The Short Read

A book blogger and reviewer. I like to read YA novels and popular adult fiction.

Review: The Robinsons' Dark Matter by Michael Raymond

The Robinsons' Dark Matter  - Michael  Raymond

I would like to thank Michael Raymond for generously sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The book focuses on Nate and Victoria Robinson, two siblings whose parents are kidnapped by unknown assailants in the middle of the night. Who is holding them captive and why? That's what they plan to find out.

Victoria is the smarter of the two Robinson siblings; at least when it comes to sheer knowledge. She uses big words and seems to enjoy understanding how things work. Nate is more of the hands on type and finds it easy to pick up objects and learn how to use them without having to know how or why they work. It is the typical duo of book smarts and practicality exemplified by the following passage:

Victoria muttered under her breath, "Sycophant." "What did you just call me?" Elmer had stopped in his tracks and was casting her a dangerous look, "A sicko-what?" Victoria froze up inside and just kept walking but Nate turned around. "She said, 'Sicko-PANTS,' because your pants are so ugly they make her want to throw up."



Raymond's love for technology really shines through in the book. The author uses a mixture of real-life science with a splash of made-up alien technology that make it seem plausible. While I love using technology, I wouldn't consider myself a technology enthusiast. My interest waned whenever one of the characters began to go into detail about something, however there was enough humor and action to keep me reading.

One departure from reality that bothered me was the way Nate and Victoria handled their parents being kidnapped. While they did get upset, I felt more often than not that they were too preoccupied by things like cool alien technology and interesting locales. It seemed that the parents were more of a plot mechanism to force the kids into taking their adventure.

I also felt that several scenes in the book were too lengthy that a little more editing could have made the overall plot more concise. I felt that some of the transitions between certain chapters were choppy, as if they were almost randomly placed in the book. While I realize the reasoning behind the chapters placements, I feel the transitions could have been written differently or placed earlier in the book.

One important note I should make is, if you like to read the afterword before starting a book, Raymond gives away a big surprise right from the start (don't say you haven't been warned). I always like it when an author doesn't write the typical list of thank you's and Raymond does a good job of making it interesting.

The end leaves you with a small cliffhanger that left me feeling more curious than suspenseful. I'm not sure where the sequel could go, but Raymond hints that it will be darker than Dark Matter and I'm all for darkness. Look for The Robinsons' Quantum Entanglement tentatively set to release by the end of 2013.

While there were some flaws, The Robinsons' Dark Matter was an enjoyable read. Pick up this book if you enjoy aliens and alien technology mixed with humor and adventure.

Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - April Genevieve Tucholke

Right away I knew Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was going to be a highly atmospheric novel, which I was looking forward to. Tucholke definitely hit the nail on the head on several occasions in that respect.

For example, A few things I loved about this book was the scenery. An old, run-down mansion called Citizen Kane that lies by the sea? You've got my attention. A girl who dresses up in her grandmother's clothes from when she was younger? Yes, please. A town that has free screenings of classic movies such as Casablanca in the town's square? Sign me up (and why can't I live there). Have the characters make really delicious foods that sound like you're hanging out in a kitchen in Europe? Now you're just making me hungry.

Even though the book follows the predictable formula of girl meets mysterious boy, girl falls for boy, girl finds out there's more to the boy than meets the eye, it could easily fall into the category of easy to figure out the outcome. In that sense, most of the progression was foreseeable, but Tucholke adds her own little twist to make it her own.

While I wanted this to be more dark and grim than it actually was, it was still enjoyable with Tucholke's almost dream-like writing style. Don't get me wrong, there was a lot of violence and grittiness towards the end of the novel, but it didn't have the deep Gothic feel that I had expected and anticipated. Mostly it made me want to spend summer days in an old attic full of forgotten trunks and play dress-up in vintage dresses and jewelery with strange boys while sipping sweating glasses of tea.

The twist towards the end wasn't a shock for me but I still enjoyed watching it play out. I just hope we get to learn more about a particular character in the next installment.

If you enjoy atmospheric novels with a splash of violence and mysterious boys who may or may not be bad for you, then pick up this novel. It's a fun read that you'll finish in a flash.

Review: Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Save Yourself - Kelly Braffet

I received a copy of this book from Read It Forward.

When I began reading Save Yourself I knew I was in for a bumpy ride. It was like an emotional roller coaster where you get in line knowing full well you're about to go on a wild ride. The first half of the novel is the moment when you're getting strapped into the train and begin trudging up the lift; your body is filled with a dull excitement mixed with a little anxiety with what you're about to get yourself into.

When you make it over the first hill, you're relieved that you made it only to realize that there are several more down the path. You can't stop or turn back now, so you continue on. The further along you read the book you realize, almost too late, that the hills have been getting bigger and bigger and before you know it you're finding yourself climbing an enormous mountain. When you reach the top, you can see everything: the slow build-up of hills that has led you to this moment and the massive fall you're about to take.

For those couple of seconds that you linger at the top, you think maybe the fall won't be so bad; or maybe you just want to descend so that it'll be over already. Finally, the car begins to dip and whether or not you're ready, you're plunged into the last chapters of the book. But as quickly as it started, it's already over and you're pulling into the station and you're left wondering what just happened.

Braffet's novel starts off in a bad place and only goes downhill from there. Every time you think things will change, that the people in the book will change, everything takes another dark turn. That sense of dread builds and builds until you realize that every decision the characters have made have been leading up to a horrible result. In the end, the characters have to face their choices, whether good or bad.

The book is broken up between three voices: Patrick Cusimano, the son of an alcoholic father who is in prison for a hit and run; Verna Elshere, the gothic daughter of two “crazy” Christian parents; and Caro, Patrick's brother's girlfriend who he's secretly in love with. Braffet shows us the dark side of her characters and lets you simmer in it like a lobster in a pot that has only begun to boil.

The novel lets you feel the desolation right off the bat. Each character is simply going through the motions when it comes to life, although some are better at pretending than others. But Braffet makes her characters likable despite their flaws and trust me, there are a lot. Some of these mistakes shouldn't be forgivable and yet I found myself wanting to do just that. I was so easily roped into the story that it made Save Yourself a book I didn't want to put down.

Save Yourself is a gritty and dark tale that will leave you bleary-eyed and stunned. If you love a good, dark thriller, then I highly recommend you pick up this book. You won't be disappointed.

To read more: The Short Read

Review: Black Chalk by Albert Alla

Black Chalk - Albert Alla

For the first half of the novel, Nate avoids his emotions on the tragic school shooting where he was the only survivor. With no other witnesses to corroborate his story, Nate is considered a hero by the media and the town. But unable to face his own demons, Nate disappears for eight long years. Much to his surprise, a lot has changed when he finally returns home.

In the second half, Nate begins to slowly allow himself to remember the incident. He has trouble sleeping because of his nightmares and a new love interest has him wanting to be as honest as possible. But is it a good idea?

Nate’s flashbacks of his friends and of the shooter give the reader a better insight about what happened, but at times it felt as if Alla was simply going through the motions of writing the story. As an author, Alla tells the reader how to feel and what they are seeing rather than describing it for them to form their own thoughts and feelings.

While the first couple of chapters didn’t immediately engage me, Alla’s writing seems to warm up toward the middle of the book. Despite this, I felt that Alla’s dialogue often came off stiff or exaggerated and not very believable at times. For me, Nate’s narration is what held the book together and Alla helps the reader view the world through Nate’s eyes, no matter how confusing his world might get.

The only real suspense I felt came during the final chapter. Nate’s paranoia spirals out of control and I kept wondering what would happen in the end. I flip-flopped between thinking that Nate had finally lost it and wondering if he was right in thinking the way he did.

While Albert Alla aims to write an emotionally charged novel, it falls a little flat and a little far from the mark.

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver

When I first picked up this novel, I didn't think I was going to enjoy it. I found myself not particularly liking the main character, her friends and their actions. Samantha Kingston is a girl most of us knew in high school. She's popular, loud, and doesn't seem to care what other's think of her. She's the type of girl who knows how to get a reaction when she wants it. Not exactly someone I'd fondly relate to. I then realized that Oliver's writing is actually the opposite because it shows just what kind of person Sam and her friends are.

I love how Oliver set up the book. Each chapter represents a day that Sam repeats. With only seven chapters, each one is broken down into smaller parts. Despite Sam repeating the day multiple times, it doesn't grow old or boring. Oliver makes each day unique and heartbreaking despite having the same events happen over and over.

How Samantha reacts to replaying February 12th over and over again is easily believable as she runs a gauntlet of emotions each time she repeats the day. She does what most people would do if they were in this situation: first think they were going crazy, then rebel and do things they wouldn't normally do, and last accept what is happening.

Throughout the course of the book, you realize that deep down Sam is not simply a “Mean Girl”. Oliver creates a depth and realness about Samantha that you can't help but want to root for her to make the right decisions. You might start off despising the popular girl, but in the end she'll have you in tears.

This book is a cross between Mean Girls and Groundhog Day and so much more. Lauren Oliver's writing is refreshing and portrays the teenage mindset perfectly.

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor

I didn’t think I’d end up loving it as much as I did. All I knew about the series was it was about angels and devils – not really a genre that normally appeals to me. But boy was I wrong! I loved this book.

With some authors, they make sure you remember you’re reading a novel about supernatural beings. Yes, Taylor does mention angels and demons but it’s more than that; she makes her characters come to life with their own depth and faults that the deeper I got into the book, the more I forgot I was reading about otherworldly creatures.

It took me a little to warm up to the Akiva chapters. He came off as too otherworldly and high and mighty at first that I thought I’d be dragging my feet every time he came up. But as I read on, I realized that there was more to him than a pretty face with fiery eyes. Taylor was able to create realistic and relatable characters that just so happened to be set in a fantasy world.

I loved the idea of the wish system and incorporating teeth. In other fantasy novels this system wouldn’t have any restrictions or setbacks, allowing the characters to freely use them as they wished ultimately leaving them invincible. In Taylor’s world there is a penalty for making a wish; the bigger the wish, the bigger the penalty. I loved this because it was another way of forming checks and balances in the story. If you wanted a drastic wish, that meant you had to make a drastic choice to receive it.

The only negative thing I can say about Daughter of Smoke and Bone is that I wish the flashback scenes toward the end of the book would have been split up a little more between the present day chapters. It was interesting to read and definitely added to the character’s story, but it just felt like the rest of the novel stopped for a few chapters before picking back up at the end.

All in all, I really loved it and plan on picking up the next novel in this series. If you think you can’t love a book about angels and demons, you’re wrong. Laini Taylor’s fantastical writing and realistic portrayal of her characters will have you wanting to devour this novel in one sitting.

Read more at The Short Read

Review: John Dies at the End by David Wong

John Dies at the End  - David Wong

John Dies at the End is one of those books that when asked to explain the plot, you can hardly do it justice. You’ll either sound crazy or….well, you’re just going to sound crazy. See, let me try. It’s about two friends named John and David who take this drug called Soy Sauce. It makes them see things but it really just opens up another world to them. Or let’s try this. Things you will read about in this book: Soy Sauce, Morgan Freeman, and a bratwurst telephone. See? None of that makes sense and would probably just put people off from reading it. But please, don’t be afraid.

If you’ve only seen the movie, then you’re sorely missing out. While there were some awesome moments from the book, there was so much more to the story that couldn’t fit in the timeframe of a movie. The movie was like someone had pulled out a handful of pages from the beginning, middle, and end of the book and tried to tie it all together as quickly as possible.

The humor may be juvenile at times, but the story is so imaginative and off the wall that it more than makes up for it (if you don’t like that sort of thing). This book goes off the deep end and keeps swimming. But it’s good. Crazy good.

It does get a little long after a while and I did find myself dragging my feet at the 400 page mark. It felt that after reading pages and pages about aliens, exploding bodies, talking dogs, and spiders that my brain could only hold so much. If it wasn’t for David Wong’s writing, I don’t think I would have ever finished a book like this.

Basically, If you haven’t read this book, you’re already behind. Pick it up. Read it. And prepare yourself for the craziest ride you’ll ever experience.

(For more, check out: The Short Read)

Review: Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie

Close My Eyes - Sophie McKenzie

I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

This book is a psychological thriller that centers on one woman's heartbreaking loss that when faced with a glint of hope will stop at nothing to fix the past.

One of the reasons I wanted to read Close My Eyes was because it was being compared to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. While they have similar ideas, I don't think it's fair to compare the two. Gone Girl had a much stronger plot and I felt the characters were fleshed out better.

During the first half of the novel Gen spends a lot of her time thinking and worrying about her stillborn baby while wondering if her friends and family could have lied to her this whole time. Everyone around her thinks she's obsessed with the traumatic event since it has been eight years and they think it's time for her to finally let go. I found the second half much more enjoyable because Gen finally takes action instead of continuously dwelling on the past. It was nice for Gen to interact with the other characters instead of everything being one-sided.

One problem I had was the characters were predictable and at times too dramatic to be believable. Another issue was that Gen tended to get lost in her thoughts a lot to the point that it was becoming distracting.

 

There was one twist that I wasn't expecting while reading the book. While I won't go into detail about it, it didn't feel like it meshed well with the rest of the book. It felt as if McKenzie was trying too hard to impress or shock the reader.

Despite it being over the top at times, it was still a page turner. Whether it was because I merely wanted to see if I was right about the plot or simply because I was deep into the story, I'm not sure.

This is a quick read that is predictable at times but still enjoyable in the end.

Review: Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

Hemlock Grove - Brian McGreevy

First I want to mention that I picked up the novel after I watched the show. The Netflix series does a great job of visualizing the novel so much so that I decided to pick up the book. After sitting through all 13 episodes, I believed reading the novel would remove some confusion the show had created with several of its plot twists. To give McGreevy credit, it did. Kind of.

There are a lot of confusing aspects to the story which is not helped by the writing. Sometimes I had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph because I had no idea what the characters were saying or doing due to poor punctuation. There were moments when I wasn't sure who was speaking or even what they were trying to say. Another thing that bothered me was the narration. It jumps around a lot throughout the novel -- even sometimes in the same chapter -- that it left me trying to decipher whose point of view it was: the killer's? The author's? Did they just cut and paste the best parts of several rough drafts together? It flip-flops enough that as a reader I found it distracting.

Sometimes it felt as if McGreevy overused a thesaurus for parts of the book. Take this for an example:

"Roman screamed, and his knees buckled under him and he fell to the lawn screaming, and the ground around him buckled inward in a concavity of a perfect circumference that appeared around him, but he did not notice as the ground rippled and then fell away and he was swallowed by the pit."

Not only is this sentence confusing, but it's awkwardly written as well.

There are also parts of the novel I highly enjoyed: the commentary by the narrator, the characters themselves and the titles of the chapters (ex. Peter's Hierarchy of Shit He Can Live Without). I also enjoyed the snarky banter between Roman and Peter (or really Roman and everyone) and the way McGreevy incorporated emails from Shelly (Roman's sister) as a form of communication instead of leaving her simply to play Frankenstein's Monster.

Basically, Brian McGreevy had a great idea for a story that was overshadowed by poor writing. Although I wouldn't highly recommend this to a friend, I still enjoyed it despite all of its flaws.

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