Posts Tagged: 3 stars

The Barefoot Queen
by Ildefonso Falcones

December 7, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Falcones_BarefootQueen
★ ★ ★
The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones | 2013 (English edition 2014) | Crown Publishing | Hardcover $28.00

It’s January of 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wondering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When her path crosses with Milagros Carmona’s – a young, rebellious gypsy – the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon change her life forever. Over time they each fall in love with men who are fiercely loyal and ready to fight to the death for their rights as a free people. When all gypsies are declared outlaws by royal mandate, life in their community becomes perilous. From the tumultuous bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is a historical fresco filled with charaters that live, love, suffer, and fight for what they believe.

I was delighted to receive an ARC of the English translation of this book from Crown Publishing via a Read It Forward giveaway! Even in paperback it is much thicker than I expected. This little beauty clocks in at over 650 pages.

Maybe I’ve just gotten too used to reading short’n’sweet YA lately, because between this and my Classics Club choice for last month I’m just a tiny bit exhausted.

I’ve not read any Falcones before now, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I’m afraid I don’t speak or read much Spanish at all, so it feels a bit odd to be judging a book in translation without having a good idea of its quality in its original language. Actually, it has been a long time since I’ve read something that was not originally written in English, which makes me sort of sad because I’m sure I’m missing out on some lovely books!

There were a couple of things I really liked about this book. Well, aside from the Crown version of the cover, which is bee-yew-tee-ful.

First, the setting (18th century Spain) is richly developed, and I am such a sucker for good worldbuilding. I have to admit that I know next to nothing about this period in Spanish history or about European gypsy culture, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the historical stuff. But Falcones does manage to make the reader feel immersed in the world of the story, which is usually a sign of well-researched historical fiction.

Second, the characters usually were very realistic. By that I mean that they seemed like nuanced, complicated, and deeply considered beings — not just vehicles for plot. If you don’t feel connected to at least one of the primary POV characters by the end of the book, well, you’re either a psychopath or a robot who needs an empathy software upgrade.

Unfortunately, this second positive point serves to highlight the one big negative point.

The plot moves so, so,      so,                          so                                  s l  o    w  . .  .   .

This opinion may simply be a side effect of my having read so many plot-tastic YA and SFF books in the last year that I can no longer savour the beauty of a “Crock-Pot” plot. I don’t think so, though. After all, I recently enjoyed Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which is heavily padded with Victorian-style flowery language and introspection. The Barefoot Queen is a brick of a book to start with (the copy I was reading clocks in at 650+ pages). If you’re not a nut about either story settings or character development, you’re not going to get a lot of satisfaction out of this book until about 1/3 of the way through when the plot starts to pick up.

I’ve seen some reviews of The Barefoot Queen comparing it unfavorably to Falcones’s other books. As this is the first title by this author that I’ve tried, I can’t make any comparisons. However, this book did make me want to read other Falcones titles — I generally liked it, and if I generally liked The Barefoot Queen then there’s a very good chance I’ll like some of the “backlist” options that are supposed to be of even better quality.


Links:


Publication information: Falcones, Ildefonso. The Barefoot Queen. New York: Crown, 2014. Print.
Source: Publisher, via Read It Foward giveaway
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Deep Blue
by Jennifer Donnelly

April 13, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Donnelly_DeepBlue

★ ★ ★

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly | May 2014 | Disney Press | Hardcover $17.99

Serafina, daughter of Isabella, Queen of Miromara, has been raised with the expectation – and burden – that she will someday become ruler of the oldest civilization of the merfolk. On the eve of the Dokimí ceremony, which will determine if she is worthy of the crown, Sera is haunted by a strange dream that foretells the return of an ancient evil.

Honestly, it reads a bit like Little Mermaid fanfic, especially at the beginning. I mean you can practically see the scenes happening in bright, cartoony animation (which is not too far off the mark considering this is a Disney book for Poseidon’s sake). But I made the choice not to let that bother me, and anyway the feeling of fanfic-ishness doesn’t really last past the first few chapters.

For the most part, the unique physics and cultural stuff of this underwater world are pretty consistent. There is one scene in which a character gets a very funky haircut that I just could not picture happening underwater at all, but I think other than that all of the little details were pretty well done. I’m thinking particularly of a mention of buoyancy problems in freshwater as compared to saltwater, which made me think far too much about the osmoregulatory abilities of mermaids.

There’s lots of fun but sometimes too-cheesy mermaid slang (which undoubtedly would be called merlang, har har har). Plus I have to praise the weirdly delicious descriptions of otherwise gross-sounding seafood candies. And I liked this inclusion of different types of mermaids — classic sparkly scales, lionfish-like, eel-like, orca-like, even bioluminescent (LOVE). Of course, this brought up more questions on the speciation of mermaids (because once a biologist always a biologist) but the backstory of the mermaids in the book is that they were created by a goddess during the fall of Atlantis, so whatever.

Oh and I hope the finished book gets a map. I could have really used one because I had a lot of trouble picturing just where everything was taking place, but the e-galley didn’t include one. Apparently Disney is planning an illustrated gift version as well as graphic novels based on this series, so I don’t think a map is too much to ask for.

There were some signs of an impending love triangle, but either that’s going to come up again in some future book in the series (and, yes, this is the first of a series) or it was wisely given up in favor of sisterly bonding between girl – sorry, merl – friends… or it is a TRICK and one of the boys involved is not whom he seems, which is my bet, and I am going to feel SO SMUG if my guess turns out to be right.


Links:


Publication information: Donnelly, Jennifer. Deep Blue. Los Angeles: Disney-Hyperion, 2014. EPUB file.
Source: E-galley provided by the publisher through NetGalley
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Word Exchange
by Alena Graedon

April 1, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Graedon_WordExchange
★ ★ ★

The Word Exchange: A Novel by Alena Graedon | April 2014 | Doubleday | Hardcover $26.95

In the not so distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers and magazines are a thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication, but have become so intuitive as to hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order take out at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called The Word Exchange.

Liked it, more or less.

It has an intriguing premise; this book is all about the rise of a mysterious plague that destroys a person’s perception of / ability to use language, due in no small part to the quick near-universal adoption of “Memes” (a sort of mind-reading smartphone-like piece of tech).

I’m in love with quite a few bits of the writing — lots of quotables and some really nice passages for the reader’s brain to chew on and practically taste. Plus I felt pretty smart whenever I recognized any philosophical or literary reference, which I’m sure was not nearly as often as it ought to have been, but I do my best.

Did not care for Bart’s POV sections — seriously, the “e.g.” thing was like a mental tic or something and while I understand that this was supposed to be a part of his self-consciously academic characterization it just drove me BATTY. Add that on top of his “nice guy” -ish bullshit attitude toward Ana and, well, I admit that I started skipping whole chunks of his POV sections. This on top of some of the less poetic, more thesaurus-inspired sections began to slightly wear on my patience.

The premise was a little hard to buy, but I guess that’s true for most end-of-civilization stories. But seriously, when almost a quarter of the U.S. population doesn’t have regular internet access and less than 1/2 even own a data-enabled smartphone or tablet (according the the U.S. government)… yeah, it’s hard to buy that in only a few short years all books will be basically dead and we’ll all be fighting off brain-infecting übersmartphones.

Still, the book wasn’t bad. I definitely see potential in this author and will be keeping an eye out for more from her. Suggesting to our adult fiction selector at the library keep it in mind if she has any money left over at the end of the month.


Links:


Publication information: Graedon, Alena. The Word Exchange. New York: Doubleday, 2014. Print.
Source: Received an e-ARC from NetGalley + a physical ARC from the publisher via Goodreads giveaway.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Going Bovine
by Libba Bray

November 1, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0

Bray_GoingBovine
★ ★ ★ 

Going Bovine by Libba Bray | Delacorte Books | September 2009 | Paperback $10.99

All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school — and life in general — with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure — if he’s willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother of all road trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most.

Read this one on a long, cramped airplane trip. I bring that up because the odd reading circumstances may have colored my opinions.

Libba Bray (an awesome Texas author with a real connection with her fans) give us unique story over all, even if the road-trip-as-coming-of-age-story thing gets to be a little cliché sometimes… but there’s just enough weirdness to make it different and keep up the head scratching.

The ending drags out a little, and it is not a surprise BUT it still manages to tug lightly at the reader’s heartstrings. Think of this book as a cross between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Catcher in the Rye. Definitely recommended for readers who like ’em a little weird!

You see that big shiny medal with the “P” on the front cover? That means this book won the prestigious Printz Award in 2010. Fans of Libba Bray, author of  the popular Gemma Doyle series and contributor to some awesome story collections like Zombies vs. Unicorns and 21 Proms, will be pleased to know that she is currently working on Lair of Dreams (a sequel to The Diviners, which was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and Andre Norton awards last year).


Links:


Publication information: Bray, Libba. Going Bovine. New York: Delacorte, 2009. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


We Are What We Pretend to Be
by Kurt Vonnegut

November 16, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 0

Vonnegut_WAWWPTB

★ ★ ★

We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut | Vanguard Press | October 2012 | Hardcover $19.99

Called “our finest black-humorist” by The Atlantic Monthly, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Now his first and last works come together for the first time in print, in a collection aptly titled after his famous phrase, We Are What We Pretend To Be. In this fiction collection, published in print for the first time, exist Vonnegut’s grand themes: trust no one, trust nothing; and the only constants are absurdity and resignation, which themselves cannot protect us from the void but might divert.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of We Are What We Pretend to Be by Kurt Vonnegut from a giveaway at Book Riot. It is actually 2 books in 1: his first novella Basic Training + his final novel If God Were Alive Today + an intro by the author’s daughter, Nanette Vonnegut. Basic Training was never actually published, and Vonnegut didn’t get a chance to finish If God Were Alive Today before he passed away in 2007.

I think I enjoyed Nanette’s introduction more than either of the actual stories, which is unfortunate because I count Vonnegut as one of my favorite authors. Neither of the stories were actually bad, but neither of them were anywhere near the quality of his other works — and that isn’t surprising. These stories were never published in the first place because they weren’t really ready for publication. I guess the novelty/nostalgia factor is supposed to make up for that now, for Vonnegut fans who are obviously never otherwise going to get new works out of him because, y’know, he’s dead.

I caught glimpses of the author’s budding genius in Basic Training, but it is definitely in need of some editing (which I suspect the publisher was reluctant to do, and I can’t really lay blame for that). And If God Were Alive Today has the makings of something truly profound, but I found it very, very obvious that it was unfinished (and, again, in need of more refined editing, but then it would be, being unfinished and all).

Overall, I’m glad I got a chance to read it and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to lend it out, but I wouldn’t recommend this to Vonnegut virgins as an introduction to his works.


Links:


Publication information: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Literary Trust. We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works. New York: Vanguard Press, 2012. Print.
Source: Giveaway from Book Riot
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.