Saturday, February 16, 2013

That's right. When I was your age, television was called books.

I'm so lucky I get to read such good books.

Ok, so I already explained in my last book post that I was sick in January and read all kinds of ... fluffy unserious books. So I was still working through some of those series and some of the books along those lines that I had picked up. And I suddenly was feeling bleh and thinking "I so need to read something good." And I did!

So here are the still fluffy ones:

Touched by Corrine Jackson

The Story:
A girl has power to heal illnesses and injuries. She spends years caring for her mother when her mother is beat up over and over again by her abusive husband (not the girl's father). After a particularly brutal attack, the girl's father comes and takes her to live with him. The girl (can you tell I don't remember her name?) begins to settle in to her father's home and life in his family, but discovers a mysterious guy in the town. They are inexplicably drawn to each other and ... yeah, this should sound familiar enough that you know how it ends.

The Review:
Honestly it was pretty Twilight-y. That's not a compliment.

So I don't remember any of the characters' names, which should tell you how memorable they ... weren't. But for a moment at the beginning I thought, hey this girl is cool enough, has her own special power, is used to taking care of herself, she could be a good female character. And then it devolved in to an angsty teenage "love" story, all about I'll-die-if-you-die and never-leave-me-because-I-can't-live-without-you. So gross.

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

The Story:
Dystopian young adult novel. Sometime in the future, the people cut down all the Earth's trees in order to have farmland to grow enough food to feed the world's population. Without trees the oxygen in the atmosphere plummets to a mere 4%. This is called "The Shift." The only way to survive is to get a spot in one of the Pods built by the company "Breathe." The pods set up their government and have a strict social hierarchy that controls the ability to access oxygen. There is a rebel movement to replant the Earth with trees, and two normal kids discover the truth.

The Review:
If you want dystopian, read The Hunger Games or The Running Man. Skip this, please.

Ok, to be slightly more serious, or at least more detailed in my review: This has all the common elements of dystopian fiction. It fails in execution because it does not create likable or even interesting characters. Part of the problem with the character development is that Crossan switches narrators at every single chapter between the three main characters. This worked beautifully for The Help, but here it is a total fail because the character's voices aren't different at all. I found myself flipping back to the beginning of the chapter to figure out who was talking, which I never had to do with Aibileen. The result in Breathe is that I just did not care about the characters or what happened to them at all.

The other fail in the novel is that it took a totally didactic condescending tone. Crossan's point in writing it was to call attention to the dramatic problems of deforestation. But she was so condescending and extreme that it fell flat.

Faefever by Karen Marie Moning

The Story:
This is the third in the series about Mac, the blonde southern belle, who travels to Ireland to find out more about her older sister's murder and discovers a world of the Fae which she never knew existed.

The Review:
I said at the end of Book 2 that I wasn't sure if I would continue the series. But I had put a whole through the library on this next book, so when it came, I read it. And... I'm done. It was a super-dramatic cliffhanger ending, and I just don't care. So what happened? It was extremely dark and Mac continues to change into a dark, driven by the wrong things character and I felt, in this novel, completed lost the charming, bright, southern belle that made her interesting.

So I'm done.

And I moved on to good books! Yay for good, well-written, interesting books!

The Yard by Alex Grecian

The Story:
London is still reeling from Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. At Scotland Yard, twelve detectives have been appointed to the Murder Squad and Walter Day is a new detective in their ranks. He is first on the scene at the discovery of a body and is assigned to investigate that death, which happens to be the death of a fellow policeman on the Murder Squad.

The Review:
Really good murder-mystery. Walter Day is only one of the main characters whose perspective we get as the action moves to them. Also included are some of the other detectives on the murder squad, two constables, Dr. Kingsley (a surgeon who assists the Yard -- slightly Sherlock Holmes-ish), and Day's wife. The characters are well developed and interesting, each with their own backstory that influences them as they try to catch the killers who seem to be taking over London. The plot is detailed and tangled with unexpected connections and turns. It's a compelling read.

The flaw is in the ending. It wraps up extremely fast, almost like Grecian was told "No more than 400 pages" and when he got to that point he was like, "Crap! I've got to end this! Ok... um, alright, character 1 do this. Done. Character 2 do this. Done." Etc. All the loose ends did get wrapped up, but without the emotional connection that I was expecting.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Story:
Hm... how do I sum this up? Let me start here: It is a World War II novel about the connections between people, how we share our experiences, and the stories we can't tell.

So in one area, we have Iris James who is the Postmaster in a small town in Massachusetts. Her job is to deliver the mail and she is very efficient at it. But as she watches the lives of the people in her small town, a letter arrives that she can't deliver. In another area, we have Emma Fitch, the new bride of the small town's doctor, struggling to find her place and be supportive of her husband. And in London, we have Frankie Bard, an American journalist who is broadcasting the Blitz on the radio. She wants to tell the truth, to help Americans see what is happening in the war.

The Review:
This novel was beautiful. As we follow Frankie Bard, she reflects on what it takes to tell a story, how to get the truth past the censors, and Blake includes some of her broadcasts. They are just beautiful. She creates amazing images that stay with me, even after finishing the book. I was so invested in this book that I was tearing up as I read at the gym (yes, crying while reading a book while running on a treadmill is a feat and indicates a magnificent piece of writing).

Besides the beautiful writing, the novel is an examination of what war is and an examination of story-telling. I found both explorations turned up really interesting material.

Fantastic book, go read it.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Story:
As the story begins, Victoria Jones has just been emancipated as a ward of the state. The novel switches back-and-forth between Victoria's present -- as she tries to live in a group home, deals with homelessness, and finds a job with a florist, and her past -- when she was 10 years old and was placed in the home of Elizabeth. Elizabeth taught Victoria the language of flowers from the Victorian era, and in the present Victoria uses it to change the lives of customers at the flower shop.

The Review:
Loved it. Victoria is a character who has been deeply hurt, but she blames herself so she pushes everyone away. The only way she connects to people is through flowers and the messages that they give. The descriptions of the flowers are beautiful (I love flowers. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I worked for a time during grad school at a nursery/garden center. It was a small family-run business, and I still consider it one of my favorite places on Earth), and it is interesting to see Victoria open herself and make connections to people through flowers.

I definitely recommend this one.

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