Book Review: The People in the Trees: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara (4.5/5)

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I’ve also been putting off this review for a while….

The People in the Trees is an anthropological thriller infused with adventure, discovery, science, the ethics of science and — most of all — deeply stirring moral questions. In 1950, anthropologist Paul Tallent calls for a young doctor to accompany him on his expedition to the isolated island Ivu’ivu. The med school sends the student at the bottom of the class, Norton Perina — brilliant, lazy, ambitious and arrogant. Little do they know, this expedition will change Perina’s life and touch the world.

While on the expedition, Tallent, Perina and Esme — the assistant Perina detests — discover immortal life amongst the island people. Perina selfishly smuggles back a turtle he suspects of containing the ingredients for immortality and soon wins the Nobel Prize for discovering Selene Syndrome.

But immortality is not all it seems… And it is as quickly lost as it’s found. The concept of immortality is very interesting. And it’s been talked of a lot in recent years; it’s builds on the theory of telomeres being the key to cancer and aging. In the meantime, Perina’s personal life collides with his professional identity. Is a great man still a great man even if he is not good?

The People in the Trees is absolutely shattering. It twists your emotions, plays on your sympathy for the main character, Perina. In the end, I just think Perina was such a broken person — with possibly sociopathic tendencies. It’s really a sad story for all involved, especially the children Perina adopted.

The message I’m taking from the book is: life is not just about the material things. Life is not about who lives the longest. Life is not always about what’s on the surface. There’s things underneath, there’s deep things. Life is about emotional fulfillment, growing into your potential. Perina was very wrong about so many things…but one thing I’ve got to point out (without ruining the story) is how he provided for his children. Sure, he rescued them from a third world society. Sure, he fed and clothed and paid for their college educations. But that’s not enough to raise a child. Perina never thought about his children’s emotional wellbeing and fulfillment. He placed things quite low on Maslow’s hierarchy. Mostly, he didn’t think about what he could do for his children. He only thought about what they could do for him. What emotional hole they could fill in his empty and unfulfilled life.

As an added bonus, Yanagihara’s writing style flows beautifully. No other author could have described the landscapes of Ivu’Ivu quite as well. Yanagihara is a master of the writing style. Every word, every phrase, every sentence…just feels so beautiful, so delicate.

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Visit my blog for more reviews of up and coming books: https://rememberingwonderland.wordpress.com

Book Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (3/5)

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When child psychologist Anya begins to treat Alex, a schizophrenic 10-year-old with hundreds of imaginary demons, she feels like something is wrong. This is not a straightforward case. Alex knows too much for a 10-year-old and claims his best friend is a centuries-old demon named “Ruen.” This friend may be real…. Ruen takes an interest in Anya and seems to know everything about Anya’s personal life and inner demons…

I enjoyed reading this psychological thriller. But I don’t think I’ll be reading it again or adding it to my favorites shelf because the plot twist just felt off. I felt like this book could have stabbed me in the heart; it could have been something deeply touching and impactful…Instead, the plot twist kind of ruined the mood of the book.

I still have to say I really enjoyed the book. It was a fun read and I thank it for introducing me to the genre of adult psychological thrillers!

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Book Review: Parallel Heart by J.L. Robinson (1/5)

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From page 1, I did not get along well with Parallel Heart. The prose contained glaring grammatical errors and the voice  just seemed off. It felt stilted and dense — as though it was trying too hard to be witty, descriptive and aloof. I would know. I wrote similarly (although in a more child-like tone) several years ago, toying around with big words and awkward sentence structure. Writing needs to flow, and when it flows well enough, it will make the reader comfortable enough to stay for about 50,000 words in the novel’s world.

Parallel Heart could not make me stay. It had a potentially very interesting premise — an unhappily married man longs to escape into a parallel world with a lover who may or may not be real. I thought, “This is interesting,” in my head when I read that the novel is based on the author’s love of quantum mechanics and explores the concept of parallel dimensions and blurred realities. All of this sounded new, fresh and different.

But I just couldn’t get into it. I tried very hard…the voice (as well as plot, characters and developed) just came off as stale. I’m sure Parallel Heart, given a liberal editor, time and a different direction, could’ve been something real special. But it just wasn’t for me… Again, all this is my own opinion. Perhaps you will think differently!

Leave me a comment below and tell me what you think of this review/book.

Book Review: Carniepunk

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Carniepunk consists of 14 short stories in a steampunk anthology with the theme of…wait for it…surprise, surprise…carnivals! My opinion is somewhat scattered along the spectrum, since the stories were written by 14 different authors. To make things simpler, I’ll be rating each story separately.

Overall, I feel like the themes are disjointed — too loosely connected in terms of the type of reader they’d appeal to. I don’t know how the stories were chosen and I’m sure it’s a very tough process, but I feel like the styles and moods decline in quality until a belated spike at the very end. But that’s just my opinion.

Painted Love by Robyn Urman (4/5)

  • very lyrical, bitingly beautiful writing style
  • balance between the harshness of reality and the wonder of moments
  • very interesting characters
  • striking plot twist makes you double back and think
  • psychological references
  • surreal time and place

The Three Lives of Lydia by Delilah S. Dawson (4/5)

  • breathtakingly magical writing style: astounding word choices, heart-shattering imagery, descriptions interwoven with striking emotions
  • delightfully surreal mood
  • dark and wonderful setting — this is probably my favorite “carnival” of the whole anthology
  • also a nice slice of psychology
  • interesting and sad twist
  • my one complaint is the instalove — the instalove with Charlie just made the whole story shallower! It could have been a 5 but instalove peels back the story’s merits.

The Demon Barker of Wheat Street by Kevin Hearne (1/5)

  • I couldn’t get into it. Maybe because it’s part of a series
  • the conversations with the dog are amusing

The Sweeter the Juice by Mark Henry (2/5)

  • zombie apocalypse…typical stuff
  • nice and gory details
  • tries to be deep, somehow, but misses the point
  • redeeming try at being new — the main character is transsexual

The Werewife by Jaye Wells (2/5)

  • interesting, holds on to your attention till the end
  • entertaining with a hint of satire
  • not really extraordinary
  • lacking in thematic element
  • cliches

The Cold Girl by Roxanne Longstreet Conrad (1/5)

  • I remember reading about another reviewer describe it as  too “teenage”. Yes, it’s too typical. That annoying stock teenage girl voice, the abuse, the vampires…
  • It was trying too hard to be interesting
  • Cliches

A Duet with Darkness by Allison Pang (3/5)

  • interesting writing style, characters and premise
  • but just wasn’t presented in the right way; there was something off about the buildup and resolution
  • imbalance in climax

Recession of the Divine by Hillary Jacques (1/5)

  • could not get into it
  • confusing writing style

Parlor Tricks by Jennifer Estep (1/5)

  • could not get into it
  • feel like it was part of a story that already exists and if you haven’t read it, you won’t get it

Freak House by Kelly Meding (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • perhaps a bit too plot-heavy for a short story

The Inside Man by Nicole Peeler (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • might have a good plotline, but not for me

A Chance in Hell by Jackie Kessler (1/5)

  • couldn’t get into it
  • original, of sorts, I suppose, but not compelling for me

Hell’s Menagerie by Kelly Gay (1/5)

  • maybe it was a story meant for kids?
  • the emotions of it didn’t feel real for some reason, didn’t rise off the page and project themselves onto the reader

Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid and the Open, Lonely Sea (4/5) by Seanan McGuire

  • the writing was nice stuff, sprinkled with bits of striking imagery and the personality of the protagonist
  • intriguing premise
  • could have been something more mystical, more of the surreal, saltwater feel
  • emotions mixed in nicely
  • and the title is just wonderful

**eBook provided by Netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review

Book Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall (4.5/5)

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In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla is being raised in Mississippi by her paternal grandmother. Starla tries extra hard to be good and looks forward to attending the fair. When her strict grandmother grounds her, Starla decides she’s had enough. In the spur of the moment, she runs away with a dream in her heart. She’ll find her Momma – a “famous singer in Nashville” whom she hasn’t seen since she was three. And her Daddy, who works far away, will come to live with them. They’ll be a family. Along the way, Starla gets into more trouble than she bargained for. But she also finds an unlikely companion in Eula, a kind-hearted black woman with deep emotional scars and a kidnapped white baby.

Whistling Past the Graveyard warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I have little knowledge of the 1960s aside from what I’ve learned in history class. I’ve never been to the South. I’m not feisty, red-haired or outspoken like Starla. I’ve never run away from home. It’s been eight years since I’ve been nine years old. But the best stories manage to embrace the souls of anyone, bring readers into totally different when’s and where’s.

Hailed as a coming-of-age story reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, Whistling Past the Graveyard stirs emotions. The Southern-accented voice of nine-year-old Starla is endearingly real and infused with personality. It does not hinder the writing style of the author but rather makes it flow. Through Starla’s innocent eyes, we see her journey as something both dangerous and life changing. We understand more than Starla does and that makes us want to protect her all the more. Crandall tells the story realistically. She spares none of the violence, brutality and heartbreaking reality — which may be why it’s classified under Adult Literature/Fiction rather than Children’s.

The characters of Whistling Past the Graveyard are well developed and memorable. Eula, in particular, contains layers and layers of development and emotion. She is just as important to Starla as Starla is to her. Eula teaches Starla things about herself, provides Starla with the love and emotional guidance that her grandmother and mother have neglected to give her. Through her interactions with Eula, Starla sees beyond skin color. Starla’s compassion and strength burns inside of her; she helps heal Eula’s broken heart and soul. In turn, Eula loves her in the way that Starla wishes her own Momma would.

Terrible things threaten Starla’s strength and love for the world. Terrible things like violence, racial tensions, and crushed dreams. But Whistling Past the Graveyard is about hope, compassion and the special gifts one finds in one’s self. Because of the language and graphic violence, I recommend Whistling Past the Graveyard to the YA audience 12+ and adults. 4.5/5

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Book Review: Abandon Book 3: Awaken by Meg Cabot (1/5)

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I will begin by stating that I’m not a paranormal romance fan. I actually kind of detest it. But I made an exception for this book because 1) I had reviewed the first book, Abandon, three years ago and found it okay. I haven’t read the second book, if it’s worth mentioning. 2) The series is a retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone 3) I’ve got a soft spot for Meg Cabot, since she’s the author of the Princess Diaries (though I didn’t read the book until I was older, the movie was every 6-year-old’s dream, wasn’t it?).

Awaken continues the story of Pierce Oliveria, a rich girl with a supposedly soft heart. Our modern Persephone is passionately in love with the ruler of the Underworld – the totally dark and mysterious John Hayden. However, tragedy happens when a classmate murders her cousin Alex and the Furies bring trouble to the Underworld. Most of the plot was jumbled, messy and predictable – I felt like the stakes weren’t really set up.

Cabot desperately tries to portray Pierce as a likeable character. She writes the book in first person perspective and wants the voice of an excitable teenage girl to make the reader feel familiar and closer to the story. But instead of feeling acquainted, I just felt annoyed. Annoyed by the voice. Annoyed by the plot. Annoyed by the relationship between Pierce and John. Annoyed by the portrayal of John as the stereotypical “bad boy” tamed by the “good girl” Pierce. Yes, the whole romance is irritating.

I think I might have liked the story if it was written differently…well, if it was completely different. My main problem with the story was how fake Pierce’s personality and voice seemed to me. Pierce’s POV is supposed to be that of a 17-year-old who’s the queen of the Underworld and mature enough to be in love with a king who’s spiritually 200 years old. To me, another 17-year-old, Pierce’s narration and thoughts feel too simplistic. There’s little depth to themes, action scenes, emotions and world building (I’m so curious about the Underworld; I want to know more – the Underworld is not just the love interest, John!) It’s almost like the voice would have been appropriate for a middle grade or chapter book. But then it couldn’t be for younger kids, because the romance is annoyingly passionate and unrealistic.

Everything I’ve written in this review is purely my own honest opinion. Some teenage girls might very much enjoy the premise and voice of Awaken.  I don’t know if it would be considered a good book or not. Maybe it’s actually a very good book. But it just wasn’t the story for me. 1/5

***eBook provided by Netgalley in exchange for my honest review

Update: Books on My Review List

All from Netgalley except for the last one (litpick):

  1. Whistling Past the Graveyard (adult fiction set in 1963, from a 9-year-old girl’s POV)
  2. Abandon Book 3: Awaken (YA fiction/paranormal romance by Meg Cabot, 3rd book in a Persephone-retelling trilogy. I did swear I would never ever read a paranormal romance again after I was too fed up with them — I’ve never liked one. But I reviewed the 1st book about three years ago, so we’ll see)
  3. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (self-help book that builds on principles of science)
  4. Aimless Love (a collection of poems by Billy Collins)
  5. Carniepunk (an anthology of steampunk carnival stories filled with darkness)
  6. Born to Blog (well, seeing as I’m just starting to blog, this should help…)
  7. The Boy Who Could See Demons (adult fiction, psychological thriller about a little boy who, well, can see demons)
  8. For the Good of Mankind (YA/teens, about the misuse of science and human experimentation)
  9. The Scroll of Years (adult fantasy/science fiction)