Monday, May 30, 2016

The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

                The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 is the story of a black family in 1963 narrated by Kenny, the youngest son and second child. His mom, father, brother and sister all live in Flint, Michigan. He takes the bus to school every day, plays with dinosaurs with his friends and gets teased by his ill-behaved brother. They joke. They tease. They laugh together. This is life in Flint, Michigan for a black family through the eyes of a ten year old. A trip to Birmingham to visit their Grandmother throws the family into an event that young Kenny struggles to understand.
                It’s hard to find children’s books with young black narrators. I am glad I was able to read this one because it is extreme simply and yet very powerful. The struggles of the parents and of what was happening around the children was very subtle. It was almost too subtle but it was there until the very end. One of the things that I loved about this novel was that it was so normal. Kenny deals with issues that many children today deal with: an annoying little sister, a troublesome older brother, and anxiety about school. Yet there is a torrent of racially motivated actions happening all around him that he is mostly oblivious too. Kenny is an amusing, well developed character. He is a believable child and that believability makes this story more enjoyable.

                Curtis created a simple to read, easy to understand, children’s novel about life in 1963. The ending, which I won’t spoil, brings home a powerful message about life, racism and family. I really enjoyed this book. It was very entertaining, moved well and had a lot of depth. There was so many layers to this story hidden behind the humor. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice (1988)

The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice  


                I love when I get lost in the pages of a novel. When the narrative is beautiful, interesting and just whisk me away to whatever time and place the story is taking place. I absolutely hate it when the story gets muddled half way through and the story gets lost in an unnecessary lengthy plot that starts to drag the story out. This in a nutshell is my relationship with The Queen of the Damned. Now, mind you, this isn’t in any way shape or form a bad novel. I enjoyed this story. I simply lost interest midway through and dragged myself to the finish line.
                Lestat (yes, that Lestat from Interview With The Vampire which I absolutely loved) is a rock star. He has an autobiography out where he admitted to being a vampire and where he also divulged the history of Akasha and Enkil, the first of the vampires. He claims to have kissed the frozen statue that Akasha is now and claims to have drank her blood. Well, now Akasha is awake. Covens are being set on fire and only those close to Lestat seem to be safe. Then there are the dreams of the twins with red hair that haunt the vampires as they sleep. The twins from millennia past that are somehow connected to the awakening of the Queen.
                Like I said, this novel started off beautifully. I was so into the story. The world building was fantastic. There was so much mystery and so much history. And of course, there was Lestat. I really enjoyed the first two hundred pages of the story. Then Rice started going into detail with the twins and we finally meet the Queen and the story slowed down. To a snail’s pace. I guess I found the mystery of the twins more interesting that the reality. Or maybe it was the way in which the history unfolded. Rice’s method of storytelling changed and as it changed my attention waned. Were the characters interesting? For the most part yes. Especially all of the characters that we weren’t aware of in previous novels. Was the world building amazing? Not amazing but good. The major flaw then had to be the change in narrative half way through. Alas, I have to rate this 3.5 out of 5. Good but not amazingly great.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

I can only imagine how difficult it can be to end a series. Your fans have high expectations about what is going to happen. They are eager to jump back into the experience and as an author you are competing with your own work. I am a huge fan of Cronin. I read the first two novels in this series when they came out. I even re-read The Passage and The Twelve before beginning to read this book. I was ready and excited to begin reading The City of Mirrors. What I got was something completely different from the previous novels and yet an experience I appreciated and grew to understand.
                The twelve have been destroyed. The survivors are now trying to live in a world where virals haven’t been seen in over two decades. The roles in this new world have changed and people are branching out beyond the protection of the walls to begin anew. Townships have formed. Families are living their lives. All seems well. But Fanning is waiting and biding his time. It is Fanning and the story of what makes him Zero that sets the tone for this novel. What he has planned will determine the lives of all the survivors. And what of Amy the omega to Zero’s alpha? How will she play a role in the survival of mankind. Peter, Michael, Sara, Hollis and the generations that live will learn that the virals are not just a myth of decades past.
                It all ends here. I always had in the back of my mind while reading this series that someone must survive because all of the excerpts from “The Book of Sara” and “The Book of Auntie” were read a thousand years in the future. But there were moments while reading this book where I had no idea if surviving was even truly an option. This story was full of high drama and suspense. The story of Zero, where he narrates his life in first person, genuinely through me for a loop though. I honestly feel like too much time was spent creating his dialogue. As much as he is a pivotal character in the series, his diatribe about his life could have been seriously reduced. I blame this on the fact that I was not invested in the villain or his story. I was invested in the survivors and the lives they were living. Was his story interesting? Yes, but to an extent. If I try and imagine what this novel would have been like without so much of his dialogue, I think it would have been more terrifying and more suspenseful. Too much insight into his plans killed a lot of the suspense for me.
                Did I enjoy The City of Mirrors? Yes, I did. Regardless of how I feel about Fanning and his narration this was still a well written, suspenseful story. All of the characters’ lives had progressed in new an unexpected ways. There was highly mystical and at times biblical sense laced within this series that was really emphasized in this last novel. The world building in this novel was amazing and what I have come to expect from Cronin. My opinion wavered throughout this novel but it ended really well. Cronin structured a world that had to commence in a final battle and this did. Well done. I give this novel 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

This is a review of the second book in The Passage series. If you have not read the first book, you may want to rethink reading this review. It will have spoilers for the first book. Now we begin.

Re-reading The Twelve was very different from re-reading The Passage. This doesn’t feel like a horror novel. Where The Passage would have these terrifying moments where it was clear just how terrifying the virals could be, The Twelve would have suspenseful moments that capture the characters fear but not necessarily put fear into the reader. It is not a stand-alone novel. I would highly recommend reading The Passage before even attempting The Twelve. The Passage sets the tone perfectly and The Twelve continues but in an extremely unexpected but still enjoyable way.
                The Passage brought the story of the beginning and then propelled readers into the future. The Twelve takes us back to the beginning, bringing to light what happened to the towns across the U.S. after the virals escaped. Characters that were introduced in the first book like Lila, Wolgast’s ex-wife, and Lawrence Grey, one of the sweeps at the medical facility, now take a central role. Time passes again and long term affects are shown. Peter and the few surviving members from the California colony now live in Kerrville, Texas, where a city numbering in the tens of thousands are residing. But there is another colony in the heart of Iowa whose existence isn’t easy to explain. Seventy thousands souls live within those walls but there also resides collaborators with red eyes, a leader who doesn’t age and a woman who can somehow control the virals. 

                I remember enjoying this book the first time I read it but I don’t think I fully appreciated it but now I am here for every single bit of this. Why? Because it is really damn good. It’s a shift from The Passage but moves just as well and packs that same punch in the gut. A whole new element to the story is introduced with the existence of this “town” in Iowa. With that comes different loves of humanity and a new chaste system. While some questions are being answered, others are still being put forth. Character development: still amazing. World development: still amazing. A few choke points that I found cumbersome exists but overall I give this 4 out of 5 stars. I am so ready for the next book!!!! That’s coming next. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin

                I was super excited about this re-read. I read this book when it first came out in 2010. It was a book recommended by Stephen King and honestly, I haven’t mistrusted his taste ever so I was definitely ready to read this book. My first time reading The Passage was quite an experience. I had nightmares. I was seeing things in the trees. I loved it. It was suspenseful. It was a new and refreshing look at vampires and the horror genre. It was different and at that time I needed something different. I didn’t originally know that this book was the first in a trilogy written by Cronin. The way it ended left an option for a sequel with a nice little cliffhanger. And now the time has come for this trilogy to end and I thought it was time to bring the world back to me anew. So here we go.
                This all began because they were looking for a cure. A cure for death. A cure to live. A cure for sickness. The scientist thought they might find it in La Paz. The U.S. government thought they might as well. Instead Zero was created. Then they wanted twelve inmates. Twelve people that no one would miss, that were desperately looking for a last chance for survival. They would all agree in the end. Amy was never given an option. She was left, abandoned and then taken. The twelve were not the cure. The twelve were the beginning of the end. The virals would escape and take over. Killing instinctually and turning the tenth person into one of them. It was a desperate time for desperate measures. States would secede from the U.S. to protect themselves and the viral hordes spread out. Vampires were what everyone had become. Then 93 years have passed and one colony is known to remain. They haven’t seen a walked in years. The lights have stayed on. But the dreams keep coming. And the lights will soon go off.
                So here is the situation. The government created a virus they were hoping would cure every known disease. The virus turned people into super strong, glowing, psychic vampires. In the midst of all this is a young girl who has always been extraordinary who has also been injected with the virus but isn’t like anyone else. Is she human? Is she viral? What is she?! Then our story jumps into the future and you realize just how desperate life has become.
                I know the plot seems crazy and it is, in a very refreshing “where-the-hell-is-Justin-Cronin-going-to-take-this” way. I was intrigued from the very beginning. This story is told in the third person with the help of a few emails, military transcripts and diary entries. All of the former are used sparingly but when used they add some perspective and really usher the story along. From the very beginning you know something dangerous is afoot. You know catastrophe is going to strike and it is a slow painful trek till the other shoe drops. You can feel it coming with the turn of each page and yet when it happens your mouth drops, you immediately understand the extent of power these being have and that everything is going change. As soon as the suspense drops slightly, you are plunged into the future and it all begins again. I credit all of this to great world building and suspenseful storytelling. The character development was amazing too. It’s hard to imagine a desolate population with nothing, when we live in a technology driven society now. It’s almost painful to conceive but then add on top of that the threat of extinction or becoming a viral and it gets worse.

                The Passage had action, suspense, horror, graphic (intense, kind of gross) detail and characters that drove the plot. It had a few moments where I shook my head and wanted to throw it but all in all it was really enjoyable. The second time around wasn’t as mesmerizing as the first time but still great. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. Moving on to the sequel. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In A Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Dovan and Caren Zucker

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan and Caren Zucker

                The first night I decided to pick this book up I had only planned on reading a few pages, more than likely the first chapter, and then calling it a night. I wanted to get an idea of what the tone of the book would be before diving headfirst the next day. I ended up fully engaged and forcing myself to put the book down after reading over a hundred pages. From the first pages of In a Different Key: The Story of Autism I knew I had begun a book that would educate me, touch me emotionally, and make me reevaluate autism as I know it. I was right.
                This book provides so much information that I am honestly having a hard time trying to quantify it for this review. In a Different Key begins where autism begins, with Donald Triplett, the first person every diagnosed with autism. Here was a boy who emotionally indifferent to everything, known for throwing tantrums, set in his routines and yet able to have total recall. Doctors pushed his parents Mary and Oliver to send him to an institution. They looked elsewhere and met Leo Kanner, the psychiatrist who would eventually diagnose Donald with “infantile autism.” From there readers look at how the criteria of autism was created and how it would evolve. Donvan and Zucker even looked to the past at famous persons who may have been autistic based on the characteristics being used to diagnose children. Society’s view of autistic children was thoroughly explored from the institutionalization that took place, to the blaming of mothers, a theory propagated for years by certain scientist. Science would progress and parents would be a key reason behind that progress. They began to advocate and force people to view autism differently. They formed organizations like National Society for Autistic Children, which would request more research into the cause of autism, treating autism and educating autistic children. As the diagnoses increased and autism awareness spread so did fear and the narrative about autism. Parents of autistic children and autistic adults would eventually have new struggles and new hardships to face as autism continues to be redefined, even in today’s society because there are still so many questions to answer.
               I honestly hope the above paragraph sheds some light on the scope of this book. It’s over five hundred pages long, with a timeline and notes section that takes up another one hundred pages but it is well done. Donvan and Zucker created a historical book about an evolving diagnoses and they did it in such a way that I remained intrigued the entire time. My fascination and urge to gain more understanding about the diagnoses and its history never waned. With each new chapter I was introduced to new concepts, different struggles, different key players though many would become recognizable as the chapters progressed. So many different theories, conspiracies, alternating view points and so much struggle throughout the pages but presented in a comprehensive way that was never confusing. If you are looking to read a book that will provide you with a wide range of information about what we now know as Autism Spectrum Disorder then I would highly recommend this book. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Blogging for Books for the copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.