What I’m Listening to Now: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Not gonna lie, I totally picked this book because it’s set in Iowa and as far as I could tell it is not written by an Iowan.

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Review: Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

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This is the first book for my pop culture homework assignment! And it was so good! Okay, but before I start gushing about how much I like the book, let me tell you about it.

 

The small town (population: 212) Cryer’s Cross is  in the grip of a tragedy. Tiffany Quinn, a sophomore in high school, has disappeared. They search for her but do not find her. The school year ends, the season turns and then the following Fall another student also goes missing. The town once again comes together to search for a missing student. What is going on and why was Nico, the second missing student, distant and forgetful in the days leading up to his disappearance? The story is told from the perspective of Kendall Fletcher, high school student and best friend of Nico. To add to the mystery, the school has two new students, Marlena and Jacian Obrian, who have moved to Cryer’s Cross with their parents to help their grandfather with his farm. The cops interrogated Jacian about Tiffany’s death. Is Jacian involved in the missing persons case or is he just a grumpy high schooler who is pissed that he had to move before his senior year to the middle of nowhere? (Also, maybe the townsfolk just a little bit racist?)

 

Okay, now to gush about this book. I love Kendall. She is amazing. Much of the plot is driven forward by Kendall’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. I liked that she was portrayed as a whole person and just as a disorder. I also liked that this wasn’t a story about OCD. I also loved Jacian and Marlena. They are amazing characters. Beth and I were discussing it, and Jacian is definitely book boyfriend material.

I enjoyed this book and if you like paranormal horror/mystery, you should try it.

Okay, now for a bit of a spoiler.

Continue reading

Review: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

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So, this is the story of Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. Gibreel is India’s biggest movie star and Saladin is an expatriate who has just been to India for the first time is fifteen years. They are on a hijacked airplane that explodes over the English channel. The two of them plummet to Earth and the novel builds from there as a series of dreams and strange transformations. They are the only two survivors of the incident. Gibreel and Saladin’s story serves as a frame for a bunch of smaller stories that all intersect and overlap with the main narrative. Gibreel’s story overlaps with the story of Muhammed. Yes, that Muhammed. There is an alleged incident in which Muhammed heard an angel whisper some verses that were meant to be included in the Quran, but that he later recanted because the verses did not come from the angel on Allah’s behalf but from Shaitan, the adversary. Yes, this is the book the caused all the controversy and had Rushdie in hiding for years because of a fatwa against him. I feel like here is where I should say something about freedom of speech and blasphemy laws, but I don’t think that there is anything that I could say that hasn’t already said better. Rushdie is exploring something in this novel, Muhammed’s life, that he should be free to explore without fear of death.

 

There were many things I enjoyed about this book. The story is clever and there are many really neat parallels between the sub-plots and the main plot. I like magical realism and enjoyed the bizarre parts of the novel. Rushdie tackles some pretty big themes like racism and migration in the text and he does it well. But, I think this might be another book that is a victim of its own hype? It has caused so much scandal (and is still banned places because of its blasphemous text about the Prophet). I was expecting to be wowed beyond belief but I wasn’t. This was a good novel, and its complex narrative with all the subplots make it a really rich and engrossing read. But, it left me cold and I wasn’t so involved in it that I couldn’t have put it down. So, it was good and I recommend it. But, it won’t be making my Top 10 this year.

 

The audible production is read by Sam Dastor and he did an excellent job. Because the narrative moves in and out of the main story and the sub-stories (and because there are characters who have similar names), I think I was saved a little potential confusion because each character had their own voice. That being said, there were sections I had to re-listen to because there was just so much detail and the text was so rich that I needed more than one pass to absorb it.

Review: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard

war storm A satisfying ending to a very good series.  It starts just minutes after the end of King’s Cage, where Mare is reeling from being betrayed by Cal choosing the crown over her.  I wasn’t really all that surprised by this because as much as he loves Mare and has been open to the red plight but he is a Silver Prince that was born to rule.  He’s going to give that up?  Anyway, Victoria does a great job of balancing her Game of Thronesque story lines.  With so many families, groups and countries vying for the future of Norta the story could have been easily bogged down but it isn’t.  Alliances are clear and who is going to betray who is clear.  We all know who is on what team and when it comes down to it who is going to side with who when it comes to the end it didn’t disrupt the storyline.  At the moment, Mare and Cal are reunited in the same objective of get Maven out of power but their alliance is shaky at best.  We know that Cal has no intention of giving up his throne as he feels he is the best to reunite his fractured nation but the Scarlet Guard has no intention of putting him on the throne.  Maven has the Nortan crown but little support.  Iris, his wife from neighboring country the Lakelands, is already scheming to take the crown from Maven as soon as he depletes his army against Cal.  The western nation of Montfort that is the only democracy in this new world that has silvers and reds working together has made their intentions known that they will not have another silver king either.  So who wins? Well that would be too spoilery but I will say i like the ambiguous ending.  Victoria has definitely left enough open that if she ever wanted to return to Norta, Monfort or the Lakelands she could but if she doesn’t then she has given her characters a good send off.  Mare is broken and bruised but is working on healing.  She has been many people throughout the four books.  She’s been Mare from the sticks, a thief.  She’s been Mareena, a lost Silver and the lightning girl a leader and inspiration for the rebellion but who is she really.  Cal’s growth is quite as strong but then again I think Cal has already had a good sense of who he was.  Maven is probably the most tragic.  The abuse that he suffered from his mother is beyond cruel but that shouldn’t excuse his many crimes he committed throughout the series.  My biggest complaint is that Cameron who was one of POV characters in the last book only makes an appearance in one chapter.  Other than that, this was a satisfying ending to a very good series.

Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

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There was a time in my life when I almost exclusively read literary fiction. This is obviously not that time and so I’m both a little surprised and thrilled that the Asian Lit Bingo challenge got me to read two works of literary fiction in (a little more than) a month. Rainbirds was the second of these novels. It is set in Japan and follows Ren Ishida as he goes to the small city of Akakawa to take care of his sister’s affairs following her unexpected and untimely death. Keiko, you see, was murdered.

The novel is a slow burn. Ren decides to stay in Akakawa after he’s asked to take over his sister’s position at a cram school. He is finishing up his time at university, having submitted his thesis for his Masters degree in English literature at a university in Tokyo. He even moves into her unconventional living situation. His sister had been living rent-free in the home of a wealthy politician in exchange for bringing his catatonic wife lunch and reading to her every day. The story moves back and forth between Ren’s memories of growing up with his sister, who was almost a decade older than him, and the present-time narrative of Ren putting his sister to rest while trying to figure out how she died.

As Ren gets to know people in Akakawa, so do we. They are an interesting cast of characters. These side narratives help to build a picture of the city and also of Keiko’s life prior to her death. Ren discovers that he didn’t know his sister as well as he thought he had.

This novel was not what I expected it to be. After reading a few reviews before selecting it, I expected something more fast-paced and centered on the murder. But, this novel was slower and took was through many little mysteries to eventually weave a heartbreaking picture of this young man coming to terms with a tremendous loss. I am so glad that I picked this up, even if it broke my heart.

The audio book was read by David Shih and he did a wonderful job.

Review: French Concession by Xiao Bai

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French Concession by Xiao Bai is a complex novel that interleaves a number of different storylines told by different narrators who all live or work inside the French Concession in 1930s Shanghai. The novel begins with an assassination and from there follows a communist cell, some police officers in the French political section, an arms dealer, a newspaper photographer turned double agent, Shanghai police, and some Western speculators and diplomats trying to make their fortune. In the main storyline, the novel follows the communist cell, the arms dealer, and the cops as the one attempts to cause trouble in the Concession, one attempts to run their business, and the other attempts to stop the first two. According to documents at the end of the novel, this story is based on real happenings in Shanghai and came about when the author started trying to piece together documents that had been not well archived over the years.

It took me awhile to get into the story, possibly because of all of the different narrators and storylines. There are some storylines that are secondary to the main story, and I had a hard time at first trying to figure out how they fit. However, the novel begins with a list of characters and a brief description of who they are in relation to each other, and that helped me get into the story. Once I got into it, I kept reading into wee hours of the morning, because I wanted to know what happened.

One of the things that this novel does really well, in part because of all of the secondary stories, is its sense of place. You definitely get the feeling of a place that is full of people, all with their own agendas, trying to make their way in a bustling city. This was also helped on by an occasional map being included. Shanghai, and the French Concession, in part because it is a place that is created by the people that live in it, is a character in this novel. And, it was great. I originally bought it because I read a description that called it a noir novel. I was expecting it to be more pulpy. It is noir, for sure, following the suspects, the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes in the novel. But, it is much more complicated than a pulp novel and it required a lot more concentration. So, if you wanted something light to read at the end of the day, this is not for you.

 

If you enjoy novels that are told from multiple perspectives, give you a sense of a historical time and place, or are noir, then I totally recommend this novel.

Pop Culture Assignment for Kate: Horror and Suspense

I had a hard time coming up with an assignment for Kate. My originally thought about assigning her first books in four different series but I had a trouble narrowing it down and  most of them are series that she would totally have read if she hadn’t been so busy the last couple of years working on PhD.  Which kinda defeats the purpose since the assignments are supposed to be of books that we normally wouldn’t read on our own.  So I decided on four different standalone horror and suspense novels.  All four of these books I enjoyed for different reasons.  I think it’s good to have a scare every now and then but also like how genre can comment on social issues without being in your face about it but also to an audience that normally wouldn’t seek out such material on their own.  So I’m excited to see how she like them.

cryers cross Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

I’m starting off Kate with Cryer’s Cross.  I would say is kinda of a ghost story.  Kendall loves her small town in Montana but she has dreams of going to school in New York. When tragedy strikes and her friends start to go missing, she teams up with the new boy to solve the mystery.  Race, mental disorders and small town secrets all come into play in this well written mystery.

coldestgirl The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Holly Black is a master story teller and this is in my opinion one of her best books.  She takes the vampire genre to a new level with this one.  I have to say it’s right up there with Sunshine by Robin McKinley.  Cities have been walled up to quarantine off vampires from the regular populations.  Tana wakes up the day after a party to find herself the only survivor of a vampire attack with the vampire and her ex-boyfriend both tied up.  She must make the decision to take them to a Coldtown.  Depression and the search for fame are also examined as they make their journey.

the waking dark The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

They called it the Killing Day when regular citizens go on a killing spree out of nowhere in a small town in Kansas.  Five teenagers from different parts of town are thrown together as they try to survive the night and the mysterious virus goes through the town.  Social classes, privilege, abuse all play apart of the narrative as they figure out what’s going on and how they can escape it.

scowler Scowler by Daniel Kraus

I changed my final book.  I originally was going to have Kate read another Holly Black novel but it didn’t really fit the whole horror theme.  This one kinda gave me nightmares.  So good Luck, Kate.  Ry and his mother and sister are trying to save their Iowa farm when a meteorite hits nearby and their past comes back to haunt them.  Their abusive father is on the loose and Ry must rely on his old imaginary friends to helped him survive his father before.  Can they do it again?

I hope Kate and everyone who chooses to read along will enjoy their Summer of Horror and Suspense.