Fabulous Friday: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Posted 12 August, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Friday: All the Ugly and Wonderful ThingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on August 9th 2016
Genres: Adolescence, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 352
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.

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible "adult" around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.

I read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things in a single sitting while I was sick as a dog. Greenwood wields her prose like it’s a sword and manages to completely eviscerate the reader. This book is indeed filled with all the ugly and wonderful things, but Greenwood leaves it up to the reader to decide what is ugly and what is wonderful. Her prose, while gorgeous and nearly perfectly rendered, is almost… hmm… she’s like a reporter – showing the reader what’s going on but never telling the reader how to feel about it.

This book left me constantly questioning my own morality for feeling the way that I did. Wavy and Kellen’s relationship often felt icky and wrong – ugly – to me, but at the same time almost justified. This is a book that demands to be discussed among friends. There is so much here. Never for one second did I feel icky the way I felt when I was reading Lolita, Humbert is obviously a pervert and a manipulator using Lo for his own ends. In All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Kellen is honestly more of a protector and a caretaker for the majority of their story.

For me the most disturbing part was (oddly) not the relationship between the two main characters but Wavy’s relationship with her mother. Parents can do horrible things to their children and Greenwood manages to capture that in vivid and aching detail. The imagery of Wavy eating out of the trash is enough to make me weep. Additionally, what good people like Wavy’s aunt are unable to handle in the face of adversity is also a depressing theme that Greenwood fleshes out in the most awesomely heartbreaking way.

On a personal note, Wavy’s family reminds me very much of my shitbag aunt and her children. She’s a shitbag who marries shitbag men. My grandmother is a constant enabler to the shitbaggery. My cousins are not works of fiction and despite the blood, sweat, and tears of my grandmother at least one of them has already done stints in juvie and will probably end up in prison for drugs before it’s all over. I also watched my own mother try to save that same cousin from himself for nearly two years, until much like Brenda, she couldn’t handle it anymore. So perhaps this is why I found the (lack of) parental relationships much more disturbing than the relationship between Kellen and Wavy.

Anyway. The narrative in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is gorgeous. The characters are well fleshed out and largely believable. The story is heartbreaking. I highly recommend this one.

While she hasn’t written one yet, I know that Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books will eventually publish a more eloquent and insightful review soon.

What about you, Reader? Does this sound way outside of your comfort zone? I felt a little discomfited at first, but eventually got swept away.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Sunday Salon: Where Does the Time Go?

Posted 7 August, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging

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Time // 8:15 PM EDT

Howdy, ho friendly readers! The past couple weeks have been a blur, things are busy at work and at home. Two weeks ago I second-chaired a particularly nasty trial against a particularly nasty defense attorney. Last week I had usual court things to do as well as prepping for a trial that will likely go sometime next week. The week after that I leave for Europe for two weeks, when I come back I’ll have to hit the ground running again because I’ll be up for jury trials again.

I went to see a regional production of Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights on Friday and it was surprisingly excellent. I was extremely pleased and can definitely recommend The Aurora Theatre in Gwinnett County.

At home, The Girl starts kindergarten tomorrow so there have been the usual school prepping for her with handwringing from The Husband (Dad) and Grandmother. I’m sure she’ll be fine.

Around the blog, I’ve created a login for Katie who will start making posts as she feels the need, so get ready  for a new voice, y’all! I’ll wait for her to get up and running before I say more.

How was your week, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Release Day Review: Dark Matter

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

Release Day Review: Dark MatterDark Matter by Blake Crouch
Published by Crown on August 2nd 2016
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.

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable--something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

So my mother has been pimping Blake Crouch to me for quite awhile now. “Scarier than Stephen King!” she says to the Stephen King fangirl. So when Dark Matter was on offer at BEA I thought it would be an excellent time to check him out.

Dark Matter isn’t a bad book, in fact it’s probably an ideal book if you’re looking for something light and easy to read on a plane. I suppose my biggest problem with Dark Matter is that it’s so darn predictable. Even with beach reads, I expect a few things from an author: That the writing be solid and that the author stays true to the genre s/he’s writing in. What I’m trying to say is that if you’re trying to write a suspense novel – there should be suspense. I shouldn’t be able to pick up a suspense novel and see the entire trajectory of the book twenty-five pages in.

Pretty much after Jason wakes up from his abduction, everything becomes readily apparent. I did love the sweet little touches of science fiction that Crouch infuses into this very standard suspense novel. There were times it felt a little like Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which is good.

Dark Matter, is a book that is going to fall into my category of, “You could do worse on a plane.” Blake Crouch, at least for now, is relegated to the minor leagues of horror and suspense writing, with the likes of Dean Koontz. Sorry, Mom!

Whatcha think, Reader? Do I have any Blake Crouch fans out there? Anyone want to recommend a different title by him?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Friday (Re)Reads: The Twelve

Posted 22 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Friday (Re)Reads: The TwelveThe Twelve by Justin Cronin
Series: The Passage #2
Published by Hachette UK on October 25th 2012
Genres: Fiction, General, Horror, Science Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Fantasy
Pages: 688
Goodreads
three-stars

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation...unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

So I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, The PassageThe Twelve did not disappoint either. I re-read this book in preparation for the thrilling conclusion, The City of Mirrors.

As the second installment in the trilogy it was great to pick back up in Cronin’s expert world building and revisit the (many) characters introduced in the first novel. The Twelve expands on those characters and the situations that the characters find themselves in. Cronin does a great job continuing to develop both characters and his world. For the most part these two novels are incredibly impressive both in scope and depth. But there are points in The Twelve where I felt like it was (dare I say it) almost overdeveloped. Danny’s backstory, even April and Tim…  this book is so long and so detailed that these pieces felt a little extraneous. Admittedly, this is one of the things that may add to the excellent world building, but this book is a chunkster as it is and I’m not sure that these narratives added enough.

I wish that I had reviewed this prior to finishing The City of Mirrors, but (and we’ll get to this in another review) I didn’t, that reading kind of tainted me for the entire trilogy and I’m unable to differentiate the second and third books as well as I’d like to.

This trilogy is absolutely epic.

Reader, have you read The TwelveThe Passage? Are you looking for a new spin on vampires? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Sunday Salon: Anxiety

Posted 17 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes, musings

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Time // 6:41 PM EDT

Feeling // Wicked anxious. For no particular reason. I had a meltdown on Twitter today, at the pool. As I was saying, I’ve finally come to the point in my life, where for the most part, I don’t give a fuck what other people think about me. I’m comfortable with the way that I look, the job  that I do, the friends that I keep. Until I go out in public with The Girl. Then I lose. My. Shit. Is she bugging other people too much? Are they judging me for the way that she’s dressed? Am I paying enough attention to her? Too much attention to her? Helicoptering? Neglecting? On. And. On. And. On. My blood pressure rises, my heart starts hammering, and I usually feel frozen in place. It’s a terrible, awful, no good feeling that I don’t know how to shake. Anyway.

Reading //  I just finished up a book that I loved, except for the ending. I hate when an author takes a perfectly content atheist character and makes him/her find god. It’s so… trite. Also still working on Kathleen Glasgow’s upcoming YA(?) novel Girl in Pieces which is raw and powerful and awful in all the best ways. I’m in a reading slump and need to feel excited about something. Suggestions?

That’s all she wrote, Reader. How are you?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Whatever Wednesday: Before the Fall

Posted 13 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 31st 2016
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback ARC
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.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

I’m going to dub 2016 “The Year of the ‘You Could Do Worse on a Plane’ Book” because seriously, that’s pretty much the rating I’ve given to everything this year.

Before the Fall is by no means a bad novel, but it’s not a particularly good novel either. It’s kind of fun the reconstruction of the accident, the push and pull of the suspense, and loving to hate the Fox News-esque anchor Bill Cunningham for exploiting the death of his boss and whipping up the public into a totally unnecessary frenzy. Actually, Bill Cunnigham’s role in the novel is perhaps the most interesting thing about it. He’s so repulsive and the way he behaves (both on and off the air) is so repugnant that it really leaves the reader to question the motivations behind cable news and info-tainment anchors on both sides of the aisle.

I also enjoyed the portions about the extreme swimmer and fitness guru from the fifties. The imagery of a man swimming from Alcatraz with his wrists chained, pulling a boat was just fabulous. Come to think of it, the stronger visual parts of Before the Fall all involved swimming.

The rest of the novel is a decent enough cross between a character study and a suspense novel. Before the Fall is not a great novel for book clubs because there’s not a whole lot to talk about. Once you’ve finished the book it’s pretty cut and dry. I only mention this because it was featured at BEA’s book club speed dating event and I tried to book club it myself.

Does this kind of action, suspense, character study type novel appeal to you, Reader? Has anyone else read this? Enjoy it? Not enjoy it? Thoughts and feelings?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Controversy: Underground Airlines

Posted 11 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Controversy: Underground AirlinesUnderground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Published by Random House on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Alternative History, General
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback ARC
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.

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it. Except for one thing: slavery still exists.
Victor has escaped his life as a slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Striking a bargain with the government, he has to live his life working as a bounty hunter. And he is the best they’ve ever trained.

A mystery to himself, Victor tries to suppress his memories of his own childhood and convinces himself that he is just a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he is desperate to preserve. But in tracking his latest target, he can sense that that something isn’t quite right.
For this fugitive is a runaway holding something extraordinary. Something that could change the state of the country forever.

And in his pursuit, Victor discovers secrets at the core of his country's arrangement with the system that imprisoned him, secrets that will be preserved at any cost.

This is a good lesson on why to write your reviews as soon as you finish a book. I finished Underground Airlines last Monday, before (I read) the New York Times review, before (I knew about) the Twitter backlash, before the three days of violence in America. But here we are, living in the present, writing in reality. The question is, do I tackle the review or the controversy first? Let’s just see where things take us, shall we?

First, the world building is excellent. Underground Airlines, if nothing else it is well researched novel with a meticulously created world. The devil is in the details with this book and Winters does his due diligence in getting most of them. This is a novel where the plot will fail if the premise fails. If Winters had been unable to convince me that the Civil War had never happened, that slavery had been permanently enshrined in the Constitution, the the Hard Four were real, nothing else would have mattered. But the attention to detail in the world building makes the whole thing frighteningly plausible. It’s worth noting that Winters spends the first SIXTY EIGHT pages establishing his world.

Speaking of world building… I loved the literary name dropping Winters did. The subtle changing of the plot of To Kill a Mockingbird. “…about the Alabama runner [slave] who is discovered hiding in a small Tennessee town, and the courageous white lawyer who saves him from a vicious racist Deputy Marshal…” The celebration of Zora Neale Hurston’s “masterpiece” that was smuggled out of a sugarcane plantation “page by page” before Florida went free. These details are delightful to any bibliophile.

As far as the plot, stories, and characters go… these are a little more thin for me. I’m not a huge fan of crime noir novels, so the stylistic decision Winters made to frame the plot and Victor’s character in this fashion didn’t work overly well for me. I found the characters to be a little underdeveloped. What was really with Barton? (Though I did love the characterization that he had a ‘Mockingbird complex’ “…the white man is a the saver, the black man gets saved.”) Marsha’s motivation was believable, but there was still something missing with her… The point is the characters wer all pretty static and I wish that Winters had done more with them.

Overall I found this book to be immensely enjoyable and very readable. It’s thoughtful, well written, and will leave you thinking.

Meanwhile on Twitter…

I get it. I get the reality behind the diversity in books movement. I agree that Octavia Butler is an unsung hero and that it is wrong in so many ways. But (and here’s where I piss people off…), does that negate the fact that Winters has written an incredibly thoughtful book about race relations in America?

Look. When I started Underground Airlines I didn’t realize who Ben Winters was. Maybe a third of the way into the book I looked up who he was and had the thought, “Oh shit. He’s white.” At that point I had the thoughts and feelings on “Should he really be writing about this?” I was already committed to the story so I pressed on and it was a good book. Do I agree with Lev Grossman’s characterization that Winters is “fearless” for writing this novel? Not really. Do I think that it’s fair that Winters is getting backlash for writing this just because he’s white? Not really. Do I think that there are people of color who have written books with similar premises who have not gotten fair recognition? ABSOLUTELY.

I understand that people of color have an uphill battle in publishing. Hell, in life. But should we condemn a book that may reach a larger audience (because of the popular acclaim of his previous novels), which may get that audience to think about these issues? An audience that isn’t actively seeking out novels by people of color because they’re not book bloggers or social justice warriors, it’s an audience of casual readers. People who pick up crime novels because they want some beach reading, not all of them are going to be politically active – but Winters’s novel might reach them, it might make them think, it may turn someone who was previously apathetic into an ally. Is that a bad thing?

Just my take dear Reader. Respectful dissent is always encouraged. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Sunday Salon: Grief

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

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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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Sunday Salon: Hello July

Posted 3 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, memes, musings

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With June gone and July beginning in earnest I’m feeling the pressure of my Goodreads challenge weighing down upon me. I’m fifteen books behind schedule and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pull out of this nosedive before the end of the year. I guess next year I’ll have to plan for job stress and family things.

I only managed to make it through four books last month and I’m hoping that I’ll do better in July. I’m working on Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines which is a thoughtful speculative fiction title due out on Tuesday. I’m also listening to Cronin’s The City of Mirrors which is the final book in The Passage trilogy.

In meteorological news, it’s so hot. I grew up in the south and have been back in Georgia for about three years now, but I never get over how damn hot it gets. We just got back from the pool. I hate the sun. I hate being tan. I hate burning more than all that. DESPITE all that I’m thinking that this summer I should take up swimming – because it’s aerobic and it keeps me cooler than running does in the 98+ degree heat. Still thinking the thoughts, trying to make a decision.

My best good friend (who also happens to be my trial assistant) came to the pool today with her boyfriend. I think that we’re about to embark on an evening of board games, booze, and fun. She has a DC Comics Deck Building Game that I suspect will be an excellent time as well as a Japanese board game that I haven’t played yet, but I am looking forward to.

Anyway. That’s my weekend thus far, Readers. What about you? Read anything worth reading? Done anything worth doing? 

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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