The Books of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau

The_City_of_EmberThe City of Ember – I enjoyed this first installment in the popular dystopian YA series. It follows two teens, Lina and Doon, as they look for a way to save or escape their dying subterranean city. The story takes place about 200 years after some unspecified disaster forces humans to live underground. To me, this works because that seems the right timespan for survivors to forget what life was like in the world before Ember, to let any possible aboveground radiation die down, and to see the created survival space begin failing. Add in a damaged escape plan from the town’s original founders that the teens must puzzle out and this one is a win. The-People-of-Sparks

The People of Sparks – This one was a bit less enjoyable, perhaps because all the tensions between the refugees from Ember and the people eking out a life in Sparks seemed quite harsh. I mean, asking a struggling community to take on an extra 400 mouths to feed seems tense at best. Still, although it was difficult to read in parts, I liked this one also. I was just sad to see the people leave Ember, a  far more unique and interesting setting to read about.

The Proprophet of yonwoodphet of Yonwood – This one was my least favorite as it was only tangentially related to the Ember story and doesn’t completely explain how the people ended up
in the underground city of Ember. Nickie comes to the town of Greenhaven, NC to help her aunt prepare and sell their grandfather’s mansion. Yes, there are enough global issues that let readers imagine what the unnamed disaster that forced the people into Ember underground is (with perhaps a prophecy, however unfounded, that might also make that necessary), and some hints about the founding of Ember itself, but there was not enough direct connection that made this feel like a valid third installment in a series I previously enjoyed.

The Diamond of Darkhold – This one was a great return to our actual protaganoists from Ember, Lina and Doon, who head back into their abandoned city to retrieve much-needed goods for their new home in Sparks. Along the way, they find another secret left behind by the originadiamond-of-darkholdl Builders. I really liked this one as I must say, I’d worried how the folks in the newly combined cities of Ember/Sparks would fare without adequate supplies. Just enough adventure and a whole new mystery to solve make this a great addition to the Ember series. My only complaint is that a couple inconsistencies appeared which troubled me: the letter than Lina threw down right at the feet of Mrs. Murdo in book one could clearly not have been right at her feet (if it was out in the unmapped regions as it seemed it must be as depicted here) and that this underground city seemed to have quite a few more openings to the outside from above than I’d previously envisioned. Wouldn’t that mean SOME light was getting in?  Also, I’m not exactly sure what the Diamond is. A lightbulb? A solar-powered crystal? Some newfangled thing we don’t know about in our time? Overall, though, this is a solid sequel that furthers our story enjoyably and reasonably.

I’d recommend this whole series 🙂



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Two Dorks, One Book: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

two dorks one book

Michelle says: I REALLY liked the beginning of this book. I felt like the narrator had an authentic childlike voice, the mom was likable, and their visit to the museum seemed tense and plausible. The terrorist attack was wrenching and awful to read. Theo’s stay at the Barbour’s condo seemed just strained enough to be realistic as well. However, I didn’t like it so much when Theo got transported out to Nevada. I mean, wouldn’t the CPS folks still check on him? Wouldn’t somebody notice that he became this wasted burnout and his essentially deadbeat dad had no actual job before sending him off with him? Sure, maybe they were just glad to be rid of the nuisance of an orphaned kid who turned out to have an actual, although clearly negligent, parent, but still…I feel like there were some serious red flags here. Yikes. And the drugs. The drugs. Oh man, the drugs. I do wish there had been a little less of that. I mean, I get it, you know?

This novel is an award winner, and one the critics love arguing about. I’m no critic, but here’s what I felt it did exceptionally well: character development and language. I loved Boris and Hobie and actually felt that half of the time I’d rather be reading THEIR stories rather than Theo’s, as he was kind of depressing and out of touch. Also, there were definite times when the language soared from the page and seemed inspired. Unfortunately, for every one of those passages, there were a dozen pages where I literally fell asleep reading because the language became tedious, prosaic, and overdone. (Tartt definitely doesn’t subscribe to the “show/don’t tell” method of writing.)

Which brings me to my complaints: the novel was thoroughly researched which I definitely respect. But sometimes, it felt as if the author was being a bit of a pretentious know-it-all and her showing off the copious amounts of research took precedence over the flow of the story. Also, at times it felt like the story itself and the background on the painting were kind of cobbled together in a somewhat forced way. Take out The Goldfinch and you could sub in basically any painting. It seemed like the art piece itself kind of lifts out, so I wished it were a bit more seamless. But maybe that is just because I know zero about art.

So, essentially, I guess I do like this book but it is TOO DARN LONG. I mean, Theo meanders around quite a bit, and then about halfway through, the book skips forward a whole eight years, (so clearly Tartt has no qualms about interrupting her chronology,) but I still feel like several hundred pages could be cut without damaging (and in fact, improving) the story. In particular, the private school in NY and the Nevada stuff could have been shortened A LOT. What could have been added was just how Theo got involved in the elaborate furniture sales deception, an anecdote about how Hobie got into making his composite pieces, how the two initially set up their work relationship, and more of Pippa (I adored Pippa!). Additionally, I think the slow pace of the majority of the book made the climax in Amsterdam feel hastily done.

Overall, I guess The Goldfinch was worth reading and I mostly enjoyed it. However, I don’t think it will get a reread and I’m pretty sure I need to cleanse my palate with something mindless for a while!

Kelley says all she can manage is:


the goldfinch

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The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

the fault in our starsDoes anyone really enjoy this book? I mean, really, actually enjoy reading it. I can see someone saying something like “it’s a great book!” (which I don’t necessarily agree with), but to actually ENJOY THE READING of this book would be a little weird to me. Why would anyone ever want to feel this sad? Who wants to read pages upon pages describing torment and death and pain and eye surgery and breathing machines? Why would you reread it, I don’t want to ever feel like this again? It’s just too over-the-top tragic, like some sort of weird caricature of…well, child death. Which brings me to my next point…

I don’t think tFiOS is good enough for John Green. I’m a little disappointed in him, because he writes such freaking good stories, but I feel like he used the cancer sadness as a gimmick. Because yeah, this is like, the saddest book in the world. It’s…it’s like you’re reading a John Green book, but you’ve got the medical channel on in the background and they’re talking about dead babies or something, and it’s hard to concentrate on the brilliance and just enjoy it. But you know what? It didn’t make me cry. It’s not sad like that. It’s just…depressing just for the sake of being depressing.The cancer details make me really squirmy. I will never reread this book.

And this is such an often-said thing about John Green that I feel stupid for saying it but: no one talks like this. No one even talks like this…in John Green books. This is so over-the-top, that it even beats his other books in the “no one talks like this” factor.

The end: not good. I guess it’s supposed to be some metaphor for the Van Houten book or something, but I just felt cheated, not knowing what happened to Hazel. Though I THOUGHT it would end in another (very obvious) way, that would’ve made me throw the book across the room, so I suppose this is better.

And actually, Michelle did like it.

Audiobook Notes:

Narrated by Kate Rudd. This was difficult to listen to in parts, because the narrator made her voice gaspy and breathy for Hazel’s lines. Very sad.

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2 Dorks 1 Book: The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

two dorks one bookhusband's secretMichelle says:

I am so glad I found this book. I was getting dangerously close to another bitter “I hate every book ever written ever in the history of ever” phase.

I mean, it could be that I completely lost sight of my Goodreads goal of late, or that I took a second job, or that the new full season of Orange is the New Black just came out, or that Zone One has been lingering around here on my nightstand for soooo damn long, (and seriously really? Who thought literary fiction in the zombie genre would be a good idea? And WHY did I keep reading it?), but I have lost my reading mojo…

I really do like reading stories of characters that are interwoven around connected events, people, and places so I did enjoy this. It was nice that they all converged upon the little tiny town with all its stereotypes and prejudices and then had to deal with all the small-town nosiness that comes with it. The book also had genuinely funny moments like the weird principal lady who dressed up as a bunny…perfect.

But when Janie’s mom gunned her car after her daughter’s supposed killer and the terribleness happened, my first thought was KARMA! And then, how tragic since it was all based on lies and Oh no! That poor kid!  And then, I considered that maybe the book is telling us that secrets can be even more dangerous for those we love. And I liked it again.

The idea brought up in our book club about what secrets are acceptable in a relationship was thought-provoking. I mean, are some secrets okay? Are all secrets a form of creating a self that isn’t truly ‘you’ and therefore essentially like cheating? The group seemed pretty split on this one. What I was stuck with (given the topics from this book and some recent very public scandal-type things that have come to light about some people we know): how do you deal with a terrible, awful secret by your spouse or child? Could you keep quiet even if it seems wrong? And do any of us ever really know what we will actually do in one of these scenarios?

Kelley says:

I just…I don’t like contemporary, realistic adult books. I don’t like reading about bored housewives or single 20-somethings making a living in the city. I like my contemporary fiction to be excusively YA. I just can’t relate to them, I think. But then, I can’t relate to magic and fairies either, so I dunno.

Cecilia deciding that her husband’s secret must be that he was gay was pretty funny. He is really close to his mother and he likes musicals and owns an apricot shirt.

I hated the ending. I thought it was sort of a cheap copout, to not REALLY show us the conclusion of the stories and instead give us a quick “this is what happened in the future”, but also, this is what would have happened if things had gone differently, which…it’s a book. It’s fiction. Why is there a need for an alternate ending to your made-up story? It just seemed superfluous to me. Other than that I’m mostly mad that the Tess story didn’t get an ending. We see what ended up happening 20 years in the future, but not how they got there.

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Son of God by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett

Gah! The typos! You’d think that Roma Downey and Mark Burnett could afford a good editor or proofreader. Or at least a better ghostwriter. I mean, I imagine them rolling in all their Touched by an Angel and Survivor money for kicks each weekend. (Maybe with Della Reese and that naked Richard Hatch guy looking on.) But no, this book is FULL of typos.son of god

Seriously, when people let out a “collective grasp” in the first few pages of a novel, I want to throw it across the room. GRRR. There were quite a few other such distractions, but the book was a quick read, so I continued, cringing at the multitude of errors.

Overall, this was not a bad read, as it illustrates the power dichotomy between the Sanhedrin and the Roman delegation quite well. Son of God also does a fair job of describing the more human side of Jesus that novels rarely capture what with all their depictions of his miracles.

Recommend, but with some reservations.

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Written in my Own Heart’s Blood (Outlander #8) – Diana Gabaldon

writtenOh man.

There’s so much here that I COULD complain about.

I could complain that this book didn’t really advance any storylines at all. Nothing life-altering happens, no big mysteries are solved, they basically spent the whole book thinking that maybe they’ll go live at the ridge someday soon, and then at the end they travel to the ridge, and then it ends.

Or that I really really didn’t need to hear so much detail about the fistula. Oh god, the fistula. Also the tar and feather amputation victim was kind of gross as well, and neither of these people had anything to do with anything or will probably ever be seen again.

That William and Henry and Hal continue to be boring as hell and just run around getting captured and released throughout the whole book like bumbling idiots.

That Clare and Jamie had nothing interesting to do, at all. Battles, fistulas, and love-proclaiming, that’s about it.

That the Bree/Roger storyline could’ve actually been interesting but there were like, quarter-of-the-book long sections where they weren’t even mentioned. It’s REALLY SAD when Bree and Roger are what I want to get back to, because I kind of hate them.

That I’ve decided that while Gabaldon is really good at writing love stories, her battle scenes immediately put me to sleep. Maybe this was just a super boring war.

I won’t complain about any of those things though, I will take the high road. But…seriously, this book was kind of bad.

However…I still can’t wait till the next one is released. I am a glutton for punishment.

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An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7) – Diana Gabaldon

an echo in the boneI am not cool with this book. I could maybe learn to be OK with leaving the Claire and Jamie chapters to see Bree and Roger in the 80s and living at Lallybroch once in a while, but…I do NOT care about William and his long ramblings about military engagements, and I’m not OK with Lord John Gray invading my main series books with his boring sleuthing.

I actually don’t have much else to say about it, really. What a terrible “review” this is.

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A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) – Diana Gabaldon

a breath of snow and ashes***Spoilers all over the place up in here!***

Well, things definitely happen in this book, evenm though most of it felt like long, unedited, random filler at the time.

Fergus is finally around more than the past few books but still not enough, and all he (and his whole family) really does is wander around singing Allouette, which is, I can only assume, the only French song that Gabaldon knows (it’s definitely the only one I know).

Ugh. I still am loving these books, but I think I’m ready for them to be over. I just…I love me a wordy, enormous series, but this is just getting extreme. I think what I don’t like is that all the books kind of run together and aren’t self-contained and neatly wrapped up. Things just drag on and on through books and books.. Like, Steven Bonnet was first introduced 2 books ago, and he’s still kind of lurking around the edges and popping up occasionally (that storyline FINALLY does get some resolution though). The gold at Jocasta’s is still a thing. Ian’s finally revealed his secret about why he left the Indians, but it’s been so long that I so don’t even care anymore (and also it ended up being kind of lame).

Everyone is extremely worried that Claire will get pregnant. But um…by my (possibly wrong) calculations, Claire is about 55 years old at this time. Isn’t she supposed to be a doctor and like…know how unlikely that is?

Claire’s got her own little doctor-slave in Malva Christie. Halfway through the book I had written this whole thing about how I think that Malva is going turn turn all Single White Female and try to steal Claire’s life and her doctoring skills and her Jamie and then…well, it happened.

Claire’s not doing much better, with her using the neighborhood kids as guinea pigs for her ether tests, and getting excited when she has a chance to use it (which means getting excited when she performs dirty 18th-century surgeries on children).

Roger has decided to be a minister and it’s incredibly boring, and he wanders around the a lot of the book quoting scripture and whining about how his voice doesn’t work. Also…of course Roger has a Mini Cooper. Of course. He’s such a dork. I bet he would wear a bluetooth headset everywhere if he lived in present times.

Bree is suddenly a mad scientist, making paper, matches, designing guns, and running water to the house.

Jamie doesn’t do too much at all except have long philosophical talks with Claire about the nature of war and his FEELINGS. He does rescue Claire a couple of times though, which is more like the Original Jamie I fell in love with, so it’s cool.

Lizzie, who has always been a superfluous character, suddenly gets a weird storyline of her own. I need to type this all out because I want to see if it looks as ridiculous as it sounds in my head: she starts sleeping with BOTH of the (also superfluous) Beardsly twins, can’t tell them apart and refuses to choose between them, marries them both and is now happily living in a filthy cabin (why is the horrible stench of the place always mentioned?) with both of her twin husbands and her baby.

Stephen Bonnet is still lurking around the edges, popping up occasionally, but no one really seems to care until the end when he kidnaps Brianna again. Yawn.

Arch Bug being a criminal mastermind and stealing all Jocasta’s gold and threatening her and having been important enough 30 years ago to take possession of Louis’s gold…seems like a last minute addition. Not in character and I hate it.

I’ve come to realize that Diana Gabaldon is incredibly good at making extremely boring things not seem terrible. I mean, a half hour description of Bree digging a hole or Jamie fishing or Claire stitching up someone’s foot – these are things that should bore me, but they don’t. But I like weird things sometimes, so I feel like at some point there should’ve been an editor to be like “hey, maybe we don’t need 5 pages of you lancing a boil.” Is there an editor for these books? I’m seriously starting to wonder, because the disjointedness, the rambling…is there no one left to reign in Diana Gabaldon?? I feel like GRRM should call her up and set her straight, but he’s probably too busy getting drunk with fans and not finishing ASoIaF. She’s also REALLY good at writing scenes that are juuuuuust disturbing enough to make me squirm, but not bad enough to make me put the book down. It’s like an art for her.

With each book after number two, I find myself having to mention in my review that “I still love Jamie and Claire, BUT…”, and…I’m starting to get sick of even Jamie and Claire, really. I…enjoyed the book, I really did! But…I just want it to end.

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Zone One by Colson Whitehead

This onezone one was SO almost a DNF. (Actually, I probably would have been happier if it had been!) It took me weeks to get through and completely obliterated my chances of meeting my Goodreads goal this year and it’s only June. Zone One was not exciting. It was not profound. It was not interesting. It was not even really unique since walking dead stories seem to have exploded onto the book scene in the way vampire novels did a few years back.

This is the story of a guy, who claims to be remarkable only in his mediocrity, selected to join a team of pseudo-soldiers clearing out New York City for repopulation after the zombie apocalypse occurs.

The prose was dense, and although the writing was lovely at times, I found I really had to be focused to even get into the story. I guess it felt like the whole darn book was pretentious and the author was trying too hard to show off his oh-so-eloquent vocabulary. I mean, I get that this is both literary fiction as well as a zombie genre novel, but it just didn’t seem to work. (Embrace one or the other, Mr. Whitehead, and I’m sure you could do it well, but this…well, let’s not do this!)

It’s true. I loved the descriptions of stragglers who got lost in their former lives, endlessly cycling through day after day of clearing paper jams in the workroom copy machine and the one vivid line about the squelchy sound a person’s head makes after it hits every step going down 38 floors in a body bag, but for what purpose? To make some grand statement about how our routines become who we are or that the end times will be brutal and inhumane? Bleh.

And, as for the apocalyptic part, who cares? We got three days Spitz’s stream-of-consciousness tale that went absolutely nowhere. No breakthroughs came along to save the people from the death plague, no last minute removals to a sanctuary occurred, and really, our main character seems no better or worse off than how he began. Sure, there are new crises, stories about friends lost, but overall, so what? SKIP IT.


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The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) – Diana Gabaldon

fiery crossUgh. I just…I don’t know what to say about these books anymore. It’s so difficult to review these since they’re SO FREAKING HUGE and they don’t necessarily have a theme. So much stuff happens that things that happened in the beginning of the book 1) I’ve forgotten about by now, and 2) aren’t even important anymore. And it really doesn’t help that the books are becoming more and more scattered and random feeling and…unedited. Like, in the second book you knew that they were struggling toward Colloden. Even though we had to sit through the France parts first, you knew they’d eventually get to Colloden because the book was ABOUT Colloden. This book (and the past few books) doesn’t really have a theme.

So I want to say, as I so often feel like I have to, that even though I’m about to complain about stuff, I am still really enjoying the series as a whole. This book is kind of bugging me but I need to know about Claire and Jamie so badly that I’m willing to sit through very long internal monologues about their FEELINGS, terrible and superfluous sex scenes, and descriptions of every little thing they do that has nothing to do with anything. And I’m basically enjoying it greatly. I do wish Roger would die, though. And Brianna too. Claire can keep the kid if she changes his name, because “Jem” is dumb.

SO. Roger and Brianna. They’re so BORING. The only thing Brianna is adding to the story is the Steven Bonnet angle, and she’s not even needed for that anymore.

Not enough Jamie and Claire. And there hasn’t been enough Fergus for several books. And Claire seems to be a terrible, terrible doctor. OK, she makes penicillin. But then…she doesn’t bother to make any more and her not having any almost kills someone.

Some things are just getting…ridiculous. In this book, Claire and Jamie get struck by lightning, Roger survives being HANGED for an HOUR, Brianna rigs up a hypodermic needle out of a snake fang (well OK, that part was kind of cool), and Claire goes around killing people/almost killing people with her incompetence. Oh and like I said  she makes penicillin, which seems…unlikely.

Really though, can we get a plague or something to take out Brianna and Roger?

Audiobook notes: Brianna’s voice annoys me. In addition to Southern accents, I don’t think that Davina Porter does very good American accents either. She’s so damn good at everything else though. I love that she has kept up distinct separate voices for the main characters throughout all of these books. Like, a new chapter starts and I can instantly tell which of the 4 main characters the POV is following. That’s good narrating right there.


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