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review 2017-05-22 15:41
Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon
Await Your Reply - Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply is ultimately a tragic story featuring characters who are lost or mentally ill and either want a new start or can't let go of the past. However, I found it hard to sympathize with the three characters whose perspectives the novel shifts between in alternating chapters. As a result I rushed through my reading mostly to finish the book and see how these seemingly unconnected characters were, in fact, connected. It's a story of identity, how it is mutable but perhaps can become its own trap, even when that identity is traded in for a new one.

 

I'm surprised I purchased this book since it features one of my greatest squicks (as we say in fandom): a teacher-student romantic relationship. The recently graduated student, Lucy, is one of the characters whose point of view is narrated. Though she's lost her parents, at first it seems this is not a great loss to her. She also disparages her older, less ambitious sister. This made Lucy and her rash decision to run off with her AP History teacher unsympathetic for me. She's bright academically, but stupid and naive when it comes to everything else. She almost immediately begins to feel uneasy about the promises her older boyfriend made once they arrive at their temporary destination, but she sticks around.

 

Similarly, Ryan, a college student, leaves school and his family behind once he learns the truth about his parentage. He hadn't been doing well in school and wasted the money meant for tuition. He takes off with a guy he's just met and becomes involved in illegal money-moving and identity fraud schemes, though he barely understands what he's doing and why. He doesn't seem that troubled knowing that his family is looking for him. So, he's another character I found I couldn't care about.

 

The third character, Miles, I found the most sympathetic. He's been on the trail of his schizophrenic twin brother, Hayden, ever since the latter disappeared years before. Miles disrupts his own life (or barely develops one) to chase his twin and feeds on occasional communications from him. He gives Hayden the benefit of the doubt, despite the warnings of others and evidence to the contrary. Is he big-hearted or a fool?

 

I won't spoil how the three characters' stories connect, but despite some surprises, the mystery of that connection wasn't enough for me to overcome my issues with the characters.

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review 2017-01-13 18:12
The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan
The Association of Small Bombs: A Novel - Karan Mahajan

From the Tournament of Books longlist.

 

I finished this critically acclaimed book while away for the holidays and jotted down a list of likes/dislikes. Short story shorter, I liked it, but what a downer.

 

The synopsis from amazon:

 

When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb—one of the many “small” bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world—detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys, to the devastation of their parents. Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb. After a brief stint at university in America, Mansoor returns to Delhi, where his life becomes entangled with the mysterious and charismatic Ayub, a fearless young activist whose own allegiances and beliefs are more malleable than Mansoor could imagine. Woven among the story of the Khuranas and the Ahmeds is the gripping tale of Shockie, a Kashmiri bomb maker who has forsaken his own life for the independence of his homeland.

I admired the novel's intricate structure as it shifts across time and multiple points of view. As a writer, I'm always greatly impressed by such a feat when it is accomplished smoothly and clearly. The different points of view also offer insight into how a victim might become a terrorist or sympathetic to one or his cause, how other victims may become advocates, how someone moderate in his faith might become an extremist, how a terrorist may walk away free and be disaffected even as he commits or aids in more acts of terror. In the case of these characters, often it's the personal or psychological rather than the political that provides the impetus for violent action. Refreshingly, this novel does not feel ideological.

 

The prose is also accomplished, and I liked that the author wrote to his best reader; he did not define or explain cultural or religious terms that may be unfamiliar to a white, atheist Westerner like me. I had no problem looking up information for myself.

 

Despite what I was drawn to in the novel's craft, I felt the characters were held at a remove, as if I were looking down on them from above. This prevented me from fully connecting with them and the novel as a whole. Without that connection, I finished the story with a feeling of, "Well, that happened." There was nothing to counterbalance the weight of events, not enough beauty to keep the novel from simply depressing me. At times the metaphor of the titular bombs was also heavy-handed.

 

I can see what critics admire in this work, but I left it feeling untouched.

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text 2015-04-22 22:32
Review: Beauty's Kingdom by Anne Rice, writing as A.N. Roquelaure
Beauty's Kingdom - A.N. Roquelaure,Anne Rice

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for an honest review at The Romance Evangelist.

 

BEAUTY’S KINGDOM is the surprise addition to the infamous Sleeping Beauty trilogy written by Anne Rice under a pseudonym over thirty years ago. In the history of erotic literature, the Beauty books hold a special place of honor and with good cause. From THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, through BEAUTY’S PUNISHMENT, and ending with BEAUTY’S RELEASE, we see the innocent sheltered heroine both figuratively and literally awakened to a whole new sensual world neither she nor we thought existed. Each book goes deeper in and further out so that by the time Princess Beauty finds her Happy Ever After with the powerful Prince Laurent, the reader can’t help but be as changed by the experience as its titular character.

 

But now it’s twenty years later in Beauty’s world, and the domain where she discovered both her true nature and her true love is in danger of collapse. The task ahead is great, and it will take the help of friends both old and new to secure their beloved land’s future. All this and more is the story of how Queen Eleanor’s kingdom is transformed into Beauty’s kingdom.

 

I wish I could say that I enjoyed reading BEAUTY’S KINGDOM even half as much as I’ve loved the original trilogy. But it became clear to me early on that this book was trying to hook new readers unfamiliar with the previous books while still servicing existing fans by bringing back nearly every named character from the original kingdom. The result is a story that falls down in the two areas where the original books excelled, namely exposition and pacing. It wasn’t wonderful and it wasn’t terrible. It was just…there.

 

In the original trilogy, the story is focused on Beauty herself, and to some extent, the people with whom she comes in contact on her voyage to self-discovery and love. We are given just enough information about where Beauty is and why it matters, leaving the rest for our own imaginations to run wild. But in BEAUTY’S KINGDOM, everything is laid out for the reader in such meticulous detail that it soon becomes a struggle just to absorb everything without losing track of wherever the plot is supposed to be going.

 

Thanks to all the catching up on what happened since the last book and all the details involved in Beauty and Laurent deciding to accept the throne, it takes seven long chapters – nearly a third of the book – before we actually get to Beauty’s kingdom. Before then, it’s pages and pages of “and then this happened” with name checks for all the original characters in the kingdom, even those who’d just been mentioned briefly in the earlier books, and for me it was easily the most deadly dull part of the whole book. By the time we finally arrive nine months and a hundred pages later, all I could picture was that scene in Monty Python And The Holy Grail where everyone is yelling “Get on with it!”

 

The most disappointing thing for me about BEAUTY’S KINGDOM was how little we get of Beauty or Laurent’s points of view once they are established as the new rulers. Most of the book is about how Lady Eva kept the kingdom traditions going in the absence of its previous rulers and then how each of Beauty and Laurent’s fellow pleasure slaves from twenty years ago return to take control over various areas of activity in support of the new regime. There are a few chapters here and there featuring “volunteers” in the new and improved pleasure slave experience, and those were the stories that kept me reading when I was tempted to give up. But for someone whose name is in the title of the book, Beauty herself gets precious little time in BEAUTY’S KINGDOM, and the book suffers in her absence.

 

Yet all could have been forgiven if the ending of BEAUTY’S KINGDOM was worth the work to get there. The other characters constantly refer to some terrible secret involving Lexius, the mysterious Sultan’s servant who’d been mastered by Laurent back in the third book, but when both he and it are subsequently revealed, I didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled. Meanwhile in the few glimpses we get of Beauty herself, we can see she’s still not fully content with her role in the new kingdom despite all the public credit given to her. Up until the very last scene, I was holding out hope that the parallels drawn between her and the pitiable Sir Stephen were hinting at an updated happy ending for her. But like so much of what preceded it, what is intended as Beauty’s ultimate triumph fell flat for me. By then, I was happier to be done with the story than with what I got at the end.

 

In conclusion, for me BEAUTY'S KINGDOM was as overstuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey, and just as lifeless. I'm not sorry I read BEAUTY'S KINGDOM. I'm only sorry it wasn't better.

Source: mharvey816.mh2.org/?p=806
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review 2013-11-01 11:32
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats - Mira Grant

Wow, just pure wow. This was just an emotional ride, a ride in a rollercoaster.

 

This book is about the San Diego Comic Con of 2014, right when the outbreak began.

I never been to the San Diego con (nor ever been in the US), but if we don't count the zombies, it sounds like a great con, maybe one day I will be able to visit it.

 

It is told from different POVs and I can tell you each of them were heartbreaking. Really, I cried tears for those that were trapped in there, trapped with zombies, trapped knowing they wouldn't be able to get out.

 

I would recommend this to everyone who likes the newsflesh books.

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review 2013-08-10 00:00
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin

I probably would have waited longer before reading this if it hadn't been for all the fan shock/horror after the TV series' third season finale. I've stalled on the first season (the changes to Daenerys' part made me mad enough that I couldn't make it past the second episode) and I didn't want to look up spoilers, so I figured I'd read the next book in the series instead. I hope I'll manage to make it to the most recent book in the series, but things aren't looking good so far. Sadly, I did not think A Clash of Kings was as good and as gripping as A Game of Thrones.

I had hoped that, by this point in the series, most of my confusion would be over and done with. Right from the start, it was clear that this wasn't going to be the case, as Martin introduced a whole new set of characters. I swear, for each named character that died in A Game of Thrones, at least two or three new named characters appeared in this book. The same was true for the POV characters – one major POV character died in the first book, and so we're given two new POV characters, Theon and Davos, in this one. If this really is a pattern, the third book is going to make my brain bleed.

The thing was, whereas the first book became less confusing the further into it I got, this book actually became more confusing. Part of the problem was all the big battles, especially near the end. They were, by their nature, messy and confusing. I'm honestly not sure whether a couple of the POV characters died or not, which feels strange, since in the past GRRM made it crystal clear that a character had died (usually because the death scene was on-page, and then the character's head was mounted on a stick).

The bits where GRRM intentionally misled (or tried to mislead) readers also helped make this book less clear than the first one. For example, one character was killed, bloodily and on-page...and then later he was reported as having been seen riding into battle. The truth wasn't revealed until five chapters later, in a somewhat offhand mention.

You'd think I wouldn't have needed confirmation that that character was truly dead, what with him having gushed blood all over the place on-page. However, this book included quite a bit more magic than the first one did (the blanket explanation for this being that dragons have been born into the world again), and I wasn't at all sure what sorts of rules that magic followed. Several characters had magic that could kill people who should have been relatively safe. One character could, in an instant, completely change his appearance. Who's to say a dead character couldn't be brought back to life? I hope the magical bits are either reined in some or given clearly stated rules/drawbacks in the next book, because they made things a little too easy for some characters in this one. I felt cheated when one fairly major character was killed via magic halfway through.

If I can manage to finish the first season of the TV series, good, but I'm thinking I probably shouldn't watch beyond that. This book had lots more background violence (raping, killing, maiming) than the first one. On the plus side, I don't remember any of it directly happening to POV characters. I don't think I've ever been so horrified at a character

getting her first period as I was when Sansa got hers. There's no guarantee Joffrey won't get hold of her in the next book, but I can at least say she made it through this one without being raped by that nasty little monster.

(spoiler show)


On the minus side, all the background violence meant that this book was super-bleak. The characters who just died had it easy. Some characters were tortured. Some of them survived what they saw and/or what was done to them, but it broke them. I was a wee bit worried that would happen to Arya, and I'm still not convinced I'm going to like what the world of this series will force her to become. In the first book, she reminded me an awful lot of a Tamora Pierce heroine, a strong girl who, with determination and good guidance, would likely become awesome. This book sent her off on her own and killed or imprisoned anyone who could have helped her. Then she was given what I came to think of a “Light Yagami powers” (see Death Note).

Another character told her that he owed her three lives. All she had to do was give him three names, and he would kill those people, whoever they were. Considering her situation, she had way more than just three people she wanted dead. I couldn't blame her for that, but it made me a little uncomfortable to think that she'd have ordered a nice, cleansing killing spree if she could have. After all, Joffrey was pretty fond of killing sprees too.

It probably sounds like I hated this book, and I really didn't – it just took more work for me to get through it than the first one did. Davos, one of the new POV characters, had so few chapters I had to struggle even to remember who he was. Theon, another new POV character, was probably the most unlikeable POV character in this series so far. After having been fostered with the Starks for 10 years, he returned to the Greyjoys, sure he'd be welcomed back as a beloved young lord, with women and praise and everything. Things did not go at all as he had planned (I cheered a bit when his sister gave his ego a good whack). In my review of the first book in the series, I mentioned that watching the characters chug towards their doom was spellbinding. Well, Theon took that and then sped it way up. In an effort to prove himself, he did something massively stupid. Then, when it went bad, he tried to fix things and only made it all worse. It was horrifyingly amazing.

As excited as I was about Daenerys after I finished the first book, it was disappointing how little page-time she had in this one. Happily, Tyrion, another one of my favorite characters in the series, had lots of opportunities to be awesome. His primary job in this book was to clean up the mess Cersei and Joffrey made of King's Landing, and he hit the ground running. Up to a point, he was able to outmaneuver Cersei, put his own people in place wherever possible, and figure out who he could trust (pretty much nobody). The one thing that had me cringing was his enormous and incredibly obvious weakness: prostitutes he'd taken a liking to. Every time his POV chapters came up, I held my breath, wondering if this would be the moment one of his enemies used his weakness against him.

I'll cross my fingers and hope that my dissatisfaction with the second half of this book isn't a sign that I'm already losing steam on this series. I recently found the third and fourth books in a used bookstore, so I'd like to at least be able to make it through those.

Extras:

A few maps, plus an appendix that lists all the characters. 

 

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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