Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Becoming A Man by Paul Monette

★★★★✩
A poetic memoir that chronicles Paul Monette’s life as a closeted gay man from adolescence and into adulthood. The span of time focused on is before Monette became a well known activist for gay rights and AIDS awareness. 

Becoming A Man is a narrative composed of a string of brief recollections that have abrupt fluid transitions. This was disorienting to read and took me a while to get used to the author’s writing style. I noticed that most of the recollections tended to be grouped together and anchored around an idea. This idea was usually an embedded statement that would come across as profound to me for its ability to tie those seemingly random memories together.

Each chapter focuses on a period of the narrator’s life. The recollections tend to be in chronological order. However their are a few moments of omniscient narration or self reflection from a future outlook. 

The prose is poetic and sentence arrangement has a visible poetic distortion and manipulation. I personally don’t enjoy reading poetry or books with obvious poetic influence. It takes me longer to read and there always seems to be a penchant for tragedy.

The writing had a strong voice that shifted often between poetic, witty, dry and self reflective. There is a definite melancholy and angsty overtone to the whole book. The narrator is honest and open about his thoughts, motivations, and actions. I was surprised at how exposed the narrator allowed himself to become. 

I also enjoyed the interlaced historical social commentary about America in the 50s-70s. The memoir touched on a myriad of themes and ideas such as family, culture, politics, religion, sexuality, social customs, society, identity, relationships, love, lust, poetry, artistry, and psychology. 

One of my personal rating rubrics for reviewing is whether I felt an emotional reaction to a book and whether it made me think. I’m very conscious of identifying whether my rating is based on my emotional response to the story told or in response to the general writing and story elements.

That being said I HATED reading this book and could only handle a chapter at a time. Nothing to do with the content, general writing, or author’s sexual preference. It was the attitude and perspective of the narrator. It was frustrating for me to read through the existential angst. This was the first memoir I’ve read where the narrator was prominently filled with self-hatred, shame, doubt, fear, denial, self-oppression, and sounded so defeated. It was like reading an overly romanticized, narcissistic, self-sabotaging martyrdom. Plus the ending gave minimal closure and the sign off was so cruel after reading through everything. 

If I wasn’t reading this book to review it, I would have put it down or thrown it at the wall and never finished it. This surprising hostility forced me to be self reflective about the text. This book made me wish I was part of a book club so that I could discuss the book with others. As a reader I want to give this book one star but as a writer and reviewer I think it deserves four stars. 

I think this is a book that affects and resonates with each reader differently. For some it's a mirror and others a window. I believe I received the author’s overall message which supports my personal belief about life, that you have to live authentically because the alternative isn’t a life. 

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher Open Road Media through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Mad Lord Lucian by Shay West

★★★★★
A fantasy novella about a loyal manservant serving a fair and honorable Lord who has become feeble due to rapidly declining health. An opportunistic mage heals the Lord but the price puts the kingdom and Lord in jeopardy with only the manservant fully understanding the consequences. This novella is a stand alone and embedded legend within the Portals Of Destiny series.   

The Mad Lord Lucian is a cautionary tale within the Portals Of Destiny universe about the dangers of dark magic. This novella was my  first introduction to the series and I’m grateful it was easy to comprehend without reading the other books first.

The characters were well rounded. I liked how their personalities were reinforced with small tidbits inter laced through the story. It helped me to better empathize with the main character which enabled me to better understand his motivations and accept his limitations. 

The story was engaging and fast paced with short paragraph formatting aiding the continual action. The descriptions were vivid and concise. The horror elements were great and created a darker tone amid the suspense.   

The world was well developed and the magic system was intriguing. The magic system left me with a few unanswered questions but I got the impression that it’s a mysterious plot point to the series as a whole. 
  
I really enjoyed this story and was impressed at how much was packed into it. After reading this novella I’m excited and eager to read the other books in the series.    

[Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads]

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Frenemy Of The People by Nora Olsen

★★
Clarissa is a wholesome seemingly well off teen who loves horses. Lexie is a rich, socially conscience activist who loves butterflies. Two very different personalities that become unlikely friends as they partner up to make Clarissa’s sister homecoming queen. The newest victims of the foreclosure crisis, Clarissa and her family find themselves in danger of losing their home. Clarissa  looks to Lexie for advice and support soon finding their friendship deepening to love. 

Frenemy Of The People is book that had a few memorable scenes and moments where I connected with the characters. There were a lot of interesting ideas that were presented but I felt it became over burdened and incoherent as the story went on. 

I made many concessions when rating this book because it was in the young adult genre. The genre has a particular audience in mind and has to adjust the language and story elements to where it’s easily digestible. So I’ll forgive the stereotypical characters and predictable plot.

The characters were interesting but were often underdeveloped and inconsistent. The strongest character was probably Clarissa’s sister, Desi and I commend the author for taking the time to write a respectful and accurate portrayal of a character with down syndrome. Lexie had a strong voice that came through in her chapters and I would have loved to have gotten to know her better. I was disappointed that her character development was stifled because her chapters had to solely hold up the romance story line. Clarissa’s voice in her chapters tended to waver, strong at times and weak in others. Her development was inconsistent resulting in her motives being blurred so that when she took action it seemed drastic and out of character.     

I was really looking forward to the romance story in this book but it just seemed neglected and pushed to the side. The blurb promises rivalry and hints at an intense relationship tested by outside forces. The reality is that Clarissa and Lexie aren’t really rivals just different people that find themselves becoming friends once they see past each others facade. No outside forces trying to tear them apart just a stressful situation with possibly losing her home that has Clarissa abruptly pulling away. The romance often seemed entirely one sided with Lexie holding it up and taking the initiative. There were a couple of  cute moments but it was just a luke-warm romance that wasn’t properly established. I was also hoping for the LGBTQA themes to have more depth and emphasis but it was taken at face value and down played.

The overall plot was choppy, conflict seemed forced and the pacing was off. Some scenes and additional descriptions seemed unnecessary. My biggest complaint however were the massive information dumps. It’s obvious a lot of research went into this book and it’s very informative, thorough, and accurate. However it was conveyed in lengthy text heavy dialogue that was so dense it weighed the story down and threw off the pacing completely. It took the focus away from the story and was quite frankly boring. Especially when a lot of the information shared had no bearing on the story or the end result. 

Frenemy Of The People has beautiful cover art and a lot of interesting concepts it tried to get across but I just didn’t care for the overall execution of the story. 

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher Bold Strokes Books, Inc. through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review]

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mark Of The Tala by Jeffe Kennedy

★★★★✩
A fantasy novel about a willful princess who is overshadowed by her sisters. A fateful meeting with a mysterious man ignites a dramatic string of events that makes the kingdom eager for war and brings into question her mother’s heritage. This is the first book in The Twelve Kingdoms series. 

Mark Of The Tala is a book that didn’t give the best first impressions to me but I enjoyed the second half. The beginning setup comes across as a lively and stereotypical fairy tale. A princess is an overlooked middle child neither strongest nor prettiest. The oldest sister is the diplomatic warrior while the youngest is compassionate and the most beautiful. The youngest sister gets married then returns some time later for a visit.

From there the story takes on the tone and style found often in the young adult genre. The world is fleshed out and secondary characters become better developed. The main love interest is introduced and from there a whirlwind of action and drama unfold. However through this whole stage the main character remains woefully underdeveloped and minimally reactive.

However the second part of the book was entirely enjoyable. I’m not sure if it was my awareness or perception that changed but I felt the author’s natural writing style, voice and strengths finally became prominent. The prose and tone of the book seemed to settle and take on a mature viewpoint. 

The second part of the book was when the world and characters finally flourished becoming well rounded and better developed. The main character developed a personality and what she viewed as her inadequacies no longer had the sound of shallowness. The main love interest became a better developed character rather than just a stalker intent on kidnapping. Their relationship was established and explored which was welcome after their awkward and limited courtship.

The world, politics, and back stories were better addressed and developed. The magic system was given more focus and I was impressed at the detail and depth it held. Remaining questions that had been avoided were finally answered and new questions arose with answers postponed for the next book.

The second portion of the book greatly improved upon the story to the point that I felt it was beyond redeemed so I rose my initial rating. I'm hesitant to continue with the series only because the sequel sounds sad but I definitely would read a book about the eldest sister.  

The Mark Of The Tala is fantasy book that possess interesting concepts that shows promise as a developing series.      

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher Kensington Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Prediction by Darren Sugrue

★★★
An engaging novel composed of interwoven story lines that revolve around the possible authenticity of a rejected mathematical formula meant to predict the date of a person’s death. Twelve years have passed since the formula was created, the first prediction has just come true with another foretold to take place in a few days. 
   
The Prediction is an intriguing novel with amazing characters. The characters were incredibly well rounded and beautifully flawed in a way that made them feel authentic. The dialogue felt genuine and had a nice cadence that flowed well. 

The prose was descriptive and easy to read. The descriptions were visually vivid and highlighted small nuances of life that grounded the story in reality. The setting details of Amsterdam and Dublin were wonderfully described highlighting the location’s physical features, culture, and language.

The story was told from different characters that had mature viewpoints as the result of life experience. The story touched on themes such as life, death, family, love, loss, dreams, ambition and second chances. Watching the characters explore these themes as they experienced them in their lives was powerful to behold. 

The story was well paced with engaging tension and drama that added suspense. The plot was full of wonderful twists that concluded with an intense and satisfying ending. 

The Prediction is a compelling and dramatic story with excellent characters.   

[Note: I received my initial copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have since personally purchased it.]

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Vigil by V.J. Chambers

★★★
A dark, complex romance about a journalist trying to gather evidence to expose the man who murdered her best friend. She crosses paths with a masked vigilante becoming entangled in a complicated relationship with both his personas as they pursue the killer together. 

Vigil is fun story with dark themes and an intricate romance. The story possesses inspired elements from Batman and Phantom of the Opera. It was fun identifying similarities and helped immerse the reader into the story because of its familiarity. I thought the novel excelled at taking the framework and adding a different reinterpretation that created its own identity. 

The characters were well developed and interesting. The main character’s ambition and profession were wonderfully captured. The main love interest and antagonist had incredible depth and interesting back stories. 

The prose was engaging and easy to read. The story instilled mystery and suspense components within the prominent romance story line.  The dark underlying themes and tones also added depth to the story.

The romance was remarkable in its complexity. The main love interest has dual personas that created conflicting romance story lines that were intense and engaging to read.

Vigil is an engaging story with an intricate romance possessing dark undertones.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Black Beast by Nenia Campbell

★★★
A paranormal novel about a rebellious female shape-shifter shunned for her attitude, behavior and inability to settle into a specific form. She comes into possession of a mysterious book which results in her becoming the target of witches, vampires, and hunters. It is the first book in the Shadow Thane series.

Black Beast is an interesting paranormal novel that shows great promise as a developing series. The magic system is a nice mixture of familiar and different. The basic information needed was revealed and hinted at developing attributes to be explained later on in the series.

The world building had an interesting interpretation of paranormal politics, genetics, origin and social structure. Meanwhile a majority of the human population is unaware of the paranormal entities that they coexist with increasing the need for secrecy.

The characters were interesting as they came to terms with trying to have a dual existence. I enjoyed reading the internal personal and paranormal conflict that the two main characters struggled with.

The story had a strong introduction that had dynamic paranormal aspects. The story became more elusive with providing information as new elements were introduced. Laying the framework for futures stories to come.

The focus shifted to the main character enabling her to further develop as well as to establish another character. The story created a good foundation for the series to build upon.        

Black Beast is a paranormal novel with an intriguing magic system and dramatic world building that promises to develop further throughout the series. I look forward to reading forthcoming books.

Related Posts:
Touched With Sight (Shadow Thane, Book Two)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hyperbole And A Half by Allie Brosh

★★★★✩
A collection of short autobiographical stories accompanied by simplistic drawings that manages to convey the highs, lows, and overlooked nuances of life. This book was compiled of select postings from the author’s blog Hyperbole And A Half.

Hyperbole And A Half is an amusing collection of stories that showcases the author’s life through a charming combination of writing and art. The narrative is engaging and well written. I was impressed at the author’s ability to weave humor through stories with different contrasting themes and tones.

She recounts relatable memories from childhood, random events from her life, and her frustration over the behavior of her dogs in a way that makes each story seem like an adventure. Most noteworthy is her ability to disclose her experiences with depression and pursuit of a sense of identity in a sincere and engaging format.

The art is simplistic but despite its crudeness it manages to evoke and amplify the raw underlying emotion of each story. The paperback edition was also beautifully designed and formatted nicely creating a product with personality and whimsy.

Hyperbole And A Half is a wonderful collection of amusing, thoughtful stories and illustrations.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Sting In The Tale by Dave Goulson

★★★★★
A unique memoir composed of a Dave Goulson’s extensive knowledge and research into bumblebees. It records his subsequent journey to reintroduce the native short-haired bumblebee back into the UK after its declared extinction in the region.

A Sting In The Tale is a wonderful book brimming with information on bumblebees, nature, and history that illustrates how delicate ecosystems are. He manages to convey a large amount of information in a concise manner that comes across as engaging and personable. His love for wildlife is apparent through his narration and it’s enjoyable to emulate his perspective. 

Goulson’s focus in the book is mainly on the bumblebee populations of the UK but he also investigates New Zealand and France in addition to citing other countries. The book is organized into short chapters that cover a wide variety of topics concerning bumblebees. 

He also recounts humane experiments he conducted to investigate bumblebee behavior. I appreciate his candid openness about the success and failures of his trials. I was also impressed by Goulson’s respect and acknowledgment of science as a both an academic and community endeavor. 

I commend his approach in how he enthusiastically presents his experiences and research yet allows the reader to come to their own, now informed, conclusion on why nature conservation is so important. I also like how he literally demonstrated that ecosystems can regain strength and persevere if given time and encouragement.

A Sting In The Tale is an engaging and informative collection of Dave Goulson’s  research and experience with bumblebees.

[Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads]

Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Life As A White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

★★★✩✩
An amusing novel about a troubled woman who gets a second chance at life as a zombie working at morgue. Meanwhile a serial killer has been decapitating people and keeping the heads that have the brains she needs to survive. This is the first book in the White Trash Zombie series.

My Life As A White Trash Zombie is a darkly humorous novel. The story has an interesting take on zombies as immortal beings that need to eat human brains every other day to avoid decomposing and becoming aggressively insane. The author also vividly describes morgue, forensic, and police procedures based on her experience from prior employment.

The story has a distinct voice in the first person perspective. The main character is candid about her life as a self proclaimed loser and drug addict. Her old vices become ineffective and replaced with the need for brains.

The underlying commentary on addiction and sobriety was a bit excessive and skewed. It tended to focus solely on her trying to take control of her new life while still living in a toxic environment.

The story was very character driven so the plot was more exploratory in nature. As a result I felt the pacing was off and upset the mystery arc the author was trying to instill. The main character also tended to be more reactive in her personal life and somewhat more proactive in her need for brains. .

My Life As A White Trash Zombie is an amusing read about a newly turned zombie that showcases an accurate portrayal of morgue and police procedures.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen

★★★★
A thoughtful novel that records an American professor’s experience on a week long spiritual retreat to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Memorial, along with a diverse group of individuals from different religions and nationalities. 

In Paradise is a thought provoking novel with expressive prose. The setting is a vital part to the story and is vividly portrayed with stunning accuracy. The history components of the story are also presented in an engaging manner. 

The novel is very character driven but chooses to focus mainly on their existential ideas. I think the characters are suppose to represent exaggerated archetypes or symbolic caricatures. The characters have intense dialogue that can be blunt and offensive. This results in continuous, highly charged, unfiltered character conflict. 

The plot was relaxed and exploratory but highlighted character interactions, revelations and back stories. The novel illustrates how a person’s culture, family, nationality, religion, and hometown helps mold their world outlook. It was interesting to learn why certain characters chose to make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz, what they hoped to gain from the experience, and their view of what took place in history.

It was fascinating to watch the characters go through a cathartic transformation based on their longing for a sense of identity, redemption, absolution, and faith. I also enjoyed the philosophical narratives on the origin and evolution of evil, survival, and human nature. 

[Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads]