The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick is an interesting read. It wasn’t bad. It was intriguing and well written. It was obviously good enough to hook a major motion picture deal. But, for some reason, I just couldn’t love it as much as I wanted to. I couldn’t fall in love with any of the characters. I couldn’t really root for any of them. It’s like when I read McNamara’s IN RETROSPECT. I didn’t give a shit about McNamara, but I read it because it was about the Vietnam War, which interests me.
And then we come to the main characters: Pat and Tiffany. Pat, being mentally distraught, is one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve read in a while. But, throwing Tiffany into the mix was just a bit much. By the end I had no idea what things Tiffany said where true and which were lies, but they were all coming through the unreliable filter of Pat the narrator, doubly distorting things. I wanted to root for their relationship. For a solid 2/3 of the book I did, actually! But by the end, while I could see that she’s the only one out of his group that will ever be able to understand him, I didn’t see how they could move forward with a relationship built on such dramatic lies. How would he ever be able to trust her? How would she not question whether he secretly still loves Nikki? I just don’t see it.
Pat’s child-like narration also threw me for the first 1/2 of the book. I know he has amnesia, and I know he’s been in a mental institution, but it doesn’t explain why his voice is at least 20 years younger than he himself is. I get that he’s been through a lot of trauma, but the reader can totally grasp that from the hauntings of Kenny G. and his obsession with Nikki.
And then there’s the football. Oh, dear God, the football. I like football. No, I love football. South Eastern Conference all the way, baby! But after the first 1/4 of the book I started skimming whenever Pat or another male character would launch into paragraph after paragraph about plays and players and statistics and jerseys and… Geezus. I understand football is a major point of contention in the novel, but the way it was presented turned me off more than it pulled me in.
Despite my rather long diatribe, it really wasn’t a bad book. There were several laugh-out-loud moments and a few endearing ones as well. The turns of phrase were nice and the characters were fairly well-rounded. I’d give it a 3-star rating, meaning middle of the road fair. I’ll never reread it, but I’m glad I read it once.
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was wonderful. I have a penchant for flawed protagonists and this book did not let me down. I had a few complaints, but over all the story was engaging, descriptive, and original. Just a warning for those of you coming here from the Miyazaki film: With the exception of a few nice visual aids, the movie does you no good here.
I really only had two complaints, which is saying something for me. 1) I felt that the language -- the flow of words, if you will -- could have used a bit more polishing. I understand that it's a children's book, but there were passages (and even pages) that just felt a little rough around the edges. 2) For being the villain of the piece, the Witch of the Waste is barely in the book until very near the end. Even her secondary presence through the different curses didn't feel as ominous as it should have. To boot, while everyone else was gloriously complex, the Witch herself seemed rather one-dimensional.
Okay, seriously, those are my only two complaints. This is a fabulous book and is quite a bit different from other children's fantasies out there. Even as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Prince of Light by K.C. Rivers is very well written and the characters are fleshed out nicely. The plot pacing is sometimes a little uneven, but I find this happening so often in the fantasy genre that I've stopped subtracting stars for it. I found a lot of the concepts unique and well executed. Evanthe, the main character, was complex and interesting, though toward the end she did annoy me a smidge. Not enough to knock off an entire star, but enough for me to gripe a little bit.
The love triangle in this is what TWILIGHT should have been. There are no vampires, no werewolves (well, sort of), but the feelings and interactions were what it SHOULD have had. That being said, I have the same problem with this book that I had with that one.
<spoiler>Despite mutual attraction, in-depth interaction, side-by-side character development, etc etc -- she ends up with the other guy! You know, the pale, rich, immortal, with soulful eyes and a tragic back story? Yeah, him. And while she's admitting that she has real feelings for Delanor, she's off promising never to leave the Prince's side!</spoiler>
There were a few other little things, like Evanthe's level of caring whether she ever made it home or not and her lack of questioning what happened to her family. It just didn't seem real enough for a 17-year-old girl separated from her parents in such a way. Also, while I enjoyed the fact that not everyone could speak English, I do wish we've been given more than two words in the other language. A sentence or two here and there would have been nice.
I did thoroughly enjoy the description of the library. I was in the break room at work and totally yelled out loud, "Hey, that's the library from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!!" Very nicely done.
Overall, despite what probably seems like my incessant griping, this was a really well executed book that I think a lot of fantasy fans will enjoy. As I said before, there was plenty of depth to the plot, the characters were well rounded, I didn't figure out everything before things were revealed, and it made me want to read the next one. A solid four stars.
Origin by Jessica Khoury is a beautifully written book. It's clear from the first page that Khoury did her research on the plants and animals, the weather and customs of the jungle. Unfortunately, for a book whose plot should have been gripping, the tension gets lost in the beauty and character development. The last third flew by in the action and revelation that I expected from the entire book. Don't get me wrong! I very much enjoyed the descriptions and the character development, but I just wish it had been mixed with more balanced pacing. The story itself was solid and, as I said, well written. The ending did turn quite a bit more fantasy than science fiction, in my opinion, though I'm sure others will disagree with me.
I think the thing that bothered me the most about the book, as many other reviewers have mentioned, is the instalove. It was almost Romeo and Juliet-esque. I mean, the entire book took place over about a week and by the last chapter they were declaring their unending love. I'm pretty lax on this usually, but in ORIGIN it was the Mary Sue of all instaloves. She'd never met a boy her own age before, she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen... Badabing badaboom.
I will add as a note to this review that some people have addressed the subject of animal cruelty. Yes, it is quite prevalent. From chapter one you are introduced to the kind of experiments that happen in Little Cam. They are shocking, they are disturbing, but on the whole I felt they were necessary to the plot. Khoury was not gratuitous with her cruelty.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and I believe that others will, too. I'm only giving it three and a half stars instead of four for the instalove. A lot of people must not mind that, though, since it's pretty prevalent in YA. I probably won't reread this book, but I do look forward to seeing what Khoury writes next.
((Full disclosure: I won a signed ARC in a giveaway. Though it's not usually my genre of choice, I love Lewis Carroll and wanted to give it a shot. I wasn't disappointed.))
Splintered by A. G. Howard is anything but light and fluffy. With the most love and undying devotion possible, I can best describe this book as a grammatically perfect acid trip. Howard's way with words and descriptions are at once both terrifying and beautiful. The way she spins the original Alice story into something of her own creation is mesmerizing and engulfing. I can honestly say I will never think of Wonderland the same way again.
What makes this book so heartrendingly perfect is that her characters are far from it. Every single one, even the minor players, carries more baggage than a Louis Vuitton store. They steal, they lie, they cheat, they have mommy and daddy issues. Their scars are both mental and physical. No one is the "typical" protagonist or antagonist; even at the end there is sympathy for the devil.
The plot is solid and tight, if extremely twisty-turny. Toward the end it was a little hard to keep up with who was on what side, but I suppose that was the point. The main characters are very well developed, though only enough time was spent on the side characters to show their damage. I didn't feel like I lost anything with this shallowness, though, because the three characters that I cared deeply about were so full of life.
This book overtook everything. Even as I sat at work today my mind kept drifting to what I'd already read and what I speculated to come. It gets inside your head and won't let you go. The characters are so real, their reactions so relatable and human despite their otherworldly origins, that I felt as if I were Alyssa tumbling down the rabbit hole.
I can't wait for this to inevitably be made into a movie. I can't wait to read anything A.G. Howard writes ever again. Is it possible to give this too many stars or to tell too many people that this is the best book I've read all year? I don't think so, and I promise that if you read this book you won't either.
The Stars Fell Sideways by Cassandra Marshall is a quick, fun read at around 200 pages. The narrator, Alison, was likable and relatable, and I found myself genuinely worried about her at certain times in the story. Her stunt-double training was a welcome excuse for her agility and strength, unlike many plucky heroines who are able to overcome physical adversity. The other characters were fine, though none of them had as much depth as Alison. Even the main love interest fell a little flat at first.
At first is the operative word, though. What starts as a light, fluffy book begins to evolve and take on more depth the farther in you go. I can honestly say that the ideas are original and ingenious. I was unable to guess many of the twists the plot took, which is pretty impressive since I pride myself on being able to figure out such things. I did have a teensy complaint about the ending, though. I know that's how the characters would have acted, but I couldn't help feeling let down. I won't spoil it because it was a nice ending -- I was just hoping for something more... Run toward each other in slow motion on a crowded dock, spinning around in circles and making hokey promises. Yeah, I'm that kind of girl.
On a world building note, I've seen people refer to this book as "lite steampunk" but I have to disagree. There is very little that can qualify as "steampunk" in this novel, and most of it stays in the background. Maybe I'm just jaded by the popularity of said genre right now, or maybe I'm too inundated. A few things strained my credulity, like how long Pom's iPhone stayed charged and the fact that they had explosives but not guns. Overall, though, Ms. Marshall did an excellent job of world building. As I said before (using totally different words) the concept of the story is fresh and unique and well done, if a little short. I felt the plot could have been beefed up just a bit more, but as it is the book is a quick four-star read for a Sunday afternoon.