Book Review: Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Book: Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Published July 2015 by Riverhead Books|448 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, an inspiring novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into a more Western world.

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire life has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

After reading Girl In Translation, I knew I had to read Mambo In Chinatown.  While I didn’t love Mambo In Chinatown, I still really liked it, and I liked it a lot more than Girl In Translation.

One thing I noticed while reading this book is that something about it rings true.  It seems like Kwok draws on her own experiences as an immigrant when she writing, and it shows, because something about Mambo In Chinatown felt really personal.  Also, I think Kimberly from Girl In Translation makes an appearance in this book…at least, it seems like her, and it would be really cool if it were.

I did like Charlie.  She’s doing everything she can to help out her father and her sister, and you see how she struggles with reconciling two different worlds.  I was surprised with what happens with her sister, and I hope she gets the help she needs.  I respect that their dad is doing what he thinks is best for them, but it ended up doing more harm then good, it would seem.

And Charlie did have a lot on her plate- for some reason, I initially thought she was younger than she was, but it’s clear she cares about her sister and that she’s doing her best to help out.  I love that she ends up learning how to dance, and considering her mom was a ballerina, I thought there would be more connections to that.  Still, I’m glad it worked out for her, and while her dad wasn’t happy about it, it seems like he comes around, which is good.

Speaking of her dad, he does do his best in raising Charlie and her sister, but a lot of work still falls to Charlie.  I’m glad she finally said something about it to him, because we do see some changes in him after that.  I did hate that he didn’t want to give Western Medicine a try.  I’m not sure if it’s because of the medical issues his wife had, or if he just didn’t believe in it, but it was frustrating, even if I could understand it.  He went through quite the change, and it happened pretty fast, so that was a little odd, but at least he’s trying.

Charlie was easy to relate to- she’s imperfect and clumsy and she just wants a better life.  I really liked her, and I thought she became a lot more confident by the end of the book.  I’m glad things worked out for her, and that she has great friends and family.

4 stars.  I really liked Mambo In Chinatown, and seeing how much Charlie changed by the end of the book.

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Book Review: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, Illustrated by Michael Rogalski

Book: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, Illustrated by Michael Rogalski

Published September 2014 by Quirk|248 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Horror/Humor

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

This was a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and I finally got around to reading it!  I didn’t love it, but it is an interesting take on the haunted house story.

It is set in an Ikea-type store, and throughout the book, we see references to the store itself and the products that the store has.  Each chapter has an interesting header- different products that Orsk has, and they get more interesting as the book goes on.

I did like the format of the book- we get a map of the showroom floor, there’s an order form, coupons for Planet Baby, and other cool catalog type stuff.  I did think the format would be more catalog-like, but at the same time, it did have a story to tell, so it makes sense that we’d see more story, and less…interesting formatting.

I was a little disappointed by that, because while there was some interesting stuff throughout the book, it wasn’t like that for the whole book.  Maybe I just made a lot of assumptions about the formatting itself.

Sometimes, things like letters and emails and any other variation on the typical paragraphs don’t work- not that I read a lot of books where we see that sort of thing- but I think Horrorstor could have used a little bit more of that.

It’s definitely a cool take on the haunted house story- obviously, it’s a haunted store, and I liked the story behind it. There is a point where the police can’t find the exit for the store, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were ghosts or if there were other forces at work.  I did like the setting, and a fictional Ikea-type store is a really good setting for a haunted house story.

The characters where what I expected for the story.  While I’ve forgotten names already (and the book has since been returned to the library, so I unfortunately can’t reference it), the characters are pretty typical.  There’s the management type who drinks the company Kool-Aid because the store saved him, there’s the long-time retail worker who is beloved by employees and customers alike, and there’s the disgruntled retail worker struggling to survive, and hating every minute of her job.  We see a few other characters as well, but the three mentioned above are the ones we see the most.

I think, of the three, disgruntled retail worker is the one the book follows.  It is more her story than anyone else we see in the book, and she is the one I could relate to the most.  Not completely, but I definitely see where she is coming from.

I will say that the book is an interesting mix of horror and humor.  I thought it worked, but I don’t know that the humor is necessarily for everyone.  It’s not laugh out loud funny, and it seemed more horror and parody than horror and funny.  But overall, it’s an interesting combination.

3 stars.  I liked it, and it’s a cool concept.  I didn’t love it, and the characters were pretty typical, but worked for this story.

Book Review: Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

Book: Menagerie by Rachel Vincent

Published September 2015 by MIRA|429 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Menagerie #1

Genre: Adult Fantasy

From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent comes a richly imagined, provocative new series set in the dark mythology of the Menagerie… 

When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus big-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town. 

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other “attractions”—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she’ll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed. 

Renowned author Rachel Vincent weaves an intoxicating blend of carnival magic and startling humanity in this intricately woven and powerful tale

I really liked Menagerie!  It’s a really cool concept and I liked the mythology behind it.

I felt really bad for Delilah and everyone at Metzgers.  They’re treated horribly, and they’re seen as not human, even though quite a few of them have the appearance of being human.  It’s creepy and awful and you slowly realize how helpless Delilah, and everyone else at the Menagerie are.

I did like the mystery surrounding what type of cryptid Delilah was.  It fit her pretty well, and I thought it worked really well with the story.  While I wasn’t trying to figure it out, I can’t say I’m completely surprised by it.  Considering what we see of her, it does fit.  I can’t say I’m surprised by a character like Delilah, because I kind of figured that we’d have a character like her.

We do have multiple POV in Menagerie, and while the writing style was pretty much the same for each one, I thought each perspective was very different, and showed what it was really like at Menagerie.  It seems like Delilah has a pretty…unique…experience there, and not completely representative of life at Metzger’s Menagerie.

There is violence (and rape) so this book is definitely for adults, though some older teens may be able to handle it.  It is unsettling, and makes it clear that the many people in the book will do whatever they want to the cryptids.  There is no fighting back for the cryptids, because no one cares what happens to them.

One thing I wish we got more of was the Reaping.  We do get snippets of an event called the Reaping, where hundreds of thousands of children go missing or dead, and their entire families are killed.  I wish it were more clear what it was, and what was behind it.  I mean, there are two more books after this one, so there’s always the chance we’ll learn more about what happened.  It’s clear that something led to how the cryptids are treated, and I did want more about what happened.

Still, VIncent created a pretty convincing world, and I feel like you could draw a lot of parallels between the world of Menagerie and our world.  She doesn’t refer to real world events or atrocities, and she has her own story, but still, I think you could draw your own conclusions.

4 stars.  I really liked it, and I thought the world was unique but familiar.  I wish we had more about the reaping and the cryptids, but perhaps we’ll see that in the next book.

Book Review: It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, Narrated by Cecil Baldwin

Book: It Devours! by Joseph Fink And Jeffrey Cranor, Narrated by Cecil Baldwin

Published October 2017 by Harper Audio|9 hours and 38 minutes

Where I Got It: I own the audio book

Series: Welcome To Night Vale #2

Genre: Adult Fiction

From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novel Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a mystery exploring the intersections of faith and science, the growing relationship between two young people who want desperately to trust each other, and the terrifying, toothy power of the Smiling God.

Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret.

Night Vale is such a delightful place.  Weird, but delightful.  And I am glad that I got to revisit Night Vale in It Devours!

The nice thing about It Devours (and the Welcome To Night Vale novel) is that you don’t need to listen to the podcast in order to read this book.  It’s completely separate (but does reference the podcast), and while I loved the first book, I think I loved this book even more.  It’s very different than what I expected, but I really liked the story.  Carlos and his time in the Otherworld is very different in this book, and it’s a big change from the podcast.  He was more excited about the possibilities in the podcast, and more tortured in the book.

Cranor and Fink don’t like to keep things neat and tidy, that’s for sure.  But maybe it affected Carlos more than we thought.  It’s a very different Carlos that we see in this book, but maybe…I mean, it’s not like we see a lot of Carlos in the podcast.  I mean, we do, but not like this, and it’s a very different side of him.

As for the main story, I liked Nilanjana and Darryl’s story.  It’s more focused than the first book, and while it meanders, it’s not meandering the way the first book is.  We see the Joyous Congregation, which has been mentioned on the podcast, but this is a much closer look at the Joyous Congregation and the Smiling God.  And science!  And how they can be good or bad, depending on how you use it.  Darryl and Nilanjana work together to save Night Vale, and they each have their own unique perspective.

It definitely adds to the world, and it really shows how big Night Vale is.  There are a lot of stories to tell, and while I love Cecil, it’s also nice to see some of the other characters and people of Night Vale.  I also feel like they’ve gotten the hang of the novel format, and I’m sure any future Night Vale books will continue to get better.

With the first Night Vale book, I both listened to the audio book and read the book in print format.  Having been an avid listener of the podcast for years, I knew I would love it as an audio book.  It turned out that I didn’t love it in print, which is why I only listened to It Devours.  I love Cecil, and I can’t imagine experiencing Night Vale in any other format.  I’ve listened to Night Vale for years, and Night Vale in print is a very strange concept for me.

I would definitely recommend It Devours as an audio book, though it could be interesting in print as well.  It didn’t translate well the first time around, but maybe this time it well.

It Devours is a lot more philosophical as well.  It really examines science and religion, but they do it well.  There’s a very Night Vale take on both science and religion in this book, and it’s not science vs religion.  Which is nice.  It’s very kind towards both.  Weird, but kind.  We are talking about Night Vale here.

By the way…It Devours!  Yeah, I’ve totally read that book.  In case you didn’t pick up on that.

5 stars.  I loved It Devours! and it was a great book to listen to while I cleaned the heck out of my room.  I found myself paying more attention to the book than the cleaning, and it’s a big improvement on the first book (which I also loved).

Book Review: The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Book: The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Published December 2012 by Knopf|243 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family. 

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented.  Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave.  She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation. 

Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream, Mathis’s first novel heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

I wasn’t as into this book as I thought I would be.  It seemed like it would be interesting, but I found the book to be cold and distant.

Considering the book is about Hattie’s children, you’d think she would have more of a role.  But she didn’t.  I got the impression that her kids didn’t have a lot of contact with her once they were adults, and that she was a cold, uncaring woman.

It felt more like a collection of short stories of people than a cohesive story told over decades.  Maybe even a series of stories connected by one or two characters.  There are a lot of time jumps and narrators, and while it worked for Homegoing and You Bring The Distant Near, it didn’t work for The Twelve Tribes Of Hattie.  I felt like her children were introduced and then abandoned- we were lucky if they were even mentioned again, and while we see Hattie throughout the book, it is from a distance.

And while you see the heartache and struggles each character goes through, it felt flat and one-dimensional.  There wasn’t anything to make me really care or feel invested in their stories.  She did do well with painting a picture of how oppressed Hattie’s family felt, and how she really seems to understand people who had limited options, and how much those limited options changed them.  I don’t necessarily need to like or relate to a character in order to like a book, but I found that I didn’t care about these characters or what happened to them.

1 star.  I couldn’t get into the book at all, and the structure didn’t work well for this story.

Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Book: Sing, Unburied, SIng by Jesmyn Ward

Published September 2017 by Scribner|304 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

A searing and profound Southern odyssey by National Book Award–winner Jesmyn Ward.

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

I liked Sing, Unburied, Sing!  If you like Toni Morrison, this is the book for you, because Sing, Unburied, Sing is very much a story Toni Morrison would write.

I did find parts of the book confusing- notably with Richie and with Given.  It didn’t make a lot of sense, and while it didn’t feel completely out of place, it did take me out of what was going on.  It was jarring to go into their stories, and it’s integration into the book could have been better.  It is interesting, though, and Jojo’s family clearly has their demons (and ghosts), but the way it’s done in this book didn’t work for me.

I did struggle to get through this book, and I felt like I had to really work at getting through this book.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for Sing, Unburied, Sing, since I had a hard time paying attention to what was going on.  But I do think part of it is the book.  You’re jumping around between past and present and different narrators, and it was hard for me to connect with any one person or thing that was going on.  It made things seem more convoluted than they really were.

It did take away from Jojo’s story and even Leonie’s story.  I can’t imagine having one parent in prison, and one who’s addicted to drugs and not around a lot.  He did have his grandparents, who did everything they could to make sure that he and his sister were okay, and in a loving home.  I can relate to growing up and being raised by your grandparents, but I really wanted more with them and Jojo.

The book certainly sounded beautiful, and while I wasn’t too interested in the story, there is something about the way that she writes.  Basically, the way I feel about Sing, Unburied, Sing is the same way I feel about every Toni Morrison book I’ve read- not super interested in the story, but way more fascinated and in love with the writing.  Morrison is much more…minimal…when it comes to writing, as opposed to Jesmyn Ward, but maybe I’ll give this book another read one day.  And I might give her other books a try as well, but I’m not too sure about that.

3 stars.  I liked but I didn’t love it.  The magical realism/supernatural elements took me out of the story, but the writing is beautiful, which is why Sing, Unburied, Sing isn’t getting a lower rating.  I can see why people love it, but it’s just not for me.

What I’ve Been Reading: The Fourth And Final Part

So I was going to try to fit this series of posts into 3 posts, but that would have meant the last part would have been insanely long, and I just didn’t feel like doing that, so I thought I’d try to get one more part out of it, especially since I have quite a few things to say about the last 3 books I wanted to talk about.

  • There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins.  When I saw Stephanie Perkins had a new book out, I knew I had to read it.  I loved Anna And The French Kiss and Isla And The Happily Ever After, and I figured I’d love this book as well.  Except I didn’t.  If Scream- or any of those teen horror movies from the late 90’s/early 2000’s- were in novel form, you’d have this book.  It wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t work as a book for me.  I think it could be interesting as an audio book, particularly for the chapters narrated by the murdered students.  I just don’t know that I liked it enough to give the audio book a try.  It wasn’t as suspenseful as I thought it would be, especially when we find out who’s behind everything.  And the reason why was lame, in my book.  I can understand being jealous but it seemed like a pretty weak reason to start killing people.  I also didn’t really care, considering we knew nothing about this character who barely appeared.  And Makani’s reason why she ended up in Nebraska was…boring.  It was really built up, and then I felt let down when it was revealed what had actually happened.  I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t that.  It had a lot more romance than I thought it would, and while I don’t mind romance, I think this book needed less romance and more suspense and tension.  There’s Someone Inside Your House gets 2 stars.
  • Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok, and narrated by Grayce Wey.  I did this book as an audio book, and I’m glad I did, because I really liked it as an audio book.  One thing that surprised me when I first started reading the book was the age of Kimberly.  I thought she was a lot older when the book started, and I was surprised when I found out how young she really was.  At the same time, it was nice because we see how much she changes after moving, and how hard she had to work to get what she wanted.  I really felt for Kimberly, and how she had to take on a lot because her mother spoke very limited English.  The apartment they lived in, and the fact that she had to help her mother at the factory just to finish the work on time.  And Aunt Paula was a horrible, abusive woman.  I was glad when Kimberly and her mother no longer had to rely on Aunt Paula to get by.  I can’t imagine going through what Kimberly went through, and how much I don’t see or realize because I don’t have to.  I can’t imagine living in such a horrible apartment and in terrible working conditions just to have a chance to live here and reach for something better.  I wasn’t a fan of the ending, because it was unexpected.  But I’m glad that things worked out for Kimberly, and she was still able to reach the goals that she had set for herself.  Girl In Translation gets 4 stars for a good look at what it’s like to be an immigrant in America.
  • Turtles All The Way Down by John Green.  I was both excited and nervous about this book when I heard that John Green had a new book.  Excited because it’s a new John Green book but also nervous because I loved TFIOS and Looking For Alaska, but didn’t care for his other books.  I ended up really liking it, and Aza is a great character.  She’s the most realistic of Green’s characters, and she was a lot more relatable than some of his other characters.  This book also focused on Aza’s mental health, and I really liked seeing that, because it really felt like it was something that John Green himself has lived through and dealt with.  And it was a nice change from the quirky teens falling in love that we usually see with his books.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s fine as well (and again, I did love TFIOS and Looking For Alaska) but it was still nice to see him do something different.  There’s still the philosophical conversations and trivia (both nerdy and regular trivia) that you see in a typical John Green book, and I will admit that it was nice to see that.  Aza’s struggles with OCD and anxiety were really well done.  And while everyone’s experiences are different as far as mental illness go, I still feel like it’s something that will speak to a lot of people.  I’m glad we got another John Green book, and that I really liked it, because TFIOS was such a big hit that I was nervous it wouldn’t.  I didn’t completely love it, but I did like it a lot more than I thought I would.  Turtles All The Way Down gets 4 stars.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part One

I’ve been reading quite a bit over the last few months, but I haven’t been in a mood to review anything.  But all of a sudden, I want to at least share some of what I’ve been reading.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of the books, since it’s been a while for some of them, but I’ll do what I can.

  • I’ve read The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah.  I checked out this book from the library, and having read some of her other books, I knew I had to read this one.  I really liked it, and she has such unique characters.  Even though the book is set in Australia, the characters and beliefs are ones I can see happening here in America.  I liked seeing how much Michael changed, and I can see, very clearly, how he didn’t really think about what his parents thought and why they thought that way.  He really does make an effort to change how he thinks and to come up with his own beliefs.  I also liked seeing Mina’s experience, and how not everyone is like their parents.  My rating for this book is 4 stars.

Let’s see…I did read Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.  This book seemed right up my alley when I bought it years ago, but when I finally read it over the summer, I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would.  I wasn’t a big fan of Anna’s best friend Frankie.  She seemed really self-absorbed and not willing to hear Anna out.  I get why she was upset, and that she was dealing with the loss of her brother, but that’s no reason to act the way she did.  Anna seemed to be there for her, which is good, but at the same time, it seemed like her parents were absent, and weren’t really around to help their daughter grieve.  I’d rate this book 3 stars.

  • I also read Control by Lydia Kang.  This one has a really cool idea- it sort of reminded me of X-Men, at least a little.  That’s pretty much all I remember.  That, and I was vaguely interested in reading the sequel.  I remember it being a futuristic world, with a lot of interesting technology.  It’s too bad I have forgotten it, but I’m pretty sure I liked it, so this book gets 3 stars.

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova.  I really liked The Historian when I read it years and years ago, and I didn’t know that the author had a relatively new book out.  I didn’t like The Shadow Land as much as The Historian, and I found myself skimming the more historical half of the book.  It didn’t really hold my interest the way her other book did, but it is written in a very similar style, which I liked.  I’d give this book 3 stars.

  • I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood!  I feel like I need to do a post talking about the book and the movie, but for now, I’ll talk about the book briefly.  It’s scary how relevant this book still is, and how much of it still rings true.  I listened to the audio book, and I really liked it.  Claire Danes did a great job narrating The Handmaid’s Tale.  The only thing I didn’t like about it were the flashbacks.  They didn’t translate well to audio, and it wasn’t clear at first if we were in past or present.  I also could have done without the symposium epilogue part of the book.  It really took away from the horrors of what happened in the book, and while the idea of trying to piece together sources and the accuracy of said sources is interesting.  But I don’t think it really fit with the rest of the book.  The Handmaid’s Tale gets 4 stars.

Book Review: Origin by Dan Brown

Book: Origin by Dan Brown

Published October 2017 by Doubleday Books|461 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Robert Langdon #5

Genre: Adult Fiction/Thriller/Mystery

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself . . . and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery . . . and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

I randomly saw this book at the library on one of their displays, and I was intrigued so I figured I’d check it out.  I’ve enjoyed Brown’s books to varying degrees, and even with the ones I didn’t completely like, they’re still pretty quick reads and usually entertaining.  They’re certainly not boring, though they always seem to start off slow.  Origin was no exception to this.

It did take a while for the story to get set up, which I expected.  Still, it was slow-paced at first, but there was more action once things got going.  It wasn’t as action-packed as I thought, especially in comparison to his other books. It has been a while (years probably) since I’ve read a Dan Brown book, so maybe I’m remembering things differently.

There were a few connections to history (we are talking about Dan Brown here).  In this case, Spanish history, since the book is set in Spain.  I swear, Robert Langdon spends more time traveling than teaching.  I do like that Brown incorporates a lot of real places, people and artwork, and it felt like he put a lot of thought and research into the people, places and things we see in the book.  It is sort of topical- we see mentions of Uber, Disney, and fake news, and I did like the updates from the conspiracy website.  That seemed very timely as well.  Does that mean the book will be a little bit dated in a few years?  Probably, but for now, some of the pop culture references are pretty timely.

I am half tempted to see if that website goes anywhere, or if it’s made up.  It would be awesome if it did go somewhere, like a website for the book or something.

Is this book the typical Robert Langdon book?  Of course it is, so if Dan Brown isn’t your thing, you’ll probably want to stay away from this book.  On the other hand, if you’ve even remotely enjoyed his books, you’ll probably like it. While I don’t necessarily love his books or run out to get them, I always end up liking them and enjoying them.

One thing I wondered about is the lack of reference to the virus that was set loose in Inferno.  It’s like it never existed, and considering the revelation that Kirsch wanted the world to know, you’d think that would be incorporated into his presentation.  But it wasn’t, and that was a little strange to me.  The Da Vinci Code is referenced, though, which wasn’t surprising given that what the book is actually about.

It is sort of weird how all of the Robert Langdon books don’t really reference the other books.  They’re pretty contained, and with each book that comes out, it’s like the previous ones don’t really happen.  I’m willing to overlook it, though, because each book has enough going on as it is.

3 stars.  It’s not my favorite Dan Brown book but it’s not my least favorite either.  It was entertaining and a quick read, and I liked the setting and places we see in the book.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part Two

I thought I’d share some of the books I read earlier in the year and never got around to reviewing.  I talked about some of the books I read earlier in the year in this post, and figured I do another post since I had some more books to talk about.  All of the books were from the library.

Book One: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

What I Thought:

  • So, The Invisible Library is about Irene, a spy for a very mysterious Library, and her quest to retrieve a dangerous book from an alternate London
  • It’s a really good read-alike if you like the Eyre Affair…but instead of going into books, you’re going into parallel dimensions and alternate worlds to take their books for the sake of preservation and research
  • The library has a life of its own, and the librarians seem like an interesting bunch
  • I really want to know more about the librarians.  We get a little bit of the hierarchy and structure of the library, but not a lot, and I’m hoping we get more
  • The way I feel about the librarians is the same way I feel about the Library.  We get a general idea of the library and how it works but I want more
  • It is the first book in a series, so it is setting up for future books.  Hopefully we’ll see more
  • There are a lot of possibilities, though.  I mean, they go into parallel dimensions to retrieve books, and there are a lot of possibilities for future books.  It would be interesting to see how things could possibly spiral out
  • My Rating: 3 stars.  It’s a fun book to read, and great if you like books about books and libraries, but I wanted more about the Library and the librarians who work there.

Book #2: Carve The Mark by Veronica Roth

What I Thought:

  • Carve The Mark is about Cyra, who is pretty much able to torture people, and Akos, who has some power I cannot remember
  • I was really excited about this book, because I loved the Divergent series (even Allegiant, which I know people either love or hate), but I did’t like it as much as a thought
  • Well…what I remember, which isn’t much
  • Honestly, even though it’s set in space, it felt like it could have been set anywhere.  I kind of forgot it was space in space most of the time
  • It was really slow and confusing and I wasn’t a big fan of the dual narration
  • I don’t remember a lot about the book, and I honestly can’t remember what I liked or didn’t like.  I know I read it, but that’s pretty much it
  • I think it could be an interesting read-alike for fans of Graceling and An Ember In The Ashes
  • I vaguely remember that it’s slightly interesting blend of sci-fi and fantasy- there are element of both, and it didn’t feel like it was one or the other
  • My Rating?  2 stars.  I don’t remember enough to dislike it, but I don’t remember enough to like it

Book Three: King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

What I Thought:

  • I really wish I re-read the first two books in the series first, because I had a hard time remembering what was going
  • I’m starting to like this series less and less, and I honestly thought this book was the last one
  • I was very surprised on learning this is, in fact, not the last book in the series.  I was disappointed with how it ended at first, because nothing felt resolved, but when I saw there were more books, the ending made a lot more sense
  • I was more bored reading this book than I was with the other books
  • Nothing stood out to me as interesting or memorable, and I couldn’t tell you a single thing that happened
  • I do like the overall premise of the series, and I am determined to finish it out…but part of me wonders if it’s being stretched out too much
  • Maybe I need to re-read the series before I make up my mind.  And maybe if I do re-read it, I’ll do an updated review
  • Rating: 2 stars.  It wasn’t very memorable, and I remember being bored when I was reading it.

Book #4: In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

What I Thought:

  • This book is bananas!
  • Seriously, what is going on with Clare and Nora?  Clare has some issues, as does Nora
  • I mean, Nora’s okay, but she was really hung up on a short-lived relationship that happened when she was 16.  I thought it was weird that she was so hung up on something that happened 10 years earlier
  • And Clare…I get that she was worried what people thought about her (don’t we all worry about that, to some degree?) but she took it to an extreme
  • To me, they acted a lot younger than they were.  Not that they have to act a certain way, just because they’re in their mid-twenties, but Clare in particular seemed very determined to get what she wanted
  • It was not as creepy as I thought it would be.  They’re in a cabin in the woods, and it’s pretty isolated from what I could tell.  But it was not at all creepy
  • I did want to keep reading, though, and to see who was killed and why.
  • Rating: I have to go with 2 stars on this one.  I just wanted something more creepy.