Sunday, May 15, 2016

Recently Read: In-Depth Reviews - May 2016 Edition

I originally wanted to post something else between Tuesday's Show Us Your Books! link-up post and my more in-depth book reviews today, but I just didn't get around to writing another post in time. I promise I'll write about more than just books next week. (Though, really, I'd probably be happy to just write about books all the time because I'm a huge booknerd!)

My more condensed reviews of these books can be found in the aforementioned link-up post (if you haven't read them already). These more in-depth reviews are mostly written for me since I really like to take some time to reflect on what I've just read.

That being said, I always hope that at least one person finds them useful. Sometimes I have to read a few reviews (or at least one or two more in-depth reviews) before deciding whether a book might be worth my time, especially if I was on the fence about it. Obviously people are going to have very different opinions about the same books (which is why reading reviews/discussing books is so awesome!), but I usually find reviews helpful, especially if the personal tastes of the reviewer align with my own.

So let's get to it!

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Do Not Disturb by A.R. Torre - 357 pages

Completed on 04/16/2016
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This is the second book in the Deanna Madden trilogy, so if you haven't read the first book (The Girl in 6E), I wouldn't recommend picking this up. It would probably be okay as a stand-alone, but I think you'd miss a lot of the background information that explains why Deanna lives and thinks the way she does. Although Torre brings parts of Deanna's background up a few times in Do Not Disturb, I think I would have been mostly lost if I hadn't read the first book. (Not to mention the fact that there are references to characters and events from the first book that probably wouldn't make sense if I'd started with this book.)

In Do Not Disturb, Deanna is further testing her boundaries to determine just how much freedom she can handle without giving in to her murderous urges. She thinks she'll go completely insane if she keeps herself locked up in her apartment, so she decides to take small steps to reacquaint herself with the outside world.

Also testing his newfound freedom after nearly two years in prison, Marcus Renza (a.k.a. "freebird71"), finds Deanna (known online as "Jessica Reilly") on a sex cam site. Uncomfortable with his constant questions about where she lives, Deanna eventually blocks him from her site completely. What she doesn't know is that Marcus has become obsessed with finding her, and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Do Not Disturb is the type of book that's read solely for entertainment. The writing isn't what I'd call amazing, and it didn't make me feel a lot of strong emotions or pose thought-provoking questions ... But I still really liked the book.

I felt like I understood Deanna a little more after reading this book. Readers are given a lot of background about her troubled past in The Girl in 6E, but I felt like her bloodlust sometimes came off as unbelievable. I don't think this aspect of her character was toned down at all in Do Not Disturb, but she began to seem more like a capable and intelligent woman and less like a frenzied, almost feral child. (Given her profession as a sex cam girl, it was odd to think of her as childlike, but in the first book she did sort of give off this weird juvenile vibe at times.)

I also really liked that Torre spent some time focusing on Mike in this book. He was a minor character in The Girl in 6E, and I enjoyed learning more about the man that Deanna considers one of the only people she can trust.

There were a few things that annoyed me about the book, though. Most of the things can't be shared without giving away spoilers, so I'll just say that I'm generally not a fan of things just easily falling into place. I realize that these books are meant to be fun (and are therefore not exactly strongly rooted in reality), but when things just conveniently work out for characters throughout a novel, it kind of grates on my nerves. I'm not saying that people don't ever have good luck or anything like that ... But when nearly everything goes smoothly for characters in order to propel a story forward, it annoys me. I guess I just wanted to see a slightly different outcome in at least one case. (Again, sorry to be vague. I just really hate spoilers!)

Overall, Do Not Disturb was an enjoyable read worthy of 4 stars. I probably would have read it in just a couple of days if I'd had a little more free time. The story kept me interested, and I'm looking forward to finding out how Torre will end the series.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven - 378 pages

Completed on 04/20/2016
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I seriously considered writing an entire post focusing only on this book, but I think I can (probably) say everything I want to say here.

After losing her older sister in a car accident, Violet is finding it difficult to cope. Nearly a year later, she's still struggling with her grief and counting down the days until she graduates from high school and can (hopefully) move on with her life, far away from the small town in Indiana that holds too many memories.

Finch is also struggling, but his demons are different. He's dealt with mental illness throughout much of his life, becoming a target for harassment and ridicule from his classmates. Obsessed with death, he often fantasizes about what it would be like to finally leave everything behind for good.

After a chance meeting on the ledge of the bell tower at their high school, it's unclear who saves whom. One thing is for sure: Violet and Finch are about to change each other's lives forever.

When I first picked up All the Bright Places, I thought it would probably stir up some emotions. I mean, what else could I expect? This is a book about people dealing with depression and significant loss (two things I can personally identify with). What I didn't expect was that I would hysterically sob through the last 45 pages or so, crying so hard that I could barely catch my breath. (And that's why I always try to finish books like this in the privacy of my own home!)

This book broke my heart, but in the best possible way. The two main characters were quirky, but in a way that felt real to me. I've seen some reviewers on Goodreads argue that they're too quirky, but I disagree (though maybe that's because I've done a number of the things they do in the book, especially as a teenager/young adult).

I really appreciated the effort to really look at mental illness for what it is. In my opinion, this isn't a book that romanticizes suicide (though I'm sure some would disagree). This is a book that attempts to explain why someone might feel as though that's the only option and why, even when you know there are people who really, truly love you, sometimes that's just not enough.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you or someone you love is dealing with or has dealt with mental illness. Regardless of the humor and quirkiness, All the Bright Places touches on some very important (and very real) things that shouldn't just be swept under the rug and never talked about. (As people often seem to want to do when it comes to depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, etc.)

A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah - 419 pages

Completed on 04/27/2016
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I'll start this by saying that I felt a little guilty for not enjoying this book more than I did. My library offers the opportunity to recommend/request up to five books to purchase each month. I've requested a lot of books since I started going to the library regularly, and quite a few of them have been purchased. Obviously that's awesome, but when I request a book and then don't love it, I kind of feel bad about it. And, since I requested A Game for All the Family, I kind of felt bad for not giving it a higher rating (and, really, it was probably more like a 2.75, but I just rounded up).

The plot itself was intriguing: After quitting her high powered, high stress job in London, Justine moves to a large country estate in Devon with her husband and 13-year-old daughter. It should be a great time for them to reconnect as a family and enjoy a more relaxing lifestyle, but things begin to change soon after they move in.

Justine's daughter, Ellen, becomes withdrawn and depressed when her best friend, George, is expelled from school for a minor misunderstanding. When Justine attempts to discuss the matter with the head teacher, she can't believe what she's being told: no one has recently been expelled and there is, and has never been, a child by the name of George Donbavand enrolled in that school.

Then the strange, anonymous calls begin. At first Justine thinks the caller has her confused with someone else, but, as the calls become increasingly threatening, she begins to fear for her family's safety ... And she wonders if she may share a history with this anonymous caller after all.

I expected this book to be a little weird, but it was honestly one of the strangest things I've ever read. 

There are essentially two storylines going on throughout the entire novel: the story of Justine and her family and a story written by her daughter, Ellen, about an unusual family that used to live in the home they've just moved to. I actually really like books that are stories within stories, but only when the stories can be brought together in an interesting way. Unfortunately, in this case I found the way the stories were brought together to be completely unsatisfying. 

Since Sophie Hannah wrote such a strange book, I felt like she could have taken things in a million different directions and it would still feel at least somewhat believable in the context of the story. And, while it definitely wasn't what I'd consider overly predictable, A Game for All the Family could have been so much better if she'd taken a different approach to the big reveal and final conclusion.

As it was written, I was mostly just like:

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The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad - 371 pages

Completed on 04/30/2016
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I was really looking forward to reading The Silent Girls after both Erin and Steph gave it glowing reviews, and I'm happy to say that it didn't disappoint!

Frank Rath, former detective turned private investigator, has been asked to assist in a case involving a missing young woman. As the investigation progresses, Rath, Grout, and Test (the members of the police force he's working with on this case) realize that several young women in the area have vanished in a relatively short amount of time. Could these women all be linked in some way? Determined to find the answer to that question, they uncover some surprising truths and discover that evil lurks even in the smallest towns.

The Silent Girls opens with a scene right out of a horror movie. I, of course, was instantly hooked.

Unfortunately, the pace of the story slowed down considerably after that, picking up again closer to the end of the novel. I generally don't mind books that require some time to get into, but it can be a little frustrating when the book is a thriller. Don't get me wrong: I really enjoyed this book and gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. I just wish Rickstad hadn't taken so long to get to the good stuff.

On the plus side, I really liked Rath. He was a flawed hero with an interesting past, and I enjoyed learning more about his life and why he'd chosen to give up his career as a detective. I also really appreciated that Rickstad took the story in an interesting and (mostly) surprising direction. While I figured out what the missing girls might have in common well before it was revealed, Rickstad still kept me guessing throughout much of the rest of the story.

There were plenty of WTF moments (which I always appreciate!), and, although I thought some things were a little too neatly wrapped up, I loved the cliffhanger at the end! I know that's not the kind of ending everyone loves, but it made me really excited to see what Rickstad comes up with in his next novel featuring Frank Rath. (And there will be another book, according to a comment the author left on Goodreads in response to that question.)

Version Control by Dexter Palmer - 495 pages

Completed 05/09/2016
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After I finish the final page of a book, I usually know what sort of rating I'll give it. I also usually know at least a few points I'll want to touch on when I write my reviews. However, there are times when I have so many mixed feelings that I need some extra time to process it before trying to explain my thoughts in a review. Version Control was one of those books.

Although she feels like she has mostly moved past the grief and depression that surrounded her following a personal tragedy, Rebecca can't seem to shake the feeling that something is wrong with everything. What if things actually aren't as they should be?

Her husband, Philip, is consumed by his work on his invention, the causality violation device. Although the idea is great in theory (just don't call it a time machine!), his repeated failures have stalled his career and made him a laughingstock in the physics community. But what if these failures aren't really failures at all?

My biggest issue with Version Control is that it tries to be too many things all at once. It's a book filled with thoughts on science, technology, family dynamics, ethics, grief, alcoholism, guilt, race, time travel, and so much more. I don't think Palmer did a bad job tying all of these things together, but there were times when I felt like it was just too much. I think Version Control could have been split into at least two completely different books with a completely different cast of characters without losing the overall meaning of the story.

To be perfectly honest, I decided to read it because I thought it had a cool cover. I knew a little bit about it (based on the short summary on my library's website), but I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it overall. I mean, science fiction isn't really my thing. (Though I'm admittedly fascinated by the idea of time travel!)

Version Control can be a little science heavy at times, but I don't think you have to be a scientist in order to understand it. I will say, though, that some things rang very true for me, particularly the fact that science isn't magic: results are almost never immediate. You also don't give up when your original idea of how things should work is contradicted by the results of an experiment. 

That being said, my area of expertise is not physics. In fact, physics was my most hated, most difficult college course. I actually thought organic chemistry was much easier than physics, which is apparently very surprising to most people based on their, "Are you kidding me?" reactions to that statement. I share this only because I don't want anyone to think they need to be some kind of physics genius in order to read and understand the ideas presented in this book. 

Unfortunately, as I said before, I felt like the story lacked focus. Palmer had a lot of really interesting ideas, but it seemed to take forever to reach the final conclusion. I understand why he chose to include many of the things he did, but maybe he was a little too ambitious when he sat down to write this book. 

I was really torn when it came to rating this book. In the end, I gave it 3 stars because it was a thought-provoking, complex story filled with realistic, well-developed characters. I mostly enjoyed it, but at times it just dragged on and felt like it was trying to be too many things at once. 


  1. 6E is in for me at the library, I'm excited to go pick it up this week and start that series/whatever it'll end up being.

  2. Interesting comments regarding Do Not Disturb. I read The Girl in 6E sometime last year, but wasn't in a rush to proceed to the second book. I may bump it up in the cue, especially if I can figure a way to work it into one of the upcoming challenges I'm participating in! I also have The Silent Girls on my TBR. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it.

    Ericka from A Quiet Girl’s Musings…