Category: Reviews


Mmmmkay Monday: The Only Ones

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

Mmmmkay Monday: The Only OnesThe Only Ones by Carola Dibbell
Published by Two Dollar Radio on March 10th 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 344
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Inez wanders a post-pandemic world, strangely immune to disease, making her living by volunteering as a test subject. She is hired to provide genetic material to a grief-stricken, affluent mother, who lost all four of her daughters within four short weeks. This experimental genetic work is policed by a hazy network of governmental ethics committees, and threatened by the Knights of Life, religious zealots who raze the rural farms where much of this experimentation is done.When the mother backs out at the last minute, Inez is left responsible for the product, which in this case is a baby girl, Ani. Inez must protect Ani, who is a scientific breakthrough, keeping her alive, dodging authorities and religious fanatics, and trying to provide Ani with the childhood that Inez never had, which means a stable home and an education.

The Only Ones for Carrolla Dibbells’ first novel is actually quite good. I want you to think of a cross of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night meets clones and dystopia.

Inez’s first person prose reminds me very much of what I have come to expect from authors attempting to recreate voices from the autism spectrum. The way that The Only Ones is unique is that it takes that sub-genre of mental health literature and catapults it into a near future scenario where  pandemic flus and diseases are common and ‘dome’ communities are typical.

Quite frankly, I found The Only Ones is an interesting commentary on parenting, the way Inez refers to herself as ‘I.’ feels highly symbolic (maybe as parents we’re all struggling to do the best we can and should stop judging the way each one of us does it?)

On motherhood and other mothers:

So that’s it. They just wanted to watch what I do and tell me what is wrong with it.

C’mon, who among us with kids hasn’t felt that way in the presence of ‘superior’ moms?

The Only Ones is very different from your standard dystopian/epidemic/apocalypse novel. It’s about a society that is functioning, if barely and the grit, determination, and sacrifices that it takes for one poverty stricken woman to subsist in it, with a child no less.

Science minded readers might also be interested… or infuriated. I don’t know enough about genetics or cloning to know how viable (ha! get it?) the science behind it is.

Surprisingly, I found that I really enjoyed this book, Readers. There were points where it lulled just a bit but for the most part it is extremely readable. Has anyone else read it? Anyone else interested?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Friday Fail: The Children’s Home

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

Friday Fail: The Children’s HomeThe Children's Home by Charles Lambert
Published by Simon and Schuster on January 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Psychological, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 224
Goodreads
two-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.

For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor—and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up. Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind. The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.

My first mistake was falling prey to the horrifically classic, “…for fans of…” when will I learn that this is always a bad idea? I am completely unable to find the resemblance to Dahl, Gaiman, or Jackson — all three authors which I have read extensively.

This is another one of those books with a compelling premise and an excellent description that just fell on its face for me. I mean:

…a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor, and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.

Sounds great right? I wanted it to be, I did… the writing isn’t awful, but it is unremarkable. The story itself fails to make much sense at all and the ending itself is unsatisfactory in the extreme. I’m okay with an ambivalent ending, in fact most times I find that type of ending more satisfying but here… I don’t know.

“Maybe I’m not smart enough to understand The Children’s Home” was the first thought that I had, but legions of reviewers on Goodreads assure me that this isn’t the case.

The good news, if you decide to read it, is that The Children’s Home is a fairly quick and compact read. I can’t really think who I would recommend this novel to, it just made too little sense for me to get a feel on who might like it.

Sorry I didn’t have more to say about The Children’s Home, Readers. I almost didn’t post this review for lack of things to say but felt like I got far enough that maybe this could be useful to someone. Anyone else read it? Thoughts? Feelings?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Whatever Wednesday: The New World (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 27 January, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: The New World (A Tournament of Books Selection)The New World by Chris Adrian, Eli Horowitz
Published by Atavist Books on August 12th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Psychological, Technological, Thrillers
Pages: 158
Goodreads
two-half-stars

What is the purpose of life? If you could send a message to the future what would it be? Why do you deserve, not desire, to live forever?

Acclaimed author Chris Adrian (The Children’s Hospital, The Great Night) joins the award-winning creators of The Silent History – Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn to create an innovative digital novel about memory, grief and love. The New World is the story of a marriage. Dr. Jane Cotton is a pediatric surgeon: her husband, Jim, is a humanist chaplain. They are about to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary when Jim suddenly collapses and dies. When Jane arrives at the hospital she is horrified to find that her husband’s head has been removed from his body. Only then does she discover that he has secretly enrolled with a shadowy cryogenics company called Polaris.Furious and grieving, Jane fights to reclaim Jim from Polaris. Revived, in the future, Jim learns he must sacrifice every memory of Jane if he wants to stay alive in the new world. Separated by centuries, each of them is challenged to choose between love and fear, intimacy and solitude, life and grief, and each will find an answer to the challenge that is surprising, harrowing, and ultimately beautiful.

I wanted The New World to be so much better than it was. For the first half I was absolutely entranced by the idea. It was complex and beautifully written. I liked the alternating viewpoints between Jim in the future and Jane grieving in the past. The world building was done well and the idea of cryogenics as something real and sustainable – eventually to the point where people are able to be ‘resurrected’ was even believable to a point.

The anger that Jane felt towards the Polaris Corporation was palpable and extraordinarily well done. I loved the attempt she made at suing the company and the subsequent consequences. I enjoyed Jim as a ‘humanist chaplain’, this naturally appealed to my atheist side – seeing how Jim handled people grieving with faith as an atheist and how he handled grieving in the future in the same way.

About …. ‘eh … 60 to 70 percent of the way through the novel it seems like something gets lost. All the interesting and compelling plot points kind of fall to the floor and the authors of The New World just seem to lose interest. It meanders for awhile before ultimately taking a nosedive and leaving me wondering what the hell just happened to what was such a gorgeous little novel to begin with.

I felt the way that many Goodreads reviewers seemed to feel that this novel(la) would have been better off as a short story because it was only towards the end that things got bad. Sometimes a quick and mysterious ending is better for me.

Anyone out there read this one? It’s a contender for Tournament of Books 2016, how do you think it’s going to do?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wicked Wednesday: Slade House

Posted 23 December, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wicked Wednesday: Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell
Published by Hachette UK on October 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General, Horror, Literary, Occult & Supernatural, Science Fiction
Pages: 240
Goodreads
four-stars

Born out of the short story David Mitchell published on Twitter in 2014 and inhabiting the same universe as his latest bestselling novel The Bone Clocks, this is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night. Turn down Slade Alley - narrow, dank and easy to miss, even when you're looking for it. Find the small black iron door set into the right-hand wall. No handle, no keyhole, but at your touch it swings open. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn't quite make sense; too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies.A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won't want to leave. Later, you'll find that you can't.This unnerving, taut and intricately woven tale by one of our most original and bewitching writers begins in 1979 and reaches its turbulent conclusion around Hallowe'en, 2015. Because every nine years, on the last Saturday of October, a 'guest' is summoned to Slade House. But why has that person been chosen, by whom and for what purpose? The answers lie waiting in the long attic, at the top of the stairs...

As stated in the synopsis Slade House takes place in the same universe as Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and I picked it up for precisely the same reason, Slade House has been chosen on the Tournament of Books 2016 long list. (The Bone Clocks was a short list pick for 2015).

It’s worth noting however, that it wasn’t until at least halfway through the book that I realized we were hanging out with some of Holly Sykes good friends. Slade House is written in Mitchell’s unique style, a series of vignettes that at first are seemingly unrelated, until finally the picture comes into a very sharp focus.

Not as long as The Bone Clocks or as esoteric as Cloud Atlas, I think this is a great pick for people just starting to dabble in Mitchell’s work. Slade House gives a great sampling of some of Mitchell’s greatest strengths, his character development (even in a remarkably short period of time), his ability to develop exceedingly creepy and uneasy environments, and just the general beauty of his words.

I’m also intrigued by the synopsis that Slade House was born out of short story on Twitter. I want to know more about that!

Highly recommended to David Mitchell fans, haunted house lovers, and those that love creepy atmospheric novels.

Other Reviewers Thoughts…

Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books

Karen at One More Page

Read More Books

What do you think, Reader? Appropriate review for the day before Christmas Eve? Have you read Slade House? Any other Mitchell?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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YA Wednesday: Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Posted 16 December, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

YA Wednesday: Vivian Apple at the End of the WorldVivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Christian, Dystopian, General, Religious, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 272
Goodreads
four-stars

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn't looking for a savior. She's looking for the truth.

Vivian Apple at the End of the World is a little bit different than your average YA dystopia novel. First of all, it packs some very interesting political and social commentary into a pretty readable package. Second, it takes on one of my favorite topics, the issue of the giant American mega-churches. Third… well, third it’s just good reading fun.

This novel addresses the very scary, unprecedented relation between corporate power in America and the manipulation of its citizens.

But one shouldn’t dismiss this novel for just atheists or agnostics, it (admittedly towards the end) clarifies the position that not all Believers should be lumped together.

But let me tell you this: you can’t go through life distinguishing the Believers from the Non-Believers and divvying up your love and trust accordingly. It’s more complicated than that, Viv, and you know it.

But I think that the subtext of not lumping people together goes further than religion though. Vivian Apple tackles parentage and to a lesser extent, race.

I read the first of this series? trilogy? because it’s on the Tournament of Books long list, but it was good enough that I might seek out the second Vivian Apple novel in the series to see where it goes.

What do you think, Reader? I know a lot of us are tired of YA dystopia, but does this sound like a new spin on an old genre?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Look Who’s Back

Posted 14 December, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Look Who’s BackLook Who's Back by Timur Vermes
Published by MacLehose Press on April 3rd 2014
Genres: Germany, Literary, Satire, Social Issues
Pages: 352
five-stars

Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.

People certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.

Guys, stick with me. I know you’ve just read the synopsis for Look Who’s Back and are thinking, ‘What in the ever-loving hell…’. Let us begin at… the beginning. I didn’t know this little gem of a book existed until The Morning News put out their longlist for the 2016 Tournament of Books. I read the synopsis there and became really intrigued and Oh. Em. Gee… you guys.

Look Who’s Back might be the best satire that I’ve seen since Catch-22… and I mean that since Catch-22 was published. After reading the first quarter of the book I started to describe it to a co-worker, he asked me if it was a treacly  book about Hitler learning how wrong he was about his views. I can assure you mein Reader, it is not. Vermes packs so much punch into a relatively short book. Since it was originally published in German, one can assume that Look Who’s Back was intended as a commentary on modern Germany, but let me assure you, the commentary fits just as well for modern America and probably modern western culture.

I found it especially astute and chilling in the wake of Donald Trump’s seemingly never-ending successes within the national polls… and some of the commentary he’s made. As chilling and on point as the satire is, the book is also hysterical in its execution (as all good satire should be). The use of the first person narrative (from Hitler’s point of view) is often a source of giggles, this device, oft used in many a tale about displaced time travelers, seems all the more potent because… well… it’s Hitler.

There is very little world building (how did Hitler just wake up in a field in 2011? Why not the rest of his retinue? Why doesn’t he remember his suicide?) and as much as a fan of world building that I am – I think it was a stroke of genius for Vermes to omit that and have Hitler himself gloss over it – for more important matters.

I don’t believe that any blogs that I read on the regular have reviewed this book. In fact it wasn’t even in Creative Whim’s Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin. Regardless. I found a much more eloquent review over at 1streading’s blog.

This should change now. I know it sounds a little off, maybe a little distasteful, but just trust me on this one.

Readers! Who has read this one? Has anyone read it in the original German? Do I sound insane? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Monsters: The Fifth House of the Heart

Posted 7 December, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Monsters: The Fifth House of the HeartThe Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 28th 2015
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Occult & Supernatural
Pages: 400
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.

Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure. But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.

With his novel The Fifth House of the Heart, Tripp makes a return to the classic vampire novels of the past, Dracula and ‘Salem’s Lot come to mind immediately. He doesn’t dress his vampires up in a bunch of finery and pretty words the way Anne Rice does, instead they are the classic monsters that have gone by the wayside in the wake of vampires that are more complex (Anne Rice) or who veer so far from vampire mythology that they are hardly recognizable as vampires (The Twilight series).

I love vampire books (certain YA novels excepted) and The Fifth House of the Heart, was a pretty decent read, but by no means was it a book that is likely to make it into the cannon of vampire literature. It’s largely a book about hunting animals – like I said, the personality that Tripp endows to his vampires is very little. Then again, Dracula didn’t have a whole lot of personality and no one argues on the brilliance of Dracula. Geeks of Doom love this book and wrote a very favorable review.

I agree with their assessment of Sax, our main vampire hunting ‘hero’. He’s vain and largely unscrupulous. He cares for nothing in the world but his antiques and his niece, Emily. He’s also super-homosexual. My guess is that Tripp is trying for some sort of juxtaposition against the Roman Catholic Church (which takes a large presence in this book) and the ability for a homosexual to do heroic deeds, even when he doesn’t mean to. I could be way off. I know that That’s What She Read was really bothered by Tripp’s constant allusions and outright mentions of Sax’s homosexuality. I think the very fact that Tripp fails to be PC about Sax’s sexuality upholds my idea of a juxtaposition between Sax and the Church (which he is constantly feeling at odds with, despite an uneasy alliance).

Overall, this book gets the rating of ‘you could do worse on a plane if you love vampire novels’. It’s good, but not great.

Has anyone read this one, Reader? What did you think about the constant reminder of Sax’s homosexuality? Did you feel like it was an old fashioned horror novels? Do you like old fashioned horror novels?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wednesday Whimsy? Alice

Posted 25 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Whimsy? AliceAlice by Christina Henry
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on August 4th 2015
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, General, Historical
Pages: 304
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 warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside. In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood… Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago. Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful. And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.

Okay, so I love me some Alice in Wonderland spin-offs and reimaginings, and Henry’s novel Alice had real potential. Where it fell flat for me was the world-building. Honestly, I’m not sure where or when this version of Alice is supposed to be set in. There’s talk of the shining New City where Alice originally comes from and the Old City which feels a bit like the atmosphere that the proles from Orwell’s 1984 live. But what happened to divide the cities? What’s the government doing? What is the government? Why did they banish the Magicians?

Anyway, you get my point that Henry tries to create an atmosphere for the reader, but fails to flesh out enough of the world for it to take. This is very much a plot driven novel, there is action, some suspense, intrigue, and of course a love interest of sorts.

It’s a fairly quick read. As far as fairy tale reimaginings go, I’ve seen much much worse. But I’ve also seen better. It felt like Henry was going for something with more depth and just kind of fell flat at it, which was disappointing.

You could do worse on an airplane.

So, Reader, how do you feel about fairy tale reimaginings? Are they your jam? I tend to love them myself.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes Last

Posted 23 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Humorous, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Goodreads
three-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.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.     At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

So I know that Atwood’s latest, The Heart Goes Last was disappointing to some people. While I’ll agree it’s not her finest novel, it’s far from twaddle either. The story of Stan and Charmaine escaping an economic collapse by signing on to the Consilience project was compelling to me, though I’ll readily admit it was because I was already invested in the characters as this book was originally started as a serial novel by the defunct Byliner publisher. The most intriguing parts of The Heart Goes Last were those that she had already written in serial format and incorporated into this finished novel. NPR reviewer, Tasha Robinson might put it best:

The Heart Goes Last is packed with the kind of morally and socially complicated ideas that usually intrigue Atwood, and it’s impossible not to wonder what she would have done with these ideas in a more heartfelt book, or one that used the serial-installment model to stretch out and explore more of this lightly sketched world. (Full Review)

This is so apt for this book. Atwood sketches out some excellent ideas and important concepts but by the end of the book there’s a little bit of a failure to launch.

We discussed all the spoilers over at The Socratic Salon, come talk with us!

Other reviews of The Heart Goes Last

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf

Shannon at River City Reading

What about you, Reader? Did you love this Atwood or love to hate it?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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