Book Review: The Good Earth

The Good Earth 

by Pearl S. Buck

Published by Washington Square Press 1931

357 pages

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This book had a slow, but fascinating start. We are introduced initially to two characters, but I could almost argue four. First we have Wang Lung, the protagonist, and his father living poorly in a small farmhouse in China. And then, from the first pages of this book we learn how sacred the water and the land are – not just Wang Lung, but all the people of the village. They take on such importance I would even argue that Land and Water are characters of their own.

This is possibly my favorite part of the novel, the way the land rises up and takes precedence over everything. The land grows and evolves just like Wang Lung and his family. If not for the Land and the Waters, Wang Lung would not have his success, which is what drives the novel. In many cases, Wang Lung seems to understand his connection to the land is one of flesh and blood.

This book is mostly about character development rather than plot development, which means it can be a slower read to some, but it’s certainly not without action. The Good Earth is the story of Wang Lung and his wife O-Lin. They are humble servants of the gods and the Earth until Wang Lung finds wealth, from some small theft, but mostly his own intuitions. Wang Lung is one of the most fully developed characters I’ve come across in fiction. He’s a man you admire for his strength in spirit and his insightfulness, and yet as he is granted success and wealth for his hard work, he is tempted by new, worse things and becomes a man you absolutely hate at times. His life story is so compelling and despite his mistakes you praise him for his endless pursuits, his hard-work, and his ability to reflect on his own rise and fall.

Rise and fall. Here we have a major theme of the novel. The rains rose and flooded the earth, drought came and starved the people, and still the beans and the wheat would grow. Lung and his family would harvest when they could and they begged when they needed to, but not without doing the work that could be done. Even if it broke Wang Lung’s back, he would do the work. And then there was the rise and fall of the wealthy. The house of Hwang, which was once a symbol of wealth in the village, fell and the lords and ladies died, princes had to sell the land and the house belonged to beggars. That is until Wang Lung bought the house and reestablished a place for prosperity. I was very fascinated with the ideas of cycles in this story, and how each time a new cycle would begin, it somehow evolved itself into a larger, more complex one than the last. The Earth cycled in fertility. Wang Lung cycled his hope and despair. The first daughter was an evil omen and then his favorite child. The rich and the poor cycled out leaders. Wang Lung was constantly shouting for peace in his household and then finding it. Readers are constantly reminded of the good and the bad and how they’ve come to rely on each other.

This book is a very unique look at pre-revolutionary China, and yet its difficult not to connections to today. They say history repeats itself.

It was funny how everything fit together in a harmonious connection, and when it was going poorly for one man, he blamed the gods. Just as Wang Lung cursed the gods for the drought. And then one day it was as though no god could challenge his wealth and he no longer needed them. He had gained control of his estate, and yet his family was lost to him. He hardly knew each of his children. Pearl S. Buck wove a brilliant story with complexities that will leave the reader pondering long after the book is finished.

I could go on and on and on about the things I loved in this book, but at some point I have to tell you its time to go read it for yourself. I’d love to hear any thoughts you had on it. It’s a Pulitzer winner, so make sure that if you haven’t read it, it gets on the top of your to-read list (because I know its probably 200 books deep).

I give The Good Earth a five out of five stars

5 Stars

 

 

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Audiobook Review: Acceleration

Acceleration

by Graham McNamee

Narrated by Scott Brick

Published 2005 by Laurel Leaf

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Goodreads Synopsis:

It’s a hot, hot summer, and in the depths of the Toronto Transit Authority’s Lost and Found, 17-year-old Duncan is cataloging lost things and sifting through accumulated junk. And between Jacob, the cranky old man who runs the place, and the endless dusty boxes overflowing with stuff no one will ever claim, Duncan’s just about had enough. Then he finds a little leather book. It’s a diary filled with the dark and dirty secrets of a twisted mind, a serial killer stalking his prey in the subway. And Duncan can’t make himself stop reading.
What would you do with a book like that? How far would you go to catch a madman?
And what if time was running out. . . .

My Review: 

This was a fun read. I think it tapped into every teenager fantasy to be a hero.

When Duncan finds a killer’s journal he has to face his demons. The story captures readers right away. First, McNamee leads the story with Duncan’s motivation to be a hero. It’s obvious he’s not much of a hero to start with, but at least he’s not as bad as his friends.

There’s not a lot to really like about Duncan’s friends so I won’t talk about them. They’re flat characters with little development. Even Duncan lacks a certain amount of depth, but where character development lacks, it is made up for in action. Which truthfully is the premise of this book.

I was definitely on the engrossed in the story during the high action scenes. It was a little slow building up, but McNamee entertains readers with some light comedy and a few flashbacks. It was fun to imagine with Duncan. He was completely captured by the journal he found – Roach’s journal.

I’m going to keep this review short because there’s not too much to say about it. It was a quick, light read. I would recommend it for the action, but other than that there’s not a lot of depth to it. A great summer read!

As far as the audio, I think Scott Brick was fantastic. It helped that he only had to narrate male voices, but I think he captured the teenager’s attitudes very well.

I give Acceleration by Graham McNamee a 3 out of 5 Stars.

3 Stars

Book Review: Inside the Outside

Inside the Outside

by Martin Lastrapes

Published 2011 by Cannibal Press

571 pages

lastrapes

Goodreads Synopsis:

By the time Timber Marlow is fifteen years old, she has already killed three men. Despite the bloody and violent nature of their deaths, Timber is hardly a murderer. She has lived her entire life as a cannibal within a cult tucked away in the San Bernardino Mountains called the Divinity of Feminine Reproach. The Divinity keeps itself isolated from the Outside, which is the mainstream society beyond its invisible borders. When the opportunity presents itself, Timber escapes into the Outside, bearing witness to some dark and unsettling truths about the world around her and the integral role she plays in it. But no matter how long she stays away, Timber finds out the past isn’t as far away as she thinks it is. In this debut novel, laced with scenes of horrific violence and uplifting humanity, Martin Lastrapes has written a one-of-a-kind story about love, friendship, sacrifice and cannibalism

My Review:

This book was unlike anything else I’ve read recently. I was intrigued by it once I read the synopsis and Inside the Outside lived up to my expectations and then exceeded some.

First, the book took readers inside the cult, the Divinity, as it is referred to. The concepts of cults fascinates me, so I was completely captured by the source and beliefs of the Divinity. I’m happy Lastrapes offered a brief, yet detailed history to the origin of the cult. I believe this made it easier for readers to buy in to the story.

The characters were great. They were just like you and I, yet raised on a vastly different belief system. Even so, Lastrapes does a great job exploring human nature and death. While the cult dealt with a lot of death – sometimes eating their own kind – it was obvious that the deaths affected the hearts and minds of some of the cult members. It’s important to understand that while the cult was raised on the belief that human flesh in a necessary sustenance, there’s still a struggle with death and evil.

Timber, the heroin of the story, was fully developed. She was twisted with love and murder. She had a deep knowledge of human kind and no understanding of society. When she gets thrust into the ‘outside’,the story takes on a whole new dynamic. I really liked the fact the story changed settings as it did. It developed the idea of the story and allowed for the larger themes to be explored.

It is difficult to separate good and evil in this book, but it is obvious who the antagonist is. Daddy Marlow is perfectly revolting, and while we know little about his boys, readers aren’t exactly inclined to like them either, but there is certainly sympathy there. The character I most struggled with was Luna. She knows full well the murder and rape happening all around her, yet chooses to stay for the simplicity of life in the Divinity. Regardless of her disregard for the things happening around her, she cares deeply for Timber, and she is a necessary catalyst to the story.

Let me return to the whole murder and rape thing. This book really isn’t for the faint of heart. It tackles big issues, but in doing so Lastrapes includes some graphic imagery. The cannabalism is horrifying, but the rape is by far worse. Sexuality is a major theme of this novel. In the Divinity, Timber and her friends learn about their bodies, but then their bodies get taken advantage of. Once Timber is on the outside, living with a porn star, she carries on this warped sense of sexuality until she finally finds and understands love. It’s a long journey for her, but the character Timber becomes is far from the one at the start of the novel. It’s a truly remarkable journey.

I really loved this novel. It was tough to deal with at times because despite my love for Timber, she wasn’t all that good despite her best efforts. Even Luscious had a shady past. That said, there is no good character in this book, but their flaws are what attracts us to them.

I thought Lastrapes did a great job on this novel. There was some predictability with the way the story developed. With heavy foreshadowing and titled chapters, it was difficult to be really surprised by the story, but it was no less enjoyable. It took me forever to read this book because of moving cities and starting a new job. I think I would have been more impacted if I could have read larger chunks of the story at once, but I was still engrossed with the story even when I wasn’t reading it.

Like I said, it was unlike anything I’ve read before. It tackled big issues such as Good vs. Evil, human limitations, power, money, homosexuality, and love but never truly dwelled on any of them. The story was actually a very easy read, despite the more graphic scenes. It was well written. It read more like young adult fiction in that it the plot moved quickly and the main characters were quite young, but I would definitely classify it as adult fiction because of some of the graphic imagery.

Before I finish this review, I want to give props to Mr. Lastrapes. I had difficulty getting my epub to read correctly on my Nook. A number of sentences ran off the page and I would miss valuable pieces of the story. He reached out to me and offered me a new version of the story. I re-downloaded the new epub on my Nook and I happened to have the same problem. I did find that I could read the story on my iPad through iBooks. I might have been annoyed that I had to read it that way, but since Lastrapes was genuinely concerned with my inability to finish the story, I was happy that he took the time to reach out to me. The story was capturing and I often would find my place on my phone and read in the waiting room of the doctors office, in my car before work, or anywhere I had a few minutes to spare. It actually worked out perfectly and I’m very happy to have finished it.

 

I give Inside the Outside by Martin Lastrapes a 5 out of 5 stars.

5 Stars

Book Review: The Last Werewolf

The Last Werewolf (Bloodlines Trilogy #1)

by Glen Duncan

Published 2011 by Random House Audio

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Meet Jake. A bit on the elderly side (he turns 201 in March), but you’d never suspect it. Nonstop sex and exercise will do that for you—and a diet with lots of animal protein. Jake is a werewolf, and after the unfortunate and violent death of his one contemporary, he is now the last of his species. Although he is physically healthy, Jake is deeply distraught and lonely.

Jake’s depression has carried him to the point where he is actually contemplating suicide—even if it means terminating a legend thousands of years old. It would seem to be easy enough for him to end everything. But for very different reasons there are two dangerous groups pursuing him who will stop at nothing to keep him alive.

Here is a powerful, definitive new version of the werewolf legend—mesmerizing and incredibly sexy. In Jake, Glen Duncan has given us a werewolf for the twenty-first century—a man whose deeds can only be described as monstrous but who is in some magical way deeply human.

My Review:

I enjoyed listening to this book. The deep throaty voice of the narrator, Robin Sachs, brought out the character of Jacob, the werewolf. Unfortunately his American accent wasn’t all that great and some of the other characters seemed silly when they definitely should not have. Also, his voice was much too tenor to narrate a woman, but he gave it a valiant effort.

Duncan is certainly insightful towards metaphors. I truly enjoyed many of the figures of speech although some made me cringe; others made me shake my head. They just weren’t a good fit. Unfortunately I don’t have the text to draw back on, so I can’t recite any. I will say one thing, even for the metaphors that didn’t quite fit. Duncan (perhaps with the husky voice of Sachs) made valiant efforts and managed to make everything seem poetic. Speaking of poetic, the descriptive narrative gave the story major appeal. Even though some description of scenes was downright horrifying. I guess that’s to be expected in a story about monsters.

There was a lot of back-and-forth in this book. And yes, that is double entendre. First, there’s a tangle of people to keep straight and to remember who wants Jake dead vs. who wants him alive. It can be difficult to keep straight in some of the chaos, so stay sharp. But of course there is also quite a bit of sex. Not that it drives the plot in any way. Nor does it really seem all that useful towards the story at all. It’s not romantic, although you get the sense you’re supposed to believe it is. I wouldn’t call this book “steamy”, which is good since I prefer it that way, but if the romance is your thing, I wouldn’t recommend this read.

This one is graphic actually. Duncan never shied away from his imagination. Every gory detail is laid out – from the intimacies of sex to the gore of the kill, often awkwardly in the same paragraph. Speaking of killing, it happens often and quite casually. I suppose 200 years of being a werewolf can have that effect. The premise of this story is Jakes acceptance of his monster, even his delight in it. It’s raw with human emotion and detachment. Before you can feel anything, it get brushed away. While reading, I wish there had been a deeper emotional connection to Jake, but the dismissal of emotion made it difficult to feel sorry or hopeful for him.

I thought the story was paved very well. There were moments when I was completely lost for what was happening which is partly due to my distractions while listening. Still I think it was difficult to catch back up since roles changed and characters were constantly invading the story of Jakes life. I can’t be blamed for getting it backwards once or twice. I do wish there had been less secondary characters, but I’ll allow that it was important to build the chaos this novel thrives on.

Oddly, Duncan liked to compare his story to what might happen “in the movies”. This is all fine and well but the story actually was laid out like film at its moments, which for lack of imagination, the author simply described it’s coincidence as being like film. Unless, of course, it was conveniently unlike film. The whole theme was loosely paired with the events of the story and didn’t follow any recognizable pattern.

I think a part of me wanted to like this book more than I actually did. The prose was so tempting. Duncan knows how to craft words so they flow beautifully. However, the meaning was often too shallow or confusing to appreciate deeper. I liked the gore, but wish the sex and romance had been left out as they were fairly useless throughout the story anyway. However, the ending was very good. I was getting bored and worried I would be tempted to not finishing the book, just when the twist of the story came and led to an epic ending for the novel.
3 Stars

I choose to give The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan a 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins

Published 2015 by Riverhead Books

336 pages

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Goodreads Synopsis:

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

 

My Review:

The story of Rachel and her predictable, boring life takes an unpredicted turn when she becomes the only witness to a change in a stranger’s routine.

Rachel is kind of down and out you could say. Her recent divorce and addiction to alcohol haven’t helped, and she’s living in a sort-of friend’s flat with no prospects of moving out. She doesn’t have much to live for except brief moments of attention from her ex and a gin and tonic from the off-license.

The highlight of her day is riding the 8:04 train to London in order to witness Jesse and Jason, the couple she’s been observing for months. Then one day she sees something wrong from her view on the train, and she thrusts herself into the story of Megan and Scott – the true identities of the couple revealed to her. And she soon discovers that Jess and Jason – Megan and Scott – aren’t quite what she imagined them to be.

When I say she thrusts herself into the story that is exactly what I mean. Rachel is the protagonist in this story, but in many ways she is deeply troubled. Her struggle with loss concedes terrible coping methods, including her need to be actively involved in he disappearance of Megan Hipwell and her suspected husband, Scott.

The story is told from the perspective of three characters – Rachel, who is the girl on the train, Megan, the girl who’s disappeared, and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex. Rachel is an extremely complex character which made the story interesting and helped drive the plot. Megan and Anna were less complex characters, but not un-interesting. The story was driven by the psychological processes and histories of these three women.

The Girl on the Train took me some time to finish. Granted this is mostly due to my own scheduling, but I can’t help but think part of it was due to the fact I was already in tune to how it was all going to end. I knew from the beginning that all three stories were going to be important – Rachel, Megan, and Anna. Rachel and Megan’s parts were obvious, but Anna’s part meant it had another kind of importance and because of this truth, I had a harder time reaching the end because I knew what was waiting there. I’m trying not to give too much away.

However, the ending proved to be an addictive one. Once I reached a certain point in the story I absolutely could not put the book down. I was enthralled and when I finished the book I was a satisfied reader. Paula Hawkins knows how to pull a story together!

4 stars (2)

I give The Girl on the Train a four out of five stars. The characters were unique, particularly Rachel and her dark, blotchy past. The story had a steady build with a gripping end.

Audiobook Review: Neverwhere: BBC Dramatization

 

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Nevewhere by Neil Gaiman

Dramatization written by Dirk Maggs

Narrated by James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head, David Harewood, and more

Runtime: 3 hours and 48 minutes

Goodreads Synopsis:

Beneath the streets of London there is another London. A subterranean labyrinth of sewers and abandoned tube stations. A somewhere that is Neverwhere.

My Review:

I’ve read a lot of great reviews on this book, and I certainly enjoyed it. However, it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, and therefore, to my fullest regret, I can not give this review five stars.

Gaiman has never disappointed me, and I’m not saying Neverwhere was a disappointment, but  the abridged version was far too rushed for the entire story to be as compelling as Gaiman originally wrote it.

Let me start with the story. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a brilliant story, and I was completely captured with London beneath and London above. The premise of the story, a second London in which all memories forgotten, and all of the people who have fallen through the cracks exist, was a thrill. It had everything you love about fantasy – mystery, danger, a little bit of nonesense. I highly recommend the story of Neverwhere

This version was abridged, which I knew before starting. I know that abridged versions can’t possibly tell the story with the same suspense as the original, but I felt this one was shortened too much. The original audiobook is over 12 hours long and this version comes in at less than 3 hours. A fraction of the time means a fraction of the story.

The storytelling itself was very good. It was told by some popular Hollywood voices such as Christopher Lee, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head…. and more. Neil Gaiman even makes a small appearance. They told the story very well and I had no difficulty with understanding the character’s roles; it was easy to recognize their emotion and predicament simply by the use of tone and expression of the narrators. It is a dramatic reading, so you can expect to get the full effect of the story that is told. It is much like watching a film with your eyes closed. They even used sound effects in every scene. In fact, the sound effects were as much a part of the story as was the voice acting.

The audio mixing was well done, but I had a hard time understanding the actors at times when the sound effects were too dominant. I was listening with my headphones and I was constantly adjusting the volume up and down because the voices would get lost in the sounds of splashing water or sometimes the sound effects would be deafening loud. The sound effects helped lay out the scene, but they interrupted the story at times beyond their usefulness.

I was enjoying the story and nearly addicted to listening to it; I was more than happy to have to wait for the bus to arrive to my stop since it allowed me plenty of time to listen to the story uninterrupted. I made my way through the first 6 chapters and was giddy to begin the last one. I was on a long car drive, so I knew I would be able to finish it without stopping. To my disappointment however, the story was already done. The last 28 minutes of the story, all of chapter 7, were bloopers and additional readings from the cast. I felt cheated out of more story. Granted, the bloopers had me laughing out loud at times, but I was much more interested in learning more of the story.

Ultimately, Neverwhere was worth the read. I still highly recommend this story to anyone with any interest. It’s a compelling story and the voice acting is very well done. I’m sure I will return to it often for a quick read. Some of the sound effects were distracting to the story, and the abridged version will never be a match for the full version, but Neverwhere is engaging fantasy for all book-lovers.

I give Neverwhere: BBC Dramatization a 3 out of 5 stars. 

3 Stars

Book Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Vanishing Girls

Written by Lauren Oliver

Narrated by Elizabeth Evans, Saskia Maarleveld, and several others

Published 2015 by HarperCollins

Runtime: 09:39:47

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before—before Dara kissed Parker, before Nick lost him as her best friend, before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred. Now the two sisters, who used to be so close, aren’t speaking. In an instant, Nick lost everything and is determined to use the summer to get it all back.

But Dara has other plans. When she vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl has vanished, too—nine-year-old Madeline Snow—and as Nick pursues her sister, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked.

In this edgy and compelling novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

My Review:

I was initially captured by this story because of the relationship between Nick and Dara, sisters and best friends. It reminded me instantly of my own sister and I’s relationship. The stark differences in the two, the similarities, and the way they combined perfectly to make a lasting friendship – I could tell this was the foundation to a good story with solid characters.

Things get complicated when a boy gets involved. Parker, their childhood friend. I’ll admit the love triangle here was a bit awkward. Parker was the sister’s best friend since they were small children and now he’s dating one of them, the other obviously in love with him… it seems so unhealthy. The romance and heartbreak seemed out of place throughout the novel. It did tie in at the end, but in such a small way I thought the whole plot revolving this could have been tighter.

The title of the story is “Vanishing Girls” though, and that’s what the story kept trying to lead up to. The story of Madeline Snow’s disappearance wasn’t subtle to the rest of the plot. It was obvious it was going to tie in, but stayed separate for so long. Regardless, it was compelling to read and the mystery surrounding it was the best part of this story. Things finally started to get intense when Nick caught on the trail of the truth.

After I finished the book I realized that many of the things that annoyed me about the book were set in place for a reason. The story is ultimately about Nick’s healing and coping process. However, her time spent working at Fantasy Land amusement park bored me. Again it played a small part in the conclusion of the novel. Lauren Oliver wove a lot of symbolism into the story though, Fantasy Land included. Again, it wasn’t very subtle, but the writing was clear and engaging.

Finally we get to the twist ending. I might have appreciated it more if I haven’t read so many endings just like it recently. It’s not that its uncreative or even unoriginal, there’s just been so many variations of this already. When I reached the end of the novel, I expected to have this hurting chest, bereft of air, can’t-believe-it moment. I mean, it was good, and I tried not to compare it other novels, but the comparison was just too relevant. With the conclusion of the novel, a lot of things fell into place. I understood small details of the story that I was confused on their placement.  Everything fit together, but still, not very tightly. Some things, such as the relationship with Parker and Fantasy Land, I felt were overworked into the novel to have such small importance in the conclusion.

Overall, the novel was an enjoyable read. I read the audiobook version, which became a bit confusing at times due to the number of narrators. I believe a print version would have been easier to follow. Each narrator, particularly for Dara and Nick, would use voice variations for quotations, which is great narrating. The problem came in when the voices of Nick and Dara were read differently by each narrator, the story just lost its reality. It is more difficult to get lost in a novel when the voices literally change. Also, the return back and forth between the present and the past made it more difficult to follow in the audio version.

2.5 Stars

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver is an entertaining read. The mystery was gripping, and the conclusion brought clarity to the whole story. Despite some loose connections and drawn out scenes, I enjoyed this novel. I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.