#BookReview: Asylum by Patrick McGrath

Asylum
Asylum by Patrick McGrath

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was consumed by the first half of this book. I read 50% of it in 2 days, which is telling for me. I was drawn to the ambiguity of Edgar Stark’s mental illness. I felt, as Stella did, that maybe he didn’t actually belong in this well-known psychiatric hospital.

Stella is the wife of an up-and-coming psychiatrist (Max) in England in the late 1950s. They have a young son, Charlie. Stella doesn’t do much of anything, but it is implied that her life is rather ordinary, so it’s not as though she’s an anomaly. The family lives on the grounds of the aforementioned psychiatric hospital, which is how Stella and Edgar happen upon each other.

Given her nothing to do, and her unfortunate boredom with her husband, Stella forges a friendship with Edgar that quickly heats up into an insatiable love affair replete with clandestine meetings for sexual encounters, an attic space made up as romantic quarters for the two. Eventually, and questionably the end goal of his all along, Edgar’s proximity to the grounds’ keys allows him to escape. Soon after, Stella goes on a search for him.

The first half of the book is much more action than the second half. The second half descends into a languishing and constant ache. Madness consumes Stella and she turns into a painfully unlikable and constantly drunk character. Her life choices are bad, so bad. And all of this with a constant undertone of “Gosh I miss Edgar,” which, given how scary he had become, is annoying.

I both read the book and listened as I drove to work to the Audible counterpart. Sir Ian McKellen’s narration improved this book immensely. I recommend the listen if you’re compelled to read this book. I’m not sure I’d recommend it unless I knew someone who liked dry prose that oozed British through its pores.



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#BookReview: Yesterday’s Gone: Season One by @thedavidwwright and @seanplatt

Yesterday's Gone: Season One
Yesterday’s Gone: Season One by Sean Platt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You woke up this morning and something seemed a little…. off. You didn’t hear the hum of the cable box or the little click the refrigerator would make every 15 seconds. Your cell phone didn’t charge up all the way.

Oh yeah.. And your family is gone.

What the hell is happening?

Well, this is the premise of Yesterday’s Gone by Sean Platt and David Wright, whose serialized hit turned into a novel. I both read the Kindle edition of this book and listened to the audiobook companion available at Audible.com.

There was an element of cliche with the some of the characters in this book. Boricio was the serial killer psychopath with an over-abundance of testosterone — say beer-battered bullshit just one more time. Luca was a saccharine sweet clairvoyant child whose metaphoric “sad spiders” thing irritated. Most of the characters were pretty original and solid, though.

So, anyway, back to the thick of it… This Season is the immediate aftermath of something that’s caused most people on the planet to disappear. Only a handful of people are left, and we see the survivors find each other. The story hops from person’s perspective to person’s perspective, infuriatingly when the story gets good, but that just kept me reading when I could and turning on the audiobook as soon as I got in my car every day.

This book really was overall very enjoyable. It is taking the long way around as far as character development and plot velocity, but as it was born for a serialized experience, it may just have a different feel in novel form.

I recommend this book for the consumption factor alone.



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Book Review: The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

The Shell Collector
The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve just finished this book, and as always I’m digesting my feelings on it. I love how Hugh Howey writes regardless of whether or not I love the story itself. I have gone from “holy crap” to “meh” and hit every emotion in between while reading his works, so I feel comfortable giving a lukewarm review on this one.

Part of my struggle with this story is my inability to really sync up with the premise of shells being so rare and coveted that there’s a market for them, let alone high value placed on top notch specimens. I can go along with the idea of global warming and the effects that has on the Earth pretty well, but the fallout from that was hard for me to sink my teeth into. And that, really, was the build-up in the first half of the book. I felt very disconnected from Maya and Ness because I didn’t care about either of their plights.

I appreciated that Hugh spent time building up the relationship between these two. By the time they finally hopped on over into romance land, I felt like the tension was sufficient, and that alone takes talent.

The layout of this story is very very formulaic, and other reviews have done an excellent job in expounding upon that. It was easy to see what was coming and how the romance would crash down before it would rebound back to the resolution long before it happened. I don’t want to say it was predictable, but it was definitely made clear in the text leading up to it.

Maya’s behaviors were maddening at times. I didn’t find her particularly clever or inspiring. I found her to be kind of annoying and immature. Calling up the FBI following her night at the Bahamas house was really weird, and I really expected someone in that position to have struggled a LOT with decisions like that. She seemed on one hand to be completely blown away by her feelings for him and on the other hand to consider them unimportant. I wanted more inner conflict for Maya than I saw when it came to her relationship with Ness and how it affected her outward decisions.

Overall, I started feeling interested in this book around the 50% mark – about the time that they went SCUBA diving. Before that point I had to force myself to keep reading. Following that point the story flowed much easier. I liked Ness exponentially more than I liked Maya. I felt mildly preached-to about the environment. Hugh Howey writes his face off, and any of his books can and should be read for the quality of prose alone.



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Review: California by Edan Lepucki

California
California by Edan Lepucki

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Wow, where do I begin?

I was excited to see the blurb for this book in Netgalley’s list of offerings. Dystopia is just about my favorite genre, especially post-apocalyptic dystopia. I’m a fan of the quiet (or not-so-quiet) desperation associated with end-of-the-world scenarios where humanity fights like hell to survive.

California didn’t have that, though.

Let me back up a second… The premise of the story is about a married couple, Cal(vin) and Frida who are living in “The Afterlife” which is just an area they’ve coined with a cute nickname. The world as we know it went away with a whimper (not a bang) and the life we’ve grown accustomed to just faded away. Now this couple lives alone with a couple neighbors near-ish by and a traveling dude who brings them goods now and again.

By the way, I don’t know of any Vicodin pills that come at a 750mg dose. Pretty sure that’d put someone down for a very long time. Details. Anyway.

Frida’s brother died a long time ago by blowing himself up to prove a point, and her parents are MIA. Cal’s family was in the midwest and died when it got crazy-cold where they lived. These two are all alone. They have nearby neighbors, though they aren’t around long in the book.

Cal and Frida go on a bit of a search for life beyond The Afterlife. They find it.

I half-read it and half-listened via audiobook. If I were to have rated this book by audiobook performance alone, the whole she-bang would have received 0.5 stars. That narration was BAD. It made the book, which is hard to give a crap about to begin with, loathsome. I wanted to quit 650 times per chapter while listening along with the audiobook compared to wanting to quit reading a mere 225 times per chapter while letting my eyes do the work.

Now for spoilers….

Her brother isn’t dead. He’s the sort-of Governor of Woodbury (TWD fans will recognize). Seemingly magnanimous and the hero to all, but actually kind of slimy and not someone we should trust.

The pregnancy was deeply annoying throughout the whole book and, aside from being the catalyst for their leaving The Land, was nothing but a complete waste of time.

The whole story about Micah (brother) getting rid of all the kids of The Land is incomprehensible to me. The parents just let the kids be taken away to another city? This doesn’t make sense. It defies parental logic, which, even in the post-apocalypse probably follows similar trajectories.

The “fear of the color red” and its manifestation when there was blood, or a shirt’s color, etc, and that fear being based on the fact that Pirates have red belts/sashes was silly. PTSD doesn’t quite work that way.

Anika’s reaction (and extended to the whole town’s instant change of heart) to Frida’s declaration of pregnancy was stupid. To act so broken and betrayed really pushed the limits of “reasonable human behavior”.

The prose of the story was very difficult to follow. The writing phased in and out of current narration and flashbacks, and there was NOTHING to delineate between the two. I found myself unsure when a transition took place, and I’d have to re-read to try to discern what the author meant to be happening. IF (and only if) the author intended to demonstrate how life was a meandering switching back and forth between past and present until the duo arrived to The Land … she was successful. Any other purpose for that kind of writing is just to confuse the reader.

So many things about this book were bizarre, unnecessary, unexplored… It’s filled with loose ends that very much felt like time-wasters. Words to fill a quota less than words to tell a coherent story.

Finally, the ending blew my mind. Suddenly, following the announcement of the pregnancy to the people of The Land, Cal and Frida are exiled yet sent to live in another Community called the Pines where everything is shiny and new and there are comforts of the world before everything went to hell, and they’re all available to everyone. What? And they were there much longer than they were at The Land, too.

I don’t know. I walked away from this book completely disappointed. I don’t care that Colbert said it rocked; it made no sense and left me with questions that will never get answered.



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#Review: Lexicon by @MaxBarry – Word salad punctures impenetrable walls? (3.5 stars)

Lexicon
Lexicon by Max Barry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My emotions while reading this book ran the gamut from engrossed to utterly confused to painfully bored and back to engrossed. I spent most of the time somewhere solidly in the middle, and thus rate Lexicon somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

I’ve not read anything by Max Barry before reading Lexicon, but I was honestly impressed by the readability of this book. The subject matter would not have been something I’d have been interested in by itself, but this writing held my attention (for the most part). I am interested in other books he’s written, hoping that maybe the subject matter is a bit more in line with my interests.

The basic story here is about a group of lyrical gangstas in our midst. They train together and work together, seek out new recruits to further their lineage, and educate them to the best of their ability. Language, they believe, has the ability to pierce the filters and walls of the human psyche. Every person alive is vulnerable to a specific subset of these “magical” words, depending on their personality “segment”. This segment must be identified by the poet, or the linguist expert who’ll be doing the compromising, and the education to do so is acquired at a special & secret Academy. Invitation-only.

In Lexicon, the focus shifts so much from character to character that you’ll find yourself a wee bit whiplash-ed in deciding who you’re rooting for. Emily? Wil? Eliot? Harry? You wouldn’t believe it, but Bronte, too. Never Yates, though.

My biggest complaint about the book is the timeline. The two timelines in the book jump around quite a lot, with the endpoint being their convergence. I found myself believing that the converging had already taken place a couple of times only to realize that we were still in the past. It was at that point the “boredom” piece of this puzzle clicked in. If I was misunderstanding the time, then I was completely misunderstanding the events that just took place. I checked out for a bit, mentally.

But I returned. I completed.

The book ends with a bit of an eye roller about the depth of love and the vulnerability it brings. By this point I was D-U-N with the book and a bit relieved it was over. I wished that the love story had been a bit more developed, or the characters a bit more human. A couple of tangents about a brain tumor and delegates threw me for a loop, but overall this book is an engaging read written very well and worth the investment of time.

Maybe keep a piece of paper handy to keep the timeline written in visual form so that it’s easier to follow.



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#Review: The Here and Now 3/5 stars

The Here and Now
The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve not read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and I’ve never seen the movies, so I’m very new to Ann Brashares.

To sum it up, I enjoyed this book up until about the 90% part. There were some things missing, a bunch of glaring plotholes, and unbelievable coinky-dinks, but whatever, it’s nice to have easy fiction now and again.

Basically, Prenna, a 14-year old girl from the future comes back in time with a group of contemporaries to escape an apocalyptic scenario unfolding in her native time. Mosquitoes bring and distribute the most devastating blood plague of all time, taking with it her two brothers – one a baby. She arrives in our present, attends high school, and aims to live as benign a life as possible. Three years pass and she’s now 17 and our story begins.

The rules of the Community are very specifically set so that the future group interacts with the present group as little as possible, NEVER falls in love with “time natives”, and has very little effect on the progress of time. How does that make sense, though? Shouldn’t the goal of this flavor of time travel be to change the future by having a gigantic effect on the past?

The pieces fall into place way too easily in this story. The hero is the hottest, super smart, a lab tech at a pivotal location in the book.. Fake phone calls are believed without suspicion.. The leaders of the Community pose NO resistance to Prenna’s Declaration of Independence… It’s all just way too utopian from the point of view of the teenage girl.

The real sour spot for me in this whole story was the ending. After building up the whole story in one singular direction, there’s a moment of epiphany and a sudden, unlabored unraveling that abruptly cuts the whole thing off. I was really put off by how quickly things changed then ended, and by reading other reviews, it appears I am not alone. I wish it had ended differently.

Overall, though, the first 90% of the book was really pleasant and built up pleasantly. I can’t recommend it because the ending kinda blows, but if you can hunker down and prepare for it from the get-go, you’ll be solid.

**This book was provided by the publisher free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
via NetGalley




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#Review: The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

The Uninvited
The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really don’t know what happened here, but damn. This book was just bad. I didn’t enjoy 95% of it, and if it wasn’t for a NetGalley review, I would have put it down close to the beginning. The cover picture and the blurb set me up for a book I thought I’d really like. I did not.

A frightening phenomenon is occurring. Kids are killing grown-ups. The reason or the rhyme is not established until the very end in hurried fashion as if it were an afterthought. I’ve seen it called dystopian, but meh. It really isn’t. Some bizarre role-switching of the main child in the book, the story told through the eyes of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, and a lot of boring in between.

I really disliked this book. It didn’t flow well at all.

NetGalley & the publisher provided the book and I provided my honest opinion.



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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August @netgalley #bookreview

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

God, I don’t even know where to begin with this book.

There will be spoilers in a bit, so heads-up or a warning to stop reading now.

Let’s start with some facts:
* NetGalley gave me the opportunity to read this book – thanks for that!
* I’m a rabid fan of time travel/life-after-life type books.
* This cover is pretty rad.

Strictly speaking, this book is not about time travel. It is a play on The Eternal Return, wherein the protagonist repeats the same life over and over again. He’s not alone, though, and there is an entire race of these repeaters called kalachakra or ouroborans. They meet up and take care of their own, which seems fair, and they get multiple lives with which to explore, better themselves, etc.

All is well and all is good (though tragically boring) until Harry, laying on one of his deathbeds, is visited by a young child who whispers to him of the hastening of the end of the world. It must be stopped, and somehow Harry is the one to do it. (He is The Special?)

Thus begins the journey of Harry to find why the world is ending, who’s behind it, and the best way to go about infiltrating the process.

Holy crap this book was a violent exercise in stamina, endurance, and honoring commitment even when I . DID . NOT . WANT . TO . CONTINUE. So many times, so many times, so many times I promised myself I’d quit in 2 chapters. “If it stays this boring,” I said, “this book will be a DNF.” But then it got a little better and I got a little bit of a second (or third or fourth or two-hundredth) wind.

I’d say a good 50% of this book was boring because it was wordy, filler, meandering, pointless, without focus. I fully believe the author had an outline, and each point of the outline was amazing and interesting, but you can’t write a book of just an outline, and so she filled it in. The filler, however, just didn’t do the story justice.

SPOILERS AHEAD — SPOILERS AHEAD

The book picks up pace around 80% and sustains to the end where, unfortunately, the ending left me with some ??? above my head.

– What if Vincent just made it up?
– What the hell compelled him to give such identifying details?
– What is the magic that makes aborted kalachakra never exist again, but when the dude ended the world prematurely in nuclear war, it just reset everyone?

The political details in the middle were rough and extra-boring.
The environmental warning was cute.

I liked approximately 25% of this book. The story is cool, but the writing was too tedious, the plotline too meandering, and the register of it too high (probably a difference between British English and US English) to really recommend it.

Fun fact: Reading this out loud in a (probably really terrible) British accent was what got me through the times I wanted to throw this book into a raging inferno. So there’s that.



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Reality Villainess Tells All! #Review @bugrobertson @benflajnik

I Didn't Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain
I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain by Courtney Robertson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Courtney Robinson Robertson was the girl we loved to hate. I’m a big fan of the Bachelor/ette franchise as a general rule, but Courtney really brought the kind of pain to the show that hooked us viewers in. I started off this review saying she was demonized, but I think everybody’s aware, especially herself, that she was fully aware of her own behaviors and how they affected people.

Anyway, this is not a review on Courtney’s personality flaws, but the book she wrote highlighting her life thus far which focuses heavily on her time with Ben Flajnik, The Bachelor’s 16th bachelor.

A bit of backstory starts us off, nameĀ­dropping as we go (Jesse Metcalfe, Adrian Grenier, Gerard Butler), where Courtney does her very best to set herself up as an awkward underdog whose ugly duckling difficulties in her teens and early 20s are intended to endear us to her. She stumbled into modeling completely unaware of her beauty as if she felt undeserving of the attention.

I suppose that angle may work for some readers, but … hee. Not me.

In reality, and per the Bachelor show we all participated in as voyeurs, Courtney is exactly as she presented. I wish, as a reader and a viewer, she’d just embrace her inner bitch because it is what it is and it was what it was. She was catty and sassy as often as possible on the show, and attempting to play it off as “stand-up comedian gone bad” is just kind of pathetic.

None of what’s written above, however, gives a pass to how Ben Flajnik treated Courtney post-Bachelor unreality. Courtney is definitely giving her side of the story in this painstakingly detailed retelling of events, and there would likely be a difference of opinion were we to compare notes with Ben, but he came off light on integrity on the show itself long before this book was neuron firing. That his behavior as Courtney describes it matches exactly what I would have expected is no coincidence nor is it a shock.

Long story short: I believe the charge that Ben Flajnik went on both Bachelorette AND Bachelor in order to hawk his winery & wine to be true.

As to why Courtney wrote this book? I think she’s a big-time narcissist and has long-harbored resentment that she came off as terribly as she did on the show (even though it was by her own hand — thus is the insanity of narcissism) and can’t stand how Ben has talked poorly about her in the press for years. She wants to paint herself in the halo-glow of innocence via this book and point the wicked wand at Ben. It won’t work, in my opinion, but she can have fun trying.

The secondary purpose for her writing this book is that I believe she desperately wants to be The Bachelorette, and in my opinion, they should let her do it. The ratings will be sky-effin-high (I’ll for sure watch!!!). Make it a celebrity version since the bar has been raised so high for her, and holy crap. Show success.

One thing I really have to admit to – while reading the book I followed along as closely as I could with YouTube clips and media stories / pictures to go along with what she was reporting. It was a really lot of fun. To know the insider knowledge of how terribly bad her relationship was with Ben by the time they got to the Wet Republic pool party was awesome to then run over and look at the pictures and try to see the misery in their faces.

Overall this book was a super-fast read and highly entertaining. It’s light and fun – not deep or difficult or cerebral at all. Be ready to feel like you’re watching a 10-car pileup in wicked slow motion while eating popcorn and drinking cheap wine (not Ben’s).

Disclaimer: I was provided a digital copy of this book in order to read and provide an honest review.



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“The Transhumanist Wager” by @zoltan_istvan Provocative Storytelling

transhuman

 

The Transhumanist Wager
By Zoltan Istvan
300pps
Philosophy > Science Fiction

Copy furnished by the author
“The Transhumanist Wager” tells the provocative story of Jethro Knights and his participation in the Transhumanist Movement. The movement is based on a shared philosophy based on human enlightenment through extending one’s life through the use of science and technology (my layman interpretation). The Transhumanist Wager explores the philosophy more eloquently than I have given. Obviously.

Transhumanist Wager follows the rise of Jethro Knights from being a student from a prestigious university to circumnavigating the globe to becoming “leader” of the tranhumanist movement. However, the movement goes against God’s will and Reverend Belinas is not amused. At all. Man is meant to live and die all the while being in the service of God and not live forever.

“A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.” Jethro Knights is an extremist. Reverend Belinas is an extremist. Two opposing views to help drive the message of Transhumanism and to discuss the flaws of organized religion and how it limits human insight and growth. No shades of gray are presented in the novel. It’s because of these extreme views that it’s difficult to like Jethro Knights or to fully stand behind transhumanism. That’s not to say this was a terrible book. I enjoyed the writing itself. In fact I’m glad I read it because it allowed me to develop my own thoughts on the movement and religion and their roles in contemporary society. As I said early on; provocative.

 

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