Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry

I devoured Julie Berry's All the Truth That's In Me. I can't even place my finger on why it gripped me so much, but it did. I could barely drag myself away to fulfill responsibilities, like cooking and eating supper. The main character, Judith, is so smart and broken and brave, and her prospects so bleak, that I couldn't imagine a happy ending for her, but desperately wanted it nonetheless. And then there's the mystery: What happened to Judith's friend Lottie? Why would someone kidnap Judith for two years, then cut out half her tongue?

All the way through, I felt vaguely uneasy, expecting to be let down by the ending. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that I definitely wasn't. The story was rapidly-paced, the world was well-built, and the ending was a satisfying conclusion that drew all the pieces together.

The unusual writing style (the book is written in choppy pieces, to Judith's longtime love, referring to him in second person) might not work for everyone, but it did for me. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Flutter by Erin E. Moulton

I wanted to love Erin E. Moulton's Flutter. I really, really did, in part because the cover was lovely. I also have an incredible soft spot for stories about families who protect and care for each other. The prose is very beautiful, and the Vermont landscape is lovingly described. However... there were a couple of things about this story that drove me completely mad by the end.

1) Everything that could possibly go wrong, does. I do mean everything. Every time the sisters take initiative and come up with an idea, it fails catastrophically within pages. To the point that I started to wonder if the moral of the story is, "Don't ever take initiative! YOU WILL DIE!" Every idea these two little girls have just leads to more pain and struggle. It was depressing and eventually felt annoying and a bit contrived.

2) This section is spoilery. Highlight to reveal: The girls' great journey, the one that causes so much pain and hardship, that ends with them badly injured and one of them almost dying? It is for NOTHING. Absolutely pointless. The journey, quest if you will, that takes up almost the entire book... It avails them nothing. At the end, they're right where they started, just injured and traumatized. There's a pretty sentiment tacked on about how "love is the greatest magic," but for me it wasn't enough to make up for the pointlessness of most of the book.

In conclusion: The author definitely has potential, but this one was a disappointment.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

I've long been a fan of Sarah Beth Durst. Her stories cover a wide variety of genres, and are always worth reading. Vessel was quite unlike anything else I'd ever encountered, and while it isn't my favorite of Durst's, it's still interesting.

My favorite character in Vessel was the desert. It is beautifully described, and despite the difficulty of living in such a harsh place, I came to understand the fierce love which main character Liyana and the other desert people had for their home. I also loved the mythical creatures inhabiting the desert, particularly the sand wolves and sky serpents.

The human and deity characters were more or less interesting as well, though they will not be counted among my all-time favorites. Liyana is mostly practical and competent, with moments of passion and emotion. I am a practical person, and female characters whose main characteristic is "practicality" are few and far between in fiction, so I enjoyed seeing the world of Vessel through her eyes.

My main problem with this story--the thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars--was the pacing and plot development. I felt that the pacing was uneven; so much of the story was spent just traveling from tribe to tribe, without a clear endgame. I kept waiting for the "real plot" to start, and then realized I was more than halfway through the book. The ending seemed abrupt and too easily resolved, and not all my questions were answered. (Highlight to reveal spoiler) So what happens with the drought now? You know, the big problem that was killing the desert people AND the people of the Empire?

The Empire was underdeveloped as well. I came away from the book with only a vague, amorphous idea of what it was even supposed to be. (A big empire that's suffering from drought, basically. Very little idea about its people or culture or customs. I would have loved to see that better developed, and by extension, the character of the Emperor. He is a very major character by the end, but I still felt that I barely knew him at all.)

Bottom line for me: This book was worth reading. It had some interesting characters, among which the desert itself was the most fascinating. The quandary about the vessels, and the deities that "killed" them to inhabit their bodies, provoked thought about the nature of sacrifice. The pacing was uneven and the plot seemed a bit muddled and meandering, but I would still recommend giving this one a chance. 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: Bad Radio by Michael Langlois

Really enjoyed Michael Langlois's Bad Radio. Fast-paced, well-edited, gloriously creepy. The book has a lot of action, but there is enough time spent on character development to allow readers to connect with the protagonists. The characters, and their interactions with each other, rang true to me; for example, though Abe and Anne obviously care about one another, there is no forced sudden romance.

Great quick read: nothing incredibly dense or mind-bending, just a fun story with intriguing characters and sufficient body horror to make you squirm for days after you've finished the book.

And now that I've lavished the book with praise, I'm going to address the one thing that drove me nuts:

A town of 30,000 people is not a tiny town. It's not even particularly small.

I grew up in the country and the closest town of any size was about 15,000 people. It has a movie theater, grocery store, Wal-Mart Supercenter, two hardware stores, two auto parts stores, five or six motels, one nice hotel with actual suites, and about fifteen restaurants. A town twice that size would not be a "small town" with just a run-down diner and one cheap motel. For that you want a population more like 800 or 1,000.

Small detail that probably wouldn't bother most people at all, but for me it was a glaring case of Did Not Do the Research.


Review: The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

The Woodcutter is a deeply enjoyable little story: not complex, but lovely and magical. My initial impression was that it would be a dark take on a traditional fairy tale. Instead, it turned out to be sweetness hidden beneath a thin layer of darkness, which is just fine with me. The characters are compelling, though drawn with simple strokes: I especially loved the deep, quiet, fierce love between the Woodcutter and his wife of twenty years.

Is the story without flaws? Not at all. The pacing is somewhat uneven, and it sometimes felt as though the author were cramming in as many fairy tale characters and scenarios as possible. I had to roll my eyes and smile fondly at some of the fairy tale conventions that came into play (true love! at first sight! conquers all!). But for me, the likeable characters and simple, beautiful prose more than made up for the shortcomings. I am excited to see where author Kate Danley will go from here.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

I did not like A. G. Howard's Splintered. I did not like it at all. That is disappointing, because I was very excited about reading it. (Just look at that cover--it's beautiful, and I unashamedly judge books by their covers.)


1) Love triangle (please God, make authors just stop already) in which both of the main character's options are controlling jerks. One of them (Jeb, her childhood friend) is also rather bland and undercharacterized; the other (Morpheus, the shape-changing moth creature) is outright evil, with rapey overtones. I cannot articulate the depths of my hatred for the latter character, so I will not even try. Most of his actions are indefensible to a point that I cannot imagine how anyone, including Alyssa, could ever care for him at all.

2) Shallow female characters. We have: bland, swept along by others' decisions, largely lacking in agency (Alyssa); locked up in a mental institution (Alyssa's mother); jealous (Gossamer); heartbroken and imprisoned (Ivory Queen); evil and manipulative (Red Queen); beautiful bitchy prep (Taelor).

3) It wasn't all bad. The twisted take on Wonderland had its moments of beautiful, sparkling prose, and some of the creatures were interesting. I was fairly indifferent on the plot; neither memorable nor terrible, in my opinion. But the characters were a deadly hybrid of bland and utterly unlikable, and that killed the story for me.