Tag: ARC/Galley


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 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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Must Read Monday: The Beautiful Bureaucrat

Posted 10 August, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: The Beautiful BureaucratThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Published by Henry Holt and Company on August 11th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Thrillers
Pages: 192
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.

In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings-the office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.

I just finished this little tome and holy poop on a stick guys – it knocked my socks off. I feel like The Beautiful Bureaucrat has something for everyone. It’s full of intrigue, a dash of magical realism,  and a whole lot of excellent writing.

It felt a little bit like a grown-up Wrinkle in Time, though why exactly it felt that way — I can’t exactly put my finger on it. But I loved the slightly science fiction feel that didn’t necessarily go overboard and take The Beautiful Bureaucrat into the realm of genre fiction. Admittedly, the characters are a bit flat, but because of the slimness and the surreal feeling of the novel, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I love the wordplay within the novel, which screams of symbolism – perhaps Josephine’s descent into madness working her job. I love how she eventually started referring to her husband by his social security number. I love the Every Place feeling of The City vs. The Hinterlands.

Some reviewers found The Beautiful Bureaucrat to be somewhat Orwellian, I didn’t necessarily have that feeling — though there was definitely the sense that Josephine was being watched.

Anyway, I don’t want to oversell The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but I think that the length of the novel makes it accessible to everyone and to me it was completely delightful.

What do you think, Reader? Does this sound like something that might be up your alley? 

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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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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Mental Health Monday: Hausfrau

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

Mental Health Monday: HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published by Random House Publishing Group on March 17th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
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.

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her.   But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs. When she wants to end them, she finds it’s difficult. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there is no going back.

Dear God. Hausfrau is one of those books that hits you where it hurts. Love (or something close to love), marriage, infidelity, family, mental illness…

This book was an all around winner for me. It’s not just deep and important with plenty of things for bookclubs everywhere to argue about, it’s also beautifully written. I have a background in German so the parallels that Essbaum made between the German language and Anna’s life decisions were endlessly fascinating and relatable to me.

Despite her affairs and questionable moral behavior I liked Anna and understood her compulsions and actions (or lack thereof). Depression is not something that can be ‘fixed’ with something as easy as finding a new hobby or making new friends, and perhaps I excuse her affairs because of her long term depression.

This book is gorgeously written and tackles a number of complex and heavy topics. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Other viewpoints from:

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf

Andi at Estella’s Revenge

Shannon at River City Reading

Melinda at The Book Musings

What about you, Reader? Can you handle a book where you find some of the protagonist’s actions morally reprehensible? Do we judge men as harshly as women when it comes to marital infidelity? And don’t forget to drop into The Socratic Salon on Wednesday where we’ll really break it down.

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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