Archive for eBook Reviews
Verdict: 1 Star
Congratulations go to Ms. Catton, as she has the distinct honor of being the first-ever recipient of a one star review from Good e-Reader. Even Willie Nelson’s
literary diarrhea musings from his life on the road while high got two stars, mostly for having a cool-looking cover. I’m sure she is not all that affected by the news, having won the Man Booker Prize for this book. Sad, really. I wasn’t aware the pool of eligible titles was so abysmal this year that this book somehow rose to the top.
As with many prestigious award winning books, this one has everything that makes it stand out in the eyes of a snobby, musty committee of literary judges: it’s got a Victorian setting, a unknown journey, gratuitous and inexplicable violence, and opium. Last but not least, it’s 800 pages long. The committee must have awarded it based solely on the sheer amount of effort that went into writing it.
Am I being overly harsh and unnecessarily critical? Of course. Is it because I have a chip on my shoulder about the prize itself as it not only forbids self-published titles but also requires the publisher to throw in 5,000 pounds towards the advertising of the book’s status as a shortlist prize nominee? You betcha. Yes, the Man Booker Prize not only goes to a book published in the UK by a “formal” publishing house (don’t worry, just in case you’re confused and think your book is eligible, the rules are nice enough to state further down that you’re not welcome), but also expects the publishers of the six books whittled down to the shortlist to foot the bill for advertising to the world that this book made it to the finals.
And somehow, this book won.
The best quote on the entire internet about this book is from a review by Sarah Skoletsky: “Here’s my takeaway – gold mining is terrible work, opium seems pleasant, a dress weighing over 5 pounds should be looked into, and it rains a lot in New Zealand.”
I hate to make my negative impression of the book all based on the fact that it’s just another droning example of what passes for prestige in the world of legacy publishing these days, so there are actually valid points to make. The writing is about as wordy as it can possibly get, and the endless cast of characters make it nearly impossible to follow the story line. And just for fun, it has a rather unrefreshing plot–man strikes out for the unknowns of New Zealand to seek his fame and fortune and finds that the rest of the world is also trying to enjoy the prosperity that a whole new economy can offer–that has been done often and done well. This just isn’t one of those times.
Verdict: 3 Stars
Donna Tartt’s book The Goldfinch, has over 4K reviews on Amazon, and the ratings are fairly well divided among each of the different ratings. Sadly, comments among the three-, two-, and one-star reviews tend to run along a common vein: the book just didn’t live up to the hype from the industry.
And truthfully, it takes a really special work of literature to maintain the drama and lure throughout well over 700 pages. The word I would actually use is “exhausting.” While Tartt crafted very compelling characters and a story line that gripped readers, the pivotal painting on which so much of the story relies actually disappears for hundreds of pages at a time, only to be casually mentioned later.
The real problem for me was the style of editing. To go so far (as some reviewers did) and say that the book was wholly unedited would be horrifically unfair, but there may have been too much liberty taken with the writing style, allowing a fragmented and disjointed style to run roughshod over what is a compelling story. The very eloquent passages, unfortunately, only serve to make it seem like the editing wasn’t completed by the same person throughout the manuscript.
Possibly the worst flaw was the utter lack of redemption, the void of any quality that makes up for the suffering. While not every book requires its happily ever after, some sort of light at the end of the tunnel would have been helpful.
The Goldfinch is available from major book retailers.
Verdict: 3 Stars
This book points out many of the things that are wrong with the romance genre. First, back up and understand that the popularity of a book such as this is the supposedly real-life scenario of a woman informally engaged to a man whom she’s been dating for six years (longer than many marriages last these days) who seizes the opportunity to have a wild one night stand with an insanely gorgeous wealthy (aren’t they all, these days?) man. The story line speaks to readers whose own lives are certainly no 50 Shades, but thrusts them into Kasie’s wild-but-temporary adventure.
Unfortunately, Kasie makes just about as many stupid decisions as she possibly can, and it almost felt like an insult that the readers are expected to identify with her and cheer for her. Not only does she stay with her fiance long after he begins emotionally and verbally abusing her for her (skanky) indiscretion, but she cannot bring herself to decide what it is she wants out of life.
While billed as sizzling compliment to one very famous work of erotica starring a billionaire control freak, hasn’t that story line been done to death? Even the fans of the genre have cooled in their pursuit of inexplicably wealthy, unattached, youngish men, mostly because the genre just keeps feeding them the same story lines.
What is actually interesting about the book is its long journey to publication. It was written originally as three digital-only stories that have been woven together and made available in print, displaying the power of readers to make a bestseller out of an e-series prior to the publisher investing in paper.
Just One Night was a perfectly pleasant, although tired, read, and is available now.
Verdict: 3 Stars
The bizarrely addictive love story that Glines started in Twisted Perfection comes full circle in the follow up title, Simple Perfection. And despite the alternating POV on a chapter-by-chapter basis, coupled with the overly simplified view of mental illness, it was a fun, quick read.
Having said that, Glines followed suit like so many of her contemporaries and pulled a plot-twist fast one for us, one that was a little jarring at both its suddenness and its departure from the story line of Woods and Della. There was also a very rushed feeling to this book, almost as though the story was spilling forth; considering Glines’ vast fan base, however, it’s also likely that the rush was due to the need to satisfy her fans’ desire to learn the outcome.
What has been fun to see in this genre is the way that authors are exerting more control over their characters and story lines, especially in the era when authors and readers are connecting like never before. Despite the publisher of this series and the industry’s former rigid adherence to tried-and-true romance plots, Glines has been able to construct the story that she and her readers wanted.
Apart from those issues, Simple Perfection was a pleasant read with just the right amount of tension, romance, genuine horror on a variety of levels, and the requisite happily ever after, at least for some characters. The title is available now.
Verdict: 4 Stars
When you’re up for a digital book innovation award at the Digital Book World Conference and Expo and you lose out to the powerhouse that is Scholastic, Inc., that’s still pretty impressive. Fortunately for Light Publications and their ebook Cinderella Spinderella, what makes their book great isn’t just the full-color illustrations, audio read-aloud, realistic page turn, or any of the other typical things we’ve come to expect from enhanced ebooks. What makes this title so great is how much thought and effort the creators put into the actual representation of the story.
Exhibit A: Cinderella is in a wheelchair, something that her evil stepsisters laugh at her for. Then the fairy godmother–who is actually a homeless woman–shows up and dresses Cinderella in a magical black garbage bag.
Exhibit B: When Cinderella does get to go to the ball, obviously…well…she can’t dance, at least not on those ridiculously impractical glass slippers. But the prince is so intrigued by her that they sit and play cards all night, talking and getting to know each other (no silent staring into each others’ eyes and not speaking…looking at you, Disney).
Exhibit C (and the most profound thing of all): With the download of this one book, the reader gets to pick Cinderella’s and the prince’s ethnicities, a fact that makes me prouder of Light Publications than I have been of any other digital publisher in a long time.
Along with other bonus features, this book is an educator’s dream and is sure to delight any reader. The need to download the book to a computer or laptop first and then transfer it over to the phone or tablet was a minor annoyance, a factor that hopefully the creators will take into consideration down the road. But overall, the book and its 25 possible story versions was pure genius that speaks to readers of any background.
Cinderella Spinderella is available at lightpublications.com/dropcard.
Verdict: 3 Stars
Shepherd’s second title, The Poisoned Island (Washington Square Press), had an incredibly intriguing premise, but it dragged. The action got lost in chapter after chapter of descriptive narrative filled with back story, as opposed to dialogue and sequences. On the plus side, and at the risk of a vast spoiler alert, there is a tremendously intelligent juxtaposition between addiction to a substance and to a way of life.
Set with the invasion of Tahiti by the English–and invasion is probably the incorrect, impolite term here, as evidenced by their exploration and later gathering of tropical plants; of course, once the captain of the ship rapes the daughter of the tribal king, it’s an invasion–the story follows the drama back in England surrounding the mysterious deaths of several members of the ship’s crew when they return from the island addicted to “leaf.”
At times both compassionate and brutal, the story simply didn’t need four hundred pages to dole out the details. It was, however, a very human book, and I kept reading in hopes that the right people were brought to justice, or at least suffered at the hands of karma. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for the crew who helped spread contagious diseases, venereal and otherwise, among one of the many, many cultures that the English destroyed throughout the reign of the empire.
One very important and enjoyable aspect of the book was Shepherd’s attention to accuracy. Both this book and his first title, The English Monster, were very obviously well researched, and the author’s knowledge of not only the setting and geography but also the time period are very evident.
Fans of highly detailed stories complete with minute descriptions will possibly enjoy the book, if they can endure it. The Poisoned Island goes on sale on January 14th.
Verdict: 5 Stars
In the final installment in the series which Clayton started with The Unidentified Redhead and The Redhead Revealed, “older” actress (she really hates to be called that) Grace Sheridan has a hit new series, a heartthrob sexy actor boyfriend, and a new house in LA. Unfortunately, she also has all of the baggage that goes with it, including stalker paparazzi, a manager who insists that Grace and Jack not take their relationship public for business reasons, sleazy egotistical fellow actors, and a producer who’s at his breaking point that she hasn’t lost another twenty pounds.
Add to that the blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter rants from fans who are outraged that the studly star of the hottest movie franchise of the decade is dating this Sheridan “cow,” and Grace is ready to turn her back on the dream she worked so hard to achieve. When Jack’s superstar behavior takes him down the path of all-night partying and illegal drugs, Grace is ready to give up on him, too.
In a book series that is both highly sexually charged and hilarious, Clayton has managed to create a girl-next-door persona out of a major name actress. As readers who watched Grace’s star slowly rise through the first two books, we are both enthralled and surprised when she makes it big in Hollywood. This feels more like reading a text message conversation with our best friend than a novel about the lives of the Hollywood elite.
If there was any criticism to dish out, it would be that Grace is far too willing to let Jack off the hook, sending the mildly irritating message that celebrities get special treatment. Ironically, Jack hits rock bottom for that very reason when he tires of being treated as a superstar everywhere he goes.
All three of the Redhead books in the series are available now.
Verdict: 5 Stars
Its full title, Topless Jihadis—Inside Femen, the World’s Most Provocative Activist Group, by Jeffrey Tayler, only succeeds in scratching the surface of what this book really stands for, namely depicting the 5,000+ member international group of self-titled “watch-bitches for democracy.” For the lengthy period of time that Tayler followed the radical women’s activists who are known worldwide for their topless protests, he chronicled and documented the inner workings and the outer reception of one of the most controversial protest organizations of the present time.
According to the author:
“Each Femen protest is contrived to shock, generate controversy, and come off well on camera. Wherever Femen strikes, it causes an uproar. The group professes to deploy beauty as a weapon. Femen’s tactics, ‘sextremism’ and ‘sex diversion,’ basically entail using bare breasts during demonstrations to attract media coverage. Some critics dismiss the activists as mere publicity seekers, others as hysterics or, especially in the former Soviet realm from which they hail, as exhibitionists, as ‘sluts,’ as ‘whores who should know their place,’ as ‘sexually frustrated bitches’ (all quotes translated from Russian).”
But even more insightfully, Tayler had this to record from Femen’s twenty-three-year-old founder, Inna Valerievna Shevchenko:
“Femen turns everything upside-down, including dress standards. French feminists have told me not to wear them, since I’m a feminist. But we’re against the way feminists of the 1970s were. They’re boring, they don’t offer us anything today. We want to show that a woman isn’t a sex object and isn’t a product to be bought and sold, but we recognize we’re different from men. We don’t hide our
sex appeal or our attractiveness. We use them as tools against the patriarchy. We’re saying feminists don’t have to be ugly, fat, sexually frustrated women, the way people now think they are.”
While parts of the text were muddled–such as the need to point out that specific members of Femen were not only heterosexual, but also sexually active, for some reason–the book in its entirety is an incredibly insightful look at a very misunderstood group. The depictions of people who are simultaneously irritatingly overbearing while also desperate to improve the perceptions about and lives of women are masterful.
The book itself is published by The Atlantic, and is available on Kindle.
Verdict: 4 Stars
There can be a lot of pressure on an author when his characters take center stage for a wider audience. It’s one thing when reader fans become attached to a story line, but it’s something else altogether when television or movie audiences also latch onto the story line and the players.
Even before Baldacci put pen to paper (well, you know what I mean) to write this latest book in his popular series about two Washingto, DC private eyes, he faced the challenge that mystery and thriller fans tend to be a hard demographic to impress. Some of the greatest and most well-known authors in the genre, including Baldacci but also names like James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell, routinely maintain three- and four-star average ratings for their books. It tends to feel like the readers have very high expectations, and if they’re not met to the tiniest detail, the readers are quick to point it out.
In this case, the author faced a growing audience who fell in love with the June debut television series, and readers quite possibly compared this book to the quite-brief by comparison TV episodes. Personally, I struggled a little bit through the choppy sentences and the attempts at stereotypical PI wit, but overall, the book did not disappoint.
What made up for the surprising writing was the eerie and timely plot. We live in an era where citizens trust the government possibly less than ever before, and a story line in which a soldier dies in Afghanistan and later manages to contact his son can grab anyone who watches the evening news. When the son, a mere teenager, hires the two investigators to look into his father’s death, what they learn is fodder for every conspiracy theorist’s dreams.
King & Maxwell is available now, although the corresponding television series was cancelled in September.