City of Endless Night

Title: City of Endless Night

Author: Milo Hastings

Genres: Dystopia | Science Fiction | Speculative Fiction

Length: 256 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

Premise:

After the first world war, Germany evolves to an underground, impenetrable city that the world outside keeps trying to defeat. One young man does not understand why such a war as gone on for over a century and will do anything in his power to change it. Going on this adventure will allow him more insight on such a society than anyone thought possible.

Review:

I have to admit I struggled with the writing on this one. This is completely different from anything I have read. The book was written in 1919 and I found the prose difficult to understand at times (English is not my native language), quite contained and very matter of fact. Yet, I still felt engaged. The book has strong politic and socialist components but it leaves room for more humane assessing as well. There is a bit of romance and enough tension of all sorts to want to keep reading.

However, right from the beginning there were things that irked me, namely how everything came together for our main character. As the narrative initially developed, things seemed to fall into place much too easily for him. He enters this world by taking the place of a dead guy who looks just like him and who happens to have his own personal biography in his pocket, after having had a life experience that would allow him to succeed brilliantly at his new persona. And everyone just assumes his lack of memory is due to gas poisoning. I don’t understand, was no testing done at the hospital to see he had indeed not been poisoned by gas? What about his tanned complexion? And he had to have an accent, even if he learned German from the age of 7. The guy admitted his vocabulary was more technical than anything! And then the right people seem to come across his path so easily as well, just the ones he needs, and who just spill their true thoughts to such a stranger, even though no thoughts are really allowed there.
All these questions and others bothered me throughout the story.

But the fact is it is a very disturbing one. The Germany described here is nightmarish in its potential to become real at that time. This book is astoundingly futuristic, in a way that I could not help but think how it all must have inspired Hitler. I mean, I was never much of a fan of History, but it seemed like the guy tried to replicate much of what went on here. That is so terrifying.

Although there were quite a few plot holes and I found the development of the story too easy for our main character, this is an amazing classic that everyone should definitely read at least once in their lifetime. Having just finished it, I am still chilled.

Read from Aug 28th to Sep 4th, 2016

GR Review

Cujo

Title: Cujo

Author: Stephen King

Genres: Horror | Thriller

Length: 304 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3.5/5

Premise:

After chasing a rabbit, the usually friendly St Bernard, Cujo, begins acting oddly. He was bitten by a rabid bat but there is something much darker at place.

Review:

After finishing Cujo I am left with a bittersweet feeling. It was less than I had expected, I suppose.

King does a wonderful job setting up the characters and story, as usual, linking several pieces together to create a multi sided, intriguing picture, from the eldest character to the mailman to the more main characters.

I especially loved reading both Tad and Cujo’s thoughts and the alternating narrative points kept me interested. Each character had their own stuff to deal with. Donna was really the only one I could not connect with.

However, I had expected more from the story. Without getting too spoilery, we are told there is a certain evil at play, besides just plain rabies, which is nasty on its own. However, I felt this premise, which was really so important, was not nearly explored enough.

Also, there were too many coincidences to my taste. I realize that was the entire point, to make us wonder how a few well (or ill) timed coincidences can lead to such ghastly situations, but some just felt nonsensical to me, I believe people just wouldn’t act that way in such a situation. I can appreciate the thought, though.

The pacing also felt off but the last quarter or so of the book was unrelenting. The suspense was unbelievable and I can understand why some people would have nightmares reading that stuff.

Not everything was wrapped up nicely in the end but I did get enough closure and the ending was surprising enough.

I know King has a lot more to give so I was not utterly impressed. If it is true he wrote the entire book under the effect of cocaine and doesn’t even remember doing it I would say he did a pretty darn good job.

You can check out the buddy read topic here.

Read from Jul 3rd to Jul 12nd, 2016

GR Review

The Man from Primrose Lane: A Novel

Title: The Man from Primrose Lane: A Novel

Author: James Renner

Genres: Horror | Mystery | Speculative Fiction | Thriller

Length: 464 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3.25/5

Premise:

The Man from Primose Lane dies in mysterious circumstances. Writer David Neff gets involved in the investigation and will find things about his life and the people around him that he never even imagined possible.

Review:

Well, there goes another book that could have been amazing but was for the most part ruined for me due to the huge spoiler in the blurb.

Yep, the major device is revealed in the synopsis and even the book cover, when it does not even begin to be approached until about 60% of the book. By the time I got there I was completely unsurprised and the entire thing was utterly anti-climatic. Even the characters involved never seemed truly surprised. I am ticked off. It should have been something special.

When I first started reading The Man from Primrose Lane: A Novel I found the book annoyingly descriptive. It didn’t help that the author kept hinting at the value of descriptiveness in a book, both through his main character and his wife.

The narrative is interspersed with accounts from different points in time and, while interesting, it did get quite confusing. The fact is I found my mind constantly slipping away from passages that just felt unnecessary and because too much was going on it all felt scattered and pointless. I kept rereading those passages where I drifted off because I hate skimming books but sure enough, they felt like a waste of time. Granted, most made sense later on, but it was much too long a wait for resolution, at least for me.

As the narrative evolved beyond the twist, I had seen most of the revelations a mile away. There was a particularly gross moment that made a difference but not in a good way.

Several things that just seemed thrown in there for the sake of justifying the plot twist; particularly about the future, names kept being dropped but I did not get a clear idea of what they were, some not at all, as well a couple of plot holes here and there, mostly about how characters dealt with situations, the reactions did not feel organic and I wondered why they didn’t wonder certain things.

The book redeemed itself towards the end, but that does not erase the fact that at times I found reading it a chore, and I felt it should have been more focused. I believe it could have been a very interesting crime investigation novel where the character deals with his inner demons. It didn’t need all the time travel mumbo-jumbo, especially when I didn’t even get how it was done and so much was glossed/skimmed over.

Most of all I felt there were too many things going on, too many characters – I kept forgetting who was who and did what – and I never really related to any of them. At some point I just gave up keeping track, which obviously hindered my enjoyment.

Still, the writing really was quite enjoyable at times. Some passages were very interesting. Even though I must admit this is most likely my issue, I just feel like the book didn’t know what it wanted to be and ended up all over the place, not really meaning much at all until the final stretch which, again, as thrilling as it was, was just not enough to compensate the lost feeling I had throughout the novel.
I can definitely see why some folks would adore this novel, people who are definitely more patient and have a better attention span than me and therefore I still recommend it.

Read from Jun 24th to Jul 2nd, 2016

GR Review

M Is for Magic

Title: M Is for Magic

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genres: Children | Fantasy | Paranormal | Quickies

Length: 272 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3.75/5

Premise:

A collection of 11 short stories by Neil Gaiman.

Review:

I had read 5 of these stories in other Gaiman books but even those were a pleasure to reread.
Gaiman has such a way with words. At times I was a bit frustrated because a lot was left unsaid and I need resolution to feel fully satisfied but I can admit it is part of the magic. They are short stories, little snippets of magical worlds spun from a mind I cannot help but admire.

Admitedly, I did not find all of them enjoyable. Sunbird in particular seemed to stretch on and on forever and ever and it did actually bore me, although the ending was surprising.

My favourite tales were The Price, Chivalry and October in the Chair – even if this last one had me on my toes to know what happened next.

These stories will please young folks as well as older ones and they make for a wondrous, quick read, so I definitely recommend the book.

Read from Jun 15th to Jun 19th, 2016

GR Review

Different Seasons

Title: Different Seasons

Author: Stephen King

Genres: Adventure | Fantasy | Horror | Mystery | Thriller

Length: 508 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

Premise:

Four novellas by Stephen King which have his touch everywhere but cannot be classified as horror, per se.

Review:

Who knew a trip to the 60s and 70s could be so much fun?

The first story, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, was a reread for me and I had watched the movie a few times as well.
Even though I knew what was going to happen, King’s prose is so engaging I was immediately enthralled.
Putting Red as the narrator, making Dufresne almost a legend as he put it, was just brilliant. In the middle of describing how life in prison works and what it does to a man, we hear about how one man’s unwavering hope leads to a jaw-dropping ending and inspires everyone around him. This sort of narrative usually bores me to no end but this story reminds me why I love King’s work so much. I just could not look away and was interested in everything that happened.
All the characters had their own voice and there were hints here and there of what would happen and the way the story was wrapped up was beautiful.

I had not read the other three stories, nor watched the movies they were based on.

Apt Pupil caught me completely by surprise. The second I read about the main character, this apparently innocent, all-american 13-year-old boy who will not stop smiling, I was freaked out. Once I found out his macabre fascination, that feeling intensified. As the narrative advances and we watch him grow up, his life intertwined with the one of the man who calls himself Arthur Denke, I was the one who was fascinated and could not stop reading. The way the relationship between those two developed and the devolving of each of the characters reached a conclusion that left me wanting but was nonetheless fitting. It was a deeply disturbing, entertaining tale.

The Body is a coming of age story about 4 thirteen going on fourteen-year-old boys who discover the location of a dead body and journey on their way to find it. This adventure will make them grow in all sorts of ways.
I wasn’t as committed to this story as the others, probably because I was impatient, as there was this premise of kids finding a dead body of a boy their own age and they never seem to get to it already!
Also, I felt it rambled a bit, particularly when it concerned the narrator being an author. It’s not the first time King does this – inserting himself into the story somewhat – and it irked me that the guy kept mentioning that he was a big shot writer who made a lot of money, even addressing the person reading the story as gentle reader.
I enjoyed the story quite a lot, but there didn’t seem to be much ‘juice’ to it. It is an introspective story that makes you wonder about all sorts of things, although it did not make me feel as King’s fiction usually does. Obviously that is the point of these stories, they are different, and this one was very touching but those two things did hinder my enjoyment.

The Breathing Method comes the closest to typical King and it reminded me of a novel, I think by Peter Straub, which is probably why the story was dedicated to him.
The protagonist is in his 70s and is a very real character. There were little hints here and there about this mysterious club but I did not see the ending coming and I did not mind it one bit that it was left open to one’s imagination.
There is much more in between and even if I felt the prose was bit heavy at times the fact is the story was daunting, gruesome and even a bit beautiful.

In all four stories, we get references to other King’s work, some a bit of these stories themselves, which is something I always found intriguing and enthralling, as it is like it is all part of one big world. I highly recommend this collection, especially if you want to read something by Stephen King that is not the genre he was typed as.

Read from June 11th to June 15th, 2016

GR Review

Julia

Title: Julia

Author: Peter Straub

Genres: Horror | Mystery | Paranormal

Length: 304 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 2/5

Premise:

When Julia makes a bold decision and moves to a new house, she starts to see a little girl running around, one who looks tremendously like her dead daughter Kate.

Review:

I really wanted to like Julia. However, she must have been the most vapid main character I have ever read about.

Also, no one in this novel seemed to actually work. Almost everyone is rich and has all the time in the world. I simply could not connect to any of the characters in this book, which obviously hindered my enjoyment of the story.

The development of the story wasn’t amazing either. There is an air of mystery but on the other hand not so much, as Julia’s suspicions turn out to be right quite often.

The story did start fairly well, with quite a creepy premise, but the way it was developed was boring and nonsensical. One of the few positives was watching Julia unravel. Other than that, the narrative really was quite tedious, with lines thrown in just for the sake of it, or so it felt like.

The third and last part of the book went by like a weird hallucination and I finished without a sense of closure for the story or the characters.

So I don’t know if it’s just me but Julia seemed quite a bit hyped and was a disappointment for me, especially since I truly enjoyed the author’s other books.

Maybe if I had read it when it was written I would have liked it more, I don’t know. As it is, I truly struggled to finish.

Read from May 14th to May 24th, 2016

GR Review

Fahrenheit 451

Title: Fahrenheit 451

Author: Ray Bradbury

Genres: Dystopia | Speculative Fiction

Length: 159 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4/5

Premise:

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books. He is told that’s what firemen always did, starting with Benjamin Franklin.
Due to a number of events, Montag starts to get an itch, particularly after an odd girl asks him whether he is happy. Is he? He has everything he needs. He has constant entertainment. Yet, is he happy? Why are things the way they are? Can they change? Montag will find these answers throughout this short novel.

Review:

Well, let me just start by saying that this book is a classic for good reason. I had never read Ray Bradbury before and I have to admit I was amazed at what he created here – in so few pages!!

The evolution of the main character was tremendous. Even if the prose lost me at times because it became almost too poetic or even rambling, it was right for the character and sometimes so fast it was dizzying.
The characters were completely believable, if you stop to think about what they were submitted to, and so absolutely terrifying.
The setting is also well developed, how the world could get to that state.

But I wanted more, to be frank, as some things were just too simplistic or glossed over.
There were a few things here and there I was not comfortable with, like Guy leaving with all the books spread out – how could he not think his wife could have totally reported him, someone he came to realize was a stranger – or her friends could have come in time to see it – or his outburst towards said wife’s friends. I get that he was angry but he of all people should know how dangerous such an attitude could be. Also, when he escapes, isn’t he wearing his Fireman uniform? Doesn’t that make him an open target? Why isn’t that mentioned?.
The prose in the last 10 or 20 pages lost me quite often as well, the monologues were simply too long and I felt much of the same could be said with few words. It felt that, at that point, a lot of it was unnecessary and anti-climatic. The lack of women was also daunting, even if considering the time the book was written.

So for me the strength of the book is clearly in the beginning, particularly the interaction between Montag and Clarisse and his subsequent awakening to the world around him. The development of what he does with the knowledge he gained didn’t please me so much but it is an excellent book, one that will make you do some soul-searching and consider all sorts of things, and therefore I recommend it.

Read from April 29th to May 1st, 2016

GR Review

A Monster Calls

Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness

Genres: Children | Contemporary | Fantasy | Horror

Length: 240 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.5/5

Premise:

Thirteen-year-old Conor has had a terrible nightmare ever since his mother fell ill.
When a monster starts visiting him, he is not scared. That is, until it tells Conor what he wants from him… The truth.

Review:

I never knew children fantasy fiction could be weaved quite like this. This book had me intrigued, excited, curious and immensely sad. I wish I had gotten the illustrated version, since I have heard wonders about it.

The story stands on its own, though. Conor’s life was turned upside down ever since his mother got ill and he deals with it the best way he can, in all aspects of his life.

This is the first book I have read by Patrick Ness and I thoroughly enjoyed his writing. It was clear and unpretentious and yet it made me feel so emotional at times.

Conor’s character had a lot of depth. He is 13, dealing with a horrible situation that has several repercussions on his life. He is incredibly brave but he is also a young boy and I found him very believable. Most of the other characters were very well conceived as well, particularly his grandmother.

I am not giving it 5 stars because I was not quite swept by everything, such as Harry’s character for instance; I simply cannot see a kid that age choosing to bully like that or his father actually going back to America when he knows his son’s mother is about to die.
Also, it was fairly predictable and I am sure I would have related much more if I were younger.

However, as a whole this was a pretty amazing, emotional book about love, loss, grief and guilt and I think everyone should read it at some point in life.

Read from April 10th to April 11th, 2016

GR Review

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1)

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1)

Author: Ransom Riggs

Genres: Fantasy | Historical Fiction | Horror | Paranormal

Length: 382 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.95/5

Premise:

Jacob’s grandfather was always a bit peculiar, with his strange stories of monsters and odd children in the orphanage where he grew up.
As a young boy, Jacob marvelled in them, but as he grew up he stopped believing in them.
However, now Jacob finds himself on a quest that will answer his questions… and so much more.

Review:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children had me enchanted from the first page. Just when I was wondering what the heck was wrong with me because no book seemed to come even close to fully satisfying me, this masterpiece comes along.

First, Jacob is the first teenage character whom I actually enjoyed reading about in a very long time, if ever. He sounded his age and still managed not to sound completely annoying, go figure!!

Secondly. Wow. Just wow. What a beautifully weaved story. There is tension and suspense and humour and even the slower moments were okay because they served to set the picture – and what a picture it was! The detail and contrasts were amazing.

The characters were brilliantly developed. Miss Peregrine was exactly what I thought a Headmistress should be – strict but understanding. All the children had their own voices and particular quirks. Event though I felt a bit overwhelmed at first because there were several, I quickly got to know who was who and wanted to know more about them and their personal history.

For the first time in longer than I can remember, the mystery was properly developed. Every time I thought hmm, there is something fishy about this or what do they mean by that? or what does that word mean?, I would get the resolution in good time, which is, I wouldn’t have to wait until the very last page to get closure, even though I had to wait of course because, you know, suspense.

And I always got resolution. Sure, there is still an aura of mystery about some things and obviously some were left open because there is a sequel (which I fully intent on purchasing as soon as possible), but I did get full closure for the events unveiled in this story and that, to me, is priceless.

Some plot twists dropped my jaw and brought the creepiness level to a whole new height. I was excited, scared and marvelled while reading this novel. Most of all, I always felt I was right there along with our main character.

The only thing I would like to see further developed would be some of the children that show up in pictures and we don’t really hear much about them throughout the story, if anything at all, like the twins. It is okay because it would be difficult to keep up with that many characters, but I would love to see them mentioned or at least what happened to them.

I would also like to know how exactly Enoch learned about its power. The wight’s explanation was insufficient. I wonder how one gets the idea to harvest hearts and put them in dead bodies. Speaking of which, this explanation is one of the examples of closure I was talking about earlier because I kept thinking, how the heck did these children learn about their powers, at least the less obvious ones?

This edition finishes with an interview to the author. Learning that the story was weaved around photographs he came across in real life brought a whole new dimension to how I feel about this novel. How brilliant does a writer need to be to incorporate them so well into the book and develop such an amazing, magical story?

I finished this book last night – I just could not put it down – and I am not ashamed to say I dreamt about monsters. That is how deeply it affected me.

If you want to get lost in a work of incredible fantasy fiction, I urge you to read it as soon as possible, preferably in one sitting.

Read from April 1st to April 3rd, 2016

GR Review

Room

Title: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue

Genres: Contemporary

Length: 433 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.8/5

Premise:

Jack just turned 5 and his whole world is Room. He thinks he knows what is real and what is not but when his mother finally gathers the courage to escape their captor Jack’s entire world is turned upside down.

Review:

This was a very touching book. I believe it’s safe to say that no one can come out of this experience unaffected.

Because it is told in first person by 5 year old Jack, I didn’t just become incredibly depressed reading this or burst to tears at the horrendous situation. Jack tells us about his world: why something is that way, what happens after a certain something, what consequences certain actions have… There is a routine for everything and Jack and he is actually happy because he does not know any other way. It’s not bad, it’s his life. And then everything changes.

The only downside I could find reading this was that I would get tired because there was a lot of rambling and it was a tad repetitive, which totally makes sense because the book is told in Jack’s voice and he is 5 and to be fair it’s part of the book’s charm. I would have to think what was going on because it was told from such a different perspective, which was amazing but a bit overwhelming at times.

The fact is Room is a roller-coaster ride of emotions and even if some things did not feel very realistic (like is it even possible for a mother to be that patient all the time or that Jack would just accept orders without throwing more tantrums) the fact is I wouldn’t know, this is something no human being should ever have to experience and I have to admit the author did a pretty damn good job telling this story.

There is a lot of depth to this book, not only going on Jack’s journey but also trying to figure out the character of Ma and even the rest of the family. There were hints here and there that piqued my interest but I was not bothered that they were not further addressed because the book had a clear voice and it was Jack’s, who I am sure will stay with me for a long time.

I highly recommend this novel and I am looking forward to watching the movie.

Read from Feb 19 to Feb 26, 2016

GR Review

Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future (Lock In #1)

Title: Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future (Lock In #1)

Author: John Scalzi

Genres: Dystopia | Fantasy | Mystery | Science Fiction | Speculative Fiction | Thriller

Length: 336 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 4/5

Premise:

In a world affected by a mysterious disease that placed a large amount of people in a state of mental lock in, agents Vann and Shane try to find the truth behind seemingly random acts of crime and terrorism.

Review:

It took me a while to get into this book. You see, it opens with a chapter that sets the basis of what happened to the world when a mysterious virus spread and infected, well, everyone as far as I can tell (I never really got or at least retained any of the math), naming which measures were put into place, but getting into no details whatsoever.

Now I usually don’t mind that, I actually welcome it, but as the story progressed I still felt I had no idea what people were talking about for a long time. I even reread sections multiple times to try and figure out the sci-fi notions but then I just gave up and tried to follow-up on the crime being investigated. From then on, I enjoyed the story quite a bit more. Most notions finally made sense, although there was still a lot of sci-fi talk I didn’t quite catch, particularly towards the end, but there was a good balance of action, mystery and suspense in a science fiction scenario.

I still wish some things had been further developed. I wanted the world better explained, how things progressed to current day. It is just so odd that scientists could make that sort of progress in such a small amount of time. But most of all I wanted to know things that were brought up and never picked up again like how twins could inhabit the same threep or Vann’s side of the story of how her partner died. I never even got how exactly Hadens contributed to the society – at least the ones who spent all their time in the Agora -, since we are told they had their own economy.
After watching multiple series of the genre, I also had to wonder why the two agents never had to deal with their superiors and felt they found the bad guy a bit much too soon but the plot was still very cleverly built.

All in all, despite all these things, the fact is the book surprised me and it was mostly a pleasant surprise. I don’t think I had ever read anything quite like it and that alone has its merit. And it was even more surprising how the author managed to get such controversial subjects discussed in the midst of such a plot.

I am also glad the book did not end in major cliffhangers, as I had no idea it would be part of a series when I bought it.
I cannot say I came out of it loving any of the characters – I did find it tiresome that Chris Shane kept wondering if every single person he met knew who he was – but at the end of the day I had a good time and recommend the book.

Read from Jan 22 to Jan 28, 2016

GR Review