Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Latest Book Reviews: Spring 2016

Spring was kind of slow on books to review, but I found a new review site and have gotten several new ones even in the last week.  I'm excited to be doing more of them and posting.  I really like getting to read and review small authors and books coming out these days.  Just in time for good summer reading!
Two for Eternity by Carl Alves


From the beginning of human history, two immortal beings have battled against each other. Vrag has pulled the strings of malevolent leaders, and has caused endless destruction and chaos. Raiken, his immortal counterpart, has opposed him at every turn. Two for Eternity is both an historical and contemporary young adult fantasy thriller that takes many controversial interpretations of history. From ancient Egypt and Babylon, through the time of Christ in Judea, spanning the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, through World War II, Raiken and Vrag have engaged in an inhuman battle of wills. Now, the stakes have never been higher as Vrag has set his sights on the destruction of society. Raiken has always been the defender of humanity against his immortal enemy. They will battle one last time to settle their score for eternity.


This was a different premise mixed in with historical fiction from different eras throughout time. Not syfy or time travel, more like flash backs told by the main character: immortal Raiken. As Raiken fights with his matched evil twin Vrag, their moral compass becomes clearer with each progression through time.  

There was a lot of repetitive superhuman fight scenes as each meeting progressively worsens their "rivalry" and conflicting desires to help humanity vs profit from it. Vrag's overwhelming narcissistic tendencies develop into an overwhelming God-complex that were a little eye-roll worthy compared to Raiken's goody-too-shoes intelligence and desires for bettering cultures. The last few incarnations the fight scenes between them were repetitive and I fully admit to scanning through them. But, if I was a young kid they'd probably be what kept me locked in. 

It was a good read and I especially enjoyed the WWII reincarnation and then finally learning about how the reincarnation started in the last "body" Raiken wakes up in to develop the final character.  I assume further books will explore their first incarnation as it seemed a giant plot hole that they met for the first time several lives into their existence. If they're twins and the only of their kind, it just kind of bothered me that their first birth on this earth was never even mentioned.  Decent read but probably won't read the next installment.
The Girls by Emma Cline


Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.


The Girls is a vivid telling of Evie, a young girl caught up in the late 60's free love, free life ideals who becomes an incredibly naive part of a cult.  While the book shares many similarities to the real life Manson Family of the same time, Evie's desire to be "seen" is the driving force behind all her movements in the book.

Evie tells the story through flashbacks, and you glimpse how sad and emotionless she has become now that she is (indeterminately) older.  What I didn't really care for, is that Evie is so almost wistful of her teenage failures.  I never was able to connect with her, she was so overwhelmingly weak and unmotivated--even the older Evie.  There wasn't a single thing that was likeable about her personality, so many times you just want to reach through and smack her.  She spends the whole flashback bits being nostalgic for the enigmatic and free girl (Suzanne) who draws her into the cult, and being in love with her.

It was a good read, the storytelling was great.  But there was literally not a single character I liked as  a ‘person’; by the end I was both eager to find out the conclusion yet simultaneously frustrated with Evie's complete lack of growth--both in teenage flashbacks and as her adult self.  Even if a story is told by someone you don't care for, there's usually some link with them--I never did find it here.

I did love the plot, it was wonderfully vivid storytelling.  And for those of us who didn't live through the Manson Family events, it was a fascinating way to look back at the psychological parts of something that used a real life crime as a springboard of ideas.  

The Other Side of Gravity by Shelly Crane (The Oxygen Series, Book 1)


My name is Maxton and I’m a trader. 

I live on a soulless planet where gravity, oxygen, and everything else are sold to the highest bidder on the black market. People are sold on the black market, too. You have to work really hard not to become one of those people. Pay your taxes, keep your friends and family close, and more than anything else—don’t get caught by the Militia. But all the rules changed for me the day I found her. 

My name is Sophelia and I’m a stowaway. 

I’ve been a slave for almost as long as I can remember. Waiting for the one day, one second, for my proprietor to turn his head so I could run and never look back. Now I'm on the run. And on a planet where no one is on your side and people would turn you in for a good meal or a piece of a silver, being on the run on Landu is the last place you want to be. Until he found me. 

I won't survive without him. 

I can't breathe without her.


I totally fell into this dysopian YA novel and devoured it in a single day.  I really loved the main characters Sophelia and Maxton; I could readily and easily identify with both of them and their struggle (which was nice after just finishing The Girls).  It switched back and forth between their two point of views, which sometimes could have stayed the same, but regardless was nice to have mind-swaps to make the characters more developed.  What I particularly enjoyed was the complexity of each characeter, while both incredibly strong they both had weakness that was realistic both for their age and their upbrigging.  

The new world (literally as the book takes place on a different planet from Earth that they were forced to escape to when Earth was ruined) is interesting and I would have really liked a bit more backstory on just how and why we fled to this planet and if there are other planets with people on it that were left to fend for themselves and create new governments as well.  It was a crazy take on government control, as this one taxed everything from oxygen and life itself to physical touch and pets.  Each reveal of a new part of the world order was super interesting and kept you reading quickly.  

A really fantastic first book to a series and I hope they can keep the pace of this first book without falling into dysopian cliche's that many books written since Hunger Games seem to fall prey to.  The importance of family and connection throughout the book was also a great theme to pull in for the intended age bracket.  Both character's different family lives shaped them well and played off each other in a really great dichotomy (her parents both deceased, his is just as complex and equally heartbreaking when you discover his secret). But family desire to protect is their underlying strength and bond.  Really nice.  

First Comes Love by Emily Griffin


Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious, relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing, Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes, their delicate bond splinters.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter is assigned to her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms, and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover that they need each other more than they knew—and that in the search for true happiness, love always comes first.


I’ve always enjoyed Emily Giffin’s books.  They’re both poignant and easy to enjoy without being full of fluffy characters who fail to represent reality.  First Comes Love is no different.  Josie and Meredith live through losing a sibling and watching their ideal family crumble in their early 20’s.  Like many people they cope with their grief and guilt completely differently, but it ultimately leads to major personality conflicts that tear them apart as sisters.  There are many times both sisters seem ignorant of the reality they face, but that’s so true of many of us struggling through difficult life changes and coping with how our lives have become different than the daydreams of our youth.  The story ends hopeful but far from perfect, and I think considering the character development you follow in each chapters switching narrative, it’s a perfect way to leave the future of both women open to whatever they choose to make it.  You hope Meredith can calm her anxieties and find happiness in some form, after spending most of the book complaining and criticizing to cover her underlying unhappiness; and Josie, you hope at least, grows up and out of some of her more immature ways and she finds her own journey to family.  It was super well written and I really enjoyed it.  Emily Giffin fans will not be disappointed in the least.
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