Category: Reviews


Not a Winner Wednesday: The Vines

Posted 24 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Not a Winner Wednesday: The VinesThe Vines by Christopher Rice
Published by Little, Brown Book Group on October 21st 2014
Genres: Fiction, Horror
Pages: 224
Goodreads
one-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.

Spring House, New Orleans: a plantation manor of money and influence. But something sinister lurks beneath the glamour of the old estate, awoken by blood and looking for revenge . . . After Caitlin Chaisson tries to take her own life in her mansion's cherished gazebo, it becomes apparent that Spring House's malevolent history won't stay hidden for long. By morning her husband has vanished without a trace and his mistress has gone mad. Nova, daughter to the groundskeeper, is determined to get to the bottom of the horrors. But she soon realises that the vengeance enacted by this sinister and otherworldly force comes at a terrible price. Some secrets are better left sleeping soundly . . .

Soooo… Anne Rice’s son. Perhaps it was reading this book right in the wake of the Charleston massacre that made it so distasteful to me, but I found the appropriation of slavery to use as a plot point (a big one, no doubt) to be a bit offensive.

The writing in The Vines is mediocre, at best. None of the characters are fully fleshed out and the supernatural elements are less than fully explored. Perhaps I could have overlooked the angry black slave woman being cast in the role of the voodoo queen had the writing been a little better. As it was, this is strictly a genre book with no themes or anything deeper mooring it to the world of serious literature… which would be fine, except that pesky little use of racial stereotypes out of Louisiana and the use of slavery. Skip it.

What about you, Reader? Can the use of an offensive theme ruin an otherwise perfectly average genre novel for you? 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Meh Monday: Eeny Meeny

Posted 22 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Meh Monday: Eeny MeenyEeny Meeny by M. J. Arlidge
Published by Penguin on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Crime, Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 416
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.

Two people are abducted, imprisoned, and left with a gun. As hunger and thirst set in, only one walks away alive.It’s a game more twisted than any Detective Helen Grace has ever seen. If she hadn’t spoken with the shattered survivors herself, she almost wouldn’t believe them.Helen is familiar with the dark sides of human nature, including her own, but this case—with its seemingly random victims—has her baffled. But as more people go missing, nothing will be more terrifying than when it all starts making sense....

So, this book isn’t good, it’s not bad, it just kind of is. I suppose that Eeny Meeny is a pretty decent airplane read. A little bit gory, a little bit suspenseful, but mostly just good grisly fun. Don’t go into it expecting to find anything deep and important, or any insight, or needed to analyze anything and you’ll probably have a good time (if suspense/horror is your genre of choice).

I liked the lead character, Detective Inspector Helen Grace, she’s strong but flawed. Also like most of the characters in this novel, not terribly developed, but maybe just enough. One thing that took me by surprise about Eeny Meeny was the depth of feeling I had for the characters at the end. As I just said the characters weren’t terribly well developed, but Arlidge somehow still made me feel for them at the end.

Like I said, you could do worse on an airplane.

What about you, Reader? What’s your genre of choice? Tell me about your ‘light’ reading.

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fabulous Feminist Friday: Dietland

Posted 12 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Feminist Friday: DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 272
Goodreads
five-stars

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed. Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. But when Plum notices she’s being followed by a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots, she finds herself falling down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House, a community of women who live life on their own terms. Reluctant but intrigued, Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerilla group begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her own personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. Part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy, Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.

As the memes say, Dietland was so much win for me. It’s possible that part of the win came from the fact that I almost didn’t read it. Shannon at River City Reading sent me her copy and I wasn’t really arrested by the description, but I am a feminist so I thought I might as well give it a whirl, if for no other reason Shannon spent $4.07 mailing it to me.

Guys. This book will change your life. Or at the very least will have you re-examining so many parts of our culture. This book touched me in a very personal way so,  before I get to the book review we’re going sit down and have a little fireside chat. Move in closer, I’m going to get a little personal.

Growing up, through my twenties, up until the point that I had The Girl four years ago, I was that girl. I was the girl who could eat as much of anything that she wanted and never gain an ounce. I fluctuated between 115 – 120 or so, never exercised until I joined the Air Force and never gained weight. Well, as so often happens once women pop out that first baby they find their bodies inexorably changed forever. I now fluctuate between 160 – 170 and it’s taken me a long time to recognize that this is my new body. Well, this is my new body unless I want to live in Dietland.

Foxy, hot, fuckable. Whatever it was called, that’s what I’d wanted  – to be hot, to elicit desire in men and envy in women. But I realized I didn’t want that anymore. That required living in Dietland, which meant control, constriction – paralysis, even – but above all it meant obedience. I was tired of being obedient.”

I freakin’ love to eat guys. I love it. I’m terrible at exercising regularly, which I should do for health reasons but that’s a different issue. Do you know what this book did for me? It set me free from Dietland. I’m a size 12, I’m going to stay that way, and I am okay with that. Okay seriously, the review now.

Dietland takes on all the issues. Gender inequality, fat shaming being one of the last acceptable prejudices, beauty culture. The writing is good, there are some characters that seem a little underdeveloped, but I almost wonder if this was intentional – if these characters are less characters and more caricatures. For me that worked with the satire and social commentary that Walker was creating.

I enjoyed every facet of this book with the sole exception being the treatment of anti-depressants in the novel. Monika mentions this in her review as well (linked below), and it’s just unclear what statement Walker was trying to make about the use of anti-depressants – but I’m uncomfortable with negativity expressed towards their use, just because the stigma against mental health treatment is so high.

The timing of the publication of this novel is perfect, the novel itself is light and airy while still packing a substantive punch of social commentary that the world needs to hear. This might be the best book I’ve read this year.

Other Opinions:

River City Reading

A Lovely Bookshelf

Books Speak Volumes

A quote for the road:

“On the Nola and Nedra Show, Nola Larson King said: “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier, Nedra, and I agree with you. I don’t think that this is terrorism or lady terrorism. Do you know what I think it is?”

“I’m dying to know,” said Nedra Feldstein-Delany.

“I think it’s a response to terrorism. From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad men who might get us. We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good ones from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all. We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress in a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”

What do you think, Reader? Too subversive? Too weird? Let’s chat! Also – expect to see this broken down completely at The Socratic Salon some day soon!

April

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Thrilling Thursday: The Shore

Posted 28 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in books and publishing, Reviews

Thrilling Thursday: The ShoreThe Shore by Sara Taylor
Published by Crown/Archetype on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 320
Goodreads
five-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.

The Shore: a group of small islands in the Chesapeake Bay, just off the coast of Virginia. The Shore is clumps of evergreens, wild ponies, oyster-shell roads, tumble-down houses, unwanted pregnancies, murder, and dark magic in the marshes. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it's a place that generations of families both wealthy and destitute have inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. From a half-Shawnee Indian's bold choice to escape an abusive home only to find herself with a man who will one day try to kill her, to a brave young girl's determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, the characters in this remarkable novel have deep connections to the land, and a resilience that only the place they call home could create.

The Shore is a remarkable piece of fiction. I love finding debuts that are so compelling and readable. Told in a series of interwoven narratives, many of the pieces can stand alone as short stories, but when you put them all together there is something truly special to be found in the novel as a whole. It fills a hole that has been gaping in southern gothic fiction and even more delightfully it’s filled by a young woman with much promise.

This book reads a little like Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred Year House, in the sense that it is a family saga that isn’t necessarily told in a linear order. But The Shore is something more than that as well, it’s about the deep bonds and petty hatreds that can build in a small community throughout time and the way just one resentment can destroy an entire community.

I know in the finished edition there is a family tree (or a series of family trees) but I enjoyed sketching out who was related to whom on my own. It was a fun exercise in puzzle solving, so if that’s your bag, maybe ignore those family trees and then check your work at the end.

Absolutely a must read.

What about you, Reader? Have you been needing some southern gothic in your life? Have you read The Shore? Does it sound like something you might need to get to soon? Don’t forget we’re going to have an EPIC conversation about this one on The Socratic Salon next month!

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wanted More Wednesday: The Jesus Cow

Posted 20 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wanted More Wednesday: The Jesus CowThe Jesus Cow by Michael Perry
Published by HarperCollins on May 19th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Humorous, Literary, Satire
Pages: 304
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.

Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor's heart; a Hummer- driving developer hooked on self-improvement audiobooks is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm; and inside his barn lies a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ. Harley's best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to sidestep the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called "a scene."Then the secret gets out—right through the barn door—and Harley's "miracle" goes viral. Within hours, pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a per- centage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy, calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want—and in the process raise enough money to keep his land and, just maybe, win the woman in the big red pickup?Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park—think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and souvenir snow globes. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.

Maybe my lesson is to stay away from satire on Christianity here. I DNFed Christopher Moore’s Lamb, and I almost DNFed The Jesus Cow. This book has its moments here and there, mostly some clever plays on words, that made me smile to myself but for the most part this book is just… not good.

Okay, why? While this is an excellent premise that could have been hysterical, or at least populated with memorable, lovable characters, Perry does neither for his readers. The characters – all of them – are flat and completely two dimensional, acting exactly as expected with little to no growth. Rather than characters, they are caricatures. I couldn’t come to care for any of them, especially not Harley with his dithering and worrying. Get ahold of yourself man.

The ending. Oh Jesus Cow, the ending. It was one of those unfortunate times where it seemed as if the author just ran out of steam and wanted to tie a nice little bow on things. Where the six main characters ended up made little to no sense based on the rest of the novel, but I suppose if you’re looking for a feel good ending then it might be acceptable.

Also, the marketing of this book? The catalyst for action happens on Christmas Eve, so why is it being released in May?

Okay, Reader. I hated this book. Give me something good to read? Would this premise have pulled you in? Does it pull you in still? I won’t judge.

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Girl at War

Posted 18 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reading, Reviews

Must Read Monday: Girl at WarGirl at War by Sara Novic
Published by Random House Publishing Group on May 12th 2015
Genres: Coming of Age, Cultural Heritage, Fiction, Literary, War & Military
Pages: 336
Goodreads
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.

Zagreb, 1991. Ana Jurić is a carefree ten-year-old, living with her family in a small apartment in Croatia’s capital. But that year, civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, splintering Ana’s idyllic childhood. Daily life is altered by food rations and air raid drills, and soccer matches are replaced by sniper fire. Neighbors grow suspicious of one another, and Ana’s sense of safety starts to fray. When the war arrives at her doorstep, Ana must find her way in a dangerous world.   New York, 2001. Ana is now a college student in Manhattan. Though she’s tried to move on from her past, she can’t escape her memories of war—secrets she keeps even from those closest to her. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, Ana returns to Croatia after a decade away, hoping to make peace with the place she once called home. As she faces her ghosts, she must come to terms with her country’s difficult history and the events that interrupted her childhood years before.

This is another one of those books that I will forever be indebted for other people pushing me to read (specifially – at least- Monika and Shannon). I’m in a funky place right now with my reading and my blogging but Girl at War pierced through that place, quite easily, and took me away from my own difficulties.

The first thing that I really appreciated and liked about this book is that the Yugoslavian civil war, which for Americans, even in collegiate level world history courses is glossed over like it’s no big deal. This book made me feel small as an American — in a good way. I want to know more now about the massacres that took place. Because honestly, there were scenes in Girl at War that felt like they were straight out of a WWII novel/non-fiction book. This was a lesson for me, something that I knew, but that this novel really pounded home for me — that even in a post Nazi world, there are still atrocities taking place. The Yugoslavian civil war happened in Europe, in my lifetime. Why don’t I know more about it?

Another thing that I really enjoyed about this novel was Ana’s desperation and journey to fit in to American society as a refugee, along with the juxtaposition of her sister, who had been sent to America as an infant with no memories of the horrors that happened at home.

The writing in this novel is excellent, like I said I’m in a slump caused by reasons I can pinpoint, and this still was able to awaken me out of my slumpiness and propel me through it in a mere few days. It leaves me to consider what other genocidal atrocities do I know about only for passing conversation.

Compelling, well written, and absolutely readable. This is your must read book for the summer.

Do you feel uneducated about wars that your country hasn’t been affected by, Reader? I also think of all the genocide and civil wars in Africa when I speak of this. Have you read Girl at War yet? Does it sound like your bag?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Boo

Posted 11 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: BooBoo by Neil Smith
on May 19, 2015
five-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.

It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver "Boo" Dalrymple—ghostly pale eighth-grader, aspiring scientist, social pariah—is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he is finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of Town—an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys' death.

In Town, there are no trees or animals, just endless rows of redbrick dormitories surrounded by unscalable walls. No one grows or ages, but everyone arrives just slightly altered from who he or she was before. To Boo's great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends, and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death—and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover and disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.

Every part of this book just charmed the pants off of me. From the unique idea that there is a heaven that is populated completely of 13 year-old Americans. To the characters of Boo and Johnny and the repercussions that their quest to find their killer has on them – and the Town itself. While no one ever physically ages in the town, for the fifty years in which they are allowed to stay there the characters age emotionally. It was a stroke of genius for Smith to call ‘heaven’ The Town rather than heaven – because clearly in the novel it’s not.

I know that a book full of dead kids doesn’t exactly sound charming or appealing, but you’re going to have to trust me that as weird as this premise sounds, Smith makes it work. There are many twists in this book that I saw coming, there were a few that I didn’t. The surprising tenderness of the prose along with the affability and friendship of the main characters leaves the reader thinking about this book long after finishing it. 

Despite being about a ‘heaven’ populated by thirteen year olds – this novel is on no level a YA book. Perhaps it could be an appropriate read for kids of upper ages, but I really feel like the tone, style, and themes make this a book that easily fits into the literary fiction category. 

Smith should feel proud of his debut novel, it’s unique, funny, tender, and absolutely enthralling. Go read it, trust me.

Does this book sound too weird for you, Reader? (It’s not, just trust me and go get it.) What do you have this lovely Monday that I must read?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 6 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 10th 2015
Genres: Asian American, Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 736
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.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome--but that will define his life forever.

It’s inarguable that A Little Life is beautifully written and takes the reader to dark places that most of us would rather not go, which is normally a plus for me, but unlike many readers I wasn’t totally swept away by the this tale.

Not only was A Little Life an incredibly slow start for me (mostly because I didn’t care about most of the early details the characters experienced) but even as I went on I found the book to be increasingly unbelievable. Not so much the horrors that Jude went through, but the incredible good fortune that he kept finding in spite of his past. I’ll save most of that type of discussion for The Socratic Salon.

A Little Life could have probably benefited from some extreme editing, I think it’s about 200 pages too long and has at least three characters that could have been combined into other characters or cut. I love long cradle to grave character study sagas most of the time, but this one just felt… I don’t know, forced? I don’t have a proper adjective.

Have you read this A Little Life, Reader? What did you think? How do you think it will fare in Tournament of Books 2016?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Feminist Friday: Yes Please

Posted 27 March, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist Friday: Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited on October 1st 2014
Pages: 288
Goodreads
four-half-stars

In a perfect world... We'd get to hang out with Amy Poehler, watching dumb movies, listening to music, and swapping tales about our coworkers and difficult childhoods. Because in a perfect world, we'd all be friends with Amy -- someone who seems so fun, is full of interesting stories, tells great jokes, and offers plenty of advice and wisdom (the useful kind, not the annoying kind you didn't ask for, anyway). Unfortunately, between her Golden Globe-winning role on Parks and Recreation, work as a producer and director, place as one of the most beloved SNL alumni and cofounder of the Upright Citizens Brigade, involvement with the website Smart Girls at the Party, frequent turns as acting double for Meryl Streep, and her other gig as the mom of two young sons, she's not available for movie night. Luckily, we have the next best thing: Yes Please, Amy's hilarious and candid book. A collection of stories, thoughts, ideas, lists, and haiku from the mind of one of our most beloved entertainers, Yes Please offers Amy's thoughts on everything from her "too safe" childhood outside of Boston to her early days in new York City, her ideas about Hollywood and "the biz," the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a "face for wigs." Yes Please is a chock-full of words and wisdom to live by.

This was going to be one of three mini-reviews, until I wrote a whole lot on it.

I loved this book to pieces, guys. Everything from the writing itself, to the narration, to the message that the book was seeking to get out there appealed to me. Poehler’s narration is delightful and I love that she brings in guest stars to do bits and pieces for her.

The title itself is a call to positivity. “YES PLEASE!” more positivity in my life. “YES PLEASE!” more positivity in the book blogging community “YES PLEASE!” more positivity among and between women, lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. The part of the book that really impacted me the most was the discussion that Poehler had on child-rearing and really all decision making among womenfolk. The general sentiment is that we should strive towards the attitude “That’s great for her, but not for me.” Whether a woman chooses to breastfeed, bottle feed, stay at home, go back to work – whatever it is – if it’s not for you great! But recognize that it could be what’s best for other people. She really just verbalized the way we could make the mommy wars stop – if everyone would just read this book.

Other than that, Poehler is warm and funny, while still being vulgar and surprisingly revealing some of her bad girl history. It’s a great great listen. Even if celebrity memoirs aren’t your thing, I highly recommend the audio.

So Reader, what do you think? ARE celebrity memoirs your thing? Have you read this? Tell me your thoughts and dreams.

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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