book review

Book of the Year 2017

 

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The year is coming to a close, and I wanted to reflect back on some of the best books I read in 2017. Plus, I figured I’d start an annual “Book of The Year” award. I mean, this is a blog after all, and blogs gotta have awards and lists.

Keep in mind, this lofty accolade is MY 2017 book, meaning it didn’t have to be published this year. I just had to have read it in the past 365 days.

Some highlights from this year included Birdbox by Josh Malerman, War of the Worlds plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies by HG Wells and Eric S. Brown, and Good as Gone by Amy Gentry.

One book eclipsed all of these however, and managed to land the prestigious award.

The winner is…

Continue reading “Book of the Year 2017”

book review

Book Review: “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness has been considered for most of this century as a literary classic, and also as a powerful indictment of the evils of imperialism. It reflects the savage repressions carried out in the Congo by the Belgians in one of the largest acts of genocide committed up to that time. Conrad’s narrator encounters at the end of the story a man named Kurtz, dying, insane, and guilty of unspeakable atrocities.

Oh Joseph Conrad, could you ever have imagined you’d get such conflicting reviews about your work on social media over a century after you wrote it?

Of course not, but at least his book has staying power.

I picked Heart of Darkness back up for the first time since high school, after watching “Apocalypse Now” on basic cable, and thought to myself “Let’s see if this little book is as dense as I remember it being.”

Yup.

This isn’t an easy read, nor is it particularly cheery or fun. It’s not the type of book you crack open to feel good about on a short flight or relaxing at the beach, but it’s not without merit.image of book cover of heart of darkness

The novella is a condemnation of imperialism, specifically Belgian atrocities in the Congo, and a bizarre misadventure heralded by an unreliable narrator. The subject matter is intense, and it speaks to capacity for evil that men are capable of.

I enjoyed Heart of Darkness for what it is, and it’ll definitely challenge readers more than the standard YA vampire novels that are churned out these days. I’m just glad that this time around I didn’t have to write a 4-page essay about the deeper meaning behind Kurtz’s last words.

If you’d like to grab a copy of this classic, you can use the affiliate link below and help support this blog.

Heart of Darkness (AmazonClassics Edition)

What I Liked:

  • The main character isn’t the narrator. This is kind of easy to miss, but Marlow is telling a story, and the narrator is an unnamed person sitting on a boat listening to him.
  • It’s one of the best examples of the “stream of consciousness” style in classic literature
  • The story is evocative. Its themes still resonate today.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • This story defines “purple prose”. Conrad was great at description, and loved his unnecessary words. That, along with the “stream of conscious” style can make things difficult to follow at times.
  • This book is a denouncement of European colonialism, and as such, features a LOT of racism. There are all sorts of metaphors and even some allegory in Heart of Darkness, but not when it comes to the racism. That’s just right in your face. If you’re sensitive to reading about things like that, it may turn you off.
  • The language is dense. At times I found myself re-reading passages just to assure I really understood them. It took way longer to read than a 100 page book has any right to.

 

book review

Book Review: “the Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town” by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny Valley…

… is a macabre serenade to a small town that may or may not exist, peopled with alive and dead denizens who wander about the hills and houses with creepy fluidity. Told by individual inhabitants, the stories recount tales of disappearing dead deer, enchanted gardens, invisible killer dogs, and rattlesnakes that fall from the sky; each contribution adds to a composite portrait that skitters between eerie, ghoulish, and poignant. Miller is a master storyteller, clearly delighting in his mischievous creations.

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I love horror anthologies. Something about collections of short stories just feels right to me when I delve into the genre.

That said, I just finished The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller, and I can definitely recommend it to fans of the genre who are looking for some lighter horror fare.

The book takes a a unique approach, posing as a documented collection of essays submitted to an NPR contest. The entries were supposedly written by the residents of a strange Pennsylvania town named Uncanny Valley. As the book progresses, what begin as quirky tales become increasingly ominous and supernatural.

Most of the letters (stories) range between 2-6 pages, and are told in different narrative voices by each of the residents. This works to varying effect, and like all anthologies, some entries are better than others. However, overall Miller does a good job weaving so many tales from so many different perspectives. He doesn’t stray too far down the path of extreme horror or gore, and many of the stories are more akin to Twilight Zone than Tales from The Crypt so I think this would be a great series for younger horror fans. I also enjoyed the illustrations by John Randall York, which reminded me of Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (my first true horror anthology).

If you’re looking for some satisfying, light horror that you can read in short sessions, then Uncanny Valley is definitely worth checking out. If you want to grab a copy, consider using my affiliate link below, and help support the blog.

The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town (The Uncanny Chronicles)
 

What I Liked:

  • Interesting concept for an anthology
  • Varying narrative voices
  • Great illustrations

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Some stories were much stronger than others
  • I wanted certain entries to last longer

 

book review

Book Review: “Good As Gone” by Amy Gentry

Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Her family was shattered, but managed to stick together, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night: the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is ecstatic—but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts.  She hates to face them. She cannot avoid them. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter. 

51r-+GWWHmLGood As Gone showed up under “New and Notable” in my Kindle Prime Reading, and I downloaded it since I occasionally branch out into other genres to mix things up. I don’t normally read suspense thrillers, but I enjoyed this one all the way through, despite a few flaws.

The story is well written, and moves between the protagonist, Anna Whitaker, and a few other characters. This is broken up between chapters, so it doesn’t get confusing, although toward the end of the story there is a lot of jumping around and “perspective shifts” which I won’t go into more detail on since it borders on spoilers. Suffice to say, I had to re-read a few pages to make sure I knew what was going on.

Gentry’s writing is solid, and she crafts a dark, believable tale that should satisfy fans of the genre and anyone looking for a gritty suspense story. It’s a quick read with very little filler, and only lagged briefly in a few spots. It was also refreshing that this appears to be a standalone novel, since so many thrillers are huge series.

If you’re interested in Good As Gone you can buy it using the affiliate link below, which helps to support my blog.

Good as Gone: A Novel of Suspense

What I Liked:

  • Strong story pacing, excellent characterization
  • Interesting perspective shifts
  • Complete story arc. No cliffhangers

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Perspective shifts became confusing at some points late in the story
  • A key subplot dragged a bit midway through
  • This piece of the publisher blurb that I initially spared you from. “Propulsive and suspenseful, Good as Gone will appeal to fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, and keep readers guessing until the final pages.” Makes me speculate they pressured the author into that title due to its similarity

 

book review

A Writer’s Guide to Persistence Review

A Writer's Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing PracticeA Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I usually just copy and paste these reviews in from my Goodreads profile, but I wanted to quickly preface this one. I’ve been having some difficulty finding the time and energy over the past few months to persevere in revising my current novel while working on other projects. This book was exactly what I needed to give me an important perspective shift and realize I can continue accomplishing what I set out to do. I highly recommend it to anyone who might be questioning themselves and their writing. It can be a bit on “new-agey” in parts, but the core message it delivers is honest and sound.
An excellent read to help inspire authors and give some firm but fair advice on creating a long lasting writing practice. Jordan Rosenfeld does well in re-framing a lot of common problems that writers face, from rejection to self-criticism, and gives solid advice getting through those issues with a positive attitude. There are exercises (both physical and creative) at the end of each section, so the reader can take action on what the author is advising.

For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Rosenfeld adding a chapter that “de-glamorizes” self publishing, and makes the reader ask some important questions of themselves prior to diving into that world versus the traditional publishing route. People are quick to push their work out to Amazon these days, and I like her thought process on why writers should be a bit more mindful prior to clicking the “publish” button.

Definitely a more personal and storied tone than many writing advice books. It’s not a sterile technical manual (looking at you, Strunk&White). If you’re looking for something akin to “On Writing”, but without as much autobiography, this would be a solid addition to your repertoire.

View all my reviews on GoodReads