Review: The Butterfly and the Violin

The Butterfly and the Violin (Hidden Masterpiece, #1) by Kristy Cambron
Release Date: July 15th 2014

Official Summary:
"Today." Sera James spends most of her time arranging auctions for the art world's elite clientele. When her search to uncover an original portrait of an unknown Holocaust victim leads her to William Hanover III, they learn that this painting is much more than it seems.

"Vienna, 1942." Adele Von Bron has always known what was expected of her. As a prodigy of Vienna's vast musical heritage, this concert violinist intends to carry on her family's tradition and play with the Vienna Philharmonic. But when the Nazis learn that she helped smuggle Jews out of the city, Adele is taken from her promising future and thrust into the horrifying world of Auschwitz.

The veil of innocence is lifted to expose a shuddering presence of evil, and Adele realizes that her God-given gift is her only advantage; she must play. Becoming a member of the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz, she fights for survival. Adele's barbed-wire walls begin to kill her hope as the months drag into nearly two years in the camp. With surprising courage against the backdrop of murder and despair, Adele finally confronts a question that has been tugging at her heart: Even in the midst of evil, can she find hope in worshipping God with her gift?

As Sera and William learn more about the subject of the mysterious portrait--Adele--they are reminded that whatever horrors one might face, God's faithfulness never falters.

I must admit that when I requested this book on Netgalley, I did not know that this was Christian fiction. While this isn't a book I would usually read, I am so glad I did.

It's the story of survival. Adele, the Christian daughter of an Austrian military leader, was sent to Auschwitz for "reeducation" after she was caught attempting to smuggle out a Jewish family. Sera is a lost woman searching for a lost painting while trying to move on after heartbreak. Both women were deeply betrayed by someone they love. Both women wrestle with and find comfort in their faith while trying to overcome their struggles. Their lives become entangled and Adele's survival helps Sera succeed. 

This is one of the few books I've read this year with near perfect pacing. I was never bored or felt rushed, except towards the end. I feel that the ending, while satisfying, was wrapped up too quickly. 

I sincerely recommend this book to anyone interested in WW2-era fiction, regardless of their faith. 


Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange: A Novel by Alena Graedon
Release Date: April 8, 2014

Official Summary: 
In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .

Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

This review is not spoiler-free.

I really wanted to love this book. I had this on my to-read shelf before it hit netgalley. The main idea is that  the technology we're dependent on makes us even more dependent because it changes the English language and then it makes us sick. Clever idea but terrible execution.

The book is supposed to be the combination of Bart's journal and Ana's memories. Bart is a big fan of words no one actually uses. Early in his first chapter he describes Ana as a "variegated seraph".  He also describes her as "Ana qua Ana is, basically flawlessness qua flawlessness, sui generis". Thank god my e-reader has a dictionary. But then he develops aphasia so it takes awhile to figure out if what you're reading is gibberish or just an overcomplicated word. 

Ana really likes footnotes. While footnotes are useful in scholarly text, they're annoying in novels. It breaks up the flow of reading to go read the notes and you risk spoilers to learn nothing of use. 

Ana is also an idiot. She is repeatedly told to not use the Meme, but she always has it on her. While her naivety is realistic (her Meme is her phone, ID, credit card and everything else at once. How would you cope?) you would think she'd get the message eventually. There's also the scene in the basement. She stumbles across strangers in the basement of her (and her father's) office building, sitting at tables in a deep trance with metal discs on their foreheads and they're reading nonsense symbols. It's creepy by itself but with everything else going on the scene before her is scary. Most people would get the heck out of there. But not our Ana. She sticks one of the discs on her forehead! And then once she does leave, she goes back into the creepy people in a trance room. If she didn't have major help, she wouldn't have lived to the end of the book.

The pacing is a huge issue. There's no world building. We're looking into a world 20+ years into the future but other than the Memes and driverless cars, little else in technology has changed. The book takes place over about 8 weeks, but most of it is about the first 2 or 3 weeks. The plot is a slow, slow burn and then there's an info dump at the end. 

It took me 3 weeks to read this book (which is unusually slow for a book of this length). With most books I'm left sad it ended but with this I was relieved to finally be done with it.


Favorite Reads of 2013

It's mid-March which is really late for a Year in Review post but I don't care. It feels like posting here is like shouting into an abyss but I'm enjoying the challenge. I think I'm improving my writing (thank you New Jersey public school system) and I always love recommending a good book.

2013 was a big year for me personally, professionally, and reading….ally. "Readingally" is now a word. I started reviewing in 2012 but I really got into it in 2013. In 2013 I read 88 books which seems like a lot but that's considered a low amount for a reviewer. Some books were terrible, some were phenomenal, but most were just okay. Sometimes it seems like it's the just okay books that go on to bestseller lists. 

The following books are sort of special to me. They're not well known, but they're the some of the best books I read in 2013. I read a lot of dystopia/speculative fiction and there have been too many iterations of The Hunger Games over the past few years. These books stand out from that cliche.  

Clicking the title will take you to my review on Goodreads.

25 Perfect Days by Mark Tullius: 25 loosely interconnecting stories of a future United States that is turning into a religion-based totalitarian state. The great things about these stories is that Tullius doesn't lay everything out for you. You have to put the pieces together for yourself. I'm pretty sure I said "Holy shit" out loud more than once while reading this book. 

Daynight by Megan Thomason: I'm a total fangirl for Megan Thomason. The first part in a series, daynight tells the story of a connected but opposite planet named Thera and the government that controls it. Thomason takes tropes that I usually groan at (multiple POVs, love triangles) and somehow makes them fresh and enjoyable. Megan also gets bonus points because she's self published. 

The Moon Dwellers by David Estes: I have to admit, I didn't love this book at first. But for some reason I kept coming back to David's  Goodreads page and I knew I had to continue the series. Or should I say series plural? The Moon Dwellers is one of the first parts of two interconnected and co-occurring series. You have the Dwellers Series and the Country Saga trilogies and The Earth Dwellers which capstones them all. The Saga and Series is so much more complex and enjoyable than I anticipated. Like Megan, David is self published, and he writes several books a year. He's also super interactive with his readers online. I don't think he sleeps.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown: Red Rising came out in January 2014 but I was able to read it several months ago through LibraryThing. Pierce has a contract to write a trilogy and movies are in the works. Pretty impressive for a debut writer. Red Rising is a mix of dystopia, fantasy, and mythology. It's also way more Game of Thrones than Hunger Games. It's violent, heartbreaking, and overwhelming. And I bloodydamn loved it.

Tandem by Anna Jarzab: This is way more fantasy-based than I usually read. Runaway princesses? Please. But add in someone going through a portal to a parallel universe to kidnap that princess's doppelgänger? I'm getting interested. I don't know how this book holds up to a devoted fantasy fan. But for someone who prefers scifi but also watches Once Upon a Time, this was a great read.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman: The cover compares the Unwind series to The Hunger Games but I think that's not fair to this series. The Hunger Games made terror entertaining but Unwind makes terror actually terrifying. Shusterman excels at world building. Most stories start with something like "bad stuff happened and now we're here". But in Unwind, the world building much more precise and consistent and it makes the books so much better. The world building and Shusterman's writing style takes Unwind way, way above other YA dystopian series.  

What do you think? What books would you add? What books would you remove? 


Review: Burn Out

Burn Out by Kristi Kelvig
Release Date: April 8 2014

I really don't know what to say other than: This book is fantastic

Tora believes she is the last person on Earth. Everyone with money left the planet a long time ago and those without have died from the extreme elements. She hopes to get a ride to the new planet with a friend but she knows that isn't very likely. Really, she is waiting to die. 

Tora is also the reluctant guard of a stockpile of very dangerous weapons. 

Enter the mercenaries. Tora finds herself surrounded by a group that wants her weapons and they are all surrounded by someone who wants them all dead. She is forced to depend on and trust with her life near strangers that don't even trust each other.

Usually when an author wants a "strong female lead" they are trying to write someone like Tora. She is resourceful, outspoken, clever, stubborn, and cunning.  She's watched the world end around her -- literally and figuratively, but she's still a teenager.  She thinks one of the mercenaries is cute but she knows that maybe this isn't the right time to daydream about that. 

Usually I would be annoyed that we know so little about Markus and his friends. But this way you're going along for the ride with Tora, trying to figure out who was can trust. 

I would never spoil an ending, but I will say that I nearly threw my Nook across the room when I realized that I had read the last page.


You Should Be Reading: Tom & Lorenzo

Note: "You Should Be Reading" is the first post in a new series of noteworthy authors that I literally just made up.

Is it weird to say that I'm proud of these two? 

Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez have been blogging since 2006 (which feels like yesterday but is actually eight years ago). They started off recapping Project Runway here on blogspot but have since expanded to covering red carpets, Fashion Weeks, and any time someone famous wears something hideous. 

I've been reading TLo since 2008 - of course I preordered this book. The postcard arrived today and inspired this post. Reading TLo and the Bitter Kittens (their community/fandom/commenters) is one of my favorite parts of the day. I know I'm not the only person who constantly refreshes their site for new content while at work.  

While the book is very different from the blog, it's still their voice. Instead of laughing at Christina Hendrick's shoes, they delve into the very strange world of being a celebrity. Chapters include how to dress for a red carpet depending on the movie's genre, how to date and then dump and then date a different celebrity, and which charities/causes to support (hint: nothing gross). The autographed postcard above is the chapter illustration for "The Full Chernobyl": how to have the perfect public meltdown. Apologizing for that meltdown is covered in the next chapter.

If you like to laugh at people wearing ugly clothes that cost more than your car (the laughing helps with the pain) and read thoughtful analyses of the clothes on Mad Men (trust me: you do), go read Tom and Lorenzo's website and go buy this book!


Review: The Divorce Papers

The Divorce Papers by Susan Reiger
Release Date: March 18 2014

Have you ever wanted to like a book so much that it hurt when it wasn't great? That was The Divorce Papers.

Official Summary: Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl is happy toiling away as a criminal law associate at an old line New England firm where she very much appreciates that most of her clients are behind bars. Everyone at Traynor, Hand knows she abhors face-to-face contact, but one weekend, with all the big partners away, Sophie must handle the intake interview for the daughter of the firm’s most important client. After eighteen years of marriage, Mayflower descendant Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim has just been served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at the popular local restaurant, Golightly’s. She is locked and loaded to fight her eminent and ambitious husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology, for custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane—and she also burns to take him down a peg. Sophie warns Mia that she’s never handled a divorce case before, but Mia can’t be put off. As she so disarmingly puts it: It’s her first divorce, too.

Debut novelist Susan Rieger doesn’t leave a word out of place in this hilarious and expertly crafted debut that shines with the power and pleasure of storytelling. Told through personal correspondence, office memos, emails, articles, and legal papers, this playful reinvention of the epistolary form races along with humor and heartache, exploring the complicated family dynamic that results when marriage fails. For Sophie, the whole affair sparks a hard look at her own relationships—not only with her parents, but with colleagues, friends, lovers, and most importantly, herself. Much like Where’d You Go, Bernadette, The Divorce Papers will have you laughing aloud and thanking the literature gods for this incredible, fresh new voice in fiction.

I've read Where’d You Go, Bernadette. This is not Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

While I enjoyed reading this book, I don't know what kind of commercial success it will have. 

The official summary describes Divorce Papers as "playful" but it really isn't. It's over 400 pages of legal documents. There's no funny in dividing up assets. 

To break up the legalese there is correspondence between Sophie and her mentor/boss/crush, Sophie and her best friend Maggie, and Mia's letters. The emails between Sophie and Maggie are long and rambling and they do nothing but slow everything down. 

The only saving grace about The Divorce Papers is Mia. As my grandmother would say, she's got some moxie. My other grandmother would say that she don't take no shit. Both are right. Mia's handwritten notes are the only thing that lifts The Divorce Papers from a case study to a novel.

Bottom line: Don't waste your time.


I'm back!

According to my pageview stats I only get like four views a week, so hello to you four!

Some personal issues led to me putting blog on hold for awhile.

Two reviews will go up today and I promise there will be more consistent updates from here on out.


How to Survive Bookexpo America

My dad and I went up to New York last month for BEA's Power Reader Day. Next year I plan to go for the whole conference. Here's my survival tips: 

1) Wear comfortable shoes. The Javits center is HUGE and most of the exhibitors don't have extra carpeting. I cannot stress this enough. The women wearing heels were not the women who spent their day in lines.

2) Plan ahead of time. BEA publishes the map and schedule in the weeks before. I wrote up a short spreadsheet of when and where authors are signing. You definitely add more to your schedule as the day goes on, but this way you won't miss anything important.

3) Bring some cash and a rolling suitcase. For $3 a bag you can leave the suitcase in a monitored part of the lobby. Throughout the day you can stop by and move your piles of books from your tote to the suitcase.

4) Bring a big and strong tote bag.

5) Bring your phone charger. There were charger "stations" set up by the author stages (actually just power strips on tables, but they worked).

6) Unless you really want the swag, don't bother getting tickets for the author events. The stages are in the middle of the floor. I watched Jim Gaffigan from the perimeter of the stage and had a perfect view.

7) I wouldn't recommend going around with a big group. I wouldn't want to risk missing something important to wait in a line for a book you don't care about.

8) Don't bring books to the conference. Any book signing will include a copy of the book, and you really don't want to carry around more weight than you need to.

9) Follow along and participate with the social media! #Bea13 was huge on twitter, tumblr, facebook, and instagram this year, and I expect it to be the same next year.


Review: Out of the Easy

I'm not going to lie. When I found out I won this on Librarything, I did a dance. Ruta's first book Between Shades of Gray (not the sex book) was absolutely incredible, and Out of the Easy is no different.

Our main character Josie is the daughter of a New Orleans prostitute  and that has followed her around her entire life. At 17, she's done pretty well for herself. She's graduated high school and works at a bookstore in exchange for a place to live. But she wants out. She wants to escape the Quarter and start again. She has her eyes on a college education, which was rare for a  blue collar woman of the time. But with every step she takes forward, the city seems to pull her back.

Like Between Shades of Gray, Ruta excels at describing Josie's world and her friends so that you feel you are there with her but the pages aren't clogged and slow with unnecessary explanations. 

Out of The Easy grabs you from page one and keeps you entertained until the very end. 


Review: The Thief of Auschwitz

The Thief of Auschwitz is the story of Max and his family through their time during the Holocaust and life after.

The story is told through two narrators: Max, and his mother Eidel. With this narration style, the reader is able to learn about life in the men's and women's camps. Men needed to rely on their strength and usefulness to survive, while the women had to resort to more cunning tactics to make it through the day.

I've always been fascinated by novels set during the Holocaust, and this was no different, except for two major issues:

1) Most of the book takes place in Auschwitz, but there are small chapters that take place in present day New York City. The present day scenes are very out of place and confusing. I think they would have been better placed at the end.

2) The parents’ ending was abrupt. Clinch spent 200 pages forming these great characters and there was no closure for them. I would have loved to find out what happened to them after Max escaped. 

This is a must read for any fan of the genre and for anyone who supports self-published authors.