3.21.2015

Review: Charlie, Presumed Dead


Charlie, Presumed Dead
Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Let me start by saying, I'm pulling for Charlie's plan. I know that I'm supposed to be rooting for Aubrey and Lena but after listening to them so much in this story, I'm just not. I'll be that misanthrope. Holy wow that back 25% of the book! Charlie, Presumed Dead could also be aptly named How Not To Let Your First World Problems, Privilege, Pique and Arrogance Get You Into Real Third World Trouble.

I can't believe I'm saying this but I'm not even sad for Aubrey and Lena. I'm just not. And seriously, what's befallen them by the end of the book should get me there because it's messed up. Really messed up. In the beginning, I was on their side. I mean really who needs to find out at their boyfriend's funeral that he had another girlfriend. Not cool, Charlie. So it was fascinating to watch them discuss this and then realize how the Charlie each of them knew diverged so distinctly and in so many ways.
Then the idea to go find Charlie as Lena doesn't think him dead and Aubrey's on task to retrieve her incriminating confessional journal that was in Charlie's possession begins. That's what wore away my sympathy for these two.

But shortly after this is when the descent begins.

To start, they travel from Paris, to Bombay to Bangkok with each locale descending in order of safety or semblance of sanity all because Charlie lied to them.
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Then the idea to go find Charlie as Lena doesn't think him dead and Aubrey's on task to retrieve her incriminating confessional journal that was in Charlie's possession begins. That's what wore away my sympathy for these two. I listened to them go back and forth giving the other props and admiration on various qualities for the main of this book and felt that neither of them was terribly on top of, let alone, ahead of anyone, least of all Charlie based on their own actions. No matter what batshit idea Lena had, Aubrey would protest a minute and be all in the next with middling or more likely disastrous results to follow & then one or the other would go on again that the other had these strengths that current events completely discount. I'm rooting for Charlie's plan if for no other reason that he seems to be the only one on message. These chicas are scattered all over the place in mind and trans-continentally. When either of them would say a characteristic was unusual for the other I laughed because they've only known each other for about two weeks by story's end & they start saying these things within days of meeting.

Anyway, the parts of their bonding and navel gazing weren't enough to win me back to pulling for them because I just couldn't quite get past the fact that they were all in on this search for Charlie because he played them and hurt their feelings so they were going to make him pay. I still don't know what the plan was supposed to be when/if they tracked him down. Finger wagging? Withering looks? A stream of profanity to shame him? I mean seriously, what the hell could they do to hurt the guy who did this to them? The guy who set a global cabal in motion and doled out just enough and played just enough of their egos to keep them on the trail? I was never convinced they were either of them so formidable and they kept proving that the further into the story we went. Hopefully what happens by the end will make them more worthy opponents if they're going to continue with their plan.

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When at the 63% mark Aubrey laments "I'm tired of being on this rollercoaster", I was totally with her. I didn't care about Lena and Aubrey forming some tenuous friendship. Aubrey mentioned that she wasn't here for that earlier in the story & it made me laugh (good moment), I felt that way through the whole book.

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I give the writing credit that though I basically stopped rooting for Aubrey and Lena, I never stopped wanting to know what would happen to them next.

Charlie wound up being the most interesting person (Dana & Adam tie as close seconds) in the book who isn't quite in it and his POV chapters have me pining for more (I'm hoping there's a sequel to this). The ending wasn't an ending so much and is the kind of cliffhanger that sends people into fits. Surprisingly, I was cool with this one because I'm wanting to see what Charlie has up his sleeve next.



So here's to youthful cynicism & elaborate revenge schemes, things that never gets old & now I'm going to pull out my The Rules of Attraction dvd & reminisce. Charlie, wherever you are/if you are & until we meet again (hopefully in the soon too come sequel) here's to you:

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I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.



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3.18.2015

Review: The Book of Ivy


The Book of Ivy
The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



I've had this on my TBR list for a while and as this week I've resolved to get some of my backlog of YA titles read, I chose this as one of them. How awesome is that cover? From the summary, I thought I was getting a taut, dystopian telling of an imbeded assassin (Ivy's married into the Lattimer family thorough Bishop) but that's not really what happened. It's my own fault for having the expectation and for thinking that the sameness that seem to plague so many YA books I've read in the last few years would rear it's persistent head here. But it did. Ivy's been set to the task of murdering her mark, new husband Bishop. She's sixteen and he eighteen. In the "nation" they reside of Westfall (somewhere near what used to be the Ozarks in the world we know) they are opposite sides of the winners & losers. Ivy on the losing side & Bishop on the winning. To keep the peace, the Westfall daughters marry the Lattimer sons. Founder Westfall, Ivy's father wishes to usurp the power from president Lattimer and Ivy's assassination of Bishop is the initiating domino. I was so excited to see what unfolded.

What was to come for the main of the story was fairly well telegraphed to me when in the early chapters Ivy found about 5 words to describe and further refine Bishop's eye color. Oh hell. Here we go. I knew then, there was going to be no assassination and not even a proper attempt, for you see, Ivy was falling in love. Bishop is tooth achingly perfect to the point that he's devoid of an actual personality. Because of this, I didn't like or dislike him, he registered as a null. His reason to be is for Ivy to fall in love with him and cause her family loyalty angst. He doesn't need to be a real sort of person, so I accepted his bland presence and moved along. I didn't cheer or pine for their love because he wasn't well defined as his own person so... meh on the mance. And so the main of the book is taken up with he in turn falling for her and a lot of her whinging about what she's been tasked to do for her family's shot at primacy and "blah, blah, blah" (that's a direct quote from the book, btw, on how these people got here & that takes me into my other problem with the story, the lack of world-building.

I'm a science fiction fan who loves to know the "how" and "why" of whatever world the characters I'm watching move about in. There's virtually nothing to really explain in linear detail why the people of Westfall have chosen this way of life they have. There was a nuclear war, the survivors dwindled by radiation effects and killing off one another and then voila, the Lattimers beat the Westfalls and so women gave up their autonomy and concentrate on marrying, childbearing & tending (if they're lucky) & the rest of the sad unmatched women wend their days away in nursing, midwifery or whatever other jobs the men deem good enough. Miraculously, there seem to be no persons of color in this nation (based on all the people Ivy's described in the book) save one. Perhaps they're all the anonymous people she sees in passing. There apparently are no LGBT people either and no mention about what happens to them when they obviously exist in any given population. Westfall has been rolling along for three generations so I'm fairly sure there've been some instance so I wanted to know how they fare here in this place where these people are so hell bent on marrying off boys to girls. I'm just hoping they aren't the designated "tossed outside the gates" group.

So. I had a few problems with the story but then something awesome happened, the final quarter of the book. Ivy's growth arc while painfully dull at times to watch was made up for in how she came out on the other side. She dragged me along through all the romance angst to finally give me something to cheer for her. I was pulling for her when she made her choice and even empathised with her sadness at her decision. She took a bad situation and made it so that all parties were left unscathed (mortally anyway) and she bore all the consequences. That certain parties were all to easily adept at throwing her out for good an all was a good direction as well. Ivy displayed loyalty when she is shown none and it was a great moment showing her true character. That last quarter basically saved the entire book for me. It was good. So good that I want to read the next book.



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3.16.2015

Review: Jewel of the Thames: a Portia Adams Adventure


Jewel of the Thames: a Portia Adams Adventure
Jewel of the Thames: a Portia Adams Adventure by Angela Misri

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Quick and cute read. I figured out the big secret about Portia (how could it have been any other?). This had been on my TBR list for some time so I finally have read it and I'm glad. Not a bad little mystery but certainly not the brain taxing sort. It really is more a novella length and I finished in less than a day.



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3.15.2015

Review: Hausfrau


Hausfrau
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



It's not often that I spend time watching a character in film or books where I hope for the sweet relief of their death. The end of them. Where I think... know it will be better for all involved here when they are no more. In film, I felt that way about Susannah Ludlow in Legends of the Fall (when she finally put that bullet into her brain, I was as relieved as I was happy that I didn't have to abide with her any longer) and now she has a sister in Anna Benz, here.

I'm not going to spoil the things that happen here but I can say undoubtedly that this was the most uncomfortable existence I've endured with a character in some time. It was claustrophobic in a way that will bother me for the next weelk I'm sure and will recess but niggle at my mind occasionally for many months to come. I'm not happy about that but such is the price for reading this kind of story. Anna was exhausting and I admit to never having understood exactly where her neurotic self sprang from. I get her boredom but I just couldn't understand what I can see as nothing but refusal to do anything to operate in her own self-interest for her own actual benefit to resolve her state of boredom. She languished in it. Wore it like sable one minute and sackcloth and ashes the next. Her relationships that could have been meaningful, weren't to her and were left to moulder. The affairs she had to shake herself out of her long tenure of ennui served to only be meaningless, empty & to further give her something to feel badly about (when she had a moment of self-reflection at all). While I liked her interactions with Doktor Messerli, I never knew when Anna was telling the truth, if the dreams she related were real or another lie in a her deck of them or why she went to these things at all since she wasn't forthcoming or much looking to be helped. She certainly had no interest in helping herself or helping her doctor help her to. Anna crosses a line with one of her children that's so replete with cravenness that I'm still astonished. The narcissistic idea that she'd got the cuckold over on her husband, Bruno was also staggering. Her children seemed to be forgotten happenstances and certainly not entities with any purpose outside of things Anna has collected along the way. I won't speak of her friends because really, she hadn't any. Not truly. When the life she's constructed collapses in on itself and takes her down with it, I was relieved. I hadn't anything left to feel badly for her plight or cheer at her undoing. I was just glad when it was all over. Or more correctly, coming to an end.

The supporting characters are terribly well drawn but they don't need to be to have it conveyed how they rank and rate in Anna's mind and life. We can't know them deeply because Anna's only been interested in them in a superficial way. The one person she pines for the majority of the book isn't even active in the story until the very end and only via telephone call. The interaction serves it's purpose very well and just underscores the sad state Anna's created for herself and existed in. It's an isolationists tale.

I'd recommend this book but I don't know to whom exactly. Literary fiction can be a tricky thing and the reading of it can resonate or not more or less based on what any given reader is bringing to it. Still, I think it was wonderfully written. Vivid and at times, lyrical. I found it a quick read (not quite two days & I was up late reading to only stop when my tablet complained of low battery & needing a charge). It infiltrated my dreams and I take that as worthy. I have definitely added Jill Alexander Essbaum to my list of authors I actively seek out.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


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3.13.2015

Review: Younger


Younger
Younger by Suzanne Munshower

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



Just an okay read for me. I can't help but think that by the time I had read to chapter 19 and found the character was still newly arrived at her temporary apartment with the girl she met on the train back in chapter 9 (so literally a day since the event that apparently set off this whole cat and mouse chase introduced in chapter 1) and still had made no headway on the actual mystery), the story had lost much of the hope I'd invested in it.

This meandered on a lot of things meant to give a sense of the character's preoccupation with posh material possessions and the further tendrils of rarefied web she's drawn into. Ultimately, I found much of that tedious as the name brand notice by Anna (a woman many years my senior) made me think her frivolous and I had difficulty taking her seriously. She literally noticed what brand watches and shoes people were wearing in passing. She came across as trite for it and also fairly pretentious and worst of all, narcissistic (and that's even with her slow reckoning that she'd taken the few people in her life for granted and had made for herself a mostly valueless, empty life). I found her slighting opinion in the beginning (while she's under the tutelage of her coaches) of what young women were like was the worst broad brush ever. That the majority were supposed to be vapid, real life text speakers and cared only or most about being conversant in whatever passing trend there is at the moment with no interest or knowledge of anything that came before this moment, was frankly, a bore. Ostensibly she was still supposed to be inhabiting a professional job and had a worthy degree behind her so I didn't understand why she needed to try and blend this way.

Anyway, all comes to a tidy conclusion and let me just say that I knew from Chapter 1 when Pierre staggered into Anna's London apartment and died (like a dwarf in D&D and carrying a briefcase of intel instead of a scrawled note as the clue), that the persons he mentioned last would be the ones responsible for this sad cabal. On the up side, I got this as one of my Kindle First books and there's something to be said for having read it at no additional cost to me. It certainly passed some time but if I'm honest, I've got a TBR list that's years long so it's not like I'm spoiled for choice.



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