Category Archives: books

Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m ten minutes out from the end of this book, and I’m grieving. I’m fairly sure that this story was not meant to end already, and I can’t wait for Blake Crouch to write sequel upon sequel for us. I read this book FAR too quickly, and I’m sort of angry right now that it’s over.

There’s a quality to his writing that causes, for me, utter captivation. I read all three of the Wayward Pines books in two weeks’ time, and while that may not seem like an accomplishment, it is quite difficult for me to become so absorbed by a book. Dark Matter is no different. I forced myself to slow down in some spots because I didn’t want it to end, but then I got to a point where I just couldn’t hold back — I devourrrrred it.

On to the review – I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as humanly possible.

Jason Dessen is a dude living his life as many dudes do. As his life unfolded before him in a typical choice-making sort of way, those choices he made resulted in a path that might not have been the same had he gone a different direction. All normal. Sometimes we all wonder,

– “Hey, what might have happened if I taken that year off and gone backpacking in Europe?”
– “What might my life look like now if I’d not been afraid of pre-med?”
– “What if I had accepted his marriage proposal a few years out from high school, before he landed that main role in that huge movie?” (dammit)

Jason Dessen wonders how things might look different if he hadn’t made the choices he made to get to where he is today: husband, father, physics professor, home renovation non-starter. I didn’t get the feeling that he regretted any of his life, even a little bit. I think he had a healthy amount of curiosity. However, curiosity does kill the cat, and in this case Schr√∂dinger’s cat carries the most relevance. Jason gets to experience the things he wondered about, even though it happens under duress.

I finished this book with a few lingering technical questions ricocheting around my noggin:
(please see Goodreads review for spoilery technical questions)

Overall, deeply satisfying book that I will recommend to everyone I know. Thanks for the ride, Blake!

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Review: The Fold

The Fold
The Fold by Peter Clines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really: 3.5 stars here… 4 stars for the first 75% of the book, and the last 25% closer to a 3.

Mike is a high school teacher with an eidetic memory, which means he has near-perfect recall of everything he’s ever seen. He can re-watch movies in his brain as though they’re playing on a screen in front of him. He has to endure the horrific things he’s seen in his life along the way, replayed when the memory is nudged by something else.

So, good or bad, it is what it is, Mike’s oddity of memory is viewed as an asset to his friend Reggie, who asks Mike (for apparently the umpteenth time) to be a part of some top secret government project. His memory and pattern recognition skills, “they” are eager, will suss out the invisible-to-others differences that can elucidate any issues with this particular government project.

Once he arrives on scene and begins to settle in, the clues to the project’s shortcomings start pouring in. Just like when I watched Sixth Sense and knew “the secret” far too early, this book betrays the truth pretty damn quick and is frequently reinforced with subtle clues that might be missed if the reader isn’t actively looking.

As the characters begin to realize the secret of The Fold, the story quickens and is enjoyable. Once we get to the point of the story’s climax, however, the integrity of the story is becoming less and less complete. My ability to stay connected to the story was really impaired, and I started taking more frequent breaks due to incredulity.

The end of the book is clearly setting us up for a potential sequel, but barring a sequel that ties up loose ends, there are many things that I didn’t feel quite satisfied with in this story. I love the premise, and many of the ways we were shown the anomalies of the project were fun and creative. There is quite a bit of explicit language, so just a heads up on that.

Otherwise, it’s a solidly enjoyable book, and I am glad I finally got around to it!

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Review: The Road

The Road
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Road, make no mistake, is very bleak. It begins bleak; it ends bleak. The world Cormac McCarthy thrusts us into is a world where civilization has ceased to exist. Its last gasps, living solely as memories and habits in the few people remaining, are snuffed out one by one, steadily hurtling the planet’s surface into a state of total desolation.

Our main characters are never named. The boy and the man (whom we know as Papa) are walking towards something – towards somewhere. They don’t even know where it is they’re going or if they’ll even recognize it when they get there, but they have to keep moving, all the way to the end.

As I read this book, I am filled with deep anxiety. The reviews I have read have been a mix of highest praise and profound criticism, but I can’t say anything without first mentioning how deeply uncomfortable I feel when reading this book. This book succeeds at painting the ashen, grey tasting their hubris for centuries past. Who the hell do we think we are, anyway? We think we know and that we can control it, and this book is a good example of what it might feel like when you’re reminded, quite brutally, that you’re just along for the ride.

We aren’t sure how the apocalypse came about in The Road, and I find it best as the details of the how/why/when don’t clutter up the gaping maw of the impending eternal extinction of the human race. But the boy and the man travel through the lands battered insidiously by ash. Ash permeates absolutely everything. Their hair, the rain, the atmosphere, their breath… It can’t be avoided. Sunlight can’t break through the ash in the air, and the rain will try its best to clean what it can, but never to any significant degree.

I read and I find myself wondering how the characters are going to find the golden island of freedom, far from these harsh elements and living conditions. No hope of long-lasting amnesty in sight, page after page, encounter after encounter, night after night. There are little bites and sips of mercy, but nothing permanent, and each day feels like a half step forward only to slide back 200 steps soon after.

Bleak. So bleak. Coughing. Lungs infiltrated by the guck. The man knows he’ll have to make a choice whether or not to allow the boy to be alone in this world without him after he’s gone. The hard choices have to be made whether to hold on to the human condition of hope for a better day or to exercise mercy from a world that wants to hammer you down for daring to have hope in the first place?

I finished this book both depressed as hell (tho really glad it was over) and impressed by the totality of blackness enveloping me. I’m going to be haunted by this for a while. Better go find something light and airy to follow up with.

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Pines by Blake Crouch – a Wayward Pines #1 Book Review

Pines
Pines by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is right up my alley. I can’t tell you how much I dug the out-of-sync vibe I got from this book right away. If you know me, I love “wtf is going on?” books as much as anyone possibly can, and this book hooked me in and I sank right down through the reveal, which did not disappoint.

Ethan wakes up next to a river…

Wait, let me skip ahead and then back up.

Ethan Burke is a Secret Service agent -slash- husband & dad to Theresa and Ben (age 6). He’s been unfaithful, but they’re working through it. He was unfaithful with his previous partner Kate who has inexplicably gone missing (~4 days ago)(along with another agent named Bill Evans), and Ethan has been dispatched to locate them. On their way into a quiet little town called Wayward Pines, they’re hit by a Mack truck.

Ethan wakes up next to a river…

The book is a whole bunch of Ethan trying to figure out what the hell is going on in Wayward Pines, why he can’t seem to escape, and how Sheriff Pope & Nurse Pam seem to be omnipresent and ominous figures. He finds an ally and a few answers, but when the truth is finally brought to light .. Wow.

My head exploded at least a couple of times while reading this book.

There are shades of Hugh Howey here. Sometimes the shades are uncanny.

I learned of this series thanks to Fox airing the television adaptation which, by the way, pales in comparison to the book. I recommend, as always, reading this book first before watching the show. The show orders things differently and to the detriment of the story, in my opinion. But it’s a fun sort of parallel universe of the same basic story.

I was provided a free copy of the book in return for an honest review by NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer via Amazon Publishing. Thank you!

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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 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, name­dropping 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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