Tag: tob 2016


Three for One Thursday: Tournament of Books

Posted 24 March, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

 mini

Bats of the Republic by: Zachary Thomas Dodson

Mini-Synopsis: A historical fiction/dystopian fiction crossover bound together with a beautifully illuminated text.

Mini-Review: This book is clever and manages to straddle two very different (seemingly incompatible) genres at the same time. But first, a word of warning. This book absolutely must be read in the hardcover edition.  No Kindle or other ePub versions, no ARCs. I also have my doubts about how well a library copy would hold up. The story is enough to hold it’s own – but believe me this book is a thousand times more enjoyable if you read it as Dodson (who incidentally is both the author and ‘illuminator’) intended it to be read.

Other Trusted Reviews: Shannon @ River City Reading

Rating: 4 stars

The Sellout by: Paul Beatty

Mini-Synopsis: A satire of epic proportions about an African American man sitting in front of the Supreme Court on some very… interesting charges. Touches on different facets of modern American life such as the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, and the father-son relationship.

Mini-Review: Look, this book is hardcore laugh out loud funny. But being a middle class white lady there are points where I felt uncomfortable with the laugh out loud nature of it. As Catherine from The Gilmore Guide to Books put it so eloquently:

“There is a cognitive dissonance in seeing the n-word over and over and over. As In ‘I should NOT be reading a book that uses this word like a comma” but I know it’s a satire.”

YES. EXACTLY THAT. This book is highly enjoyable but sometimes I feel like I’m not really allowed to be laughing at it. Despite that, I have to recommend it.

Other Trusted Reviews: Heather @ Bee’s Book Buzz

Rating: 4.5 stars

A Spool of Blue Thread by: Anne Tyler

Mini-Synopsis: Cradle to grave story about Abby and Red, family life, and growing older.

Mini-Review: This book is pretty well… meh. I really disliked Abby for the majority of the book and quite frankly I just didn’t care about most of the characters. This isn’t to say that Tyler doesn’t do a decent job in fleshing them out – quite the opposite. I just really didn’t care for them. The writing itself is done well enough – but it’s not enough to bump it up into ‘enjoyable’ range for me.

Other Trusted Reviews: Catherine @ The Gilmore Guide to Books

Rating: 2.5 stars

Bring it in, Reader. Thoughts or feelings on any of these? How have your selections been faring during the Tournament of Books?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Three for One Thursday: Tournament of Books Reviewlettes

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

Tournament of Books Reviewlettes

Reviewlettes!

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

Our Souls at Night by: Kent Haruf

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

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

Rating: 4.5/5

The Whites by: Richard Price

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

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

Rating: 2.5/5

The Turner House by: Angela Flournoy

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

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

Rating: 4/5

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

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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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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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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It’s Monday… Tournament of Books 2016 is ON!

Posted 25 January, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, books and publishing, Reading

tournament of books 2016 rooster

I don’t often participate in the ‘It’s Monday…’ posts, but it’s the most wonderful time of the year! I have the Tournament of Books 2016 short-list in hand and am readying myself for battle. Unfortunately all the books I decided to read from the long-list failed to make the cut, but I enjoyed most of them heartily so really there’s nothing to complain about.

So let’s take a look at the work ahead of us:

Tournament of Books 2016 Short-List

  • The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz – review
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty – Currently in DNF status. Will be revived.
  • Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson – Read
  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy – review
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – review
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf – review
  • Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil – I’m worried about the availability of this one.
  • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli – Owned and on the list to read.
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra – Read
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – Read
  • The Whites by Richard Price – review
  • Oreo by Fran Ross – Probably the next one I’ll read.
  • The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard – Read
  • The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak – review
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – review

Play-In Round

  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving – Just bought the audio, let’s face it… I was going to read this anyway.
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – Zero interest. Might read it if it actually gets in.

Updated 28 February 16

Taking Stock…

Out of the fifteen definite books I’ve read three, I own twelve, plus the John Irving in the play-in round. To make any of it count I need to get to reading! A little sad that Look Who’s Back from the long-list didn’t make it but, c’est la vie, this gives me more books to read! I also may still review Mort(e) from the long-list because, man, that book was weird.

Anyway, Reader… are you taking part in the fun? What books from the Tournament of Books 2016 short list look like they appeal to you? 

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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Fantastic Friday: Fates and Furies (A Tournament of Books Selection)

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

Fantastic Friday: Fates and Furies (A Tournament of Books Selection)Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Random House on September 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

So, Fates and Furies is a book that broke one of the slumpiest slumps that I’ve had in a long time. I read it because I’d already told the gals at The Socratic Salon that I would. I steeled myself to be bored out of my mind during Lotto’s section, as I had been forewarned by so many people. But I actually found myself enjoying it.

Sure, as a character Lotto is self absorbed, one dimensional, and really grows… not at all. But he does some charming things and I must admit that I was especially intrigued by his obsession with the opera composer towards the end of the section. However, Mathilde’s section was absolutely stunning and I don’t think that the reveal would have worked the other way around. Unbeknownst to poor Lotto, Mathilde is ‘the fury’.

Mathilde is amazing and dynamic, honestly Groff has produced some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time in the second half of this novel. I found it to be literary but not inaccessible. I think that if one so desired, this book could be read at strictly a surface level and still be very enjoyable. But the real enjoyment for me came with delving a little deeper and looking underneath the surface of Groff’s prose to find such amazing depth and breadth of characters.

What about you, Reader? Read any excellent literary fiction lately? Have you read Fates and Furies? Don’t be shy, join us over at The Socratic Salon to discuss it! 

April

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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