darker than the first book--where the first book gave hints of darkness related to the main characters, but in a way that offered more depth for adults and less room for fear in really young readers, this second book offers a lot of both. It's got the sort of darkness that adults will find really horrifying, and children may well just as take as the nature of adventure without giving it more thought, but that pushes the book a bit more toward YA territory than MG territory at a lot of points. But beyond that one caveat, the simple truth is that Arbuthnott's writing and world-building are descriptive, strangely magical, and utterly engaging, right along with his characters.
This second book has a much more conclusive ending than the first book in the series, Dominion, so I'm not entirely sure whether or not the author will give us more books about Molly Stout, but I certainly hope he does. This is going to be one of those books that I adore, recommend, and pass on as much as I can. And I'll certainly be in line for whatever the author writes next.
Absolutely recommended (but do read the first book, Dominion, first!).
3. January Thaw by William Roos
This was a fun diversion, and with few enough characters that it made for easy, humorous reading. A bit old fashioned, some of its charm comes from a full cast of characters who share the stage rather than there being much of a traditional star of the show. Seen on a stage with a talented cast, I'd be willing to bet this would be hilarious.
4. The Boatman by Kat Hawthorne
This was something of a disappointment for me, as suggested by the fact that it took me more than a week to read a children's book of just 109 pages. The premise and style sounded like so much fun, but ultimately, I think the author would have benefitted from a really good editor--and I'm not talking about proofreading, which also needed some work.
Story-wise, this read as a children's tale that was written by an adult who wanted to deliver a specific set of lessons--in other words, it suffered from feeling like it came from an adult who wasn't thinking about what kids would Want to read, but what they Needed to read. At times, the tone even felt a bit condescending toward the main child character--but kids don't want to read adult writers who are talking down to them or making it sound like their main child characters are immature or silly; they want to read about kids they can relate to, who they'd want to go on adventures with and be friends with. This was a problem that cropped out throughout the book.
This tone issue also goes into the overall set-up of the book. Length-wise and presentation-wise, this feels like it should be a middle grade book, but it reads like something a parent would read to their child at bedtime. Put more directly... if I were old enough and mature enough to read this styling and level of language by myself, I'd probably find myself disengaging and leaving it unfinished. That's another big problem.
On a lesser level, pacing and focus were issues (the focus kept shifting, sometimes awkwardly, and the ending was incredibly rushed), as was proofreading. But, because I liked the concept and rather enjoyed the writing at at least some points, I have to think that a lot of this came down to a lack of editing. I might very well read another work by this author, that being the case, but not if it came from this publisher. That said, I'll certainly give another book from this publisher a shot, and if I love that, then I may grow more skeptical of this writer vs. the publisher.
One way or another, I'm afraid I couldn't recommend this book--to child or adult.
Oh, I hadn't heard of the Shane Arbuthnott novel, but it sounds very good!
Good luck with your 2019 reading goals. :)
5. The Creation of the Night Sky by Nicholas Christopher
Christopher's books--poetry and prose alike--have the flavor of dreams, and this book is no different. The stand-out here is the long sequence which ends the book, "Night Journal: a poem in 35 entries". Readers of his A Trip to the Stars will feel the same lyrical, journeying mode at play here, albeit in much shorter form, but some of its beauty comes in the way that his characters are more figures of shadow and silhouettes than fully-discovered persons or subjects. There's both a distance and an intimacy to them, and the entries are rather magical as they pull together into what he writes (as introduction) is a sort of story in itself that nevertheless became far more personal than a true journal might have.
And that's some of the magic of his poetry and his prose. However fictional or created they may be, they ring as if they're written for the reader, driving at personal truths and delivering up ideas that were only waiting for the right reason to arise.
I nearly always find his worlds and his words a little bit magical. And while I don't adore his poetry quite so much as I adore his prose (such as A Trip to the Stars, which I'll always recommend and recommend over again), this little collection was no different.
Recommended to poetry lovers and to Nicholas Christopher fans.
I've been so busy with work that I'm behind on reviews and have been almost entirely off LT, but here's the start of my catching up...
6. Arcade by Erica Hunt
I believe I picked this work up because of the art, as some of the woodcuts in this collection really are striking. I'm not often drawn into a work because of illustrations (of any kind), but in this case, they go hand in hand with the poems Hunt has created and truly add a different dimension to the work. That said, for me, the woodcuts actually made the collection. I found that I didn't enjoy the poems half so much as I enjoyed the way ideas were offered alongside the art, and the way they were intermingled. The poems themselves felt sometimes draft-y or unfinished, and sometimes a bit forced or rushed, and I had a difficult time staying engaged with them. There are some lovely turns of phrase... but they didn't pull me in and hold onto my interest for the most part.
Would I recommend this? Perhaps to readers of poetry who want to see it intermingled with and against art. Beyond that, I don't know that I would. I fear this collection won't stay with me for long.
7. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading this book, but I'm glad I finally did.
First of all, I had no idea that 'I am Legend' actually encompasses a number of novellas and short stories--my personal copy gives no indication on the cover or back cover that it's not just a novel, so I was shocked when I realized there were around a dozen stories here. And perhaps because of my familiarity with the title story--through film and tv--that actually wasn't as powerful as some of the other, shorter ones, such as "Prey", "Dance of the Dead", and "The Funeral".
All told, I found every story here to be worth the time and attention--Matheson is a master of horror, and this is such a varied collection that it's impossible to be prepared for what comes with each new story. I'd absolutely recommend each story here to any horror reader, and I have no doubt that I'll come back to many of them for re-reading.
8. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This is such a gorgeous, heady book, it's hard to know how to react to the reading experience--but reading it is just that, an experience. Zafon's words beg a reader to sink into them and wander the halls of the story just like his characters wander their home city of Barcelona, and the characters feel like people you'd run into on the street or through your neighbors--as wonderful as they are flawed, at turns naïve or dangerous or tragic. The way he brought this world together and left it for readers on the page is nothing short of masterful, and I'm only sorry it took me so long to read it. I can't wait to read the other books in the series.
Absolutely, 100% recommended for all lovers of reading.
9. Planet Blood by Kim Tae-Hyung
This was a fast read for me, but I wish there'd been more to it. Everything felt a bit familiar and stale--from the characters and the dialogue right on to the illustrations--so that I found myself speeding through it, but not particularly being able to enjoy it or engage. Was it bad? Well, no. Was it good? I can't really say that either. It simply felt familiar, stereotypical in an 'oh yes, of course that's happening or being said right at this moment, and of course the picture focuses in on that, and yes, that's to be expected' kind of way. I guess, when it comes down to it, it just felt a bit elementary in all ways, just based on genre. My favorite part of the book is probably the color illustration, which I find more striking than what's inside the book, and that's obviously damning praise.
So, no, I'm afraid I wouldn't recommend it, and I don't see myself seeking out the next in the series.
10. The Tulip-Flame by Chloe Honum
There are some lovely poems here, especially toward the end, but I really did want more from this little book. Many of the poems have lovely language, but with more focus on sound than depth of meaning--or perhaps the abstractions are so constant that not all of the author's intentions are coming through.
All told, I'm afraid I found this collection rather quick and forgettable, though I really did enjoy some of the later poems.
11. The Lair by Emily McKay
So, I actually wasn't sure I was going to read this book, the follow-up to McKay's The Farm. The first book in the trilogy had problem upon problem, and was far more frustrating than enjoyable for me. Yet, I'd been so sure that I'd like the series, I'd bought this book at the same time, and it looked like this book would focus on a different character (who was minor in the first book, but who I liked far more than the actual protagonist). In the end, I decided to give it a shot.
Up-front, I was disappointed because it turned out that the blurb was misleading--the book focused mostly on the protagonist who drove me crazy in the first book. Thankfully, it looks like she's out of commission for the third book--which, once again, I have no idea whether I'll bother with. The good news is that this book was, without a doubt, stronger than the first. There were still problems--the main character is whiny, self-absorbed, and melodramatic, and the characters all generally lean toward being melodramatic. The author also has a habit of repeating herself and inflating suspense in an incredibly awkward fashion, often making characters who are supposedly intelligent be so slow to realize something (which the reader realizes right away) that the text is just flat-out unbelievable.
It was a fast read, and the pacing was better than the first book. It also had fewer plot holes than the first book. BUT, was suffering through the first book worthwhile now that I've read this one? Not a chance. And while I'm a little bit curious about how the author handles the third book, which seems like it will have to finally focus on the characters I actually kind of like rather than the whiny creature she mostly focused on in books one and two, I have a feeling I'm setting myself for a frustrating disappointment if I bother signing up for book 3. So, we'll see.
No matter what, I absolutely do not recommend this series. The books needed more editing, both in relation to plot and character, and I honestly can't imagine a situation where I'd recommend them.
12. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
I love Le Guin's writing, and this short novel was just as powerful as many of her longer works. Revolving around the idea of what would come of a man who could ream things into being, the concept-driven novel is as interesting as it is packed with fear, curiosity, and wonder. Like some of Le Guin's other short novels which are driven by ideas just so much as plot or character, this is denser than some of her other works, but it's also rich and worthwhile.
13. Outside Valentine by Liza Ward
I admire the way Ward pulled together three distinct viewpoints--of children and an adult--in order to explore the repercussions of a wave of murders taken from history, as well as the murders themselves to a certain extent, but the suspense and mystery that the blurb suggests exist in this book are, to a large extent, more imagined than written. As artful as Ward's writing is, this is a literary juxtaposition of viewpoints and ages in relation to a particular set of crimes, and the flat, harsh, ease of the prose actually lessens what might have come across as shocking crimes, making the whole of the book's events feel rather more ordinary than they truly should. I'm also, I admit, not wholly sure where love comes into play--more than love, this book is an examination of apathy and discomfort, and though I hate to say it, I couldn't bring myself to care enough about the apathetic characters to be bothered by the fact that They were at turns obsessed with and at turns haunted by the murders.
I don't think this book will stay with me long, and I can't really see myself recommending it unless someone is specifically setting out to look for literary fiction inspired by true crime. The language just wasn't enough to carry the book for me, lovely as it was, and I often found myself more bored or annoyed with the book than anything.
I don't see myself picking up another of Ward's books.
14. Allure by Lea Nolan
I'm not sure this second book in the series Quite lived up to the magic present in the first book, but I still really enjoyed it. Nolan's prose is vivid and fast-moving, and her characters feel alive on the page. As with the first book, the blend of character-driven plotting, hoodoo, chemistry, and surprising turns made the book a fast and enjoyable read, so that I'm really looking forward to reading the third book and seeing how the trilogy concludes.
Absolutely recommended, but make sure you start with the first book in the Hoodoo Apprentice series, Conjure!
15. Traveler in Paradise by Donna Hilbert
Hilbert's poems have a simple grace that makes them both approachable and striking. While some few felt more like broken up prose than I would have preferred, most felt like poems that made every breath, syllable, and space matter in a sort of effortless show of beauty and thought. I will say that the ending section of the book, made up of new poems rather than poems taken from previously published collections, was by far the weakest--short as it was, it rather brought down the whole of the reading experience for me, I have to admit. Still, I'm looking forward to reading more of Hilbert's work and picking up some of the collections that were sampled from here.
16. Monster of God by David Quammen
Quammen's exploration of predators and our relation to them is a study in history, observation, nature writing, travel, and conservation. His discussions move effortlessly between our contemporary relationships with predators and their habitats on to history, biology, ecology, and even sociology. With an eye toward bringing these creatures as well as their habitats to life for readers, he blends his understanding of science with a flare for travel writing, and the effect is a brilliant discussion of predators. From the back cover: "As he journeys into their habitats and confronts them where they live, Quammen reflects on the enduring significance of these predators to us and imagines a future without them." It seems clear, though, that a future without them is one of the things this book is desperately fighting against.
Whether discussing bears, lions, tigers, or crocodiles, the work here is impressive. It is not an easy read, certainly--there's research packed into every page, and many of the subjects are serious (potentially nightmare-inducing for animal lovers, too, in some cases), but this is a worthwhile and beautifully written book that honors some of Earth's greatest creatures in a way that deserves notice.
17. Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson
Larson's recounting of the hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas in 1900 is as brilliant as it is horrifying, and in many ways. By blending research from a multitude of sources with a dual focus on the people of Galveston and the other factors that played into making the storm a surprise--from departmental politics to faulty understandings of hurricanes on to science and incorrect assumptions--Larson built a compelling work.
In many ways, this is a horror story just so much as it is history or truth--so many things came together to make for this hurricane being the deadliest hurricane in US history. The idea that unknowns, natural forces, and human pride could come together in this fashion is terrifying in itself, but Larson puts so much work into bringing to life the faces and persons who were directly affected by this storm that the book takes on a larger and more human import. It reads like a novel, and yet it is built entirely of fact--fascinating, deadly facts.
This isn't a book I'll soon forget, if ever, and it's certainly one I'd recommend, though it's not an easy read, the subject is so severe.
18. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
I can see why some Grisham fans wouldn't enjoy this book as much as others, as it's not quite like anything else I've read from him or in this genre. For the first half of the book, it almost feels as if we're getting day-in-the-life stories and novellas from the main character Sebastian Rudd's POV, vs. getting a single full novel. And it takes some getting used to. There's a lot of territory and voice to be appreciated in the early parts of the book, but it definitely doesn't read as the traditional legal thriller--and if you don't enjoy voice and character-driven narratives that are sometimes more about character than plot, there's a good chance you won't like them. Personally, once I got used to it, I found it a kind of interesting change of pace.
That said, things do pull together into a more centralized, if complicated, plot as the book goes on. Where some books work from various characters' POVs and then follow them as they eventually come together, this book does the same, but with cases--covering the separate cases/clients early on, and then following them as they begin impacting each other and coming together in Rudd's professional and personal life all at the same time. Yet, it's his voice and persona that absolutely drives the book from beginning to end.
So, all told, I'd absolutely read another book in this vein if he comes out with on, but it definitely won't be for every fan of his or every reader of legal thrillers. For something different, though, it's worth stepping into.
With the caveats above in mind, I'd still absolutely recommend it.
19. Micah by Laurell K. Hamilton
Although this installment in the series is more focused on character and relationship than any of the fuller mystery plots that you find in most of the series, it's still got a better balance than the similarly focused Jason, and Hamilton's descriptions of magic are so lush that the plot actually feels heftier than it is. The first portion of the book is far more focused on relationship and character, while the second half takes a turn toward plot, magic, and furthering the series itself.
I don't see this ending up as a favorite in the series for Hamilton fans who've been reading from the beginning, but it was a fast and satisfying read, worth the time.
I'd certainly recommend the series, and while it doesn't necessarily need to be read in order at all points (though that certainly helps), I definitely wouldn't start with this one since it's not particularly representative.
Well, I'm slowly catching up on being on LT and reading. I had surgery to get my gallbladder removed earlier this month, and although it was a slow recovery, I'm practically back to normal now. I am, though, WAY behind on work, reading, and LT! As a beginning toward catching up...
20. The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown
This is a difficult read, but it's also a powerful and incredibly written piece of historical fiction that achieves a great deal.
The difficulty comes from the subject matter, addressing the witch trials that took place in England in the mid-seventeenth century, and from the fact that Underdown does such an incredible justice to the horror and injustices tied up in the history and characters at the heart of such a topic. By taking a side-view of Matthew Hopkins, a documents self-styled witchfinder, and creating a sister for him to serve as the point-of-view for this novel--and he may or may not have had a sister, as discussed in the book's Author's note--Underdown has managed to bring this story to life in a way that is heartbreaking even without the added weight of reality.
And, I'll be truthful here--whenever I let myself remember that the events in this book were for the most part based on real events/persons, I had to step away from the book. Not just for a few hours, but for at least a few days. In truth, this book even made me reconsider The Crucible, which I not only read but acted in, and feel a whole new horror in relation to that work's portrayals and content.
So, back to the Witchfinder's Sister... This is a striking book. It is worth reading. It is beautifully, expertly crafted. It is also as horrifying as it is breathtaking. There's no doubt in my mind that many readers will begin this book and put it back down again, as the stresses and the horrors of the book are only compounded by the fact that they come from a woman who is, simply due to her position, helpless to stop her own brother from enacting what, from a contemporary perspective, we can only call monstrous.
So, yes, I'd recommend this book. I also, however, would not fault anyone for veering away from it, or reading to the halfway point or thereabouts and realizing that they cannot put themselves through the rest of it.
21. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
I'm not exactly sure what I expected in picking up this book--or even how it got onto my shelf. This is the memoir of Mikal Gilmore, brother of the infamous murderer Gary Gilmore who was killed by firing squad in 1977, later being the focus of Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song. The memoir focuses especially on the childhood of the brothers and their family situation, and Gary's eventual crimes as an adult are only a small portion of the book, though they haunt the earlier text.
This will appeal more to readers of memoir than readers of true crime and books related to crime/violence. Gilmore's a good writer, but has a way of stretching things out, and especially the beginning of the book was a really slow read for me. On a surface level, I suppose one could say that this looks at the psychology of a broken family and how a killer became a killer... but it really is a surface examination. I do think it could be interesting to read The Executioner's Song after reading this work, and plan to one of these days, but I believe this book was really more self-therapy for the writer than anything, and it read as such.
22. The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
Winters' blend of police procedural and near-future sci-fi, with a heavy dash of the apocalyptic since the world of the book is approaching its end, is masterful.
The book kept me guessing, and even when I thought I knew the killer, it turned out I'd misread the motive; that added to the fact that Winters' writing is fantastic and the characters are fascinating made this a read I had a difficult time putting down, and I honestly can't wait to read the next in the series.
I'd absolutely recommend this, if you're even the least bit curious.
And, I'm in catch-up mode again...
23. Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo
Parts of this novel really grabbed my attention and held me in, but there were also many sections where I struggled to remain engaged or even interested. There are moments--and brief chapters--where the book is indeed chilling and driven, but more often than not, it's got a sort of heavy, plodding feel to it, and is more mired in a hapless protagonist than pulled along by his investigation. All told, I simply wanted quite a bit more suspense and action, and a bit more depth and focus, as well.
This probably isn't something I'd recommend, though the writing and characterization were strong enough that I wouldn't mind seeking out the author again, particularly if I were in the mood for something quieter than the way this book is actually described. The book jacket definitely exaggerates its momentum and suspense, though I suppose it is a political thriller, for lack of a better term. It's quite a bit quieter than I'd expected, though, excepting brief glimpses of something darker.
24. Beneath the Mountain by Luca D'Andrea
D'Andrea's Beneath the Mountain may not be for every reader of suspense, but I thought it was absolutely breathtaking.
Full of atmosphere and mystery, as well as believable characters who pull the story along just as much as the plot, this is a masterfully crafted novel of literary suspense. It's not the typical suspense novel, it's true--much of the tension comes and goes, and it's undeniably tied to the struggling protagonist, but D'Andrea does such a gorgeous job of building the novel's peaks and allowing the characters to breathe their own lives, I found the book impossible to put down.
For readers who want character-driven suspense and mystery, that characters as much about subtleties of character as it does high-octane drama (though it's got that to spare also), I'd absolutely recommend this book. It kept me guessing, and it's made me a fan of the author for life.
25. Mouths Don't Speak by Katia D. Ulysse
First, I have to note that the blurb on this book was incredibly misleading. I'd argue that, in some ways, it's simply false. And the truth is, if it had been more accurate, I likely wouldn't have picked up the book to begin with. Much as I respect Akashic Books and have loved their books in the past, I have to think the primary purpose of the blurb was selling books, vs. accuracy.
While some of Ulysse's prose is lovely, this is a somewhat plot-less and unevenly paced novel, and considering how sympathetic the characters Should be (based on what they go through), they're incredibly unsympathetic, to the point where I got more and more tired of reading about them, and could only care about the most minor characters in the book. There's also a real lack of plot, partly because the book spends a great deal of time building and building, and then speeds through what seems to count for a climax and ending. It would be insanely predictable also, if the blurb were accurate.
In general, this feels like a book that was rushed to publication, and perhaps pulled together from a number of short stories that were never destined to be a strong novel. In my opinion, it needed quite a bit more work, this only made worse by the fact that the powerful themes and events which are showcased on the back of the book as being primary to plot and conflict--the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 and a vet's battles with PTSD--serve more as backstory and jumping-off points than getting any real depth or focus, to the extent that I can't help half-wondering if they're mentioned so prominently in order to sell books and make this seem more unique than it actually is, vs. being relevant.
So, all told, I would not recommend this book. I feel a bit cheated for having so looked forward to it and then spent time on it, honestly.
26. Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
This was a fantastic follow-up to Daughter of the Forest, and has left me anxious to read the rest of the Sevenwaters series. Marillier's prose is lush and reverent, and her characters are as believable as they are perfectly flawed. Her blending of myth, story-telling, and drama -- not to mention magic, in just the right doses -- makes these books virtually impossible to put down once they're begun, and although some of the largest elements of the story's arc were somewhat predictable, the novel still pulled me along without fail.
I will say that this book got off to a slightly slower start than the first book in the series, but within a few chapters, it still had me hooked, and so I'd absolutely recommend it. I'll also add that I think this is a series readers absolutely need to read in order if they want the full flavor of the characters, so Daughter of the Forest should be picked up before this installment.
27. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I actually discovered Doerr through his short story collection, Memory Wall, which became a fast favorite of mine. Because of that, I was both excited and nervous about diving into his novels--not all writers can pull off both stories and novels, so I wasn't sure what to expect. All told, I wasn't disappointed, though my preference is for his short stories. Regardless, the truth is that Doerr is simply a fantastic writer, with a flare for bringing settings to life in a way that allows them their own space as characters, and that talent really shines in this novel.
In All the Light We Cannot See, Doerr's movement in time around WWII is all but flawless, and although the novel's structure takes some bit of time to get accustomed to, what at first seems like a rather fragmented read comes together beautifully, and without the heavy-handed force that's often seen in books like this. As in his stories, the characters feel somewhat secondary to the story and writing, and I think that's more apparent than ever in such a long form. It didn't put me off, exactly--they were still interesting and believable, and I cared about them--but the distance that was in place because of that prioritization left me a little bit less emotionally involved than I'd expect from a work like this. If Doerr's writing weren't so masterful, this probably would have been a real problem, but he has such a gorgeous way with words that it wasn't.
For historical fiction and literary fiction readers, I think this is a gorgeous book to sink into, but as an introduction to Doerr's work, I'd probably still recommend Memory Wall and his short stories, which are--for me, at least--somehow more powerful and memorable in many ways.
Recommended overall, for anyone interested.
28. The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman
I think this is a good example of a book that came from an interesting idea that could have made for a really fun book, but was torn in too many different directions to really feel finished or have much impact. Hoffman's writing carried the book, but the problem came partly in the form of audience--it felt like the author couldn't quite decide whether the book was meant for kids or for adults, and the book suffered for it because, in the end, it wasn't really written for either. Parts of this would amuse only kids, while other parts were clearly more directed to adults, which in the end made for something of an awkward read.
At its best, this book felt like a take on Douglas Adams' 'Hitchhiker's Guide' voice, but the truth is that it just didn't take that tone quite far enough--and I have to think that comes down to the book trying to please too many different audiences rather than going full-throttle toward one angle on the idea.
So, while I was looking forward to exploring this book, the truth is that it was a struggle for me to get through it. I think I'd like to try something else by the author if it were more focused on either adults or kids, but given that this book was lacking in editing and felt like it needed a bit more work, I'd probably only do so if the author's work were published through a publisher as opposed to being self-published.
I'm going to count this book because I suffered through 138 pages of it, and DNF'd about a third of the way through. Honestly, I don't know why I slogged through for so long except that I'd heard good things, and so hoped it would get better. Rant, incoming.
29. Devil May Cry by Sherrilyn Kenyon
And this becomes my first official DNF of the year. I tried, but I just couldn't finish it. At a third of the way through, I'm calling it quits.
I looked forward to reading this book and giving Kenyon a try, but this was a struggle from the start. Although the world-building is clearly extensive, the main characters here are so incredibly stock and cliché takes on EXACTLY what is expected of a paranormal romance, and their portrayals are made that much worse by the fact that each moment that comes even close to romance-driven is itself full of cliché phrases, thoughts, and interactions. When you add in the fact that all of these thousand+-year-old characters speak like they're bored coeds just out of a frat party... "I am so going to come back and kill you." "You are so wrong." … and speak in the exact same fashion as one another... well, the effect isn't a good one.
Honestly, much as I hate to say it, it's hard not to make fun of how heavy-handed this book is, and how frustratingly simple and one-dimensional the writing style is, it's so driven by clichés. And that's not even mentioning the insta-love and the fact that a woman (and I use that term loosely, as she sounds more like an angsty, over-confident teenager) who's remained a virgin for 3,000-some years is suddenly going to give herself to a man without an apparent second thought... because, and I kid you not because the reasoning is written into the book, she's "curious", and "why not?"
So, between the unbelievable and annoyingly stock characters, the heavy-handed dropping of tropes and cliches throughout the book, and the incredible lack of depth to anything But world-building and mythology, I have to say that I honestly can't see why readers are such a fan of this author or series. Maybe I've been spoiled by PNR authors like Laurell K. Hamilton and Gena Showalter and Kerrelyn Sparks, all of whom have such great takes on this genre, with great characters and well-developed relationships. Maybe I've just been spoiled by good writing and good books in general.
I don't know, but whatever the case, I don't ever plan on picking up another of this author's books.
30. Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
Murakami's haunting prose pulls this puzzle of a work into something that feels both utterly ordinary and magical at the same time. His characters in this particular work especially have a sort of out-of-time quality, and somehow the work seems to dive into different genres at different turns, but without feeling even surprising, let alone messing.
Compared to Murakami's other works, this one did start a bit slowly for me, I admit, but then I became wholly wrapped up in it, and had difficulty putting it down. I don't think I'd recommend it as a first read of Murakami's, but certainly for readers who've enjoyed his other works--such as Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore--I'd say this one's well worth the read. I certainly enjoyed the strangeness of it, and his writing is, as always, masterful.
31. Shadows by John Saul
I discovered John Saul in middle school, and devoured everything I could find him between my late middle school and high school years--yet, I read them so quickly, and read so many books back then, I haven't had many memories of them as an adult. Re-reading this was sort of fascinating and wonderful, though I'm a little bit horrified to think of how young I was when I first read this one.
Saul's writing is fast and dark, and he doesn't shy away from turning real-feeling characters toward unbelievable tragedy in horror. This book in particular deals with everything from child abuse and endangerment to child suicide and animal experimentation, and just when you think it can't get darker... well, yes, it does.
It's true that this story might feel a little bit dated in terms of the story and technology presented, compared to where we are today, but readers who can get past that will be struck with a master storyteller's tale of horror that won't be easily forgotten. And if you like horror and can deal with those subjects above... well then, yes, I absolutely 100% recommend it.
32. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Annihilation straddles the line of science fiction and horror, and it's kind of wonderful because Vandermeer walks such a fine balance between them--with plenty of suspense thrown in. The book moves fast, and the characters are disturbingly believable, to the extent that the book feels almost too real more often than not, as if we could be looking at something just in our own future or just on the other side of it. With all of that added into Vandermeer's careful descriptions and uncanny way with words, the book is kind of wonderful.
I'd absolutely recommend it, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
33. Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier
Marillier has fast become one of my favorite fantasy authors. Her works are sweeping, her prose masterful, and her characters impossible to ignore. In fact, her characters feel just so real and sympathetic that it's impossible not to care about them and be pulled into her stories. As with the last series I read from her, this series starts with a view into childhood, and moves from there in a careful epic of gorgeous, fluid prose and twists.
I absolutely adored it, and I can't wait to read the next in the series.
34. The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison
Hutchison has, without question, become my favorite author--I devour her books within 36 or so hours of beginning them, virtually unable to put them down. Beyond being a talented writer, she creates works which revolve around such real and flawed characters, and marry such brilliant darkness to incredible moments, that the books create their own dark little world of too-believable wonder.
And yet, there's no doubt that these books are too dark, even too terrible, for many readers. They revolve around trauma and despair, focused in on characters who are struggling to help themselves or others to survive, and Hutchison doesn't flinch from exploring the darkest moments, the darkest thoughts. The fast pacing and the carrying of characters from one book to the next also make them distinctive reads--not for anyone who'd want to read them out of order or not be able to stomach the first and darkest of the series, The Butterfly Garden, and certainly not for anyone who'd prefer they be stand-alones. Together, these three first books in The Collector Series are far greater than they would be apart.
So, do I recommend them? Only if you dare. Just make sure you start with the first, The Butterfly Garden. And, if the blurb on back sounds too dark, you're probably better off not starting. Yet, I'll close by saying I absolutely adore these books, their characters, and everything about them, down to the darkest moments, the dirtiest of jokes, and the most dangerous thoughts.
35. Report to Megalopolis by Tod Davies
Although this book is advertised as standing on its own, with readers not needing to have read the earlier books in the series, I suspect/hope that reading the earlier books would make a big difference in reading experience here. For me personally, I found it extremely difficult to really engage with the book and remain interested even though there were flashes of content that felt intriguing, and suggested the read I expected to be falling into here.
The book is split into three parts, and that's part of the problem, as there is a fairly disjointed feel to things. The first part actually reads like nonfiction, and although that may be what the writer was going for, I had an incredibly difficult time engaging with it--in fact, the only thing that kept me going was flipping forward enough to see that Part 2 would take up a different style, or I might have DNF'd fairly early. Part 2 was far more readable and enjoyable, with more attention to story, but the narrator's voice--as the book is primarily an extended monologue told in letters--began to get old early in Part 3, and I struggled to finish the book as a result.
If I'd gotten another view of the narrator from earlier books, or if there'd been less reporting and more scene-based storytelling, this might have been a very different reading experience, but as is, I can only say that although the book was well-written, it absolutely wasn't for me and probably isn't something I'd recommend. I would potentially try something else from the writer, but probably not in this series.
I'm way behind on reviews, but here goes a start at catching up...
36. Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh
Although I really appreciate what this author was trying to do, and there were some powerful moments in Soft Apocalypse, I admit that I had a hard time getting into this book and then sticking with it. There were points when the writing was awkward, and then there were also a lot of moments that felt built for shock value--some of which I found far more disturbing than believable even though I generally enjoy really dark reads. Those dips into shock value--which included violence against animals--are probably enough that I won't consider reading more of McIntosh's work in the future, although the world was interesting and the main characters were, for the most part, pretty believable.
Still, I wanted more. It felt like this book was built more on idea/concept and shock than plot, and while I can accept and appreciate that that may be part of the point, given what the book is about, it didn't really work for me. As post-apocalyptic tales go, there's a lot of originality to admire here, but I just can't say it's a book I'd recommend.
37. Exiles by James Joyce
Joyce's writing in this play is sort of wonderfully intentional, and it reminded me very much of those works I'd already read by him--The Dead perhaps especially. This is one of those rare cases where I think I'm glad to have read a play rather than seen it in person, and watching the characters play out of the page uncomfortably intimate and real in a way that can only speak to Joyce's mastery.
38. The Sharing Knife: Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold
This series is a little bit of a tug-of-war for me. I love the concept, and I actually really like the characters, as well, but I'm really not a fan of Bujold's writing, and the scenes where she delves into romance and the relationship at the forefront of the book feel nothing less than awkward to me. So, on one hand, I enjoy the story... but it's difficult to enjoy the reading experience. For readers who like traditional, clean romance and also like large-scale fantasy novels, this might be just their cup of tea, but I think I'm finally setting aside the series. The romance just feels more and more awkward, and although it may be that I'm being somewhat picky about the writing, the awkwardness just doesn't outweigh what I like about the series anymore.
I'm so far behind on reviews, it's not even funny, but here's to a bit of catch-up...
39. Blood Diamonds by Greg Campbell
Although Campbell's work is in some ways directly tied to the history that was unfolding around the turn of the century, it's by no means so dated as to no longer have relevance. Campbell's examination of the diamond industry--from its beginnings to the more recent history--is a fascinating and in-depth look into the growth of a luxury industry and commercialism, offering real insight into the tangled ways in which politics, warfare, business, natural resources, and criminality can become so enmeshed as to be virtually indistinguishable to a third party.
Whether you read this for the history or out of a desire to begin understanding the socio-economic and natural resources at play behind diamonds and warfare, the book is utterly readable--in fact, the primary difficulty is remembering that some of the horrors involved are fact rather than fiction.
Recommended for all those who are even slightly interested.
40. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Eggers is a master of weaving together various threads and bringing personalities to life--here, in this book set up primarily against the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his talents are on full display.
In focusing in on a single man and his family, Zeitoun tells the story of a family of New Orleans, taking us through their history, their separation during the storm, and the Kafka-esque days they faced after the storm passed. Pulling together everything from religion to racism, not to mention immigration and the socio-political forces at work at every turn, Eggers manages to bring to life not just the hurricane that ravaged New Orleans (which he does masterfully), but to bring to life a number of men and women who lived through it. The result is at turns heartbreaking and terrifying, though there's a fair bit of humor thrown in, and it's sometimes difficult to remember that this is a true history of a family and a storm, it reads so much like a suspenseful drama.
I don't think this book can be compared to any other piece of nonfiction regarding immigration or natural disaster, because its scope is so wide and its detailing so careful, but there is no question that it is worth reading--perhaps now more than ever for US residents especially, considering the environmental and socio-political obstacles in the future.
41. Illusion Hoodoo Apprentice #3 by Lea Nolan
I'm not sure this finish to the Hoodoo Apprentice series quite lived up to the first two books in the trilogy, but then again, it had a lot to live up to. All told, it was a satisfying end to the series even if it did feel a bit rushed at times. I would have liked more, I admit--books two and three just didn't quite have the magic of the first book in the series--but I'm still anxious to pick up whatever Lea Nolan writes next. Certainly, I'd still recommend the trilogy as a whole, though the first book remains my favorite.
42. A Catskill Eagle by Robert Parker
Although I have to admit this one felt a little bit more dated than I might have liked, I really enjoyed diving back into the universe of Parker's Spenser. Parker has a way of bringing characters and scenes to life even against fast and dialogue-driven scenes, and this was an easy, enjoyable read to sink into while on vacation. It's a reminder to me to go back to the other Spenser novels I never got around to and wander through them as I get the chance.
I probably wouldn't recommend starting with this one if you're not already a fan of this series, but it's worth getting around to once you become a fan.
43. Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
I saw the movie years ago, and I suppose that's why it took me so long to get around to reading the book--wanting to be able to take the book as it is, rather than remember the movie too clearly--but I really enjoyed this and wish I'd gotten around to it sooner. Yes, the technology is now a bit dated, but if you can pull yourself into the time of the book and enjoy it for what it is, it's a fantastic, character-driven escape filled with great characters and suspense.
I'd certainly recommend it, and I look forward to reading more of the series sooner than later.
44. Wisdom Lost by Michael Sliter
While Solace Lost was a powerful and brutal introduction to this gorgeously written series, Wisdom Lost picks up where it left off without leaving behind any of the desperation or character-driven drama that made the first book so impressive. Carrying on with the POVs introduced in the first installment of the series, Sliter's talent and careful world-building holds the whole of the narrative together so that there's none of the fracturing which sometimes occurs in mutli-POV works of this nature. Instead, what builds up through the work is a gorgeously crafted tapestry that is both cohesive and complicated. Somehow, however, it all fits together in such a masterful fashion that it's hard to believe this is only the author's second novel.
Fans of epic fantasy and grimdark, and perhaps fans of fantasy in general as long as they can take some darkness in turn, should start with Sliter's Solace Lost and plan to dive immediately into this follow-up. It's beautifully written, fast-paced, and fairly fantastic.
45. The Inhuman Condition by Clive Barker
I should say up-front that I'm a huge fan of Clive Barker--his horror novels are some of my favorites, and I also have a huge amount of respect for his talents as a playwright; his play The History of the Devil is one of the most powerful I've seen, and I'll never forget my first experience watching it, though that was about 20 years ago now. As such, my expectations were pretty high coming into this collection....
And I ended up feeling like it was somewhat uneven. The stand-outs in the collection are "The Body Politic", "Revelations", and, to a lesser extent, "The Age of Desire". The two novella-length pieces, "The Inhuman Condition" and "The Age of Desire" felt somehow frenetic and over-packed, and I have to think that either could have been fantastic if allowed to flower out into a full novel, but lost some of their power in this form. One of Barker's undeniable talents is characterization--his writing is brilliant, is concepts are horrifying, and his plotting is spot-on, but it's his characterization and the masterful way he brings characters to life against such a larger background as he paints that really makes his work so powerful. In these two novellas, plot and atmosphere were prioritized over character, and I think they suffered for it. At the same time, they're still great reads, and I have to think that my high expectations of Barker led me here to feel a bit of disappointment, where I would have been impressed otherwise. Still, those other stand-outs I mentioned, shorter as they may be, blew the longer pieces out of the water.
No doubt, Barker isn't for everyone--I'm a hardened horror reader and writer, and it takes a lot to make me flinch, but I cringed at a few spots while reading this collection. He has a way of bringing gore and horror to life so that they feel real--like you're glimpsing a true nightmare rather than wandering into a story--and it's hard not to love that if you're a horror fan. Barker's particular brand of horror also brings in the sacred and profane, religion, and even ethics and free will. The mix, against his gorgeous prose, makes for some wonderfully uncomfortable reading.
In short, I'd absolutely recommend this collection to fans of horror short stories, but I'd caution long-time Barker fans to temper their expectations in comparison to some of his longer works
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