Monday, June 30, 2014

Crazy Rich Asians

Book: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should--and should not--marry.-Goodreads

I am not Asian nor rich, but I love TMZ, perezhilton and celebrity type gossip. I've been known to watch an episode of KUWK at times (yes, my husband let's me know how it's all garbage) and used to watch Gossip Girl. They are campy, stupid (most of the time) but most importantly-escapism and fun. I was really expecting to love this book but sadly, that wasn't the case.

Rachel, a seemingly down-to-earth girl with a good head on her shoulders has been dating her boyfriend for two years yet knows nothing about his family (other than meeting one of his cousins) and he never talks about his childhood friends. Okay, this is believable for maybe the first 6 months but not for a couple of years. Nick never mentions his family wealth or prepares Rachel for it..he's 32, not 22. While the author certainly harped on the fact that he was raised to never talk about money and his family, this was still unbelievable to me.

Now, besides the above things mentioned, Rachel and Nick seem like very nice people. Unfortunately, very nice and boring. The other cast of characters (and there are a lot-the author has a huge family tree in the beginning of the book that I constantly had to refer back to) can be summed up as follows: vapid, rude, classicist, narcissist, a-holes. I realize this is a satire and certain things were amped up, but I was seriously disgusted with almost every character (except for Rachel, Nick and Nick's cousin and her husband). I did not laugh once. The opulence was pretty fascinating for the first third of the book. But it was repetitive and at times it seemed like the author had a check list to make sure every designer was name dropped at least once. I'm still amazed this book was over 500 pages, there was very little real plot. 

I did enjoy Astrid (Nick's cousin) and her sub-plot revolving her husband. Their marriage problems were very real and represented valid concerns regarding Nick and Rachel. I'll avoid spoilers but how they are resolved was ridiculous and the ending of the book left something to be desired.

Grade: 2/5

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Dance with Dragons

Book: A Dance with Dragons
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #5
Author: George R.R. Martin

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance — beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys's claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone — a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.-Goodreads

Review: This was a definite improvement over the previous installment and I cared about the the majority of characters with POV's. However, it seemed like a lot of characters were on a big journeys spread out all over the world, barely anyone reached a destination and the overall plot didn't advance for 3/4 of the book. I was hoping for some dragon action (given the title) but that was sorely lacking. The overall action picked up the last quarter of the book and I'm excited to read the next one (which could be several years from now). 

My favorite character arc was Tyrion, even though he has a major daddy complex and constantly repeated 'Where do the whores go?' I can't wait to see his story come alive in the show. A close second was Reek/Theon, even though he only had a few sections (maybe even one) I think he is a fascinating character who has experienced more hardship than anyone else. I'm excited to see how the Jaime/Brienne storyline plays out (I hate Lady Stoneheart and hope it ends with them somehow killing her). Jon Snow ('You know nothing Jon Snow'...also repeated what seemed like a hundred times) and Dany seem like very similar characters to me and they were overall a little boring throughout the book although they ended on an exciting note. 

Not the best of the series, but I still liked it. 

Grade: 3/5

After Her

Book: After Her
Author: Joyce Maynard

It's the summer of 1979, and a dry, hot, northern California school vacation stretches ahead for Rachel and her younger sister Patty-the daughters a larger-than-life, irresistibly handsome and chronically unfaithful detective father who loves to make women happy, and the mother whose heart he broke.

Left to their own devices, the inseparable sisters spend their days studying record jackets, concocting elaborate fantasies about the life of the mysterious neighbor who moves in down the street, and playing dangerous games on the mountain that rises up behind their house.

When young women start showing up dead on the mountain, the girls' father is charged with finding the man responsible, known as The Sunset Strangler. Seeing her father's life slowly unravel when he fails to stop the murders, Rachel embarks on her most dangerous game yet: setting herself up as bait to catch the killer, with consequences that will destroy her father's career and alter the lives of everyone she loves.

It is not until thirty years later that Rachel, who has never given up hope of vindicating her father, finally smokes out the killer, bringing her back to the territory of her childhood, and uncovering a long-buried family secret.-Goodreads

Review: I enjoyed this book although it was totally different than I thought it would be. Based on reviews, I was expecting a mystery and I love the idea of the story being told from the perspective of the lead detective's family. However, this book is not a mystery, it's a story about sisters. Their parents are divorced and they live with their depressed mother, while their charismatic, womanizing father (whom Rachel, our narrator and the eldest sister, idolizes) makes an occasional appearance. When young women are murdered on the mountain behind their house, the girls are told to avoid the mountain. Not surprisingly, they don't listen. Rachel, never popular and on the cusp of puberty, is able to leverage her father's position as lead detective increase her social standing, much to her sister's chagrin. 

I really enjoyed Maynard's writing style and the pacing in this book. It is slow but I didn't mind because seeing Rachel and Patty explore their neighborhood and find things to do over their summer vacation really brought back a lot of memories of my own childhood. I  loved Rachel's imagination and Patty's loyalty. Rachel, a late bloomer (who spends a good portion of the book anxiously awaiting her period) was a realistic teenager. She makes some bad decisions that are typical of a young teen (we all thought we knew it all at that age, right?).  Rachel has a some psychic abilities that were a little odd and the ending...yikes, I didn't care for it. However, this was a book that I read in a day because I couldn't wait to see where the story would go. 

Grade: 3.5/5

Reconstructing Amelia

Book: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter's exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating.

Kate can't believe that Amelia, an ambitious, levelheaded girl who's never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate's faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead.

Seemingly unable to cope with what she'd done, a despondent Amelia has jumped from the school's roof in an act of "spontaneous" suicide. At least that's the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text:

She didn't jump.

Sifting through Amelia's emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall's roof that day-and why she died.-Goodreads

Review: A book hyped as the new Gone Girl with a Gossip Girl-esque setting? Yes, I was intrigued and had to read it. Told in alternating narratives and timelines, we follow Kate dealing with the tragic death of her daughter while we follow Amelia in the weeks leading up to her untimely demise. There are a lot of themes in this book, including bullying, friendship, peer pressure and sexuality. The teen characters are mostly one dimensional, the adults appear to be more immature than their children, the investigation was laughable (Kate travels around interviewing people with the homicide detective). I didn't even care for the ending, however- I couldn't put this down! As a mother of a young daughter, these books draw me in and scare the hell out of me at the same time. Overall, this was a fun read. 

Grade: 3.5/5

The Interestings

Book: The Interestings
Author: Meg Wolizer

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.-Goodreads

Review: I loved the beginning of The Interestings, when a group of teenagers meet at a summer camp and become friends. There was the wealthy underachieving boy, the beautiful/serious girl, the genius, the musician, the dancer and the outsider who joins the fold by being known as the funny one. I never went to a camp like this but the experiences seemed very genuine. While the novel is told from several character perspectives, Jules (the funny one as we are constantly reminded) is the primary voice. Herein lies the central problem with The Interestings-Jules was not interesting nor funny.  I really enjoyed her as a teen and thought her feelings of inadequacy among her friends as well as her relationship with her mother and sister were spot on. However, as she grew up and became an envious, jealous and all around annoying adult I began to slightly hate her (her husband called her out on her behavior a few times, which was great but then they kind of swept it under the rug). I wish the author spent more time on Jonah (the musician) as his backstory and childhood were very interesting. I also wish we had some perspectives from Ash, we only saw her through her friends eyes, never how she saw herself. There was a date-rape early on in the book that had potential for tension and drama. I'll refrain from spoilers but it will also a little ho-hum and never fully resolved. 

When I finished this book (I shockingly teared up at the ending) I thought 'eh, it was okay' but I was surprised when I found myself thinking about it for days afterward. For while it isn't entirely interesting, it's a very real portrayal of life. Wolitzer touches on a lot of themes including friendship, love, marriage, success, money, death, children and illness. Stepping away from the book, although I didn't like adult Jules, I can understand her jealousy toward Ethan and Ash (although she needed to let go of it WAY sooner than she did). 

A couple of random observations: Ethan was constantly referred to as ugly while Jonah's boyfriend was referred to by his first and last name. I kept thinking 'where was the editor?'

Anyway-if you are looking for an action packed book about interesting people this isn't for you. If you are looking for a very realistic portrayal of...well, real life type relationships, you might enjoy this one. 

Grade: 3.5/5

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Talker 25

Book: Talker 25
Author: Joshua McCune

It's a high school prank gone horribly wrong-sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon-and now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population. Joshua McCune's debut novel offers action, adventure, fantasy, and a reimagining of popular dragon lore.-Goodreads

Review: I just finished binge watching Game of Thrones before I started this so I was really excited to read something focused on dragons. I've never read a dragon book so it seemed interesting. The book started out very strong and I was surprised at how much I was loving the story.  Melissa was written like a real teenager (being irrationally angry at her father in brother was right in line for her age) and doing a stupid prank with her friends. The world building was minimal (dragons just kind of showed up for no apparent reason, there was a war) but I was still enjoying the story. Eventually, Melissa ends up with the insurgents (people supporting dragons) and the story went downhill. Her mother was killed by a dragon and her father researches them, it seemed like she should have had more of a challenge with what the insurgents were doing. Eventually she gets caught and sent to a reconditioning camp. Now here I will give McCune credit because he really created a location where it is almost impossible to escape. Melissa and her fellow 'dragon lovers' are also made to do horrible things, including torturing dragons, which was sad and horrific.  There was a weird Hunger Games esque show she had to appear on (kind of like the interviews Katniss and the other contestants were forced to participate in). Probably my biggest challenge was that the government was portrayed as such a big group of evil guys it was too cartoonish. Some characters should have been in the grey zone when it came to dragons. On a good note-Melissa had a love interest and that was not a strong focus in the book, which I think was positive. 

Oddly enough, although I'm giving this book 2 stars (it was okay, I didn't hate it by any means) I want to read the next one and see where he is taking the story. There is potential in the story. 

Grade: 2/5

The Lavender Garden

Book: The Lavender Garden
Author: Lucinda Riley

An aristocratic French family, a legendary chateau, and buried secrets with the power to destroy two generations torn between duty and desire.
In the sun-dappled south of France, Emilie de la Martinamp, the last of her gilded line, inherits her childhood home, a magnificent chateau and vineyard. With the property comes a mountain of debt and almost as many questions . . .
Paris, 1944: A bright, young British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent undercover to Paris to be part of Churchill's Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from her contacts in the Resistance, she soon stumbles into the heart of a prominent family who regularly entertain elite members of the German military even as they plot to liberate France. But in a city rife with collaborators and rebels, Constance's most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart.
As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the chateau itself may provide the clues that unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future. Here is a dazzling novel of intrigue and passion from one of the world's most beloved storytellers.-Goodreads

Review: This book starts off very slow and boring. So slow and boring that I almost gave up reading it, which is something I rarely do. The book begins with Emilie's story, and eventually the narrative shifts back and forth from present day Emilie to WWII Constance. Emilie was a tough read for me the entire book-she was so passive and uninterested in almost everything around her, I could not root for her as a character. I'll avoid spoilers but she enters in a relationship with someone quickly and I don't know if he could have been any more shady. Literally, the slime dripped off of him in almost every exchange they had. It takes her the entire novel to see his true ways. I understand we are to believe she was vulnerable in her state of grief, but this was just ridiculous it took her so long.

Now, onto Constance. Once the novel shifted timelines, the pace picked up and I became much more interested. Constance is chosen for the SOE because she speaks flawless French. After a quick training, she ends up living with a wealthy family that entertains Nazi's during the day but secretly helps the resistance at night. I really enjoyed Constance as a character and thought her struggles, which included having to feign interest in a sadistic Nazi officer and her guilt about not be able to help the Allies as she was trained to do was fascinating. Another main character that I liked was Edouard, the wealthy Nazi entertainer/resistance leader. While he was written a little wooden at times, his storyline was very interesting. Edouard's sister, Sophia on the other hand was slightly annoying. She was Edouard's blind sister who he sheltered from everything so while she was a mature woman in her mid-20's emotionally she was very immature. She eventually commences a relationship with a high ranking Nazi and I actually enjoyed this plot line. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The WWII storyline was the highlight of the book and I'm glad I pushed through and finished it. 

My favorite quote of the book" "..sometimes the badge you're forced to wear in life does not necessarily indicate the kind of person you are. Or your true loyalties."

Grade: 3/5

First Grave On the Right

Book: First Grave on the Right
Series: Charley Davidson #1
Author: Darynda Jones

Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper. Meaning, she sees dead people. Really. And it's her job to convince them to "go into the light." But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (like murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she's been having about an entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely. But what does he want with Charley? And why can't she seem to resist him? And what does she have to lose by giving in?-Goodreads
Review: I was excited to start a new urban fantasy series and this was overall fun. I like the grim reaper premise (it's unique to me) and while Charley was a little too jokey for my taste (it was hard to get a real read on her and I'm hoping she comes off as more of a real person in the following books) she certainly has spunk and a big personality. The potential love triangle is interesting, although I can already tell I will be routing for the wrong guy (sigh). Her main love interest is a person she had ONE memorial experience with (I'll avoid spoilers) years ago and they have metaphysical sex (yes, it's weird but this is UF so you just have to go with it). He does save her from from bad situations but he has almost no dialogue. It's hard to get behind a character who just kind of swoops in to save the day, disappears, they have odd ghost type sex encounters (not sure how to describe it) and then shows up again. Meanwhile, she works with a detective that has a personality. I'll definitely keep reading and see where the author takes us. I will say the ending took me by surprise, adding much bigger elements to the overall story arc. 

Grade: 3/5

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Feast for Crows

Book: A Feast for Crows
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #3
Author: George R.R. Martin

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.-Goodreads

Review:  I loved book 3 in the series and this was really disappointing. The pacing was slow and as a result the book was very boring. I had to force myself to read every night just to finish it. I understand books 4 & 5 were initially one giant book that were split up, as a result there were no sections written from my favorite characters (Tyrion, Jon Snow, Dany). I thought Brienne's sections would be really fun....but instead we heard her repeat over and over (what seemed like a hundred times) "I'm looking for a highborn maid of three and ten, with a fair face and auburn hair." A lot of the book was focused on Dorne and the Iron born. While some of this was interesting, it was a little frustrating that we're almost 3k pages into the story and this is the first time we're meeting these people. I was mad (yes, mad) when Caitlyn Stark showed up again. I wish Martin had killed her off at the red wedding. 

Now, on to what I did like. I did enjoy Cercei (just as evil and twisted as we all thought) and Jamie (he continues to redeem himself). Also, Alayne (Sansa) parts were interesting since we got to see what Littlefinger is up to. I think he is one of the most fascinating characters in the series. 

My least favorite in the series so far, but I have high hopes for book 5. 

Grade: 2/5


Book: After
Author: Varian Krylov

THE APOCALYPSE: A chimera devastates the human population. Technology fails and infrastructure crumbles. Civilization collapses.

AFTER: A generation apart, two women and the men who love them make incredible sacrifices to survive, and to destroy a brutal system of sexual slavery in a world where men outnumber women ten-to-one.

After two years roaming the devastated South alone, eighteen-year-old Eva is captured and held prisoner by the few surviving soldiers at a military base, who haven't seen a woman since The Dying. In Eva, Major Smith sees only the future of the human race, and he'll exceed all moral boundaries to ensure she gives birth to the next generation. But Eva and John--the man she is paired with--are determined to fight for freedom and a better future.

Two decades later, on the other side of the country, a Resistance woman is captured and brutally punished for subverting the Sex Laws. When she flees to the Resistance, Nix must decide if the man who helped her escape can be trusted, or if he's a spy using her to infiltrate the counter-slavery movement. As Nix makes her way east, her story twines with Eva's in a way neither woman could have imagined.

Review:  'After' is a brutal, dystopian tale with graphic violence and sex. This is definitely a unique look at the future and is not for the faint hearted. While I overall enjoyed the book, I have conflicting feelings about our heroines Eva and Nix.

Part 1 - Eva
What I liked: the world building was very interesting and I could visually imagine this desolate world.
What I didn't like: The main characters in the first section (Eva, John and Major Smith) never felt like real people to me. More backstory was dedicated to minor characters than these three. Eva, especially, was very unbelievable once she was in the compound. She's wandering around for two years, malnourished and somehow still has her period? Okay, let's assume that's true. She experiences some difficult situations (I'll avoid spoilers) and then decides she is going to comfort the soldiers. Whenever I hear the song Fixer Upper line (yes, I'm referencing Frozen in this review) "People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed. Throw a little love their way..." I think of her-that should be her theme song. I just can't believe a young girl who went through such trauma would be able to do the things she did so quickly. Also-there was a lot of graphic sex in the book. It is not erotic and I'm by no means a prude (I love smut) but I don't think the graphic sex added anything to the story. 

Part 2 - Nix
I really enjoyed the second part of this book. The revolution aspect was fascinating, as well as Nix. She's a survivor who is trying to make the world a better place and she was someone I could route for. Her journey across the states was harrowing and I couldn't wait to see how she would end up.

Overall-I enjoyed this. 

Grade: 3/5