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review 2019-01-03 03:36
Vespertine
Vespertine - Indra Vaughn,Leta Blake

This just didn't work for me. Seventeen years pass between the MCs breaking up and meeting up again. That's just too long for anyone to still be hung up on a first love, especially when I couldn't even imagine why they'd be friends in the first place. Nicky's kind of got an excuse, since he's supposed to be emotionally-stunted from his years of drug use. I'm not sure what Jasper's excuse is, but he reverts back to a teenager as soon as Nicky's around. He doesn't have a concrete personality, just "revelations" as required for the plot.

 

I didn't buy the connection between the MCs. Zero chemistry - for me. I'm clearly the odd one out on this one, since everyone else seems to love it. I wanted to like it, and most of it I did like, but there was always something off. If it wasn't the painfully horrible song lyrics, it was the ham-fisted way that Jasper's conflict of religion was handled. If it wasn't the stereotypical portrayal of the rock star life and the evil record company big wigs, it was the overly contrived situations the authors kept putting the characters in to manufacture UST that fell flat on its face. Then because the authors made the reader wait so long for the smexy, a bunch of sex gets crammed into the end, by which point I was beyond caring. Then the authors threw in an absolutely ridiculous plot "twist" that annoyed me so much I had to skim most of the after-school special melodrama, which was as cliched and predictable as you would expect, just to not have my first read of 2019 end up a DNF.

 

Actually, that was a big issue from the beginning of the book. Because this is a Romance(™) so there has to be an HEA or at least an HFN, and for that to happen, there's no way Jasper was ending this book still a priest. It was pretty easy to see how that resolution was being set up. That wouldn't be an issue, necessarily, but I could never buy into Jasper's existential crisis. It came across shallow. A little less clear was Nicky's ending, but you knew something dramatic would happen to make his situation with his record company better.

 

And that was another problem. There was just so much drama. While this did start out promising, it quickly nose-dived into Dramaville around 70% and never quite climbed it's way back out again. The drama llamas were stampeding and they weren't letting our characters out of this book without massive amounts of MELODRAMA.

 

Melodramatic yelling at your long-lost love.
Melodramatic song lyrics.
Melodramatic praying in the shower.
Melodramatic swimming.
Melodramatic running away down the road whilst halfway tearing off your clothes. Yes, that deserved a "whilst."
Melodramatic phone tossing - because you can't have melodramatic ANGST if the characters can contact each other too easily. (Did he ever get a new phone?)
Melodramatic crying.

 

So.

 

Much.

 

Crying.

 

I didn't feel any of these emotions were genuine, nor did I feel any real attachment to the characters. Basically, I had attachment disorder with this book. :D

 

I didn't hate all of it. I liked all the stuff with the teens in Blue Oasis. I liked Thomas and Mrs. Wells, and Nicky's parents and Ramona. The cat was hilarious. Nicky even had his moments when he wasn't being an ass or annoying. Jasper was mostly lost potential though, sadly.

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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 2018-12-07 05:00
Guardian Spirits (Spirits #3) (Audiobook)
Guardian Spirits - Jordan L. Hawk

The final book in the Spirits trilogy is adequate. This hasn't been my favorite series by Ms. Hawk by a long shot. I never really felt the romance between Henry and Vincent, the ghost adventuring is pretty standard though she does bring a certain flair to it, and the narrator is listenable, but nothing to write home about.

 

The plot here was again predictable and I could see every twist and turn coming from a mile away. While it makes emotional sense that Vincent and Jo would make the incredibly stupid decisions they make, it still felt like all the characters were given a case of the dumb-dumbs in order for the plot to happen, which is why this got downgraded half a star.

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review 2018-10-03 02:51
Restless Spirits (Spirits #1) (Audiobook)
Restless Spirits - Jordan L. Hawk,Greg Tremblay

My review of the book is here and not much has changed. I did like the relationship development between Henry and Vincent better this time around. Not sure why, but it did. I still can't believe how idiotic and naive Henry was at times, and the fact he and Vincent never figured out the real-life human threat until the end - geez, it was so obvious! And I'm not just saying that because I read it before; I'd actually completely forgotten this part of the plot. So please, guys, don't quit your day job and become detectives. You would suck at it.

 

I decided to reread this since I barely remembered much about it and I'm planning to read the other two in the series soonish. Since this was just released on audio, I figured now was the time for a reread. This is also the first audiobook by Greg Tremblay I listened to. He did a decent job. I wasn't blown away by his narration, but I wasn't annoyed either. His range for voices seems limited, but I was mostly able to keep track of who was speaking when. He was easy to listen to and spoke at a speed that didn't require me to speed up the playback very much.

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review 2018-09-01 07:26
Anger Is a Gift
Anger Is a Gift - Mark Oshiro

Warnings: Institutionalized racism, racism, policy brutality, police shootings, death 

 

I'm going to steal this line from Elena, because it perfectly sums up how I feel about this book:

"The more potential a book shows the less I’m inclined to be generous when it doesn’t live up to it." 

Not that this book didn't always live up to its potential. I think it met that potential and messed it in equal measure.

 

I've followed Mark Does Stuff off and on over the years, and discovered a lot of great shows and books I otherwise wouldn't have tried because of him. I often find his commentary interesting, insightful and funny. I don't always agree with him and the conclusions he makes, but he always explains those conclusions in ways I can understand and respect.

 

Still, I was hesitant to read this book. I was concerned that knowing so much about the author might impact the way I read this book, and I did keep picking out things he'd mentioned about himself or his life experiences being reflected in the characters and the plot, which was distracting to say the least. More than that though, given some of the things I've disagreed with him about over the years, I was worried this wouldn't be for me. And perhaps, in the end, it isn't. So I went into this with certain expectations I wouldn't have had if there was just any other author, and I honestly can't say how much of that influenced my reading.

 

There was a lot here to like, and a lot to not like. After thinking over this review for the last few days (more like a week-and-half as I'm editing this review yet again), I'm still not sure how to write one. So I'm doing a list!

 

 

Some positives:

~Moss's relationship with his mother Wanda was pretty great. Wanda supported her son, and she realized that by trying to protect him he was doubting himself.

~Likewise Javier and his mother have a pretty tight relationship too. I wish there would've been more focus on Javier's mom, given what happens, but she's kind of forgotten.

~Moss's love for his city and his community. He takes pride in being from Oakland, and it's presented in a positive light. Knowing Mark lived there for years, I can imagine he walked the same streets and road the same trains. He really brings the city alive.

~Moss and Javier's friendship was sweet and cute. I adored them and how they just sort of clicked. It was easy to see why Moss would have such deep affection for him over so short a time.

~Moss's ways of coping with his anxiety and how he remembers his father were well done also. As someone with anxiety, I could sympathize with Moss's spiraling self-doubts. The rolodex of memories he keeps of his father shows that had a great relationship, and it was clear how much his father's absence still effects him. 

~The action sequences were very well-written and felt like something you'd see in the movies. Or on the news. =/ The action just exploded off the page and was a big part of why I felt the second half was more solidly written than the first half. These are the parts that flowed the best for me.

~There's no closure. There can't be. 

 

Some negatives:

~The dialogue was often exposition-heavy and felt more like I was being continually hit over the head with an anvil as the world of West Oakland High was being established. Maybe that was by design, but I thought it would've been more effective if more subtly handled. Show, don't tell.

~On that same note, there's also a lot of info-dumping. Moss is walking through his neighborhood early in the story, thinking about who lives where and what they're like, but we don't meet most of these people. By the time we do eventually meet some of them, I'd forgotten everything that was info-dumped about them.

~The same thing happens when we first meet Moss's school friends. Each one is introduced with two or three facts about them, and that's pretty much all the development most of them get. I also had trouble getting a sense of their personalities since they all talked and acted the same. 

~White people jokes are racist jokes too.

~The treatment of Esperanza was abysmal. Moss gets angry at her because she doesn't 100% immediately understand his personal life experience. He doesn't have to make any effort to understand her life, but she's just supposed to magically understand his life and when she doesn't she's a bad friend. The resolution with this character was total fubar. Moss was a jerk towards her for most of the book. (Other reviewers have gone into detail about this.)

~The metal detectors: They don't work that way. I even did some research after that scene because it pulled me out of the book so much. The info that the vice principal gives them later somewhat explains it but it's never explained how a broke, inner-city school could afford any of this stuff, much less how the police could afford it in these days of budget cuts. Even at bargain basement discount prices, military equipment isn't cheap.

~The info the vice principal gives them was never mentioned again, even when Moss had that reporter's attention. 

 

We all know race relations suck in this country, and we've all seen the various stories about police shootings and brutality, and campus cops manhandling students. It's also been disclosed that the military have experimented on our own citizens, so the idea of something like this happening in a school isn't entirely implausible. In a near-dystopian future, this could be all too real. We also have a long history in this country of the police and military coming in to break up peaceful protests with excessive force. Situations like the ones described in this book do happen, and this book doesn't pull any punches. This is an important discussion, and there needs to be more books that focus on these issues. I just feel this story could have been told with more nuance and less hammering. Instead, we get a book were all the good guys are super good, and all the bad guys are super bad. And white. Because ALL white people are the enemy, doncha know. (No, they're not.)

 

I'm still not sure how to rate this. I want to give it four stars for the spotlight it shines on some serious issues and because some of the writing was really solid. The execution of its message often fell into the two-star range though, but splitting it for a three-star rating doesn't seem right either, so I'm leaving this unrated.

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