Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn in the Abyss by John Claude Smith

Ok, my initial thoughts (from before): this book definitely needs some trigger warnings (rape victims). And it is probably the darkest book I've ever read (and I'm quite glad to have it done). Nevertheless, it is well written.

And my review:
**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review**

It's dark. For the majority of readers out there who don't think it gets *much* darker than Stephen King, I think it's important to stress that. It's darker than Stephen King. I haven't yet put my finger yet on what the difference is... I think it's like.. reading Stephen King is like reading a magazine, it's glossy. And reading this book was like reading a horrendous transcript of real life events, it's gritty.

Terrible people do terrible things to other people. BUT there's a sort-of moral response in each. In each? yes, it's a series (short series) of short stories.

Overall, the writing was really good, some of the ideas were great (the title story) and unique (though you don't know why until it's over), and some of the stories were deeply disturbing. The pacing was ok -- better in some place than in others. A little slow from time-to-time. But the short of it is this: if you are into reading books about the horrible, violent things that some people do to others, regardless of whether there are any repercussions, then this is probably the book for you. It is well done, in that. Conversely, if that doesn't appeal to you? This one won't sit well with you.  Also, as mentioned, TRIGGER WARNINGS should be apparent on this one. If you are triggered by discussions of/scenes of/insinuations of rape, particularly the violent kind, best to stay far away.

I also note that, although many seem to think only the 3 shorter stories are linked... to me, they are all quite linked (though not all feature Mr. Liu). Importantly, there is a common theme that runs through each of the stories, which becomes apparent when you finish and take a step back to consider.

All in all, FOUR of five stars because it is well written and, for those who don't mind the DARK stuff, it is probably quite good. For me, it was hard to read and I was glad to be done, but I can recognize the talent therein.

Individually:
Autumn in the Abyss is the best of the stories. It also does not have any trigger issues. To describe it, I think would spoil it. Just the most basic, then: The narrator is a several decade shut-in agoraphobe who has spent the past several decades eating, researching the poet Coronado, eating, not cleaning himself often, not cleaning his digs often, and eating. He is obsessed with the poet Coronado and how/why he disappeared, decades ago. Coronado was a poet in the time of the beat poets (Keroac), but with a dark style, completely his own. One day, his car is discovered on the side of the road, the driver's door open, and Coronado is never seen again. As the narrator delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, he starts to receive warnings and hear disturbing "creature" noises from on his roof.  To say more would be to spoil it, but I will say that this was interesting, unique, well done. Definitely the highlight piece.

Broken Teacup, La mia immortalita, and Where the Light Won't Find You are all clearly related, shorter pieces. In each, a Mr. Liu appears, rendering the experiences of the otherwise-protagonist(s) more unique. In Broken Teacup, it is two porn-movie makers who begin to make more and more disturbing and horrific films, when Mr. Liu appears. In La mia immortalita, it is an artist seeking immortality, who is historically cruel and indifferent to his lovers. And in Where the Light Won't Find You, it is your average, everyday Joe, just out for a movie on a free afternoon. Of the 3, I think La mia immortalita might be trigger-free (though I would not guarantee that), and Where the Light Won't Find you is pretty light, relatively speaking. However, Broken Teacup does describe in some detail some of the darker projects, and I would recommend staying away to anyone w/ trigger issues.

Finally, Becoming Human... This one is the most important one to note w/ a TRIGGER warning. It is a dark piece, from the perspective of a detective who has become obsessed in his life with finding and punishing this truly horrific serial murderer/ETC.'er and, as relevant to this story, his copycat. This one takes a very interesting turn and has a satisfying ending, but, again, to say more is to spoil. IF you like the darkest, sickest, most disturbing, this will be fine for you and perhaps even enjoyable -- esp. in consideration of the potential consequences for actions.... Otherwise, despite the good that is in this story, the detail renders is the most problematic, as far as triggers are concerned.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

I'll not say too much about this.. It's epic. It is the perfect book to cozy up with during the cold, snowy winter nights. It's a love story and a story about love. It's a story about potential and about hope. It's a story about faith and perseverance.

The movie makes this into a story just about Peter Lake, and I'll grant that he really is one of the the "main character," insofar as that's relevant. And I can completely understand why the movie needed to limit the scope. Because the book is beyond a simple movie.

It is a story about winter itself. About the magic of winter and the pain of winter. About the cold and the warmth. About families, about couples, about self. It's a large book with a large story to tell.  It is slow reading because there is just so much to take in. The descriptions of winter cover pages, but it's a story of winter, so it is right.

I definitely recommend. But have patience, it is worth the effort.
FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl

Review based on ARC.

I've struggled with how to review this book. After finishing the book, I learned that there is one woman and potentially several others who have made accusations against the author for abuse of various kinds. These accusations do not appear to be substantiated--at least, not as of yet.  Do you support an author who engages in abuse? Is it relevant to the review? So, I'll simply say this: I absolutely do not condone abuse of any kind against anyone. I also absolutely do not condone false accusations of assault. Since the truth of the matter is not known to me at this time, I believe it makes the most sense to review the book solely on its merits.

THE MERITS:
When I finished this book, I was completely satisfied with the story. Although it's not perfect, it is complete.

So, the premise. I LOVE the premise. In this not too distant future, people can look at a moment (several moments) of their relationships to see how they fare in the future. You can look at your current relationship or a hopeful relationship or a past relationship (assuming you get back together) to see how it all works out and if your'e satisfied with where you are at that time.

And so our protagonists do. Evelyn, quirky librarian and volunteer book-reader, looks into her future to see how things work out with her musician boyfriend. And Godfrey, cell-phone recoverer, is bullied into doing the same with his to-be fiancee. And neither is altogether pleased with the peek they see. So they go peeking a little more, hoping they'll stumble onto a future that satisfies them more.

With classic elements of a romantic-comedy, a "what-if" tale about how our desires to know the future to our detriment unfolds. I read it quickly, in a sort of blur of needing to know how it all unfolds! It is funny and at times sad and at times poignant and thoughtful and, best of all, interesting and unique! I love the concept of getting a quick peek into your future -- but only as it pertains to romance. I love the limited quality of this futuristic technology.

And Sherl did a great job with his characters. Of course Evelyn and Godfrey are well developed, but the peripheral characters are all relatively three-dimensional and interesting. I definitely want to know more about Dr. Chin's back story, and I'm curious about the lost significant others along the way...

Overall, a great story, a great read, a great hypothetical exercise. Although it's true the science could have been more fully developed, the characters a little more robust, you hardly notice these things as you speed through Sherl's world and pal up next to his characters.

Definitely recommended!
FOUR of five stars.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Sometimes, you just want to read a book with your guard down. You want to open the pages and see some promise and allow yourself to believe that this time, you're not going to be let down. You want to find that dark and stormy night and wander through it, feeling satisfied when you turn the last page. Marina gave me that present.

Marina has the ambiance of a good gothic novel (though for various reasons, is not true gothic literature). It is technically a young adult novel, but it was Zafon's last (4th of 4) YA novel and definitely feels like a transitional piece. It "stars" a 15-year-old protagonist, but the themes are dark and intense.

Jacob is often bored at his school and wanders the neighborhood in search of something interesting. Occasionally he is with his best friend JF, but more often, he's just alone. One day, he wanders down a particularly desolate part of town to an abandoned old house. For shaky reasons, Jacob decides to enter onto the property, hearing a sort of haunting melody emitting from within the old house. He enters the house, drawing nearer the music when he is surprised by the apparition of an elderly person with long white hair, and Jacob high-tails it out of the house, accidentally taking with him the old watch he had picked up right before the apparition.

The watch is engraved with a loving quote to a "German." Jacob's guilt at having accidentally stolen the memento drives him to return to the house to return the watch, and there he meets Marina. She approaches him from outside the property, referring to him as the watch thief. Marina, intrigued by Jacob's interest in the dark and mysterious, invites him to accompany her the following morning on a mini-adventure. Jacob, entranced by Marina's beauty and personality, agrees. Thus begins the adventure of Marina and Jacob as they wend themselves deeper and deeper into the dark, deathly, and dangerous past and insert themselves into a web of lies, half-truths, cover-ups, and sinister obsession.

The book is eerie, misty, mysterious, dark, and satisfying. It's got flavors of Shadows of the Wind (and, in my opinion, is much butter than Angels Game or Midnight Garden!) and is perfect for a rainy day/night!


FIVE of five stars.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Wasn't blown away... thought it was a disappointing sequel, but still good.

What I didn't like:
I was disappointed in the pace and the plot.. it felt artificially manufactured to create tension, as opposed to those stories where the tension feels real... And I think that might have been in part because of how I felt abo
ut the pictures this round... it felt that at many points, the author was creating words to fit a picture he wanted to add--when it didn't really add to the plot or the characters or the pacing or really anything.

I was also annoyed by the romantic aspect, but disregard that if you like that kind of thing ;) To me, it's always annoying when it's over-the-top cheesy, and I had a hard time finding it realistic in the atmosphere -- ya know, life or death.

I thought that the characters spent WAY too much time NOT using the peculiarities they've spent a LONG time having when they were confronted with danger... I know, in some cases it made sense, but in others it was like this weird inexplicable delay. And I felt that the development of Jacob's peculiarity, while the rest of us could see it coming 100 miles away, took WAY too long to FINALLY show its face.

And I'll say, I just did not like the near-ending. But what and why are spoilers :)

What I did like:
It's still just an interesting concept and I like the idea of having a story with realistic (ish) pictures accompanying it. I really liked some of the development of characters (Bronwyn and Olive in particular), and I liked the addition of some of the new characters (Peter-and-Joel and Joel-and-Peter). I also thought that Riggs had good ideas and some of his plot development was really interesting. Although I felt the pace was off and forced at times, there were other times when it flowed quite nicely -- particularly when they meet.... Althea (I'll say no more).

If you just loved the first, it's likely worth it to read the 2nd. If you can ignore some of the deficiencies, my guess is you'll probably even really enjoy the second! (a lot of people sure have :))  Otherwise, the above notes may give you just the amount of "managed expectations" needed to enjoy the book anyway :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Midnight Riot (a/k/a Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch

Not much to say beyond:
It's a good book, and I'm sure I'll read the others in the series (having started with #3, I may end up re-reading it when I get back to that point...).
It's magic and wizards meets crime fiction -- like Dresden Files but ... a little dryer and a little slower. It was definitely enjoyable and had a nice discussion on London :) I would recommend to people to whom the above brief description appeals.

THREE AND A HALF of five stars!

Also, I am happy to hear that they (London people) are planning on making a tv series from the books!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck

I don't know how Shari Shattuck got her perspective, but she succeeded where Shriver (Big Brother) failed. After having finished Big Brother, in fact, if I had remembered why Invisible Ellen was on my list, I might have passed.

I'm glad I didn't.

This is a book about a woman who has spent the first couple decades of her life perfecting the art of being invisible to other people. Between the way she walks, her posture, the way she smooths hair over her face, stays in corners, etc., she has essentially become "invisible" in society. The reason for this is several-fold, but essentially, her life was hard enough to make her uninterested in participating it. So she's happy with her chosen invisible life. She has no friends, no family, works the graveyard shift at Costco, etc. And yeah, she takes her comfort in comfort foods.. the worst of it. Anything bad for you is high on Ellen's list of to-eats.

Then one day, on her way to work, a blind woman stumbles into her on the bus, and treats her like everyone else. Which Ellen is not used to. This blind woman is charismatic, friendly, and full of life and intrigues Ellen. So when the blind woman gets off the spot, Ellen, who is very early for work and only couple spots away, decides to follow her a little. Lucky she did because two men decide they want to mug the blind woman and as they're running away, Ellen suddenly decides to do what she never does... get involved. Ellen recovers Temerity's purse and Temerity insists on thanking her with a meal.

Thus begins the unlikely and unusual friendship of Ellen and Temerity, which is really what this book is about. As the book proceeds, the reader is let into more and more of Ellen's past and why it was so horrible and why, among her weight and her half-burned face, she hates many common environments and peoples.

It is an encouraging, hopeful, and honest book. A lot of bad things surround Ellen and Temerity brings her light. But Ellen is also able to substantially give back to the relationship in ways that Ellen cannot understand are worthwhile. Due in part to Ellen's ability to blend in with the background, she is privy to a lot of private information in the world, which she and Temerity decide to interfere in, just a little.

The book is funny, light, heavy, and moving. It's not perfect---Temerity's over-the-top laughing at herself wears a little thin and their involvement in some of the stories around them is a little-less-than convincing---but it's really very good.

And it does a really great job of providing a little insight into how someone like Ellen lives, why, and where it all leads, or can lead. I really enjoyed this and I'm thoroughly glad I read it.

And I'd definitely recommend the book. Especially to people who are seeking more understanding into the inner psyche of someone who has placed themselves on the fringes of society. Obviously everyone is different and has a different story, but here's one that makes sense and was presented in a respectful and, as I say, honest way. FOUR+ stars!