I love all kinds of books! For all my friends, I am known on GR as Alicja. I don't stick with a genre, that's boring. Instead you'll get reviews from the most random assortment of fiction and non-fiction works. It's probably due to my interests being as eclectic as my book tastes.
I'm a girlfriend-loving bisexual, science fiction geek, PC gamer, historical fiction devourer, hiker, atheist, history buff, opera lover, vegetarian, kayaker, metal and hard rock concert goer, science nerd, politics debater, world traveler, M/M romance fan, and I have the ability to transform from an adult-like hard-working professional into a screaming fangirl in five seconds flat.
Summary: A biographical novel of the life and art of Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, architect...
Review: I have conflicted feelings about this novel. There is just so much to love, so much that has made a profound emotional and intellectual impact on me. And yet in some aspects it seems incomplete, the presentation of Michelangelo Buonarroti's character is lacking a dimension.
I must clarify something before I go on, even though reading this book required research into Michelangelo's artwork and the politics during the period of Renaissance during which he lived, I am by no means qualified to speak on behalf of the accuracy of the biographical information. All my thoughts below refer to Michelangelo as presented by Irving Stone and discuss his presentation of the character, they are not meant to say anything meaningful regarding the real Michelangelo (especially since I am shamefully quite ignorant of much of the historical specifics of the time period or Michelangelo's life, nor am I one to do more than only make assumptions about a person who lived 500 years ago). Now that I've gotten my little disclaimer out of the way, on to the review...
First, the wonderful... This novel transported me straight into the mind of an amazing artist, drawing vividly emotional passages of a relationship between a sculptor and his marble, an artist and his art. It was beautiful and agonizing (the title fits this novel brilliantly!), it let me experience as close to creating a striking sculpture as my un-artistic self possibly ever could. Stone has a beautiful way with words and he made art alive in his prose, a living, breathing creature of creation. It was breathtaking...
I appreciate a variety of art forms, but have always seemed to be stumped by visual art such as paintings and sculpture. I just can't seem to "see" what others do and that may be tied to my ability of barely being able to draw stick figures. However, I found myself pulling up images of Michelangelo's works of art and staring at them while reading about the process of their creation and the emotional impact on the artist as well as the emotional depth he reached into to create them. I found myself looking at art in a different way, started "seeing" things I've never "seen" before. It helped me open my eyes to art, and not just Michelangelo's. I started looking at other artists' works and found myself having a different set of eyes. I'll never forget this experience and the effect it's had on my appreciation of art.
But beware, unless you are familiar with Italian Renaissance history during that time period, you will need to do research to fully understand what's occurring. Despite this, I enjoyed researching the time period and getting immersed fully into this world. Stone presents a region torn between the old and new. The Catholic Church is being split with the protestant reformation movement, corruption at the highest levels, wars, inquisitions, tensions between conservatives and reformers, freedom of expression/art and modesty/tradition, etc. Michelangelo stumbles through this hectic world with a vision straddling between the Church he was raised with and art inspired by the sculptures and writings of the ancient Greeks; a constant struggle between getting paid commissions and freedom of art. As the powers of the Church push and pull against the old and new, art is being commissioned and burned, appreciated and scorned. Powerful families, like the Medici family, grapple for power bringing wars and discord to Florence, Rome. Stone does an amazing job bringing us right into the fray (although some supplemental information needs to be obtained from additional research).
However, the characterization of Michelangelo seemed incomplete. The most glaring lapse was the confusion surrounding Michelangelo's sexuality. I understand the novel was published in 1961, that the times were different. Honestly, for the purposes of reading a novel such as this I really don't care what Michelangelo's sexuality really was. But it seemed like Stone wasn't even sure how he wanted to present Michelangelo's sexuality so he gave him a confused mix of everything.
I get it, homosexuality wasn't as acceptable when Stone wrote the book, especially when writing about someone as famous and admired as Michelangelo (someone who by now is more legend than man). But forcing random acts of heterosexuality in such a half-assed way while the rest of the novel vibrates with homoerotic undertones is frustrating and leaves a scattered and incomplete picture of Michelangelo. It left me exasperated and detracted from the rest of this magnificent novel. Despite my extended rant, I really did love this book and it has made a significant impact on the way I look at art and the Renaissance. I still highly recommend it, warts and all.
Summary: Now that Sin and Boyd are together working for the Agency and Connors is dead, everything will be perfect, right?
Review: I am broken, destroyed, emotionally drained...
There is just so much improvement over the first one; the plot, the writing, the characters, the flow... It is just so much better and so much more addicting. Yes, there are still parts that are in need of editing but few and far in between.
Even Boyd is less annoying and less melodramatic. Ok, fine, he can still be irritating and dramatic, but at least he is starting to recognize it now. He is also seeking to do something about it. Still, there were times that I just wanted to smack him around for his stupidity, even if he is just 20 and is expected to make mistakes like these. This is also his first adult relationship and it is with Sin so I'm not surprised it's a train wreck. But the way that the relationship is handled is very realistic, love that.
And Sin. How I adore Sin. He has a sh*t load of trauma, family issues, psychological issues, and Boyd to sort through. We really get to see inside his mind and the authors did a great job developing his character. By the end of this story I barely even recognized him and am excited to see how he develops in the subsequent novels. Sin's POV was my favorite part to read and I just wished we had spent less time in Boyd's neurotic head and more in Sin's psychotic one.
Uh, Kassian, yes, Captain America Kassian. We get to see the civilian side of Senior Agent Trovosky; the vulnerable, funny, arrogant, alcoholic who develops an interesting friendship with Boyd. I did not see that one coming...
I even like the tragic Ann and captive Thierry. They both added depth to the story and plot but at the same time I felt for their struggles and understood their decisions, even as I hated them at the time.
And in the end... my heart shattered. It was beautiful and perfect and painful.
This was too good not to re-share!
Summary: Wade's life is bleak and miserable, he escapes reality by logging into the OASIS, an MMORPG on a scale never imagined before. In his last will, Halliday, the creator of OASIS, leaves instructions for the whole world; find the hidden Easter eggs within OASIS and take over his position at the head of the company and inherit his vast millions. With no other hope, Wade sets off on a hunt, along with the rest of the world. Will he win or will it be GAME OVER?
Review: I am going to borrow another reviewer’s term to describe this book because there really isn’t one that’s better: nerdgasm. Despite the futuristic setting of this novel, I felt like I fell through time back into the 80s; from TV to movies to video games through music. I am still a bit too young to have appreciated the 80s like those who were teens during that decade but I've soaked up much of the 80s culture through War Games and the Breakfast Club during their re-runs in the 90s, fell in love with Back to the Future (and loved Universal's ride-sadly, no longer in existence-over and over and over again until my parents dragged me away from the Delorean kicking and screaming), play Duck Hunt and Pac Man, old school Nintendo, etc.
For someone like me, who regularly plays MMORPGs, the story within the videogame was interesting and very well done on the details. I longed for an OASIS of my own to play. However, the world outside the videogame was not well developed; it consisted of a variety of generic doom and gloom scenarios such as widespread poverty, global climate change, running out of fuel and other resources, etc. It suffered from “reality” being neglected for the videogame world (which is also interesting since that was one of the main themes). Additionally, the ending was predictable and generic (however, it again mirrored endings in many videogames).
I loved the entertaining ride through nerd culture that brought back nostalgia and fond memories, developing into an exciting page-turner of a novel.
Rating: 5.5/5 – It was that brilliant!
Summary: Arthur Dent woke up one morning, got up to make coffee, and then realized a demolition crew showed up to destroy his house to make way for a new bypass. While he was busy uselessly defending his house, another demolition crew showed up to clear the way for a galactic freeway with the planet Earth being in the way of their construction. Luckily, Arthur Dent had a friend, unknowingly to him an alien and a hitchhiker, who found a way for both of them off the planet (hitchhiking of course) before it became completely disintegrated. And then the real adventure began…
Review: The only word sufficient enough to describe this book in its entirety is wow. This novel is out of this world, literally. Within this sarcastic, funny, witty, and outrageous tale, Adams weaves social commentary and philosophy spectacularly (the point and meaning if life, how we live it, how ridiculous it is just to live sometimes, etc.). This novel will make you laugh and contemplate life at the same time (a weird combination).
What can be said about this book that hasn’t been said since it was written. Adams’ humor is hard to describe and must be read to be appreciated. The situations are ridiculous and yet they draw the reader in, I was left wanting to know what will happen next to our band of protagonists. After the demolition, Arthur kept trying to understand the enormity of Earth being gone and clung to anything he could in a universe he didn’t understand. Ford Perfect seemed to be back in his element, winging it. They were thrust in the middle of a mystery with Zaphod Beeblebrox, the ex-president of the Galaxy, in the middle. Along with his human girlfriend, Trillian, and a very depressed robot, Marvin, they set out to survive everything the Universe throws at them. I can’t even begin to describe the greatness in the book, the humor and wit, and just how everything seems so random and yet falls together as you read more into creating a plot.
The only criticism I have is that the ending is a bit abrupt but since I had the second book sitting on my nightstand, I didn’t worry but kept reading.
The aliens are alien. In many sci-fi books the aliens are either like human or are about humans in an alien environment, of the ones that try writing from a perspective of an alien who is very different to humans many fail. But here we get aliens as main characters whose behavior and thinking seems so different (alien) to us humans. And yet they are relatable. As one who has struggled to write from alien perspectives before, it is a very, very difficult thing to do and Adams did it brilliantly!
My unsuspecting self was listening to iTunes while working on homework and then, *bam*, Antebellum by Vienna Teng comes on and I'm like Pavlov's dog hearing the bell ring, my mind flashes to Chrolli and I just NEEDED to watch this fanvideo again. And now I just have to share this m/m goodness set to beautiful music, enjoy!
Summary: As Argentina is going through political upheaval, so is Richard. Strangled by his job and lack of love life, he takes risks and grows just like this new Argentina does. He finds himself in a new career and in a new love.
Review: My initial reaction: "Brilliant, emotional, and will leave you, well, utterly speechless. Just... WOW!"
The melancholy, trance-like prose beautifully illustrates how Richard drifts through life being a part of it yet apart at the same time. He is lonely and detached but manages to hang on to enough life to carve for himself a place within the political atmosphere of Argentina post the Falklands loss and the fall of the generals. The novel is vague about the specifics of the political atmosphere but it parallels beautifully the changes in society to the changes within Richard.
Richard is a complex character, growing and becoming more confident and self-assured as he finds his way in this new society.
Surprisingly, this is also a deeply emotional love story. Through the first half the book it looks like Toibin is setting up political intrigue but then Richard's life takes an unexpected turn (as life tends to do) and he falls in love with Pablo. The characters are presented emotionally coarse yet gentle. It is stunning just how Toibin is able to thrust us into this raw reality where the emotions bombard the readers, sometimes unbearably. And through tragedy they are able to find the very soul of humanity, love.
Summary: From the Boston Massacre through the 1770s, the lives and minds of some of the most prominent historical figures are explored as tensions between England and the American colonies intensity resulting in rebellion and war.
Review: This is a mix of fiction and nonfiction, the events of the 1770s are seen through the POVs of figures such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, General Gage, Paul Revere, General Washington, etc.; each of these men a prominent figure in the American Revolution.
Even though both sides are explored, there is definitely a bias toward the American colonies, a given righteousness of the rebels. Honestly, I didn't expect any different from such a novel. The writing style pulls the reader into the events and even thoughts and feelings of the historical figures. However, Shaara doesn't seem able to get away completely from idealizing the founding fathers. The writing is a bit stiff, restrained without the coarseness that is usually associated with reality. Sometimes I forgot I was reading a work of fiction instead of a really good historical nonfiction. I think this may be the result in trying to tackle so many idealized American historical figures in an accurate manner (i.e., non offensive to Americans) while at the same time giving them depth and a three-dimensional feel. The emotional connection with the characters was intermittent, sometimes I was able to connect like I did with Franklin and Washington, but other times no matter how much I tried, some characters seemed plastic such as John Adams.
Despite this, it is still an amazing work of fiction and probably one of the best out there on the American Revolution, one that portrays it so accurately and yet in such an interesting manner. It makes American history enthralling and accessible, there is no excuse that any American shouldn't at least know the basics presented in this book (and this book is a brilliant way of obtaining it).
Summary: A man is found wounded in the woods by a family hiding out in a castle in World War II torn Italy. Both the family and the man have a mysterious past, neither one wishes to share.
Review: I don't typically read mysteries but overall the story seemed to move slowly and didn't have that suspenseful feeling that I expected. Frankly, at times I was bored. I figured out most of the family's secrets but was pleasantly surprised when I found out the wounded man's secrets which led to an awesome and completely brilliant ending. Unfortunately, the earlier 250 pages weren't as impressive.
Summary: Aristotle (Ari), a Mexican-American teen, lives in a secretive family with a distant father and sisters, a brother is prison, and an odd relationship with his mother. Feeling lonely, different and without any friends, he drifted through life until one day at the pool a boy named Dante asked Ari if he wanted to learn how to swim. The relationship they would develop will change their lives.
Review: This highly introspective, melancholy, and beautiful tale delves deep inside Ari's mind as his life moves through summers and school, friendship with Dante, family relationships, and unlocking family secrets.
The story is very well written, although a bit repetitive. The style of writing is simple but had a poetic feel to it. It is an easy and enjoyable read through teen boys' discovery and themselves, their lives, and their sexuality.
However, I didn't like the ending much (fine, I like the last chapter but not the preceding chapters). The ending was too short and it would have been more satisfying if it had been given the opportunity to develop like the rest of the story, and if Ari had been given the opportunity to discover it himself.
That said, it was still a very good read and it only took about five hours to get through. I'd still recommend it, especially to younger teens that may be struggling with finding themselves and questioning their sexual orientation.
Summary: The tale begins in Dark Age Britain, a land where Arthur has been banished and Merlin has disappeared, where a child-king sits unprotected on the throne, where religion vies with magic for the souls of the people. It is to this desperate land that Arthur returns, a man at once utterly human and truly heroic: a man of honor, loyalty, and amazing valor; a man who loves Guinevere more passionately than he should; a man whose life is at once tragic and triumphant.
(summary from goodreads.com, I just couldn't do it justice)
Review: Cornwell uses what little historical facts there are regarding the originator of the Arthurian legends and plays around with history to show us what could have been (meaning no magic). He freely admits that he had a lot of room to play and that this is just one interpretation, but damn, it's a brilliant interpretation. All the well knows characters are included (Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, King Uther, Morgan, Galahad, etc.) but not necessarily as the legends describe them.
I adored this first part in the trilogy from almost the first page (I have to admit that the first 40 pages or so were a bit slow and had so many names and places I was a bit confused but it gets straightened out soon enough).
Cornwell is a genius in depicting exciting and realistic battles (at least seemingly realistic to someone who has never fought a medieval battle herself). My pulse raced as swords and spears and shields clashed. But Cornwell doesn't sacrifice story or character development for the battles. All the major characters are fully and vividly drawn, making this a fast-paced and exciting romp through 5th century Britain while keeping the reader invested in the outcomes and stories.
The story is told from the POV of Derfel (who I found is a lesser known knight of Arthur), living at a monastery during old age he decides to write down his story to set the record straight. I love Derfel; he is loyal yet morally conflicted about some of what he does for loyalty, he is in love with unattainable women yet he still loves them fully, he is brave but not without fear. And the relationships are just brilliant, Derfel is the perfect reflection of their personalities. And yet he is not unbiased, he loves and hates through his own interpretation so we are left with an incomplete picture, there always remaining something hidden, elusive living in the shadows. And Merlin is, well, the craziest Merlin I've ever read. Love, love, love Merlin!
Can't wait to pick up the next novel in the trilogy!
Summary: Alexia, a soulless, preternatural spinster living in Victorian England, gets caught up in a plot involving disappearing Werewolves and Vampires after killing a stray vampire in self-defense. Can she figure it out before she herself disappears?
Review: To fully explain why I disliked this novel the following review contains massive spoilers.
You’ve been warned.
Take the most predictable and stereotypical plots of multiple genres (romance, steampunk, supernatural, science fiction, etc.), add shallow, stereotypical characters and mix it up with banal dialogue and you get one massively cliché novel, Soulless.
I found this book on the top of a few Stempunk lists so I was very excited to get my hands on it. I thought that such a much loved book with a strong heroine and corsets just couldn’t go wrong. I ended up being very disappointed. The characters are watered down and shallow. The romance (I think I may have to give up my girl card, I don’t seem to get along with this genre very well) storyline turned from hate to love so quickly it left my head spinning.
Parts of the last one-third of the novel actually contained some superficial social commentary regarding hatred and fear of the “other” (an outgroup), even though this outgroup was politically accepted, had political power and the haters seemed to be in the minority (but of course the commentary barely scratched the surface and left this issue unexplored). Aside from those moments of interest, most of the novel was spent on fashion (or lack of), manners (or lack of), food (or lack of), trite romance, and an attempt at humor that, aside from a few instances, failed miserably.
Additionally, this novel has a frustrating way of repeating itself. We do not need to be told over and over and over and over again that Alexia is a spinster, has large breasts (and nice curves), considers herself to be superior to other “silly” women (but really has low self-esteem), hates gossipers unless she is the one doing the gossiping, thinks Ivy wears ugly hats, etc.
Alexia, the main character, is unimaginative. She is Cinderella-like and comes along with two “silly” step-sisters and a “sillier” mother. And of course in the end she gets the prince, ahem, I mean the Alpha male werewolf (how more romance novel cliché can one get?). She isn’t the only two-dimensional character. Lord Akeldama is a complete stereotype of a flamboyantly gay man. The leading man, Lord Maccon (which makes me think of bacon every time I see his name), a stereotypical alpha male (literally), is overprotective/possessive, wishes violence on those who want to hurt his love, and has terrible manners (very similar qualities to frat boys… the romance storyline is similar to those romantic comedies where the popular, muscular, sporty guys fall in love with the geek girls who wear hideous glasses and weird clothes –and therefore are considered ugly- but really are Hollywood gorgeous).
Also, the scientists here are all stupid. They publish writings (apparently) in scientific journals on the excess or lack of soul and yet no one has defined what ‘soul’ means. How do they know that an excess causes supernatural beings and lack causes preternatural beings is anyone’s guess (if you can’t define it then you can’t measure it, science 101). The author decides to push science even more and starts talking about a disease shared through blood but nothing that makes sense even if we suspend everything we know about science of our universe (since this is an obviously different reality) and just refer to logic. Additionally, Alexia tells them it takes an hour for her “powers” to kick in (during a part where they want to study her powers after she gets kidnapped). As opposed to being good scientists and wanting to observe this phenomenon, they throw her in a cell with a violent werewolf and leave them alone (first, they believe their captive-uh, all captives lie- and second, why would they not want to observe a phenomena they know nothing about for the first time –terrible, terrible approach to science by so-called scientists). Of course this isn’t about science; the sole purpose is to get Alexia alone in a cell with a naked Lord Maccon (*produces eye roll worthy of Ianto Jones*).
On another page, this supposingly independent, strong woman (as the author describes her) states she would be fine being stashed away in the countryside with her “library and a nice big bed” by the male love interest. My mouth hung open in shock. Uh… I must have re-read that part a few times because I really couldn’t believe it actually said that! It doesn’t actually happen but… she thought being a kept woman sounded like a good idea (*hits head on desk, repeatedly*). By this point I abandoned the book for a few weeks before starting reading again.
The only character even remotely interesting was the ‘evil scientist’ (even if he was an idiot) but he was still shallowly drawn, a plot device to get the two characters together romantically during a dangerous situation. I would have been more interested in seeing how he came to hate this ‘outgroup,’ what had motivated him to pursue his path. And we never found out what those stupid brass octopuses symbolized after they were mentioned time and time again.
This book is very much loved by so many people and maybe I just may have completely missed the point but I just couldn’t get into it; actually it felt like my IQ dropped by a standard deviation by the time I was done. In the end, I finished the novel because it was a light read and I try to never leave a book unread but surely I will not be reading anything else written by this author.
Review: Obviously adapted from a Torchwood AU (yes, the real reason I bought it). And yes, I read Ifan as Ianto the whole time... As a piece of fanfiction it would have been five star fantastic. The setting in WWII (and post-WWII) and romantic. I was a little dissapointed on two accounts. One, I was hoping that there was going to be more military scenes. The book opens with a wonderful and accurate scene on board of a Lancaster aircraft. However, after that most references to the war are passing and scarce. Two, I was expecting a little more from a published book. There were some akward sentences and grammar structures and a vocabulary any 6th grader would easily understand. However, the book deserves three stars because the romance between "Jack" and Ifan is adorable and any TW Jack/Ianto fan would love it (I had the urge to white out Ifan and write in Ianto but then decided that would take longer than reading the entire book). They are very in character as far as an AU goes. All other major characters are easily recognized from Torchwood and I had extra fun guessing who was whom. However, for non-Torchwood fans this is AU enough so it can be enjoyed without ever watching an episode. Plus, it is nice to see fanfiction rise to being published work once in a while.
Summary: Taking place primarily in the 1890s, Nancy is an oyster girl at her parent’s restaurant. One day she sees an act in the theatre, Miss Kitty Butler performing dressed as a man, and falls in love with her. They become friends, she follows Kitty to London as her dresser, and eventually joins the act as they become “sweethearts.” However, Kitty betrays her and Nancy ends up on her own in the middle of London with little money and her costumes.
Review: Waters is brilliant in using period language and wonderful descriptions of Victorian England. The novel is in three parts, following the structure of novels from that era (which adds a historical layer to it). However, I just couldn’t stand Nancy (the main character).
During the first third of the novel, Nancy was completely in love with Kitty and I could barely get through the Kitty is so perfect, Kitty is so lovely, Kitty is so blah blah blah (insert too sugary sweet description here). And the plot for the first part could be summarized in half a page. The novel wouldn’t have been any poorer if that part had been much shorter (I could only stomach it in short intervals and had to take a lot of breaks from the book). Once we entered the second third, the plot picked up a little; it became darker and a bit more interesting. Nancy’s annoyingness diminished; although she was still selfish (used people) and an idiot. Nancy is the cause of so many of her own problems and she whines when things go wrong, people help her, and then she drops them the minute something or someone better comes along. She starts out the same way in the third third of the novel; however, she finally starts to make some changes. This last part is also where I finally got into the story. I adore Florence. I even wished the entire novel was about Florence and her wonderful, feminist self. And the ending ended up being pretty decent.
I know I criticized this book a lot, but really it is the character of Nancy that I found distasteful and annoying. The writing is well done, beautiful really. The plot became interesting in the second two thirds, and I love the Victorian era authenticity I felt when reading. However, it almost felt like I was reading three distinctly different novels than three parts of one. Waters wanted to show all the facets of Victorian life (theatre, upper class, rent boys, feminism, workers, etc.) and the place of lesbians within it but at times it seemed she stretched the plot too much to show us everything instead of making the settings fit the plot. It isn’t a brilliant book but Waters seems a promising writer and I’m willing to give her another chance since this was her first novel.