Isaac Bodkins is a magical toymaker. He makes toys that actually come alive and seek out children who need them the most, such as children who have lost a parent or who are facing abuse. When he dies before he has a chance to tell his chosen heir about her purpose, evil has a chance to take over again. His toys, the Oddkins, must set out to tell her before evil manages to land its own new evil toymaker that would create living toys to torture children. Evil sends out his evil toys in an attempt to stop the Oddkins on their dangerous cross-town mission.
The person who loaned me this book told me it was marketed as a fable for all ages but really might be a bit too scary for the youngest among us. Person also knew that I love me some fables, not to mention talking animals or toys, so I was excited to get into this book. Alas, it wasn’t ultimately my style, but it is a well-written book I could see working for a lot of people.
The plot is a quest where each member of the questing group gets at least one chance to shine. Although I was fairly certain that good would ultimately triumph over evil, I still was left worried for the main characters periodically, and I also was unable to predict the details of the triumph. Since the toymaker lived in the countryside outside of the city, the quest consists of time in both the country and the city. This kept situations varied and engaging.
Since this is a fable and most of the characters are in fact magical toys, they are not what one would describe as three-dimensional. However, their two dimensions work for the story. For instance, the teddy bear leader of the good toys is brave and strong and true but he also has to work at being brave. He is not just naturally brave. Similarly, although the two potential inheritors of toymaking are good and evil, they both get background information given to them. The evil one was in prison and only takes pleasure from causing others pain. The good one ran a toy store and was recently widowed and looking for something more in her life.
So why didn’t I love it? Well, some things said were just too clearly religious for me. There’s a lot of talk of afterlife, and the evil toys are driven by who is clearly Satan. There are also times where the good toys stop and make statements to each other that are clearly the author preaching to the reader through them. For instance
God’s world is full of magic, isn’t it? Not just the secret kind of magic of which we’re a part, but the simple magic of everyday life-magic. (location 1358)
Given that this happens rather frequently and given that the evil is clearly represented to be Satan, I just found the whole book to be a bit too heavy-handed in the religion department for me. A reader who does follow Christianity might not be bothered, but even then, the preachiness within a book isn’t for everyone.
Overall this is a well-written fable that is engaging and unique. It is a bit heavy-handed in its presentation of various religious beliefs for this reader, but other readers who enjoy that in their literature will probably enjoy this book.
3 out of 5 stars
Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)
Teenaged John Cleaver had his sociopathy under control but when his town was plagued with two different demons, he had to let it loose a bit to fight them. He invited the demon Nobody to come face off with him, but he and those around him are left wondering if Nobody is real or if John’s sociopathy has just gone out of control. Meanwhile the teenage girls of the town are committing suicide left and right, and John can’t help but wonder why he’s ever tried to save anybody.
This is one of only a few YA series that I’ve enjoyed reading. The paranormal/youth aspect are almost like a Dexter lite, which is enjoyable. I must say, though, that I was disappointed by the ultimate ending to the series. However, since I write up series review posts every time I finish a series, I’ll leave my analysis of the series as a whole to that post, which will be coming up next. For right now, let’s look at the final book on its own merit.
The plot this time around was disappointingly full of obvious red herrings. I knew within the first chapter where Nobody was hiding, and it was kind of ridiculous that talented, intelligent John was missing it. Similarly, I found the serial killer who John identified as who he could end up being if he made the wrong choices to be a bit heavy-handed. John was already well aware of the risks of his sociopathy from the very first book. It felt a bit unnecessary to make this such a strong plot point. It came across as preachy, which is something that this series had avoided so far. Similarly, John goes to see a priest at one point in his investigations, and his conversations with him felt a bit too heavy-handed, almost like the (known religious) Wells was preaching at the readers through the priest. Authors are allowed their opinions and perspectives, but preachiness is never good writing. Perspective and opinion should be shown eloquently through the plot and characters.
Speaking of characterization, John was still strongly written, but his mother and sister were another story. They felt less like they were doing what was logical and more like they were doing what needed to be done to move the plot forward. On the other hand, I really enjoyed John’s new girlfriend. She was well-rounded and realistic. Plus she was fit while being curvy, which I think is a great thing to see in a book.
In spite of the slightly obvious plot, I still was engaged to get to the end. Even though I knew whether or not there was a demon and who the killer was, I still deeply wanted to see how John would handle it. The audiobook narrator, Kirby Heyborne, helped with this momentum. His narration was just the right amount of tension while still remaining in a teenager’s voice. Be warned, though, that there is some yelling in the book, so the volume does spike considerably at a few points in the narration. You may want to keep the volume a bit lower than usual to accommodate this.
Unfortunately, where the plot ultimately ended up was deeply disappointing to me. It was not at all a satisfying ending, and from a mental illness advocacy perspective, I actually found it distressing. Whereas John’s sociopathy previously was handled with a lot of scientific understanding, I found the ending of this book to be completely out of touch with real sociopathy. While it wasn’t offensive per se, it drastically oversimplifies sociopathy, both its treatment and its causes, which is just as bad as demonizing it. I will address this issue more fully in the series review, but suffice to say that I found the ending to this book’s individual mystery and the series as a whole to be disappointing, particularly given the potential of the book.
Overall, then, this is an average book that wraps up an above average series. If you are someone who is fine with stopping things partway through, I’d recommend just stopping with the previous book in the series, Mr. Monster. But if you are interested in the overall perspective, this book is still an engaging read that doesn’t drag. It just might disappoint you.
3.5 out of 5 stars
The Nigerian-Biafran War (or the Nigerian Civil War, as it is also known) is seen through the intertwining lives of four different people. The daughter of a wealthy Igbo couple, Kainene, with a fierce business sense. Her fraternal twin sister, who is also the beautiful one, Olanna, an academic in love with a revolutionary-minded man named Odenigbo. Kainene’s boyfriend then fiancee, the white English writer Richard. And Ugwu. Olanna’s houseboy who came to them from a rural village. Their lives are irreparably impacted, and in some cases destroyed, by the war for a cause they all believe in, but that the world largely ignores.
I originally intended this Nigerian book to be my final read for the Africa Reading Challenge 2012, but even though I started it in November, the audiobook took over three months to get through, so it ultimately missed counting for the challenge. I thought it was much longer than my usual audiobook fare, but a quick check of the listen length shows that it is 18 hours and 56 minutes long, which is only about 7 hours longer than my norm. So why did it take me so long to finish? Well, I just didn’t enjoy it that much.
I believe I was expecting something else from Adichie, since I had previously read her book Purple Hibiscus (review), which is far more character driven than this novel. In this novel I would say the main character is actually the war, and that is something that simply does not work for my reading style. Perhaps also playing into this general feeling I got was the ensemble cast. Instead of getting to know just Olanna, for instance, and seeing her life before, during, and after the Nigerian-Biafran War, truly feeling as if I was her and living it through her, the reader is constantly jostled around among four different people. It left me unable to truly connect to any one of them, which left me feeling like they were just there as a device to let Adichie talk about the War. And it was truly an awful, horrible war precipitated by a genocide of the Igbo people, and it absolutely deserves to be talked about. It’s just for me this type of ensemble piece with the War as really the main character isn’t the best method for me to learn about a War or an atrocity. I prefer to get to know someone and see it through their eyes. Given what I had read of Adichie’s work before, I was expecting that level of connection, just with multiple characters, but that is just not what happens in this book. Perhaps it was too large, too sweeping, too much for one book. I’m not sure. But I was left without an emotional connection beyond the horror at the war atrocities, and that simply is not what I am looking for when reading a fictional piece set during a war.
As far as the plot goes, it was interesting but it was a bit confusing. Part of my confusion could have been because I listened to it, but from my understanding when I was listening, first there was an affair, then we jumped back to before the affair, then we jumped forward, then we jumped back to a different affair that came before the first affair. It was profoundly confusing. Particularly with a child referred to only as Baby (with no explanation about this for quite some time) who also randomly shows up and disappears. There was already so much going on with four different main characters and the war that this non-linear plot felt unnecessarily extraneous and confusing. However, it is possible that this plot is more clear when reading the print version, as opposed to the audio version.
The language of the writing itself is pretty, and I found periodic astute insights that I’ve come to expect and enjoy from Adichie. For instance,
Why do I love him? I don’t think love has a reason. I think love comes first, and the reasons come later.
Passages like these are what helped me enjoy the book to the extent that I did.
There is one plot point in the book that truly distressed me, so I feel I must discuss it. It is a spoiler though, so consider yourself spoiler warned for this paragraph. Throughout the book, the narration style is third person limited, which means that it is told in third person, but the reader knows what is going on in the main character’s head and is generally limited to that character’s perspective. The point of view is switched around among the four main characters, one of whom is Ugwu, the houseboy. We thus get to know him as the houseboy, he gradually grows up, and then later he is conscripted into the Biafran army. At this point, he participates in a gang rape on a waitress in a bar. I read a lot of gritty things. I routinely read books offering up the point of view of sociopaths or serial killers. I’m not averse to seeing the world through a bad person’s eyes, or through the eyes of a person who does bad things. But it has to be handled in the appropriate manner. I felt that there was entirely too much empathy toward Ugwu in the case of the gang rape. Adichie sets it up so that he walks in on his fellow soldiers gang raping this woman, and he says he doesn’t want to participate, they question his manhood, he admits in his head that he is turned on by the view of her pinned to the ground crying with her legs held apart having just been raped by a different soldier, and he participates. I think what disturbed me the most about this passage was how the narration makes it seem so ordinary. Like it’s something any man would do in that situation. Like it’s only natural he’d be turned on and get a hard-on from seeing a woman forcibly pinned to the ground so she can be gang raped by a bunch of men including himself. I think it’s awful to treat men like that. To act like they clearly are incapable of standing up for what’s right or that they’ll get a hard-on any time they see an orifice they can physically bang. Men are human beings and are entirely capable of thinking with more than their penis. Now, obviously there are men who rape, but there has got to be more going on there then I have a hard on and there’s a woman who I can stick it into. To treat rape that simply is a disservice to men and women’s humanity alike. Part of the reason why this reads this way is that we don’t know Ugwu well but we know him well enough to think that he’s an at least moderately decent young man. We don’t see a gradual downfall. No one holds a gun to his head or even implicitly threatens him with death if he doesn’t participate. It makes it seem like war makes men, even moderately good men, rape, as opposed to war simply providing more opportunities for rapists to rape. That is a perspective that I do not endorse, that I do not enjoy having sprung upon me in my literature, and that I found triggering as well. I was shocked to see it in a book by Adichie. Shocked and disappointed. It left me wishing I could scrub my brain of the book. Wishing for those hours of my life that I spent listening to it back.
Now, let me take a moment to speak about the narrator, Robin Miles. Miles is an astounding narrator. Her audiobook narration is truly voice acting. She is capable of a broad spectrum of accents, including Nigerian, British, and American, and slips in and out of them seamlessly. She easily creates a different voice for many different characters. I absolutely adored listening to her, in spite of not enjoying the book itself. Her performance of this book is easily a 5 star one.
Overall, though, the high quality narration simply could not make up for a story that failed to hit the mark with me on so many levels. It covers an important time period in Nigeria, and the highly important human rights issue of the genocide of the Igbo, but the style in which it does simply misses the mark for me. If this was all, I would still recommend the book to others who are more fond of a more impersonal, sweeping narration style. However, I also found the treatment of rape in the book to be simultaneously offensive and triggering. For this reason, I cannot recommend this book, although I do recommend the audiobook narrator, Robin Miles.
2 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection (Series, #1-9 and 11-14) (Graphic Novel)
Captain America has been increasingly violent and melancholy lately, and SHIELD is worried about him. When his arch-nemesis, the Red Skull, turns up as a corpse, things go from troubled to worse for Captain America. Ghosts of his past increasingly haunt him as the desire for the Cosmic Cube wreaks havoc once again.
I admit that I am new to the traditional comic book characters. I found my way into graphic novels via manga followed by more literary graphic novels followed by The Walking Dead, none of which are really comic book characters, per se. But I, just like most of the world, watched the new movies featuring Iron Man and Thor and loved them. So I decided to try to start reading the comic books, a daunting task for a newbie. I did my best to find a good introductory book, but I admit I probably should have actually watched Captain America before deciding to start with him.
Captain America is my least favorite of the Avengers. He, to me, is so incredibly lame. Whiny and lame. And traditional. I really should have started this comic book adventure with Iron Man.
Anyway, point being, take my review with the grain of salt that 1) I am new to traditional comic book characters 2) I don’t like Captain America.
The story itself is bright and action-packed. Once I understood who the Red Skull and Bucky were, I started to get the feel for the tension in the story. The pages are well-drawn and easy to follow with lots to suck the reader in. Fans of Captain America will probably appreciate the chance to get to know more of his backstory, particularly concerning Bucky, his side-kick, and what happened to him. The Cosmic Cube was amusing as ever to watch corrupt people, and I definitely was surprised by the plot twist at the end. In spite of my distaste for the character, I was a bit tempted to read more.
Overall, then, this is an action-packed entry in the Captain America canon that simultaneously provides character development and backstory. Recommended to fans of Captain America.
3 out of 5 stars
To celebrate the new year here on the blog, it’s time to take a look back at my reading stats for 2012. It’s always fun to compile them and see how my reading changes and simultaneously stays the same over the years.
Total books read: 118
Average books read per month: 9.8
Month most read: January with 20 (I’d chalk this up to New Year Resolution momentum!)
Month least read: Tie between September and December with 4 each. (September was part of a very busy month at work with Orientations for the students. December was the holidays plus a wedding I was in, so…..kind of understandable reading got left behind a bit!)
Longest book read: David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s by David Goodis with 848 pages
Fiction: 86 (73%)
Nonfiction: 32 (27%) This was an 11% increase from last year.
Series: 48 (41%)
Standalone: 70 (59%) I think this is a nice balance between series and standalone books.
–traditional print: 34 (29%)
–ebook: 59 (50%)
–graphic novel: 11 (9%)
–audiobook: 14 (12%) (This more than doubled. I thank Audible for that!)
–scifi: 19 (Winner for the fourth year running! It’s clear what my favorite genre is.)
–indie lit: 16
–GLBTQ: 15 (This came out of nowhere, but I’m glad I found a new genre I enjoy.)
–historic fiction: 15
–fantasy: 14 (I have found a few fantasy books I enjoy, so I will definitely keep reading, although a bit more selectively.)
–urban fantasy: 10
–contemporary fiction: 9
–mental illness: 9
–nonfiction cookbook: 8 (I had hoped to try one new cookbook a month, but I do think 8 is pretty good.)
–African lit: 7 (Thanks to the African Lit reading challenge I participated in.)
–nonfiction memoir: 7
–black lit: 5
–nonfiction environmentalism: 5
–nonfiction history: 5
–YA: 5 (Realizing I dislike this genre led to it mostly leaving my reading, except for older acquired books on the tbr shelf.)
–alternate history: 4
–dystopian: 4 (Shockingly low compared to previous years.)
–nonfiction lifestyle: 4
–nonfiction science: 4
–nonfiction diet: 3
–nonfiction Buddhism: 2
–nonfiction relationships: 2
–American classics: 1
–nonfiction feminism: 1
–cozy: 1 (Given how much I enjoy cozies, I should really read more of them!)
–Cthulhu mythos: 1
–European classics: 1
–Irish lit: 1
–Japanese lit: 1
–magical realism: 1
–nonfiction fitness: 1
–nonfiction reference: 1
–nonfiction social justice: 1
–paranormal romance: 1 (It seems I am truly over my paranormal romance phase.)
–short story collection: 1
Vampires vs. Zombies vs. Aliens vs. Demons:
–aliens: 4 (I think aliens should get more attention next year.)
Number of stars:
–5 star reads: 16 (14%)
–4 star reads: 50 (42%)
–3 star reads: 33 (28%)
–2 star reads: 17 (14%)
–1 star reads: 2 (2%)
Looking at my stats, I can see one thing rather clearly. My number of highly rated reads went down, and simultaneously some genres I enjoy went down while genres I don’t enjoy (generally) went up. I think it’s important for me in 2013 to focus in more on reads I am fairly certain I will enjoy, rather than books I think I should read. I also would like to read more in the genres that as a writer I am currently (or intend to) write in.
On the other hand, I have definitely enjoyed adding diversity to my reading. I’m very happy to see how much more diverse my reading is now than it used to be when it comes to areas of the world and representations of various perspectives. This is something I would like to hold on to.
I also would like to even out the number of books read per month to a more consistent number. The difference between 20 and 4 is huge, and I would like to see my reading not fall by the wayside if possible. Granted, some of that numerical difference was due to reading chunksters versus graphic novels, so I suppose it’s important to keep in mind that a number is just a number.
Overall, this was a great reading year. It was incredibly varied, and I think I learned more about myself and what I enjoy reading (not to mention writing). For 2013, I hope to read 120 books, an average of 10 books a month. I also will be doing the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge again, as well as the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge. Beyond that, I will continue tackling my tbr pile. Hopefully, my 2013 will see me finding a few more gems than I found this year.
Happy 2013 everyone! Any suggestions for my 2013 reading goals?
When the aliens landed, they ignored humanity. Stopping briefly on their way somewhere else. Leaving behind mysterious random detritus, much like the remains left behind a roadside picnic. Redrick happened to live in one of the towns visited, and as a result has become a stalker. He sneaks into the Zone to gather alien artifacts to sell on the black market. Soon his whole life–and those of everyone in the town–becomes dominated by the Zone.
When I saw that this was Russian scifi from the Soviet era, I knew that I needed to pick it up, if for no other reason than that I’d never seen any before. This new print has been returned to the authors’ original vision, with the heavy edits (really, censorship) removed. It also starts with an introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin. I want to highlight one thing she says about scifi that I think truly illuminates its power.
Soviet writers had been using science fiction for years to write with at least relative freedom from Party ideology about politics, society, and the future of mankind. (location 22)
Scifi provides an opportunity for writers and readers to remove the shackles of whatever society they are currently living in and imagine the other. I think that’s a very powerful tool, and I commend the Strugatsky brothers for utilizing it in such a way from behind the Iron Curtain. They had to fight for years to get some version of this book published, in spite of being well-known and respected authors. That is a commitment to their art that is truly admirable. Now, on to the review of the actual book.
The germ of the idea is truly brilliant and is immediately clear. This idea of an alien race stopping by for a picnic, essentially, and ignoring humanity like so many ants. It’s so different from the more egotistical interpretation of alien visitations that we usually see. The book was worth the read for that alone. The early scenes are vivid and clearly establish this post-visitation situation where the Zone the aliens landed in is uninhabitable, and the government and scientists are trying to study it while stalkers sneak in (at great risk to their lives) to extract artifacts for the black market. Similarly, the artifacts that the stalkers (and government) find and bring out of the Zone are wonderfully imagined. It is easy to see that the authors probably knew exactly what the aliens used the items for whereas the characters in the book are clueless. Trying to find any use they can for them.
The book though is truly about Redrick. It uses the scifi setting to explore this man who really just wants to escape the rat race and have a comfortable life with his family. He chooses to attempt to be his own boss by being a stalker in the Zone and is repeatedly thrown in prison for it. We never really see him as a whole man, since we only saw him after the Zone. It is as if the presence of the Zone gave him hope, and the repeated failures slowly rob him of his life energy.
My whole life I’ve been dragged by the nose, I kept bragging like an idiot that I do as I like, and you bastards would just nod, then you’d wink at each other and lead me by the nose, dragging me, hauling, me, through shit, through jails, through bars…Enough! (location 2295)
In spite of this excellent set-up and interesting character arc, the book didn’t fully satisfy me. I found Redrick difficult to sympathize with. He thinks he is a slave to the system, but really he is choosing to be a slave to money. He could have left the town and the Zone behind multiple times to go live a life with his family, but he doesn’t. I understand others might interpret his freedom of movement differently from me, but that is how I saw his situation. It seems most of his problems come from a love of not just money but a love of wealth. So although I periodically sympathized with what he was saying, I didn’t ultimately sympathize with him.
What I truly found disappointing though was the ending. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that while the rest of the book was realistic scifi, couched in darkness and despair, the ending was surprisingly positive in a deus ex machina manner. It felt like a real cop-out, particularly compared to the rest of the book. Whereas most everything else was innovative, this was generic, ho-hum, and disappointing. While I was still glad to have experienced Redrick’s world, the ending kept the book from truly grasping me or blowing my mind.
Overall, then, this book is an important piece of both Russian and scifi literature. It has enough uniqueness of setting to it to keep the well-versed reader of both genres interested but beware that the main character might not be entirely sympathetic, and the ending is a bit disappointing. Recommended to fans of Russian or scifi literature.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Sophie Mae and her best friend decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) as soon as the opportunity popped up in their small town. One day when they’re volunteering at the farm, a dead body is found in the compost heap. Sophie Mae is determined not to get involved this time, after all, she’s got enough on her plate with her soap making business and trying to make a baby with her husband, Detective Barr. But Barr’s boss asks her to help identify the body by talking to the folks in the community , and she just can’t say no.
Cozy mysteries consist of a mystery (that’s not too explicit or bloody) paired with an unlikely investigator, some sort of crafting, a good dose of humor, and a punny title. In other words, they were basically made for me. (Some even come with recipes!) So when this one popped up on NetGalley, I snatched it up, and I’m so glad I did! McRae successfully pulls together everything that makes a cozy great.
The plot is excellent. The murder mystery isn’t too gory, but is also realistic. The body is found in a compost heap, yes, but it’s just a dead body. There aren’t slashed off heads hanging out in tea kettles or something. Everyone is appropriately disturbed by the finding. There’s no ho-hum just another day element at play. Although I admit I had figured out whodunit before the end, the why and when were still a mystery. Plus I never felt that Sophie Mae was being stupid and just missing something. Why it was taking her a bit to see whodunit made total sense. I also really appreciate that GLBTQ people are included in the plot without a big deal being made out of it. They are just another character, which is just how I like my diversity in genre literature.
The characters are fairly three-dimensional for a cozy. Everyone had something I liked and didn’t like about their personality, even the heroine, which is key to characters seeming realistic. There were also a wide variety of people present from Sophie Mae’s best friend’s daughter to an elderly friend of the family. This range is something that is often missing in literature, and I liked seeing it here.
What I really come to cozies for, though, I admit, is the integration of crafting. In this case the theme is participating in a CSA, so parts of the book are devoted to how a CSA works from acquiring your weekly allotment to figuring out how to use it to cooking with it. I really appreciated the quips about having so much of a certain produce that they’re coming out your ears. I also really enjoyed the scenes that discussed taking real time out to cook dinner and what that feels like, such as talking about how garlic smells when you first throw it into a hot pan. I know not all readers enjoy this, but honestly that’s part of the point of a cozy. Taking the time to linger on crafts and talents that take time to cultivate but are well worth it, and McRae incorporated this element very smoothly into the book. I do wish some recipes or CSA tips had been included, but it’s possible I just didn’t see them since I had an advanced copy.
Overall this book has a dash of everything enjoyable about a cozy mystery. Recommended to cozy fans, particularly those in or considering a CSA.
4 out of 5 stars