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Search tags: great-premise-lacking-execution
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review 2017-05-31 01:20
Review: Scientific Secrets for Self Control (The Great Courses)
Scientific Secrets for Self-Control - Professor C. Nathan DeWall

Quick review for a quick read. This isn't the first "Great Courses" audiobook I've listened to, but it was one of the ones I was most disappointed by. A shame because the topic is very fascinating in terms of how self-control is regulated by the brain. It touches on several topics with support from several studies: brain injury and how it affects self control, mental energy and fatigue, dietary influences in brain energy, making decisions, how fatigue factors into difficult topics, self control and finances, etc. I found that I wasn't really the biggest fan of the audio lecturer. His dictation didn't feel immersive/enthusiastic about the topic and the transitions between topics weren't as smooth from lecture to lecture as I would've hoped. I did have a few takeaways for the knowledge base and topics this series of lecture covered, but not enough for the time and energy that it took for me to move through this audio course (which was well over 3 hours).

Overall score: 2/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-26 06:02
Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares
The Whole Thing Together - Ann Brashares

Quick review for a somewhat quick read for me, though it felt like I had to push myself through this novel several times. "The Whole Thing Together" has many issues, but I would echo concerns that much of this novel suffers from rampant cliches, insensitive references in the measure of racial attribution (considering it uses a racial slur casually and struggles constantly to accurately and sensitively portray the multiracial character who struggles with her identity) and sexism (slut shaming and odd fixations on physical details of the characters). In addition to those issues, I think the biggest downfall of this novel really came in that I just couldn't find a space to connect with the characters. Not as much as I wanted to, because there were parts of the narrative that had the potential to go interesting places, but never quite reached that point and abruptly halted in places where the development could've provided more intimacy than the narration allowed.

At its heart, "The Whole Thing Together" is a family drama, showcasing teens as well as young adults in a separate sections of the same family struggling through multiple phases and revelations in their lives. Think "Parenthood" or "Brothers and Sisters" in terms of TV dramas, only I think the characters in this novel were far less fleshed out. As ambitious as this narrative sought to be, it tried to take on far too much in a narrow scope, to the point where nothing really worked well. The narrative voices blended far too much for me to truly connect to them (I don't mind third-person omniscient POV, I read it quite often in many genres). I would hesitate to call this YA, it feels more like it straddles the line between YA and New Adult (at least if you think about certain themes tackled in this book).

The surprise revelation towards the ending was emotional, but I honestly think that it could've had more impact if the character constructions were stronger. In the end, it's a narrative with strong intentions, but the execution leaves an unmemorable and sometimes offputting portrayal that doesn't showcase the best of what Brashares can do, and as someone who liked the Sisterhood series, this left me greatly disappointed.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.

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review 2017-05-09 04:27
Review: Fireworks by Katie Cotugno
Fireworks - Katie Cotugno

Quick review for a progressive read. Katie Cotugno's "Fireworks" was a struggle for me to read in places, but in the end, I'm glad I read it, especially considering the turns it took in the story. The ending was bittersweet and not quite the impression and direction I thought it would go given the beginnings of the story. Yet even saying that, I'll admit I struggled to hold interest in the novel for a while.

The story is told through the viewpoint of Dana, a young woman stuck in a small town with a mother who drinks too much, a job that ended upon her graduation, and a struggle to decide how to escape what seems an inevitable future. Dana's best friend Olivia seems to have everything that Dana doesn't: a supportive family, a college career, and a chance to go to be a part of a pop group in what seems to be like an X-Factor music competition. Olivia begs Dana to accompany her to the competition, but Dana gets the shock of her life when she's asked to be a part of the group after an impromptu competition. Alongside a budding relationship with a guy that's a part of rising boy band maintained by the same manager, things seem to be going well in Dana's circles despite rivalries with her group and rising tensions between herself and her best friend as the practices and training roll on.

One might think this is the kind of novel in which Dana is a special snowflake who gets everything she asks for (the prospective accidental singing career, the boy, the supportive best friend through thick and thin with some moments of emotional tension, etc.) and has a talent that makes her the TCO of the work: but that would be far off the mark, especially as the novel finally hits the ground running in a different direction after the midpoint of the novel. I appreciated that it wasn't so predictable and unrealistic as to paint Dana as a practically perfect underdog heroine. She was selfish and immature on many fronts, but the novel showcases places where she makes mistakes, growing and learning from those decisions/interactions on her own accord. Her emotions are palpable to the encounters/betrayals/relationships she has.

Like Cotugno's other novel "99 Days", the decisions and interactions between the characters aren't so much glorified as they are put into perspective relative to the interactions and passions of the characters within. For another point against the narrative, though, I felt an odd sense of detachment throughout the novel that kept it from being a more meaningful experience for me. For one, the pacing was very slow and the setup in the beginning is so cliche ridden and predictable that it was hard for me to feel invested in Dana's experience. I mean, I got that she got the chance of a lifetime, something that seemed to offer an out to the downcast spiral her life seemed to be. Dana's character, I understood, was incredibly passive and going with the flow, being the odd woman out among vocalists - including Olivia - who had been training their entire lives for the opportunity in this 90s-era singing competition (the novel takes place in the late 90s when boybands/girlbands are all the rage. There are spot references to frame the era, but they're not superfluous. I'd argue that they also weren't as immersive as they could've been, though.)

Dana's narration through the novel is at an odd distance and lacks a passion/immersion that I would've thought could've grown with each experience she had with respect to her experiences in Orlando. The romance in this wasn't poorly done for intent, but again - I felt like I couldn't fully invest in it because of the way it was presented: telling more than it showed. The showcasing of the competition and relationships within was weirdly mechanical in dictation and I wish it could've been more intimate and invested.

The latter part of the novel was actually when I finally became invested as I watched the interactions between Dana and Olivia move in some fluctuating high and low tensions, ultimately culminating in something that was less than ideal. I had a feeling it would likely turn out that way after a point, but I was still surprised. I liked the direction, but I didn't like the execution, and I almost wish that Olivia could've had a narrative perspective to see what she thought on the other end of the events that transpired in this story (because I feel like that would've held my attention by being a different take).

In the end, it was an okay novel, but not really one that I loved from Cotugno. I feel like it could've had much better execution for the intent and premise.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-21 04:45
Review: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando
The Leaving - Tara Altebrando

Quick review for quite a strenuous read. I think "The Leaving" had good ideas and intentions, but in the end, none of it worked for me. I'll admit I really had to push myself in a marathon just to get through this book. It was very sluggishly paced (for little to no reason at all), the characters were lacking (you have three perspectives: two of the abducted kids and one who's the sister, and there seems to be a mismatch with the gravity of the emotional events with the voices of the characters, who seemed very removed from it all despite having gaping holes in their memory and a potential missing kid that they don't even remember who might still be out there somewhere), and the mystery had little to no buildup. Matter in point, the story ends with such a telegraphed ending with very little expansion that I just felt underwhelmed at the whole deal despite this being in a genre I usually like. I spent more than 3 hours in spurts just to get that ending? *sighs*

The variant font stylistics also added nothing to the story, so don't think you're missing much if you don't get the inclusion or why it was done that way.

In the end, not my cuppa and not really worth the time I spent on it. A shame since the premise and certain reveals in the book had potential, but the cast of characters, pacing and narrative focus just weren't there.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-18 16:35
Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Allegedly - Tiffany D. Jackson

Initial reaction: Long review coming probably sometime tomorrow when I can meditate on my end thoughts on the novel, which are complex and conflicted. This...may not be a book for everyone to read.

This book had me emotionally shaken and vexed on so many levels, that I don't even know where to begin. *sighs* I will say - to the narrative's credit - that it's well written, emotionally raw, and Mary's experiences come across as very true to life experiences for incarcerated minority youth for much of the book (not all of it, but a good portion). Tiffany Jackson gets the emotional intimacy and connection of characterizations for this book spot on. The tension in this book is so palpable that I found myself caught between putting the book down and picking it back up eager to read what happens in Mary's overarching case. It's a dark read and thought provoking in many places. At first I thought that this narrative would be something akin to reading the narrative "Push" by Sapphire, because the tone of the narrative felt like that to start (and interestingly enough, the narrative mentions Mary reading it at one point.) The aforementioned book was a rough read for me on its own but I appreciated it because of the real horrors and story told in that vein. This book doesn't go in that direction, but the emotional/physical abuse and fear that Mary endures in places is rage inducing and makes you feel for the character.

If you're sensing a lingering "but" to those notations, you would be hitting the needlepoint spot on. I sincerely want to pretend that ending (and certain events close to the ending) doesn't exist. While I don't mind having the rug pulled out from under me in an apt mystery/thriller, this didn't feel like that kind of story for much of the narrative. At the very least, one would think at this ending "Wait...there's an emotional mismatch here - that really didn't fit the rest of the tone of the story. Even if there were multiple unreliable characters here (and there are: fair warning without delving into too many spoilers), it doesn't make sense to go that direction because the story already had a compelling story in one tone. It reveals a pretty gruesome but notable reality for an underrepresented population."

At worst? This book does need a TW on several counts: several notations of homophobia (though one could argue that its influenced by the prejudices of the observed characters), body/sexual shaming (see previous notation), rape/complicit accessory rape/statutory rape (oh, I have a soapbox coming on this very subject matter on so. many. levels.), animal cruelty and dismemberment (I had to stop reading for a bit after that scene because I wasn't expecting it), among other things.

So, yeah, complex emotions. :(

Full review:

My initial rating upon finishing this book was 4 stars, and looks like I'm going to take it down to 3.5 because...MASSIVE caveats. There are brilliant moments in the narrative that really tugged at my heartstrings. I think the essence of Mary's story is true to the brutality that many young people of color experience in incarceration, juvenile pregnancy, power and abuse in the correctional system, power and abuse in personal relationships, gaslighting, among other things. It's true to life on some things, but ultimately not in others, and particularly with the progression up through the ending, this is a mature YA (I question it being YA, but I think teens could still read this and get something out of it) dark horror/thriller.

At first I thought that this was something that abruptly changed for the tone in the ending and I thought "Wait a minute, I wish that the book hadn't gone in that direction, because it was so good establishing what Mary's experiences were and illuminating some tough realities in characters who are like her." But the more I looked back through the story, the more I realized that it actually had foreshadowed this dark and foreboding tone; every single character in this narrative is one you can't trust on the surface because of the ultimate truths that are revealed about them as the narrative presses forward. It's one big nightmare that while I don't always agree with how it used elements to its execution, it also provides a space where I'm thinking about the narrative complexities and points long after I put the book down.

The baseline for this story has Mary as a 15/16 year old young black woman convicted in a juvenile home for troubled youth up until the age of 19. She's accused of killing a white infant which has a ton of media coverage and accounts close to Mary's case (which are brilliantly provided in snippets throughout the text, and it gives the narrative an authentic and complex feel). She's struggling to try to make a better life for herself, trying to get the opportunity to take the SAT, getting an education, confronting what seems to be PTSD surrounding details of the case that she's shut out because she doesn't feel like she has a voice or that people will believe her about what *actually* happened. Things become more complicated when Mary realizes that she's pregnant and the system will take away her unborn child if she doesn't say/do something. Hence begins the ball rolling as Mary struggles through hostile and demeaning/neglectful oversight, stern judgment from superiors and peers, a complete lack of support from her mother (her mother's blind religious hypocrisy and self-indulgence had me seeing red through the entire narrative, I thought in my mind "I've read/known about people who have done this to their children, and I can't deal because they are freaking horrible.") among other things to essentially get out of this entire ordeal. It creates sympathy for Mary's situation while holding back pieces of the actual case, revealing them in snippets as the story progresses.

Mary's baby father, Ted, is 18/19, at first appears supportive of Mary's efforts to get out of the system and be with her for the sake of being with her. Note I emphasize "appears", because once the truth about Ted's past actions comes across, it's...messed up. It's messed up enough that his relationship with her was statutory rape to begin with, but I was legit raging and had to put the book down for a time because of what's revealed about him in further spells. MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

No one can tell me to have sympathy for a guy incarcerated because he was complicit in holding down a young woman by her arms to be raped several times. Regardless if he was scared, regardless whether he "let her go", even if he didn't rape her himself, it's clear he was in denial about doing anything wrong and making the excuse he was "young" when it happened. Mary sees the hypocrisy in this and is sickened by it in spells, but exhibits denial about it in others - which angered me. Further reveals of Ted's character showcase him getting extra money by pocketing part of the money that a woman named Letitcia gets from her relationships and him bumming off from others relationships - which Mary uncovers going to visit him. I'm legit horrified by this (as is Mary). Mary attempts to get away from him even on that measure, but then goes back to being in denial about his actions/demeanor in spells. One could probably argue that Mary's demeanor was in constant denial about many, many things because the emotional weight of all that she endures, but this was something that messed me up reading this story.

(spoiler show)



So ultimately speaking, Ted can screw right off as far as I'm concerned. The horrifying part of this book in many notations is that it feels so vivid and realistic that I could actually see it happening from Mary's viewpoint, particularly with the way she wrestles with her reality and relationships more often times than not. I can see it even it there are details which aren't as ironed out as smoothly as they could've been. I think that's one of the things that sucked me into the story: that I believed it was Mary's experience and her voice is attuned to all the people she's surrounded by, fatal flaws and all. She's a compelling narrator, and I definitely felt for her and for many of the characters in the narrative. Hence when I finished "Allegedly", I felt like I could give it credit for the strong assertions, strong protagonist, and illumination of many different measures in a realistic way.

But at the same time, I feel like that even with knowing the narrative foreshadowed these revelations with the characters and case in itself, the transition and translation of that wasn't as strong as it should've been. So I've asked myself "Is this a 4 star read, is this a 3 star read? I'm going back and forth about it because as much as I liked the emotional resonance in it, I didn't like elements within it and how they were used."

So in the end, it's a strong 3.5 star read for me, and I'd encourage others to read this for the strong themes and character resonance, but be warned that the subject matters are mature and triggering.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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