Friday, January 27, 2017

104. "The Selection" by Kiera Cass





Cass, Kiera. The Selection. New York: Harper Teen, 2012.

327 pages. 

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: America Singer lives in a dystopian future where the nation is divided into castes numbered one through eight with ones being at the very royal top and eights being homeless nomads. When the prince of the nation is old enough, there is a "Selection" where names of eligible women and girls are drawn from each district and the "selected" travel to the capital to compete for the prince's hand in marriage.

WHAT I LOVED: The cover art.

WHAT I LIKED: What I liked about this book is that it's sort of like junk food--it did me absolutely no good but was just kind of tasty anyway.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: Hoo boy. I know that there are no truly "original" stories anymore, but this book was so obviously trying to cash in on the popularity of The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, it made me sick. Cass is capitalizing on hybridizing the success of work that isn't really hers and by feeding the lowest common denominator to her readers. I found the book entertaining enough but something just wasn't sitting right with me so I did a bit of research. Cass's agent was actually "rigging" her ratings of the book on Goodreads by going through every 4 and 5 star review and "liking" them to boost the rating. Supposedly Cass and her agent also weren't aware that their posts were public and said some unsavory things about their readers going so far as to call a reader who didn't like the book a "bitch." As a writer myself, I have no respect for that. None, whatsoever. You will never write a book everyone likes. That's how the world of reading and writing works. So...while I may be interested in reading the rest of the stories in the series, the writer and agent's serious lack of respect for readers has me wanting to boycott the rest. There is more I could say about some of the story's plot holes and character inconsistencies, but I'll stop here--heaven forbid I get called a bitch too.

RECOMMEND FOR: Readers who like teen romance and don't care if the author has any respect for her readers.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who values the sacred relationship between writer and reader.

2 darts out of 3

Saturday, January 21, 2017

103. "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown



Brown, Dan. Angels and Demons. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

569 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: This is the first of the Robert Langdon series. The second of the series is probably Dan Brown's most well-known work, The DaVinci Code. In Angels and Demons, Brown sets up Langdon's character with an adventure at the Vatican. The Illuminati have threatened the Vatican and infiltrated to set a bomb aimed at destroying the Vatican City and the Catholic church as whole. Landgon must work with a brilliant scientist, Vittoria Vetra, in order to follow a trail of symbols and mythology and stop the Illuminati from completing their mission. 

WHAT I LOVED: Dan Brown is a master of pace. His novels always seem to be perfectly paced to keep tension high. Some of the chapters' obvious cliff hangers were a bit cheesy (cue orchestral "dun dun DUN!"). The cheesiness is part of the appeal for me. I don't read Dan Brown to become a better person. I read Dan Brown to be entertained.  

WHAT I LIKED: I liked  the mythology. I am a sucker for fun, mystical, Catholic conspiracy. I'm not an historian and I'm sure historical inaccuracies abound in this book, but if you can suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride, the mythology is fun.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: The ending with the helicopter and the jacket. I won't go into detail and spoil it for anyone, but come on.

RECOMMEND FOR: Someone interested in a thrilling, fast paced, mystery that involves conspiracy theories and Catholic urban legends. 

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Any historian or scientist expecting accurate depictions of religious history or physics. 

3 darts out of 5. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

102. "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins



SYNOPSIS: A woman struggling with alcoholism takes a train into town everyday so her roommate thinks she's going to work. She's actually unemployed, depressed, and lonely. She fantasizes about a couple she watches from the train everyday and in a desperate attempt to connect with someone, moves those fantasies into reality by showing up at the couple's house when she learns the woman has gone missing. From there, everything spirals into a murder-mystery, psychological thriller.

WHAT I LOVED: I loved the non linear timelines told from multiple perspectives. It was a unique way to create tension and suspense. I loved that the points of view were all women who had dealt with the same psychopath and how each of those voices was unique and compelling.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked the way Hawkins worked in alcoholism as a devastating disease. The explanation of black outs was scientifically accurate, for the most part.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: Honestly, I knew by the third chapter who dunnit. It wasn't because it was obvious who it was but it was obvious to me who it wasn't.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who likes a fast-paced thriller along the lines of Gone Girl.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who struggle with alcohol addiction--I could see this book being a trigger for relapse.

3 darts out of 5.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

101. "Scarlet: Book 1" by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev


Bendis, Brian Michael & Maleev, Alex. Scarlet: Book 1. New York: Marvel World Wide Inc, 2011.

176 pages

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: Scarlet Rue is devastated when her boyfriend is murdered by a corrupt cop. Following his death, she begins a new life with the purpose of eliminating corruption from the criminal justice system.

WHAT I LOVED: I loved how uncomfortable this book made me. The story is so incredibly relevant. With tension between police and civilians in our country at an all time high, the murder of police officers hit home recently when two Des Moines officers were ambushed and killed. Scarlet is written in such a way that you feel you should be rooting for Scarlet--she's the hero of the comic, right? In reality, rooting for Scarlet will leave you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. I honestly did not know who to root for, but I knew I couldn't back Scarlet or her tactics. Scarlet is an anti-hero but there is also no hero to be found in the story, at least not yet. The story offers peeks of hope but overall, it is dark, complicated, and a bit sickening. It's powerful, and good literature is supposed to be.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked how relevant it was. I feel a bit disturbed giving this story a high star rating. I thought to myself, "If I like this book, will people think I condone murdering cops? What if I end up on a list at homeland security?" The fact that I even have these thoughts means that there is important work being done here. It is a commentary much larger than a comic's usual "good versus evil" motif. It is messy and dirty. There is hope, but you aren't totally sure where that hope is coming from.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: The incredible amount of anxiety I felt while reading it--but this has less to do with the book and more to do with the state of our social system.

RECOMMEND FOR: People who can appreciate some great art. People who enjoy literature that cuts at the heart of certain social issues. People with thick skin who won't be broken by a very difficult story.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone who has a sensitive stomach, anyone who is prone to paranoia, anyone who may be triggered by stories of police violence (both police as perpetrators and civilians perpetrating police).

5 darts out of 5

Friday, November 11, 2016

100. "Time and Chance: An Iowa Murder Mystery" edited by Barbara Lounsberry



Lounsberry, Barabara (ed.). Time and Change: An Iowa Murder Mystery. Cedar Falls, Iowa: Public Radio KUNI, 1998.

188 pages.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love

SYNOPSIS: Charlie runs an inn in the small river town of Bella, Iowa. When three people end up dead, she finds herself in the middle of a mystery that likes of which Bella has never seen before. This book is a "serial novel" meaning it was written by 17 different Iowa writers. The writers have a wide range of backgrounds and experience and each writer contributed one chapter to the novel.

WHAT I LOVED: I loved reading something written by Iowa writers who were so clearly having fun with the project. The delight of the writing process shown through in each chapter with tongue-in-cheek Iowa references and moments that made laugh out loud. The book is filled with Iowa references from cities, institutions, traditions, and history.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked that there was continuity in the book, despite being written by 17 different authors. I was more than willing to give this book some wiggle room when it came to consistency of character or style, and was pleasantly surprised that there were very few issues with this. The few I could find didn't really stand out of pull me away from the story.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: You know, I love a good murder mystery, but I couldn't take this book that seriously. I think this is because you could tell the writers weren't taking themselves too seriously. I can appreciate it this based on the goal of the book. They were writing it for fun, not to write a best seller, but it made my commitment to the story wane.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who wants a fun, quick, read full of Iowa references.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Serious mystery readers who want something of substance.

2 darts out of 5

Saturday, September 17, 2016

99 "Reliquary" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Preston, Douglas and Child, Lincoln. Reliquary. New York, NY: Tom Doherty and Associates, 1997.

Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love


SYNOPSIS: Picking up where Relic left off, Reliquary follows Dr. Margo Green and office D'Agosta as they try to unravel the mystery of the "wrinklers," a group of underground New Yorkers committing horrific murders. Agent Pendergrast joins the efforts as does a cast of new and interesting characters. Together, they must map out underground New York which is full of homeless communities that are highly organized and dangerous. For me, it was a beautiful mashup of the styles of Night at the Museum, Jurassic Park, and your standard murder mystery.

WHAT I LOVED: This books is completely absorbing. I found myself totally lost in the story, forgetting time and space and knowing only what was happening with Margo, Smithback, Pendergast and D'Agosta. Pendergast continues to intrigue me and more than once I found myself holding my breath through the conclusion of a scene.

WHAT I LIKED: Preston and Child have once again nailed the science fiction element of the story. The science-fiction is creative and at the same time believable. I am astounded by the amount of research and planning that must have gone in to the writing of this novel, particularly when it comes to understanding the underground communities of New York City.

WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT: The only thing I didn't like about this book was that it had to end.

RECOMMEND FOR: Anyone who likes action, adventure, and mysteries.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Someone looking for a romance story--there is virtually none in this one.

5 darts out of 5

Saturday, June 11, 2016

98. "A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-Five Years of Women's Poetry" edited by Margarita Donnelly, Beverly McFarland, and Micki Reaman



Donnelly, Margarita, McFarland, Beverly, and Reaman, Micki, eds. A Fierce brightness: Twenty-five Years of Women's Poetry. Corvallis, OR: Calyx Books, 2002.

SYNOPSIS: This collection covers 25 years of women's poetry and includes a diverse body of work.

WHAT I LOVED: This was a truly diverse collection both in terms of subject matter and in poets. Some poets are well known and some are new up-and-comers. I loved that this book exposed me to some new writers whose work I plan on reading. One name in particular is Francis Payne Adler. I found her poems intensely personal and I'm excited to read more of her work.

WHAT I LIKED: I liked that the poems chosen for this work engaged in some challenging and sensitive subject matter. It was bold and unapologetic

RECOMMENDED FOR: Readers who are interested in reading a wide variety of work from many talented poets. Readers who aren't sure where to begin in gaining more exposure to women's poetry would also appreciate this book.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Readers expecting a lot of form poetry might be turned off by the numerous free form poems.

4.5 darts out of 5