Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson (book review)

Image result for tell me how this ends well david samuel levinsonOverview: In 2022, increasing antisemitism threatens American Jews. The disturbingly plausible vision of the near future features dystopian shades while remaining uncomfortably familiar. The book’s descriptions of driving highway 101 in LA, for example, will be recognizable to anyone who has experienced it, except for the addition of the suicide bombings that have become common, and the wet weather brought on by the effects of climate change.

Against this backdrop, the drama of the Jacobson family unfolds. The three Jacobson children – Mo, Edith, and Jacob – have come together to decide what they can do to help their ailing mother, who they fear is being driven to an early grave by their controlling father, who by all accounts is a terrible person. Their solution is patricide.

Complicating the plan to off their dad is the fact that the family has been the subject of a reality TV show, and the family gathering coincides with the filming of a reunion special.

Analysis: This novel fits a lot into its 400 pages. Each of the three younger Jacobson’s stories are intimate and relatable, the world is both familiar and terrifying in its plausibility, and the plot engages the reader to ask questions. For example, is the father truly as bad as he seems, or does he have his own story to tell? In all, an enjoyable, memorable novel that will appeal to fans of family dramas, humorous novels, and light speculative fiction.

Hardcover, published by Hogarth, New York. 2017.

I received a copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an  honest review.

Speed of Life by Carol Weston (book review)

Brief Summary

Was thirteen the worst possible age to lose your mother? Maybe. Then again, there was no good age.

Speed of Life tells the story of Sophia Wolfe’s fourteenth year. Sophia lives with her dad in New York City, and her typical growing pains are complicated and colored by her mom’s sudden death the previous year.

Image result for speed of life carol westonIt seems like people — her friends, teachers, maybe even her dad — are beginning to expect Sophia to have healed from the pain of loss, but she hasn’t. In fact, she can’t imagine what it would be like to “get over” her mother’s death, or even wanting to do so.

Yet the speed of life slows for no one, and Sophia discovers that really living means being in the moment, whether time seems to be racing by or to be frozen. On top of this, she has to deal with issues like kissing boys, changing schools, and the fact that her dad may be ready to start dating again.

Speed of Life is a bittersweet story of loss, love, and growing up that will appeal to fans of thoughtful realistic fiction with an introspective and likeable female main character.

Thoughts

I enjoyed this book for the most part. I liked the characters and could sympathize with their feelings and struggles. I found the writing to be quite excellent, and the treatment of the subject sensitive and insightful.

Ratings

  • Plot: A- (Made sense; progressed logically; not overly predictable)
  • Characters: A- (Mostly dynamic, complex, and believable)
  • Realism: B (Overall believable characters and events)
  • Cover art: A (Cute and eye-catching)
  • Pace: B+ (Seemed slow at times, but mostly good)
  • Style & Tone: A- (Fit the character’s age and personality)
  • Overall: A-

Details

  • Title: Speed of Life
  • Author: Carol Weston
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (April 4, 2017)
  • Length: 329 pages

More Info

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard [Review]

Pretty Little Liars by [Shepard, Sara]Details:
Title: Pretty little liars
Series: Pretty little liars, bk 1
Author: Sara Shepard
Published: HarperCollins, 2006
Blurb:
[From the author’s website, saracshepard.com]

“I’M STILL HERE, BITCHES. AND I KNOW EVERYTHING. —A

Everyone has something to hide—especially high school juniors Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Emily Fields, and Hanna Marin.
Spencer covets her sister’s boyfriend. Aria’s fantasizing about her English teacher. Emily’s crushing on the new girl at school. Hanna uses some ugly tricks to stay beautiful.
But they’ve all kept an even bigger secret since their friend Alison vanished. How do I know? Because I know everything about the bad girls they were, the naughty girls they are, and all the dirty secrets they’ve kept. And guess what? I’m telling.”

Review:
I was completely prejudiced against this book before I started reading it. I thought it was a trashy novel, a waste of time, vacuous, vapid, stupid, trivial, and probably a bad influence. After reading it, my prejudices were both challenged and confirmed, and I discovered something else. While the book was all the things listed above, it was also at least one other thing. Fun.

Sure, the characters are all horrible examples of people — or perhaps good examples of horrible people — but as messed up, amoral, and unlikeable as they are, they are also fascinating and human. Also, I was relieved to see at least one character exhibit signs of emotional maturity by the end of the book, which shows that the characters can learn and grow. The thing that really redeemed the story in my eyes, though, and helped to explain the series’ continuing popularity (not to mention adaptation into a tv show), was the writing.

Critically the writing is not especially good; but then neither is James Patterson’s in my opinion, yet that does nothing to dampen his enormous popularity. Like JP, Shepard writes well because her writing suits her purpose well, which is to tell an entertaining story. The language is simply a bare-bones structure designed to give the story a place to exist and to move the action along, and as such it works very well. I was not distracted by glaring errors or by bad composition. In effect, the writing was good.

It took a while for my opinion about this book to change. At a quarter of the way through I noted that my impressions were largely negative, mostly because I disliked the characters as people. Even at the end of the book, the thing I find most troubling is that there is very little to admire in any of the characters – the same problem I have with adult literature of the same type (Gone Girl, for example). However, I also noted that the story was quite evocative of a certain type of tween/teen girl experience. Although my own experience was vastly different from anything in the book, the story still brought up old memories and feelings from middle school and high school, which I wondered at and appreciated.

Verdict
Yes, it’s trashy, and yes, it’s stupid, and yes, it showcases the worst of teenage girl behavior. But it’s also fun and entertaining and escapist. I don’t see any problem with indulging in reading something like this from time to time. After all, just because you read National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, and the NEJM, doesn’t mean you can’t sneak a peek at the National Enquirer or Vogue once in awhile. So here’s the breakdown of my ratings:

Intellectual value: F
Entertainment value: A
Characters: C+
Plot: B
Writing: A
Overall: B

For more info:
Author website: saracshepard.com
Series info: wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Little_Liars_(book_series)
Amazon page: Pretty Little Liars

Originally published by me on http://yablrb.blogspot.com/

March Reading Recap & Review

Happy April First! I can’t believe it’s already April! I don’t have any funny April Fool’s jokes in store, but I thought some of the ones showcased by TIME were pretty funny (http://time.com/4720892/april-fools-day-pranks-jokes-2017/).

This past month I got some good news – I landed my first professional job after finishing my degree! I’m now officially a librarian.

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My position is in youth services, so I will be selecting materials and designing programs and services for tweens, teens, and young adults. I’m very excited, and I will be reading and reviewing more YA literature from now on!

This month I didn’t get around to reading a book published before I was born, but I did manage to read my fiction, nonfiction, and other format titles.

Other Format or GenreSkin Trade by George R. R. Martin, adapted by Daniel Abraham and illustrated by Mike Wolfer. Graphic novel; 2014; My rating ★★★☆☆

The Vampire Gift 1: Wards of Night by [Knight, E.M.]FictionThe Vampire Gift 1: Wards of Night by E. M. Knight. YA fiction; e-book; 2016; My rating ★★☆☆☆

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by [Brown, Daniel James]NonfictionThe Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown; paperback; 2009; My rating ★★★★☆ (I will post a review soon)

FavoriteThe Indifferent Stars Above. 

Review of “The Vampire Gift Book 1: Wards of Night” by E. M. Knight

cover imageOverview

Title: The Vampire Gift: Wards of Night
Series: Vampire Gift, bk 1.
Author: E. M. Night
Published: Edwards Publishing (April 20, 2016)
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 408 pages
Age: 13 +

Summary

One minute Eleira is preparing for an ordinary night of studying in the library at Stanford, the next she is waking up a prisoner of three beautiful vampire brothers and their powerful mother, the vampire queen.

She quickly learns that (a) vampires are real and (b) the vampires need her for her blood (but not in the way you think). Also, the vampires live in “The Haven,” a place of perpetual night removed from the outside world.

As she struggles to come to grips with this strange new reality, and with her growing attraction to one vampire in particular, one thing becomes clear: her life on “the Outside” is over, and there’s no going back.

My thoughts

I’m not really a devoted fan of vampire stories, although I do admit I enjoy them occasionally. However, I did not choose this book on the basis of its vampire storyline. I chose it because it was available to read for free with Amazon Prime, and because the cover looked interesting. Being aware that titles available to read for free are generally not award winner quality, I adjusted my expectations accordingly. In the end I have mixed impression of this book. I think that young paranormal romance aficionados would enjoy it, but that those who have read widely in the genre will find it lacking. Those with no interest in vampire / teen girl interactions should probably steer clear.

On the positive side:

  • The writing is overall consistent and free of errors.
  • The cast of characters is sufficiently varied, yet appropriately confined for the scope of the book (there aren’t dozens of characters to keep track of).
  • The pace is quick and even – good for keeping the reader’s attention.
  • The writing does a good job of “showing” and not “telling.” If there is exposition, it is generally delivered through some device like a flashback or conversation.

On the negative side:

  • The writing feels juvenile or amatuerish at times.
  • The dialog can seem clunky and awkward, with occasionally cringe-worthy badness.
  • The characters are somewhat two dimensional.
    The female lead has no agency for 99 percent of the story.

This is, of course, book one of a series, and the ending seemed promising. I think the author has a lot of potential, and I would definitely explore more of her/his works in the future.

My Rating

Overall: C
Story: C
Characters: C
Originality: C+
Cover art: A-
 
Final verdict: If you love teen vampire-action-romance, go for it. Otherwise, give this one a pass.

 
Originally published on http://yablrb.blogspot.com/ by me.

February Reading Recap

It’s already March 4! I fell behind on my blogging last month; however, I did stick to my reading goal (exciting stuff, I know).

My February selections were:

  • Fiction – Human Acts by Han Kang
  • Nonfiction – Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene
  • Book from the Past – The Story of My Boyhood and Youth – by John Muir
  • Other Format or Genre – Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery – M. C. Beaton

Brief Reviews:

Image result for human acts han kangHuman Acts by South Korean author Han Kang is a novel of the Gwangju Uprising (Wikipedia).  In 1980, South Korean troops clashed with civilians protesting the government of Chun Doo-hwan. Although exact figures are disputed, some estimates put the death toll over 600, while over 3,500 were injured in the violence. Many of the casualties were young university students.

The novel is told through the perspectives of multiple characters who witnessed or took part in the uprising. Some chapters are written in the second person, which I found interesting. The tone of the writing is deceptively quiet in contrast to the violence of the content. I found myself wishing the title was Inhuman Acts, but maybe that’s the point, as the following quote from the book illustrates. In this scene, one of the witnesses is being interviewed by a professor for a book:

I heard a story about one of the Korean army platoons that fought in Vietnam. How they forced the women, children, and elderly of one particular village into the main hall, and then burned it to the ground. Some of those who came to slaughter us did so with the memory of those previous times, when committing such actions in wartime had won them a handsome reward. It happened in Gwangju just as it did on Jeju Island, in Kwantung and Nanjing, in Bosnia, and all across the American continent when it was still known as the New World, with such a uniform brutality it’s as though it is imprinted in our genetic code.

I never let myself forget that every single person I meet is a member of this human race. And that includes you, professor, listening to this testimony. As it includes myself.” – Han Kang, Human Acts, page 97.

This was the first book I’ve read by a Korean author, and I enjoyed the experience of learning a little bit about South Korea’s history, a topic on which I’m largely ignorant. I spent some time on Wikipedia researching the events portrayed in the book, and that helped alot with giving the story context and helping me understand it better. (I received a copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an honest review).

Image result for midnight in siberiaMidnight In Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia is David Greene’s account of a trip he took on the Trans-Siberian express from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. Not knowing much about Russia beyond what I read in the news and books, or see in films and games, it was interesting to get a closer perspective on the lives of everyday people across this vast and intriguing country. The author is a host of NPR’s Morning Edition, of which I am a frequent listener, and so it perhaps natural that the book had a journalistic tone and style. The book was interesting, although I did skim over some parts. It did not inspire me to travel to Russia.

Image result for john muirThe Story of My Boyhood and Youth is John Muir’s account of his early years growing up on his Scottish immigrant family’s Wisconsin farm, and was my favorite book this month. It’s relatively short (about 140 pages), and full of Muir’s beautiful prose and descriptions. After finishing it, I was astonished to discover that no major motion picture has yet been adapted from this story – it seems like it is ready-made for the big screen. Some of the highlights include the many formidable tasks his father expected him to complete on the farm, such as digging a 90 foot well through sandstone by hand with a chisel and hammer, and the many wonderful contraptions Muir invented, such as a clock that could light a fire in the stove. Muir’s deep passion for learning and for nature, and his empathy with living creatures is endearing and inspiring. I would recommend Muir’s writings to anyone who enjoys nature, but you do have to adapt to the somewhat old-timey language and slow pace. Reading a bit of it aloud in a slow, meditative way can help you get a feel for the language. If you do, you will enjoy Muir’s quiet humor, descriptive prowess, and charming storytelling.

 

February OGoF Pick and Review: “Death of a Maid” by M. C. Beaton

This month’s Other Genre or Format* pick is Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton.

In answer to the question “What are you reading now?” the chances that I would answer “a cosy mystery” are extremely low. That said, I do believe the genre is unfairly reviled by those who view it as the sole purview of elderly women with too many cats and a passion for yarn craft.

A basic definition of the “cosy mystery” is a mystery story that takes place within a closed environment (a house, a train, a small village, etc), features little or no graphic content (sex or violence), and is tidily resolved in the end. The works of Agatha Christie epitomize the genre.

Image result for hamish macbeth death of a maidM. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series follows the crime-solving exploits of the titular hero, a policeman in a small village in the highlands of Scotland. It features a strong cast of characters and many charms, including the lead character’s unfortunate last name, his strange pets, and the Scottish highland scenery.

In Death of a Maid, Hamish must solve the murder of a cleaning woman who may have also been a blackmailer.

Beaton’s writing is unpretentious and flows seamlessly. The story has a solid three-part structure (beginning, middle, end) but is not boring or predictable. Definitely recommended to fans of the mystery genres, or anyone in search of a relaxing and entertaining read.

Why I chose this book: I listened to the audio version of this book, and to be honest I chose it simply because it was available and I wanted something undemanding to listen to during my commute home from work. I did not regret my choice.


* To expand my reading horizons, I try to read one book each month from a genre or format I don’t usually read.