Tag Archives: book reviews

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Review

Review: “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” by Gabrielle Zevin

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Summary

A.J. Fikry is the owner of a little bookstore on a small island, with small sales and limited ties to the community.  No man is an island, and yet A.J. lives on one and does his best to keep to himself after the accidental death of his wife, all but drinking himself to death.  But several things begin to change – a new bookselling agent, a stolen and priceless book, and…a toddler left in his store.  Suddenly the lost and seemingly stuck A.J. is acting as a father to the little girl, making friends in the community, and thinking about dating again.

My Thoughts

This was a great book!  A book about a serious book lover and his amazing second chance at life, so of course I loved it (I’m a sucker for second chances at life and love).  🙂  Before every chapter, A.J. has a book recommendation for his daughter, which was so sweet and reminded me of the small bookstores that often have small book reviews or staff reviews on their shelves.  Also the whole story lovely from start to finish.  There are a fair amount of sad parts, make no mistake about it, but as with most lives, the good far outweighs the bad in this well-crafted story.  Make sure to check it out – 5 out of 5 stars.

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The Good Girl – Review

“The Good Girl,” by Mary Kubica
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It happens all of the time, there’s a mega-hit novel and then a ton of novels after are compared to it.  It’s a tale as old as time, and inevitably it’s what makes you pick up a book and, for the writers out there, possibly/hopefully/please – sells books.

“The Good Girl,” like many thrillers out there now (especially ones that feature a twist) was compared to “Gone Girl.”  (Side note:  if you haven’t seen “Gone Girl” yet, then you totally should.  It was very well done.)

In The Good Girl, Mia is the daughter of a well-known judge and is kidnapped because of it.  But the kidnapper middle man, Colin, decides not to turn her over to the truly bad guy and instead brings her to a remote cabin.  Meanwhile her mom, Eve, and the lead detective, Gabe, work against the clock to find her.

Okay…I’m a writer so I don’t usually like to give “bad” reviews but I do give honest reviews.    So, I’ll point out the good and the bad.

THE GOOD

Perspective and bouncing around:  I really liked the bouncing around in this story.  It’s told from three perspectives (until the very last chapter).  We hear the story through Eve’s, Gabe’s, and Colin’s words.  However, as an added and interesting bonus, the story is told both before Mia is found and after (not sequentially).  I really enjoyed this.  It kept the action fast enough and the reader off balance enough (but not too much) for it to be enjoyable.

Pacing:  Because of the action, change in perspectives, and bouncing around – this story was a very quick read.  It was also told (mostly) in very streamlined accounts – not a lot of superfluous detail, which makes the story go faster and is appropriate for the type of story.

THE BAD

The man’s perspective/quasi-romance:  Okay, I’m not a dude (obviously, I hope), but Colin’s perspective was good until…let’s just say until “complex feelings” arrive.  Yeah.  You know what I’m talking about and believe me, I was rolling my eyes too.  Anyway, Colin comes off as a little…7th grade girl in his descriptions and depictions of a supposed love (that right, I’m calling it out, this was not real love).  I was thinking the story could still be salvageable (maybe she would use his feelings/obsession against him to escape?) and was disappointed.

The mastermind:  <Sigh> Now, I have to tell you, I had a pretty good feeling who the mastermind was in the beginning of the story but was hoping I’d be surprised.  Then halfway through, I was certain.  With only a quarter of the book left, I knew it was coming but was hoping there was a way to deliver it that wouldn’t disappoint me too much.  And then…<sigh>…then, just a scant few pages from the end, I knew that wouldn’t be the case.  I think she was going for a kind of “Usual Suspects” surprise end, but it ended up being rather campy (I imagined the mastermind literally steepling their fingers during their confession).

RATING

At the end of the day, I’d give this book 3 out of 5 stars, not terrible but not really great either.  The first half was better than the second…with me full-out growling (GRRR) for the last quarter of the book.

Review: The Martian (or look Mom, I read more than just smut!)

cover_martian“The Martian,” by Andy Weir

So, I think you know that I don’t usually read science or sci-fi books…closest I’ve come in a while was a romance novel that had a scientist in it…that kind of counts, right? :p  But since I saw the preview for “The Martian” recently, I picked the book up on a lark…

Summary

In “The Martian,” astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars after a freak storm and accident causes his crew to believe him dead and bug out of the red planet way before their mission was scheduled to end.  Mark comes to after his fellow astronauts have left and finds…he has no way to make contact with his crew or NASA back home.  Shite.  So, he must figure out how to survive for four years (until the next crew comes to Mars) on his own on rations that were meant to last far less than that….and battle a host of other problems along the way.

Review

I said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t usually read this kind of book.  Actually, I bought it because I thought my dad might like it..and then proceeded to read it all and have yet to give it to him…sorry, Dad.  And there’s a lot of science, seriously.  But it’s not presented in a high brow way or in a way that makes you feel dumb.  It’s brilliantly presented by our amusing narrator and engineer/rogue botanist – Matt – and his excellent sense of humor.

Honestly, Matt is the best part about this book.  He seriously made me giggle….or seriously giggle.

He’s determined to be up-beat and since his journal is his only main outlet of communication/company, he is determined to keep us entertained as well.  This story has a little bit of everything – a whole lot of drama (can he/will he survive against all of the odds? can he contact NASA?), humor (some of his comments, especially about aqua man talking to whales, were hilarious), ingenuity (the man is smart as hell), and excellent plot.  I loved it – 5 out of 5 stars.  And I plan on seeing the movie, though I’m wondering how they’ll present all of the narration…should be interesting.

Side note – amazingly this is Andy Weir’s first novel, who is apparently a bit of a genius himself.  You go, dude.  Can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

Locke and Key – Volumes 5 and 6

Locke and Key – the final two books:  Volume 5 “Clockworks” and Volume 6 “Alpha & Omega

Whew, I finally did it.  I finally finished my first graphic novel series.  It would have been sooner, but I couldn’t bring myself to take the graphic novels with me on business trips – I was too afraid that the travel (and shoving them into my carry-on with snacks and all kinds of things) would ruin their artful pages.  I’m glad that I waited, as I still have the complete set, and pretty pristine.  🙂

Clockworks

When last we left the Locke children, darkness had seeped into their family, a darkness in disguise, that no one would ever suspect.  But how did it start?  How were the keys created?

In Clockworks (volume 5), Tyler and Kinsey discover an old clock in the key house that allows them to go back to key dates (ha! get it?) so that we can get the full background on the magic keys.

The first dates give us a glimpse of the very beginning – when the keys were born from the evil black door in the caves beneath the Keyhouse, during the revolutionary war.

There are a great many dates, but naturally after learning about the origin of the keys, the Locke children are curious about the dates that coincide with their dad’s high school years.   And it is here that we learn that their dad was kind of a dick when he was in high school, and by dick, I mean he thinks it would be cool to unleash a demon from the black door as a last hurrah of childhood. Some kids might want to throw a party, but I guess you do you, bro.

…yeah, I mean, in hindsight, the man is kind of responsible for the demise of multiple people including his own.  Not to judge or anything, but so not cool, dude.  So. Not. Cool.


Alpha & Omega

The end is near and a battle looms…many won’t survive it.  And of course, it has to culminate during a high school party, because if a gateway to a hellish other world is opened, it’s going to be opened by teenagers. :p  I kid, I kid.

Alpha and Omega, the final chapter in the Locke and Key series, wraps up nicely – and sadly, I might add – not only for the characters we lose along the way, but for the end of the series as well.  The art and the story were so well crafted, so well done, that it’s officially made me a graphic novel fan…and I’m glad.

I don’t want to give away any of the final bits of the last volume, but I will say this – a lot of characters die.  But there are also a lot of characters that are freed from the wrongs that happened during the series and quite a few characters survive.

I give the last two books, as well as the entire series, 5 out of 5 starts.  Check it out and prepare for an amazing story.

Locke & Key Volume 4 – Review

Lfile_4_13311ocke and Key Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom – Review

Volume 4 of the Locke and Key series starts with a kind of art tribute to one of my favorite comics of all times – Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson.

But there’s no cuteness about childhood adventures as with the famous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip of our youth.  Locke & Key volume four kicks up the darkness and the intensity several notches – with relationship drama, interesting experimentation about letting people into your head/memories, violence, racial commentary, and fighting the ultimate bad guy, Dodge (AKA Lucas Caravaggio/Zach Wells).

In any series, there is a book that brings us to the turning point – that crucial place in the universe where a story goes from innocence (and a fair amount of set-up) to the real action and the real heartbreak.  In the Harry Potter Series, I’d say it was the Goblet of Fire.  In the Locke and Key series, I’m guessing it would be this volume – the keys to the kingdom.  Something quite unsettling happens at the end of this story, but there’s still hope for the Locke kids, and it’s the hope (as well as the curiosity of what the bad guy is going to do next) that will keep me reading.  I don’t want to give too much away or spoil anything for anyone…which unfortunately prohibits me from doing a good job of summarize what happens in this part of the series.  Let me just summarize and say…there are a few characters that are no longer with us at the end of this book (I know, I know, boooo).

The one issue that I had with this volume is that A LOT happened here and A LOT of battles were condensed to just a synopsis.  I get it, I do…too many battles against the bad guy and your series runs really long or worse, things start to feel repetitive to your audience.  But still, there were some things that were summarized that I wish I’d be given more detail about.  But hey, leaving your readers wanting more is really a problem we’d all like to have.

5 out of 5 stars…and I really need to finish the rest of this series!

Slaughterhouse five – Review

Banned Book Review – “Slaughterhouse five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death”

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Earlier this year, I decided to participate in the Banned Books Challenge to broaden my horizons and read so many of the books that I’ve always meant to read.

I started the year with “The Things They Carried,” a collection of short stories which take place during the Vietnam War.  I decided to stay with that theme of war novels and I moved on to “Slaughterhouse Five,” by Kurt Vonnegut.

“Slaughterhouse five” follows the story of Billy Pilgrim, a chaplain’s assistant, during World War II.  Billy is captured shortly after the Battle of the Bulge and travels to Dresden while a prisoner of war.  He, like Vonnegut himself, is in Dresden during the city’s firebombing in WWII.

According to Wikipedia, “Slaughterhouse five” was banned (attempted to) due to it’s “irreverent tone and purportedly obscene content.”   As with “The Things They Carried,” and I’d imagine any book that deals with war, it is going to discuss things that leave some people uncomfortable.  Terrible things happen during wars, and people should be honest about it (and with themselves).  War is hell.

Bu4066372865251_s6u7rgBp_lt the book covers more than just the war – it talks about Billy’s life before and after war, as well as his interactions with the Tralfamadorians.  The Tralfamadorians experience time different than the traditional linear form that we do, they instead leap through time, experiencing events years apart and often at random.  A oddity, which they impart to Billy, causing him to become unstuck in time – leaping back and forth from his regular life, to the war, his time as a prisoner of war, to his time in captivity with the Tralfamadorians, and other events.

The confusion and off-kilter feeling with time skipping and Vonnegut’s style (not traditional chapters) worked well for a retelling of a war story.  I’ve never been to war, but I’d imagine that most survivors of war have moments of time when they suddenly think about a memory from their time in the war… especially when trying to reacclimate to their old lives and heal from the traumatic experience of going to war.

There is also a refrain that is repeated many times during the book and anyone who has read the book can easily tell you what it is – “so it goes.”  It is often repeated after discussing a character’s death or unfortunate event.  This is part of where the pro-banning the book people got their “irreverent tone” nonsense from.  And to their objections to the book, I’ve no doubt Vonnegut had three words for them: “so it goes.”

It was an interesting and deep story, peppered throughout with some bits that were humorous.  My favorite funny scene was when a writer was at a party of eye doctors and talks with a young woman –

“Did that really happen?” said Maggie White.  She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies.  Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away. She hadn’t had even one yet.  She used birth control.

“Of course it happened,” Trout told her.  “If I wrote something that hadn’t really happened, and I tried to sell it, I could go to jail. That’s fraud.”

Five out of five stars for “Slaughterhouse Five,” I’d put it on the list of books that you should read at some point in your life…as it’s probably one of the best novels of our time.

And make sure you check out the banned books challenge for 2015, because books should never be banned.

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Guest Post from the Bookish Mouse

Yay for Guest Posts!  This post is from my best friend, Marisa, at the Bookish Mouse.  Marisa gives the most enjoyable (and often smutty) book recommendations ever.  We have also been known to giggle (and perhaps cackle) in the aisles of major bookstores. I also like to play a game  in B&N (much to Marisa’s chagrin) called, “can we find a shelf full of books that Marisa hasn’t read?”  As she is a voracious reader, it takes quite some time to find a shelf without at least one book she’s read.  Enjoy… 😉

Originally, I was going to write about angsty heroes in romance novels. Because there are heroes with so much angst. The kind of angst that makes him feel all the feels. These are my catnip.
But! I recently found myself wanting something to read and not being able to decide on what (as I do). I settled on a book I downloaded during one of Barnes and Noble’s Free Friday giveaways: Still Life With Murder, by P.B. Ryan.

P.B Ryan, by the way, is her mystery books name. Guess what she writes as Patricia Ryan? Romance novels!

You’re welcome.

This is the first in a series of 6 books. It tells the story of Nell Sweeney, an Irish woman that works as a governess for a little girl that a wealthy family in post-Civil War Boston adopts. The family, the Hewitts, are one of the wealthiest and oldest families in the city. They had four sons, two of which died in the infamous Andersonville prison camp.

Or did they?

Well, one of them did. The other reappears after being accused of murdering a man outside of a gaming hell, which also happens to house an opium den. William Hewitt hid from his family for at least three years after the war, spending his time gambling and feeding an opium addiction.

William’s mother, Viola, has Nell investigate and try to clear Will of the murder charge. Will doesn’t make it easy for Nell to help him. He deals with demons from the war, but also with demons from a difficult childhood.

During one conversation with Nell, William explains that one of the reasons he’s kept away from his family is his guilt over failing to help one of his young brothers. He tells her: “And, too, I saw something of myself in him–those of us with an appetite for sin always recognize it in others–and I didn’t like what I saw.”

This is one tortured man. I love it.

Nell, too, has some angst, but in general she’s a badass. She has to hide her awesome badassery, however, in order to keep the life she’s worked so hard to acquire. Her background is less than genteel–which the whole being-Irish-in-19th-century-Boston tells you–but she’s intelligent and determined.

One of the things I liked most about this book is how it highlights the complexity of women’s lot in life during this time period. At one point, Nell muses about how much she knows that ladies shouldn’t know. Are these women really being protected or are they pretty much prisoners within their fancy homes?

I enjoyed this book immensely. I’ll be checking out her romance books when I’m done with this series.

Five stars!

P.S. As of this writing, the e-book is still available for free both from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Banned Review “The Things They Carried”

Book Review:  “They Things They Carried”

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You can probably tell from my blog, but I don’t usually read the more serious books.  The type of books I usually read – romance, mysteries, thrillers – are like cotton candy for my brain.  They may not be nutritious, but I can’t stop myself from gobbling them up.

It is for this very reason that I decided to go outside the norm for my second book in the Banned Books Challenge and read “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien.  I wanted something raw and real, something to make me think, and I found it in the short stories of war within “The Things They Carried.”

I’d imagine that “The Things They Carried” was probably banned for language or descriptions of death and war.  I’d imagine that it may have offended some people – the grit, the terror, the truth in the fictionalized accounts of Tim O’Brien’s own Vietnam experiences.  But books like this should never be banned – even if you’re offended by these stories or if you’re a person who doesn’t understand why stories like these should be read.  Books should never be banned because the subject matter makes you feel uncomfortable.  Voices should never be silenced.  Books like “The Things They Carried” are more than educational for those of us who never see war…for those who have, they can be a form of therapy and a way to no longer feel alone or forgotten.

Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a life-time ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for.  Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” – “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien

If you haven’t read “The Things They Carried,” I strongly recommend it.  Five out of five stars.

And make sure you check out the banned books challenge for 2015, because books should never be banned.

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Banned Review “A light in the attic”

Banned Book Review:  “A Light in the Attic,” by Shel Silverstein a-light-in-the-attic

In honor of the many children’s books that have made ALA’s most challenged books list, I decided to start my banned books challenge with one of my favorite authors growing up – Shel Silverstein and his “A Light in the Attic.” When I was a kid, Shel Silverstein introduced me to poetry through “A light in the Attic” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”  I can remember giggling over the rhyming lines and funny sketches in books borrowed from my local library.  I would even come up with rhymes of my own, entertaining myself (and most likely annoying my older sister and parents) with my early endeavors as a writer.  :p

According to Wikipedia, the motives for banning this book range from promoting disobedience among children to describing death.  To this I say, some people need to lighten up. I give this book five out of five stars – strongly recommended for children and those of us who enjoy nostalgic reading that pulls our heart-strings with the serious poems that Silverstein weaves in with the silly.

I especially enjoyed the poem he ends this book with:

This Bridge

This bridge will only take you halfway there To those mysterious lands you long to see: Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs And moonlit woods where unicorns run free. So come and walk awhile with me and share The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known. But this bridge will only take you halfway there – The last few steps you’ll have to take alone.

-Shel Silverstein

If you haven’t already, check out the banned books challenge for 2015, because books should never be banned.

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Locke & Key – Volume 2 Review

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Graphic Novel Review: Locke & Key, Volume 2, Head Games:  By Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (And yes, that’s “head games” like the Foreigner song of the same name, so cue the music..)

Ty, Kinsey, and Bode continue to settle into their new lives in Lovecraft, Massachusetts.  And they are beginning to realize that the Keyhouse, the old house where their father and uncle grew up, is a place with hidden secrets and magic keys.

In Head Games, Bode finds the head key, which opens your mind (literally) and allows you to put in or take out whatever you want.  Ty uses the head key for studying (this would have been so convenient in college).  Kinsey uses it to get rid of her fear monster and the part of her that cries.  Side note: this part of the graphic novel really stuck with me – especially when Kinsey’s fear monster starts talking and a lot of what it says sounds like the normal and terrible fears of a teenage girl.  Of course, taking out the part of your brain that’s responsible for fear would be intensely freeing – Kinsey is euphoric and empowered afterwards… But we also know that it will be a recipe for disaster…

5 out of 5 stars for Volume 2.  Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, you guys are officially deepening my level of nerd to graphic novel reader….and I love it.  😉

If you haven’t already seen it, check out the review for Locke & Key Volume 1.