Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield | Book Review

TITLE: Bellman & Black
AUTHOR: Diane Setterfield
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Atria Books / October 2013
SERIES: No
SOURCE: Received for Review via NetGalley

Goodreads / Author's Website

Recently I've been trying to branch out from my typical YA fare. It may seem a little nuts since I haven't been involved with the YA community for that long and I have so much catching up to do, but I've been missing my literary fiction. With that in mind I picked up Bellman & Black; Diane Setterfield's second novel. Now I haven't read The Thirteenth Tale, but I've heard some really good things about it so I was kind of looking forward to Bellman & Black just based on author reputation. I just didn't end up loving it as much as I thought I would.

What originally drew me to the novel was the premise more than anything else. It's described as a ghost story. William Bellman accidentally kills a rook when he's eleven years old, an incident that supposedly has a profound impact on his life. We jump ahead to when he is a young adult, leading a very happy life. He marries a beautiful woman, has healthy children and is amazingly successful in his business. However, the people he loves are slowly taken from him until it all ends in tragedy. A mysterious man dressed all in black has been at each funeral and as the deaths get closer to Bellman, the man offers him a compromise to save his favourite child, but it's a deal he can't fully remember.

That set up sounds kind of fantastic. It's a ghost story, a man haunted by death, but I just didn't think it panned out like I thought it would. I was expecting well a ghost or at least a little bit of creep factor. I didn't get any of that at all. Honestly, I felt like these life changing events left Bellman nearly completely unmarred. I would have loved just a little more humanity from him. The beginning is strong. Setterfield manages to build a sense of foreboding withing the first few pages. She has a very descriptive writing style that worked so well in setting tone. Like I figured something was going to happen after the innocent rook is killed.  As the deaths started piling up I was definitely creeped out, but that's where the book lost me.

While the tone and style worked, William never seemed like a fully fleshed out character. More than anything else he felt like an allegorical character more than anything else. He was only there to prove a moral point; he was a protagonist in a three hundred plus page book and it just didn't work for me. He was distant and lacked a human element. He was so focused on his work and making things run smoothly that he missed the real parts of life, the play and the grief. While I feel like it worked in getting across the overall message of the book I didn't want to read about a theme, I prefer reading about a person. It was hard to invest in him when he was invested in so little.

I also couldn't really get a feel for secondary characters. Bellman couldn't connect to them and therefore I as a reader couldn't. Some of them seemed to have interesting stories, but it's hard to say when we learn so little about them. Overall I would have loved to see some more character development throughout the novel.

I feel like the point of the book was that death comes for everybody and we need to take time out to appreciate life and grieve for the ones we lost; things that Bellman never did. Here's the thing though; I feel like that's a pretty well used/loved theme and I don't think this is the best example of it. There was a total disconnect between the tone and the plot. The basic plot was just so well known, man invests more in money than he does in life and there wasn't anything new in it.

I loved Setterfield's overall style. I loved the eeriness and have no complaints about tone or style. I would still love to read The Thirteenth Tale because writing wise Bellman & Black totally worked for me. I wish I could say I connected to this particular story more, but it left me flat. Well trodden themes and characters that I couldn't feel for made reading this particular book feel like a chore. However, I did gain a new appreciation for Setterfield's style and look forward to trying another book of hers in the future.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Faking It by Cora Carmack | Book Review

TITLE: Faking It
AUTHOR: Cora Carmack
PUBLISHER/YEAR: William Morrow & Co. / June 4, 2013
SERIES: Book Two, The Losing It Series
SOURCE: Purchased

Goodreads / Author's Website

Romance novels are so addictive. If I'm in the right mood I can pretty much pick one up and not put it down again until I've flipped the last page. I mean as long as they're well written and don't make me gag. Cora Carmack's Finding It is one of those ones that I just couldn't put down. Finding It is a continuation of of the Losing It series, following Bliss' former best friend, Cade as he moves on in a new city. Carmack has this ability to combine humour and real life awkwardness with romance story worthy swoons which really sets her books apart for me. Basically, I love every minute of them.

Faking It is Cade's story, after being rejected by Bliss he goes into a bit of a funk, goes to grad school, but doesn't really move on. The love interest in this one is Max, she's a rock singer who works in a club and tattoo parlour to pay the bills. She's dating some tattooed drummer named Mace, but when her parents visit unexpectedly she needs to find a suitable boyfriend stand in, somebody who won't scare them off. Enter Cade. These two need to fake the relationship, but when it goes a little too well have to continue it through the holiday season. Of course, feelings develop and problems arise, isn't that where the fun is?

You guys, I really love books that include some awkward fun in with the sexy times. That has got to be one of my favourite things about reading a Carmack novel. She writes enough of real life into her books to make them semi-believable without losing the romance novel veneer. It's like the perfect blend of fantasy and reality. I was a little hesitant to read Faking It if only because I couldn't see how it could ever live up to Losing It, also partly maybe because it takes place after university and makes me mourn for my own university days. Totally normal reaction no? Of course, I devoured the book in like a day so I must not have been too hesitant. I wasn't a huge fan of Cade in Losing It because you know what I can't stand? The "Nice Guy." The "Nice Guy" isn't a genuinely nice guy, he's the best friend who always wants more and is convinced every other guy the girl sees is a jerk. He doesn't really want friendship, but is just angling for something more. That's not genuine and it's not nice. So Cade and I, well we're still on the fence.

Throughout Faking It Cade is half in love with Bliss, but quickly realizes that he might have stronger feelings for Max. Maybe it wasn't love after all. When I say I'm on the fence about him a lot of it has to do with his continued thoughts about Bliss. When he's with Max I can totally get behind him as a romantic lead. Maybe he's just not my type of swoon worthy?

Max on the other hand is kind of dynamite. She's this rocker chic kind of girl, lots of tattoos and a bad attitude. I loved her. She's kind of damaged and has some skeletons in her closet, but they made her a little more human. I could have done without the guy like him would never be with a girl like me kind of thinking, but I could get past that pretty easily. I loved that she was strong and knew what she wanted. I also loved that Carmack wrote two such different female characters, each so strong and so fantastic in their own way.

The romance itself is kind of swoon worthy, but what I liked more than anything else was the set up. Max needs a fake boyfriend to please her parents over Thanksgiving. She picks the nearest clean cut guy she sees and it happens to be Cade who turns out to be kind of perfect for her. I know it's totally unrealistic, but meet cutes like that make me smile. The two also had a great banter thing going on. More than anything though this romance serves to tell the story of two people figuring out who they are and how they're going to get by in the adult world. I think Carmack does such a great job of tackling these true to life issues inside of a romance novel. One part that really stood out for me was Cade remembering his theatre school family and how they're so spread out now; it hurt my heart you guys, it really did. It adds just enough substance to what could be utter fluff. I can't help but love it.

Carmack is hands down my favourite writer of this kind of novel at the moment. I suppose it's new adult since the characters are early to mid twenties, but she just handles it all so well. There are romantic entanglements with some true to life issues mixed in. Rent, exes, poor decisions, jobs they all come into play. Of course, the books are also super steamy and swoon worthy at points; I really can't underplay that. I think it's the blend of the two things that really gets me. Basically, I can't wait to read Finding It and will continue to read pretty much anything that Carmack publishes.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait to Get My Hands On

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish

THIS WEEK'S PROMPT IS TOP TEN SEQUELS I CAN'T WAIT TO GET MY HANDS ON
Okay guys, I'm actually the worst and could only think of FIVE sequels that I desperately want to read and most of them have already been released. I'm the WORST at reading series! 

1. Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau

I loved The Testing, the first book in a new trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau and I'm really looking forward to this next one. The first one ends with Cia surviving a crazed government, hunger games style testing and now she's at the university and doesn't remember any of it. I'm just really curious to see where this one goes. 

2. The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

I know, I know, The Boy Most Likely To isn't expected to come out until 2015, but I couldn't resist putting it on this list. My Life Next Door was and remains one of my favourite books and I cannot wait to read this follow up. It doesn't follow the same characters, but it's the same world and I love Fitzpatrick's style. 

3. Just One Year by Gayle Forman

On the other extreme, Just One Year was one of my most anticipated books for this year, but I haven't had the chance to read it yet! There's a huge list at my library and I'm trying to resist buying too many books so there you have it. Even though there were a few mixed reviews I'm still so excited to actually get a chance to read this one.

4. The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

Here's another one that's already out. I mean sure this one has been out for awhile, but I literally just finished Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes today and I can't wait to read the sequel now!

5. Fire with Fire by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

I'm pretty on top of things with this series all things considering. I read Burn for Burn maybe a month ago, just in time for the August release of Fire with Fire. After the crazy events of the first novel, like full on Carrie style prom breakdown I'm so excited to see what direction they take. 


Monday, November 4, 2013

Relic by Renee Collins | Book Review

TITLE: Relic
AUTHOR: Renee Collins
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Entangled Teen / August 27, 2013
SERIES: No
SOURCE: Received for review from publisher. This is no way affected my opinion.

Goodreads / Author's Website

Where should I even begin with Relic. It's one of the few books that really defies genres, alternating between western, fantasy and romance. While at first the combination might seem like a bit of a stretch, I was intrigued and had to give the book a try. I'm really glad I did because while it was an imperfect read, it was thoroughly entertaining and managed to surprise me along the way.

The book begins with a small town burning to the ground leaving no survivors. Maggie Davis is living on the outskirts of town with her younger brother and sister; their parents are away for the evening when the fire is lit. At the end of the day only Maggie and her sister survive and must learn to scrape by on their own. In this world, ancient relics can be dug from the ground and used to harness powers such as fire, water, invisibility etc. Maggie begins working at a local saloon, but soon proves to have the ability to harness these powers and leaves the saloon to be trained under Alvar Castilla, a powerful man who runs most of the town. She must learn how to navigate the new rules she's living under while providing for her sister, but she also wants to figure out who is responsible for burning Messa before it happens again. Like I said, it's a blend of genres that defies most classifications.

One of my favourite things about Relic was Maggie. She's such a strong protagonist. She may not be physically strong and she doesn't make the right choices one hundred percent of the time, but she's always struggling to do the right thing. She accepts her new responsibilities and does everything in her power to protect those she cares about. She has some very admirable qualities that make her an excellent protagonist in a fantasy novel. Sometimes she's saved, but she's not completely powerless. I didn't find she fell into the damsel in distress trap, but she still showed some human foibles. I really love that in a character.

So I didn't mention it in my description of the novel, but there is some romance in Relic. I wouldn't call it the A plot line, but it does play an important role. Maggie falls for Landon, a local cowboy on leave. He's pretty great, thoughtful, kind, seems to genuinely care about Maggie. I did appreciate that romance didn't dominate the novel though. I mean I think the great thing about this book is that there was a bit of romance, but it was no more important in Maggie's life than her other relationships. She cared about her sister first and foremost and built friendships with some fantastic supporting characters along the way. Adelaide, the saloon's showgirl, is particularly remarkable. She's tough, but also naive and always hoping for something more than what she has. It's kind of heartbreaking and entirely captivating.

The fantasy element of this book was pretty much relegated to the magical relics; the rest was pure western. As somebody who's not a fan of high fantasy, this worked well for me. I thought there was a solid amount of fantasy to balance out the western aspects, but it never became overpowering. However, if you're really looking for a high fantasy novel, well this isn't the book for you.

There was one thing that worried me throughout the novel, the treatment of aboriginal peoples. Westerns don't have the best track record of making natives sympathetic characters and are either villains or occasionally the wise mystics. I was worried that this was the path that Collins was taking when the town burnings were blamed on a local tribe and the only native character renounced his heritage completely. Fortunately, I didn't have to worry about that in the end as the tribe's role was expanded beyond generic villain. While there were still some problematic scenes, overall I was pleased.

I didn't love Relic right off the bat, but in the end I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would be happy to read anything else by Collins. It's a different sort of book and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but I ended up getting totally sucked into Maggie's story. Between the mystery and the magic I was intrigued and didn't want to put it down.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Winter Sparrow Book Blitz



 THE BOOK

Winter Sparrow by Estevan Vega
Published September 13, 2012
Published by Stonehouse Ink

“I’ll grow wings all by myself.”

Mary is a young artist about to enter a new chapter in her life. After years of waiting and searching, she has finally found true love. She’s also just discovered that her fiancĂ© Joshua has inherited his father’s rundown countryside mansion. To add to the rising pressure, her wedding day is so close she can practically hear the music. All she has to do is accept what the future holds. Accept…and be happy.

But something’s missing.

As the seasons change, her doubts turn to fears, and her fears become reality. Through struggle and loss, the love she once possessed for Joshua transforms into contempt. When Mary is confronted with a magical escape, the life she has and the life she dreams of will collide, awakening a mysterious change within. But no choice comes without cost, and each one will draw her closer to the truth.

At times both beautiful and haunting, Winter Sparrow dares you to step into a world where eternity is a moment and every breath is a second chance. The fantasy begins…



THE AUTHOR

I’m a writer. Well, technically an author, because they say that you magically become an author (i.e. true creative) if you’ve published something, and you’re a writer if you haven’t (you know those closet aspiring geniuses who just scribble stuff into notebooks and hide it from the world?). But I still call myself a writer. I’m one of 4 brothers. The middle son. I guess that’s supposed to make me uber weird and dysfunctional, but the jury’s still out on that one. I love mint chocolate chip ice cream. Like, really love it. Watching movies and going to rock shows are 2 of my favorite pastimes, and I am addicted to telling stories.

It all started because a 5th grade teacher decided to become a meddler in my life. That’s right, one of my least favorite authority figures at the time assigned us to write these 1 page short stories for class. We had the freedom to create whatever we wanted (within reason), but the assignments were do every day, and upon completing the school year, the plan was that we’d all bind them to compile a book. Well, at the time I hating reading, hated writing, and wanted to be a comic book artist. I figured I’d one day work for Marvel or Disney or something. And I was pretty good at sketching too. But I always found it hard to create my own characters, and I often just settled for copying somebody else’s masterpiece.

Something was missing.

Well, then a 2nd meddler enters the picture. My pops. He starts helping me with the stories. And by helping me, I really just mean I was there more as a consultant and a constant nuisance, ensuring proper grammar was employed. He was the real writer, in my mind. I just wished I could be him. My teacher started grading the stories, and I was floored to see A+ after A+. And she liked my stories enough…ahem, our stories enough, to read them in front of the class. The response was terrific. My classmates actually gave a crap. They wanted to know what happened next. So I turned 1 story into about 12 or so, and made a little book out of it. Looking back, it’s probably terrible. But the point is…I was hooked on the game.

My father and I began discussing book concepts until finally, in 6th grade, I set out to write a “real” book, all by myself. 3 years later, Servant of the Realm was born. It was so under the radar it wasn’t even funny, but I was just stoked to have my book searchable on the internet. It’s a pretty cool feeling when you’re 15. 3 years later, I released The Sacred Sin, a much darker story about a detective on the hunt for a serial killer who can steal souls. (THE FORSAKEN is the revamped version. I literally rewrote every page, and added about 100 more pages to the story. So if you haven’t picked that baby up, you might wanna.) 3 years after that–I know, 3 is the magical number, it seems–ARSON was unleashed. This story is closest to my heart because it came from a very unique place and time in my life. It’s like I grew up while writing it.

Well, sorta…

Flash forward to now. I’ve got 5 novels and several short stories out. I’ve been interviewed on TV, radio, and the internet. I’ve done several blog tours, have my own Youtube channel, twitter page, FB page, so quite frankly, there’s really no reason for you not to stalk me. I’m still that sort of college kid looking for his path while already on a path. I love to write. I love to ask the big questions, to create raw, flawed characters who do incredible things. And I’m reminded every day why I do what I do, why I write, why I tell stories…because of you. Because of something greater than myself. Because if I didn’t, I’d probably go insane.

Welcome to my dysfunctional world.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Across the Universe by Beth Revis | Book Review

TITLE: Across the Universe
AUTHOR: Beth Revis
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Razorbill / January 11, 2011
SERIES: Yes, Across the Universe Series
SOURCE: Local Library

Goodreads / Author's Website

I feel like I saw a lot of reviews for Across the Universe around the time I first started blogging, but I didn't pay too much attention to it. It was science fiction which is definitely not my preferred genre so I let it slide past me without much of a second thought. So here it is, a few years later and I've finally picked it up. It really has more to  do with the fact that I was in a rush at the library and recognized the title than anything else, but I did say I wanted to break out of my preferred genres at the beginning of the year, so let's go with that one. It sounds better. I can't say that I all out loved Across the Universe, but it was definitely more enjoyable than I thought it would be. It was this combination of science fiction and dystopia that was intriguing, but at times frustrating. Weeks later and I'm still not totally sure what to think.

Amy is a seventeen year old girl who's signed on to be cryogenically frozen and shipped into space as cargo on the spaceship Godspeed. She's set to leave earth and arrive on a new planet some three hundred years in the future. However, her three hundred year sleep is interrupted fifty years too soon when somebody pulls the plug on her chamber nearly killing her. Soon after, it's discovered that other frozen people are being unplugged, not all of them surviving. Somebody is clearly trying to kill them. Elder was born and raised on the ship and is being prepped to take over as the future leader. You see, the ship has one person born to lead, others born to work on the ship and feeders, those born to grow food. There are plenty of secrets on the ship and as much as Amy might want to trust Elder, she's not sure if she can.

I'm sitting here trying to write this review and all I can think is that it didn't overwhelm me or underwhelm me; I'm simply whelmed. It's not that the book was bad and I can see why people loved it, but there were sections that I just didn't engage with and I'm not sure if I can put my finger on why that was. I know, that's a terrible thing for a review!

So the story is told in alternating perspectives which isn't always my favourite narrative choice, but it wasn't bad. Amy and Elder had very distinct voices and personalities so there was no problem deciphering who was who. It was actually kind of interesting to hear from somebody who has only ever known the ship and then from somebody who is brand new to it. The culture clash was something and Amy's frustration made total sense since once she arrives a whole lot of crazy becomes apparent.

I think the book kind of lost me with the beginning. It was a slow start. To be fair, I find I have this issue with a lot of science fiction novels; the same can be said about dystopia. I'm a very character driven reader and there is so much world building required with these genres that it loses me. I understand the necessity; it just doesn't engage me as a reader. That having been said, I really did start to enjoy the book once I got into the second half. Once mysteries were being revealed I needed to know more.

I have to say this is a pretty dark book. There's a pervading sense of hopelessness throughout the ship. I mean there is not a single person born on that ship who has ever seen proper ground; even the stars they see are a lie. It was difficult to read about and well the themes about lies, corruption and power eventually get a little heavy handed (you should see what the people on the ship believe about Abraham Lincoln), but it didn't seem like much of a stretch.

I know this isn't the best of most informative review because you guys, I really need help figuring this one out. My feelings were so mixed about this first book that I'm on the fence about reading the next one in the series. What do you all think? Does it get better? Is it an engaging continuation or am I going to be disappointed?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day One by Nate Kenyon | Book Review

TITLE: Day One
AUTHOR: Nate Kenyon
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Thomas Dunne Books / Oct 1, 2013
SERIES: No
SOURCE: For Review via NetGalley

Goodreads / Author's Website

Full disclosure, I don't deal well with horror or thrillers or anything that could potentially keep me up at night because I'm still pretty sure that there are monsters under my bed just waiting for me to forget to pull the covers up one night. Keep that in mind when reading my review because I am a giant wimp when it comes to this kind of novel. Day One is kind of an action packed thrill ride type of novel. Like it's close to a Hollywood blockbuster, but you know, a book. There are tons of explosions, action sequences and conspiracies that keep you guessing. While it might not be my genre, I could see somebody really getting into it.

Day One  is set in present times, or at least something close to them. Hacker journalist John Hawke is investigating a potentially major story involving a tech company and its CEO. He was a successful New York Times journalist until he got caught hacking CIA files and was promptly dismissed; this job is his last shot. Hawke heads into the city like it's any other day, but soon the oddities begin piling up. There are Anonymous like protests happening and people are gathering on wall street, increasingly angry. Coffee pots explode, copiers rebel. Pretty soon the world devolves into a nightmare realm with technology turning on humanity and a small group of survivors need to make it through the city, fighting against an enemy nobody can see or identify.

My first mistake when reading this book was reading it on my iPhone. Not a smart move. Like half the time I was basically convinced that my phone would try to kill me or the camera would turn on to stalk my every move. Not that I was moving much, my couch is pretty comfortable. Like Day One explores a world gone mad with technology; a world where the machines we create turn against us. It's not that innovative of a concept really; haven't we been thinking about this since, I don't know, our first imagined robot? That having been said, just because a concept isn't all that new, doesn't mean the book isn't enjoyable. Day One falls squarely into the thriller genre. There is a ton of action that keeps the pace moving along and a conspiracy that doesn't quite fall into place until the very end. There's also the sort of rugged, leading man. He tries to be a decent person, but he's still a bit of an anti-hero, trying to change his ways for his family. His struggle to redeem himself provides the sort of B plot.

If I don't sound that enthused I don't blame the book; I blame the reader. I'm not a huge fan of thrillers and get easily annoyed with the cliches. They've never captured me and while I knew this going in, I also thought this sounded like a super intriguing premise because I haven't actually read a lot of technology conquers the world books all the way through. Plus I kind of loved that it was set in modern times and not some distant future. The references to Anonymous, hacking, all that kind of stuff rooted the story for me. It wasn't a huge jump for me to believe in all the tech craziness given what can actually be done with technology today and while I know there is a huge stretch between what can actually happen and the coding used in the book I was able to suspend my disbelief.

The pacing was fantastic for what the book was. It didn't lag. Basically as a reader I felt like I was on this giant roller coaster that kept me guessing and turning the pages. Did I mention I'm okay with mixed metaphors? However, what didn't work for me was a lack of anything else. The pacing didn't allow for major character growth. I never got to know Hawke and the secondary characters were basically just props. I also didn't feel like I got the best sense of why all this world ending was happening. Flashbacks were used to try to ground Hawke as a character and show us where he came from, but they didn't really work for me. They didn't do much for the story because it wasn't about who he was as a family man; the story really was about his quest for survival and not much else.

Honestly, I think Day One is a fast paced, tightly plotted thriller; it just wasn't the book for me. All of my problems with it stem from the fact that I don't deal well with the genre. Thrillers aren't meant to slowly build great characters; if they do that's great, but I think they've done their job if they prove to be an un-put-downable read. Day One succeeded at providing a thrilling read that I seriously couldn't put down/had me half certain all technology was out to get me. If you're a fan of thrillers I would definitely recommend giving it a try.