Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Exist" by Jennifer Cazey Daniels

I saw an instagram post soliciting bloggers to read an ARC of "Exist."  The book would be free in exchange for an honest review.  Here are my honest thoughts.

Summary:  Ember is a psionic, or a person who is more than human.  She has powers that allow her to read minds and feel/broadcast emotions.  When her soulmate breaks her heart, she disappears.  Although she is no longer visible, the Shadows are able to find her, and Ember must run for her life before they take her over.  As she searches New York City for others like her, she comes to terms with her powers and a legacy she didn't know she had.

My Thoughts:  I think Daniels has several good ideas throughout Exist.  Psychics + love stories + epic battles are a sure-fire recipe for an entertaining book.

However, I feel that Daniels put a lot of plot into her story without truly exploring any of the details for very long.  "Exist" almost feels like a summary an entire series instead of a standalone novel.  I want to read the story of Ember's past:  Ember grew up an orphan, raised by a government agency.  What happened to her while she was there?  The reader is told that she escaped the agency and I'd love to read about her daring and probably brutal escape.  Shortly after her escape she met the love of her life, Aden, and it was a love like no other.  Tell me more...was she able to instantly trust him, or was it a long process for her, seeing as she hadn't ever loved or trusted before.  (Or had she?)

Ember's life changes after her breakup with Aden.  She disappears for goodness sake!  I'd like to read more about why this happened---was it just because the breakup left her feeling insignificant or is there something deeper?  After the breakup, Ember takes off to hide from the Shadows chasing her.  This could be a tale on its own.  How does she get to NYC?  Does she meet anyone or learn anything on the way?  I'd love to see this story end with the epic first showdown with the shadows.

Finally Ember learns about the guild, her past, and the expectations her new society has for her..  This is a great opportunity to go into detail about the different kinds of psionic powers.  Let's see them in action.  Ember suddenly goes from shy girlie girl to warrior, without much in between.  I want to see her transformation!

There is so much unexplored potential in this book - I'd like to read more than what there is.

I'd also like to see Daniels take the time to polish her work.  There were some errors that could be fixed that I personally found distracting, and think others would as well:  the dialogue formatting was inconsistent, making it hard to tell who was speaking.  There were some situations where spell check chose the wrong word (ie her instead of he).  And towards the end of the story some of the sentences changed tense in the middle of the line.

Finally, I'm the type of reader that is frustrated by being told instead of shown.  I had a hard time connecting to Ember because of this.  I felt like she endured crazy, intense, interesting transformations but instead of seeing them unfold, I was just told they happened.  The only times I felt like I got to see what the characters were thinking were through massive chunks of monologue that seemed to go on for longer than was needed to get the point across.  But then again, I'm older than the target audience so it could only be a matter of taste.

Overall I think this is a decent first attempt at a young adult novel.  I like the plot lines and appreciate the creativity and effort that went into the story. It feels like a first draft to me, rather than a second draft or ARC ready copy.  I hope Daniels finds a professional editor who can help her break the story down and refine her ideas.

Rating:  "Exist" has a Mocking Jay meets New Moon vibe that I think the young adult audience will enjoy once the book has been polished and reworked.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Note:  Although I received an Advanced Reader Copy of "Exist" for free, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Stardust" by Neil Gaiman

I asked "what should I read next" on our Facebook page and Alex told me Neil Gaiman - Stardust specifically.  Alex didn't disappoint.

Summary:  Tristran Thorn is in love with town beauty Victoria Forester and will do anything to gain her love in return...including promising to retrieve a star that has fallen beyond the wall and into the land of Faeire.  When Victoria agrees to Tristran's quest, he packs his bag and with his father's help heads beyond the wall.  Tristran soon learns that Faeire is a complicated world with strange rules, stranger creatures and danger hidden around every corner.

My Thoughts:  I thought this book was quite lovely.

The action was really well paced in "Stardust" and cleverly played out.  Tristran's quest for the star (which really turns into his quest for self discovery) introduces him to a hairy little man that helps him outfit himself for the adventures to come - escaping a killer forest, managing a murderous family feud and escaping the clutches of countless villains.

And there was an airship, y'all.  AN AIRSHIP.

The language was excellent - each word chosen to evoke a feeling or memory for the reader that keeps them (or at least me) eagerly turning the pages.

My only complaint was that the story ended much too soon.

Rating:  I'll read this one to Owen when he's older.

Also Read By:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Tami  |  Nick

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Damned" by Chuck Palahniuk

I liked Fight Club enough that when I saw more books by Palahniuk I picked them up. This one is the first in a series. 

Summary: Madison Spencer is dead. At the age of 13 she got high, blacked out and woke up in a Hell surrounded by other damned souls. The form of the book is a series of letters that begin with "Are you there Satan? It's me Madison". She narrates two distinct stories that unfold side by side throughout the book.

The primary story follows her experiences in Hell in which she meets other kids and tries to figure out how things are organized in the afterlife. Demons roam the land slaughtering poor humans, whose bodies are reformed after every death to be eaten, dismembered, stabbed or squished over and over for all eternity. There is also a formal bureaucracy which manages incoming souls, career assignments and appeals. Madison's friends show her the ropes, including how to use the currency and how to make the system work for her. She finds a job as a telemarketer and acts on some bold initiatives.

The second story is made up of Madison's memories from her pre-dead existence. She was the daughter of a famous movie star and a powerful business executive, spending much of her life flying from home to home all over the globe. Her childhood is a mixture of normal growing up and totally bizarre events that might only happen to someone so wealthy as her. Palahniuk uses this as an opportunity to highlight some absurdities in our culture, especially criticizing rich liberal Hollywood elite. Madison recounts events that ultimately lead up to her death and discovers what was originally hidden from her.

What I Liked: This book is written in a compelling style, where Madison tells compact, but satisfying tales about herself, all of which build up to create a coherent narrative with a proper plot. It builds in such a way you have no idea what to expect until it happens, at which point the story only becomes more interesting.

What I Didn't Like: When I read it, I did not know it was first in a series, and so I thought the conclusion would be more complete. Instead, this ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which leads into the second book.

Rating: I am realizing that Palahniuk must only write disturbing books. I am somewhat embarrassed by the idea someone else might read this book and wonder if I am a psycho for liking it. So it's hard for me to say this is a Must Read knowing that basically everyone will find something highly offensive or overly gross to continue reading it, but I recommend it despite that.

Also Read by this Author: Fight Club

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty

I picked up this book because of instagram - people were raving about it without giving any detail on what it's about.  I'm going to do the same below. (Kidding!)
image via goodreads

Summary:  Madeline is outspoken, glamorous and a fierce mother of three.  Celeste is beautiful, rich, and just a little frazzled with wild twin boys.  Jane is scared and shy, a single mom in a new town.  The one thing all three women have in common: five-year-old children starting Kindergarten in the new school year and personal issues they want to avoid.

Madeline's ex-husband has moved back in town and is slowly stealing their daughter away.  Celeste's marriage isn't what it seems.  And Jane?  Well, Jane is just trying to figure out what steps to take next.

And then Kindy Orientation day arrives and a school yard accusation sets so much drama into motion that lives are ruined.  Literally.

My Thoughts:  This book tickled all my fancies - a murder mystery (that was a true mystery...we didn't even know who died until the very end), characters with personalities ripped from Real Helicopter Parents of Australia, and a masterfully crafted plot that had me roaring with laughter and shaking with rage from one minute to the next.

I could go on and on (and on) about why everyone should read this book.  But I've got to wake up with the baby tomorrow, so I'll keep it short and give you my three favorite aspects of "Big Little Lies":

I loved Madeline, even though I didn't always agree with her actions.  She's a delightful mix of fierce loyalty and brash tempter that is completely unapologetic and enormously delightful.  From her interactions with her husbands and children to her antics with the other school yard mom's, Madeline is a lead character I can understand and root for.

I also really enjoyed the way the book was put together.  The murder mystery unfolds told from the point of view of Madeline, Celeste and Jane, interwoven with random one-liners from the other Kindergarten parents.  You learn the hearts of the three main characters, but also see them as others in the book do - flaws and all.

Lastly, I was really impressed with the way Moriarty intermingled classic chick lit drama with some pretty serious themes.

Rating:  Oh, calamity!  (You'll get it when you read it.)  I'd definitely read this one again.

Also Read By:  Nothing, but you bet I'm going to read every other book Liane Moriarty has written.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"Fight Club" By Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club was one of those movies I loved the first time I saw it, but never owned it. One day I saw the audiobook at the library and decided to listen. 

Summary: Considering how many stories don't survive the book-to-movie jump, it was to my happy surprise that the plot is very much that of the movie. Obviously, there were differences, but I am comfortable with the idea that it basically amounts to glossing over of the more complicated bits.

For those of you who have never seen the movie, the plot goes something like this. We follow the life of an unnamed protagonist, often referred to as Jack, due to his habit of saying "I am Jack's broken heart" or "I am Jack's cold sweat". Jack is a Recall Coordinator for a major automobile manufacturer and his job is to investigate accidents and determine if it is more profitable for the company to issue a recall or not. He suffers constant jet-lag and develops insomnia. His exasperated doctor tells him if he wants to see real suffering he should go to a support group for people with brain parasites and Jack quickly becomes a regular at several support groups, despite not suffering any of the ailments. Jack finds the emotional release is just what he needed to sleep soundly.

Jack then meets Marla, another "tourist" at the support groups, and then meets Tyler Durden while on the beach. Marla and Tyler trigger a series of events that are totally outside of Jack's control. Tyler becomes the leader of a fight club which grows into something more.

What I Liked: Palahniuk has a very clean writing style that is both detailed and nuanced but easy to understand. He has a fascinating technique of repeating sentences at different points in the story in order to link the events. By picking the right sentence to repeat, he can summon up exactly the right event from earlier in the book and reinforce an important theme in the book. Also, Palahniuk is very good at writing around important details so that important truths can come out as stunning revelations.

What I Didn't Like: This is an unsettling book.

Rating: People who don't like this book will think that people who do like are mentally ill, and for that reason I am hesitant to say that I liked it. A lot of people would be offended by the content of this book including language, sex, violence, disturbing mental states and more. I recommend it anyway.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick