Posts Tagged ‘100 word book reviews’

100 word review:
All The Birds in the Sky

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews

AlltheBirds

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books, January 2016
checked out of the library
Read in May 2016

Target audience: Young Adult, Adult

Outcasts Patricia and Laurence became unlikely childhood friends despite asking different questions – Is magic real? Can technology save the world? When they reconnect years later after a long estrangement, it looks like they’ve both found what they wanted… but the world has other plans. Quirky, intimate, modern, and compassionate, Birds blends magical realism and futurism to mirror the connections and conflicts between nature and technology. Anders does a remarkable job of making large problems personal and personal problems earth shattering. She never takes her storytelling too seriously but uses a deft hand to reveal character details without overburdening her writing.

Should I read it? Definitely. Highly recommended for fans of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, and The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman.

 

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Vacationing with Books

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

I may not like packing for vacations – it always takes me forever and I always forget something critical like sunscreen or socks – but I do like carefully curating my Books To Read on Vacation selections. I have to assess how many free hours I will have to read; determine the proper balance of genres; evaluate which books are too heavy to travel; decide which books hit the right tone for my destination.

The last vacation I went on was to sunny Florida. I spent several wonderful days desperately trying to soak in as much warmth and Vitamin D to make up for the years and years I’ve been snow- and cold-bound this winter. And reading. In the sun. With a glass of iced tea. Slice of heaven.

The books I selected to bring were: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi (realistic YA), A Visit from the Goon Squad (literary adult), The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (classic sci-fi), and Snuff by Terry Pratchett (satirical fantasy). You can see what I did there – a smorgasbord of stories, nothing too dark but works with some meat and interest. Alas, I didn’t get to Snuff this time around but I did get to read the other three.

This is part of a series of 100 Word Book Reviews.

chance you won't returnThe Chance You Won’t Return
by Annie Cardi
Published by Candlewick
received as a galley
Read in March 2015
Target Audience: Young Adult

Full-disclosure: Annie and I were actually suitemates/classmates at Young Writers Workshop at UVA in 2001 and only recently rediscovered each other. We’ve since met for coffee and conversation and she is a lovely (and highly entertaining) person. I assure you none of this has anything to do with my assessment of her book. But frankly, her book is as lovely as she is.

On the surface, Alex’s problems seem typical: drivers ed and a new love interest. Instead, she’s hiding the secret of her mother’s dissolution into an alternate identity: Amelia Earhart. The story is tightly written with carefully, emerging tension: we follow Alex as her fraught relationship with her mother twists into something both distancing and tender. I found it especially refreshing that the romance in the story was an added layer of conflict, but not the focus. Cardi writes with humor and a light touch, even when the topic is serious and destructive for the main character.

Should I read it? Yes. Annie Cardi has a way with characters that will draw you in. They are complex and interesting and most of all, heartfelt. I am looking forward to her next work!

9780307477477A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
Published by Knopf (Random House)
passed along from my mother
Read in March 2015
Target Audience: Adult

My mother described this book as “weird” with a wrinkle of her nose but it’s the kind of weird I love. Each chapter closely follows a different character’s story. Sometimes they seem barely connected, but ultimately they spiral and build on one another. The characters revolve around the double helix of music and time, examining the rise and fall of the music industry. Egan’s writing is dark and tongue-in-cheek, as are her characters. She paints them brilliantly in just a few strokes and makes you care, even as she eases you out of one life and into the next.

Should I read it? Definitely. It’s not for everyone, but there’s a reason it won the Pulitzer. I love books that break the novel form open to see what hatches. In this case, something beautiful and wonderous.

starsmydestinationThe Stars My Destination
by Alfred Bester
Published by Vintage (Random House)
purchased – Wellesley Free Library book sale
Read in April 2015
Target Audience: Adult

Alfred Bester is a classic science fiction author and this book had been on my to-read list for a long time. It’s the story of Gully Foyle, a brute of a man wronged by fate and turned viciously vengeful. It had strong tones of Philip K. Dick – psychics, telepathic teleportation, grand conspiracy, and elaborate and fanciful tech. The book explores the darkness of human nature, both physically and psychically. It wasn’t totally my cup of tea – aside from Gully, the characters felt flat and the ending “twist” felt muddy – but it was interesting to see the root of so many SF tropes

Should I read it? Meh. If you enjoy classic SF from the 1950’s or are rounding out your reading in science fiction canon, then reading Bester is a must, though I might go with The Demolished Man.

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100 word review:
This Side of Salvation

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews.
sideofsalvation

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
Published by Simon Pulse
received as a galley
Read in August 2014

Target Audience: Young Adult

What if you discovered your parents appeared to have been taken up in The Rapture (or in this case, The Rush), leaving you behind? So hinges Smith-Ready’s complex book for teens that tackles hefty themes (faith, love, grief) with a gentle touch. The dialogue is sharp and spot-on, balancing darker moments with wit and humor. The last quarter of the book slumped a bit for me, as if the author wasn’t sure what to do after the pieces of the mystery fall into place. Ultimately this story isn’t about religion, rebellion, or sacrifice; it’s about the resiliency of family.

Should I read it? Yes. I get the sense that Smith-Ready is just going to keep getting better. Don’t let the religion bit turn you off – it’s another dimension to the story, not the only one. I was pleasantly impressed by this book.

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100 word review:
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland…

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews.

GirlWhoFell

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
purchased at World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, MA
Read in July 2014
Target audience: Middle grade, Young Adult, Young At Heart

Once again, a lush and intricate book for young readers. September is growing up and learning that hearts are fickle things. When she makes her way back to Fairyland, she finds herself drawn to Fairyland Below where her wayward shadow is making merry and wreaking havoc. The shadows embody the parts of people that they keep hidden, the “sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts.” Valente’s language is spell-binding and there seems to be no limit to Fairyland nor her imagination.

Should I read it? Why yes, but this is a sequel so I would definitely go about reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making first, as you will get more out of it and then proceed straightaway to read The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. This series is perfect for young and old dreamers alike who are always peeking inside wardrobes and broom closets seeking grand adventures.

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A little plug for bookstores, inspired by this purchase: I want to remind readers that bookstores, like World Eye Bookshop, can special order most titles for you, as long as they are in print, just as well as an online retailer. That is, if it’s not something they have on the shelves at the moment (instant gratification!). Many stores also do shipping. Either way, it’s a nice way to support stores in your community (or in the community of someone you are gifting).

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100 word review:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews

VitalPhenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Published by Hogarth (Random House)
Read in July 2014
purchased at the Friends of Wellesley Free Library book sale

War-scarred Chechnya becomes a character all it’s own in Marra’s novel as his story weaves through the country’s history and geography. Following several otherwise unremarkable characters, the lyrical story unfolds of an incompetent doctor-cum-portraitist trying to save the life of his neighbor’s young daughter. But it’s more than that. It’s the story of aborted futures; of family, both blood and built; of the grip of history, fear, and loyalty. Marra has a beautiful, delicate touch with language. The book is intense, but the author balances the tone nicely with touches of humor and yes, even small glimmers of hope.

Should I read it? Yes. It is unlike anything I have read recently and harkened back to a period when I read a rush of Booker-prize/nominated books. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena reminded me of those books with it’s character driven narrative, close integration of history, and eloquent language.

Trigger warning: This book contains visceral descriptions of torture and kidnapping (one chapter in particular).

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100 word book reviews: June/July 2014

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

A new feature: Short reviews that are a maximum of 100 words. Here is a selection of books that I’ve had the good fortune to dive into this past month. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are you reading right now?

calamity physicsSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics
by Marissa Peshl
Published by Penguin
purchased at Harvard Bookstore
Read in June 2014

An unconventional roller coaster. Blue is the brilliant daughter of a professor and the book (when it’s at it’s best) chronicles her nomadic childhood until it slams up against a more conventional plot of loner-joins-the-in-crowd. Parts reminded me of The Secret History — a group of “cool” misfits hang out with the beautiful, smooth, film teacher. Until the book becomes a murder mystery… or does it? The book’s drastic loop-de-loop three-quarters of the way through left me with no idea who any of the characters were. Stylistically, it is quirky, over-the-top, smart, and generally very interesting. But also long.

Should I read it? Yes, but be prepared for an enigmatic ending. The structure of the book as well as the asides, references, and oddball images make it worth a read for the style alone.

girl who circumnavigatedThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan)
purchased at Harvard Bookstore

Read in June 2014

Young September is swept away to Fairyland where she embarks on a grand journey while stomping all over the tropes of magical abduction and adventure. It’s about finding yourself and your own heart. The language is luscious, musical, complex, bubbling — this is a strong, sophisticated book for young readers and adults alike. Some may be put off by Valente’s intricate and over-the-top style but there are surely readers like September (and myself) who “…read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.”

Should I Read It? Yes, definitely. But only if you like big, beautiful words, made-up lands, adventure, and brave young girls. The series just gets better and better.

player of gamesPlayer of Games by Iain M. Banks
Published by Orbit (Hachette)
purchased used at Harvard Bookstore
Read in July 2014

While I’ve enjoyed other works by Banks, this one didn’t hold together for me. It started off very slow; the trigger for the major plot line – a master game-player being blackmailed into clandestine service — didn’t occur until nearly page 100. While the story did become more gripping through the latter half of the book, I found the ending somewhat predictable. It was a good introduction to The Culture and I will likely read others books within this universe because I trust Banks as a writer, but this is not my favorite.

Should I read it? Meh. If you’re trying to read all The Culture novels, I’m told it’s a must. If you’re just looking for some good Iain M. Banks, I might otherwise recommend, The Bridge (under Iain Banks — finally reissued!), The Algebraist or even Inversions (despite it’s infuriating structure/ending).

last policemanThe Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
Published by Quirk Books
received as a galley
Read in July 2014

This book struck the perfect balance of an old story told in a fresh way. It’s a murder mystery wrapped in an existential conceit: does the law matter if the world is ending anyway? I found the world Winters paints to be true, dark, and almost heartbreakingly normal. He manages to sustain the tone throughout the book without it dragging the reader down. The mystery itself is nothing unique, but the characters and the stark near-future setting make it a compelling start to the trilogy.

Should I read it? Yes. Especially if you like your mystery with some existential apocalypse mixed in. Or your apocalypse with some existential mystery. Or both. I’m moving book two, Countdown City, to the top of my pile.

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