Tag Archives: book review

Caffeinated Book Review: ‘The Rosie Project’, A Romantic Comedy

rosieprojectThe Rosie Project

Such an unexpected delight, Graeme Simsion’s novel is a fast-paced, surprising read as unconventional as its narrator, the OCD, brilliant genetics professor Don Tillman. Keep pace with him as he hilariously – with vulnerability and flashes of self-awareness and humor – attempts to find the perfect wife, while also solving a mystery for the unconventional Rosie who keeps popping up in his life. The straightforward narrative and dialogue will draw in non-chic-lit readers while romance fans will be charmed by the ebb and flow of a romance told from a male perspective. So fun and cleverly written, I hugely enjoyed the side discourses on genetics, psychology, and cocktail mixing – a novel with a brain. This is being adapted into a film (Jennifer Lawrence was originally attached to play Rosie but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts) which I’m very excited to see it when it’s ultimately released.

I Hated This Book Review: “Taken” by Dee Henderson

Taken Dee Henderson

Taken by Dee Henderson

The story of a man without a personality who falls in love with an emotionally vulnerable woman 15 years younger than him as they wander around the country opening safety deposit boxes and finding nothing in particular.

If you thought that was tongue-in-cheek, you’re wrong.

My Christian fiction adventures continue!

*PSA: I love Dee Henderson. But her latest books are rubbish of the first order.

YA Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen Victoria AveyardRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Another one bites the dust! By that I mean, yet another mediocre YA novel I can add to my “one and done” pile.

It started out so well: a very strong voice in the form of first-person protagonist Mare Barrow, a snarky thief struggling to keep herself and her family afloat in a class-driven, oppressive society. The world is what I’d describe as fantasy-lite with a few steampunk elements – people have elemental powers, but it’s recognizably a human world with a quasi-feudal structure, and steampunk comes in with the inclusion of several machines – a bicycle, a robotic-esque war machine, and airships.

Society is divided into two classes: the ruling class “Silvers”, who have all the power and money, and the working class “Reds”, who are mostly servants, tradespeople, and conscripted soldiers. Silvers claim to be gods, and are certainly superhuman – each is born with an ability to control the world around – some can control iron, others fire, water, and other elements, and a few can control people’s minds. Their blood itself runs silver. Reds, on the other hand, have no abilities, and their blood is red. It’s a world in which your fate is ruled by your genetic background and, quite literally, your blood.

Aveyard, like most YA authors, attempts snark, and unlike most, succeeds – Mare’s occasional comebacks and insults are genuinely funny and witty. The plot is fast-paced, the world is reasonably inventive, and the first half is very strong. In the second half, however, the ongoing romance is really phoned in – an epic romance is conceived out of literally about five brief interactions, and then a MAJOR plot point is hung upon it. Some authors suffer from the misconception that you can slap the label “prince” on someone, have him be sympathetic to a heroine twice, and every reader for a thousand miles will think he’s the second coming of Darcy crossed with Edward Cullen. Neither of Mare’s suitors *quite* leap into reality; combine Maven and Cal and you’d have one fully realized male character/romantic interest.

The undercooked romance is followed by a secondary plot point that was both wildly predictable – I saw it coming the entire novel, because this is how young adult novels go – and also extraordinarily poorly conceived and unconvincing. giphy

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Ugh Book Review: The Rook by Steven James (Patrick Bowers Series)

The Rook Steven JamesThe Rook by Steven James

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers has been investigating a series of arsons when the latest strike hits a research facility at a U.S. naval base. With his own criminology research being turned against him and one of the world’s most deadly devices missing, Bowers is caught up in a race against time to stop an international assassin before it’s too late.

I won’t get into the plot; it’s pretty much the above except with lots of symbolic rubbish thrown in to make this book feel weightier and more serious than the mediocre populist fiction that it is.

We’ve got all the tropes: the family member Patrick has a difficult relationship with (in this case his teenage stepdaughter), the criminal who doesn’t brush away spiders that land and crawl on him in his warehouse (get it?? he’s EEEEEVILL), the criminal mastermind who offers a lowlife the choice of walking through two doors (yes they are actual doors, I’m not messing with you guys) titled “Freedom” or “Pain” and the lowlife chooses “Pain” because he’s TWISTED kids, the repetitive, pseudo-menacing references to a grand master plot without any coherent criminal activities being described…Oh and let’s not forget the random migrant storyline, because what transforms a book into a “real” crime novel is some local, urban flavor so for Pinocchio to be a real boy you need to include a shoutout to the California setting.

It’s all so terribly cliched and imitative of other, somewhat better crime novels of the past 50 years. I appreciate that Steven James was trying – but if psychological darkness and the sense of menace and adrenaline contingent upon wide-ranging, shadowy criminal plots aren’t your strengths, for heaven’s sake stick to a more traditional crime-followed-by-investigation plot, and keep it low concept. Many male crime writers don’t seem to realize that you don’t need to have the government and/or the fate of the world involved in every plot.

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I Hated This Book Review: We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

we'll always have summer

We’ll Always Have Summer, Jenny Han

I felt slightly nauseous after finishing this. The Summer Series is a trilogy of bestselling young adult contemporary romances from Jenny Han, and this is the finale. I enjoyed though was irritated by the first, skimmed through the second, and then hit THIS.

The thought of thousands of impressionable teenage girls gulping this up makes me see RED. It’s romantically bankrupt, a novel that’s downright destructive in how it portrays romantic relationships, what girls should look for, and what constitutes healthy behaviour or interactions. It flies wildly in the face of every bit of hard-won knowledge we’ve gained about what makes marriages and relationships work and last, and as such, it’s INFURIATING.

Because it is a book about marriage. It ends with one.

It also tells you to be with the boy who makes your heart flutter, even if he has blown hot and cold with you your entire life, even if after dating you for a very brief span he dumps you, even if every single one of your friends and family are united in saying how badly he’s treated you. Marry HIM because you feel a gravitational pull and fascination with him and you just can’t quite get over it.

Oh, and break up with the funny, kind guy (his brother) whom you genuinely fell deeply in love with, dated for two years, and agreed to marry, the boy you work seamlessly with as a team, laugh with, and enjoy doing everything from ordering food to running errands to apartment-hunting with, and have a giant amount of tenderness and affection for. yeah, forget HIM. What terrible life-partner material. AWFUL.

Never read this. I’d gladly ban it from the hands of all and sundry teen girls because with its compelling prose it will tell them the opposite of reality re: romantic relationships.

Book Review: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2)

Mr Kiss and Tell Veronica Mars2004 cult classic TV show Veronica Mars is one of the great loves of my life (it’s one of the tags used enough to actually show up in my tag cloud to the right, for the record). So of course I pre-ordered show creator Rob Thomas and co-writer Jennifer Graham’s second book in the novel series as soon as it was available, knowing that, even if I didn’t like, it, I still wanted to support the series and the world.

In Mr. Kiss and Tell, a girl has been brutally raped and assaulted, and claims that an employee at the Neptune Grand, where she spent the evening before her assault, is the perpetrator. She plans to sue the hotel, which hires Veronica to find out the truth.

The second half of this (as was the case in the first book), is much faster-paced and tighter than the first half, but only my familiarity with and love for the characters gives life to what is unfortunately rather an underwhelming, stale world. Every single plot twist and turn, except perhaps one, is predictable – the book sets up the two or three central conflicts in the first one-third and then unrolls them in exactly the way you’d expect, without deviation. One of these subplots is the institutionalized corruption and injustice of the police force, and the series wants to be a dark, gritty take on this, a reflection of 21st-century realities, but the depth of world and character-building just isn’t there. What does that structure look like, how does corruption interact with itself, what are the internal processes and motivations of those involved? The subplot is brushed on, hinted at further development, but never really delved into.

Logan takes up a scant handful of pages sprinkled through the novel, reflective of his non-prioritized role in Veronica’s life, which is faithful to the original series but is puzzling and frustrating at this point. Rob Thomas and the writers assured fans by the events of the film that Veronica is deeply in love with Logan and committed – yet one of the same things that tore them apart in the TV series is still evident, and unlike in the series, the book doesn’t show it as a flaw: Veronica’s compulsive habit of prioritizing her cases over everything in her life.

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YA Book Review: Airhead by Meg Cabot

airheadmegcabotbookcover

Airhead, Meg Cabot

HATED this book. One of the most sexist narratives I’ve ever read, and from a woman, to boot.

Emerson Watts is comfortable in her own skin. She loves video games, medical documentaries, and hanging out with her equally nerdy best friend Christopher, whom she only wishes would see her as a girl instead of his asexual buddy. Until a bizarre accident makes her a participant in a brain transplant meant to save her life, in which she’s given the body – and forced to take over the identity – of a world-famous teen supermodel.

………….
………….

Leaving the sheer bloody ludicrousness of the plot aside, the message this book is sending – to teen girls no less – is that it’s not okay or enough to just have interests and be yourself and have nerdy interests (interests which in real life would make you totally hot to a lot of guys, something the book was conspicuously silent on – do you know how many guys would love a woman who plays video games? A LOT). You can’t *just* be smart and have hobbies and your own personality – you must ALSO have the body of a supermodel and a smile that turns virtually every guy who sees into jelly.

Because at the end of the day, why settle for being yourself? When you can be smart, nerdy, AND hot? Thus fulfilling every male fantasy ever??? Seriously if Cabot had created a female character with men in mind she couldn’t have done a better job. Em in this novel becomes the teenage epitome of Gillian Flynn’s accurately-sketched, terrible Cool Girl in Gone Girl. The representation of Male Desire and its supremacy in culture and in narrative.

I HATED this novel with every fiber of my literature-loving, chick-lit-loving, feminist body. Excuse me while I go read some Kafka, *anything,* to get this taste out of my mouth.

P.S. Emerson – or rather her body – expires when a TV falls on her. I’m not making this stuff up, folks. 

P.P.S. The fact that there are two more books in this series makes me want to enlist The Bride (see Kill Bill if you haven’t seen it yet y’all) to track Cabot down and put the fear of woman into her so she never writes such a book again. I’ve read and liked/loved a lot of Cabot. This, is unworthy of her.

Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades, plus Waiting on Wednesday Book Meme

New WoWWaiting on Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which bloggers post about an upcoming book they’re eagerly waiting for.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating Ashley Weaver’s Murder at the Brightwell, which sounds like the most delicious murder mystery ever, a beautiful cocktail of romance, 30’s beachy glamour, and murder, but since it came out yesterday (I have already requested it at the library), it would be cheating to include it. So I’ll go with my other choice, the second book in Brian Stavely’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, The Providence of Fire.

the emperor's blades book coverThe first book in the Unhewn Series, The Emperor’s Blades, was rich, fast-paced, and immensely satisfying – it did a brilliant job of laying out three, strong personalities and their very different worlds, and then culminating them at the end. It was largely the tale of hot-headed yet brilliant Valyn, the emperor’s son who has been in training his whole life as one of the Emperor’s Blades, warrior-assassins who are put through years of intensive, regimented training in all kinds of weaponry as well as stealth tactics, survival, etc. Valyn is already a gifted, deadly force at the beginning of the novel, and only grows as it goes on, also stepping for the first time into a leadership position he’ll have to learn how to exercise.

A world away, his brother Kaden, the heir to the throne, is a pupil at a remote monastery where he learns what seems to him esoteric and useless skills – which might one day save his life.

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Book Review: Murder on Fifth Avenue

murder on fifth avenueMurder on Fifth Avenue, Victoria Thompson

Midwife/amateur detective Sarah Brandt and Irish detective inspector Frank Malloy return to the streets of New York in this fourteenth book in the Gaslight series, and it’s an odd reversal of strengths and weaknesses for the author. First off, if you’ve never read any of Victoria Thompson’s suberb mystery novels set in turn-of-the century New York City, you should, because they are beautifully atmospheric, and start with Murder on Astor Place, the first. However, if you have, this isn’t the best in the series.

A society man has died in the highly exclusive men’s club managed by Sarah’s father, and he calls in Frank trusting him to both solve the murder and be discreet about it. The first mystery is how and where the man was killed, as he was stabbed before arriving at the club and then slowly bled out with out pain. Frank follows a bizarre trail of secrets that leads him to the Italian mob, an innocent-seeming mistress, and the dark underbelly of wealthy New York society. The plot and pacing are significantly stronger – despite a melodramatic center, the reveals are made gradually and deftly and underscored with enough evidence and character development to make sense. The pacing is sharp and the book is as gripping and perhaps even more gripping than most Victoria Thompson novels – a mini page-turner that is hard to put down.

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Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

lola and the boy next door reviewLola and the Boy Next Door is the second book in Stephanie Perkin’s loosely-linked young adult trilogy (Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After)… it was good stuff, y’all. In fact, dare I say I liked it much better than Anna and the French Kiss? Lola is significantly more grounded than Anna, not emotionally, but just as far as personality and life situation – I had trouble fully identifying with both Anna and Etienne in French Kiss because their lives were so thoroughly privileged. Yes, they both had family troubles which made them more sympathetic, but I’ve never been a drop-dead gorgeous teenager who gets to attend boarding school in France, and I suspect most of the rest of us haven’t either. It was all just a little too much, a little too surreal and fairy-tale-like.

All of which is to say – Lola is much more identifiable – her family’s middle-class, she works a very average job at a movie theater, she’s pretty but not absolutely stunning, and she lives in San Francisco. (Side note: San Francisco as a setting was a delight, as I visit often and love that city. It’s under-utilized as a setting for American books).

Lola Nolan lives with her parents (two married men) in the Castro district in San Francisco, in a delightful if small house passed down by her grandmother. She has a smart, driven best friend and a steady boyfriend in the form of tattooed punk-rocker Max. Life for her is pretty good…until some old neighbors move back in and her life turns upside down. Calliope Bell was Lola’s best friend until she started becoming a star ice skater and dropped Lola for not being cool enough. Calliope’s twin brother Cricket, meanwhile, the soft-spoken, awkward foil to his sister’s shining light, was Lola’s first love. Their relationship ended abruptly (and, traumatically for Lola) almost before it began however, and Lola hasn’t seen either of the Bell twins for years.

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