Friday, May 1, 2015

April Book Reviews - All The Rage, We The Animals, Dark Places, Paper Towns, Please Remain Calm, Hurricane Coltrane

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

I really really really love Gillian Flynn's books. I mean, really really. I just can't read them more than once.

As with her other two books, Dark Places features a complex female protag. Just the way we like 'em, right?

As the survivor of a massacre that left her mother and sisters dead, and of which her brother was found guilty, Libby has a lot of baggage. I even hesitate to use the word baggage; it's such an understatement. But when Libby accepts an invitation to appear (paid) at a local Kill Club as a celebrity survivor, her need for cash spurs her to investigate the crime that left her family dead twenty-five years ago.

As the title would suggest, this book is dark. I don't know that it's darker than the other two books, but it's at least just as dark. This is a level of illumination with which I am uncomfortably comfortable. Sitting in the dark with Gillian Flynn. *shiver* I told Tyler, "I love reading Gillian Flynn's world, but I'm sure glad I live in mine."

The author's deft ability to craft a narrative leaping back and forth across a quarter-of-a-century span, from Libby's present perspective to her mother's and brother's perspectives on the day of the crime -- it's really a feat of brilliance. The two timelines converge upon the truth and grisly discoveries are made in both timelines at once, leading to a taut and terrifying climax.

Highly recommended for the reader that can take it.

Warnings on: everything.

We The Animals by Justin Torres

I probably would have discovered this author eventually, but I ran across his debut novel at the local indie bookstore. I always check out their bookseller recommendations, and this was one.

Told in absolutely gorgeous prose, overflowing with description, this short novel packs a visceral punch. It follows the formative years of three brothers, navigating their riotous combined boyhood and survival of their parents' tumultuous relationship.

It explores how family and shared experiences shape us, propel us forward, and make us what we are.

Beautiful, gritty, heart-breaking.

Highly recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations, domestic violence triggers.

Paper Towns - John Green

I don't know that John Green's books need to be reviewed. After the film adaptation of his The Fault In Our Stars catapulted him into the public eye (he was already well-known in YA circles), he's pretty much a contemporary-lit YA-novelist superstar. His books are well written, and all feature precocious teens navigating the summits and pitfalls of love, loss, and relationships.

Prose-wise, Paper Towns is as good as the others he's written, and if you like his other books, you'll like this one. Most the negative reviews for Paper Towns concern the reviewer's dislike of Margo (the love interest) as a selfish brat. Personally, I'm okay with female characters who aren't lovable. After all, I enjoy Gillian Flynn, and all her female characters are WACK.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations.

Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers

You guys. Seriously, you guys. I've read quite a few zombie books and a few have been really great. Courtney Summers, who usually perches in a deadwood tree  with "Gritty Contemporary YA" carved into the trunk, ventured out into speculative fiction with her zombie book, This Is Not A Test. (I'm looking back through my reviews and I can't find one for This Is Not A Test and wtf, how is that possible? But it's great.) Please Remain Calm is an e-novella sequel to This Is Not A Test.

And it's creepy. I mean c-r-e-e-p-y. I actually had to put it down a couple of times, and while I was finishing it, Tyler asked me once if I was okay. I was NOT okay. Thank you, Courtney, thank you very much for writing this wonderful/horrible book. It was one of those books for which that cute meme was invented. You know the one that says, "That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives. . . as though you didn't just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback."

The first book is written from the POV of Sloane, a girl who is imprisoned by the zombie apocalypse within the walls of her high school. The second book features the POV of Rhys, her romantic interest.

If you like lit in this genre, read these two books. Please Remain Calm is a quick read, but it packs quite a punch.

Highly Recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations, violence, gore.

All The Rage by Courtney Summers

Romy is a survivor of sexual assault, and as such, after attempting to share her story, has been labeled a liar and a slut in her small town. As a survivor, she is struggling with symptoms of PTSD, including depression and anxiety, and trying to come to terms with her attraction for a co-worker. When another girl becomes a victim, Romy must decide what to do with her story. Will she own her story? Or will it destroy her?

I had a little bit of trouble with the present/past timelines for a bit. I flipped back and forth more than once trying to figure out what was going on, but I did get it. And it was fine.

Okay, this book is more Courtney Summers' usual speed. That is to say, breakneck dramatic tension, emotional trauma spreading at the rate of a spilled oil tanker, gritty realism, and tackling issues many YA authors wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.

I read this book in one night, and when I was halfway through, I sent Courtney (we tweet back and forth about books and Supernatural, so we are totally on a first name basis. Totally.) a lengthy message on her website contact form. It was pretty fangirly in a this-book-is-terrible-and-wonderful-and-no-matter-how-ugly-the-world-needs-books-like-this kind of way.

And I really meant it. It was a difficult read, but this book is important. Those of you who know me will know why I feel this way. I mean other than all the outward reasons that most people will realize are timely and socially relevant and vital.

Courtney Summers is an unflinching author, and All The Rage is an unflinching book.

Highly Recommended.

Warnings on: language, sexual situations, drug/alcohol use, violence, various triggering situations, including an honest look behaviors associated with rape culture.

Hurricane Coltrane by Taya Okerlund

I met Taya at a writing conference, and I thought her a very gentle and wise soul. She's the kind of person, I think, that you could sit on the beach with for hours, just watching the waves, and never say a word. And it would be a comfortable silence.

This is a debut novel. The story centers around two boys, Merrill and Robbie. Merrill is a precocious 15-year old whose infamous mother's reputation (infamous in this small, rural community) makes it even more difficult for Merrill to make friends. Robbie is a musical prodigy raised on a polygamist compound. When they meet, the boys begin an unexpected adventure that changes both of them.

Taya asked for an honest review. "Don't pull any punches," she said. So I'll make my critique first.

1. I had a hard time with the way background information was delivered. It throws me out of a story when the narrator stops to explain something about his culture or beliefs. I prefer to take meaning from the context, and not have it explained to me. This is the main reason I don't read high fantasy anymore. Infodumps can be difficult to get around though, so I understand the author's choices.

2. Another thing I had trouble with: portions of the dialogue. Sometimes I wasn't convinced.

3. I found myself wishing that I could get more. Some of what the narrator experienced only seemed to be scratching the surface. I wanted everything to go deeper, especially for the narrator.

4. This item isn't a critique for the author, but just the text, which is the responsibility of the editor. There were a few typographical errors. But this was an ARC, so it's entirely possible they were taken care of before going to press. 

Good stuff:

This book will definitely please the LDS audience, and those looking for a clean read. There is nothing questionable in the content. Those who are interested in the shows Sister Wives, Big Love, or My Five Wives, or are curious about life for the Lost Boys after exile from Colorado City may find this a fascinating read.

I liked all of the development of the characters' musicality. As I live in a family of musicians, I always appreciate music as a major theme. I really appreciated the descriptions of Robbie's expression through music, especially elements of grief. Very nice.

The setting is just stunning. I have lived in Utah, and I have been in Hurricane, Utah, so I know the landscape. The author does a fine job of creating a setting that really breathes.

I loved that there were proactive and complex female characters as parental figures for Merrill. His mother and grandmother always brought something interesting to a scene. In LDS literature, it's nice to read about characters who exist on the fringes of LDS culture. Merrill's mom doesn't fit in, and it's nice to see that she doesn't even try. She's satisfied being what she is, a person of faith who lives according to the dictates of her conscience. I think of her a bit as a vigilante and think she would look great in a cape.

Hurricane Coltrane explores connection, love, family, the transformative potential of friendship, and the power of music.

In the end, Hurricane Coltrane is a lovely little novel from a debut author who shows great promise. I look forward with interest to see what she brings to the table next.

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