The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour started out with a bang. A loud, explosive bang with colors and light and heat. But as our protagonist Zal gets more “normal,” I got less interested (I’m going to skip right past what that says about me). The biggest draw for me was the parallels of his life with the Shahnameh, or The Book of Kings — an Iranian myth introduced in the preface — and how things worked on the fringes of reality.

A huge event hangs over the majority of this book, and while I get that that’s the point, it was sort of unsettling. There’s what we know happens in real-life history, but the book has this aura of surreality that made me wonder if maybe, just maybe things would play out a bit differently.

I’m being vague on purpose because I found it interesting (if stressful) to watch it all unfold and slowly figure things out, so I don’t want to deprive anyone of that.

I did really enjoy this book, I guess it’s just a weird feeling since I absolutely loved the beginning.

I feel like I’ve been kind of negative recently and it’s bumming me out, so instead of prolonging it I’m just going to briefly mention the books I’ve read recently, but that, for whatever reason, didn’t totally thrill me.

Young God by Katherine Faw Morris is sharp and raw and I read it very quickly, but it just wasn’t for me. In my reading life I don’t tend to shy away from difficult subjects, but it felt disjointed and like things were thrown in for shock value. So yeah, not my thing.

Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is also a short book, but it took me much longer to read. I think my biggest obstacle was really the style. Some people really love the way this book is written, but my brain just couldn’t parse it. In addition to the style, I didn’t fully connect with the story or characters.

It pains me a little bit to say that I didn’t love Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. There were parts that really did grab me and keep me enthralled and then other sections dragged and felt aimless. The book wasn’t about what I thought it was going to be about, but it was like it didn’t want to admit it. Add in some uncomfortable race stuff (it’s set in the south in the 60s-ish) and this was another miss in my book.

So there you go. Some of my recent no-love books. Onward to more excitement.

I picked up Will Chancellor’s A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall after seeing it pop up on a couple of “Best of 2014” lists. It was also short-listed for the Tournament of Books, so there was some promising buzz and I was intrigued.

The book started out really well for me, but as it progressed I found the characters to be less sympathetic and significantly less interesting. Much of the conflict that occurs in the book felt so contrived and farcical. By the end of the book it starts to get interesting again, but it certainly doesn’t make sense.

Maybe this just diverged too much from where I expected the narrative to go, but a huge chunk of this book (let’s say the middle third or so) was just not up my alley. I think I wanted more mythology and less young, possibly sociopathic artistic life.

…Reading that back to myself, that sounds like something I would normally go for. I’m clearly at a loss. Is there some fancy scientific machine that can scan me while reading and tell me why I do or do not enjoy a particular book? That would be splendid, I’ll take two thanks!

Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist was mesmerizing and unexpected and exactly what I wanted without my even realizing it.

I’m a big fan of historical fiction and I really enjoy books set in less common time periods and locales. The Miniaturist takes place in seventeenth century Amsterdam, beginning when 18-year old Nella arrives in the city to join her husband Johannes and his unusual household.

Nella is excited by the prospect of her new life, but it isn’t what she expected. Soon after her arrival, Nella’s husband presents her with a gift: a luxurious cabinet-sized replica of the house. Nella contacts a miniaturist in order to furnish her cabinet and with that falls headlong into the web of secrecy and wonder surrounding the household, her new family members, and the city at large.

The Miniaturist is by turns spooky, beautiful, and heartbreaking. There is so much packed into this book and it’s just lovely. I’m so glad that I got a copy of it back a BEA 2014 and I highly recommend it.

I don’t even know what to say about this book other than it’s beautiful and amazing and everyone should read it.

The Book of Unknown Americans gives readers a glimpse into the lives of the Riveras — newly arrived from Mexico — and the Toros — Panamanian transplants— two families living and working in Delaware. The book is mostly about these two families, but there are a number of other colorful, enchanting characters who make up the greater community of Latin American immigrants in their apartment building.

There are parts of this book that feel, if not universal, at least familiar. The characters struggle with figuring out where and how they fit into communities and what the want from their new lives. They grapple with young love, familial relationships, and racial/cultural prejudice. The beauty comes in the intersection of these familiar struggles with the unique difficulties these characters face.

I loved it. Just go read it.

Golden Son — Review

March 9, 2015

Golden Son is the second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy and I can assure you that it does not suffer from second book syndrome.

Darrow continues to live as a Gold, working to gain favor and influence in order to bring down the Society from within. But the Bellona are still after him and with multiple players in the game the dynamics are constantly changing.

Golden Son is gripping and fast-paced. I absolutely tore through it and now I’m a bit mad at Pierce Brown because I have to wait for the next book and if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s patient.

This series is gearing up to be a thrilling dystopian masterwork. Sometimes jarring in its violence and brutality, it shows characters battling with still-universal questions of love, loyalty, trust, and identity.

I got a copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt back at BEA 2013 and due to school and life and disorganized bookshelves after moves, I didn’t pick it up until the start of this year.

This book received a lot of buzz and praise and all that, but if I’m honest, it felt a little lacking.

I didn’t actively dislike it, I just thought it was fine. I often have very passionate feelings about books, so to be so completely “meh” about one is kind of weird for me.

The protagonist is fourteen, but I kept forgetting how old she’s supposed to be. I think Brunt fell into a common trap of writing an extremely precocious young narrator — sometimes she reads way older, and other times way younger. While this is sometimes an accurate representation of precocious children (more mature than their peers in some ways, but significantly behind in others), on the page the disparities are jarring. Additionally, I found that there was something off, or not quite believable about the personal relationships between the characters — especial the family members.

This is another book that just wasn’t for me. For one, I’m not necessarily the target audience. Sometimes I think that I forget that when I read YA. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with adults reading YA — in fact, I think it’s good. But, YA is (and should continue to be) for young adults, which means that sometimes it just isn’t going to be totally up my alley. And that’s fine. That might have been my problem here, who can really say?

China Dolls — Review

March 5, 2015

Lisa See’s China Dolls had been on my list for a while and I finally read it in January when I fortuitously noticed that the ebook was available to read from my library through Overdrive.

It’s taken me a while to write about it simply because I have had trouble deciding how I feel about the book.

I often enjoy historical fiction, and I really enjoyed reading about this time span in the country’s history and its focus on the minority experience during it, but in other ways, the book really didn’t thrill me.

The characters felt flat and the plot felt alternatively dragging and rushed. Everything on paper was set up for me to love this book, but it just wasn’t right for me. Others have loved the book, so maybe I’m the outlier here. If the setting sounds interesting to you, perhaps give it a shot.