CJ Reviews A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

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A Hundred Thousand WorldsTitle: A Hundred Thousand Worlds
Author: Bob Proehl
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Format: Advanced Reading Copy
Rating: 3.5 stars

Valerie Torrey took her son Alex and fled Los Angeles six years ago—leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way. 

As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twentysomething illustrator to a lesbian comics writer to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined. (Goodreads)

I have to be honest and say I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. I was so excited to read it because it sounded like exactly my kind of book, but then I never really got into it. There were some great things about it that I liked, but I just couldn’t identify with the characters as much as I thought I would and just wasn’t as enthusiastic about it by the end.

It was interesting reading Proehl’s made-up Pop Culture universe and trying to associate the characters, tv shows, comic book publishers with their counterparts in our world. And I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at comic writing and fan conventions. I also really appreciated the over-arching theme of valuing stories and moving on. There were a lot of elements in this book that were done really well and could possibly invoke a great discussion within a book club, but for some reason I just found myself wanting to rush through it so I could get it done and move on to my next read. There wasn’t anything about this book that made me fall in love with it and want to savor the moment while reading it. Ultimately, I think I just wanted to enjoy it way more than I did, which is a shame.

I think one of my problems with the book was that most of the novel was building towards this potentially dramatic climax, that just ended up falling flat – at least for me. I also felt the novel was lacking the excitement and humor that I had expected of it – this was much more of a drama set in the world of comics and fan conventions than I was expecting. My favorite part was by far the veiled references to our own Pop Culture icons, which you had to be paying attention to pick up, as all the names and places are changed.

Overall, this book just wasn’t at all what I was expecting it to be. Perhaps if I had gone into it with fewer expectations, or had been in a different mood while reading it, I would have been able to enjoy it more.

ARC August 2016
A Hundred Thousand Worlds was read as part of ARC August hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat. You can find more on the books I read during ARC August here.

CJ Reviews Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

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Behind Closed DoorsTitle: Behind Closed Doors
Author: B.A. Paris
Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Format: Advanced Reading Copy
Rating: 2.5 stars

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace.

He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do. Though, you’d like to get to know Grace better.

But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.

Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.
Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie. (Goodreads)

I have to admit, I did not read this novel as thoroughly as I usually do. In fact, I seriously considered dumping it in my DNF pile and moving on, but I really wanted to know how it ended so I skimmed most of the book just to see what happened. Fortunately, I think the ending was possibly the best part of the novel.

My first problem with this novel was mostly personal taste – this novel was Dark. Extremely dark. While I do tend to read a lot of psychological thrillers and books that can get pretty dark, this one really bothered me almost from the beginning. It should really come with a trigger warning. The relationship in the novel was just so dark and disturbing that it really bothered me to read it, which was the entire reason I was skimming. But I just had to know if it had a satisfying ending.

My other problem was with how weak Grace is through most of the novel. Granted, it would have been difficult to fight back in that situation and she had her sister to think about as well, but I just found myself struggling to empathize with her sometimes, which bothered me given her situation. I was bothered by what was happening to her, but I didn’t really feel for her, if that makes any sense. She just didn’t seem to have any spark or spirit, even before she met her husband.

The most interesting characters in the novel are actually the smaller characters – Grace’s sister Millie and new friend Esther. Both these women are much more interesting and well-rounded than either of the main characters. Both of these characters are also much stronger than Grace had been.

Given Grace’s weakness through much of the novel, one could argues that the ending is actually implausible, but since I thought the end was better than the rest of the book I prefer to believe it’s the rest of the book that has a problem and the ending is the part that’s done well.

So, if you’re willing to suffer through a mediocre thriller delving into the darkness and evil of a sick, twisted mind and domestic violence in order to get to a satisfying conclusion then you may want to check this book out. Meanwhile, I am going to try to reading something much more lighthearted and fun while I try to scrub this darkness from my mind.

ARC August 2016
Behind Closed Doors was read as part of ARC August hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat. You can find more on the books I read during ARC August here.

CJ Reviews All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

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all-the-missing-girlsTitle: All The Missing Girls
Author: Megan Miranda
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Format: Advanced Reading Copy
Rating:4 stars

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.  (Goodreads)

Every thriller being published these days is being marketed as either the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. Probably about half of the stack of ARCs I have to read this month mention one or both of those titles in the description of the novel. While I’m trying not to get sucked in by that hype – especially given my dislike of Girl on a Train, I can’t help but be curious. I’m always looking for a really good mystery thriller that actually does capture my attention and which I cannot put down. All the Missing Girls managed to succeed where so often novels fail.

The concept of this novel is fascinating. It starts out moving in a linear fashion, then jumps ahead two weeks and continues to tell the story in reverse, slowly unfolding each day then going to the day before. This sounded like nothing more than a gimmick to me at first, but in all honesty it works. Each day reveals just enough, with just enough foreshadowing that it keeps you turning the pages to find out what really happened. And not only are you interested in what is happening the “present” but you’re also piecing together details from what happened a decade earlier.

If I had a complaint about this book, it would be the lack of female characters, as the narrator is the only main female character in the book and is rarely seen interacting with other females. And if you really wanted to look at this novel through a feminist lens, there are probably several other things that you could really tear it apart for, but as I just wanted to read a page-turner mystery, I wasn’t willing to analyze it that completely.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it if you’re interested in suspense and “psychological thrillers.” Don’t be turned off by the hype or the comparison to Girl on a Train. This really was a good read.

ARC August 2016
All the Missing Girls was read as part of ARC August hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat. You can find more on the books I read during ARC August here.

Summer Reading: Big Little Lies and Fireflies

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The next two books in my series of Summer Reading Reviews are probably my two favorites so far. One had me in tears by the end, while the other was really difficult to put down (a problem, since I started it on a busy weekend where I didn’t have time to just sit and read).

Firefly LaneFirefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Title: Firefly Lane
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publication Date: February 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4 stars

I’ve never read anything by Kristin Hannah, but this book had intrigued me since it’s original publication. I think it was probably the cover that initially attracted me. (It’s just so pretty! And there are fireflies!). Overall, I really enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. I used to dismiss popular fiction – particularly women’s fiction like this – for no reason other than I believed it wouldn’t interest me. I’m quickly finding out I was very wrong in that assumption.

I loved the first half of the novel, then it seemed to drag just slightly during the second half, but by the end I was hooked again. And even with it’s slow parts, it’s just a beautiful novel of friendship – Kate and Tully have their share of ups and downs during the course of their friendship, but ultimately they’re always there for each other and that’s what friendship should be. Warning: I was definitely in tears by the end of this novel, so have some tissues ready.

Beach Read Rating: StarfishRatings
While I loved this book, it felt more like a good spring/fall book to me – unless you’re the type who likes to have a good ugly cry at the beach!

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Liane Moriarty
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4.5 stars

I’ve been wondering about this author for a while, as her books have become increasingly popular and I had no idea what the appeal was. Finally, I decided it was time to find out for myself, and I did not regret it.

This novel is full of materialistic, vain, petty elementary school mothers and to my surprise I loved every second of it. It’s exactly the kind of novel I thought I would never enjoy, but something about the over-the-top craziness of these moms and then the added mystery that’s foreshadowed throughout the entire novel just made this almost impossible to put down. I seriously loved this book so much I cannot wait to try another one of her novels.

Beach Read Rating:    StarfishRatings
This is exactly the kind of book I would like to have with me at the beach – it’s not too dark or deep but there’s plenty of juicy drama to go around.

Introducing Summer Reading Reviews

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Since I’m reading a lot of older books as part of my summer reading list, I decided I probably won’t do full-length reviews for each one. Instead, I’ll do a series of “Summer Reading Reviews” that look at 2 or 3 of the books I’ve read at a time. This way, I can share my thoughts on each book, without feeling like I’m struggling to write a full review of the book.

For each book I’ll also include a “Beach Read Rating” which is my totally subjective opinion on whether or not I think this book makes a good beach read. This rating may not necessarily match my regular rating – books I would typically give a lower rating may still make great beach reads. Remember, this is completely subjective as everyone has their own definition as to what constitutes a good “Beach Read.”

Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews

Spring_FeverTitle: Spring Fever
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3.5 stars

My goal this summer was to read books I wouldn’t normally choose, and to try out some lighter fiction than what I am accustomed to. This is why Mary Kay Andrews’s books appealed to me, as they fit both categories. This certainly wasn’t the kind of book I would normally choose, but I found myself enjoying quite a bit of it.

I would describe this novel as a chick flick with the added drama of a soap opera. In a lot of ways it had the predictability and humor of a chick flick, but with the extra sudsy appeal of a soap opera. Normally I would have rolled my eyes, but I actually found myself enjoying the book to my surprise. It took me a little while to really get into it, as I had trouble identifying with the characters, but once I finally fell into a rhythm with it I found it to be a quick, fun read.

Beach Read Rating:    StarfishRatings
This book is my definition of a beach read – light, and fun with just the right amount of sudsy drama.

The Last Letter From Your Lover by JoJo Moyes

Last Letter LoverTitle: The Last Letter From Your Lover
Author: JoJo Moyes
Publication Date: January 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed Me Before You, and wanted to try another book by the author. This one was chosen somewhat at random since it was the only one on the shelf at the used bookstore where I was shopping. However, the bright pink cover appealed to me so I picked it up. (Yes, I do judge books by their covers, but I know I’m not the only one!)

While reading this book, I found myself really getting into the part of the story taking place in the 1960s, though the present day storyline didn’t interest me nearly as much except where it overlapped with the characters from the past. I think the characters in the 1960s storyline were just fleshed out better and more interesting. Much like the character of Ellie in the present, I was drawn in by the love story and a desire to know what happened to the couple.

Beach Read Rating: StarfishRatings
This book isn’t as light and fun as Spring Fever, but it would certainly look bright and colorful in your beach bag!

CJ Reviews I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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I am MalalaTitle: I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban 
Author: Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
Rating: 5 stars

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

I Am Malala will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world. (Goodreads)

This may not be a long review, because I sometimes how trouble talking about a book I really loved without merely rambling and gushing about it.

I am Malala tells the story of Malala Yousafzai’s life in her own words, from the time she was a young girl growing up through the time she was shot and her recovery. Malala tells her story beautifully and in such a compelling manner – I simply could not put it down.

Malala’s entire life has been devoted to fighting for equality and education for women. She was fortunate to be raised by a man who supported these ideals as well. Her story is fascinating and inspiring.

Not only does this book give readers insight into Malala’s life, but it also lets you see inside the culture of Islam and Pakistan. This is a book that every man, woman, Christian, Muslim, atheist … basically every human being should read. Malala’s story is one of those that helps restore some faith in humanity.

I don’t often read straight memoirs – by which I mean I tend to prefer those that are more humorous in nature. However, lately I’ve been branching out in my reading and I’m very glad I have. I’ve discovered there are a lot of books I thought I wouldn’t enjoy but actually do, and this is one of them.

Even if memoirs aren’t typically your choice genre for reading, I recommend at least giving this one a chance. Malala is an amazing young woman and her story is one everyone should know.

CJ Reviews Tell the Wind and Fire by Sara Rees Brennan

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Tell the Wind and FireTitle: Tell the Wind and Fire
Author: Sara Rees Brennan
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Format: Advanced Reader Copy
Rating: 2.5 stars

In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.

Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself? (Goodreads)

It’s always disappointing when a novel just doesn’t live up to your expectations, which was certainly the case here. The premise sounded so interesting, but it just really failed to live up to it’s potential.

One of the aspects of this novel that bothered me the most was the lack of explanation for the magic. The book mentions that it was discovered, but never how. There’s a definite lack of organization for the magic system and that bothered me. The one good thing about it was the way the price is paid for using magic. This created an almost symbiotic relationship between dark and light magic users – while the light magic users feel superior to the dark, they still need them in order to avoid being burned up by their magic.

Lucie was terrible. Though to be fair, maybe it wasn’t so much Lucie as the way her relationship with Ethan was written. Everything about the romance was overly dramatic and sappy (in my opinion) and really just detracted from the story for me. I appreciated the fact that this wasn’t just a girl meets boy and immediately falls in love story (in this case the girl is already in love with the boy) but I thought everything about the romance was way over-the-top. The one thing I did like about this romance was that there wasn’t a love triangle between Ethan, Lucie and Carwyn. This sort of love triangle has been overdone since popularity of The Vampire Diaries and I was very relieved when this book did not take that route.

The one thing I did like was where the title of the book comes into play. I was completely confused as to what the title had to do with the story, but it’s a nice tie-in when you finally learn where the title comes from. It’s not anything mind-blowing, but I enjoyed that.

I think what it ultimately boils down to is that I just never found myself getting invested in the characters. I never liked any of them enough to really care about what happened to them. Which is unfortunate, because I know the ending of the book should have evoked a much stronger emotional response, but by that point I just wanted the book to be over.

I’m sure there are those who will love this novel, and I don’t want to discourage anyone from giving this book a chance. It just wasn’t my kind of book, most likely because it relied too heavily on the romance to drive the story while I usually prefer the plot to drive the story with the romance serving more as a subplot.