Friday, August 22, 2014

Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix


Review based on ARC.

A fun, fast, lite-horror read.  ... A little less "lite" than some of the other "lite" horrors I've read, but it doesn't get underneath your skin and deeply disturb you.

I love the concept and I think Hendrix executed it very well.  Imagine a knock-off IKEA called Orsk -- cheaper than IKEA, but the same concept. And imagine that it has a secret, dark history that its employees will discover on a long, hard, dark, disturbing, night in the store. There will be blood, there will be guts, there will be death.  But it's so creative (I love Hendrix's names for the various pieces of "furniture" he's created, especially the little details he's employed, like the colors available) and such a quick read that, as I say, it's not deeply disturbing.

It's also not particularly deep in any sense, but that's ok. It was just the thing to pass a few hours on a rainy evening.
Definitely recommend to people who are fans of lite-horror or anyone who's just been horrified by certain aspects of IKEA ;)

I will certainly read more by Hendrix!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

I did not enjoy The Time Traveler's Wife. But I wanted to give Niffenegger another chance because I felt like she had some potential. And I admit up front that Raven Girl is not the "other chance" I intend to give... but I was open to Niffenegger's book because of my intention to give her another chance. And this is a dark modern fairy tale for adults.

It was ok. It was weird in some places, and not that good, creepy weird like Coraline or Creepy Suzie. Just weird-weird like... and I'm sorry I couldn't ignore it... how did the bird and the mailman conceive a child?

But whatever, it's a modern fairy tale so they just did... And thus is born Raven Girl. I enjoyed the story well enough. It didn't make me mad or annoyed or anything. I read it so quickly (half hour?) that I didn't really have time to ponder the holes. It wasn't until after that I started thinking about them. And why they existed. And why Niffenegger did what she did. And since that all came after, I decided that it really was just fine.

So I'd recommend to people who are looking for a quick modern dark fairy tale, who don't mind some holes in the plot or weird decisions. And I'll still give Niffenegger her other chance... I've got [Her Fearful Symmetry] on the shelves...

THREE of five stars.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Thank goodness there are books like this! I really enjoyed Alif. Wilson daringly takes on techie-fiction (is that a real thing? I think it is now...), fantasy, religion (muslim), and love all at once. And does she pull it off? I sure think so.

So, Alif is a young (~18) but brilliant computer programmer in "The City" (in the middle east and typical of the middle east, where Arabs believe they are superior to the Indians, where light skin is better than dark, where muslim is always known if not always practiced). He "protects" (i.e., hides identities and locations of people online) anyone who is willing to and able to afford his fees. Lurking in the background is the state program and/or person known as the Hand, which is working its way through the back channels of the internet and making Alif and his friends nervous about being caught and punished as criminals.

Alif is also engaged in an illicit relationship with someone above his class, and he believes himself in love with the beautiful Intisar. But then, Intisar suddenly ends their relationship, claiming that her father is forcing her to marry some royal person worthy of her lineage. And Alif flies into a first class funk. Alif creates this crazy program that, without going into detail and boring you, basically allows a computer to think, and with it, he shuts Intisar out of his life completely.

Then the Hand finds Alif right around the time that he is graced with the secret book of the jinn (genies), and Alif is forced to both go on the run and discover the secrets of the book and its origin/power. So the book races through technology, fantasy based in religion, religion itself, and love, all while being interesting and novel and accessible and pleasurable.

It was just such a smart and engaging read with likable and unique characters and a plot that flowed with a foreign subject matter that was made readable and accessible by an author who understood the distance.  I really enjoyed this and I very much look forward to more fiction from Wilson.

Recommend to those open to fantasy, who are looking for something more.
FOUR of five stars.

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Review based on ARC.

Anyone who was around me while I was forcing my way through this book suffered for my having to finish it.  Why did I have to finish it? Because it was an advanced readers' copy, and I felt like I needed to finish the whole book in order to fairly review it.

But oh, the pain.
So, the premise. I was interested in this book and definitely wanted to read it because of its premise! (this is no more spoiler than what appears on the back cover) Main character (Pandora) picks up her brother (Edison) from the airport after not having seen him for several years and doesn't even recognize him at first because he's gained so much weight. On top of now being a morbidly obese person, the narrator also takes issue with her brother's other developed-habits, such as breaking furniture, convincing high school kids to drop out of high school, etc. So she has to decide between her husband and her brother, which is essentially what the book is about--that choice and the repercussions thereof.

Ok, yeah, sounds interesting! Good of her to take on a less developed theme in current literature and try to tackle the psychological reactions that people have in these types of tough situations. So I was excited.

Then I got the book and started reading. And this is what it was like: Imagine if I told you that a very interesting special was going to be on tv, but it was only going to air once and you couldn't record it because you don't have a DVR or anything. So you are excited about the special and are eager to get to the story, but as soon as it starts playing, your roommate just gets up and stands in front of the tv and starts waxing poetic about anything and everything---his/her opinions, theories, views on politics, social issues, his/her childhood, etc. Just keeps talking. And then they finally wind down and sit down and you are watching the special again, and just as you start getting into the special, s/he gets back up again and does it all over again.  Over and over and over.  That's what it was like reading this book. Shriver (or, purportedly, her narrator) just could. not. shut. up. shut up. shut up. It was infuriating attempting to read the story with the narrator constantly streaming her look-how-smart-I-am consciousness. And yeah, she had a few interesting things to say and said a few things in interesting ways, but I just couldn't CARE after she just kept GOING and going and going.

So around page 100, I decided I couldn't do it anymore. The book was literally giving me a headache and I was doing anything to avoid reading. I took a breather.

After ~a week, I decided, no, I can finish this. And so I did. Unfortunately, not only was Shriver's writing style infuriating, but her story was a disaster. This was one of the least convincing attempts at "understanding" fat people that I've ever been confronted with. It felt like Shriver literally knew NO-ONE who had ever really struggled with a lot of weight. And I understand that her real-life brother died from morbid obesity, weighing approximately what she puts her "big brother" at in the book, but it doesn't appear as if she spent any real time with her brother or talked to anyone who's ever spent substantial time around people who struggle with this kind of weight issue.

As someone with actual perspective here, I can assure the unknowing reader that Shriver is way off the mark. And it's offensive. And, frankly, it takes a lot to offend me. Shriver's fat guy is reckless, selfish, unaware, and stupid. Of course, because he's fat, right? It was a childish viewpoint and impossible for me to read without a scowl on my face.

So what's extra unbelievable about this whole thing is that Edison supposedly exhibits his I'm-a-disgusting-slob person while in the house of not only an essential stranger (his brother-in-law), but also while being openly judged and loathed by said-stranger. Fat people don't do that, Ms. Shriver. But yeah, supposedly, this guy will eat powdered sugar straight from the bag, but in the process just gets powdered sugar everywhere because of course he's a slob; takes a first serving at a first meal that is more than half of a casserole so that others are left hungry because of course he's hungry, stupid, and selfish; insists on making the rest of the skinny family inordinate amounts of terribly unhealthy food because he's inconsiderate, pushy, and stupid; etc.

And every single thing that "Pandora" (or, perhaps, really the author?) says about her brother, who she supposedly loves, comments on his fatness. Like, WE GET IT. HE's FAT. He doesn't just have a big jacket, his jacket is so big it is like carrying a sleeping bag. He doesn't just sit on furniture, he breaks it. Oh and of course he doesn't just sh**, he poops so much that there's literally poop chunks floating down the hall. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Not to mention the fact that his gaining just over 200 pounds in 4 years does not actually match up with what he supposedly eats in a day.

And this is all just in the first half of the book, and I haven't even touched on the celebrity childhood or her famous company, which she also insists on talking about ad nauseum. At page 176, I mistakenly believed it was going to get better. Something actually changed. It wasn't just going to be 400 pages of Shriver...  er, Pandora judging fat people but pretending to care about them. So narrator has to make a choice... choose her jerk of a husband or her fat disgusting slob of a brother.

What choice does she make? How does it turn out? What're the spoilers that everyone is so carefully avoiding? Here's the non-spoiler answer: who. cares.  Take it from someone who suffered through reading the whole thing... it didn't get better. It's not worth knowing. It's worse than pathetic. (if you really want the spoilers? go to bottom and highlight text to reveal)

In sum, I would recommend this book to literally no one.  I would not recommend this book to anyone who has struggled or is struggling with weight because it is unaware and offensive. I would not recommend this book to anyone who knows someone who has struggled or is struggling with weight because it is unhelpful, patronizing, and offensive. I would not recommend this book to someone who knows no one who has this kind of weight issue because it will simply give them the wrong idea about how fat people are in the so-called privacy of their own homes. Just say no. No.

ONE of five stars. A touch of credit can be given because she's poetic with her language.

THE SPOILERS:

1. she chooses her brother. and is annoying and holier-than-thou in her choice. so she moves into a separate apartment with her brother to go on a crazy crash diet with him for a year. And I mean crazy. We're talking 6 months of less than 600 calories a day. And of course no one cheats. And they lose all kinds of weight. And then they have to struggle with reintroducing food. Etc. And than jerk husband wants a divorce. And crazy fat brother is happy. But then after all the weight is lost, husband wants Pandora back and Edison loses it. and eats a chocolate cake. like the slob that he is. smearing chocolate all over his face and clothes, etc. And then gains all the weight back. All of it.

2. But wait, Shriver thought she'd try to be clever. None of that happened. She didn't go live in an apt w/ her brother, she just let him leave. And be fat. and die. 


I mean. really? People enjoy this?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Void of Mist and Thunder (13th Reality #4) by James Dashner

And so, I finally finished this series. The 13th Reality series started with The Journal of Curious Letters, which... well, I couldn't pass that name up. So I picked it up. And though it is definitely in the younger group of YA (or the older group of kids), it was entertaining with a good plot and some very interesting characters.  This series is probably best for kids in the 8-13 age range.

So what's it about? Well, the series is about Atticus "Tick" Higgenbottom (14), who is recruited to become a "realitant," which sort of means, person who knows that there are multiple realities, that there are sometimes issues with and among the realities, and who is tasked with the job of protecting those realities when and how he can, along with the other realitants.

Tick is in Reality Prime, the strongest and most stable of realities, but there are thirteen other known realities that the realitants can travel through and protect. The thirteenth reality is Mistress Jane's domain, and has some weird properties that seem to heighten the "chi'kaarda" levels. So, what are Chi'kaarda levels? Well, it's sort of the juice that allows the realitants to travel between realities, but also much more, allowing people to harness its strength to accomplish great feats. And Tick and Mistress Jane are two such individuals who, for differing reasons, have the ability to harness great amounts of chi'kaarda.

And at the end of book 3, they have done so to such a degree (in a fight against each other) that they have found themselves in the Nonex, along with Reginalt Chu from the 4th Reality, who found himself there by coming into interaction with his "alterant" -- i.e., another version of himself from another reality (in this case, Reality Prime). So, the Nonex is a place where .... well there's just a whole lot of unknown about the Nonex, but what is known is that people don't escape from there. At least, not ever before. So, can Tick, Mistress Jane, and Chu work together to escape the Nonex?

On top of that, resulting from the climactic fight at the end of book 3, there appears to be a rift in the realities, through which the Fourth Dimension seems to be trying to leak in. The Fourth Dimension may or may not have consciousness, may or may not be evil, but is definitely wreaking havoc in the realities and the realitants must work together to try and salvage the worlds.

So the book has a lot going on. And even though it'd been a while since I'd read the 3rd book and had forgotten most of what had happened, this 4th and final book in the series is written in such a way so as to remind me of everything without simply repeating it (which would be rather dull for those who did remember what happened in the prior 3 books). In other words, it all came back to me rather quickly and seamlessly.  The book is quickly paced and suspenseful, leaving you constantly wondering how Tick will react and how Jane will react.

And although you suspect that it will somehow work itself out in the end, you don't know how it can do so, and you definitely don't know who will make it to the end (not everyone does).

I thought Dashner was creative in his approach, and I didn't mind the introduction of new major elements in this final installment. I did think it was a little convenient at times, but then I think Dashner took a rather inconvenient sharp turn--to his credit. Keeping the reader guessing and keeping everything up in the air made the final installment read just like a final installment should -- like a final, grand climax, where everything comes to a head.

And it's wrapped up well enough. I like neat little packages and it was good enough for me; for those who like it a little less neat, I think it's also good enough for them. There's still a future on the horizon, but you're okay that you're not going to read about it.

Overall, definitely recommended. Certainly for those who've started the series, but also for those who haven't, it's a younger and sweeter series than HP, but it hits the right notes and is satisfying in the end.

People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann

Review based on ARC.

I really really enjoyed the first few chapters of Jen Mann's snarky take on the world of suburbia. And I should have read the subtitle more closely to really understand that the whole book was going to be about suburbia, but I didn't realize that. And why is that relevant? Well, after about half the book, it started to just feel like a singularly focused rant, with examples of how horrible her co-moms are. Which, yes, is definitely entertaining! But also gets to be a little draggy at times.

So yes, this is I think what people call humor essays. You know, sort of like what David Sedaris does. But focused on, as I said, suburbia and the horrible people who live there who are raising their horrible children. At least, to hear Mann talk of it. And not that I doubt her, but she seems almost to have a vendetta against these horribly misdirected moms.

But she's funny. Definitely witty and smart and funny... and biting and at times cruel. She's dealing with a segment of the population who seems to just not "get it" when it comes to well-roundedness or alternative approaches to child-rearing or... well, a lot of things.

And you can see by this review that I just sort of had a hard time figuring out how to review it because she's funny. But it gets tiring after a while. And as quickly as I read the first half, I slowed down and dragged a bit on the second half.

So my recommendation? Read the first half for sure. And if you're not tired at that point, keep reading. She'll make you laugh and probably make you question a few things about how you do things. And she may annoy you just a little (for me, her constant referral to "the Hubs" was distracting and kind of lame, but I accept that that's probably what she actually calls him in real life? er.....), but she'll entertain you while she's doing it.

So yeah, I recommend it. For sure. But know that you might not finish it. But it's okay because it's just essays and when you're done, you can be done. :)

It's a high three-and-a-half stars, so earning 4 on sites w/o halves.

About that Night by Norah McClintock

Review based on ARC.

I'd never heard of Norah McClintock, but I should have. She writes YA mysteries and, if this one is any indication, they're fast, fun, and surprising!

About that Night is a book that mostly focuses on the disappearance of a popular teenage boy one cold night after Christmas. However, the same night that Derek disappears, a popular high school teacher Elise also disappears. Is it just an unlucky night, or are the two related? Elise is found relative quickly and her disappearance is explained relatively quickly. But Derek's lingering disappearance becomes the mystery of the story.

Jordie, Derek's girlfriend, and the reader know more than the cops for a majority of the story. There are little details to which we are privy, and yet it's not obvious. While Jordie is trying to solve the mystery and save the lives (or quality of lives) of the potentially innocent, so is the reader.

The pacing of the book is fast and energetic, constantly presenting a new theory, hitch, or clue for the reader to chew on. The characters, while not particularly likable, are relatable and feel like normal people in extraordinary circumstances.

The ultimate resolution.... well, you'll have to read it to find out. But I will say I ended the book and my first thought was "whoa." So I recommend to anyone looking for a quick mystery to pass a few hours. (And I note that I didn't think the fact that it's a YA detracted at all from the mystery.)