Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline

by Rainbow Rowell

Landline

Original Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Length:310  pages
Obtained Via: Library
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

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Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

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It pains me to say it, but I have found a Rainbow Rowell book that I am sadly not head-over-heels in love with. Landline is a fine book, but when compared to Rowell’s previous work, it just doesn’t match up, from the characters to the prose. To be fair, I would never normally pick up a book with a synopsis like Landline, since books about people struggling with their marriage don’t really interest me, especially when there are kids involved. However, Rowell has managed to make me fall in love with premises I’ve side-eyed before(namely, Attachments), so I gave it a shot.

I don’t really read Rainbow Rowell’s books for plot–I read them for the writing and the characters. However, Landline completely subverted that. I found myself more interested in the plot and the idea of the magical phone than the characters and their problems. Unfortunately, Landline suffered from the fact that I found all the secondary characters infinitely more interesting than Georgie and Neal, especially Neal. I’m not sure if that was because of the narrative distance on Neal(after all, for most of the story Georgie is talking to a Neal in the past, not a Neal in the future).

In fact, I found the past much more interesting in the future, since in the flashbacks to college Georgie seemed dynamic and interesting and Neal seemed sweet, though still rather flat. Rowell is normally so good about writing chemistry between her romantic leads, and Georgie and Neal’s relationship wasn’t exactly flat but it didn’t sizzle or spark either. I’ve always appreciated the realness of Rowell’s romance so I wasn’t expecting flashy or perfect, but everything just seemed so mundane. I didn’t even know if I wanted to root for Georgie and Neal.

I did appreciate the work the characters had to put into their relationship, something that isn’t always portrayed realistically in fiction. I wanted to want them to work out, but there was never that pull while I was reading. Partially I think this was due to the nature of the story–so much of it takes place with Georgie and Neal talking over the phone, and that can only be so compelling, which might also be a reason I thought the college flashbacks were just more interesting and better written.

The one aspect I really enjoyed of Landline was the magic phone. I was skeptical of this not-quite-time-travel device until about halfway through, but I *did* like the situations present-Georgie and past-Neal found themselves in. I thought it would be waved away in the end, and while there’s no in-depth details of how the phone works, I found myself not being bothered by it because of the role it played in the story.

Unfortunately, Landline didn’t really do it for me, mostly because the characters seemed to really lack any spark. The relationship dynamic explored was interesting, but while reading I felt like I was observing it in a very detached, clinical way, like the way I might feel if I was examining some scientific specimen under a microscope in my 10th grade biology class.

 

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A least favorite Rainbow Rowell book is still a good book, but Landline just lacked the spark of life her previous works had. While I understood the motivations behind the story, I never got swept up in the characters and their lives. 3/5 cupcakes.

3cupcakes

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Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

This is Not a Test

by Courtney Summers

This is Not a Test

Original Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Length: 326 pages
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin

Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
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It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

 

howwasit
Those who know me well know that I am not a fan of zombie novels. This is Not a Test is the third zombie novel I’ve actually tried, and I have yet to give one more than 3 stars. That being said, This is Not a Test isn’t a zombie novel–not really. Instead, it’s a character-focused novel that uses a zombie apocalypse as a sort of framing device and a way to get the main character to examine herself and her life.
Sloane is ready for it to be over, all of it. After her older sister left Sloane with their abusive father, Sloane is barely hanging on, and she’s ready to end it–when the zombies start coming up from the grave. Her survival is one of accident, not determination.By almost sheer accident she ends up trapped in her old school with five other people who want to live when she does not–but she’s also not willing to put them in complete danger just to escape life. The zombies take over the world outside while Sloane–and the five others–try to adjust to life inside.

It’s an interesting premise and I liked the zombies as almost a rhetorical device. They are real threats, and they are present, but they’re not constant. It creates a spooky affect, one I find almost always works better in books–the threat that you can’t see all the time, but is always there, just in the background. That alone made me more open to This is Not a Test than I might otherwise be.

Seeing the world through Sloane’s eyes was an interesting choice, and in the end, I think it worked. So often main characters in books such as This is Not a Test want to fight for survival, even if they don’t know what survival means. Having a main character who isn’t sure she wants to survive was a way for the book to ask some questions that are often glossed over in survival stories. The six students trapped in the school might figure out a way to ride out the zombies and survive, but what does that really mean for their lives–and it is a life worth fighting for? This is Not a Test doesn’t go the easy route and say life is worth it just for inherent value, but makes Sloane–and the reader–really think about survival instinct(or in Sloane’s case, the lack thereof).

However, while all the big questions and themes that surrounded This is Not a Test worked for me, the story itself felt a little lacking. While I appreciated the introspective questions that haunted Sloane, the story line itself dragged in places. The five other characters trapped in the school with Sloane felt underdeveloped most of the time. While there were character moments for them here and there, they were difficult to tell apart. The story depended on these other characters as well, and it was difficult to really think about This is Not a Test whenever the story line was so slow.

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I liked the idea of This is Not a Test more than I liked the story. While This is Not a Test raised some interesting questions, I found the storyline a little disappointing. I appreciated the book, but I’m not sure I really liked it. 3/5 stars.

3cupcakes

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3 Reasons: Pride & Prejudice

3 Reasons: Pride & Prejudice

3 reasons

Today I’m kicking off a new feature, 3 Reasons! 3 Reasons is basically a way to talk about books I either a)read before I started blogging, or b)thought I couldn’t properly review, even in a mini-format. 3 Reasons is basically me picking a book & discussing 3 things about it–either 3 reasons I loved it, 3 reasons it impacted me, 3 reasons I recommend it, or a mixture of all of those.

For the debut of this feature, the first book I wanted to talk about is Pride & Prejudice.

1. It’s a classic

Obviously P&P is a classic in the sense that it’s generally included in discussions of vague literary canon & such, but I mean this on another level too–the story, the plot, has become such a classic. Retellings aren’t limited to P&P, but I see more P&P retelling than I do any other type of retelling except maybe fairy-tales. When you add in works that aren’t quite retellings but are heavily inspired by P&P, that number jumps even higher. It’s an incredibly popular story and it seems to work.

2. Clever Characters

This is probably the main reason I love Pride & Prejudice. Both Darcy & Elizabeth Bennett are just so smart, and I love that.

3. The plot

When people think of P&P, they tend to think about the romance between Darcy & Elizabeth, but I also love what this cast of characters is able to do. There’s so many twists & turns between Elizabeth, her sisters, and the men that enter(and sometimes leave) their lives. It gets quite twisty and maybe not exactly suspenseful, but complicated, on some level.

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Book Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Book Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Beware the Wild

by Natalie C. Parker

Beware the Wild

Expected Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins

Obtained Via: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via Edelweiss from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review, and this is no way affects my opinion of the book.
Format Read In: E-ARC
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It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp — the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance — and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.

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I tend to stay away from books that hype up a “southern” setting. I’ve read plenty of books in the south that I’ve liked(and I’m from Texas, so, you know. . .) but for some reason “southern literature” tends to just grate on my nerves. I saw how much focus was on the setting for Beware the Wild in the blurb, but I decided to take a chance–and for once, it worked out. I thought I could feel the sticky, humid air on my skin while reading. It was incredibly atmospheric and transported me straight to Sticks, Louisiana. It was one of those reading experiences where my couch and living room faded away and I was as knee-deep in the muck of the swap as Sterling was.

Before reading I thought Beware the Wild would be a bit of a creepy read, but while it was atmospheric, creepy isn’t the word I would use. Unsettling, perhaps. There’s almost a folk-lore or fairy-tale like quality to the story, amplified by the town’s history with the swap. As Sterling tries to figure out the mystery of the swap and her brother, she learns about the town’s history and her own family’s history with the town.

There are some strange things that happen in Beware the Wild, but I was so caught up in the story I didn’t even realize until after I was done. And, of course, I’ve been known to like strange books. Sterling was a bit of an enigmatic character at first, but I came to find her endearing, especially seeing how much she cared about her brother. The sibling factor is played up a lot in Beware the Wild, as it plays into Lenora May’s back story too. I would say Beware the Wild is about siblings at heart.

About halfway through, it seemed like Sterling was making good progress with her quest to save her brother from the swap and I was a bit unsure. It felt like it was all playing too convenient, without enough conflict. Well, I certainly got my reader’s wish in the end. Nothing was as cut-and-dry as it seemed at the beginning. Early on, Lenora May appears completely villainous, sacrificing Phin to save herself from the swap. Sterling is understandably unsettled as everyone remembers Lenora May as Sterling’s sister and all Sterling can see is a monster. It becomes clear, though, that’s there’s some humanizing aspects to Lenora May. Beware the Wild flips character perception a LOT, and I loved the book a little for it.

Based on the blurb, I was expecting the romance to be a bigger part of the book than it was. The romance definitely took up some page time(including a few awe-worthy moments), but it never overshadowed the story of Beware the Wild like I was afraid it might. It’s also a romance that starts with two people coming together for a common interest, which is the romance I feel I tend to like more in books than just attraction. Sterling gets a LOT of stuff thrown at her in Beware the Wild and she definitely needs the support.

If you like atmospheric reads that have a folklore quality, I highly recommend Beware the Wild. It wasn’t really what I thought it would be at all. The paranormal aspects had a dreamy, hazy quality to them and the setting was painted wonderfully. While the plot seems pretty simple from the beginning, I enjoyed the journey.

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 Beware the Wild was definitely a different sort of story. It’s a book filled with atmospheric writing and characters that still don’t want to leave my head. 4/5 cupcakes.

4cupcakes

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Book Review: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

Book Review: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

The Fall

by Bethany Griffin

The Fall

Expected Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Length:400 pages
Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for consideration of an honest review from the publisher. This in no way influenced my final opinion.
Publisher: HarperCollins

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Madeline Usher is doomed.

She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.

Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.

In the end, can Madeline keep her own sanity and bring the house down? The Fall is a literary psychological thriller, reimagining Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher.

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Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories were my introduction into the world of the creepy and the horrifying. Growing up, I would occasionally read the books of scary stories to tell in the dark that got past from hand to hand, but other than that I stayed away from anything that could scare me. I clearly remember reading The Cask of Amontillado in my sophomore English class and being both terrified and slightly intrigued. From then on, I began cautiously exploring Poe’s story and poems. All that to say, I will always immediately jump on the chance to read a Poe retelling. It’s a difficult task for any book to face because I love the original stories, but I had read Griffin’s Masque of the Red Death so I decided to try The Fall.

The Fall started off so, so great and haunting. Madeleine, the main character, wakes up alive in a coffin. Being buried alive is a pretty common fear and it’s a well-used plot device in books and movies, but to start with that scene? I was immediately hooked. Griffin’s writing was so descriptive that I could just imagine Madeleine in that coffin and kept shuddering.

Unfortunately, the rest of The Fall didn’t live up to opening chapter due to pacing. There was never a point in reading The Fall where I wasn’t interested in the plot–however, there were tons of areas where it lagged. The middle of the book especially seemed to be chapter after chapter of something creepy happening in the house. Those things were hardly ever connected and all seemed to be there to show just how malignant the house itself was. It became a book full of atmosphere but not much driving the plot forward.

The Fall is told in a split timeline, which also contributes to some of the pacing issues. The short chapters are broken up into headings that tell the reader how old Madeleine is. This technique worked for the beginning of the book, when there was still some mystery about the house–was the house really sentient? What’s wrong with Madeleine’s mother? How unreliable of a narrator is Madeleine? By halfway through, though, the time jump seemed to distract from the story rather than enhance it.

Of course, considering how much the house is both the setting and a character, the main character is stuck to one place for most of the book. That’s difficult to keep interesting, and Griffin did a good job of really exploring the characteristics of the house and also expanding the cast of characters. There are doctors and strangers who come it from the outside, and I really enjoyed these secondary characters for the most part. I think The Fall would have been quite boring if it had only focused solely on Madeleine.

The Fall, while focused on Madeleine, is very much a family story. The Ushers are an ancient family and seemed to have quite an extended bloodline, considering how many characters in the novel seem to have at least a bit of Usher blood. The Ushers are said to have some sort of diseased “curse” which passes to one of the off-spring the longer the family stays in the house(though they also can’t leave). There’s also some incest subtext which may contribute to the curse also(as well as my desire to scrub the icky off of me). A large part of the story is the tension with Madeleine’s brother, as at one point he’s sent away from the house to keep from coming down with the family illness. Madeleine wants her brother safe, but she also wants him around, too. This is one of the aspects of The Fall that made me like it in the end, despite my complaints, because I always like sibling stories.

Overall, I was slightly disappointed in The Fall, but I still LIKED it. I just wasn’t as enamored with it as I had hope. Some of the middle chapters could be cut and the story would essentially still be the same. If it weren’t for the pacing issue, The Fall would be a really great book. As it is, it’s an atmospheric and spooky read but not one that begs to be returned to again and again.

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The Fall had a lot to live up to as a retelling of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. While it did have some problems(mainly pacing and the time-jumping technique that didn’t really work for this particular story), it on the whole was a fairly creepy atmospheric read. 3/5 cupcakes.

3cupcakes

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