Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern

Daddy Dearest will be on sale Wednesday, June 1st!

**I received a review copy of Daddy Dearest courtesy of Paul Southern in exchange for an honest review.**

Daddy Dearest by Paul Southern. 2016. 245 pages. Ebook.  

If you like to have your mind messed with a little bit, then settle in and get comfortable, because this is the book for you.

Daddy Dearest tells the story of a man whose daughter disappears one day while traveling alone down an apartment elevator. The entire apartment building is searched, but she is gone and no one has any clue what has happened to her.

To preface, much of the thriller aspect of this book relies on the unknown and the reader being held in suspense, so I'm not going to go too in-depth content-wise so as not to spoil anything. First, it is essential to read Daddy Dearest very carefully so as not to miss anything, because many details are not explicitly stated and instead left to the reader to infer and understand. I'll admit that at first I felt slightly annoyed by this, but as I progressed into the story and became more acquainted with the writing style, it began to become rather enjoyable and actually helped me make sure I was paying close attention.

Southern does an excellent job of creating the main character's narration. The main character, who remains nameless throughout the story, has a very distinctive personality that is both off-putting and intriguing. Our protagonist is brutally honest about his opinions, and he certainly comes off as semi-racist and sexist at times, which accounts for the off-putting part, but somehow Southern creates such an intricately multi-layered character that you find yourself enraptured in his storytelling and continuing to enjoy the character regardless of these offensive characteristics. His honestly is endearing and gains my respect, but it is also because of what he says and does that makes me lose my respect, leaving me with an overall conflicted feeling regarding the protagonist.

The narration appears, at times, to go off onto many tangents. The main characters gets caught up explaining his opinions or experiences about something, leaving the reader to wonder the what the point of these ramblings are, but then it hits you: these 'tangents' are telling extremely important information about the main character and his own actions - they also show how easily distracted he can be. Halfway through the book, I found myself wondering who I was 'rooting' for. This isn't a black and white book with a straight up good and bad character, but instead involves an ever-present grey area that leaves the reader to develop their own ideas and opinions, which I personally found enticing.

Overall, this was a solid thriller for me, and I would certainly recommend it for anyone looking for something a little different from your average thrillers. It's still high-paced, but it's not overtly high-paced, so there is plenty of room to breathe.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond

**I received a copy of Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Girl in the Shadows
Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond. Skyscape, 2016. 382 pages. Ebook.

Who doesn't  love a good magic story? I personally love stage magic; there's something absolutely mesmerizing  watching 'magic' before your very eyes. Even though I know that it's all an illusion, I can't help but find myself getting sucked in and riveted to the spot. And as much as I may want to know how the illusion is put on, I almost don't want to know because the feeling of awe is just too enjoyable. 

Girl in the Shaows focuses on Moira, a young aspiring magician who runs away from her father (somewhat) and joins the Cirque America, where she hopes to have her own magic show. Once there, she discovers that there may be more to her talents as a magician than she originally thought, and from there we have the basic setup of our story. (Also important to note: this story takes place in a modern day setting, it is not historical.)

First, props to Bond for having Moira be inspired by the many late great female magicians and pay homage to them in many of her magic shows; I felt that was a really great way to tell the stories of these female magicians who often go unnoticed or unremembered in the face of the many great male magicians, such as Henry Houdini and David Copperfield.

Girl in the Shadows was simply a good book. It didn't blow me away, nor was it awful; it was merely a solid, decent read that will certainly entertain, but will not quite rivet you. Throughout a little under 400 pages, Bond introduces a decent-sized cast of characters and a unique world of magic that was quite entertaining to explore. I enjoyed reading about Moira's magic stunts and getting a behind the scenes look at how the Cirque America operated, both of which packed in a lot of substance and intrigue.

Now, moving on the characters themselves. While they were all individually appealing, they were rather one-note and lacking in full development. I didn't fall in love with any one character, and instead I felt sort of 'meh' about all of them. It's not that I have to love every character, but I would at least like to have some level of interest, and unfortunately that interest wasn't quite there. The relationships between most characters made sense, but there were a few that felt a bit forced and strained, like something just wasn't quite right. (I won't say which two people, because, as always, I'd like to keep this free of any spoilers.) Also, while the immediate romantic interest didn't throw me off, I did not enjoy how quickly they went from not liking each to other to being crazy about one another. It was weird. The beginning of the romance made it seem like it would be difficult for the two characters to actually be with one another, but then suddenly they were together and everything was fine. It was a tad confusing and I'm not sure it was handled all that well.

The magic system Bond created was.. interesting? I understood it, yet I didn't. It had rules to it, but I couldn't quite grasp them. The magic was very wild and raw, with very little that made me understand how it was actually used or controlled. Perhaps Bond wanted to create a more vague, uncertain magic system, but if so, it didn't work well for me. I also felt the entire 'magical coin' storyline was slightly head-scratching, but it was an interesting idea nonetheless.

 Overall, I am giving Girl in the Shadows three-and-a-half stars for its entertaining storyline and intriguing premise; unfortunately, it lacked enough depth and explanation to knock it up any more stars. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch. Hogarth, 2013. 292 pages. Ebook.

This is a hard book for me to review, mainly because although it was clever and unique, it was also disappointing and hard to get through. The entire story consists of a single dinner between Paul, our narrator, his wife, Claire, and his brother and sister-in-law, Serge and Babette. The dinner appears to be an innocent gathering at the outset, but as flashbacks and side-tracks into the lives and character of the brothers and their families are slowly revealed, we learn that there is a bigger, more important issue at hand with this dinner concerning a problem with their sons.

Paul is an interesting narrator: the first few chapters of the story portrayed a decently likable guy, and I felt like I was on his side, but as the story progressed, he became unreliable and a bit of a dodgy character. His character was certainly complex, but I can't say I found anything dynamic about him. I got the sense that he had no true moral compass, despite pretending like he did. In fact, I don't think anyone in this book truly had a moral compass. The actual act that their sons did (intentional vagueness so I don't give anything away) that prompted this entire dinner is pretty shocking, but it was never mentioned as being wrong, only in terms of how to cover it up. This bothered me, largely because it just didn't feel real. Who are these people and why are they so cold? There was almost no empathy or compassion to be found anywhere, which I understand is how some people are, but the falseness and despicable nature of these people was just overwhelming. As I've mentioned before, I'm completely fine with hating every character in a book as long as the book can hold up to it, but I'm not sure if The Dinner was able to do that. To be completely honest, I preferred the small inserts of the actual dinner and the interactions with the waiter, which felt like comic relief - albeit comic relief smothered in pretentiousness.

On a more positive note, Koch delves into some deep topics throughout The Dinner, such as mental illness and the notion of what truly constitutes a happy family, and in this area he brings up some compelling points to ponder. A major theme that seemed to consistently pop up was that appearances are deceiving, which can be interpreted in so many ways. There is also an overarching atmosphere of darkness and evil that permeates each page, which is one area in which Koch truly excelled - the man knows how to develop atmosphere.

By the time I put this book down, I felt slightly nauseous from what I digested (intended metaphor), and I'm not sure it is something I wouldn't particularly recommend based on how much I enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) it . I would recommend for its psychological interests and unique storytelling idea, but that's likely it. For this reason, I am giving The Dinner two-and-a-half stars.

You might also like:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall by Aaron Safronoff

**I received a copy of Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall courtesy of Neoglyphics Entertainment in exchange for an honest review.**

Sunborn Rising:Beneath the Fall by Aaron Safronoff. Neoglyphic Entertainment, 2016. Softcover/Paperback. 385 pages. 

Sunborn Rising is an exciting, inventive novel that combines gorgeous artwork with thrilling text. This book felt like so much more than just a book. It honestly felt more like an entire new world, full of unique, vibrant characters and an incredibly in-depth, expansive world that I am eager to learn more about.

Sunborn Rising introduces a unique world unlike any I've ever read about;-- Where the descriptions occasionally lacked, the images completely made up for. I really enjoyed the entire basis of the plot surrounding Cerulean and how the world came to be the way it currently is (keeping it vague so as not to say too much in case of spoilers). The Creepervine was wonderfully creepy and added a really great dimension to the various elements within the world.

Another aspect as this story that I enjoyed was the large variety of characters. Safronoff has created a medley of interesting species that interact with one another and each seems to truly have their own unique culture and personality. The dialogue was, for the most part, written well and realistically, though there were a few occasions where it felt a bit jilted. The characters felt extremely realistic and human (despite not being human), and I enjoyed getting to know each one's personality. Barra, for instance, is strong-willed, rather stubborn, and somewhat emotional. I began to see the similarities and inherited traits Barra shared with her mother, Brace, which I felt strengthened the mother-daughter connection.

The only issues I had with Sunborn Rising were the seemingly random POV changes and the sometimes awkward writing. The POV changes seemed to come at random moments with little to no warning; at times a new chapter would change the POV, at other times it would just be a page break. I wouldn't have minded the switches as much if they were done more consistently, rather than having one character narrate for a long while and then suddenly switch over to someone else. The writing was also occasionally a bit abrupt or awkward, which I feel is something some extra editing could easily fix, but overall it was minimal enough that it did not interrupt my enjoyment of this book too much.

If you like action books, then this is for you. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with action, personally, because I just tend to get bored when there is too much fast-paced action and not enough dialogue or description. Sunborn Rising is constantly moving, which I think would make this perfect for its targeted age range, plus anyone else who prefers a more fast-paced and thrilling story.

After checking out Neoglyphic Entertainment's site, I'm really excited about their work in general. I'm intrigued by this idea of "marrying art and science" because it just seems to open so many doors and combine so many different areas into well-rounded masterpieces. Also, it looks like they are working on even more (goodies) to go with this book, such as games and animated media, which I find extremely exciting.

Overall, I am giving Sunborn Rising four stars for its delightful, expansive fantasy world and page-turning abilities. I would highly recommend this for someone looking for a unique fantasy story with gorgeous graphics to accompany it.

You might also like:
The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle 
Sun-Kissed by Coco Nichole

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Bloomsbury USA, 2015. Hardcover/Hardback. 318 pages. 

I love the cover art of this book immensely, and the hardcover edition of the book itself is jacket-less with a cut-out where the watch is... it's lovely.

The basic plot of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street begins when a mysterious gold watch appears on the bed of Thaniel Steepleton, eventually saving him from a bomb and leading him to the mysterious Keita Mori. At the same time, a young Oxford student named Grace Carrow is currently working on experiments to prove that the elusive ether exists. This all takes place in a wonderful Victorian London setting with brief, infrequent trips to Japan.

I loved the concept of this story; it sounded mystical, magical, intricate, and full of intrigue, and it delivered all of that. Unfortunately, how the story was delivered was not as skilled as expected. There are three main characters to focus on - Thaniel, Keita, and Grace - and they all had the potential to become complex and multi-dimensional, but sadly fell short of that. Thaniel's actions also didn't always make sense, and his interactions with Grace were confusing. The dialogue felt jilted and clumsy many times throughout the novel, and it felt like the characters were being forced to say awkward things that never quite made sense. This was actually a problem found within larger areas of Pulley's writing as well, such as in her descriptions and explanations; the way in which things were described was sometimes done in such a way that it was hard to discern the true meaning of her words.

Another area I struggled with was the setting changes. Pulley takes you back in history, then doesn't revisit that again for about a hundred pages, leaving me feeling rather lost. Some of the backstory and plot created for this story didn't ever exactly seem overly clear to me. I  feel as though Pulley needed to spend more time developing her plot and successfully weaving it all together to create one coherent story.

The ending also became a bit too.. jumbled. There were too many things that were just bunched up or didn't make sense. Everything culminated very quickly; nothing happened for a majority of the story, and then suddenly everything was happening, and none of it really made much sense.

On a more positive note, I loved hearing about how the watches and clocks were made, how the various gears worked, etc. - I assume Pulley did research for this or was already knowledgeable on the subject; either way, it definitely showed. This was one particular aspect of the novel where Pulley excelled, and she has a gift for weaving in something with such history and intricacy into the story. Thaniel's work as a telegraphist was also immensely fascinating, and it was enjoyable to read about.

Overall, I am giving The Watchmaker of Filigree Street three stars. Despite its promising plot, the characters and plot were not as developed as they could have been, and there were just a few too many issues with the writing. However, I would still recommend this to someone interested, as there are many people who have immensely enjoyed it regardless of any flaws.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

Smoke by Dan Vyleta will be released on Tuesday, May 24th!

**I received an ARC of Smoke courtesy of Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review**
Smoke by Dan Vyleta. Doubleday, 2016. 448 pages. Paperback/softcover. 

(Note: This was not the cover of the ARC I received [this is the cover I received], and to be honest I'm not sure I like this final one too much. I feel that a more monochromatic/black and white cover would have been much more dramatic and stark and thus more fitting to the story. But anyway, on to the review!)

About a month or two ago I received a package that contained an ARC of Smoke, which I had never previously heard of, and within that package was also an adorable little tin of sweets (pictured below) that I assumed had to do with the content of this book (it did). I thought it was incredibly clever marketing and a fun addition to the story, and it made me that much more excited to dive into this book.

I'm honestly not sure where to even begin describing a novel such as this one. The basic premise of Smoke is both complex and simple at the same time: when people 'sin' (though 'sin' is a very vague and broad word, but I don't have another word to use), they emit smoke and soot that dirties themselves and their surroundings. The varieties of smoke differ according to each person and each particular crime or misdeed that a person commits.

Smoke takes place in a Victorian England type of setting, and the story begins at a boarding school in which young boys are sent to learn to control themselves in order to continue on with their elite, aristocratic families and political wealth. The plot lies in the inevitable doom that Thomas believes lies in wait for him, the rebelliousness of certain characters that want to 'rid' the world of smoke, and the adventures that take place as a result of these varying circumstances.

The multiple points of view in which Vyleta writes was rather unexpected, and although it at first seemed like it would bother me, it actually kept me quite engaged. There are switches between a third person POV and the POV of main characters, such as Charlies, Thomas, and Livia, as well as various other brief minor characters, which adds even more depth and intrigue to the many events and scenes of the story.  Howeverm I did encounter difficulties discerning between the POVs of Charlie and Thomas in the first few chapters. At the beginning of the story, both boys are somewhat similar in their mannerisms, but I largely think that is the expected effect of growing up in such a strict environment such as the one they did. As the novel progressed, the distinctions between each boy began to grown and further push their personality traits away from one another. Charlie begins to distinguish himself a somewhat more controlled and level-headed boy, whereas Thomas is portrayed as more of a 'loose canon,' so to speak. Livia was also a very dynamic character who begins as rather uptight and struggles with her natural urges, or 'sins,' as she begins to develop and move away from her sheltered and strict life.

One area in which I think Vyleta excelled was in the dynamic transformation (though transformation may be a bit too strong here) of each character, which were wonderfully drawn out and detailed. Every change within a character happened very slowly, but very distinctly. One minor gesture or thought would occur, one minor emitting of smoke, and it is immediately apparent that that was a big moment for that character's change in this story.

Vyleta's writing is fairly consistently bleak and dark, which creates an atmosphere that I found immensely compelling and immersive. It became almost to heavy at times, as there is very little relief from the relentlessly dark atmosphere. However, this also keeps the entire storyline consistent - there is no chance to escape to another more hopeful or optimistic world.

Here's my main problem with this book: although I understood the process of smoking and what Livia's mother wanted to do (I won't say more because of spoilers), I always felt like I was missing something. Why exactly was everyone acting so dramatically? Why did the three children feel that they needed to hide out? Everything just felt a bit too drawn out and overly compensated for what the truth drama was. The writing wasn't necessarily disjointed, but every once in a while I had this sense that I was missing something important - and not in a good, mysterious way.

Overall, I am giving Smoke four stars for its unprecedented plot and immersive storytelling. I would have loved to give Smoke five stars, but there was just a bit too much uncertainty and lack of explanation that made this difficult to follow at times.

You might also like:
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates