Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Lies of Locke LamoraThe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Read: May 27 – June 25, 2013
Book club selection – fantasy genre.

Goodreads Book Blurb: In this stunning debut, Scott Lynch delivers the thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his tightly knit band of tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part “Robin Hood,” one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling….

And orphan’s life is harsh–and often short–in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly.

Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game–or die trying…

My Opinion: I really enjoyed Lynch’s debut novel. It was fantasy without being cliché. It is everything the review promises with being part “Robin Hood” and part “Ocean’s Eleven”. It is chock full of adult humor, swearing that actually fits the storyline, and characters you can’t help but love.

I really enjoyed that Locke and Co. weren’t really the “good” guys. They were like Robin Hood, but not really. It was a nice twist to not have the protagonist be the altruistic good guy. Locke is self-serving, cocky and lovable. He is the character we see most of, so it is good that I liked him.

The writing, stylistically and technically, is excellent. While the story took me a little bit to get into, once I was hooked, I was a goner.

Now, onto things I didn’t like. I wasn’t a huge fan of the alternating timelines. Chapters swapped between past and present, and sometimes it was hard to tell what was going on, and at times it was hard to see what the point was.

While the characters present are great, and I am OK with books not having a female character… Lies of Locke Lamora lacks a female character. It is worth noting.

Continuity was lacking in some aspects of the story. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling it, but this is not written in the same style as most epic fantasy. There is no circle.

Bottom Line: A solid debut, and a very enjoyable high fantasy read.

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Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
Read: May 12 – May 14, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

My Opinion: I loved The Help. My book club had read it a while back, and I bought it then, but chose not to read it. Then the movie came out. And I did something I hate to do. I watched the movie before I read the book. And I loved the story so much that I decided I needed to read the book. (For the record I saw the movie pretty recently on the free movie channels.)

I think the biggest mark of The Help being a good book for me was how uncomfortable I was while reading it. I feel like Stockett did a fantastic job of building the world of 1960’s Mississippi and the racism that plagued the country. My discomfort comes from the fact that real people were (and unfortunately still can be) like this. She also really explored the relationships between white women, their children, and their black maids at the time. It was really interesting for me to see the different dynamics in those various relationships, and I felt they were well written.

While the book made me feel uncomfortable a lot of the time, it also made me feel warm, it made me laugh, it made me mad, it made me cheer. It took me through the entire range, leaving no stone unturned.

The other thing I liked about The Help was the characters. Because this isn’t really an action packed novel, the characters are really important. While some of the background characters lacked depth, I really felt like Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter were really well done. We got to explore their minds, their personal thoughts, and their thoughts as a group. It was fantastic.

Stockett did a great job of writing in dialect, as well. There is a right way and a wrong way to write dialect and accents, and I felt like Stockett did it the right way.

Bottom Line: A very readable book with great characters.

Review: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's DartKushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Read: March 7 – April 15, 2013
Book club selection – fantasy romance

Book Blurb: The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good…and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission…and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair…and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

My Opinion: Oh man. This book had been on my to-read list for forever. I was really excited when it came up for book club, because I finally had a “reason” to read it. And with a book topping 900 pages, I needed a reason.

I am still not entirely sure how I feel about this book, and I finished it a while ago. I loved the world that Jacqueline Carey built. I liked Phèdre well enough as a character. I didn’t even mind the somewhat gratuitous sex. I hated the politics, though.

Politics are one thing that generally take a story from wow to snore for me. And Kushiel’s Dart has a lot of politics. A lot of intrigue. To be perfectly honest, I glossed through most of the political stuff. It lessened my understanding of the story somewhat, but it also pumped up my enjoyment, I think.

This is not fantasy in the strictest sense of the term. It is set in an alternate Europe, with parallels to our own world drawn generously. There was no magic, so to speak, but the world was so different from our own, it really transports you.

There is so much to this book that I don’t really know how to review it.

Bottom Line: A detail-rich, intrigue-driven book. Alternate history, and a fantasy twist. This book has a little bit of everything, and is beautifully written to boot. Heavy on the politics.

Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

The GiverThe Giver by Lois Lowry
Read: March 10, 2013
Book club selection – dystopia genre

Book Blurb: Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

My Opinion: My first thought upon completing this book was that it belonged alongside the likes of 1984. I was actually quite stunned to find it had been published in my lifetime.

The Giver is a really interesting book to me, because it sparks so much discussion among those who have read it. I read it over a month ago, so some of the finer details are already fuzzy, but I recall thinking it wasn’t really a children’s book. Then I encountered people who felt it was too simplified, which is well within their right to think of course, but hard to determine. Where do we draw the line?

I don’t dabble in politics much (or really, at all) so the claims of The Giver being simply a piece of anti-socialism propaganda are a little outside of my realm of comfort and knowledge. But I will say it is hardly the first time a book has shaken things up in the political sense, and I doubt it will be the last.

For me, I enjoyed The Giver. The quick change from utopia to dystopia is not something I have seen very often, at least in contemporary works, and it was a really refreshing change. I find a lot of the dystopian novels I read are very cut and dried that they are dystopian. There is not something missing, there is not something more. Yet, here we have a distinct lack that is pointed out in a big way. I don’t want to give away the whole book, so I won’t go into any more detail, but I loved the way it was told.

In some ways, The Giver is very much a children’s novel. The characters are not really delved into very much, though I was very appreciative that Jonas was portrayed very much as a standard young man. He didn’t read as older or younger than his years, which is something that can be hard to do when writing a younger character… especially in a situation where the world they are dealing with is so heavy.

The writing was technically fine, and I enjoyed the narrative voice. It kept the story moving at a good pace.

The story of The Giver is hard to define. I really wanted more details, and that is where I feel it very much fell flat. Given more details, more worldbuilding, this novel could have been truly magnificent. And the ending was the kind that drives readers insane, and not in a good way.

Bottom Line: A children’s utopian/dystopian novel surrounded in so many opinions that I hesitate to add my own voice. I feel like you will either really like it or really not, and I encourage you to pick it up and see which category you fall into.

Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest MindsThe Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Read: February 28 – March 2, 2013
Book club selection, dystopia genre.

Book Blurb: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

My Opinion: A quick note before I begin. I used the Goodreads blurb, and I truncated it, because the full blurb has some spoilers in it. You have been warned.

I enjoyed The Darkest Minds more than I probably would have under most circumstances. I mean, the plot is pretty standard in YA Dystopa. The children are being oppressed by the adults because of some sort of ability or sickness, and they are struggling to take back their place in the world. It seems to be cropping up in a lot of places. So there was nothing overly special or unique there.

Ruby, our main character, was pretty insipid. Liam, the main male character, was pretty standard as well. I didn’t find myself drawn to either of them at all, and I wouldn’t really care if either of them walked off into the sunset and never returned. However, there are two secondary characters in the book, Zu and Chubs. They are really well written, and I loved every page that had them on it. They brought the heart to the story, in my opinion, and kept it from being a complete wash. The main villain was pretty predictable, and we never got a look inside their motives, which left me feeling like they were one-dimensional.

The pacing of The Darkest Minds was pretty fast, but when you look at it, there isn’t a lot of meat. I think the pacing is a nice sleight of hand. It keeps you reading, thinking things are about to happen, and then things just… don’t happen. Or, they happen and they are flat. But it all happens so fast that you THINK things are happening. It is a genius ploy, really, because I enjoyed the ride.

The writing was slightly above average for the general young adult genre, which is to say it wasn’t stellar but it wasn’t completely horrible. There were definitely some inconsistencies that dragged me out of the story. People appearing without walking up, etc.

I really abhorred the ending of the book. I don’t want to spoiler it, but as a reader and an aspiring writer, I cannot fathom Bracken’s desire to end the book the way she did. I was also angered by the amount of questions left without even a promise of an answer. I may pick up book two when it comes out, but I am not eagerly awaiting it.

Bottom Line: Fast paced, but vanilla. Good for a quick read, but I found nothing groundbreaking here.

Review: John Dies at the End by David Wong (Spoiler Free)

John Dies at the End by David Wong
Read: October 12 – October 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover (library book), 378 pages
ISBN: 978-0-312-55513-9

Publisher: Thomas Dunne, 2009

Book club selection (horror genre)

Book Blurb: STOP.
*You should not have touched this flyer with your bare hands.
*NO, don’t put it down. It’s too late.
*They’re watching you.

My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours.

You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye.

The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

The important thing is this:
*The drug is called Soy Sauce and it gives users a window into another dimension.
*John and I never had the chance to say no.
*You still do.

Unfortunately for us, if you make the right choice, we’ll have a much harder time explaining how to fight off the otherworldly invasion currently threatening to enslave humanity.

I’m sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind:

None of this was my fault.

My Opinion: John Dies at the End is a ridiculous, juvenile, completely messed up trip through the horror genre, with a little stop in the science fiction genre for good measure. David Wong completely acknowledges this with every turn. And so, since the book doesn’t take itself too seriously, it works.

Is John Dies at the End the most magnificent thing I have ever read? No. Far from it. I spent a lot of the book just trying to figure out what the heck was going on among all the phallus jokes. There is a plot buried deeply there. It is hard to follow, and not really all that great. I didn’t find myself really feeling anything for any of the characters save Amy. I really liked her. Maybe it is because I am also a chronic pain sufferer… maybe it is because David Wong did a good job of writing her as a tortured character. Either way. She worked.

John Dies at the End is, in short, a mess. There is so much going on that doesn’t get wrapped up. The horror is about as gory as written horror can be (at least, I haven’t seen much worse than this…).

By the way, David Wong is not the author’s real name. Jason Pargin is. He is an online humorist, and according to the book jacket, editor in chief of cracked.com. Which kind of explains a lot. John Dies at the End is written very similarly to how you would expect someone who writes online satire to write a novel.

I am going around in circles because there isn’t much more to say.

Bottom Line: If you like juvenile humor with an emphasis on the phallus, gory horror that is at best creepy, and a plot that essentially runs in circles without going anywhere… this is the book for you. I am not trying to come down too hard on this book, because really… it works in some cases. Sometimes this book worked. Sometimes it didn’t.

On NaNoWriMo, why I gave up on House of Leaves, and more…

I haven’t done a general rambly post in a long time. Not since I went on the hiatus I still haven’t officially come back from. Things have settled from that, thankfully. So here is hoping the blog will be more active again. Because I have SO many plans. Oh what fun!

So, NaNoWriMo… National Novel Writing Month. I did this in August (that incarnation being known as Camp NaNoWriMo) and succeeded in writing 50,000 words in one month. This was the first time I had done it ever, and I am SO proud. So I will be doing it again in November. Which, holy shit, is only a week away. OK, nine days. But really.

I have a plot. So that is step one. I even have a working title and some character names. Go me, go!

Feel free to add me as a writing buddy if you are doing NaNoWriMo in November. (And you should be!) I am vanillabean over there. Here is a link: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/vanillabean

This week, I did something I have only done two or three times before. I stopped reading a book in the middle. That book was House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. It was a book club selection. It had fantastic potential to creep me out, especially when I flipped to later pages and saw the wonky formatting. I got shivers then. But the academic nature of the first part of the book made it impossible for me to get into it. I might have been able to force myself to read it, but I realized I have been doing that a lot, lately.

I have been reading books that I haven’t chosen for myself. And I am not enjoying them. It is part of why I am so far behind on my goal to read 75 books this year. I keep getting bogged down in these books I have no energy or patience for, because I feel like I have to read them for some reason.

Well, I don’t. So House of Leaves is going back to the library. Will I try to read it again? Maybe someday. But no rush.

I claimed I had more to write about in the subject line, but at this point that is a horrible, horrible lie. I can’t remember what else I was going to write. So on that note, I bid you farewell.