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review 2018-12-10 05:51
Days Without End (Audiobook)
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry,Aidan A. Kelly

Narration: 5 stars

Story: 3.5 stars

Final rating: 4 stars

 

It was my week for strange stories. This isn't even a story in the traditional sense. This reads more like a rambling memoir but with language so intimate and lush that I could easily forget that I was only really getting broad brushstrokes for the bulk of the story. This is mostly a summation of a young man's life as he figures out some hard-won truths.

 

Told from the POV of Thomas McNulty, an Irish immigrant, as we follow him and his friend turned lover John Cole across America in the mid-1800s. Survivors of the famine, they come to America with nothing, practically starved to death, and start to figure out how to survive from one day to the next, whether that's playacting as girls in a stage show or joining the Army to fight in the Indian Wars and eventually the Civil War.

 

This book doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of this time period in American history, nor does it give us safely and comfortably progressive-minded MCs to filter that reality through. Thomas and John Cole might not be outright hateful of anyone but they don't stop to ask why they're being given the orders they're given nor do they spend much time if any contemplating the morality of the slaughter of the First Peoples. Not at first. As Thomas notes at one point, no soldier fully understands the war he fights in; he only knows his one part in it. 

 

I was most interested in Thomas's and John's non-Army days, while they were living together and eventually with their adopted daughter Winona, a Sioux orphan, but those parts were sparse safe harbors in between all the violence and war of those times. The ending, such as it was, is more open-ended than anything else. 

I would have preferred a reunion between Thomas, John and Winona instead of just Thomas looking forward to it.

(spoiler show)

 

The narration by Aiden Kelly was truly amazing. He captures Thomas's bewildered voice perfectly and truly makes this oddly mesmerizing story come to life. 

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review 2018-12-10 04:58
One Night in Boukos
One Night in Boukos - Corinne Demas

This is an odd one. I guess this is historical AU, since it's set in an alternate world, but doesn't have any fantasy elements. The world-building is sprinkled throughout, and is largely accomplished by the culture clash of the Sashian embassy staying in the Pueschaian town of Boukos to open trade routes between the two countries, so it comes across more naturally than the info-dumping one might come across in other AU novels.

 

During a party, the ambassador to Zash goes missing but this isn't noticed until the following morning. His personal secretary Bedar and Bedar's friend Marzana, the captain of the guard, go on a discreet manhunt through Boukous as they try to follow the crumbs of the ambassador's trail after his disappearance. To complicate matters further, the city is preparing for the annual festival to honor their god of debauchery, Psobos, a most un-Sashian ritual. Along the way, they meet a couple of citizens of the town and slowly fall in love over the course of a most unusual night.

 

This is a charming little tale. I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked it for my Prime loan, and that just added to the charm. Despite the urgency of Bedar and Marzana's mission, this story unfolds at a leisurely pace. There's a spattering of humor, a little action, but mostly it's just two men out of their depths as they navigate an unknown city full of people they don't understand only to discover they're not so different after all.

 

I thought I had the endgame figured out at one point, but I was only right about part of it. Chereia and Pheres were a great supporting cast and just as fully fleshed out as Marzana and Bedar. The m/f and m/m couples get equal page time to develop and are respectfully handled in the difficulties that faced both pairings. That makes one a little less satisfying than the other, but certainly still an HFN. (To be clear, this isn't Romance and there's no on-page sex.)

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review 2018-12-10 04:31
There There by Tommy Orange
There There - Tommy Orange

Books about communities seldom portrayed in media have an undeniable cultural value aside from their literary value. This book, about a large number of Native American characters living in contemporary Oakland, California, clearly has a lot of cultural value for readers whose vague notions of Native Americans encompassed no more than reservations, feather headdresses and a sense that these folks aren’t really around anymore. I suspect the book will also be valuable to a lot of Native American readers, particularly in its portrayal of native characters struggling with issues of identity: what does it mean to be native if you don’t know much about your heritage, if you’re mixed race, if you learn powwow dancing by watching videos on YouTube?

That said, I am not in either of these groups, and on a literary level I was disappointed. Like a lot of first novels by MFAs, this book bites off more than it can chew, experimenting with literary techniques but distancing the reader from the characters. It follows 12 point-of-view characters – eight men, three women and a boy – in a novel that due to short chapters is even shorter than its 290 pages would have you believe; and each POV character comes with their own supporting cast of friends and family. Seven of these characters have chapters told in the first person, despite the fact that every character’s voice sounds alike. (They always do, and yet first-time novelists persist in doing this.) One obnoxious 17-page chapter is even told in the second person. (“You went back every Tuesday for the next year. Keeping time wasn’t hard for you. The hard part was singing. You’d never been a talker. You’d certainly never sung before. Not even alone. But Bobby made you do it.”)

Unfortunately, so little time with each person means that everyone is a bit-part character. We barely get to know any of them as people, and their surroundings feel oddly blank as well, with descriptions of place mostly limited to Oakland street names. It’s definitely urban grit lit: the emotional arc of one chapter is traced through the character’s constipation and ultimate pants-pooping, while another character pulls spider legs out of a bump in his leg . . . and although we spend too little time with any individual to see much more than a snapshot of their lives and histories leading up to a powwow, it’s clear from the beginning that it will culminate in a mass shooting. When it comes, we don’t even learn the fates of all the characters before the book ends.

The book is crammed full of issues – alcoholism, missing parents, urban violence, domestic violence, interracial adoption, more alcoholism – which is fine, but at the point that the author addresses the reader directly about Native American history in both a prologue and an interlude, and a character in the middle of fleeing her abusive husband gets a random lecture from her friend about the issue of native women going missing in large numbers, I had the image of the author with a bullhorn going, “Do I have your attention? Excellent! Let me tell you ALL THE THINGS!”

That said, I do think author shows a lot of promise. The characterization is decent given the fact that the book barely gives any of the characters room to breathe. The writing is fine – it’s not always as staccato as the brief excerpt above, though still too distinctive to plausibly attribute to a large number of characters of different ages and backgrounds. Many first-time authors attempt and then get past the multiple-narrators thing, and Orange’s second book will probably be much less frantic in its issue-inclusion just because he packed so much into this one. I will be curious to learn more about the next book, but on its literary merits I wouldn’t recommend this one.

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review 2018-12-10 03:38
The Leading Lady (Half Moon House #2) by Deb Marlowe
The Leading Lady (Half Moon House Series) - Deb Marlowe

The Leading Lady (Half Moon House Series) - Deb Marlowe 

 

What a pleasure to pick up a book by a new to me author and thoroughly enjoy it! <3 
This is the second book in the series but it can be read as a standalone. I haven’t read the first one yet I never felt lost or like I needed to read the first one first. 
I love enemies to lovers stories and this one hit the mark in all the right places. Callie is smart, determined, caring, and knows how to fight against injustices in a world where men set the rules. Although Truitt was at first hesitant of working alongside such woman, he learned to admire her both as a fighter and as a woman. Their romance had the perfect pace and their chemistry, in and outside the bedroom, was perfect as well. They made have made a few mistakes towards the end but overall they made a pretty good team. I think they are one of my favorite couples ever. 


So the romance was wonderful but it was not the only good thing about the book. Not exactly a story about spies it had some its elements. The suspense was engaging from the start and it kept me turning the pages even when it wasn’t about the two main characters, which is always a good thing. Most of the story takes place in France and I loved that the author didn’t use any “accented” dialogue nor used unnecessary situations to remind me where the story was taking place. 
With complex, fun characters; suspense, action, and romance, this is a story I definitely recommend to anyone that enjoys stories outside ballrooms. 

*I received this book at no cost to me and I volunteered to read it; this is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher*

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review 2018-12-10 03:06
Howard End by E.M. Forster
Howards End - E.M. Forster

These days I often find myself appreciating classics more than contemporary fiction – but not all classics; there are still books whose quality doesn’t quite live up to their reputation. This is one of those.

Set in early 20th century England, this book follows the adventures of Margaret and her younger sister Helen; these two are certainly appealing characters to a modern audience, being intelligent, thoughtful, socially-conscious youngish women who inherited sufficient funds from their now-deceased parents to live independently and comfortably for life. So they travel and enjoy social and intellectual pursuits and worry about what they should be doing for those less fortunate than themselves. Their liberal guilt is dramatized through two families they encounter: the wealthy Wilcoxes, a sporty family whose focus on their own financial interests lives little room for even basic politeness to anyone else, and the lower-middle-class Leonard Bast, a clerk struggling on the edge of poverty, and his unfortunate wife.

It’s an interesting premise, and the issues of the role of money in people’s lives and of liberal guilt are fairly well-developed. It’s also a reasonably interesting portrayal of England before the First World War; the sisters’ father was German and the determination of both their German and English relatives that their own country is meant to rule the world is treated with gentle irony. Unfortunately, the first half of the book – after a strong opening – loses momentum fast and is almost entirely lacking in plot. Nothing much happens to these characters for a long time; Margaret, our protagonist, glides through the story without struggle; there’s nothing she needs or wants and doesn’t have. The true plot appears around the halfway point, but unfortunately so many character decisions lacked believability that I can’t say much for it in the end. Meanwhile, while some of the issues Margaret ponders remain interesting and relevant today, its philosophical maunderings often left me underwhelmed, and the ideas about the superiority of England haven’t aged well. The rest of my criticism contains a lot of SPOILERS, so beware.

The second half of the book rests on two big eyebrow-raising decisions, and the story finally wraps up with a third. Margaret receives a marriage proposal from Henry Wilcox, and the book never gives any particular reason that she should marry him, aside from the fact that he expresses a liking for her: he’s a smug, self-satisfied conservative old enough to be her father, who embraces self-serving platitudes on both gender and economic inequality and has a nasty tendency to use Margaret’s moments of weakness as evidence of the inferiority of all women. And in the single scene portraying their physical relationship, he leaves Margaret disappointed and confused. And then it turns out that his track record for fidelity is not great. Margaret doesn’t need Henry, yet she gives up her autonomy to be with him – why?

Helen’s encounter with Leonard is equally baffling: she’s presumably a virgin, living in a society where women who have premarital sex are shunned; he’s probably never slept with anyone other than his wife, who is asleep in the next room at the time; he’s in awe of her as his benefactor, and he’s probably none too clean or well-fed; at no point in the story does there appear to be any romantic or sexual attraction between the two. And yet they have sex?

All of which leads to the final confrontation, which is believable enough – and then Forster skips right to the aftermath, perhaps knowing that tracing out these events would strain credibility too much. Helen decides to stay in England even though she’d enjoy more social acceptance in Germany; Henry abruptly loses all concern about Helen’s wayward behavior; Margaret’s magical influence apparently convinces everyone to live together happily every after. Um, okay.

So I didn’t really buy this one. The writing is fine, and many of the issues it raises are important and remain timely. But Forster’s plotting and ability to get the characters to the places where he needs them to be in a believable way left something to be desired.

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