Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Furies - review by Arianna


The Furies
Natalie Haynes
3 / 5


Published 2014

First Sentence
"The first thing they'll ask me is how I met her."

Publisher's Description:

When you open up, who will you let in?

When Alex Morris loses her fiancé in dreadful circumstances, she moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Alex takes a job at a Pupil Referral Unit, which accepts the students excluded from other schools in the city. These are troubled, difficult kids and Alex is terrified of what she's taken on.

There is one class - a group of five teenagers - who intimidate Alex and every other teacher on The Unit. But with the help of the Greek tragedies she teaches, Alex gradually develops a rapport with them. Finding them enthralled by tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge, she even begins to worry that they are taking her lessons to heart, and that a whole new tragedy is being performed, right in front of her...



Dear Reader,

First off: apologies for the long hiatus! We've had a lot going on in our own lives lately: I've had a beautiful baby girl, and AmberBug has started an awesome new job! Both of which are keeping us quite busy. Not, of course, too busy to read! But unfortunately it's meant giving a bit less attention to our blog. We hope to resume more regular postings soon!

In the meantime, on to my review...

Unlike AmberBug, I went into this book with absolutely no expectations. I think that actually helped quite a bit, because I would also have been disappointed if I were expecting a really suspenseful, can't-put-it-down novel. This was definitely NOT that. It was, I suppose, more of a character study, although I found it odd that I didn't connect at all on any level with any of the characters - even though I think the author intended for me to. While I felt detached sympathy for Alex, the main character, I didn't really care about her outcome. And that was true several times over for all of her (what felt like peripheral) students. It was so odd, because I felt like you'd just barely met everyone and, boom, there was the crux of the plot! I think the author spent more time with those characters in her head, and expected we'd done the same? In any case, I found I just didn't care about anyone in the story. And I didn't believe in the main characters' motivations, which meant the denoument felt incrdibly flimsy to me. 

I also didn't like how the reader was made to feel as if the entire group of students were involved in the crime being outlined, from the title and from how much attention was equally paid to everyone in the class. I wasn't quite sure how the rest of the students played into the actions of the one. Why did the reader have to spend so much time with all of them? Just to learn about the tragic lives of troubled youths?

And to me, the connections between the story and the discussed Greek plays were VERY tenuous. While I enjoyed learning a bit more about a few classic Greek tragedies, I felt as if I didn't get a very thorough understanding of them, and yet at the same time - like Amber - I felt as if I were stuck back in a high school English classroom. Boring!

And, I'm sorry - naming the other boy in a fight Donny Brooks: REALLY? That got to me, even though I laughed out loud upon first encountering it. 

Overall, I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone, although I certainly didn't hate reading it. Some of the writing was really great. I just felt like the novel dragged quite a bit, and my time could have been spent better elsewhere. But I do agree with Amber that the inclusion of the Greek plays helped make the book quite a bit more interesting, and I did come away with a bit more knowledge, which I always appreciate. 

Yours,
Arianna


The Furies

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Left: Hardcover - Right: E-Book
 

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Final Empire By Brandon Sanderson - Audiobook


Mistborn: The Final Empire
Brandon Sanderson
5 out of 5

Published 2006
First Sentence
"Ash fell from the sky..."
Publisher's Description:
In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?

In Brandon Sanderson's intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage — Allomancy, a magic of the metals.
 

Dear Reader,

I am very glad one of my friends turned me onto this series. The fantasy realm that Brandon Sanderson has crafted is tight. I would describe it as similar to feudalistic, pre-industrial earth. There are two classes; the Skaa and the nobleborn. The skaa are under the harsh enslavement of the nobleclass. There is a demi-god ruler referred to as the Lord Ruler. 1,000 years ago an event occured that gave the Lord Ruler his divine powers and the structure of the world was reformed. Now ash falls from the sky, every thing is gray or black, even plants and the sky. At night mists cover the world and have mystical properties. Also at the time his transformation the Lord Ruler gifted all of his supporters a magical condition of allomancy. Allomancy is the magical power of being able to burn specific metals to access certain superhuman abilities. The original supporters have long since passed away but their descendants make up the nobleclass. The heredity of allomancy is passed from generation, because of this the Canton of Inquisition forbids a noble person from procreating with skaa. If they do choose to rape a skaa woman they have to kill her soon after to avoid any halfbreed people.  The two main characters, Vin and Kelsier were both born as skaa but due to the fact that the nobleborn have illegally fathered children, they are mistborn.  They ingest small bits of metals and acquire special powers. For example Pewter gives inhuman strength, tin enhances all of the 6 senses Steel allows you to push metal objects, iron allows you to pull on metal objects, This makes them be able to fly and jump by balancing the pushes and pulls of the metals around them in the city.  Bronze allows the allomancer to soothe people or groups of people depending on how skilled they are.  Copper burning masks their usage of allomancy from other allomancers. Some people only have one of the 11 metals and so they are known by their various names such as a thug, a Smoker or tin-eye. If you're born with more than one ability to burn metals then you can burn them all and are mistborn. The mistborn are the highest echelon of powerful warriors. Atium is a metal that allows the mistborn the ability to see the shadow images of all possible moves their opponent is and could make. This allows them to intercept or dodge blows seconds before the person moves. Atium is so precious and powerful it is also used as a currency 
Vin is a young girl who has lived a rough skaa life as a bandit/ thief. Her brother Ream raised her and also beat and degrading her. As the story starts he has recently abandoned her. Kelsier is the charasmatic leader of a group of skaa who plan to over throw the Lord Ruler. Kelsier has a particularly strong agenda again the noble class and the lord ruler since they beat his wife to death in front of him and sent him to the Atium mines to be worked to death. The idea of overthrowing the Lord Ruler is crazy since he has godlike powers and seems immortal. Rebellions of the past attempt many times to kill him but they had never succeeded. All the odds seem again them but little by little they work on a strategy to weaken the noblemen, deplete the army in the capital city of Luthadel, and to rally the skaa masses. 
Vin is discovered by Kelsier and his crew, he essentially gives her a new family and a new chance at happiness.  Her character has a lot of growing to do from being a battered street urchin to a badass mistborn. 
Sanderson builds up a lot of awful so that the reader can grow more and more angry and the ugly world of, "The Final Empire." The reader definitely will be rooting for the underdog to find a way to take out all the bad guys and like a video game defeat the final master bad guy.
There are some really great unexpected plot twists that I can't tell you about but I can say that the story is very enthralling. I also love how detailed he gets when he describes a battle between allomancers, the coins that they drop and the breastplates that they push off on when they are deflecting and flying around each other. He's set up a great starting point for many other adventures and mysteries of the metals to unfold. 
The theme of religion and it's use in society is addressed in a noteable way. The lord ruler is both their supreme leader and their god. The skaa are supposed to believe this and their for submit willingly to their enslaved lives.  In the tradition of Firefly and Battle Star Gallactica the author gives the people a unique curse. In this world they don't say, " My God!" they say, " Lord ruler!"
The Final Empire has a clear caste system, the rich and powerful and the weak masses. There are some parallels to the way people viewed African Americans in the south before the civil war and these fictional people. Ellend, a nobleman, and his friends wonder out loud if skaa are as intelligent as the people of the nobleclass are. 
There's a little My-Fair-Lady-action going on when they teach Vin to play the part of a rural noblelady named, Lady Villette. She has to grow her hair out, wear ball gowns, high heels and learn all the house names and alliances. ( Sort of Game-of-Throney) They have her attend balls as a spy and she ends up meeting her love interest there. Her teacher, Sazed, is a cool character, kind of like the Giles role from Buffy. He knows all the stuff and has the patience to teach her despite her desire to go play in the mists. 
The plan of the 'crew' ( Kelsier's crew of allomancers and Vin) seems gallant and a little hopeless. How the plot resolves was unexpected and that is a rare statement for someone who likes to read. I should says likes to listen since I almost always do the audiobook version of books. On that note I did like the voice of the narrator, Michael Kramer. 


Yours,
Marsha

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

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The Postman Always Rings Twice


The Postman Always Rings Twice
James M. Cain
4/5


Published 1934

First Sentence
"They threw me off the hay truck about noon."
Publisher's Description:
An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one grisly solution--a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve. First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America's bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.

Dear Reader,

Can you believe I went into reading this book without ever watching any of the movies or knowing the plot line? Well, I did and you know what? I loved it. It might have been just because of that reason, I didn't know the plot. For anyone who does know the plot, you have to admit that it's pretty darn clever. You have a beautiful married woman who falls in love with a drifter who comes to work with her elderly and fat husband. The two elicit a love affair that turns into something more, plotting to get rid of the inconvenience of her marriage. What do you get when you put two terrible people together, make them fall in love and figure out ways to trust the untrustworthy? A really great story. That's what this is.

After reading the book, now I've got to see the movies (especially the 80's version that stars Jack Nicholson & Jessica Lange). Check out some photos from the movie below (the last picture is just so you can check out the young & beautiful Jessica Lange):

Lana Turner & John Garfield in the 1946 Movie Version

Jessica Lange & Jack Nicholson in the 1981 Movie Version

Look how adorable Jack & Jessica look! Love it!

She is so beautiful, Jessica Lange with her bewitching stare.

Just looking at those pictures makes me want to rush out and get the movies today! I would HIGHLY suggest reading this book before watching the films though. I read them unbiasedly, without certain Hollywood Actors in my mind (which is for the best in my opinion).

Back to the book, I want to mention the language James Cain uses. He wrote the character of Frank (the vagabond) as exactly the way you'd suspect. We didn't even need a description, the dialogue alone gives us a rich and colorful view of who Frank represents. The same can be said about most of the characters, especially Cora, which results in extremely well written characters that can stand out without much of a story. However, James Cain gives us that story, and... it's a really fun ride. I felt thrown back into that time period, I could even feel the gritty air surrounding them. Cora shows us the reality of a woman selecting her path in life (to marry and be secure or to be a vagabond herself and wonder where the next meal will come from). So much has changed, yet we still feel for her because the discrimination still exists today. I also fell in love with Frank, even though he's a pretty rotten scoundrel in many ways. I think it's the typical bad boy attitude that got to me. This love story, it's my kind of love story... dirty (not in the sexual way) and honest, the way real relationships depend on trust and hardships. After reading this, I want to check out some more from James Cain. At least I can be secure in knowing the characters will be brightly colored and easily pictured, which is something I truly appreciate in any Author.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug


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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Burial Rites (review by Arianna)


Burial Rites
Hannah Kent
4.5 / 5


Published 2013

First Sentences
"They said I must die.  They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine."
Publisher's Description:
Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Dear Reader,

I LOVED this book, and I can't stop thinking about it.  I waver between giving it a full 5-star rating, but I can't make up my mind.

I can't even really put my finger on why I loved it so much.  Okay, I do know one reason: I read the audiobook, and the narrator was phenomenal - perhaps one of the best I've ever heard.  I loved the emotion she could put into her voice; she was just like a stage actor, playing the role wholly and entirely.  I've just looked her up - Morven Christie is her name, if you are interested in checking out any of her work (although it appears from Goodreads that she's only recorded two books so far!).

Outside of the narration though, what tied me so strongly to this book?  It's funny, actually - at first I had a really difficult time getting past the first few pages of the physical book, which usually is not an issue for me.  But the legalese seemed very dry to me, and I couldn't understand how both AmberBug and my father could recommend the book so highly!  But once I got past that point (I restarted in audio form), it sucked me right in and I couldn't stop listening.  I think part of the reason is that you spend almost the entire book uncertain as to whether Agnes actually is a murderer or not.  It's a mystery you desperately want to resolve, because you (along with her host family) come to really care for her, and you don't want to see her executed - innocent or not.  Agnes really endears herself to the reader (as well as several characters in the book), and you start to believe that she is incapable of murder - but is she?  There are so many conflicting accounts to consider.  The resolution of the book is pretty staggering, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.  Watching the relationships develop between Agnes, her captors, and her confessor is just so real and so poignant.  And what makes it even better is the Author's Note at the end, which indicates that the book was based upon a true life story which has become something of a legend in Iceland.  I think that added level of a reality-based story (Kent did a lot of research, and her account could very well be close to Agnes' true story) is what really made the book so great.  I think the author did an excellent job of establishing a possible and feasible background for a real-life mystery.

Yours,
Arianna

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Wild Connection


Wild Connection:
What Animal Courtship
and Mating Tell Us about Human Relationships

Jennifer L. Verdolin
4/5


Published June 3rd, 2014

First Sentence
"It wasn't until I was about eleven years old that I became acutely aware that there was a difference between boys and girls."

Publisher's Description:

Wild Kingdom meets Sex and the City in this scientific perspective on dating and relationships.

A specialist in animal behavior compares the courtship rituals and mating behaviors of animals to their human equivalents, revealing the many and often surprising ways we are both similar to and different from other species.

What makes an individual attractive to the opposite sex? Does size matter? Why do we tend to "keep score" in our relationships? From perfume and cosmetics to online dating and therapy, our ultimate goal is to successfully connect with someone. So why is romance such an effort for humans, while animals have little trouble getting it right?

Wild Connection is full of fascinating and suggestive observations about animal behavior. For example, in most species smell is an important component of determining compatibility. So are we humans doing the right thing by masking our natural scents with soaps and colognes? Royal albatrosses have a lengthy courtship period lasting several years. These birds instinctively know that casual hook-ups are not the way to find a reliable mate. And older female chimpanzees often mate with younger males. Is this the evolutionary basis of the human "cougar" phenomenon?

Fun to read as well as educational, this unique take on the perennial human quest to find the ideal mate shows that we have much to learn from our cousins in the wild.



Dear Reader,

This book was so much fun to read. It was exactly what I was expecting and more. I think I annoyed everyone around me with my, "Did you know..." statements. This is that kind of book, the one you have to share every little awesome fact you come across with anyone around you. Don't you just love those kinds of books? Well, I do. While the animal courtship and mating facts had me a-flutter, the comparison with human relationships was a bit less intriguing to me. You see, I've found that someone and this book might have been more relatable in my mate seeking days. Although, everything she says... I agree with.

This is one of those books that you'll either love, get offended or blush and run away from it. Each chapter gives us a glimpse into a mating trait or ritual that can always be related to animal behaviour in some way. She gives examples that span from cockroaches to elephants and everything in between. The animal facts are truly fascinating, and in my opinion, the best part about the book. We get taught how birds will actively seek out certain colored foods to brighten up the colors of their feathers. Why? To get those lady birds of course!

I could go on and on with all the facts I've learned but honestly, I just think you should read the book. What are you waiting for? Go out and buy this book, then read it. Go on... GO!

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

This is Where I Leave You (review by Arianna)


This is Where I Leave You
Jonathan Tropper
4.5 / 5

Published 2009

First Sentence
"'Dad's dead,' Wendy says offhandedly, like it's happened before, like it happens every day."
Publisher's Description:
The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister—have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.

As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it’s a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant.

This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper's most accomplished work to date, a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind—whether we like it or not.

Dear Reader,

I don't know how much more I could add to Amber's comprehensive review of this book, especially without giving things away!  She is right - I would definitely classify it as a dark comedy, and a very enjoyable one at that.  The Foxman family is a crazy mess, but underneath all of their issues they clearly love each other.  They have each others' backs and they are there when someone needs a shoulder to cry on (well...usually).  I loved the oddball family and all of its messed up issues.  I am really looking forward to the upcoming movie, especially after Amber & I (along with our friend Claire) got to see a panel at BookCon which featured Jonathan Tropper, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, and Shawn Levy (the director).  The cast looks really well selected!  Even though I felt like Judd (played by Jason Bateman) was younger in the book...but, from the preview clips they showed the audience, it doesn't appear to be a game-changer: Bateman was masterful in the role.

I don't know what else really to write about this book that hasn't already been said.  Especially because it is essentially a character study of an entire family, and there isn't much plot aside from the main storyline, wherein Judd must attend his father's funeral shortly after having found his wife in bed with his boss.  A nuts but not unimaginable scenario, one which Tropper handles with grace and aplomb - he writes a very true-to-life story.  The players are so real, and the situations so tangible.  Readers can identify with the family tension and can easily put themselves into the same situation, mentally.  However, don't try asking yourself what you'd do in the same situation - because the characters will constantly surprise you!

The ending of the book seemed perfect, though.  The decision Judd makes is exactly the right one, I believe.

Yours,
Arianna

Friday, March 18, 2016

Me and Mr. Booker


Me and Mr. Booker
Cory Taylor
3/5


Published 2011

First Sentence
"Everything I am about to tell you happened because I was waiting for it, or something like it."

Publisher's Description:

Looking back, Martha could’ve said no when Mr. Booker first tried to kiss her. That would’ve been the sensible thing to do. But Martha is sixteen, she lives in a small dull town — a cemetery with lights — her father is mad, her home is stifling, and she’s waiting for the rest of her life to begin. Of course Martha would kiss the charming Englishman who brightened her world with style, adventure, whiskey, cigarettes and sex. But Martha didn’t count on the consequences. Me and Mr. Booker is a story about feeling old when you’re young and acting young when you’re not

Dear Reader,

This was definitely a book. I'm not sure if I enjoyed it or what but I kept reading, so that's something. This has been compared to Lolita, and while I can definitely see why... I didn't have that same feeling of disgust. Martha, sixteen and bored with her small town life, meets the Bookers through one of her mother's parties. Lacking a father with any good qualities, it's hardly a surprise that Martha is taken with Mr. Booker. This couple is all glam (especially to a sixteen-year-old), with a keen interest in Martha, taking her out with them on a regular basis.

I didn't exactly have anything to gripe about but I wasn't exactly wowed either. Cory Taylor writes a great page, and you definitely get a great feel of who the cast is. I just don't have much to say about anything else. It was a book. It was a book that I read start to finish. It was a book that kept my interest. It was a book.  

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Me and Mr. Booker

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Invaders


The Invaders
Karolina Waclawiak
3/5


Published 2015

First Sentence
"When Jeffrey's first wife told me he had a voracious appetite for women, I assumed she was just trying to be vindictive."

Publisher's Description:

Over the course of a summer in a wealthy Connecticut community, a forty-something woman and her college-age stepson’s lives fall apart in a series of violent shocks.

Cheryl has never been the right kind of country-club wife. She's always felt like an outsider, and now, in her mid-forties—facing the harsh realities of aging while her marriage disintegrates and her troubled stepson, Teddy, is kicked out of college—she feels cast adrift by the sparkling seaside community of Little Neck Cove, Connecticut. So when Teddy shows up at home just as a storm brewing off the coast threatens to destroy the precarious safe haven of the cove, she joins him in an epic downward spiral.

The Invaders, a searing follow-up to Karolina Waclawiak’s critically acclaimed debut novel, How to Get Into the Twin Palms, casts a harsh light on the glossy sheen of even the most “perfect” lives in America's exclusive beach communities. With sharp wit and dark humor, The Invaders exposes the lies and insecurities that run like fault lines through our culture, threatening to pitch bored housewives, pill-popping children, and suspicious neighbors headlong into the suburban abyss.



Dear Reader,

Take a look at that first sentence... it says it all. This is a story centered around the rich Connecticut shoreline snobs, the ones who care what others think, nitpick about everything and judge each other with an evil eye. I know people like this, I live and grew up in Connecticut (even if not in the same social class as these characters). Here's the thing, I've heard people complain that these characters are too over the top... well guess what... they really aren't! These people exist... yep. I hear ya, it's kinda depressing, but it's true.

For those of you who haven't read the book, the characters are full of hot air and get all in a huff when their small beach community threatens to be overrun by "tourists". Fortunately, the main character Cheryl didn't grow up in this social circle and has a little disdain for the ridiculous actions of the others. Unfortunately, Cheryl wants to be included in the social circle and this starts to change who she is. We don't get to see much of her past but with some reminiscent chapters, we can tell she came from lower middle working class. Her family is left behind while she gets swept up in her new husband's life. Understandably, the life he shows her is sparkly and new. Little does she know that what she is leaving behind has value, just as much as this new life.

The Invaders is a Tournament of Books pick, and I'm happy it forced me to read this one. I didn't love it, but I certainly didn't hate it (as some others did). I feel the beauty of the book lies within the characters and the reality of this world. There is a place for this story, these people exist and why not write about them? I won't deny that the ending was completely unsatisfying and confusing but the journey was truthful and relatable. This book isn't to be taken as a light beach read... there is real depth here and it's up to the reader to find it.  

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The Invaders

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Tsar of Love and Techno


The Tsar of Love and Techno
Anthony Marra
5/5

Published 2015

First Sentence
"I am an artist first, a censor second."

Publisher's Description:

This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.


Dear Reader,

This is another book that has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust from Book Expo America this year (and I'm killing myself for that). I'm always a little reluctant to pick up a short story collection because I don't usually "LOVE" them, only like (or really like). So this was quite a surprise, as you can see by my rating of five stars, I loved this one. I loved his debut book, "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" and this one is just as fantastic and tear jerking. Speaking of tears... this one got me pretty bad. I'm not one to cry much and this is the second book in a year to have made me cry ("A Little Life" was the other one). This is also the very first time I've cried over a short story collection. Although, calling this short stories is something I wouldn't do. I'm actually surprised the publisher and/or Author decided to do this, seeing as many readers shy away from them. I would probably put this more under a collection of stories that make a novel (very David Mitchell).

Each "story" is told from various characters in the same world, each with a voice to turn a cold, bleak setting into something relatable. So much is written about 1930s Soviet Russia, the best was being able to view the world from the eyes of characters you would never imagine. One of my favorites being the Soviet censor, who has the heart of an artist but has to suppress that talent and use it in a very dark way. This story starts all the others which connect through family, friends, the passing of someone on the sidewalk. Everything joins, which is why I think it's unfair for the book to be typecast as a short story collection when it is so much more. You get to know this world, the characters, and the interconnecting stories so well that it elicits emotion, strong emotion. I don't want to go into detail because this would spoil the journey for you, rather I would just push this into your hands and make sure you gave it a shot. For those of you who haven't read Marra... pick up one of these books, he is fast becoming an Author to admire and watch. I know I will be waiting (not so patiently) for his next book. I should also give a shout out to the amazing Tournament of Books collaborators for picking this one to be included. I can't wait to shout along from the sidelines, between this one and A Little Life... ugh, it'll be hard to choose.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

The Tsar of Love and Techno

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

& Sons


& Sons
David Gilbert
4 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"Once upon a time, the moon had a moon."
Publisher's Description:
The funeral of Charles Henry Topping on Manhattan’s Upper East Side would have been a minor affair (his two-hundred-word obit in The New York Times notwithstanding) but for the presence of one particular mourner: the notoriously reclusive author A. N. Dyer, whose novel Ampersand stands as a classic of American teenage angst. But as Andrew Newbold Dyer delivers the eulogy for his oldest friend, he suffers a breakdown over the life he’s led and the people he’s hurt and the novel that will forever endure as his legacy. He must gather his three sons for the first time in many years—before it’s too late.

So begins a wild, transformative, heartbreaking week, as witnessed by Philip Topping, who, like his late father, finds himself caught up in the swirl of the Dyer family. First there’s son Richard, a struggling screenwriter and father, returning from self-imposed exile in California. In the middle lingers Jamie, settled in Brooklyn after his twenty-year mission of making documentaries about human suffering. And last is Andy, the half brother whose mysterious birth tore the Dyers apart seventeen years ago, now in New York on spring break, determined to lose his virginity before returning to the prestigious New England boarding school that inspired Ampersand. But only when the real purpose of this reunion comes to light do these sons realize just how much is at stake, not only for their father but for themselves and three generations of their family.
 

Dear Reader,

I was surprised to like this book as much as I did. I received it quite a while ago as a First Reads from Goodreads, but kept never getting around to it. On a whim, I picked up the audiobook of the title instead, and because I seem to be able to read audiobooks with a lot more regularity these days than regular books (listening while walking the dog & doing chores helps with this!), I had much more success getting into it.

The story was something of a meta-novel, where the novel itself revolved largely around the 1960s publication of a Catcher in the Rye-type book - by which I mean it had achieved the same sort of success, and A.N. Dyer was still being read as required reading in high schools 50 years later. It certainly felt to me as if Dyer was intentionally supposed to be a fictional Salinger. Which was fascinating, because it meant we got to glimpse what Salinger's life might have been like, particularly if he'd fathered three sons. It was interesting to see how people treated Dyer and his family because of this fame - it's certainly a different flavor of celebrity than that of a movie star, but it retains its own cachet. As well as its own sort of fan base.

I have to say I wasn't particularly fond of how the narrator was omniscient; it made the telling of all angles of the story somewhat awkward at times. While being a tenuous family friend (with a bit of a heavy-handed obsession with Dyer), Philip managed to insinuate himself into quite a bit of the story. I felt as if this was an odd choice of narrative technique, but it did allow the reader access to various parts which a normal first-person narrative would not have. Why the author chose to go with that rather than a third-person perspective, I don't know. It was a bold if possibly unnecessary choice.

There was a big twist to the book, too, which I don't want to discuss too much, but it was pretty refreshing and a clever, very unique idea. It made the reader think a lot about the possibility and its implications. Arg, that isn't helping much. All I will say is that it made reading the book worthwhile; it is "revealed" rather early, but makes the rest of the story so much more intriguing.

Yours,
Arianna


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Bats of the Republic


Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel
Zachary Thomas Dodson
4/5


Published 2015

First Sentence
"It was the third massacre I'd witnessed."

Publisher's Description:

Bats of the Republic features original artwork and an immaculate design to create a unique novel of adventure and science fiction, of political intrigue and future dystopian struggles, and, at its riveting core, of love.

In 1843 Chicago, fragile naturalist Zadock Thomas falls in love with the high society daughter of Joseph Gray, a prominent ornithologist. Mr. Gray sets an impossible condition for their marriage—Zadock must deliver a sealed and highly secretive letter to General Irion, fighting one thousand miles southwest, deep within the embattled and newly independent Republic of Texas. The fate of the Union lies within the mysterious contents of that sealed letter, but that is only the beginning . . .

Three hundred years later, in the dystopian city-state of the Texas Republic, Zeke Thomas has just received news of the death of his grandfather, an esteemed Chicago senator. The world has crumbled. Paper documents are banned, citizens are watched, and dissenters are thrown over the walls into "the rot." When Zeke inherits—and then loses—a very old, sealed letter from his grandfather, Zeke finds himself and the women he loves at the heart of a conspiracy whose secrets he must unravel, if it doesn't destroy his relationship, his family legacy, and the entire republic first.

The two propulsive narratives converge through a wildly creative assortment of documents, books within books, maps, notes, illustrations, and more. Zach Dodson has created a gorgeous work of art and an eye-popping commercial adventure for the 21st century.

Dear Reader,

The fun I had with this book! It reminded me of my time as a kid reading a 'choose your own adventure' book. It was borderline mixed media - not many loose leaf breadcrumbs or anything out on the www to connect to the pages. The art, though! Brilliant. I loved the feel, look and touch of this book. The spine was velvet lined (which ended up filled with cat/dog fur by the time I was finished). Have you seen this Author by the way? Check him out (pic to the right). He's as wacky as his book, and that moustache is FANCY! Speaking of mustaches, there are a few moustached characters - very distinguished gentlemen.

Let me get to the book... what an adventure. I haven't had this much fun reading in a long time. "Bats" is chock full of MAPS (Love maps), letters (LOVE letters, history (yeah, history is cool), and the future (o0oo so very sci-fi, love that too). It is unlike anything I've ever read but at the same time reminded me of quite a few books I've read... if that makes sense. I was reminded of George Orwell's "1984", the future is controlled very similarly. I also got hints of Mark Z. Danielewski and the multi-colored text. Although, I couldn't find a strong distinction as to why the text was colored differently (where as Danielewski has purpose for everything he does funky in his books). If anyone found a connection, please share it with me! Anyways, this book goes back and forth in time (no middle here) between 1843 & 2143, both centering around Texas and Chicago. To try and explain the states in the future would ruin the surprise but let's just say Texas isn't just Texas and Chicago isn't just Chicago. The future is very sterile, a little bleak but with control and order. The past is just that... the past (but chock full of rich and exciting history). The surprising thing is that I didn't connect well with the main characters from the future, or even the main character from the past. My favorite storyline/character was within the sisters and the book within a book. Something about it reminded me a little of "Pride and Prejudice" with courtships and strong-willed females. I told you this book has many reminiscent moments towards some great classics. I wonder if the Author did this on purpose?

So, we are left with the one burning question... should you read this book? Well, do what I did... crack the spine and feel the eyes of the bat staring into your soul... telling you to read this book. Yep, THAT'S what hooked me from the start... the bats! If the bats don't get you... the snakes will. I promise you that you'll embark upon an adventure like no other, filled with beautiful drawings and imaginative storylines. You will want to find out how it ends.


Happy Reading,
AmberBug

P.S. - I can't wait to see how far this one goes in the Tournament of Books. 

Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hatchet


Hatchet
Gary Paulsen
2 / 5

Published 1986

First Sentence
"Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below."
Publisher's Description:
ALONE

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present -- and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent's divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self pity, or despair -- it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive. 

For twenty years Gary Paulsen's award-winning contemporary classic has been the survival story with which all others are compared. This new edition, with a reading group guide, will introduce a new generation of readers to this page-turning, heart-stopping adventure.

Dear Reader,

It seemed like everyone and their mother had this book assigned to them in middle school. I never did, though, and because it was an award-winner, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well? Meh. I always wonder if these books were more appealing when they were actually published, or maybe it's just that survivalist stories just aren't my jam. I suppose I was impressed by a book that could feasibly appeal to a young, male audience, which was a new idea at the time of publication. So I do appreciate that. And I know many loved this story. It just didn't draw me in. While part of me wanted to pay serious attention because you never know when you might be stranded and need basic survival skills - which I think is the appeal of the book, really - I just didn't always enjoy the minutiae of watching Brian set up camp. Part of what might have bothered me, though, was the absolute hopelessness of ever being rescued - that just felt so bleak to me, and I wondered: why bother? Of course, I understand why Brian did, but I don't know if I could have rallied quite like he did - he almost took things in stride, which I very much respect. Perhaps that is just what happens - your survival instinct kicks in before you have time to recognize your hopeless situation for what it is, because yes, food will take precedence over contemplation.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the narration was also what negatively influenced the book, for me! The audiobook version featured an older male's voice which just kind of felt lethargic, and it included "dramatic music" at certain points, which I think can work really well if done right - but just wasn't, in this case. Hmm.

I also do wonder if this book would have resonated with me more when I was younger. I sometimes feel as if I missed out on some great opportunities for discovering beloved books when I could have identified more with them. But, alas, such is the way life goes! I am glad that I did read this book, finally, even if it will never be a favorite.

Yours,
Arianna

P.S. There are sequels to this book. Sequels! I can't even fathom...has anyone ever read any of them? I am just so curious. Does Brian get stranded again and again? Do we follow him until he grows to adulthood, watching how his life is affected by this formative experience? I'm SO intrigued!


Hatchet

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sacré Bleu


Sacré Bleu
Christopher Moore
3.5 / 5

Published 2012

First Sentence
"On the day he was to be murdered, Vincent Van Gogh encountered a Gypsy on the cobbles outside the inn where he'd just eaten lunch."
Publisher's Description:
In his latest novel, Moore takes on the Great French Masters. A magnificent “Comedy d’Art”, Sacre Bleu is part mystery, part history (sort of), part love story, and wholly hilarious as it follows a young baker-painter who joins the dapper Henri Toulouse-Lautrec on a quest to unravel the mystery behind the supposed suicide of Vincent van Gogh.

Dear Reader,

Meh. This was an okay book, but it was mediocre Moore at best. It certainly was no Fool, much less Lamb!! I found myself only laughing out loud a handful of times while reading Sacré Bleu, compared to others in his oeuvre. I didn’t feel the same level of wit, the clever banter, the “inside jokes” that pepper Moore’s other works. Perhaps it is partly because I am not an artist, but I just didn’t connect to the story all that much. I didn’t care a whit about the characters, and I certainly wasn’t all that curious about the origins of the Color Man and his sidekick. (To be honest, I didn’t even think they HAD a backstory until about 2/3 of the way through!)

I will keep this review short, but I just couldn’t enjoy this one as much as others by Moore, and was disappointed by let-down expectations from such a usually great author. If you have a desire to read something hilarious (and irreverent!), I say pick up Lamb over Sacré Bleu, always!

Yours,
Arianna


Sacré Bleu

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Friday, February 19, 2016

TOB 2016 Progress



TOB 2016 Progress


Dear Readers,

I've been slowly cracking through the short list of Tournament of Books 2016. For those of you who are unaware of this event or know nothing of the books I speak of, please refer to this blog post to get caught up. Thanks to the 24in48 read-a-thon, I was able to plow through a few of these and have now read eleven of the final seventeen? (really sixteen but we don't know which one will make it - Irving or Tyler). I've decided to forgo reading these until the end - IF I have time. I definitely want to check out the Irving but I feel he has so many good books I have still yet to read... why should I read this one?! The same could be said with Tyler - so many other books people have raved about with her and this one isn't as beloved.

So what have I read?
5 Star ratings:
-A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - Loved this book so much. It's a tie between this and Tsar for the win.
-The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra - Another book that had me crying. I'm not sure which one I should be rooting for to win!!

4 Star ratings:
-The New World: A Novel by Chris Adrian - I just finished this one last night and it has definitely been haunting my thoughts all day today.
-Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel by Zachary Thomas Dodson - Wow, this book is beautiful. The story wasn't as pulled together as I wanted it to be but the imagination and art left me in awe.
-The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen - This was a surprise, I didn't think I would like this as much as I did. There was a lot of history and getting to see things from another perspective (I love that).

3 Star ratings:
-Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff - This wasn't a wow novel (for me). I know some people who loved this one, but it just didn't do it for me. I enjoyed the second half more and maybe that could have been the problem for me.
-The Sellout by Paul Beatty - This was definitely a fun listen to, but I started to get burned out towards the end.
-The Story of my Teeth by Valeria Luiselli - What another surprise! I had no idea that I would semi-enjoy reading this. Although, enjoy might not be the right word... this novel was definitely experimental and will probably get booted early on.
-The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak - I could relate to the characters in this book growing up in Connecticut, she captured them dead on. I didn't enjoy the ending which pushed my rating of this to the middle.

2 Star ratings:
-Ban En Banlieue by Bahnu Kapil - I felt a little dumb after this one. What am I missing? Is there something intelligent here? I didn't get it.
-Oreo by Fran Ross - Another book leaving me feeling like an idiot. The language alone while not necessarily pretentious - does go to the lengths of leaving behind those who don't have prior knowledge of all the jargon. I was not willing to work that hard for this one I suppose, sorry!

What I still need to read (maybe?):
-The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard - Meh, this one only mildly interests me.
-The Turner House by Angela Flournoy - The huge cast of characters is tiring me out and I  haven't even picked it up. Although, I've heard good things about this one.
-Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf - This one was on my "to read" before the tournament but I don't have the book. To purchase or not?
-The Whites by Harry Brandt - Nope, this doesn't seem like my type of book. If I want to read another police style mystery book, I'll continue on with the Tana French series.

The two books going up against one another:
-Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving - As I said above, so many Irving... so little time.
-A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler - I'd read this if I knew it would make the sixteen...

So yeah, there you have it. Also, look for some reviews of the books I read coming up within the next month or so. I didn't decide to review them all but I did try and review as many as I could. How is your TOB reading going? Do you have any speculation as to who will win? I can't wait to get down and dirty in the discussions!

Happy Reading,
AmberBug


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