Showing posts with label adult fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adult fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ithaca by Patrick Dillon

Ithaca by Patrick Dillon. Pegasus Books, 2016. Hardcover. 257 pages.
(I am absolutely in love with this cover design - it's stunning)

*I received a print copy of Ithaca by Patrick Dillon courtesy of Pegasus Books in exchange for an honest review.*

I love learning about Ancient Greek and Roman societies (I am a classics major, after all - it would be weird if I didn't enjoy that), which thus makes me extremely excited whenever I happen across a book that uses an Ancient Greek or Roman setting, storyline, myth, or culture. So when I saw Ithaca, an Odyssey-based story focusing on Odysseus' son, Telemachus, I knew that I had to immediately pick this one up. After reading it, I would say this is a great introductory novel to The Odyssey and the world of Ancient Greece, albeit not necessarily an overly in-depth or reinvented interpretation.

Ithaca is an Odyssey retelling in which Telemachus and his mother, Penelope, have been living in Ithaca for the sixteen years since his father first went away to fight at Troy. Telemachus has grown up those sixteen years never having met his father, and the court where he resides is now overflowing with suitors attempting to take Odysseus' place as Penelope's husband, despite her stubborn refusal to accept Odyesseus' death. As a result, Telemachus decides to embark upon on his own journey to find out whether his father is dead or if he is actually still alive.

 I really liked the concept of this story; the idea of following Telemachus' perspective of the time in which his father is missing is incredibly intriguing, and I was eager to see how Dillon would handle this story line. To be honest, though, Telemachus didn't see much action, and I was almost disappointed by how uneventful his 'journey' ended up being. However, I think is partly because I found this book to me much more of a character and theme-driven story than one fueled by plot, which would account for the lack of adventuring. On the character-driven side, this novel certainly excelled. I liked that Telemachus was portrayed not as the tough, brutal boy you would expect as a result of the environment of his upbringing, but as a somewhat softer boy that is fiercely protective of his mother, but yet still does not know how to fight - likely a direct result of Odysseus' absence. He did not have the opportunity gain the same experiences or skills that a similar young boy at that time would have because he did not have any singular male influence to learn from or even look up to (all of the suitors are rather deplorable human beings). As a reader, we get to see Telemachus undergo a wide array of emotions and opinions, from yearning for his father's presence and firmly believing he is alive, to doubting his being alive and great reputation, along with everything in between.

Along with Telemachus, there is also a sizable portion - about one-third of the story - in which Odysseus recounts his experiences since leaving Troy and attempting to head home, a total of about ten years. This portion was a bit odd to me; I understood why it was placed in the story, but it didn't quite feel necessary. If you are unfamiliar with the actual story of The Odyssey, then this portion is quite frankly a perfectly succinct and understandable summary of the story, and also provided a nice refresher.

The rest of the cast of characters - Penelope, Nestor, Menelaus, Helen, etc. - were all quite wonderfully reimagined, and I felt a sense of excitement whenever a familiar face from the myth was introduced and I was able to see Dillon's interpretation of them. One tiny issue I had was with the character Polycaste, daughter of Nestor, whom Telemachus meets when he travels to find his father. While I enjoyed her character's strength, her dialogue seemed entirely out of place for this story and time period, and I actually found it a bit jarring. It seemed much too modern for a story that I don't think was meant to be overly modern in its retelling.

While this was an overall enjoyable read, I found myself wondering what exactly the point of this retelling was. Was it merely to add in some insight into the character of Telemachus, or was there meant to be something more?  For the most part, I otherwise felt that this was quite literally a basic retelling of the Odyssey with some extra information about what Telemachus may have been experiencing at the same time. I think I was both expecting and hoping for a fresher perspective on this story, so I ended up being left with slight disappointment. Despite this, I cannot fault the writing or strength of the story, which was still certainly entertaining and a lovely story. I would easily recommend this for anyone unfamiliar with the original story, or who is a fan and wishes to read another version. (I must insist, though, that the original be read at some point as well, because it is truly a masterpiece. :) )

Overall, I am giving Ithaca three-and-a-half stars for its readable and flowing prose that retells a classic in a delightful and entertaining manner.

You might also like:
Helen of Troy by Margaret George
Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman
Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. Tor Books, 2015. 400 pages. Hardcover/Hardback.

I feel a bit behind on the times with A Darker Shade of Magic because it took me way too long to finally get around to reading it. It was one of those books that I saw people raving about at just about every turn I made in multiple book communities, and yet I still didn't pick it up. The description never really jumped out at me, and for some reason I kept imagining it to be some sort of time travel-esque book based on the description, and to be honest I'm really not huge on the time travel theme (unpopular opinion, I know, but there we are.) But that cover. I absolutely love the covers on V. E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy. They are so simple yet so intricate and just all around gorgeous with the red and black and white and incredible design. And then I started seeing more people talking about it recently so I thought it was time to give in and check it out, and I am certainly glad I did.

This wasn't a love at first page book, and it seemed to take me a while to get into and find my groove. However, I should note that despite not feeling immediately gripped by the story, my curiosity was still immediately captured, which is what prompted me to continue reading. I knew that there had to be more to this book and that things would have to start making sense eventually, and they did! It seems fairly complicated at first, but trust me when I say that it will somehow all come together as you read, and you'll begin to understand.

A Darker Shade of Magic has somewhat traditional fantasy elements at its basic structure, but it is such a new concept that it's unlike anything I've ever read. The multiple Londons is one of those ideas that I would have never thought of or been able to develop a story about, but Schwab is apparently a genius and did a wonderful job creating the overall setup and nuances of having such a complex setting.

I also need to talk about this magic system, which is insane (in a good way). I haven't felt this interested in a particular magic system in a while, so that made me extremely happy. Although the nature of the magic in this world (or worlds?) was rather mysterious, it was still understandable in a weird way. I liked that the magic itself was this ever-powerful force that could become too much for someone and basically overtake and destroy them - or, you know, a city.

Kell is an awesome protagonist. He was real. He wasn't some exceptionally badass, fearless guy - he had perfectly human fears and didn't pretend he was any stronger or better than he actually was. This made him feel extremely understandable and relatable and is part of what kept me drawn to the story. I also enjoyed his interactions with the prince, Rhy, because I felt it really helped to develop his overall character by showing what he cared about.

Lila is also an interesting character and I'm still somewhat on the fence about her. I loved her fierceness, independence, and overall sense of being a badass, - pretty much the opposite of Kell at times - but sometimes she grated on me somewhat. It was mainly her attitude that drove me crazy: her stubbornness, in particular, frustrated me. I know that stubborn characters are a favorite of authors - how else would anything move forward in the plot if there's not a bullheaded character who refuses to go with the norm? It just annoyed me when Kell would specifically explain to her why he needed her to give her something (vague in case of spoilers), and she just wouldn't do it. I know and understand that that is a big part of her character, how her and Kell interact, and how she ends up traveling with him, but it got on my nerves. I will say, though, that throughout the course of the book she did begin to grow on me, and I see positive potential for her character in the upcoming books. Overall, she's a strong character and I think she will continue to grow on me with subsequent books, but I'm not just automatically in love with her for being a strong female lead.

Overall, I'm completely torn about how to rate this. On the one hand, I can't help but want to give it anything other than a five star, but on the other hand I don't quite feel like it absolutely hit that five-star note for me. As a result, I have decided to give A Darker Shade of Magic four-and-a-half-stars, and I recommend to this just about anyone, especially those who love adventures and want something new.

You might also like:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

The Crimson Petal and the White (Harvest Book)
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. Harcourt, 2002. 835 pages. Hardcover/Hardback.

Coming in at a weighty 800+ pages, The Crimson Petal and the White is not for the faint of heart - or those who do not like holding heavy objects for long periods of time. It may be long, but the incredible thing about this book was how quickly it flew by. It took me a bit longer to finish The Crimson Petal and the White than the average book, but I never once felt like I was slogging through it. The characters and writing style were both so vivid and full of life that I had absolutely no problem zipping through this story. A quick obligated word of caution: if you do not like to read about sex or sexual-related activities, then you may want to set this book every so gently back on its shelf and move on, though personally I would recommend that you dive in anyway because of what a wonderfully told story this is.

The most prominent and creative aspect of The Crimson Petal and the White is the narration. It has an overall second person narration (which I am actually not normally a fan of), but much of it is told in a way that sounds third person. When Faber does dive into the second person, it's with sheer brilliance. It's written as if you are being taken on the most intense, detailed, and scandalous tour you'll ever be a part of; I almost felt like I was watching a movie with the camera zooming in and around various people and settings. It's fantastic, and I'm truly not sure if I've ever read anything quite like it.

The setting is a gritty, dirty, and shockingly authentic Victorian London. There's no sugar-coating, nothing to make the setting or characters appear more noble than they are (or aren't), and it's pure brilliance. There's was a constant sense that I was rooting around in the private affairs of others that Faber captured extremely well and truly brought the entire story to life.

One aspect of Faber's style that really stood out to me was his extensive use of detail, which I think is part of what made everything so lifelike and authentic. Everything is so clearly described or minutely detailed that it's hard not to find yourself sucked into the story.

What I loved was how Faber really played with his characters, but at the same time seemed to almost let them lead the story in whichever direction they desired. Sugar, one of our main characters, is strong and independent, but contains a small, sentimental hope for something more in her life. As a prostitute, she is always sharing her body, but what she truly seems to want to do is share her mind; she wants to write and be outspoken, to make a stand and allow others to understand the experiences of prostitutes and others like her. She wants men to realize that the women they so rudely and carelessly take advantage of are just as - if not more - capable and clever as them.

William Rackham, a second main character, is also a deeply layered man. While on the surface he appears and acts as if he has great disdain and a lack of patience for his ailing wife, his actions show something rather contrary, which is difficult to discern, but still noticeable: he loves her. No matter what, he can't seem to help but love her, no matter the frustrations she causes him to have. William seems to want nothing more than a normal, happy, sufficient marriage. But that is not what his circumstances give him, and so instead we see how he handles these issues, how he ends up meeting Sugar and how they interact and how their own uniquely personal relationship unfolds.

Along with Sugar and William are a variety of other extremely colorful and strong characters, and I strongly encourage you to give this book a chance in order to meet all of them in greater depth.

The ending is both excellent and frustrating at the same time - it's almost a non-ending, leaving you wondering what more could happen, but it's also an absolutely, perfectly satisfying wrap-up that almost seems to tease you with more, but at the same time leaves you content and satiated. It's as if it were all somehow meant to be.

I do feel as though I've been giving out quite a few five stars lately, but I can't help that I've just been immensely blessed to keep stumbling upon such fantastic books. As you can guess, I am giving The Crimson Petal and the White a well-earned five stars. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels mature enough to jump on for the ride!

You might also like:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Whistling Women by Kelly Romo

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Security will be released Tuesday, June 7th!

**I received a printed ARC  of Security by Gina Wolhsdorf courtesy of -- in exchange for an honest review**

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf. Algonquin Books, 2016. 288 pages. Paperback/Softcover.

I don't know if it's just been a long time since I've read an exciting, thrilling page-turner or if Security was just that good, but I was completely enraptured with this book. I started it on a Friday night and finished it Sunday evening (it probably would have been sooner, but writing papers and studying for finals interrupted by precious reading - rude).

Manderley Resort is preparing itself for its grand opening day as a premier resort destination with an exceptionally intense and private security system in order to protect every one of its customer's privacy. But like any good thriller, things never go according to plan, and a killer emerges and begins to slowly pick off the staff.

Our main character is Tessa, a strong-willed, hardworking woman who is the hotel manager and, essentially, the woman in charge of all preparations. She takes her job very seriously and executes everything perfectly. Underneath her rough exterior, however, lies deeper emotional ties and secrets that are known only to her, and she does her best to keep these hidden. I liked Tessa; she came across as a very logical, matter-of-fact person who doesn't really waste her time dwelling on insignificant issues or musings of the mind. However, her focus is so intent on the opening of Manderley that it seems to distract her from other issues that may be taking place - namely, the murders of her hotel staff. It was interesting to watch Tessa's character unfold throughout the story, as well as her interactions with her staff. 

The rest of the cast of Security all play a similar role, though each character is equipped with a firm personality to make them distinct from one another. I genuinely enjoyed the interactions that took place between each character and watching how each person reacted in the various circumstances they were placed in. Some are fighters, some are not, and some are just of along for the ride. 

Wohlsdorf's writing style throughout Security was truly exceptional, and despite it's somewhat unorthodox approach (in my opinion), it completely hooks you in and drags you along, whether you want to continue or not. She's sharp and full of wit, but also makes many rather sobering, deeper remarks that will leave you pondering ideas much greater than you imagined when originally going into this thriller. (Also, there are many tributes to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, which I found particularly intriguing.)

Part of what made me love this book so much was the writing style and point of view. It takes place from one solitary point of view, but this point of view narrates from the viewpoint of various hotel security cameras throughout the hotel. For instance, one sentence you are watching Tessa talk to someone, and the next sentence the narrator has moved on to talking about what someone else is doing. It can be quite confusing if you aren't paying close attention, and this actually made me more intrigued because I was forced to focus so intently, which thus made it that much more thrilling. I also admired the way in which Wohlsdorf slowly eased us into the identity of our narrator; in the beginning, the narrator is rather vague and you almost don't realize it's first person, but as the story progresses Wohlsdorf slowly reveals more and more about our narrator through his thoughts and musings. 

A special little quirk involving the use of cameras as the point of view that added an extra dimension of detail was that every once in a while the page would be split into two or three columns, each detailing an event that was taking place at the same time as the other. I loved the contrasts and strict dichotomy this created between the different occurrences. I'm not too sure if this format would work out as well on an ebook, but it works wonderfully in the physical format that I read.

My only form of complaint for this book is in regards to the ending. On the one hand, I'm extremely satisfied with the ending, but on the other, I'm also frustrated. I'm not sure if it was really what I expected, but overall it seems to work. It is certainly unexpected, however, and I'll leave you to find out about that yourself if you feel so inclined. 

Overall, I am giving Security four-and-a-half stars for its truly thrilling nature and superb storytelling. 

You might also like:
Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern
The Dinner by Herman Koch
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
Slade House by David Mitchell

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern

Daddy Dearest will be on sale Wednesday, June 1st!

**I received a review copy of Daddy Dearest courtesy of Paul Southern in exchange for an honest review.**

Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern. 2016. 245 pages. Ebook.  

If you like to have your mind messed with a little bit, then settle in and get comfortable, because this is the book for you.

Daddy Dearest tells the story of a man whose daughter disappears one day while traveling alone down an apartment elevator. The entire apartment building is searched, but she is gone and no one has any clue what has happened to her.

To preface, much of the thriller aspect of this book relies on the unknown and the reader being held in suspense, so I'm not going to go too in-depth content-wise so as not to spoil anything. First, it is essential to read Daddy Dearest very carefully so as not to miss anything, because many details are not explicitly stated and instead left to the reader to infer and understand. I'll admit that at first I felt slightly annoyed by this, but as I progressed into the story and became more acquainted with the writing style, it began to become rather enjoyable and actually helped me make sure I was paying close attention.

Southern does an excellent job of creating the main character's narration. The main character, who remains nameless throughout the story, has a very distinctive personality that is both off-putting and intriguing. Our protagonist is brutally honest about his opinions, and he certainly comes off as semi-racist and sexist at times, which accounts for the off-putting part, but somehow Southern creates such an intricately multi-layered character that you find yourself enraptured in his storytelling and continuing to enjoy the character regardless of these offensive characteristics. His honestly is endearing and gains my respect, but it is also because of what he says and does that makes me lose my respect, leaving me with an overall conflicted feeling regarding the protagonist.

The narration appears, at times, to go off onto many tangents. The main characters gets caught up explaining his opinions or experiences about something, leaving the reader to wonder the what the point of these ramblings are, but then it hits you: these 'tangents' are telling extremely important information about the main character and his own actions - they also show how easily distracted he can be. Halfway through the book, I found myself wondering who I was 'rooting' for. This isn't a black and white book with a straight up good and bad character, but instead involves an ever-present grey area that leaves the reader to develop their own ideas and opinions, which I personally found enticing.

Overall, this was a solid thriller for me, and I would certainly recommend it for anyone looking for something a little different from your average thrillers. It's still high-paced, but it's not overtly high-paced, so there is plenty of room to breathe.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch. Hogarth, 2013. 292 pages. Ebook.

This is a hard book for me to review, mainly because although it was clever and unique, it was also disappointing and hard to get through. The entire story consists of a single dinner between Paul, our narrator, his wife, Claire, and his brother and sister-in-law, Serge and Babette. The dinner appears to be an innocent gathering at the outset, but as flashbacks and side-tracks into the lives and character of the brothers and their families are slowly revealed, we learn that there is a bigger, more important issue at hand with this dinner concerning a problem with their sons.

Paul is an interesting narrator: the first few chapters of the story portrayed a decently likable guy, and I felt like I was on his side, but as the story progressed, he became unreliable and a bit of a dodgy character. His character was certainly complex, but I can't say I found anything dynamic about him. I got the sense that he had no true moral compass, despite pretending like he did. In fact, I don't think anyone in this book truly had a moral compass. The actual act that their sons did (intentional vagueness so I don't give anything away) that prompted this entire dinner is pretty shocking, but it was never mentioned as being wrong, only in terms of how to cover it up. This bothered me, largely because it just didn't feel real. Who are these people and why are they so cold? There was almost no empathy or compassion to be found anywhere, which I understand is how some people are, but the falseness and despicable nature of these people was just overwhelming. As I've mentioned before, I'm completely fine with hating every character in a book as long as the book can hold up to it, but I'm not sure if The Dinner was able to do that. To be completely honest, I preferred the small inserts of the actual dinner and the interactions with the waiter, which felt like comic relief - albeit comic relief smothered in pretentiousness.

On a more positive note, Koch delves into some deep topics throughout The Dinner, such as mental illness and the notion of what truly constitutes a happy family, and in this area he brings up some compelling points to ponder. A major theme that seemed to consistently pop up was that appearances are deceiving, which can be interpreted in so many ways. There is also an overarching atmosphere of darkness and evil that permeates each page, which is one area in which Koch truly excelled - the man knows how to develop atmosphere.

By the time I put this book down, I felt slightly nauseous from what I digested (intended metaphor), and I'm not sure it is something I wouldn't particularly recommend based on how much I enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) it . I would recommend for its psychological interests and unique storytelling idea, but that's likely it. For this reason, I am giving The Dinner two-and-a-half stars.

You might also like:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Bloomsbury USA, 2015. Hardcover/Hardback. 318 pages. 

I love the cover art of this book immensely, and the hardcover edition of the book itself is jacket-less with a cut-out where the watch is... it's lovely.

The basic plot of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street begins when a mysterious gold watch appears on the bed of Thaniel Steepleton, eventually saving him from a bomb and leading him to the mysterious Keita Mori. At the same time, a young Oxford student named Grace Carrow is currently working on experiments to prove that the elusive ether exists. This all takes place in a wonderful Victorian London setting with brief, infrequent trips to Japan.

I loved the concept of this story; it sounded mystical, magical, intricate, and full of intrigue, and it delivered all of that. Unfortunately, how the story was delivered was not as skilled as expected. There are three main characters to focus on - Thaniel, Keita, and Grace - and they all had the potential to become complex and multi-dimensional, but sadly fell short of that. Thaniel's actions also didn't always make sense, and his interactions with Grace were confusing. The dialogue felt jilted and clumsy many times throughout the novel, and it felt like the characters were being forced to say awkward things that never quite made sense. This was actually a problem found within larger areas of Pulley's writing as well, such as in her descriptions and explanations; the way in which things were described was sometimes done in such a way that it was hard to discern the true meaning of her words.

Another area I struggled with was the setting changes. Pulley takes you back in history, then doesn't revisit that again for about a hundred pages, leaving me feeling rather lost. Some of the backstory and plot created for this story didn't ever exactly seem overly clear to me. I  feel as though Pulley needed to spend more time developing her plot and successfully weaving it all together to create one coherent story.

The ending also became a bit too.. jumbled. There were too many things that were just bunched up or didn't make sense. Everything culminated very quickly; nothing happened for a majority of the story, and then suddenly everything was happening, and none of it really made much sense.

On a more positive note, I loved hearing about how the watches and clocks were made, how the various gears worked, etc. - I assume Pulley did research for this or was already knowledgeable on the subject; either way, it definitely showed. This was one particular aspect of the novel where Pulley excelled, and she has a gift for weaving in something with such history and intricacy into the story. Thaniel's work as a telegraphist was also immensely fascinating, and it was enjoyable to read about.

Overall, I am giving The Watchmaker of Filigree Street three stars. Despite its promising plot, the characters and plot were not as developed as they could have been, and there were just a few too many issues with the writing. However, I would still recommend this to someone interested, as there are many people who have immensely enjoyed it regardless of any flaws.

You might also like:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

Smoke by Dan Vyleta will be released on Tuesday, May 24th!

**I received an ARC of Smoke courtesy of Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review**
Smoke by Dan Vyleta. Doubleday, 2016. 448 pages. Paperback/softcover. 

(Note: This was not the cover of the ARC I received [this is the cover I received], and to be honest I'm not sure I like this final one too much. I feel that a more monochromatic/black and white cover would have been much more dramatic and stark and thus more fitting to the story. But anyway, on to the review!)

About a month or two ago I received a package that contained an ARC of Smoke, which I had never previously heard of, and within that package was also an adorable little tin of sweets (pictured below) that I assumed had to do with the content of this book (it did). I thought it was incredibly clever marketing and a fun addition to the story, and it made me that much more excited to dive into this book.

I'm honestly not sure where to even begin describing a novel such as this one. The basic premise of Smoke is both complex and simple at the same time: when people 'sin' (though 'sin' is a very vague and broad word, but I don't have another word to use), they emit smoke and soot that dirties themselves and their surroundings. The varieties of smoke differ according to each person and each particular crime or misdeed that a person commits.

Smoke takes place in a Victorian England type of setting, and the story begins at a boarding school in which young boys are sent to learn to control themselves in order to continue on with their elite, aristocratic families and political wealth. The plot lies in the inevitable doom that Thomas believes lies in wait for him, the rebelliousness of certain characters that want to 'rid' the world of smoke, and the adventures that take place as a result of these varying circumstances.

The multiple points of view in which Vyleta writes was rather unexpected, and although it at first seemed like it would bother me, it actually kept me quite engaged. There are switches between a third person POV and the POV of main characters, such as Charlies, Thomas, and Livia, as well as various other brief minor characters, which adds even more depth and intrigue to the many events and scenes of the story.  Howeverm I did encounter difficulties discerning between the POVs of Charlie and Thomas in the first few chapters. At the beginning of the story, both boys are somewhat similar in their mannerisms, but I largely think that is the expected effect of growing up in such a strict environment such as the one they did. As the novel progressed, the distinctions between each boy began to grown and further push their personality traits away from one another. Charlie begins to distinguish himself a somewhat more controlled and level-headed boy, whereas Thomas is portrayed as more of a 'loose canon,' so to speak. Livia was also a very dynamic character who begins as rather uptight and struggles with her natural urges, or 'sins,' as she begins to develop and move away from her sheltered and strict life.

One area in which I think Vyleta excelled was in the dynamic transformation (though transformation may be a bit too strong here) of each character, which were wonderfully drawn out and detailed. Every change within a character happened very slowly, but very distinctly. One minor gesture or thought would occur, one minor emitting of smoke, and it is immediately apparent that that was a big moment for that character's change in this story.

Vyleta's writing is fairly consistently bleak and dark, which creates an atmosphere that I found immensely compelling and immersive. It became almost to heavy at times, as there is very little relief from the relentlessly dark atmosphere. However, this also keeps the entire storyline consistent - there is no chance to escape to another more hopeful or optimistic world.

Here's my main problem with this book: although I understood the process of smoking and what Livia's mother wanted to do (I won't say more because of spoilers), I always felt like I was missing something. Why exactly was everyone acting so dramatically? Why did the three children feel that they needed to hide out? Everything just felt a bit too drawn out and overly compensated for what the truth drama was. The writing wasn't necessarily disjointed, but every once in a while I had this sense that I was missing something important - and not in a good, mysterious way.

Overall, I am giving Smoke four stars for its unprecedented plot and immersive storytelling. I would have loved to give Smoke five stars, but there was just a bit too much uncertainty and lack of explanation that made this difficult to follow at times.

You might also like:
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum. 1993, Vintage Press. Paperback/Softcover. 400 pages.

When it comes to Murakami, I am never entirely sure where to begin my review. There is so much to say, yet also so little that can capture the quality and content of his writing. But alas, I shall do my best.

The world created by Murakami in Hard-Boiled Wonderland the End of the World is both familiar and unfamiliar. I always look forward to reading Murakami. His books aren't just ones that I pick up on the fly and read here and there; I almost always wait until I'm not overly busy to read his books, because they have this wonderfully cozy, calm effect that is perfect for those lazy days or breaks from the monotonous events of life. I always feel wonderfully refreshed after finishing one of his books, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland was no exception.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is divided into two narratives. The first of these follows an unnamed man who works as a 'Calcutec' in a somewhat realistic, yet still entirely surreal, world setting. The other is set in a much more surreal, otherworldly setting called The End of the World, where a young man is separated from his shadow upon entering. I'm choosing to not divulge anything further, as you really need to explore it firsthand, plus it would be rather difficult to attempt to explain.

This book deals heavily with the ideas of reality, and what one's reality is, whether they are aware of it, and how it influences or doesn't influence their own reality. The two realities introduced above exist simultaneously, and Murakami sort of leaves it up to the reader to determine what similarities or connection may exist between the two. This is a very mind-bending book that plays with the idea of the conscious and subconscious, and the characters within take great interest in playing with the brain and how it works.

There are an abundance of heavy and somewhat complicated topics in this book, and the amount of discussions and explanations did actually get a bit exhausting at various points. It wasn't an exhaustion that was a result of boredom of lack of interest, but rather one where I just found myself becoming overwhelmed and I needed to put the book down for a while so that I could clear my head and refresh. Otherwise, the topic became too much for my brain to continue to comprehend - but hey, that could just be me.

Murakami's prose was, as usual, wonderfully crafted and calming. Even in moments of what would be perceived as 'high stress,' I can't help but feel calm and relaxed while reading it. He includes countless details that are both important and seemingly unimportant, but they never begin to feel like a drag, and I remained engaged. I actually love the little details of Murakami's writing: his vast music collections and mentions, the in-depth descriptions of food and food preparation, and the quirky and clever actions and words of each character.

I would also like to tip my hat to the wonderful translator Alfred Birnbaum who, although I have not read the original, does a wonderful job translating Murakami.

Overall, I am giving Hard-Boiled Wonderland four-and-a-half stars for its unique and thoughtful themes and story. I can't say that this has been my favorite Murakami, but it is still a great book that I would certainly recommend.

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You might also like:
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart goes last will be released next Tuesday, September 29th!

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.

I feel as though I should start off by that saying that this was the first Margaret Atwood book I have ever read. I always hear how remarkable The Handmaid's Tale is, along with many of Atwood's other books, but for some reason I just never got around to picking any of them up. I'm not sure what was preventing me from reading one, considering she's often touted as the queen of dystopian literature, but somehow there was something preventing me from diving into one of her novels. So when I got a random package from DoubleDay books with an ARC of Margaret Atwood's upcoming release, The Heart Goes Last, I took it as a sign to break my Margaret Atwood virginity. 

I knew pretty much nothing about The Heart Goes Last when I received it, so I immediately looked it up to find out more. From what I have gathered, this novel is either related to or continued from her serialized Positron series, published by Byliner. However, there is no indication that one must read the previous Positron serials; I had no prior knowledge of any of this before reading, and I enjoyed the it just fine without that information. 

The Heart Goes Last is set in a dystopian future, where a young-ish couple, Stan and Charmaine, are struggling to survive; they currently live in their car and attempt to live off of Charmaine's meager wages as a waitress. However, a new experiment has begun in their community that is attempting to make people's lives easier. Participants in this new experiment will be given a house, employment, and rather pleasant lifestyle - but only for a total of six months a year. The catch: every other month each resident must spend their time in prison, while an alternate couple - who just completed their month in prison - takes their house for the month. The goal is, of course, to create a perfect society (we know how that tends to go). 

I was drawn into this book from the very beginning. However, I will admit that I felt a bit confused about what was going on at first, but fortunately there was something extraordinarily captivating about Atwood's writing that made me keep reading. It turned out to be an incredibly engaging story - so much that I finished it in about two days (which is likely partly helped by the fact that it's a fairly short book as well). This is also important to note because I have gotten pretty worn out from dystopian novels, but this one was a refreshing take on the genre.

Charmaine seemed to me to be the more stereotypical 'woman in dystopia' character and is much more gullible than her husband. Despite this, I see her naiveté nature as her deep, desperate plea to have a normal and happy life. And truly, that's all she wants: to be happy. It doesn't seem to matter just how gullible Charmaine needs to be for this to happen - she is fully willing to shed any doubts or questioning she has in order to enjoy this new life. 

Stan, however, is a bit more skeptical. From the start, he has a sort of inkling that this isn't going to go as it should. His brother, the ever untrustworthy screw-up, even warns him to stay out of this place. But Stan, being the good husband that he is, wants his wife to be happy, so he placates her and agrees to start the experiment. 

Stan and Charmaine's marriage was really interesting to explore. They weren't exactly passionate about one another, but their bond was incredibly strong - even when it appeared to be the opposite. Physically, they seemed to have a strong sex life, engaging in sexual activities often; however, it was also lacking in passion. Stan often commented how he was bored, and after finding a lipstick-printed note from what he thought was the other couple, he began to constantly fantasize about being much more passionate with the other woman that he had never seen. Stan wanted a life that wasn't so dry and pastel-colored, he wanted vibrancy and flames, like the lipstick color on the note. In my opinion, this is what ultimately drives and motivates Stan. He realizes that he isn't happy and that he does want out of his boring, uneventful life. 

This book plays with a lot of themes, emotions, and situations that are ordinarily pretty crazy. For instance, people who are deemed 'troublesome' are quickly sent to be euthanized; this, of course, is a huge secret that no residents know about, other than the one who performs the euthanasia. Residents are also under surveillance 24/7, whether they realize it or not. I really enjoyed how Atwood wrote in a style that was serious and not serious at the same time. The character are almost unbelievable due to how eccentric they are, but it is that eccentricity and oddness that draws you in and attaches you to each distinct character. The book plays with a vast amount of far-fetched ideas and plot events, but it still makes for an incredibly enjoyable read. And as far-fetched as some of these ideas are, it's frighteningly possible to imagine it happening in our own societies, and I think that is what truly hits home about this novel. While the book is amusing on the outside, it has many elements that convey a darker tone about society that can be found written between the lines of every page.

Overall, I am giving The Heart Goes Last four stars due to its wonderfully engaging and intriguing storyline, which is perfectly matched with Atwood's delightfully quirky and blunt storytelling. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good dystopian book (along the lines of 1984, not The Hunger Games), or anyone who simply enjoys something refreshing and entertaining.

And don't forget! The Heart Goes Last will be released on September 29th!

If you like this, you might also like:
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
On the Beach by Nevil Shute

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

**Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie is out in two weeks on Tuesday, September 8th! Don't forget to pick it up from your favorite bookseller!**

Two Year Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. Random House Publishing; 2015. 304 pages. Ebook. 

***I received an advanced copy of this book to read and review courtesy of NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group***

I consider myself to be a rather eclectic reader; I can enjoy something in almost any genre, and I can, in a rather chameleon-like fashion, alter my state of mind to various styles of writing. Unfortunately, I couldn't get myself to enjoy this particular novel.

As a result of this, I have officially decided that Salman Rushdie's writing is simply not for me. That is not to say that it is not wonderful writing, as Rushdie has a lovely prose with intricate stories and details, but rather that his writing is just not my type of writing. I have read Midnight's Children and I began (though was unable to finish) The Satanic Verses. I did enjoy Midnight's Children, but I never really fell in love with either of his works. I read both of those a while ago, so I figured I would give Rushdie one more go. Unlike Midnight's Children, there are not hundreds of made-up words that will confuse you - a huge relief to me, I assure you. Two Year Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is classified as magical realism, but it has plenty of much more fantastical elements to satisfy any fantasy-lover out there.

In brief, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights follows the story of Dunia, a jinn princess who, unlike normal jinn, falls in love with a mortal man and produces an abundance of offspring with him (seriously - we're talking births of ten to twenty kids at once here, supposedly) over two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. Eventually, years and years later, there is a great, unprecedented storm in New York that leaves the descendants of Dunia and her mortal man with strange powers: one man discovers he has begun to levitate off the ground and can longer put his own feet on solid ground; a baby is able to detect the corruption of any one person by merely touching them. All of this culminates in a struggle between dark and light forces, in which her descendants play a large and important part.

There are countless metaphors, symbolism, themes, and underlying messages that I think gives each reader the opportunity to dissect and devour it in their own way. Rushdie's prose is magical in itself: his words float along, perfectly capturing each moment before flowing smoothly into the next. Even in his long (very long), drawn-out informational lectures about the jinn, his words still read in a very lovely and elegant manner. It truly is magical novel, and the overall foundation of the novel is actually rather exciting and intriguing. I love hearing the details of the jinn and the overall fantasy/fairy story elements. Oh, and if there's one thing that one hundred percent, without a doubt understand and can take away from this story? The jinn really, really love sex.

The characters were hard for me to relate to. I felt a rather constant disconnect, and I felt more like an outsider viewing their stories from a great distance than actually being in and a part of their lives as I read along to find out what happens. Dunia is an intriguing character; the jinn don't normally feel many human-like emotions, nor do they generally consort with them, so she becomes unique in her relations with Ibn Rushd, her mortal lover. She tends to float back and forth between worlds, and provides a rather mysterious and complicated character for us to follow.

This is a dense book; the stories intermingle, the writing intermingles, and it continues to become more and more complex as it carries on. I found myself feeling confused and lost at multiple instances throughout the book. I honestly struggled to finish this, but something was tugging at me to carry on (plus, I knew I really wanted to write a review for it). The abundance of metaphors quickly become tangled up in one another, and I soon found myself losing interest at various points. The best way to describe my enjoyment of this novel is with the notion of random spurts of enthusiasm. I would be slogging through a particularly dense or uninteresting part, only to suddenly find myself enraptured in what was happening (I particularly enjoyed reading scenes with Mr. Geronimo). To me, this is a rather accurate depiction of the entire book: it has a somewhat random setup of involved scenes mixed with drier, more textbook-like informational writing. (Side note: I really love this cover, I think it adds a very simplistic yet symbolic image of the contents of the novel. It fits wonderfully - good job, designers!)

Overall, I am giving Two Year Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights  three stars, as it was both intriguing and beautifully written, but also confusing and lacking in engagement. I would recommend this to any who loves mythology, fairy tales, fantasy, magical realism, or deep, complex novels that seem to thrive on in-depth story lines. However, as I mentioned above, I do think this particular novel requires a certain type of reader, though I would encourage anyone interested to give it a try - you might just love it.

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman. Crown; July 2015. 20 Pages. Ebook.

**I received a copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

What I hoped would be a delicious, mysterious novel centered around the murder of a college student turned out to be a rather ho-hum story more focused on the minute details of the supporting cast's lives that, let's be honest, weren't all that interesting.

This story centers around the lives of three college students and a professor, both during and after another fellow classmate is murdered. Through various narratives, we learn about the lives, secrets, obsessions, and general complexities that have led to the transpiring of many events.

Despite the fact that the murder is the main plot for this novel, it's really not all that interesting. The student who is murdered? She's not event that important. Most of us probably couldn't care less about her or her death. I can understand that it was more of a plot device to get the ball rolling and explain the hidden and taboo issues that surround the student's murder, but for a novel that boasts itself as a college murder mystery, it doesn't quite live up to that.

Our four main characters are: quiet, somewhat shy Charlie who comes from a working-class family, but wishes to rub elbows with the rich Harvard elite; Georgia, the enigmatic blonde that everyone wants, but basically no one gets, and who has a complicated history with her father; Alice, a pissed-off-at-the-world young woman who despises her family, which leaves her full of rage and motivation; and we have Storrow, the mysterious, somewhat awkward professor that rolls into bed with one of his students, accidentally offends his students, and is accused of murder.

I had an extremely difficult time caring about any of the character. I'm not necessarily one of those people that has to like the characters in order to enjoy a novel, but I simply didn't care about them. There were no great, defining qualities that drew you to them and made you want to follow their life and participate in their difficulties. I hated Storrow; he was an incredibly pathetic, disgusting man who I simply couldn't bring myself to like or pity in the slightest manner, despite Charlie's early attempts to make him appear pitiable. Sorry, Charlie, not going to happen.

The way in which these characters stayed "connected" after college is incredibly weird as well. I just can't possibly believe that these people who really didn't have that strong of a connection even while attending college would possibly rely on one another outside of college. In fact, beside the facade of each character and their interactions, they almost (sort of) hated one another. There was always tension, always some issue, and I can't recall any interactions that were, well, happy. The best way to describe their interaction would be as extremely unhealthy, magnetized attractions to one another.

Kirman also seemed to keep hinting at a huge, incredibly wide array of interesting subplots and secrets, but she never dug deeper and explored those ideas, which would have added so much to this otherwise disappointing novel. I both liked and disliked the way in which Kirman jumped back and forth between characters and time periods. It was incredibly confusing, but that style sort of fit with this book. The timeline and jumping around sort of matched the jilted and troubled lives of the characters; nothing was linear, nothing made sense, and nothing was ever perfect/right/etc.

Oh, and to anyone who compares it to The Secret History by Donna Tartt: stop. The only comparison is that it's a college campus and there was a murder. Comparison stops there; nothing else is the same.

Despite the many things I apparently really disliked about this novel, I kept reading it. Something, somehow, dragged me on. I feel a large part of that reason was Kirman's writing style; she truly does have a haunting, melodic tone to her narrative which does add to the air of intrigue and ability to keep readers turning those pages (or tapping their Kindles, in my case). There are moments throughout this story where Kirman's voice shines through, and that is what made this somewhat dry and unlikable a bit more enjoyable and intriguing. Because of this, Bradstreet Gate will be receiving three stars from me.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Eccos; 2014. 400 pages. Hardcover.

This book disappointed me. Now don’t get me wrong, it was still entertaining – but, sadly, disappointing. It was imaginative, but flighty. I couldn’t put it down, yet at times I wanted to do nothing but that. I think I had my hopes too high for this book. I had heard so much, and I truly believe it was simply too over-hyped.

The novel starts off with a young girl of 18, Petronella, – or Nella, as she prefers to be called – and her arrival in Amsterdam to begin her new life married Johannes, a merchant trader. This presented the first problem for me: her age. Although I know how mature women can be at the age of eighteen, Nella simply seemed too mature. She had the airs of a woman quite a few years her senior, and it simply seemed a bit too much. She did have quite a lot of naiveties, which was more realistic, but it didn’t quite match up to her supposed age. Her sophistication seemed to go beyond her years, especially for having grown in a rather average setting before moving to Amsterdam.

But alas, moving on. I truly enjoyed Burton’s writing. She has a wonderful grasp on using language to capture emotions and set up a scene. While I didn't necessarily enjoy the way in which she always used this language, which I will get to momentarily, I really do think Burton is a wonderful wordsmith, who truly is a natural and gifted writer. I immensely enjoyed her descriptions and language during moments of crises; it was a very simplistic style, yet it conveyed so much.
However, this brings me to my second issue: confusion. Although I loved the way in which Burton wrote and styled her story, I found it to be a bit confusing at times as far as plot was concerned. I found myself unsure of what was happening at times, largely due to the fact that her writing style does not always provide enough description or information about a scene or event that is occurring. Similarly, her writing style is one that leaves a lot up to the reader to deduce, and sometimes it is not as obvious as one would think.

Now, the characters. It was a fun cast of characters, each with their own extremely distinct personalities. However, I must say that they tended to be somewhat clichéd. Besides Nella and Johannes' sister, Marin, they weren't overly multi-dimensional or dynamic, as we did not see many sides to some of them. I suppose many people wouldn't see this as a flaw, but character development can truly make or break a novel, and this novel was rather lacking. 

Also, there is one aspect of the book that is left unexplained. And I must say, it kills me a little bit. There are times when authors can perfectly execute an “unexplained” or “open to interpretation” ending, but this was not quite one of them.

Overall, I would recommend this book, but not to someone who is overly picky about their books. It is an enjoyable read, and definitely interesting. As annoyed as I would become with this book at times, I found myself unable to put it down; I just had to know what would keep happening to this unfortunate group of people!