The Game: The Valley (Das Tal, Season 1 #1)

Title: The Game: The Valley (Das Tal, Season 1 #1)

Author: Krystyna Kuhn

Genres: Contemporary | Mystery | Thriller

Length: 316 pages

Source: Purchased

Format: Paperback

Rating: 2/5

Premise:

Julia and her brother Robert are sent to an isolated college in Canada.
At first Julia believes the eerie feelings she gets will pass but soon she will understand far more sinister things are happening.

Review:

Well, this one was a major let down.
First of all, when I got this book I had no idea it was the first of a series. I really wanted to read a standalone.

Alas, when I first started reading The Game: The Valley I was faced with the same old YA formula: annoying teenage who throws tantrums and feels like the world is all about her and, well, boys – more specifically insta-love.
The one good thing was her brother Robert, whose rare perspectives I did enjoy reading but even that was an incredible disappointment as the author keeps hinting that there is something paranormal going on with him and then it doesn’t, he’s just really smart. I usually don’t mind the author leading me in a completely wrong direction if things are going to be wrapped up nicely but this was not the case. I finished the book wishing I had read a lot more about him, found out what exactly was going on in his preciously little head. That talk about the Valley being evil, for instance. What the heck was up with it? Was anything paranormal actually happening or is the guy just wacko?

I never got why Julia and Robert were so disconnected, not only because they were siblings and the only ones who knew each other at the college but also that they obviously shared some secret story together. To me, that means they should be extra close and protective of each other. Instead Julia struck me as such a bad sister and I was actually annoyed that I had to read about her so much. She always came across as so whiny, dramatic and selfish to me. Also, I could not see what the heck she was doing in a college for gifted teenagers, not to mention other characters.

Besides not being able to connect to the main character, another thing that irked me was that the narrative felt very disjointed. Although the writing was smart, in the way that chapters ending in cliffhangers makes the reader want to keep going, the events did not flow, I always felt like a connecting thread was missing. In the end when things came together it felt like info dumping.

Throughout the story there was this constant air of mystery about the college and the Valley where it is located, with hints to weird things that happened there, but nothing really leads anywhere and a lot of silly assumptions are made along the way.

Needless to say I will not be reading the sequels but I suppose fans of YA can enjoy this. I still do not recommend it, though.

Read from Sep 26th to Oct 1st, 2016

GR Review

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