Review: Into the Dim

Into the Dim, Janet B. Taylor (Into the Dim #1)

Published March 1st 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Hardcover, 432 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing.

I’m so sad to say that Into the Dim was, well in a word, dim.  When I first read that this book involved a secret society in Scotland and time travel I was ready to eager to dive in.  A book about a smart girl going back eight centuries to find her mom – awesome. Unfortunately I found Into the Dim to be pretty flat and predictable rather than the romantic adventure it was supposed to be.

Hope could have been amazing!  Instead she was really pretty disappointing.  For all that she was supposed to be so smart with her photographic memory she surely missed all the clues I saw dropping.  Honestly, I love a good plot twist as much as the next girl – but don’t give me a genius main character who can’t see a setup as it’s happening.  

None of the characters had much depth to them unfortunately so Hope had nothing to be propped up with besides the time travel.  I liked the idea of the travelers moving throughout history and preventing others from messing with treasures that might otherwise be lost to history – but again the execution was just off.  I think if Taylor had kept the time travel simpler rather than adding complicated machinery to lay lines it would have been better.  Don’t make the reader think too hard about the implausibility of your story – just go with it and I will follow you!

Where Taylor’s work shone through was in the research.  You can tell she really loves the time period and Eleanor of Aquitaine.  When Hope lands in the past Taylor really brought the scene to life. The smells and the dress, the class distinctions and the royal pageantry were all so well done.   But still, Hope and her companions felt too wrong footed for all the research and experience they were supposed to have.  The research just wasn’t enough to carry the book.  

2 stars

Thank you HMH Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

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Review: The Gracekeepers

The Gracekeepers, Kirsty Logan

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published May 19th 2015 by Crown

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, sending the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

This was a very strange book.  It was I think a future on Earth in which water has taken over most of the world.  We have the damplings who live on boats vs. the landlockers who live on what islands are left or what they can build out from those islands.  North dances with her bear on a circus boat and Callanish is a Gracekeeper.  If this had been a story just about the Gracekeepers I might have been into it.  The Gracekeepers perform ritualistic burials at sea for the damplings – this was still odd but kind of beautiful.  I think more worldbuilding in the beginning might have set me up to enjoy this book more.  I felt like I was just dumped onto a boat without enough perspective.

North was born to circus life, while Callanish chose to leave her island and live in a hut at the equator to perform restings.  What exactly brought Callanish to this decision was never totally laid out which frustrated me.  North’s path seems fraught with danger and I read with a feeling of dread throughout.  Oddly enough that’s what kept me reading, but that really didn’t pay off for me.  I knew something terrible would happen, I just thought something amazing could still come from it.  The writing was beautiful at times, but this book was just not for me.  All around I just would have liked more – what was given of each character’s story could have had so much more depth and too many questions were left unanswered.

The sea was an endless battlefield, and the deeper you went the worse it got, because everything that died had nowhere to go but down.  In its darkest depths, the sea was nothing but an endless rain of bone, teeth, scales and flesh.

2 stars

Thank you Crown and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

All quotes taken from an unfinished copy in advance of publication.

Nonfiction Review: Good Mourning

Good Mourning, Elizabeth Meyer, Caitlin Moscatello

Published August 25th 2015 by Gallery Books

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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In this funny, insightful memoir, a young socialite risks social suicide when she takes a job at a legendary funeral chapel on New York City’s Upper East Side.Good Mourning offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most famous funeral homes in the country where not even big money can protect you from the universal experience of grieving. It’s Gossip Girl meets Six Feet Under, told from the unique perspective of a fashionista turned funeral planner.

Elizabeth Meyer stumbled upon a career in the midst of planning her own father’s funeral, which she turned into an upbeat party with Rolling Stones music, thousands of dollars worth of her mother’s favorite flowers, and a personalized eulogy. Starting out as a receptionist, Meyer quickly found she had a knack for helping people cope with their grief, as well as creating fitting send-offs for some of the city’s most high-powered residents.  Meyer has seen it all: two women who found out their deceased husband (yes, singular) was living a double life, a famous corpse with a missing brain, and funerals that cost more than most weddings. By turns illuminating, emotional, and darkly humorous, Good Mourning is a lesson in how the human heart grieves and grows, whether you’re wearing this season’s couture or drug-store flip-flops.

This book had a lot of potential.  Sadly, the stories pitched in the blurb were too short to really sell the book as a whole and honestly, Elizabeth Meyer really thinks way too much of her wardrobe for me.  Meyer started in the funeral business as a receptionist soon after the death of her father.  The other receptionists don’t see past her Gucci heels on the first day of work and never warm to her and frankly are quite cruel.  She moves from answering calls to dealing with families and helping them plan incredibly detailed – and expensive funerals.  I am not discounting how unfair the treatment by her coworkers was – but when I read

For the pittance I was making, my job was less a job and more charity work for the Upper East Side.”

If that’s your attitude I’m sure that the people who are counting on that pittance for their income aren’t going to like you.  I get that Meyer couldn’t disclose a who exactly she helped at the funeral home, but it just felt like there could have been richer stories.  I mean a corpse with a missing brain?  Where did it go?!  Who would have taken it?  Couldn’t there have been some follow-up to find out?  

I do applaud Meyer for talking about death and wanting to get people talking to their families and preparing for the inevitable, but in the end this would have been better with less fashion and more detailed anecdotes.  

2 stars

Thank you Gallery Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

All quotes taken from an unfinished galley copy in advance of publication.

2015 TBR Challenge Review: Feed

Feed, MT Anderson

Published February 23rd 2004 by Candlewick Press

Paperback, 308 pages

Source: Borrowed for 2015 Roofbeam Reader TBR Challenge (Thank you Steph!)

169756For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires.

I have pretty nearly accepted that I’m going to fail at this 2015 TBR Challenge but I am going to go down fighting – er, reading.  I decided to get back into the Challenge with M.T. Anderson’s Feed which was highly recommended by my coworker .  

To quote my almost 5 year-old – This book was not my favorite.  We begin with Titus and his friends headed the moon – basically for something for the teenagers to do over Spring Break.  There’s no real introduction to Titus and his time period, you’re just there traveling with him.  The language is crazy, and while I did understand it all by the end of the book it definitely bothered me as I started.  

Spoilers ahead:  This line from the description “And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desire,” made me think this was a book about fighting the feed and letting go of the manipulations of the brain.  There is a constant media stream running through Titus’ brain.  Where to shop, what music to listen to, what does happiness look like – all these questions are answered by the corporations who can access his thoughts.  Yes – Violet had the intent to rebel with her own mind, but there was no grand revolution like I expected.  That was totally a let down for me.  I wanted change in the end and I definitely didn’t get it. These people were visibly rotting and just going with it – WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM?!

My sister read Feed last year and compared it with Feed (Newsflesh #1) written by Seanan McGuire if you want another opinion.  I’ll stick with McGuire and take my Feed with a side of zombies anyday.

Next I think I’m going to either finally read the Hitchhiker’s Guide or try some retired Holmes in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

Are you doing the TBR challenge?  Or like me already making your 2016 list?

2015 TBR Challenge Review: Swamplandia!

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell

Hardcover, 316 pages

Published February 1st 2011 by Knopf

Source: I don’t even remember!

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From Goodreads…

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline — think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades — and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness.

Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.

Another 2015 TBR Challenge book off my list!  I’m sad that saying I finished is the most exciting thing I can say about Swamplandia!  I thought I was sure to love this book – and I don’t even know why I was so sure.  I’m not a swamp person, I’m not a reptile person – but who doesn’t love a good coming of age story?  I tried Swamplandia! when it first came out but wasn’t in the mood, this time I made it my book club selection for the month so I’d be sure to get through (My apologies to anyone not at book club this month).

Ava Bigtree comes from a family of alligator wrestlers.  Her goal in life is to become as accomplished a wrestler as her late mother and in doing so to save her family’s theme park -Swamplandia!  Ava lives with her father Chief Bigtree, her brother Kiwi and her sister Osceola and all the “Seth’s” which is the family name for the gators.  Clearly this book was always going to be a bit different, I just didn’t expect it to be quite so bizarre.

Was this book really magical realism?  Was it just that I didn’t believe in the ghosts that Osceola was talking about that I missed the magic?   Ava’s teenage brother Kiwi runs away to work at a competing theme park- the World of Darkness.  The World of Darkness features such things as a blood red swimming pool and an entrance through the Hellmouth.  WTF.  Maybe that was why I couldn’t get into this book- who wants to swim in a blood red pool? Ewww.

I don’t want to say exactly what happened that finally totally turned me off the book, but I can say it was about page 268 and IT WAS JUST WRONG.  I had convinced myself you weren’t going there Swamplandia! and you kind of crushed me.  And then there was no resolution! The book just wrapped up too quickly for all the trudging through the swamp and through the freaking Hellmouth that you put me through.  Maybe I’ll enjoy Karen Russell more in short stories?  Her other books are still on my TBR!

Now what do I try to check off my list next?!  I’ll take any suggestions!

Review: The Bookseller

The Bookseller, Cynthia Swanson

Hardcover, 338 pages

Published March 3rd 2015 by Harper

Source: e-ARC from edelweiss

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From Goodreads.

Nothing is as permanent as it appears . . .

Denver, 1962: Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She loves the bookshop she runs with her best friend, Frieda, and enjoys complete control over her day-to-day existence. She can come and go as she pleases, answering to no one. There was a man once, a doctor named Kevin, but it didn’t quite work out the way Kitty had hoped.

Then the dreams begin.

Denver, 1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They have beautiful children, an elegant home, and good friends. It’s everything Kitty Miller once believed she wanted—but it only exists when she sleeps.

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

As the lines between her worlds begin to blur, Kitty must figure out what is real and what is imagined. And how do we know where that boundary lies in our own lives?

I really wanted to love The Bookseller.  I was so curious!  Would it be magical realism?  Was the Bookseller going to be living two lives only in her own head?  I love books about books – so would this be an amazing guide to books like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry?

I really can’t find the right words for this book.  Kitty had such potential as an independent woman, a bit ahead of her time in the ‘60s – and then she’d wake up as Katharyn.  A housewife and mother who was completely a product of her times and did not show as much spine as she had before she met her husband. Kitty kind of wanted to be Katharyn and at the same time Katharyn kind of wanted to go back to being Kitty. Honestly, I just wanted to know what the heck was happening.

I just didn’t click with Kitty/Katharyn as a character enough to feel really drawn into her story either way. Maybe it was because she wasn’t ever settled in either life?  I could have likely walked away from The Bookseller without an answer of what was real and not really suffered for a lack of resolution.  In the end, while the explanation made sense for the story – it wasn’t what I wanted for her which always makes me grumpy.

I will say Swanson wrote her time period well – I was uncomfortable reading her mentions of race and class throughout and with the discussions of autism and the blame placed on mothers.  So in that regard I felt like I was right there in another time.  I loved the description of Denver in the ‘60s!  That was really fun to read.  I liked how Kitty/Katharyn used the books that were best sellers to track where she was in time. Really this wasn’t a bad book, just not an Amanda book in the end. This was Swanson’s debut novel, I’d for sure be curious to see what she writes in the future.

2 stars

Thank you Harper and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Have you read The Bookseller?  Did you get drawn into this story?  Or can you recommend another book about books for me?

2015 TBR Challenge The Painter of Battles

The Painter of Battles, Arturo Perez-Reverte

Amanda

Published January 8th 2008 by Random House
Hardcover, 211 pages
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From Goodreads…
Andres Faulques, a world-renowned war photographer, has retired to a life of solitude on the Spanish coast. On the walls of a tower overlooking the sea, he spends his days painting a huge mural that pays homage to history’s classic works of war art and that incorporates a lifetime of disturbing images.
One night, an unexpected visitor arrives at Faulques’ door and challenges the painter to remember him. As Faulques struggles to recall the face, the man explains that he was the subject of an iconic photo taken by Faulques in a war zone years ago. “And why have you come looking for me?” asks Faulques. The stranger answers, “Because I’m going to kill you.”

This story transports Faulques to the time when he crossed continents to capture conflicts on film with his lover, Olvido, at his side. Until she walked into his life, Faulques muses, he had believed he would survive both war and women.

As the tense dialogue between Faulques and his visitor continues, the stakes grow ever higher. What they are grappling with quickly proves to be not just Faulques’ fate but the very nature of human love and cruelty itself. 
I am kind of afraid to tell my husband I finished this book, but at least I have another off my 2015 TBR Challenge list.  I think my first Arturo Perez-Reverte book was the Queen of the South.  That book is gorgeous!  The story is captivating and tense and Teresa is a totally kick-ass character.  I forced that one on my husband and he loved it also – we have since collected almost all of Perez-Reverte’s books but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the Painter of Battles when it came out.  I think the subject matter — the Balkan War- intimidated me.  My husband counts this among his favorites but sadly it turns out this just was not for me.
I was totally caught up in the beginning when the stranger appears and tells Faulques that he was there to kill him. When I learned why the stranger was there I was really emotional, but sadly soon after that I felt myself losing interest. I went back and forth as I read- interested and then out of it.  I felt bogged down in the words a lot of the time, which is surprising for such a short book.
There were parts of this book that were just beautifully written.  I can only imagine how it would flow if you read his work in the original Spanish.  I felt like I could see the brutality of the battles Faulques painted and photographed.  The scenes between the characters just didn’t have that depth. But I felt like I was lost as Faulques was deep in in the past or pondering the violent tendencies of human kind.  This one is going back on the bookshelf quietly and not onto my list to reread.  I might pick up the Queen of the South again soon though.
Have you read any of Perez-Reverte’s books?  Do you have a favorite?