Category: Reviews


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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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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Let the Tournament (of Books), Begin!

Posted 7 March, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

tournament or books first round bracket

Let the games begin! Today is the first day for the 2016 Tournament of Books. So it was time to queue up the brackets and see where things fall. I did abysmally in my predictions last year, but maybe this year I’ll do better.

Pre-Tournament Play-In Match:

Avenue of Mysteries vs. A Spool of Blue Thread

I’m probably about 75% of the way through John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries and despite feeling like I’ve read this book before, I am enjoying it. I’ve had zero interest in A Spool of Blue Thread, so I’m rooting for the Irving novel. This is far from my most informed decision.

Tournament Proper

Fates and Furies vs. Bats of the Republic

I’ve read both of these books, at this point I’m rooting for Fates to take the Rooster. It hate it that Bats was matched up against it this early in the Tournament because I think Bats is an excellent and unique book in its own right. But I will be very surprised if it takes out the sheer literary amazingness of Groff’s Fates & Furies.

The Sympathizer vs. Oreo

I haven’t reviewed The Sympathizer yet, but I was pretty amazed by it. I thought the author did an astounding job in taking this American back to the horrors of the Vietnam war – and how those horrors were perpetrated on both sides. Oreo, on the other hand, I couldn’t even get more than fifty or so pages into. I’m down for The Sympathizer.

The Turner House vs. Ban en Banlieue

I only read The Turner House and I enjoyed it. I didn’t make it to Ban en Banlieue, so I can’t make too much of an educated guess on this one – but The Turner House is a solid read.

Our Souls at Night vs. The Whites

Look, I don’t think that Our Souls at Night will take the Rooster, but if The Whites knocks it out in the first round I will be pissed. As I said in my review I think that Our Souls at Night is a gorgeous piece of writing, while The Whites is just… not.

A Little Life vs. The New World

I didn’t particularly care for either of these titles, but I think that A Little Life has both a solid fan base and actual beautiful writing in its corner. The New World, for me, had neither of those and its most redeeming quality was the fact that it was very, very short.

The Book of Aron vs. The Tsar of Love and Techno

Both of these books were well written and readable. (I don’t think I’ve reviewed either of them). But as much as I love holocaust literature The Book of Aron was more susceptible to old tired tropes that are a part of that genre. The Tsar of Love and Techno, on the other hand, created a whole new historical fiction world for me. I’ve not read much about the U.S.S.R. or how Russia is after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and The Tsar of Love and Techno made me want to learn more.

Avenue of Mysteries (?) vs. The Story of My Teeth

This is making the assumption that Avenue of Mysteries wins the play-in round. But regardless, I know little to nothing about The Story of My Teeth, other than the fact that a few of my most trusted bloggers DNFed it or didn’t enjoy it. Here’s hoping for Avenue of Mysteries.

The Sellout vs. The Invaders

I’m probably going to be in the minority here, but I have to root for The Invaders. That book, so slim, yet so epic was fabulous to me. The Sellout was excellent, no doubt. It’s a fabulous satire, laugh out loud funny at times, but The Invaders has my heart.

So, these are my picks for round one. How are you feeling Reader? Will you be following along? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Three for One Thursday: Tournament of Books Reviewlettes

Posted 25 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Tournament of Books Reviewlettes

Reviewlettes!

With seventeen books on the short list of Tournament of Books, it’s always unlikely that I’m going to get around to writing full reviews for all of them. That’s when I turn to my teeny-tiny reviewlettes! Enjoy!

Our Souls at Night by: Kent Haruf

One Sentence Synopsis: Two widowed octogenarians start a relationship based on sleeping in the same bed at night.

Itty bitty reviewlette: This was a gorgeous little book. Addie and Louis start their relationship merely by sleeping in the same bed and having someone to talk to in the dark, after years of being lonely because of the deaths of their spouses. This is a gorgeous book about the simple things that can be found in life, even at the most unexpected times. This is a book for those of us that love character studies. Not recommended if you need a great deal of action.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Whites by: Richard Price

One sentence synopsis: New York City police detective grapples with unsolved crime, corruption, conscience.

Itty bitty reviewlette: Meh. This is a crime novel that will probably be described as ‘gritty’. It really wasn’t for me. The ending had a certain appeal but overall I couldn’t bring myself to care about most of the characters, which of course, is way worse than hating them. Recommend for people who like ‘gritty’ crime fiction. Not for me.

Rating: 2.5/5

The Turner House by: Angela Flournoy

One sentence synopsis: A house in the rough part of Detroit that has seen the lives of a family of thirteen children and their parents may have to be sold.

Itty bitty reviewlette: I was really pleasantly surprised by this book. I felt Flournoy was smart not to break into the lives of all thirteen of the children, but to focus on a select few. I found an interesting juxtaposition between the older children, the parents, and the younger siblings. Still, there was a really ingrained sense of family in this book which I enjoyed. A great character novel where the characters are well written and fleshed out. Recommended.

Rating: 4/5

Whatcha think, Reader? Any of these appeal to you? How do you think they’ll fare in Tournament of Books 2016?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Magnificent Monday: The Invaders (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 8 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Magnificent Monday: The Invaders (A Tournament of Books Selection)The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 7th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 240
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Over the course of a summer in a wealthy Connecticut community, a forty-something woman and her college-age stepson’s lives fall apart in a series of violent shocks.
Cheryl has never been the right kind of country-club wife. She's always felt like an outsider, and now, in her mid-forties—facing the harsh realities of aging while her marriage disintegrates and her troubled stepson, Teddy, is kicked out of college—she feels cast adrift by the sparkling seaside community of Little Neck Cove, Connecticut. So when Teddy shows up at home just as a storm brewing off the coast threatens to destroy the precarious safe haven of the cove, she joins him in an epic downward spiral.

The Invaders, in a word, is magnificent. It’s a modern day rendering (I suspect intentionally…) of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

I love the parallels that it brings out in modern society (and U.S. politics) Lori, the neighbor in the upper-upper middle class neighborhood with more money than sense erecting a fence the keep ‘the Mexicans’ out. The idea that being poor is equivocal with being dangerous and the upsetting idea of people pooping in the ocean. Despite touching on points of white privilege, isolationism, and class politics it’s also a story about family and marriage.

Told through the voices of Cheryl, the second wife of a man who has lived his life behind the walls of white country club money and privilege, and Teddy, the son from his first marriage. Both voices are equally heartbreaking and at times, equally unlikable.

Despite having been married to Jeffery for ten years, Cheryl is still an outsider and wonders how these people who seemingly have nothing to be unhappy about — as they have everything — are.

I wanted to know which of these women were still having sex with their husbands. I wanted to know if I was pathetic of if this was just how it turned out for everybody.

As Cheryl’s isolation becomes more palpable, a hurricane moves in.

At the same time we have Teddy, who should be an ‘insider’ being born and raised in the country club enclave, but still somehow ends up as an ‘invader’. He has his own demons to conquer and ways of battling them that drag out in the open the idea that we can literally give our kids everything and despite that (or perhaps because of it) they will still have their problems and there’s nothing that we as parents can do to help.

For sure, The Invaders is a dark book, but it’s highly readable, with fully fleshed out, complex characters. What I don’t understand is the poor ratings that The Invaders has on Goodreads and Amazon. My only guess is that it was badly marketed as ‘women’s lit’, which I think that if you pick it up with that mindset, of course, you’re going to hate it.

What do you think, Readers? Has anyone out there read this one? I obviously think that it’s highly underrated… what about you? How do you think it will fare in the Tournament of Books?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Science Friday: Seveneves

Posted 5 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Science Friday: SevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson
Published by Harper Collins on May 19th 2015
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Fiction, General, Genetic Engineering, Science Fiction
Pages: 880
Goodreads
five-stars

What would happen if the world were ending? A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remains . . .  Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

First, let’s get the title pronunciation for Seveneves out of the way, it’s Seven Eves. Yeah, if I hadn’t ‘read’ the audiobook I never would have gotten that. Prior to starting it, I keep reading it as ‘Sevenses’ (Like multiple sevens…). I know Book Worm Problems.

Anyway, despite the rather awkward title, Seveneves is a phenomenal masterwork of hard science fiction. It reminded me of The Martian because it takes highly technical science details and makes them exciting. It brings science closer to the reader, which is especially astounding when that reader is me, a liberal arts focused attorney. I like science, but in my every day life I don’t science (or math, for that matter). So when a book can bring astronomy, engineering, biology, etc and help me to understand them better in some way – without the dryness of a textbook – well, I’m thrilled. It’s unlike The Martian in that there are many more characters and much more going on.

The story itself is excellent as well, it starts with the moon being broken into seven pieces by some unknown ‘agent’… then a popular scientist, reminiscent of Neil deGrasse Tyson,  realizes that all hell is about to break loose on Earth in about two years – at which point the world gets to planning. It’s full of action, suspense, and spacewalking with added bonuses of politics and sociology to boot.

I thought this was a fantastic read. It’s a chunkster for sure, but I think every page is worth it.

As to the audio, it was well done and not distracting from the story – which is exactly what I look for in my audiobooks. I’m not sure the switch between a female and male narrator for part two of the book was necessary, but in the end it worked.

What about you, Reader? Have any real science people taken a gander at Seveneves? How does it sound?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Re-Release Day Review: City of Legends

Posted 2 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Re-Release Day Review: City of LegendsCity of Legends by Cheyanne Young
Series: City of Legends #1
Published by Alloy Entertainment on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fiction, Girls & Women, Superheroes, Young Adult
Pages: 262
four-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.

Maci Knight has grown up in the shadow of legends. Her father and her brother, Max, are Heroes, worshipped by humans and Supers alike for their strength and valor. All she’s ever wanted is to follow in their footsteps, to fight villains and protect humankind. But Maci has a secret—one that could change everything.

Maci had a twin sister who died the same day they were born. In their world, one twin is always good, while the other always eventually turns evil. There’s no way to tell which twin will go rogue . . . which means no one knows if Maci will suddenly become a villain.

The closer she gets to her eighteenth birthday, the more she has feelings she can’t control: Violence. Rage. Revenge. Maci wants to be a Hero. But she may not have a choice . . .

The first in a trilogy, City of Legends introduces a new superhero mythology and an unstoppable heroine.

This is a new edition of the previously self-published novelPowered.

Note: I read this book under its original title Powered, I’m not sure how much editing has gone into the re-release – but if the premise remains the same, it can only be better under City of Legends.

I was really pleasantly surprised by this book. I’ve been kind of burnt out on YA titles these days, especially trilogies, but this is actually a pretty exceptional and well-written piece of YA fantasy. 

City of Legends brings back memories of NBC’s Heroes or even X-Men. One of the primary differences seems to be that in the City of Legends universe ‘Supers’ have lived alongside humans for most of appreciable history and they have their own society and civilization that humans seem to know about, but don’t try to penetrate. This really doesn’t come into play a whole lot in the book, I just found it to be a unique piece of world building. 

I also loved the absolutism found in the Super-society (blonde hair/blue eyes = good; dark hair = evil; Heroes don’t have bad dreams, the twin thing, etc.) This absolutism requires Maci and her allies to fight to overcome the stigmas that society puts upon her. This felt like a great allegory to the challenges that girls (especially girls of color) are sometimes forced to handle in life.

Maci isn’t the most likable character that you’re ever going to find in the annals of literature, but I did find her to be relatable and her feelings to be representative (enough) of teenagers. 

Many readers gripe about the fact that many YA trilogies introduce pointless love stories, but unlike other recent YA fantasy/dystopian trilogies the love story in City of Legends actually serves a purpose in the narrative more than just making Maci ‘softer’ and more relatable. 

All this being said, King City felt a little bit like the Capitol in The Hunger Games (with fewer dystopian elements) and Pepper was almost a photo-copy of Cinna. Neither of these things detract from the story though. 

I’m looking forward to the next one.

What do you think, Readers? Sound compelling? Different? Amazing?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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