26 November 2012

*This review is spoiler-free. Click here to read my review of the first book in the trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone.*

Well, my friends. Laini Taylor has hit it out of the park yet again with her sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and partnering yet again with incomparable audio narrator Khristine Hvam, I am simultaneously thrilled and pained that the wait has now begun for the final book.

Picking right up where Daughter of Smoke and Bone left off, this fast-paced and emotional book will not disappoint, as second books in trilogies sometimes can. Instead, Taylor sparkles with wit and depth, continuing the intelligent, wistful, and adventurous tale of Kerou, the heartbroken chimera. Left alone and considered a traitor, Kerou is still dealing with her conflicted feelings for Akiva, the seraphim angel. And although she is completely dedicated to her chimera people, and her wonderfully loyal and hilarious friends Zuzana and Mick (loved them!), Kerou doubts the leader of her chimera people, Thiago, and his motives. Final chapters leave the listener reeling, shocked by events, and breathless for the final book.

I refuse to divulge anything more for fear that it might give anything away for either book in the series, however suffice it to say that:
  • Book 2 is just as spectacular, creative, and innovative as Book 1
  • It is excellent on audio
  • It is the perfect book to listen to while running (it will make you run longer just to hear what happens next)
  • I wish that this was a longer series simply because I believe that Taylor has created a universe just as full and magnificent, and could equal a long duration, as the successful Harry Potter series
  • Bottom Line: You should read this
That is all I can say about this stunning Young Adult fantasy tale of angels and monsters, good versus evil, love and heartache, loyalty and betrayal. Laini Taylor keeps the fierce momentum going in Days of Blood and Starlight, powering through to the final emotional scenes, that ultimately leave you determined for more. Well done yet again, Ms. Taylor!

Audio Notes: Khristine Hvam returns to book two, thank goodness, and is a theatrical genius. I enjoyed her brilliant narration for all characters. Each is distinct and memorable. Click here to listen to a sample.

Parental Notes: While the books are for an older young adult crowd, bear in mind that while it should be expected that there are battle-worthy moments of sword fighting and more, this one has moved a little more into scenes with consensual s3x, but also attempted s3xual assault. These are tougher to read/hear than the previous story. Make sure you have a conversation with your young reader to see if they have any questions.

Others said:

Publisher: Hachette Audio
Release Date: 11/6/12
Audio Time: 15 hours, 25 minutes
Narrator: Khristine Hvam

FTC Disclosure: I downloaded this from Audible.com

About the Author (from her website)
Laini Taylor is the author of 3 novels including the Dreamdark books. She was also a finalist for the National Book Awards for Lips Touch: Three Times. She lives in Oregon with her husband and daughter.

Visit the author:
About the narrator
Khristine Hvam is a successful narrator with an established history of performances ranging from commercials for radio, tv, and film, documentaries, video games, audiobooks, and more. For a list of audiobooks available on Audible.com, click here.

Visit her:


20 November 2012

No Black Friday Here. I Like to Shop Small.

In the Coffee and a Book Chick house, we prefer to participate in Small Business Saturday. The idea of competing with a gazillion other buyers at the larger franchise stores is just stressful. Instead, contributing to the growth in the economy by supporting locally-owned businesses is much more helpful, not to mention extremely fun! And as you can imagine, independent bookstores are a treat to shop at. To help you with your shopping efforts this season, I've compiled a snapshot of those I've been lucky enough to visit this year. Add your favorite independent bookstore in the comments to give them some word-of-mouth marketing! If you aren't familiar with one in your area, click the button on the sidebar to help navigate to one in your town.

Neptune Beach, Florida
For six years, I lived in the North Florida area by Neptune Beach, outside of Jacksonville and was so thankful that The Book Mark was located in such a cute part of town right by the beach. Swing by and support Rona's shop! She and her team are extremely helpful and they always have phenomenal authors stopping by. On a recent trip to Florida, I purchased The Malice of Fortune and Shantaram (which I'm currently reading and the only thing I can share is WOW! Shantaram is amazing).

Prince Books
Norfolk, Virginia
Moving bak to the Virginia Beach area, I head into Norfolk when I can and shop at Prince Books. It's also attached to a great cafe.

Cambridge, Massachusetts
On a recent trip to Boston and Maine, my husband and I swung by Porter Square Books. In the blogging world, you all may be familiar with this wonderful bookstore because The Boston Bibliophile is one of their booksellers. She was on an envy-inducing vacation to beautiful Italy at the time we stopped in, but we still happily browsed and purchased a couple books to support the store. I bought Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (it's autographed!) and I can't wait to dive in.

Wilmington, Delaware
This was a recent and fantastic find! When I was in Delaware recently for business, I had an opportunity to swing by the Ninth Street Book Shop in Wilmington on the way home to Virginia. Meeting the owner Gemma was a delight; a nicer and more helpful person you will not find, I assure you. If ever in the Wilmington area, do make certain you swing by her store and support Gemma and Jack's new location. I bought Tana French's The Likeness which I can't wait to get into, considering how much I enjoyed her debut In the Woods.


19 November 2012

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (Audio Review)

I make this commitment today: I will never again listen to a book while I am running if it requires complete and total focus and concentration on each and every single word. If I learn in advance that a book requires this much attention, plus so much, much more, I will consider it another form of exercise and will instead pick up the printed version.

One of two things happened for me with this book. Either I should only have read the printed format, or I am just too feeble-minded to understand the complexities, nuances, and brilliance of this novel.

Broken into six stories from different characters in multiple time periods, David Mitchell tackles the connection one life has to another, ultimately coming full circle to the initial start. Without question, this is an extremely intelligent story, and the attempt to interweave each tale is unique.

The Six Stories

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing

Starting in the 19th century on a Pacific island, Adam Ewing is waiting for his ship to be repaired. While there, he meets a variety of people including Dr. Henry Goose and a slave from the peaceful Moriori tribe named Autua. Adam continues his personal documentation of his travels and while waiting for his ship, he begins to feel ill and Henry begins to take care of him.

This was a challenging introduction to the story. Written in convoluted nineteenth-century prose, I found it quite distracting with my concentration veering off a bit. It ends abruptly at the partial conclusion of Adam's journal entries, which had it not been for a note on Audible.com's site, I completely would have thought that I had a faulty copy. Apparently, David Mitchell designed it to be jarring, and he was successful with it.

Letters from Zedelghem
The story jumps to the 1930s and Robert Frobisher is in Belgium working with a famous composer. He writes letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith, while simultaneously having an affair with the composer's wife. He finds the journal of Adam Ewing, but what he finds is incomplete.

I also found this story challenging in both the accent and the method of narration delivery, and considered taking a break from listening. I found the story interesting, but difficult to focus on.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
Jumping to 1975 in California, Luisa Rey is a journalist with a tabloid newspaper, but wants to break out of this type of reporting. She begins an investigation into the local nuclear power plant and meets Rufus Sixsmith, who was the recipient of the letters in the previous story with Robert Frobisher. He reveals to Luisa that the plant is unsafe and she begins to pursue the investigation.

This jumped out as my favorite story thus far. Narrated by favorite Cassandra Campbell, I found this to be the easiest to understand and was the most engaged in the investigation Luisa was working on. I was heartbroken when the story shifted to the next tale as I wanted to hear more about Luisa.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
Ah, Timothy Cavendish. A publisher with considerable financial problems in the present day, Cavendish's brother helps him escape from thuggish collectors to a hotel far from home. It's only until the next day that Cavendish realizes that he is not in a hotel, but rather in a nursing home. Cavendish struggles to explain to the hospital staff, his "captors," that it's a mistake and he must return home.

This was hilarious. While it was a little all over the place, I enjoyed this part and ended up not regretting the shift from Luisa's story to Timothy's. I felt so bad for him, yet found his humor to be delightful.

An Orison of Somni-451
Jumping to the future in a dystopian world set somewhere in Korea, an interview between two people is shared. The interviewer is the archivist documenting the events of Somni-451, a cloned human being, or a fabricant. A fabricant is not truly aware of who they are and is solely created to perform menial tasks that need to be done in this futuristic society, and Somni-451 works in a fast food restaurant. She slowly ends up becoming aware of herself, but this self-awareness and the actions coming from this are not approved of.

While I completely understood this story and that the narrator was supposed to deliver the tale in a way that would convey that the speaker was not fully aware of who they were to a certain extent, it was too robotic, or monotonous, for me to be truly engaged. Granted, I felt the "hollowness" that Somni-451 was experiencing, and I was horrified by certain sections, but I wasn't pulled into this one as much as I know I should have been.

Sloosha' Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After
Zachry is now an old man and is relaying the adventures of his youth. Living in Hawaii, the world is now in a dystopian state, after a major catastrophic event that caused those who survived to live in an extremely primitive state. Meronym, a woman who is a "Prescient," visits the island to study Zachry and his people. He regrets her visit and observation, considering it an intrusion and an insult, yet is confused with whether he can trust her or not.

While one of the more crucial tales reflecting the connections to others, this was by far my absolute least favorite.  In fact, this was PAINFUL. I so wanted it to end. The dialect and verbiage used was extremely challenging to understand, and unlike the other stories in which just when I was starting to understand what was happening, things switched to a new tale, I never quite completely felt like I "got" Zachry's story. Words were shortened for this made-up dialect, and it was annoying. Usually, when I listen to the audio format, it's much easier to understand dialect, but not in this case. "Spesh" meant special, "un'stan" (or something like that) meant "understand," etc. Given that this was the only tale to be told without interruption, I was floundering through it and praying it would just. end. already.

What's the bottom line?
While I will emphatically state that each story had a certain triggering event that would make my ears perk and I waited for more of that intrigue to continue, invariably, one story would jarringly shift to the next and I was left wistful, wishing a little more was given so that I could sink my teeth into it and really grasp the meaning.

I just couldn't get into the story, though. I found the complicated method of storytelling to be confusing and mostly abstract, and for the most part, I was perplexed by the events. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not bright enough for the intricacies of the tale, especially the audiobook while running! (Maybe I just don't have my wits about me? Possible.) I do plan on watching the film; perhaps the greater reveals of the story's brilliance will finally be unfolded for me then.

That all being said, it would be a book that could be read more than once, simply because so much is involved with each character; one reading is really not enough. With an abundance of themes, ranging from corporate corruption, racism, sexism, and more, for the right reader, this will keep you thinking for days. For me, it was all just a blur.

Passages of Note (both from The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish)
Books don't offer real escape but they can stop a mind from scratching itself raw.
Looking back, I see that Ernie tolerated my posturing because he knew Veronica was only humoring me. Ernie had never read a work of fiction in his life. "Always a radio man, me." But watching him coax the Victorian boiler system to life one more time, I always felt shallow. It's true. Reading too many novels makes you go blind.
Audio Notes
Multiple narrators always ease the listener with cues on the shift in perspective, which is helpful. This was the case with Cloud Atlas as well, and I felt most drawn to the narration of Luisa Rey and Timothy Cavendish as they were the most engaging and delivered extremely well. You can listen to a sample from Audible.com by clicking here.

Others said:
Buttery Books
Care's Online Book Club
Leeswammes' Blog
Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
The New Dork Review of Books

Publisher: Random House Audio
Release Date: 11/23/04
Audio Time: 19 hours, 33 minutes
Narrators: Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Kim Mai Guest, Kirby Heybourne, John Lee, Richard Matthews

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this from Audible.com

About the Author (from his website)
David Mitchell is the acclaimed author of the novels Black Swan Green, which was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Time; Cloud Atlas, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist; Number9Dream, which was short-listed for the Man Booker as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and Ghostwritten, awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best book by a writer under thirty-five and short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award. He lives in Ireland.

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12 November 2012

In the Woods, by Tana French

Finally. FINALLY! I have finally read Tana French and yes, I feel complete.

I might be a wee bit dramatic, but how lovely was it to read this psychological thriller with a narrator who tells you right off the bat that he's a liar, combined with a new homicide that pulls in a twenty-year-old cold case with no identifiable killer? Reading this confirmed what every reviewer said about it. Fantastic! It was a delightful trip to Florida last weekend as I was immediately consumed by this creepy story.

First in the series for the Dublin Murder Squad, Tana French has obviously knocked it out of the park on her debut published in 2007. Opening with a horrific event from 1984, three children set out into the woods near their home for an afternoon of fun in Knocknaree, Ireland. Only one boy returns. Rather, he is discovered after a fearful search, catatonic and against a tree in complete distress, his eyes seeing something no one else witnesses, unable to share what happened to his two friends.

Twenty years later, that young boy, Rob Ryan, has grown up into a police homicide detective. Still unable to recall any of the events of that fateful night, Rob is partnered with Cassie, a new homicide detective into the group, and their pairing brings them to the discovery of a missing child, found near the very same woods in Rob's hometown of Knocknaree. Could it be the same killer? As Rob and Cassie delve into the case even further, Rob dives deeper and deeper into the case, to the point of sleepless nights and too much alcohol. When he begins to see things, confused events that blend with past memories that are just now starting to come out, even his trusted partner Cassie begins to feel a trickle of doubt.

I don't think I can do this book justice and convey eloquently how incredibly caught up I was in this story. French's writing is what brings psychological thrillers to the next level, and each characters' story is delivered efficiently, yet with striking prose, and I know I would be remiss if I didn't pick up her next books immediately upon release date. The strength of this story is not just in the chilling plot itself, but more with French's characters, each of whom have a past to contend with. Partners Rob and Cassie are an incredible duo, and certain events they experience throughout this case simultaneously made me giddy with glee and heartbreakingly devastated. What a fearless and fierce debut!

There's no question I will collect Tana French's first edition hardcovers to put on my shelves for permanent safekeeping.  And as much as I love horror stories (I listened to the audiobook for The Exorcist, for cryin' out loud), there were several sections in this book that I actually found much creepier (which I loved, by the way).

Tana French delivers a powerful debut, a mystery mixed full with psychological conundrums and beautiful writing, with the final pages resulting in a combination of sadness for its end, and anticipation for the next in the series. With a brilliant story and characters, and a questionable ending which can only be served by following the series, this intelligently told tale will keep you engrossed in its pages long after closing the book.

Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Release Date: 5/27/08
Pages: 464

Others said (If I've missed your review, let me know so I can link to it here):

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the book two years ago.

About the Author (from her website)
Tana French is the Edgar Award winning author for In the Woods and the author of The Likeness, Faithful Place, and Broken Harbor. She grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theatre, film and voiceover.

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01 November 2012

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

This is the second in The Passage trilogy.

In The Passage, told mostly through emails and journal entries, the world was destroyed by a virus created in a government lab, injected into twelve death row inmates. Breaking free from confinement, these "virals" possess increased strength, power, and infinity, living off human blood. Within months, the world once known is no more. One hundred years later, the Colony survives in a self-imposed compound, protected by the lights that shine throughout night, shielding them from virals. When the batteries keeping the lights on die, the Colony must find another way to survive.

The Twelve picks up where The Passage left off from the first section, immediately following the aftermath in Year Zero. Moving from that year and progressing with certain sections throughout the next 100 years, the original Colony residents (Peter, Michael, Alicia, and Amy) return and the remaining humans in America have created small factions of government and military. Members of the Colony have immersed into the world, several lost. Finding the original group, led by Amy, a young girl who, while her blood is merged with the virus injected into her by the government lab 100 years prior, doesn't live off blood at all. The only indication that she is different is that it has taken her a century to grow from an adolescent to a young woman, but she also possesses a powerful internal way to communicate with the original Twelve virals, and their "Many." Through a violent journey that encompasses a wide range of villains from the original twelve virals, their Many, and from corrupted humans enslaving their own, The Twelve is another fierce installment in the trilogy.

My Thoughts.
First, let me say I read The Passage and I loved it. I couldn't put it down and read it in a few days. The initial jump from events following the aftermath to 100 years later with the Colony was a little jarring at first, but then I settled into it. One note I had from that reading was that I didn't like how Cronin would lead you into a spectacular event and then the section would end. The next page would be the results of that spectacular event, but he never allowed you to dig your heels into what was actually happening as it occurred. That was frustrating, and it happened often enough that I made a note of it, but all in all, it was an incredible story and world, and I loved every page of it.

I picked up The Twelve the day it was released. It was ON. I was ready to pick the amazing story back up and for the first one hundred or so pages, I was enjoying it. I thought.

You know that feeling you have when you pick up a random book because it sounds amazing and right away, you feel unsure, brushing off the disjointed storytelling because you're confident it will clear up soon? There's this nagging suspicion that maybe, the book is part of a series and you might be right in the middle of it? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

The problem is that I obviously knew this was the 2nd in a trilogy. I read the first one and I loved it. I knew the characters, I knew the story.

While I didn't mind that Cronin jumped right into Year Zero and introduced new characters following the aftermath of the virals' exposure to humans, I was disappointed. The Passage concluded with such intensity that I was ready to pick up from there, keeping consistent pace with tension-building and fear. Once I realized that just wasn't going to happen, I settled in with the characters and spent 150 pages with them and it was...interesting. It was decidedly slow, and there was just not a lot of suspense, at least not the way Cronin was so magnificent with building in The Passage, and so I spent the majority of my time fighting this horrible guilt, aware that I wasn't enjoying it. I was confused with the jump in timelines and I had this eerie and remote sense of detachment. It is a clear-cut lesson for me that if the time between installments in a series is more than two years, I simply need to re-read the one that came right before it. Or, at the very least, I need to hop onto Wikipedia and read the Cliff Notes version of the book to remind myself of events and characters. (Which I didn't think of until later.)

Yet even re-reading The Passage, I still would have waffled in confusion. There were too many new characters, and events which jumped all over the place. I spent the majority of my time drifting aimlessly and I even rushed through events in the end. I can't believe I did that.

There were just too many confusing elements, events, new characters that came and went, and timeline switches to be engaging. I missed the mostly epistolary format Cronin used in The Passage. With increased melodrama and shocking soap-opera like moments (Wait, that's really her father? And then someone else found their daughter?!), it just missed the mark for me. Don't get me wrong, I'll still pick up the final installment, but this post serves as a reminder for me to be more on guard. I missed the original universe, the feeling of being swept away into a story, the scary setup of the story, and most especially the refined method of storytelling Cronin previously implemented. This was just a little too scattered for me to really get into. I'm so disappointed to share that.

But, I have no idea what I'm talking about.
As I always say (er, write) in my posts, please remember that there is a reader for every book, and my opinion is simply my own. There are more than enough readers who loved this book. A simple check on Goodreads should give you more insight. After all, it currently has a 4.18 starred review rating, coming from 1,786 readers.

Favorite Characters.
  • Alicia. She rocked. Didn't understand the scenes where she was confined, or with Sod, though.
  • Ah, the disgusting Guilder. There was a lot of depth to the early introductions of his character and the reasons that clouded his judgement. While the concluding pages of his deterioration were a bit insane, I will recall fondly how villainous and interesting he was in the first half of the book.
  • Lila has gone cray-cray. Oh, Lila, you are nuts. But sheesh, you're funny even when it's horrifyingly sad and I think you're awesome.
  • Danny. I just love this guy. The determined bus driver who tries to drive everyone to safety. I want to be your friend. If they do end up making the movies for this trilogy, you doggone better be in it.
  • Peter and Michael. Equal parts goodness. Loved ya both.

Characters I didn't care about.
  • Amy. Sorry, I just wasn't as interested in her tale. Although I did feel the sad points in her interactions with Wolgast. Broke my heart.
  • Lore. I just thought she was a little over-sexed and it didn't seem genuine.

Comparisons to The Stand?
I felt bad for Cronin a couple years ago when readers began comparing The Passage trilogy to Stephen King's The Stand. When I first read The Passage in January 2011, I hadn't read King's epic tale, so I couldn't see it. This year, however, I did read The Stand, and yes, I can completely see why there were multiple comparisons. There really are a lot of similarities, and for a few excellent side-by-side references, head on over to Fizzy Thoughts' page. I would also add to her list that Lacey was essentially Mother Abagail from The Stand and that Farmstead in The Passage trilogy is Hemingford Home. If I were to continue to make comparisons, though, I would say that while Cronin has a gift for writing, I much prefer King's "plainspeak." There's just no fluffed up pretty way to spell out that it's a cold day, for example, so in King's world, it just is so damn cold it'll freeze your n1pples off. Know what I'm sayin'?

But, either way, The Twelve, while it didn't work for me, picked the story ball up and carried it for yet another game. I'm still committed to Justin Cronin's trilogy and I will eagerly await the final installment.

Publisher: Ballantine Books, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: 10/16/12
Pages: 568

Others said:
A Bookish Way of Life
The Boston Bibliophile
Fizzy Thoughts
The Guilded Earlobe (audio review)

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book from my local bookstore in Virginia Beach.

About the Author
Born in New England, Justin Cronin is the author of Mary and O'Neil, which won the Pen/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize, and The Summer Guest.  Having earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, Cronin is now a professor of English at Rice University and lives with his family in Houston, Texas.

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This is my final selection for Carl's RIP celebration. For other participants' reviews, please click here.