Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rooftops of Tehran - Mahbod Seraji

6001011Rooftops of Tehran is the story of Pasha, a 17-year-old Iranian, and his best friends as they go through about a year in Tehran in the 1970s.  Pasha and his friend Ahmed spend lots of time on the roof of Pasha's house, joking and talking about life and Ahmed's crush, and later on Pasha's own crush.  Pasha is in love with girl-next-door Zari, who is engaged to Doctor, a revolutionary young man whom Pasha greatly admires.  Revolutionary activity is on the rise at this time period, and everyone is terrified of SAVAK, the secret police force.

The first half of the book was just okay.  It's about Pasha and his friends, including Zari, as they go through a summer and grieve the loss of someone close to them.  The first half concludes with a catastrophe that completely overturns everything Pasha had planned for his life.  It's also filled with snippets of life in Pasha's alley, like soccer games and incidents at school.  This part of the book, while it had its moments, was overall boring to me.  I understand its purpose in the buildup to and contrast with the second half, but it just didn't grab me.  This part is also cut with "interludes" every couple of chapters, which detail Pasha in a mental hospital trying to piece together what happened and why he is there.

The second half is Pasha trying to recover from his experience and move on.  This half was truly beautiful to me.  I think Seraji did a beautiful job of depicting Pasha's grief, his distance from everyone and everything around him, and how he copes with his new world.  It was wonderfully written, overall.  I suspected the ending was coming from pretty much the first chapter in the second half--which isn't good, because I never saw the climax of the first half coming.  I was actually a little let down that Seraji didn't have some twist at the end, because the ending is hinted at all along.  While the ending was good, I think it could have been better if Pasha had been forced to actually deal with something rather than just having it handed to him again.

The character development in this was great on all fronts, and I got a really good feel for life in Pasha's alley.  I think the whole setting was done very well.

Overall, an above-average book, but not an absolutely fabulous one.  I doubt I'll remember it in a year or two, but it was a pleasure reading now.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Crazy in Paradise - Deborah Brown (Paradise #1)

Crazy in ParadiseMadison Westin has recently gone through a divorce and is now mourning the death of her aunt, who has left Madison most of her estate in Tarpon Cove, part of the Florida Keys.  Madison moves into her aunt's old house and plans to take up management of a commercial property called The Cottages which her aunt owned.  However, not everything is fine in paradise, and Madison has to contest with a shady lawyer, shady manager, interfering relatives, and a guy by the name of Zach who shows up with a gunshot wound in her backyard.

Madison was absolutely infuriating as a main character and narrator.  She's a complete moron.  I wanted to slap her for the entire length of the book.  Let's examine a few things that Madison does that no sane person would.  She does not hire her own attorney to handle the shady attorney and property manager who insist they were hired by her deceased aunt, even though she suspects from the beginning that they're lying and up to something.  She lets a guy with a gunshot wound, who she's literally just met, stay in her house for days because he says he knows her aunt.  How does she know this guy is telling the truth?  And then she gets involved with him physically.  Okay, he's hot, whatever, go ahead and get your physical pleasure, but what about the fact that he's apparently a criminal of some variety?  Madison, you don't know what you might be getting mixed up in!  She then lets this stranger's even stranger brother stay with her, even though Zach openly admits he's a criminal.  She then agrees to house a just-released convict for several months.  She gets involved with a ton of people who she knows are criminals, and when something goes wrong, guess what?  She's completely blindsided by it.  Because who would ever think that something could go wrong with a setup like that?

There's no real mystery in this book.  I think it was supposed to be one, but it's not.  There's a murder, but it doesn't show up until well into the book and even then Madison isn't any sort of mystery-solver.  There are no twists, no turns; everyone who seems skeevy actually is.  You can see the ending from a mile away.  No one is anything except what they seem.  And honestly, for what's supposed to be a mystery or suspense novel, we spend an awful lot of time hearing about what Madison is wearing.  Oh, and the "big reveal" comes from a character who Madison speaks to on the phone, once, and is not otherwise involved with the story at all.  Why?  What's the purpose?  To fill a narrative gap?  That should have been thought out first and tied in.  Mysteries can't have sprawling casts of characters because it makes no sense for them to have those sprawling casts.  Rather, they should have small- to medium-sized groups, and you should constantly be forced to question the truth and motives of everyone except the narrator--whose motives and involvement should be questioned by everyone else involved.

The writing is fairly sub-par, too.  Brown has no conception of how to properly use quotation marks in regards to dialogue.  The dialogue itself is sloppy and stilted, not natural at all, and is extremely formal even between characters who supposedly know each other very well, such as Madison and her mother and brother.  Oh, and did I mention that everyone around her endorses Madison's poor decisions?  They work out, of course, because why would there ever be consequences for poor-decision making?  There were so many cool ways this story could have gone, but Brown didn't take any of them.  A much easier, neater route with a good potential for real mystery and romance would have had Madison unwittingly getting pulled into Zach's business busting a ring of thieves; it would have brought about natural interaction between the two, and she would have had a chance to organically grow and meet the other characters in the book.  But that's not what happened.  Instead, Brown went with a plot that was completely contrived and unbelievable.

1 star out of 5.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Dream Jumper's Promise - Kim Hornsby (Dream Jumper #1)

The Dream Jumper's PromiseI've said before that my two great loves are food and history.  Well, if I had to pick a third, it'd be water.  I was raised in the water.  I grew up on Lake Erie, and my father owned a SCUBA and swim shop named Fantaseas with some of his friends.

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Excuse the poor quality of the logo; the shop went out of business years ago, and I think the resolution was about as good as it got back then.  Anyway, my father and mother, along with their friends, all taught SCUBA, so I was in the pool before I could walk.  I was on a swim team when I was in first grade.  My mom ran the aquatics department of a local  YMCA, so I had complete access to two pools in the winter and five in the summer, and my neighbors had an in-ground pool they let us use whenever we wanted.  I got lifeguard certified when I was 16 and went straight into a position as a lifeguard at another YMCA, where I stayed for four years before moving permanently to Washington, DC.  I've always loved vacations that involve water, too, whether it's giant wave pools (my favorite is the one at Typhoon Lagoon at Disney World, which has 6-foot waves every minute and a half) or the ocean itself.  So, if I have to say why I grabbed this book for my Kindle, I'm going to have to say it was a mixture of the cover (ocean, swimming, beach, palm trees...mmmmm, yeah, baby, gimme some of that location, please!), the description that included the words "SCUBA" and "surfing," which are two things I've always wanted to do (the dive shop closed before I was old enough to get SCUBA-certified), and the story took place in Hawaii, which is somewhere I've always, always, always wanted to go.  I wasn't entirely sold on the whole "dream jumper" thing, 'cause it sounded hokey, but hey, there were those other facts playing in, so I went for it.  Oh, and it was free.  Or 99 cents.  I can't actually remember.

Okay, so, the story is about (Kris)Tina Greene/Perez, who was widowed less than a year ago when her husband tragically disappeared while out surfing.  Tina refuses to believe Hank is actually dead, because his body was never found, and keeps hoping he's going to turn up.  Meanwhile, she tries to recover from her ordeal and get her business, a dive shop in Hawaii, running properly again so she can pay all of her bills.  Then James/Jamey shows up.  He's an ex-boyfriend from years ago, and he's very interested in what's going on with Tina.  We soon learn that Jamey can jump into people's dreams and interfere with them, and he wants to use his abilities to help Tina deciper the wacky dreams she's been having lately in hopes that they might reveal something about Hank's disappearance.  Also meanwhile, Tina tries to balance things with Hank's best friend, Noble, who is also very interested in her.

I did like this book, overall, but it wasn't fabulous.  First, everybody wants to fuck Tina.  I don't know why.  She's pretty, I guess--I can't actually really remember much how she's described, other than being small and having dark hair and big breasts, but being pretty is a safe bet for a heroine--but everyone appears to connect with her on a Deeper Level.  They don't want to sleep with her because she's hot, but because she's Special.  Blah.  Boring.  Second, pretty much half the characters in this novel are total creeps, and you can definitely tell they're scheming something all along.  The exact something might evade you--it evaded me until the end--but you can tell they're in on it in some form.  Third, Jamey's entire Kandahar story line is completely hokey and unnecessary.  I think it was an attempt to make him "deep," but it wasn't needed.  I think a perfectly good background for him could have been made up with just the non-military aspects of his life.  I'm willing to suspend a lot of disbelief when I'm reading, but that whole plot line (if you can call it that; it was mostly in the past) went too far.  Finally, the happily-ever-afters for everyone were too sickly sweet to seem realistic in the slightest.

What was the best about this book was Tina as a stand-alone character.  She's very confused, not sure what to think about anything that's happening around her or who she should trust, and I think Hornsby wrote her very well.  She wants to be a confident, sassy woman like she once was, but she sees everything she loved rapidly slipping away from her and isn't entirely sure what to do about it.  Throw in her freaky dreams on top of that, and it's no wonder she was losing it.  Though I did think that maybe Hornsby didn't go far enough with the "mental health system" repercussions.  I mean, she's walking around vividly hallucinating and all her shrink does is tell her not to take quite as much Xanax?  And mixing alcohol with meds is a BIG no-no.  Come on, Hornsby!

This book does contain an instance of near-rape, which I also thought Hornsby handled well.  She manages to perfectly capture the confusion that many victims of rape suffer when their abuser was someone they knew and might have had romantic connections with before while not engaging in the epidemic of blaming the victim.  The whole thing was handled very well.

Finally, I loved how Hornsby wrote the setting. I've never been to Hawaii, and my experience with the islands goes as far as a trip to Key West for a week (not quite the same) and numerous viewings of Lilo & Stitch.  But I still felt that I got a very clear picture of what Tina's life in Hawaii was like.  It made me want to visit all the more, despite the dark goings-on in the story.

Overall, I liked the book, but it did have some issues.  The biggest annoyance was the Kandahar story, because it was so prevalent throughout the book and was so incredibly unnecessary.  Still, I guess if you want a paranormal suspense book with some romance in it, I wouldn't discourage you from reading it.

2 stars out of 5. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gods in Alabama - Joshilyn Jackson

Gods in Alabama
Arlene Fleet is a graduate student in Chicago, Illinois, who suspects that her boyfriend is about to propose to her...until he overhears a phone conversation with her aunt and suspects that she might be ashamed of him, as she's never taken him home to meet her family.  He demands that she attend the party her aunt is trying to harangue her into going home for, and that she take him with her.  A fight ensues.  In the midst of it, a girl from Arlene's Alabama hometown shows up on Arlene's doorstep asking questions about a guy named Jim Beverly, and suddenly the book isn't a romantic comedy anymore, because Arlene knows exactly where--or, more accurately, what--Jim Beverly is, and that's dead.  The rest of the book follows Arlene and Burr as they head down to Alabama to throw Rose Mae off Jim's trail, though Burr doesn't know that's the real purpose of the trip.  Arlene is trying to work up the guts to tell him, but faced with everything against her, it's not exactly easy.

I thought I was absolutely going to love this book up until the last chapter.  Five stars, all the way.  The writing is phenomenal, and I can completely imagine Arlene, her crazy family, Rose Mae Lolley, Burr, and the small town of Possett, Alabama.  I loved the multi-faceted way in which she portrayed not only Arlene, the grad student, good Southern Baptist girl, slut, and murderer, but also Jim Beverly, who could protect his girlfriend from her abusive father and usher a girl to the nurse's office so she doesn't have to be embarrassed by having blood all over her pants, but also turn into a violent drunk.  Arlene and Burr's relationship was very real, with conflicts and bumps and moments when you think it might be over, but always lasting because they really and truly do know each other.  I loved the way Burr dealt with Arlene's crazy, mostly-racist family, and I was really loving the book in general.

And then there was that last chapter.  See, in the last chapter, Jackson pretty much unravels the gorgeous narrative she had built up until that point.  I was expecting a House of Sand and Fog-type ending, and I would have been okay with that.  That's not the way this goes, though.  In the end, everyone gets away with what they've done, Jim is a monster after all, Arlene and her family are reconciled, and she and Burr presumably live happily ever after.  It's just too perfect.  Murder doesn't end that way.  Or, it does, sometimes, but very, very rarely.  Arlene & Co. are just primed to be starring on an episode of Cold Case 25 years from now.  That last chapter knocked a couple of stars off my rating of this one.  A more "flawed" ending for Arlene & Co. would have been more satisfying, I think; heart-wrenching, yes, but I think Jackson could have pulled it off if she tried.  She just didn't try.

2.5 stars.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Haven - A. R. Ivanovich (War of the Princes #1)

11758870Ivanovich's Haven is the story of Katelyn Kestrel, a girl with an uncanny ability to find things who decides she wants to find a way out of her home in Haven Valley to see the Outside, which her people abandoned seven hundred years ago.  She does so with remarkable speed and in the process runs into Rune, a wounded soldier who's so sick he thinks Katelyn is either a delusion or a ghost.  In the process of helping him, Katelyn is captured and taken prisoner in the Outside world, and must escape back to Haven Valley.

I really loved Ivanovich's world.  It's a mix of fantasy and steampunk, with magical abilities existing alongside steamships and things like the Clockwork Ferris Wheel.  I would have liked to see more of the people in Haven Valley, like Ruby and Katelyn's other friends, but I think they might appear more in the second book of this series.  Katelyn herself wasn't exactly a fantastic character.  She was whiny and selfish and for the longest time had no idea about the consequences of her actions.  For example, the character Dylan explains to her that soldiers like Rune are not allowed to have connections; they have no family, no friends, no lovers, and forming those connections would result in death for the involved parties and the recruitment of another child to fill the soldier's place.  Despite that, Katelyn goes on and on about how betrayed she is that Rune won't turn into a mushy pile when he sees her, even after she meets his former younger sister--you know, the type of kid who'd be forced to become a soldier if Rune strayed from the rules.  Katelyn does eventually grow up a bit, but it's not until the very end of the book, and then it was remarkably abrupt.

The romance in this book isn't quite insta-love, but it is perilously close to it.  Rune is, obviously, the main love interest, though there's an almost-love-triangle with Dylan at points.  I wouldn't go so far as to say Katelyn falls in love with Rune as soon as she meets him; rather, she is intrigued by him and wants to help him, very much like Dylan is intrigued by her.  However, her intrigue rapidly ascends into what might be called outright obsession, and two kisses later she's declaring she's in love.  So, not quite insta-love, but almost as bad.  I did like Katelyn and Rune together, I'm just not sure I liked how it was done.  Also, where did Rune get the impression that he and Katelyn had kissed before they ever actually did?  That was never explained.

I'm going to let the whole "knack for finding things" go because that was explained later in the book, and worked into the world.  It was well done, and I approve of the way Ivanovich went about it.  The whole thing with the different levels of command was excellent, and the behind-the-scenes dealing and intrigue that we don't see until very late in the book was awesome.  It's what really forced Katelyn to grow up, and I liked it.

Ivanovich isn't the best writer I've ever read.  Her style is engaging enough, I guess, but she has some grammatical issues that need to be worked out; as they are, they can jar you out of the story, and then you have to work to get settled back in.  Still, a good plot can compensate for a lot, and I think Ivanovich has that.  A lot of the issues I had with this book early on worked themselves out later, and I think I would definitely be interested in reading the second installment of the series.

3.5 stars.