Category: Reading


Sunday Salon: Grief

Posted 10 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

sunday salon books

Time // 10:20 A.M. EDT

Feeling // Torn, sad, exhausted. I’m trying to figure out how to get myself off of social media because I’m losing my damn mind with it. The mental gymnastics required to be a moderate during these polarized times is exhausting. It should not be so damned hard to want basic human rights for all people and to support the brave men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. I truly believe that the two are not mutually exclusive. That’s about all you’re going to get from me. If me not engaging with this on social media makes you want to categorize me as someone who is a part of the problem because I’m not ‘speaking out’… well, bye Felisha. Let’s just all remember that online presence isn’t everything. Many people do good works quietly.

Reading // … not a whole lot. Read the Alex + Ada graphic novels this past week, hopefully I will get around to doing a review. I’m still listening to the audio of The City of Mirrors. Other than that I’ve having a bit of a reading slump. I started a couple of books due out in August but nothing really took. I need to release my FOMO regarding books and just read what I want to read. Now if I could just figure out what that was.

Playing // A ton of Ticket to Ride both online and in-person. Mr. SFR said he felt like a ‘train widower’, but he bought me the tabletop version of the European map. I’ve been playing the U.S. map since about 2006 so it’s a fun new variation. I’m also currently obsessed with deck building games like Tanto Cuore, DC Comics Deck Building (nerdiness squared – comics and board games – yes, please), and Dominion.

How was your week, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wednesday Wow: The Fireman

Posted 29 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Wow: The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill
Published by HarperCollins on May 17th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Thrillers, General, Psychological
Pages: 768
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
four-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Shortly after starting Joe Hill’s The Fireman, I loved it. Shortly after finishing The Fireman, I loved it. There were times in the middle where I didn’t love it as much. I think that the strengths and the weaknesses of this novel relate to how heavily Hill leans on certain elements of other novels.

Let me elaborate. The start of this novel feels an awful lot like Stephen King’s The Stand, down to the fact that Harper, the female lead’s middle name is Frances (as in Frances Goldsmith, a significant female character in The Stand). More importantly Harper shares personality and inner life characteristics with Frannie Goldsmith. They both have a certain naivety and (unrealistic in the circumstances) belief in the better part of people. They’re also both survivors. Also, much like The Stand there is a separation of the populace into camps of good versus evil. At first I found this obvious homage to Father King (Father Storey?) to be charming but as the pages wore on I found the homage to be more predictable and wished for Hill to strike out on his own.

To be fair, Hill readily admitted this in a recent NPR interview, and he really cracked me up:

My book does carry a lot of echoes of The Stand, which is a novel that I adored, and you know, I sometimes joked that the book is The Stand if it was soaked in gasoline and set on fire.

I eventually did shake the idea that this was just The Stand set on fire. The latter part of the novel turns into something a little different and although it does end a little predictably it’s still a hell of a good ride. The fact that this is the first novel that really calls on Hill’s chops to world-build (let’s face it, NOS4A2 didn’t require full world-building) is actually really impressive.

Overall, this is a great read for those who love the apocalypse-by-disease genre and it’s also a fairly good twist on the genre with the creation of the Dragonscale fungus. Naturally, this book comes highly recommended to all Stephen King and Joe Hill fans as well.

What do you think, Reader? Any end of the world junkies out there?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Friday (Re)Reads: The Passage

Posted 10 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Friday (Re)Reads: The PassageThe Passage by Justin Cronin
Series: The Passage #1
Published by Random House Publishing Group on June 8th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Science Fiction, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Literary, General, Fantasy, Epic
Pages: 784
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
four-stars

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

So this is my second journey through Cronin’s The Passage, I remember enjoying it immensely back in 2010 when it first came out. I only refreshed myself with the Wikipedia page when the second book in the trilogy The Twelve came out in 2012, but now with the impending release of the last book in the trilogy (City of Mirrors), I felt it was time for a full re-read.

Let me tell you, while I still enjoyed The Passage a ton, it didn’t hold up as well as I wanted it to. It is an epic, sprawling story with multitudes of characters spanning about a hundred years. What makes The Passage stand apart from other apocalypse novels is that Cronin manages to do it all. We get to see both the fall of society and the almost dystopian aftermath a hundred years later with society evolving to live with the virals. First Colony is peopled with at least half a dozen fully formed and fleshed out characters. Cronin is an excellent world builder and puts a bright new spin out in the world of vampire literature.

My problem with The Passage comes from the not-quite-heavy-handed-but-at-least-middle-handed Christ allegory that we get at the end with Amy. I don’t know a whole lot about Justin Cronin as a person except that he seemed lovely for the fifteen seconds that stood with him at BEA (but not as lovely as George Saunders), but the preachy-ness at the end of this book leaves me suspicious of Cronin the way we should have been suspicious about Creed in the late nineties.

Despite all that, I must highly recommend The Passage to all lovers of vampire, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a good fun read, especially if you want a fast-paced chunkster.

So Readers, I know other people out there have read The Passage. Thoughts? Feelings?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Madness: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Posted 6 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Madness: I’m Thinking of Ending ThingsI'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on June 14th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Thrillers
Pages: 224
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

You will be scared. But you won’t know why…
I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.
Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”
And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.
In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is, as promised, very atmospheric. It’s also incredibly creepy and not to put to fine a point on it but – it’s weird. Really, more than anything this novel is weird. I generally like strange and unusual and perhaps the longer I sit and marinate with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the more I’ll like it. But for now, about three days after finishing it… it’s just weird.

A man and woman are driving out to the country so girlfriend can meet homeboy’s parents for the first time. It’s dark, cold, and snowing. Parents are decidedly weird. The whole book is written in sentence snippets. Like this. What I guess I’m trying to say is that the first person narrative from unnamed girlfriend’s point of view is a little unnerving. But maybe that’s what the narrative is supposed to do…

Homeboy, or Jake, comes off as a pretentious asshole – and I can’t remember if Jake and girlfriend are actually supposed to be college-age kids – but that’s the vibe that I got from this novel, that’s how I imagined these characters.

Between girlfriend’s experience are chapters of two people talking to each other. Who they are is never explained but those interim chapters are an excellent tension building device that Reid uses quite effectively. If nothing else, I’m Thinking of Ending Things has dramatic tension in scads. (Or is it ‘scads of dramatic tension’? Anyway.)

The big problem with this novel is that it rests entirely on the ending. Without the ending this book is a jumbled mess. I’m not entirely sure it isn’t a jumbled mess anyway. Kind of like this review.

So Readers, who’s running out to buy this one next week? I didn’t hate this book, but I don’t know who or how to recommend it. Maybe a book club, there’s lots to talk about here. Do you have books that you don’t know how to recommend?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Whatever Wednesday: In a Dark, Dark Wood

Posted 1 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: In a Dark, Dark WoodIn a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Published by Harvill Secker on July 30th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Genres & Styles, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 352
Goodreads
two-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In a dark, dark wood
Nora hasn't seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.
There was a dark, dark house
Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?
And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room
But something goes wrong. Very wrong.
And in the dark, dark room....
Some things can’t stay secret for ever.

Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood was naturally billed as “for fans of Gone Girl“. We all have feelings about how nothing should ever be marketed this way – but despite this I wanted something light and fluffy so I thought I’d take In a Dark, Dark Wood out for a spin. While this novel is delightfully British – something that never fails to charm me – I still have to put it in the unfortunate category of: you could do worse on a plane.

I seem to have read a string of books that go into the you could do worse on a plane category lately. But I haven’t defined what that means lately in the blog so, let’s hash it out. Books like In a Dark, Dark Wood, aren’t bad per se. They’re just kind of ‘meh’. I’m not sorry that I read it, but I probably could have made it through life without reading it. These books aren’t deep or important, nor are they going to blow your mind in any way.

My biggest problem with this particular novel was probably the marketing (so lazy) and the utter predictability. As soon as it was revealed who was murdered (which is about halfway through the book), it was pretty clear whodunnit. I have to give Ware some props for attempting a bit of a locked room mystery outside the ‘cozy mystery’ subgenre. Agatha Christie, Ruth Ware is not, but it added a little bit of novelty to what otherwise could be considered a rather standard and unremarkable novel in the psychological thriller genre.

So Reader, do you think that In a Dark, Dark Wood might work for you? I think it’s been optioned for a movie, maybe that will be better? Does anyone else out there love a locked room mystery the way I do? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Terrific Tuesday: Forty Rooms

Posted 17 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Forty RoomsForty Rooms by Olga Grushin
Published by Penguin on February 16th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary Women, Family Life
Pages: 336
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
five-stars

Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, Forty Rooms is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women’s identity, of women’s choices, that no modern novel has explored so deeply.
“Forty rooms” is a conceit: it proposes that a modern woman will inhabit forty rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family’s Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life, and he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They drift into an affair and marriage. What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts—until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her.
Compelling and complex, Forty Rooms is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.

There is no way I can say enough good things about Grushin’s Forty Rooms. I’ll admit that while the first two or three chapters are flawlessly written, it still took about that long for this book to really grab me. But once it did, it didn’t let go until the end.

Let’s just start with the premise. Writing a novel around the idea that people on average inhabit about forty rooms during their lifetime, each chapter being a different point in time in the life of our protagonist, starting with early childhood. The writing in each chapter is skillfully and beautifully rendered, matching the thought patterns of each period of life it’s meant to represent. We begin with the little girl in the bathroom who is reflecting with childish thoughts about what it means for different members of her family to be bathing her. The prose is just so perfect that by the time I was grabbed by this story I felt like every part of it could be related back to my own life.

Forty Rooms is fantastic. Despite that there are many people who this book did not work for. I can’t recommend this book to people who need constant action. I can’t recommend it to people who dislike introspective character studies or can’t deal with ambiguity in a novel. Everyone else should definitely read it.

For a much more eloquent and well written review visit Catherine over at Gilmore Guide to Books.

Whatcha thinking, Reader? Does Forty Rooms sound like it might be your jam?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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BEA 16: Books Off the Beaten Path

Posted 11 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, books and publishing, musings, Reading, Topics

BEA 16: Books off the Beaten Path

Just like most literary fiction bloggers going to BEA this go around of course I’m looking forward to and hoping to get my grubby little paws on the new Ann Patchett and George Saunders. As a apocalypse, horror, vampire blogger of course I’m looking forward to the thrilling conclusion of the Justin Cronin trilogy. The beach blogger in me admittedly might like to see what new thing Charlaine Harris will be pimping. But since I’m a little bit of an off the beaten path blogger I thought I might share some not-so-mainstream books that I’m hoping to encounter this year at BEA.

John Lennon vs. The U.S.A.: The Inside Story of the Most Bitterly Contested and Influential Deportation Case in United States History by: Leon Wildes (ABA Publishing)

“For the first time, noted New York immigration attorney Leon Wildes tells the incredible story of this landmark case – John Lennon vs. The U.S.A. — that set up a battle of wills between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and President Richard Nixon. Although Wildes did not even know who John Lennon and Yoko Ono were when he was originally retained by them, he developed a close relationship with them both during the eventual five-year period while he represented them and thereafter. This is their incredible story.”

Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground by: Ian Purkayastha (Hachette)

“A self-described oddball kid from Arkansas, Ian Purkayastha found his true calling when he learned to forage mushrooms and tasted his first truffle. An instant passion for the delicacy sparked an improbable yet remarkable journey to New York to become the leading truffle importer in America in the dynamic and sometimes shady world of the exotic food trade. Today, at age 23, Ian has built a multi-million dollar specialty foods company with clients as renowned as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Chang. As “farm-to-table” becomes “forest-to-table,” Truffle Boy provides a unique view into the world of luxury sourcing, while delivering a coming of age story that will charm foodies and business readers alike.”

Mischling by: Affinity Konar (Hachette)

“It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.”

Tacky Goblin by: T. Sean Steele (Consortium)

“An aimless twenty-something struggles to make sense of reality after he moves to Los Angeles to live with his older sister. His legs are rotting, his apartment is haunted, and he’s in charge of taking care of a human baby that might actually be a dog. On top of it all, he has trouble making friends. Tacky Goblin blunders through particularly strange but familiar misadventures to remind us that, ultimately, learning to take care of yourself is hard.”

The Motion of Puppets by: Keith Donohue (MacMillan)

“In the Old City of Québec, Kay Harper falls in love with a puppet in the window of the Quatre Mains, a toy shop that is never open. She is spending her summer working as an acrobat with the cirque while her husband, Theo, is translating a biography of the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Late one night, Kay fears someone is following her home. Surprised to see that the lights of the toy shop are on and the door is open, she takes shelter inside.

The next morning Theo wakes up to discover his wife is missing. Under police suspicion and frantic at her disappearance, he obsessively searches the streets of the Old City. Meanwhile, Kay has been transformed into a puppet, and is now a prisoner of the back room of the Quatre Mains, trapped with an odd assemblage of puppets from all over the world who can only come alive between the hours of midnight and dawn. The only way she can return to the human world is if Theo can find her and recognize her in her new form. So begins the dual odyssey of Keith Donohue’s The Motion of Puppets: of a husband determined to find his wife, and of a woman trapped in a magical world where her life is not her own.”

The Last Days of Night by: Graham Moore (Random House)

“New York, 1888. The miracle of electric light is in its infancy, and a young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing Paul is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown attorney shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it? In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.”

So, those are some of the books off the beaten path I’ll be looking for at BEA, Reader. Any other suggestions? What are you looking forward to this fall?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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BEA16: Hopes and Dreams

Posted 9 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, books and publishing, Reading, Topics

BEA16 Hopes and Dreams

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve been consistently sick for about three weeks and because of that pretty consistently hopped up on cough syrup while at home.

Work has been an unholy nightmare of the best kind. There’s a contested judge’s election that is turning into nasty politics, inter-office drama, and the usual suspects. We finished up jury trials in April and don’t have jury trials again until mid-June. I’ll admit that I’m feeling a little antsy and would like some intellectual stimulation to break things up. After trials in June I won’t have jury trials until September. I’m going to need some good reading.

BEA is near. I’ve finally started looking into where I need to be when to get the most out of it. More or less I have to admit that really what I’m most excited about is getting to hang out with Catherine (Gilmore Guide to Books) and Shannon (River City Reading). There do look to be some interesting titles being dropped and I’m hoping to find some titles that will amaze and excite me so maybe I can start reviewing a few books here and there again.

Okay, Reader. What have you been up to? Roll call for those of us going to BEA! 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Three for One Thursday: Tournament of Books

Posted 24 March, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

 mini

Bats of the Republic by: Zachary Thomas Dodson

Mini-Synopsis: A historical fiction/dystopian fiction crossover bound together with a beautifully illuminated text.

Mini-Review: This book is clever and manages to straddle two very different (seemingly incompatible) genres at the same time. But first, a word of warning. This book absolutely must be read in the hardcover edition.  No Kindle or other ePub versions, no ARCs. I also have my doubts about how well a library copy would hold up. The story is enough to hold it’s own – but believe me this book is a thousand times more enjoyable if you read it as Dodson (who incidentally is both the author and ‘illuminator’) intended it to be read.

Other Trusted Reviews: Shannon @ River City Reading

Rating: 4 stars

The Sellout by: Paul Beatty

Mini-Synopsis: A satire of epic proportions about an African American man sitting in front of the Supreme Court on some very… interesting charges. Touches on different facets of modern American life such as the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, and the father-son relationship.

Mini-Review: Look, this book is hardcore laugh out loud funny. But being a middle class white lady there are points where I felt uncomfortable with the laugh out loud nature of it. As Catherine from The Gilmore Guide to Books put it so eloquently:

“There is a cognitive dissonance in seeing the n-word over and over and over. As In ‘I should NOT be reading a book that uses this word like a comma” but I know it’s a satire.”

YES. EXACTLY THAT. This book is highly enjoyable but sometimes I feel like I’m not really allowed to be laughing at it. Despite that, I have to recommend it.

Other Trusted Reviews: Heather @ Bee’s Book Buzz

Rating: 4.5 stars

A Spool of Blue Thread by: Anne Tyler

Mini-Synopsis: Cradle to grave story about Abby and Red, family life, and growing older.

Mini-Review: This book is pretty well… meh. I really disliked Abby for the majority of the book and quite frankly I just didn’t care about most of the characters. This isn’t to say that Tyler doesn’t do a decent job in fleshing them out – quite the opposite. I just really didn’t care for them. The writing itself is done well enough – but it’s not enough to bump it up into ‘enjoyable’ range for me.

Other Trusted Reviews: Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books

Rating: 2.5 stars

Bring it in, Reader. Thoughts or feelings on any of these? How have your selections been faring during the Tournament of Books?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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