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A Reader of Fictions: June 2012

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, June 29, 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) - R.E.M.

The Last Policeman
The Last Policeman, Book 1

Author: Ben H. Winters
Pages: 316
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication Date:  If pre-publication
Source: Review copy from Quirk Books in exchange for an awesome review

Description from Goodreads:
What's the point of solving murders if we're all going to die soon, anyway?

Hank Palace, a homicide detective in Concord, New Hampshire, asks this question every day.

Most people have stopped doing whatever it is they did before the asteroid 2011L47J hovered into view. Stopped selling real estate; stopped working at hospitals; stopped slinging hash or driving cabs or trading high-yield securities. A lot of folks spend their days on bended knee, praying to Jesus or Allah or whoever they think might save them. Others have gone the other way, roaming the streets, enjoying what pleasures they can before the grand finale. Government services are beginning to slip into disarray, crops are left to rot.

When it first appeared, 2011L47J was just a speck, somewhere beyond Jupiter's orbit. By mid-October it revealed itself to be seven kilometers in diameter, and on a crash course with the Earth. Now it's March, and sometime in September, 2011L47J will slam into our planet and kill half the population immediately, and most of the rest in the miserable decades that follow.

All of humanity now, every person in the world--we're like a bunch of little kids, in deep, deep trouble, just waiting till our dad gets home. So what do I do while I wait? I work.

Today, Hank Palace is working the case of Peter Zell, an insurance man who has comitted suicide. To his fellow police officers, it's just one more death-by-hanging in a city that sees a dozen of suicides every week. But Palace senses something wrong. There's something odd about the crime scene. Something off. Palace becomes convinced that it's murder. And he's the only one who cares.

What's the difference, Palace? We're all gonna die soon, anyway.

As Palace digs deeper, we are drawn into his world. We meet his sister Nico and her screwup boyfriend, Derek, who are trying to beam S.O.S messages into outer space; we meet Erik Littlejohn, a "spiritual advisor" helping his clients through these difficult times. Palace's investigation plays out under the long shadow of 2011L47J, forcing everyone in the book -- and those reading it-- to confront hard questions way beyond "whodunnit." What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

First Sentence: "I'm staring at the insurance man and he's staring at me, two cold gray eyes behind old-fashioned tortoiseshell frames, and I'm having this awful feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don't know if I'm ready, I really don't."

Through the wonder that is Twitter, I made a connection with someone at Quirk Books. I wasn't searching for their review copies actually, but one of their people was offering up another book I really wanted to read to a reviewer (Note to self: read that book) and I responded. I didn't even follow him, but saw the message through a retweet. Anyway, when he emailed me about that book, he asked if I would like to review for Quirk Books. I looked at their catalog and gave a tentative yes, mostly on the proviso that I would review if they published something I was interested in. Well, the first book offered was The Last Policeman, and, yes, I was interested.

The Last Policeman has an awesome premise. It is what I would call pre-apocalyptic, which is something I've read a couple of recently (another such book being Unraveling). In these books, everyone knows the world's going to end, or at least they expect it. The world could go post-apocalyptic, but it might get saved. As a huge dystopian/post-apocalyptic fan, I am naturally intrigued by these.

In The Last Policeman, a tremendously gimongous asteroid is going to collide with the earth. The scientists have proved it, and there's no way out of it. A lot of people will die immediately and the rest will hang on for a while in post-apocalyptic conditions, but odds of survival for anyone are low. The asteroid is coming in mere months.

What's so fascinating is that this shows you the response of society. Of course, society kind of falls apart. Suicides become commonplace, people abandon workplaces to go in pursuit of their bucket lists, drug use skyrockets. All of this in an attempt to squeeze the most life possible out of what time remains, or to avoid the inevitable conclusion by concluding everything immediately. From a philosophical standpoint, this question of how the world would react in the face of such inevitable destruction is incredibly riveting. Winters does an amazing job showing a number of different possibilities.

Like with a number of the books I've read recently, though, I didn't hugely connect to the characters. With the number of books this has happened in, I'm starting to wonder if the problem is me. Either way, this was my personal reaction. I do like Henry. I like his dedication to his job, and I do think it's true to life that some people would be so much more comfortable with the end of the world if they just ignored it, focusing on their day to day lives.

Henry focuses on this possible murder case, desperate to solve it, despite the fact that, ultimately, it won't matter. At most, the murderer, if there is one, will die earlier or spend his last few months in prison. They're still all going to die. Perhaps this futility is what kept me from caring about the characters? I don't know, but Henry was the only one I bonded with at all, and, even then, I was not particularly bothered about whether he got what he wanted.

This is my first experience with Quirk Books, aside from the Pride & Prejudice & Zombies books, and I'm glad that I gave them another go. I highly recommend this lightly humorous and bleak novel as a readalike of The Postmortal. The concept and clever writing definitely make this a worthwhile read.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"‘He books it into that little playground there. I mean the guy is zooming like the Road Runner, skidding through the gravel and the slush and everything. I’m yelling, “Police, police! Stop, motherfucker!”
     ‘You do not yell, “Stop, motherfucker.”’
     ‘I do. Because you know, Palace, this is it. This is the last chance I get to run after a perp yelling, “Stop, motherfucker.”"
"Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh-oh, overflow, population, common group
But it'll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It's the end of the world as we know it

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Fox - Nada Surf (+ Giveaway)

The Bay of Foxes

Author: Sheila Kohler
Pages: 207
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
Source: Review copy from Penguin in exchange for an honest review

Description from Goodreads:
In 1978, Dawit, a young, beautiful, and educated Ethiopian refugee, roams the streets of Paris. By chance, he spots the famous French author M., who at sixty is at the height of her fame. Seduced by Dawit's grace and his moving story, M. invites him to live with her. He makes himself indispensable, or so he thinks. When M. brings him to her Sardinian villa, beside the Bay of Foxes, Dawit finds love and temptation—and perfects the art of deception.

First Sentence: "Dawit is sitting in the back of the café in the shadows, when he notices her."

Before I started, all I had to go on was this brief description above and a blurb, which describes the novel as 'erotic.' With that in mind, I was really expecting something very different than what I found. I was expecting melodrama, but what I found was a sort of calm, spare prose, lovely and bare. I had no idea what The Bay of Foxes would be like or that I would enjoy it so much.

Personally, I would not describe this novel as erotic. Certainly, sex is a main theme of the novel, but there are no graphic, lurid, romanticized descriptions. I don't think this book is about living vicariously through Dawit's sex life. It's more about the impact sex has upon his life.

However, I suspect that this label may have been used as a way to scare some readers away and perhaps entice others. While the book isn't erotica, I imagine that it would offend a number of readers. This novel touches on issues that are tender for a number of people: torture, prostitution, and gay sex, for example. If you are easily offended, this book probably isn't for you. It's unashamedly dark and creepy.

Part of what intrigued me about this book before I read it was the comparison to Patricia Highsmith, which is on my version of the cover, although not pictured above. I've read a couple of Highsmith's novels and, though she may be incredibly insane, I really think few people can do creepy like she can. Well, Kohler definitely deserves the comparison to Highsmith. If you enjoyed The Talented Mr. Ripley or Strangers on a Train or some other Highsmith novel, you definitely should not miss checking out The Bay of Foxes.

Another awesome thing about The Bay of Foxes is getting to learn a little bit about Ethiopia. My knowledge of African history is extremely limited, so I was able to learn a lot even from the relatively brief references herein. I love seeing this diversity in the characters, as well. Also, look at this beautiful and not whitewashed cover!

The only thing that I was meh about was the ending, which does the thing where this book has actually been written and published by one of the characters thing. I have always hated this trope, mostly because I don't feel like it really adds anything to the story. Every time I read one that does that, I make the DUN DUN sound from Law & Order.

The Bay of Foxes is wonderful literary fiction, especially for readers that love twists and psychological thrillers.

Thanks to Penguin, I can offer one copy of The Bay of Foxes to one of my readers! US only. Otherwise, just fill out the Rafflecopter below!

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: "Like all colonizers, he thinks, she is ultimately the dupe."

"It's how you feel for me now, not how you felt
It's how you deal with envy, not how you dealt

Recognise and send away, set it asail

Serenity inside of me

We're in a different war

With ourselves, and with some of you
So many things that can't be true

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Cover Reveal Roundup (12)

Hey everyone, welcome to this week's edition of Snarky Cover Talk. Maybe I should start calling it that? I've seen too many other Cover Reveal Roundups. Whatever. Anywho, I've got some awesome and awful stuff for you today. I hope I didn't miss anything good, but I probably did, since I'm on a business trip and haven't been able to follow them like I usually do. I still found a good number, though, so I guess it's all good.

Homeland (Little Brother #2) - Cory Doctorow
 Thoughts: Can we talk about how flipping excited I am that there's going to be another of these? HELL YEAH! Also, this cover? So freaking cool. I like it better than number one. This is SWEET.

Thoughts: What IS gaslamp fantasy? My guess is it's some specialized form of steampunk. Hmm. The cover's pretty cool, I suppose, at least once you notice the headless dude!

Bot Wars - J. V. Kade
Thoughts: I don't really understand using a pen name when everyone knows who you are, but whatever. J. V. Kade = Jennifer Rush, whose YA debut, Altered, also comes out soon. This looks pretty awesome, and is hopefully better than the movie with Hugh Jackman which the cover makes me think of. Good MG cover with lots of boy appeal. 

Boundless (Unearthly #3) - Cynthia Hand
Thoughts: This is my least favorite of the set, but it's still gorgeous. I just liked the blue colors better than this pinkish one. Still in love. I also really just love how they did this series. GORGEOUS. The first one's my favorite, in case you were curious.

Pivot Point - Kasie West
Thoughts: Compared to Sliding Doors? That sounds pretty freaking cool. Kiersten White blurb? Nice. The cover is creepy and fits that theme. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I'm not in love, but I'm guessing this is perfect for the book.

Paper Valentine - Brenna Yovanoff
Thoughts: I am so creeped out. Something about this is absolutely horrifying. And that feeling only increases as I look at it more. Eeek. I feel like it's going to eat my soul. Which is probably what they were going for, so good job, designers.

Destroy Me (Shatter Me #1.5) - Tahereh Mafi
Thoughts: Blink and you might miss this novella. Get it? See what I did there? Actually, I like this cover much better than I like the other two. What I like better here is the coloring. I do wonder where the tree-lashes have gone, even though I didn't like them. Note that, unlike Unravel Me, this one has the correct font size and location.

Echo (Soul Seekers #2) - Alyson Noël
Thoughts: These two really don't have a series feel to them. Even the font treatments are entirely different. The cover's pretty, of course, with the dress and the snowflakes. I feel like this might make sense in the story, but from an entirely uninvolved perspective, this is a weird choice.

Ravage (Deviants #3) - Jeff Sampson
Thoughts: I really think the Vesper cover did this best, but I do like the way they've established the series here. The swirly mists and font treatment are very effective, and I especially like when the mists contrast sharply with the background color (which, sadly, this one does not do). I also think the silhouettes are cool, and give the covers a creepier aspect then they might otherwise have. This cover's definitely the creepiest, with the blood red coloring, and the fact that she definitely looks like she's in a blood-soaked room of torture.

The Art of Wishing - Lindsay Ribar
 Thoughts: Pretty cute. This makes for a nice contemporary fiction, romance cover. I really like the title treatment. As is almost always the case, though, I hate the little blurb: "He can grant all her wishes. But only she can save his life." Lame. Those are always lame.

17 & Gone - Nova Ren Suma
 Thoughts: Red. So much red. Cue the Fiona Apple. That room is so creepy. I do really like the title and the creepy room, but I'm not really a fan of the overlay of the missing person report. It just makes it look a little off to me. I would prefer it if that were taken off.

The Shadow Society - Marie Rutkoski
Thoughts: I like this one! Rejoice at me approving of something! The fonts and the colors and the reflection are all made of win in my opinion. I'm not entirely sure why the reflection is hanging above a city, but whatever. It's so pretty. Also, I love those boots.

Sever (The Chemical Garden Trilogy #3) - Lauren DeStefano
Thoughts: Is it just me or do these covers get worse and worse? I actually really liked Wither's cover. I liked that it was playing with the pretty dress trend, using a pretty dress and model but still achieving a sort of dystopian feel. The second cover was very fitting for the book, but I, and others, were thrown by the rocking horse in the background. Well, apparently, the designers seized on that and rounded up all the random shit they could find to put in the Sever cover. Plus, the model's now wearing a pretty dress and sitting properly. It looks like she's about to go to a tea party. It looks like the sever cover got mixed up with some sort of Alice in Wonderland cover. Also, why is the model different in all of these? I declare this a FAIL.
Rise (Nightshade Prequel #2) - Andrea Cremer
Thoughts: Despite myself, I really liked the Rift cover. I like how badass the girl looks, and I am intrigued by the shiny silver weapon. I also love the color blue. Well, all of that awesome stuff? Not in the Rise cover. We've changed to a girl in a dress, viewed from behind. She's holding a large, phallic candle, and the color is now a sickly yellow. Ew. Also, I suspect her dress may be made of pleather.

Deep Betrayal (Lies Beneath #2) - Anne Greenwood Brown
Thoughts: I definitely wasn't in love with the first one, and I like this one less. Girl underwater has been done, and it's been done better. It doesn't seem like the same model, and I don't get a real series feeling from the two covers. Also, I can't help wondering if the deep betrayal was having flashed everyone with her dress riding up underwater.

Iron's Prophecy (The Iron Fey #4.5) - Julie Kagawa
Thoughts: You know what? I really don't care enough to pull up all of the other covers for a novella. I don't even like this new novella trend. I wouldn't even share this, except that I think it's hilarious. Just look at it! Look at that snake! It looks so incredibly cheesy and terribly made. BAHAHA. Oh, the Iron Fey covers after the first couple are always good for a laugh.

The Indigo Spell (Bloodlines #3) - Richelle Mead
Thoughts: In all honesty, I think the covers for this series are pretty lame. I mean, I guess the ones for VA were too, but they were the guilty pleasure kind of lame, whereas these just kind of make me snicker.I think a big part of the problem here is the female model's face. What is that expression? She makes weird faces. She's doing it on The Golden Lily too. Of course, we also have Mr. Pasty on the left and Mr. Sunken-Cheeked Smolder on the right. To top off all of that awesome, we have some poorly designed indigo flowers. Awesome.

 Austensibly Ordinary (Austentatious #2) - Alyssa Goodnight
Thoughts: Hey, look! It's a non-YA book! If you're surprised I made an exception for an Austenite book, you don't know me at all. Girls reading on book covers = win. I approve of this.
Coolest Cover of the Week: Homeland by Cory Doctorow!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shelcha - Yael Naïm

The Far Side of the Sky

Author: Daniel Kalla
Pages: 460
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Source: Tor/Forge via NetGalley

Description from Goodreads:
On November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—the Nazis unleash a night of terror across Germany that paves the way for Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial Army continues to rampage through China and tighten its stranglehold on Shanghai, a besieged and divided city that becomes the last haven for thousands of desperate European Jews.

Dr. Franz Adler, an Austrian Jew and renowned surgeon, is swept up in the wave of anti-Semitic violence washing over Vienna and flees to China with his daughter. There, at a Shanghai refugee hospital, Franz meets an enigmatic nurse, Soon Yi “Sunny” Mah. The chemistry between them is intense and immediate, until Sunny’s life is shattered when a drunken Japanese sailor attempts to rape her and murders her father.

The danger escalates for Shanghai’s Jewish refugee community as the Japanese ally themselves militarily with Germany and attack Pearl Harbor. Soon, the Japanese overrun the European enclaves within Shanghai. Facing starvation, disease and the threat of internment—or worse—Franz struggles to keep the refugee hospital open while protecting his own family and fights to outwit the Nazis and save the city’s Jewish community from a terrible fate.

The Far Side of the Sky focuses on a short but extraordinary period of Chinese, Japanese and Jewish Second World War history, where cultures converged and heroic sacrifices were part of the everyday quest for survival.

First Sentence: "The shadow still swayed over the pavement."

Yet again, I find myself seriously impressed with the breadth and variety of WWII historical fiction. I honestly feel like whenever I read a WWII novel, whether I like it or not, I learn something new and fascinating. The Far Side of the Sky is no exception. I never previously knew that thousands of German and Austrian Jews escaped to Shanghai.

The story of these refugees has a double impact, since it allows Kalla to draw connections between the German's treatment of conquered territories and the Japanese treatment. I think this is seriously important for people in America to know. I have witnessed that here in the U.S., our schooling and basic mood towards Germany remains largely negative because of everything that happened in WWII. However, that same stigma definitely does not exist towards Japan or the Soviet Union. While, certainly, there were times where hatred or distrust for those countries eclipsed everything else, I don't think that their crimes have really caught in our consciousness the same way, largely because so much has been written and popularized about Hitler and the Holocaust.

The Far Side of the Sky begins in Austria on Kristallnacht. Franz's brother is brutally murdered by the SS, as are some of his family's neighbors. His brother's wife, Esther, has a huge gash on her arm. Thankfully, Franz is a doctor and can help. The opening is dramatic and makes its point. Franz Adler must get his family (himself, his daughter Hannah, Esther, and, hopefully, his aging father) out of Austria. Practically the only country accepting Jews at this point, fairly early in the war though it was, was China. The only reason China was open was because China really didn't have much of a say in anything at this point.

Through sheer luck and connections, Franz and his family escape to Shanghai. Though better, tensions in Shanghai are also running very high. Shanghai is inundated with foreigners, all in an uneasy truce and all ruling over the Chinese. The Japanese, however, are the ones really calling the shots, in their bid to take over the world from the east as Hitler moved from the west. Atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking are covered, although not in detail, quite clearly.

I found the writing style a bit awkward in the beginning, although I suspect that some of that will be fixed in the final version. Kalla seemed a bit unsure whether he should have his characters use German at all or whether he should just write in English. While I see the temptation to use the actual language, switching to English for the bulk of the conversation is more awkward. The reader can figure out that they would probably be speaking in German.

The characters are just great, which, as you all know, is the most important aspect of a book to me pretty much every time. I especially loved Sunny, a half-white, half-Chinese nurse in Shanghai. She's so incredibly intelligent and brave. Powerful women ftw! I was so caught up in their story by the end, and so desperate for things to turn out well for them.

If, like me, you can't get enough WWII fiction, I would definitely recommend searching out The Far Side of the Sky.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: "Simon shook his head. ‘The Nazis in Germany…the Japanese here in Shanghai…Treating people as less than human because of the shape of their faces or the sound of their names. Sometimes it feels like the whole damn world is unraveling.’"

"Too many screams in my throat
Too many faces
Too many plans
that I wanted to change
So many words
If I can only tell you
There's no other love
But the one I live with you

Still don't know how

We let all this happen
Will this war last forever and ever?
They've burned my hands
Cut my hair and steal my soul
But do you really want to know?

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Waiting on Wednesday (13)

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.

They had me at Philip Pullman. That would have been enough, but there's more. So much more. Fairy tale retellings! Hell to the freaking yeah! Fairy tale retellings are seriously some of my very favorite things to read. I am also super encouraged by the fact that this is being published by Viking Adult, both because Viking does a lot of great stuff and because if it's for adults that means the stories will probably be creepy like the originals. Of course, I enjoy the retellings for kids, but I also appreciate the sheer brutality of the original fairy tales, where one of the sweet put-upon heroines might think the best way to celebrate her wedding is to have her bird friends pluck out her stepsisters' eyes as they walk down the aisle. Yeah. Bring it on, Philip Pullman!

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version

Author: Philip Pullman
Expected Publication Date: November 8, 2012
Publisher: Viking Adult

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Two hundred years ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now, at a veritable fairy-tale moment—witness the popular television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time and this year’s two movie adaptations of “Snow White”—Philip Pullman, one of the most popular authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

From much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “Briar-Rose,” “Thousandfurs,” and “The Girl with No Hands,” Pullman retells his fifty favorites, paying homage to the tales that inspired his unique creative vision—and that continue to cast their spell on the Western imagination.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

He - Jars of Clay (+ Giveaway)

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

Author: Jenny Wingfield
Pages: 330
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Source: Won from a Random House Giveaway

Description from Goodreads:
Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core and setting the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

With the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield has created an enduring work of fiction.

First Sentence: "John Moses couldn't have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he'd planned it for a lifetime."

For the most part, I'm a fairly eclectic Reader of Fictions. I pretty much love at least some examples of most types of fiction. Still, I definitely have ones that I try to avoid as much as possible, and that I retain a bit of a prejudice towards. I'm not particularly proud of that, but that's the truth. I entered a blind giveaway hosted by Random House for one of their big summer titles. I won. Imagine my disappointment/trepidation when the book arrived (two copies, even). I open up the package and find The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. When I look it up on Goodreads, I see that this book resides, at least according to the community on Goodreads, in two of my most feared genres: Christian fiction and southern fiction.

Even coming from this seriously skeptical place, I really enjoyed The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. I had been debating just giving it away, but I knew within the first page that I would definitely be reading the whole book. Judging off of genre can be a very dangerous habit, because it's such a narrow designation. Some books are completely their genre, but others, like this one, do have those elements, but are so much more.

Though there is a lot about faith in The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, and I think Christian readers would perhaps enjoy it, I think calling it Christian fiction is somewhat unfair, or, perhaps, it is simply different than what I have thus far encountered. Not all of the characters in THoSL are Christian, both good and bad people. The title character is a preacher, but the book wasn't about him so much as the whole Moses/Lake clan.

 Although the book definitely has a summer feel to it, perhaps because there's never much discussion of schooling or of traditional employment, THoSL tackles dark subject matter, primarily that of spousal and child abuse, although rape, murder and infidelity are also big themes. The abuser, Ras Ballenger, is one of the most purely evil characters I have encountered in fiction. He abuses his wife, his son, and the horses he trains for other people. I cannot overstate how entirely awful he was. What a rat bastard.

The characters and their relationships in the book are just wonderful. The whole Moses house seriously just brimmed with life. I adored all of the games the kids played out in the field, how seriously they were taken and how true to life they were. The various issues encountered in the different marriages also struck me as so true to life. It was also so incredibly beautiful how the Moses family came together in crisis situations, despite disagreements.

My last main point that I must make about THoSL is that the writing is utterly lovely. Wingfield manages to write in a style that has a bit of a southern flair WITHOUT resorting to dialect. Part (perhaps up to 99%) of my distaste for southern fiction is that I hate books written in dialect, and so many are. The characters do speak in dialect, some of them, but that's the extent of it. That totally worked for me.

So, here's what I have to say to you, give this book a chance if you like family pieces full of sassy children and familial love, even if, like me, it doesn't sound like the sort of book you'd ordinarily pick up. If you pass this one by because of genre concerns, you will be missing out.

Since I received two copies, I'm sharing one with you guys! US only, since I'm shipping it. Just fill out the Rafflecopter below!

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: "Willadee asked him if he thought maybe it should say HAPPY EVER AFTER, but Samuel said no, he thought happiness was like any other miracle. The more you talked about it, the less people believed it was real. It was like Swan said, some things, everybody just had to find out about for themselves."

"Daddy, don't you love me?
Then why do you hit me?
And Momma don't you love me
Then why do you hurt me?
Well I try to make you proud, but for crying out loud
Just give me a chance to hide away
Exhaustion takes over, will this someday be over?

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Losing a Whole Year - Third Eye Blind (+ Giveaway)

The Bellwether Revivals

Author: Benjamin Wood
Pages: 415
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date:  June 28, 2012
Source: Review copy from Penguin in exchange for an honest review

Description from Goodreads:
Part Secret History, part Brideshead Revisited for the 21st century, The Bellwether Revivals is a page-turning, romantic, eerie tale of genius and, possibly, madness; a stunning debut for fans of Sarah Waters, Donna Tartt, and Lauren Goff.
The Bellwether Revivals opens and closes with bodies. The story of whose bodies and how they come to be spread about an elegant house on the river near Cambridge is told by Oscar, a young, bright working class man who has fallen in love with an upper-class Cambridge student, Iris, and thereby become entangled with a group of close friends, led by Iris's charismatic, brilliant, possibly dangerous brother. For Eden Bellwether believes he can heal -- and perhaps more -- through the power of music.

In this masterful debut, we too are seduced by this gilded group of young people, entranced by Eden's powerful personality and his obvious talent as a musician, and caught off guard by the strangeness of Iris and Eden's parents. And we find ourselves utterly unsure as to whether Eden Bellweather is a saviour or a villain, and whether Oscar will be able to solve this mystery in time to save himself, if not everyone else.

First Sentence: "They heard the caterwaul of sirens, and saw the dust rising underneath the ambulance wheels at the far end of the driveway, and soon the darkening garden was a wash of flashing blue lights."

The Bellwether Revivals begins with one heck of a hook. While most of the chapters are lengthy, it opens with one of two short pages. These pack quite a wallop, though. The reader learns that there are two dead bodies and one nigh dead being carted off by the paramedics. At this point, the readers has no idea what happened, but most definitely wants to know. This technique of a small climactic scene from the end of the book being placed at the opening to create a mystery and tension to push through the novel is certainly popular, but Wood has used it effectively.

My curiosity from those two pages is what propelled me through The Bellwether Revivals. The novel, as a whole, just did not call to me. While it is masterfully written, and will no doubt acquire much critical acclaim, the novel did not speak to me on a personal level. I was bored through most of it, a feeling aided by the incredibly long chapters.

Though I haven't actually read Brideshead Revisited, from what I know of it (having seen two film adaptations), the comparison is apt. On a basic level, The Bellwether Revivals is one of those stories about a poor boy becoming caught up with a fantastically intelligent, beautiful, wealthy family (particularly Iris and Eden Bellwether), and seeing that things aren't necessarily so shiny in their world. This plot line has never really been my favorite, but I think the book will definitely appeal to fans of The Great Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited, and Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

The psychological aspects of the story, more than the wtf happened of the opening, was the most intriguing part of the book to me. I can't talk about it too much without giving anything away, but there are is a lot of psychoanalysis. Additionally, there are some very interesting discussions of faith and its healing powers. On an intellectual, this held much appeal for me.

My difficulty with the story was definitely in the characters. I feel like I complain about this a lot, but, when I read, I read primarily for character. I lose myself in a story through the characters. Although I did sympathize with Oscar's plight somewhat, I couldn't empathize at all, and, in his shoes, I would definitely have run for the hills from this crazy ass family.

The Bellwethers themselves may be charismatic and wealthy, but I just didn't see the attraction they held for him. Well, that's not true. They represented a life he could have been living but wasn't: that of academia. Still, their individual personalities were not at all likeable; they were all very bipolar, very changeable from one moment to the next. The whole friend group was so insular and self-flattering, not to mention pandering endlessly to Eden Bellwether. I was not invested in any of them, which is why finding out which of them did not survive was seriously anticlimactic.

As I said, though, I know others have loved and will love this novel. I would recommend not judging solely off of my opinion. The novel is very well written, but simply not my cup of cocoa. As such, I am offering up my copy to one of my readers. Since I'm shipping it, the giveaway is US only. Sorry! I always have at least one international giveaway a month, though, so do check back, non-US folks.

Rating: 2.5/5

Favorite Quote: "‘I’ve been writing a lot about hope. My theory is that hope is a form of madness. A benevolent one, sure, but madness all the same. Like an irrational superstition—broken mirrors and so forth—hope’s not based on any kindd of logic, it’s just unfettered optimism, grounded in nothing but faith in things beyond our control.’"

"Your voice sounds like money and your face is cute
But your daddy left you with no love
You touch everything with a velvet glove and
Now you wanna try your life with sin
You wanna be down with the down and in
Always copping my truths
I kinda get the feeling like I'm being used
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On My New Arrivals Shelf (9)

Hey guys, this was an amazing week! I got a bunch of wonderful-looking things and I'm so excited to share them with all of you! I am vlogging again, but I will also link up the books down below in case you're at work (not that we would be reading blog posts at work ever...) or have a slow internet connection or just hate my face (*cries*). Also, you should know that I didn't forget to show off my e-galleys; I just didn't get any this week.

Books Mentioned:
Ender's Game (Ender's Saga #1) - Orson Scott Card
Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) - Steve Hockensmith (my review)
Allison Hewitt Is Trapped (Zombie #1) - Madeleine Roux
Worldsoul (Worldsoul #1) - Liz Williams

The Little Stormdancer - Jay Kristoff
From What I Remember - Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas
Cinda Williams Chima poster for The Crimson Crown

Arise (Hereafter #2) - Tara Hudson
A Need So Beautiful (A Need So Beautiful #1) - Suzanne Young
Starcrossed (Starcrossed #1) - Josephine Angelini
Dreamless (Starcrossed #2) - Josephine Angelini

The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker #1) - Karen Miller (my review of the prequel)
House of Shadows - Rachel Neumeier
The Bay of Foxes - Sheila Kohler
Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) - Deborah Harkness(my review)

Bloggers/Authors Mentioned:
Kayla Beck of Bibliophilia, Please
Claire Legrand (her website)
April of Good Books and Good Wine