Book review: How to Stop Time.

Are you sensing a theme here?

Yes, universe, I’m listening.  I realize it might (finally) be time to dust off the Fates and do something with the project — if only for my own vanity (and the hours I’ve already put into it).

Ahem.  As with Eternal Life and The Next Together, this bulk of this book dwells somewhat in the past and in my opinion, the novel suffers for the decision.  I get the need to ground these ‘eternal’ beings in the past, but the modern storyline in each of the novels pays the price for the time spent before ‘now.’  While Ayah may allude to what’s happened in her many years on earth, with the exception of a pivotal moment in her life, she doesn’t dwell on her previous versions.  Her actions are focused on her current life (and with good reason).  While the author did a relatively seamless job moving between the times, eras, names and personalities of the protagonist, unfortuantely, for someone who’s been alive for 400 years, his life is a bit depressing.

With a cover that makes no sense and a title that doesn’t really connect to the story, I feel Mr. Haig is already at a loss.  The overwhelming focus on the United Kingdom didn’t do a lot for me, and while I could overlook some awkward pacing, the horribly abrupt and OUT OF NOWHERE — and yet somehow entirely I saw it coming — ending was a terrible way to close things out.  This is not a matter of my comparing this book to my own, it’s that I’m shocked an editor (or the publisher) would let the novel be released with such a disaster of a climax.  The protagonist (and supporting characters) deserved better.  So, of course, does the audience.

Give this one a pass.

 

Book review: The Next Together.

What?

Two reviews in a row?

The Next Together by Lauren James popped up on my radar last week (which makes me think the Fates project might be getting some energy next year).  As research for the book, the idea of different time lines and the idea that two ‘souls’ (for lac of a better word) were destined (or programmed…) to be together was one I thought worth researching.  While Ayah does allude to the fact that certain presences return to her life, her soul mate has only appeared once before.  In The Next Together, we follow four storylines across history — moving to an end we cannot quite grasp because it’s totally set up for a sequel.

Overall, it was a quick read, although I don’t think the storylines all worked.  Furthermore, even in a fictional world, simply because you were in love in the past, does not necessitate an ‘insta-love’ in the future.  Thus, the relationships all seemed a bit of a cheat.  In my own novel, for example, while Ayah recognizes an important man from her past, she struggles in telling him about what happened between them.  After all, she wants things between them to develop naturally and not because they might be destined for one another.  She doesn’t want to force him into a decision, and at the same time feels he is owed the truth (whether or not he wants to accept it).

As a quick side bar, for young novelists (this is debut fiction from Ms. James), you can’t just have ‘World War III’ and sort of gloss over it all.  As with above, this felt like very lazy writing, and I was rather surprised an editor wouldn’t have wanted a dramatic change in this decision.

Similarly, as I desperately try to incorporate more diversity into my books, this book was White People Town throughout.  There are lesbian grandmothers (yay!), but everyone else is unmistakably white bread.  I would’ve loved any character or section of history that was less focused on Western struggles.  For example, in the Crimea section, why not transport the couple to another part of the world?  Or, why did the relationship always have to be male and female?  As with above, the choices felt lazy and not inclusive.

And a final note, safe sex is important — especially if one is writing a novel geared towards young adults.  While I’m not clutching my pearls from the keyboard, some (any!) discussion of birth control or even a chat about ‘we just started bonking, maybe I don’t want to get pregnant’ would have been a welcome approach.  The ‘but I’m desperate for your babeh’ plot line felt a bit contrived.

I suppose it wasn’t all bad, and the book offered an excellent incorporation of modern elements –e-mails, lists, and notes, all of which were very creative.  Props on a great title and excellent cover as well.

Overall, I’m surprised the novel is so well received.  I would pass on this novel, and while mildly curious about the sequel, would not go out of my way to find it.

Have you read The Next Together?  What were your thoughts?

Book review: Eternal Life by Dara Horn.

Writing a book of a very similar nature, I was more or less desperate to read this novel.  It’s not that eternal life isn’t covered in fiction, more that this is one of the most similar set ups to my Fates project that I’ve come across in years.

Fortunately, via NetGalley, I was able to get an ARC of Eternal Life and immediately started reading, finishing the book rather quickly.

And after the first few chapters, I am happy to report that while some of the concepts are the same, overall, Ayah and Co. are still very much okay in their originality and while we might have some crossover in our audiences, I don’t think there would be any mix up between our novels.

Spoilers ahead.  Don’t read if you plan on reading the book with fresh eyes.  It’s probably also worth noting that I am extremely close to this subject, having thought about it off and on for the better part of seven years.  So, please take my review with a grain of salt.

Pros

  • A relatively straightforward understanding of how/why eternal life came to be.  This is a strength I wish my book had.
  • A relatively seamless story style between a modern storyline and ones that occur earlier in the protagonist’s life.
  • The use of science.  Although a bit too close to home for the protagonist and supporting characters, I do think incorporating science (especially where eternal life is involved) was a smart choice.
  • An overall engaging plot (although I tended to lose interest when the book jumped back in time).  The historical periods did not interest me.  However, I think the author did a fine job of asking and defining the question, what would happen if you lived forever?  What would you do to save a child?  What does love look like spread out over eternity?

Cons

  • Too much religion.  Look, it’s fine and I get that faith is a major part of the novel, but I thought it was a bit over the top.  In fact, I found myself skimming parts of the book that took place in the past.  My character uses religion as a means to an end, but religion is not what got her into an eternal existence.  I think the author focuses on Judaism in her novels, which is great, but I thought the faith could have been toned down a bit.
  • Strange unresolved threads.  Our protagonist refers to her children in order, ‘my 53rd son’ or my ’24th daughter.’  I assume part of her eternal penance is to give birth and ultimately see these children die (it’s why I make my character sterile, because this seems like some sort of special horror).  While I was less worried by the number of kids, or the children themselves, it seemed strange that Rachel never checks in or runs into some of the many (many!) generations of families she is the matriarch of.  Seriously, I worried that some of her great-grandkids would end up getting married, a thought that never really seemed to bother our main character.
  • An ending I did not particularly care for.  I thought more resolve was necessary and was ultimately disappointed by Rachel’s choice.
  • A title that is too basic.  I would really preferred something more poetic than the in your face ‘Eternal Life.’  While I have a literal list of twenty working titles for my Fates project, none of them are so obvious.  I’m quite honestly surprised Ms. Horn or her editors wouldn’t have pushed for something a little less on the nose.

Odd Question

  • I am not Jewish, nor do I claim to have great knowledge of Judaism, but I wondered if some of the motivation for the novel came from the legend of the wandering Jew.

Overall, am I inspired to read other books by the same author?  No, I am not.  Much like other books that incorporate a lot of religion, it’s simply not for me.

Have you read Ms. Horn’s work?  What do you think?

Review: Eligible

So, I read Prep by Curtis Sittenfield awhile back and really enjoyed it.  Eligible (a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice) has been on my radar for awhile and when the price dropped I was like, ‘Sign me up.’

Eligible
Not for me!

*Spoilers Ahead*

Yesterday was not good, so I found myself in bed and reading most of the day, and mostly devouring this book.  I will start by saying this is not the retelling I wanted…  I am not a die hard Austenite as some are, but I have always appreciated the works of this 19th-century author.  While I was relatively okay with the first half of the book, the novel takes a turn that it can never recover from.  Before we get to the point of no return, I will note that Mrs. Bennett’s open racism (among many other ‘isms’) was too distracting and disgusting for me to get past (treatment of black characters in this novel is nothing I would be proud of).  While Mama Bennett was certainly annoying (and entertaining) in the original Austen version, she’s been replaced by a horrible shrew with no redeeming qualities (she actually tells one of her daughters, ‘…life can be very hard for mulatto children.’)  Ditto the rest of the family, who, for the most part, are shallow, obnoxious assholes.  I wonder if an editor had notes, and the author just ignored them, or how Random House let this one out the door.  Liz (and to an extent Jane) are only barely palatable and certainly, at 38 and 40, old enough to know better.  Darcy turns up, as do the Bingleys and the storyline loosely follows the narrative of the book.

Until it doesn’t.

So, one of the daughters elopes with a young man…who was born a woman.  You might think the world was coming to an end, with the reactions from the characters (with the ugliest being, you guessed it, Mrs. Bennett).  While I am happy to see diversity and the inclusion of a trans character, the responses are just so…outrageous that I don’t really ‘get’ it.  As the book takes place in modern times, who honestly cares if a love interest was originally a woman?  That person is now a dude, identifies as a man, end of story.  Why does this plot point have to get so much undue focus?  Given some of the responses from the other characters, I just…  I had to skim the book because of my secondhand embarrassment.  (Read some of the reviews of this book to get a better idea how offended members of the Trans community are).

The plot goes far further off the rails when you add in an unnecessary reality show plot line (!!!).  Certainly, somewhere, Ms. Austen cannot be okay with having her name and novel attached in any way to Eligible.  Overall, with strange short chapters (that are not much more than extended scenes), this is not a book I would recommend (for free or to pay for).

As a palate cleanser, I will give you a far better Darcy.

P&P
Le sigh.

Or, you know, do it up with Amy Heckerling’s far superior modern version of Emma:

as if

 

Two Shows to Recommend and Two Books I Didn’t Like…

I’m not going into full reviews, but I wanted to bring some recent hits and misses to your attention:

Stranger Things. In case you haven’t heard of this Netflix phenomenon, let me be the first to tell you that you are most definitely missing out.  A nearly perfect eight episodes explore (in pure, unapologetic terms) supernatural events in a Michigan town.  It’s as if Stephen King and Steven Speilberg came together and did their best work.  Congrats to the Duffer brothers!  (And to my friend Nick, you can see his name in the credits).

strangerthingsposter

Catastrophe.  I heard about this one through a blog and it was so good we watched the first episode, then proceeded to finish the season (5 additional episodes) last night.  It’s been a long time since I have actively laughed out loud at a show.  Repeatedly.  Watch for the brutal honesty and smart humor.  Stay for the supporting cast.  I’ve got to figure out where to stream the second season from…

catastrophe

And two books I just can’t recommend.  Having been in something of a reading slump recently, these books haven’t helped in the least.

Court of Fives  This is the *last* time I will take the recommendation of an author I like.  Seriously, author-who-shall-not-be-named, I am deeply concerned for what you consider a ‘good’ novel, because I have struck out with EVERY SINGLE BOOK you have recommended.  With terribly clunky pacing, a romance (out of nowhere) and a protagonist I just couldn’t support, this was a skimmed read at best.  Props for diversity and some amount of world-building, but that’s about it.  I won’t be reading the sequel.

Court of Fives

Into Aether  From NetGalley, I was stoked for a good steampunk book, but at 28% in, this book is already difficult for me to enjoy.  As with above, just because a dude is put in the book does not = love interest.  Additionally, why should any modern protagonist just ‘go along’ with things?  Without any reason to, Theo (yes, that is the sound of my eyes rolling, it is of course short of Theodora) goes along with a series of bizarre events.  I guess we’re meant to feel sorry for her, and therefore interested in her story?  I won’t even get started on the supporting cast…

With both YA stories, I’m very excited that Queen Juliette has suitors who have some depth and the reason she has any interest at all in them is less about their physical attributes and more because of how they act.  Never mind she really doesn’t have time for any of them…y’know, trying to rule a country and all.  Oh, and there is that whole potential interest in the Black Queen…

Into Aether
I will not be picking up Books #2 and #3.

Onto the next!

Review: Results May Vary

So, I’ve been a member of NetGalley for about four months now and have enjoyed (for the most part) the books I’ve received.  One recent highlight came in the form of Results May Vary, by Bethany Chase.  I couldn’t remember why I downloaded it (usually, I choose books for one of two categories: research for an upcoming book or fun smut), but for the first time in awhile, it was good to go into a novel without knowing too much.

Results May Vary
The cover is the least exciting thing about this book.

And, in the spirit of not giving too much away, I’ll let you know the premise (which you can find online, this is not some sort of huge spoiler).  A man and woman have been together since they were in high school and married for years.  When the husband has an affair with a man, all kinds of everything unravels.

There are soooooo many things that are well done in this book.  The characters themselves are some of the most honest I’ve ever come across — they literally jump off the page with realistic actions, dialogue, and imperfections.  They are well-rounded human beings with emotional arcs and unique quirks.  A story of an affair has certainly been done before, but this version of it feels new.  The heartbreak is still present, as are any number of other questions — some of which are answered, some of which are not.  Furthermore, Ms. Chase has an absolutely beautiful way with language.

As someone who has been married for a wee while (13 years, not to mention the year or so and change we were together before then), there were all sorts of passages that leapt out to me.  Here’s one particularly memorable one:

You might learn that he hates bleu cheese, but you weren’t there the night he got annihilatingly sick on buffalo wings, and you didn’t spend the hours from one to four A.M. slumped against the wall outside the bathroom because he was sure he was going to die and you didn’t want to leave him alone with his paranoia and his bacteria. Patrick might have known that Adam’s father had had a heart attack, but he hadn’t seen his face when he got the news. Hadn’t held him, and felt him trembling. Hadn’t heard the words he mumbled into my hair the night Theodore was upgraded out of critical condition: “I don’t know what would happen to me without him.”

Patrick might have fucked my husband, but he didn’t know him.

And yet. He knew things I didn’t. Things I didn’t understand, because Adam had refused to explain them to me.

While I have not done so yet, I would absolutely pick up another book by this author.  I believe the novel will be released on August 9th, and if you are in the market for a smart contemporary story, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Results May Vary.

Thank you to both the publisher and NetGalley for granting me access to this title.

 

Review: The Girl From Everywhere

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig is ambitious.  There’s a big concept (time travel), which is (for the most part) immaculately delivered and the height of creativity.  Most unfortunately for Ms. Heilig, her characters can’t seem to quite keep up with the journey.  The book started very strong: motivated action, unique idea, lyrical writing, great locations (Hawaii! New York! China!) and (best of all) diverse characters (something I am really trying to work on).

And then…

It’s rare that I am straight up confused by a book.  After all, I’ve been a voracious reader since I picked up my first chapter book and I understand how the action of a book is supposed to go.  To start, I have no issue with one of the supporting characters being the protagonist’s father, but he is also the captain of their ship, resulting in said character getting referred to as her father, the Captain and Slate (awkward, especially when all are mixed up in a conversation).  I’m toeing the line of hypocrisy here, as I have my own Captain, also referred to as Jonathan and Cranleigh (his first and last name).

An additional love interest gets introduced for no particular reason, and, (spoiler alert), he gets to hang around for the sequel.  The bland third party reminded me of my own current manuscript and while I do have a love triangle, I need to do a better job of character development with my third guy.  Right now, he’s got a lot of potential, but after reading this book, I realized he needs to take up a bit more space.

As I mentioned above, there was a point in this novel where I wondered if a giant scene had been cut (I’m not the only one to think this, BTW).  Literally, I had no idea how or why the characters ended up going to a location.  An entire sequence seemed to appear, strangely, out of nowhere, which only added to an unnecessarily confusing end to the book (which I more or less skimmed through).

While I love magical realism (hey, that’s been my game for the past 18 months as I work on the Queen), having magic as a Deus ex machina doesn’t particularly do it for me.  Sure, everyone is allowed a moment of disbelief, but when a crew just so happens to have tons of devices for the sake of getting them out of trouble, instead of working through things, well, isn’t that just lazy writing?  (And yes, I see fingers pointed back at me, I mean, I pull the legendary Excalibur pretty much out of nowhere).

Overall, I think the editor should have stepped up their game by a significant margin.  The structure and bones of the book are in place, but like a strange pinball bouncing everywhere, the novel gets mired down by an uneven cast and a storyline that deviates from where it should.  Honestly, I would love to see this high concept in the capable hands of a better YA/Fantasy/Supernatural author.

Oh well, maybe there’s some good fanfiction out there…

The Girl from Everywhere
LOVE the cover, ‘meh’ about the book.  I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequel, unless it’s at a reduced price.