Monday, October 28, 2013

The Theory of Everything

I saw this book while shelving and was drawn to it because of the blue cover and the trees in the letters of the title. I flipped to the back and without reading the premise of the book, I knew I had to check out. On the back cover is a chart. A CHART! Listing percentages of things in the book. I was sold. 5% possum? Done. I had to see where the possum fits in. It already seemed like my kind of humor and it was a chart!

The premise of the book sounds like a sad one. Our main character, Sarah, lost her friend in a tragic accident and is still not over it. Her family, friends and boyfriend aren't sure how to help her and are frankly getting a little upset with her seeming lack of ability to move on. Add to this a Christmas tree farm, some snarky behavior, and a main character that felt like she could be my best friend, and I was so excited to read this. I was not let down.

Sarah is awesome. I loved that while she was being a bit snarky and bitchy, even she was getting fed up with her own behavior. She wanted to change but couldn't figure out how and I can relate to feeling unsure of how to change yourself. I loved that she would say something and instantly in her head, "Why can't you just be normal?! Why are you like this?" I couldn't put this down because I had to see what happened in her life.

I was a little bummed out by the ending and after reading many other reviews, I was not alone. I won't give away any information, but I felt like one aspect seemed a bit out of character and there could have been more resolution. I wanted this to have the bow tie ending where everything was in its final place and that was that.

I need to request the other book by this author and see if I love it just as much. I will be on the lookout for future books as well!

5/5 stars! I loved this one.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bellman & Black

'Bellman & Black' is the new novel by Diane Setterfield, author of 'The Thirteenth Tale'. The story opens with the incident around which the entire plots twists. While his three friends watch, William Bellman makes a perfect shot with his catapult, striking and killing a rook in a faraway tree. While his friends are impressed, the day is mostly forgotten and William grows. William's work ethic, problem-solving attitude, people skills, and ability to learn things quickly serves him well, and he becomes an extraordinarily successful businessman and industrialist. He also falls in love and has a family.

However, as his star rises, there always seems to be a rook around. People around him start dying, and at all the funerals Bellman attends, there is a strange man in black watching. Eventually, tragedy strikes closer to home, and Bellman makes a deal with 'Black'. Professionally, his success continues, but things are never the same after that.

The official blurb for the book calls 'Bellman & Black' a "heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line." While the book was well-written, it was less eerie than I wanted. I expected an atmospheric book, with a slightly gothic feel (along the lines of Carlos Ruiz Zafon or Erin Morgenstern). I did not feel any "ratcheting tension" at all. The story was slow-moving and quotidian. Setterfield scattered references to rooks in the background of Bellman's life, watching him, but it was obvious from the beginning where the story was going. There was no sense of mystery, and the supernatural was barely present.

'Bellman & Black' was very character-driven, particularly by the main character, William Bellman. I found Will a bit dull. Most of the book was devoted to his business decisions--becoming head of the mill, arranging for food for his workers, constructing his mourning emporium, doing paperwork, setting business goals. There was too much detail about his work life, and he didn't have an interesting character to carry the business details.

Yet, I loved the last 20 pages. In the last 20 pages, the atmosphere, the emotion, the mystery that was missing for the book finally appeared. Had the entire book been written like the end, it would have lived up to its description. In fact, I think 'Bellman & Black' might have worked better as a short story or novella.

I've only heard wonderful things about Setterfield's first book, 'The Thirteenth Tale,' and I still intend to go back and read it someday. 'Bellman & Black' might be a good book for people who like fantasy or supernatural without a lot of gothic embellishment and flowery language. People interested slow-growing family dramas may also be interested as well.

2.5 stars.

I received an ARC of Bellman & Black through NetGalley. Bellman & Black will be released on November 5th, 2013.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pretty Girl-13

Hmm....I really expected to like this more. I know that may sound....weird (for lack of a better word) when thinking about the subject of the book but it could have been written so well. I know that this book is out there to educate kidnappings/sexual abuse that in the end come to happier conclusions (Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, etc.) but there were no surprises here. I found myself thinking, "was that supposed to be a surprise?" "Really? That's the "twist"?" and I guess I'm not sure what I fully expected from this book. It did it's job in introducing the world to a character that you could almost relate to. I thought some of the plot lines were a little weird. I really loved the idea of exploring Disassociative Identity Disorder and the reality of being in a situation you are beyond dealing with and your body basically taking over. But, and this is a big one, this could have been MUCH better. I applaud the author for taking a really hard subject and giving it a voice. Not often in literature for teens do certain sort of taboo subjects come up.

Angie, our main character, goes camping and the suddenly finds herself back on the street she lives on. She goes home and her parents are elated to see her. She doesn't understand that three years have passed because she doesn't remember them. Her alternate personalities are basically shielding her from what has occurred so the last thing she remembers is leaving to go camping and then winds up home instead.

I found I couldn't relate to Angie as a person. The story felt like a story and not a world that I could try to understand and join. It lacked some sort of emotion for me that would have made it seem more realistic or at least made the characters more realistic. I also had a hard time accepting her "alters" as real characters. The interactions with them were strange and kind of detracted from the story a bit for me.

I wouldn't say I don't recommend that you read this, just that it really wasn't for me. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Flavia, Flavia, Flavia

Cozy murder mysteries usually aren't my genre, but I absolutely adore the Flavia de Luce series. Flavia is a precocious, eccentric eleven year old growing up in 1950s England. Her greatest passions in life are studying chemistry, particularly poisons, and devising ways to poison her older sisters--Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne). Being unusually bright, she has a great talent for worming her way into other people's business, exasperating the local Inspector, and solving murders while bicycling around on a bike she has christened Gladys.

I love her.

The book trailer above captures Flavia rather well, but here are a few more quotes from the first book.

Flavia, on her future book:
“If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as "dearie." When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poison, and come to "Cyanide," I am going to put under "Uses" the phrase "Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one 'Dearie.”
Flavia, on being the youngest daughter:
“It is not unknown for fathers with a brace of daughters to reel off their names in order of birth when summoning the youngest, and I had long ago become accustomed to being called 'Ophelia Daphne Flavia, damn it.”
 (Having grown up in a similar "brace of daughters," I can tell you that the dynamics among the sisters are spot on and hilarious in these books.)
Flavia, on self defense:
“I remembered a piece of sisterly advice, which Feely once gave Daffy and me: "If ever you're accosted by a man," she'd said, "kick him in the Casanovas and run like blue blazes!" 
Although it had sounded at the time like a useful bit of intelligence, the only problem was that I didn't know where the Casanovas were located.

I'd have to think of something else.”
The series so far consists of:
1. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows 
5. Speaking From Among the Bones
6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (January 2014)

The books are quick reads, but are also wonderful to listen to (the narration in the book trailer above comes directly from the audiobook)! Books 1 through 4 build on each other, but I think they could be read in any order. That changes with book 5, which broke the mold and ended on a major cliff-hanger.

Which brings me to 'The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches'. The point of this entire review.

I was so excited to get an advance copy from NetGalley, I moved it to the top of my reading list. It was an excellent book. But I don't know how to review it in advance without spoiling anything. So, here are some spoiler-free thoughts (after the jump) about the book. Once it has been published, I hope to return with a more detailed review.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Medieval X-men

Graceling takes place in a traditional fantasy world where some people have been marked with heterochromia showing that they have a “grace” or power. When Katsa, our lead, discovered her grace she was only 8 years old. She killed a cousin who had….let’s go with intensions towards her. A grace for killing is rare and very valuable so she was trained in the household of her king to be a weapon that he wielded against traitors and any others who dare disobey him. As she comes into her own, she realizes that what her king wishes isn’t just and, along with his spymaster, create the Council that ranges throughout the kingdoms working for good. It’s while performing a mission for the council that she meets Prince Po, who is also graced. Po’s grace is a major plot point, so I don’t know how much I can actually talk about their relationship. Just know that he’s amazing, and I love him.
Katsa is a girl I can identify with – anti-social, stubborn. I loved that she doesn’t change her opinions based on what others think and that her ultimate goal isn’t to fall in love and get married. It’s refreshing in a YA book geared towards girls. Po’s character is a brilliant counterpoint to Katsa, he’s gregarious, very independent and although he helps Katsa become more outgoing, he does it on her terms. The romance in this book (because what would a YA book be without a little romance) is paced very well, it isn’t insta-love that happens to often. It develops slowly and through friendship. 

This book was so good, I want to recommend it to everyone I know! I’ll admit, the last 20 pages or so were a bit of a letdown, which is why I give it 4.5 rather than 5 stars. Ultimately, though, it was a great read.