Required Reading Revisited – August

In the Required Reading Revisited Book Club we focus on books considered “Required Reading” by most educational institutions, i.e. books you read (or were supposed to read) in school – either high …

Source: Required Reading Revisited – August

Awoken: The Lucidites, Book One

awoken

By: Sarah Noffke

Narrated By: Elizabeth Klett

GoodReads Summary: Around the world humans are hallucinating after sleepless nights.

In a sterile, underground institute the forecasters keep reporting the same events.

And in the backwoods of Texas, a sixteen-year-old girl is about to be caught up in a fierce, ethereal battle.

Meet Roya Stark. She drowns every night in her dreams, spends her hours reading classic literature to avoid her family’s ridicule, and is prone to premonitions—which are becoming more frequent. And now her dreams are filled with strangers offering to reveal what she has always wanted to know: Who is she? That’s the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out. But will Roya live to regret learning the truth?

(I received a free audible copy in exchange for an honest review.)

I find it interesting that the beginning of the story drops the reader directly into the story, so much so that it doesn’t feel like the first book. I think I even did a bit of googling to make sure this was the first in the series, that I hadn’t missed something vital. (I hate reading things out of turn.)

After listening to the story from beginning to end, I am thankful that Noffke did not take us through the often overdone mysterious and usually unbelievable origin story. I’m glad we simply learned through reflection Roya’s immediate past. Of course, I still think that opening should throw off most readers, but judging by the majority of the reviews, it simply doesn’t. (Just browsing, I notice there are very few reviews rating lower than three stars.)

I also notice the comparison to The Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games / Catching Fire / Mockingjay and Divergent (Divergent Series). It is only comparable in the sense that we’re seeing many of the same tropes that occur in every other “young adult” novel. So definitely expect that. But don’t expect the drama and bloodshed from Hunger Games. Don’t expect the secondary characters to ostracize the main character until the MC proves herself like Divergent tends to do.

Noffke creates a unique blend of characters. The ones that make up Roya’s team are more understanding and welcoming than most. The characters we are supposed to either hate or write off as “bad” for whatever reason are extreme. For instance, Roya’s “family” is of a kind I’ve never had the displeasure to meet or read of before, (excepting the way Harry Potter’s family treated him.) Goat girl is the extreme kind of entitled bitch we expect to dislike but she takes it to a completely new level.

Sarah Noffke has a unique turn of phrase. Descriptions from setting to character movement and emotion are interesting and keep you listening.

The villain is a nominal character entering the stage at not quite the end making this story’s focus on Roya’s characterization. This story is about Roya learning about herself, about her past, her powers and what is expected of her.

It is not one of those books where the ending is not really an ending but a cliffhanger intended to generate books sales for the sequel. It actually has an ending with the whisper of a promise for future books. (Of course, I say that now, even knowing there are two more books in the Lucidite series.)

There are certain things I look for with female narrators. I’m beginning to think that makes me a little picky, especially since there are tons of audiophiles out there who don’t care who narrates as long as they are good and the production quality is good.

I pick male narrators for nighttime listening. Not that I expect the book to be bad enough to bore me to sleep, but something about a deep voice is calming and sometimes keeps insomnia at bay. (I mean, James Marsters reading the Dresden Files (15 books)….aaahhhhh.)

Female narrators are for daytime. Their voices are of a higher pitch, enough to keep me awake, focused and attentive.

These narrators have to create distinct voices for each character, create believable accents that don’t grate on the nerves like nails on a chalkboard, and for those females, they have to lack that whiny quality most females put into their main character (especially, those poor melancholy teenagers with an overabundance of angst.)

Elizabeth Klett does a good job fulfilling my requirements which makes me wonder why she doesn’t feel right in the role of Roya. I’d be hard pressed to find a better female narrator who fit into my pickiest of standards, but Elizabeth just does not sound like Roya.

Of course, everyone has their opinion and I keep browsing through other reviews to find one like mine (there are none as of yet, if you wanted to know).

As for the series of books…even though I have only read two of Noffke’s dream walking worlds, I would recommend them simply for their considerable entertainment.

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Raising a Glass – a note from me

bestsellers2

The past few days found me perusing some different avenues for new book suggestions. I’ve glanced through the New York Times book reviews, skimmed a page from a fashion magazine, even actually clicked on Audible’s suggestions of “great new reads.”

Maybe I’m not the target audience for those bursts of recommendations. I don’t run to the bestseller lists. I don’t read what everyone else is reading just because I see it on everyone’s reading list, coffee table and twitter post.

(Although I might grab a hugely discounted copy or borrow from the library after months of hype.

I actually read all of Twilight, thinking it might get better. And for my sister who bought the copy for me.

I’m still trying to forge through Fifty Shades. I think I might be in chapter two.

Both of which insulted my intelligence, my hard-earned English degree and my sense of art in fiction.)

I’ve found myself in recent years more open to new authors and more respectful of the effort it takes to get published (when you don’t know/blow someone in the editor chairs).

But I do have a few genres I stick with, because I like them, not because they are popular. So I never read Eat, Pray, Love or the Life of Pi. That doesn’t discount them as being good or bad according to my one opinion among many. And it doesn’t make me look smarter if I have read them.

I don’t belong to a book club. I don’t follow the crowd. I don’t read popular books because they are popular. I read the books that fall into a broad category of genres that I enjoy. That way, when I review them, I have experience to back up my opinions. I know the rules and tropes and I know that when those are artfully broken it won’t fit into a specific label.

That is why, when I am actually approached to do a review (rare and exciting), I appreciate the one who’s researched even the tiniest bit my reading habits. (That is probably the most you’ll find on me online: what I read.)

I appreciate finding authors who are a little twisted in the imagination and don’t follow the formula scene by scene.

I appreciate authors who push the boundaries of their genres at every level, from those who just kind of nudge them out of shape to those who burst through, shattering rainbows of happiness.

I appreciate those who have the fortitude to pursue their dreams and get that nagging story out for writing the story not just churning out the formulas with cliché after cliché.

So I’m raising my glass in a toast to the writers who are artists with passion and dedication and who have enthralled, surprised and entertained me. You may not have the paid for hype, but you have the talent. Thank you for sharing.

The Reluctant Demon


By: Mark Cain

Narrated by: Michael Gilboe

GoodReads Summary: In the wacky final volume of the Circles in Hell series, Steve Minion attends Beast Barracks, where he learns both the arcane and mundane arts of being a servant of the Devil. Strength, speed and endurance are all part of a demon’s physical makeup, but he must be taught to be sneaky, cruel and ruthless… and of course to ignore personal hygiene.

As Steve begins work as a full-fledged bad guy, he must confront the inevitable: demons exist to torment the damned, and Hell’s former handyman-in-chief doesn’t seem to have the stomach for the work.

Still, there’s no alternative for our hero. Once a demon, always a demon, as the saying goes. Steve’s stuck in his new role, but really, what good to anyone is a reluctant demon?

The Reluctant Demon is the fourth volume in the fantasy comedy series, Circles in Hell. It has been compared to other works of “Hell Fiction” including The Screwtape Letters and Good Omens and to the paranormal humor of Tom Holt, Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams.

 

(I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Oh, my. Listening to the second installment of this series (A Cold Day in Hell), I predicted a drop in interest after a few more windows into this uber-developed world. You know, like the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. But even with Mr. Anthony, it took about ten books for my adolescent mind to get bored by the whole thing.

So I’ve listened to four of Mr. Cain’s visions of Hell. I truly thought this beautifully envisioned world would suffer after we spent some time rolling around in this muck of an afterlife. Even though I’ve enjoyed the hell out of all three previous tales (pun intended), I even looked for a drop in writing quality, descriptions, unique turns of phrase…even a lessening of tiny little bombs of surprise and appreciation for vividly imagined characters.

But, I do believe I was wrong. And I am so glad to admit this mistake. Even though Mr. Cain drops us into Chaos, we have to remember that this version of the afterlife does play by some hard and fast rules. Yet, when we live inside Minion’s head for a while, just like him, we tend to forget all of those laws when day-to-day survival focuses on the tiny rules, the ones that Mr. Cain’s version of Hell compels its residents to follow to avoid misery. (Even though, this is hell after all and misery is just a part of it.)

I really do not like spoilers in reviews and avoid them as the populace of Hell avoids saying any words of Grace, so…

All I’m going to say is that Mr. Cain does a fantastic job of distracting the reader with the interesting minutiae of what it is like to survive in this Hell to the point that what should be a predictable end comes as a surprise where I smack my forehead saying, “Damn it, I should have SEEN that! Hell, Minion should have SEEN that one.”

Sometimes I believe a book would be just as good in either written or audible format. Sometimes I’m actually neutral in preference.

This is not one of those times. I believe that audible is the best format for these trips into the underworld. Mr. Gilboe has the perfect voice to transmit the oddities of Hell, a friendly voice keeping you company through a normal day of mundaneness, a beautiful distraction that pulls images from the imagination with little effort. Truly, there should be no other way to trip down Hell’s escalator than with Mr. Gilboe’s voice as an accompaniment. However, if we’re truly envisioning this version of Hell, it would not welcome us with Mr. Gilboe. The welcome message would be read by Gilbert Godfrey. But I hear he has a different position down there.

 

The Experiment of Dreams

the experiment of dreams

By: Brandon Zenner

Narrated by: Jim Tedder

GoodReads Summary: Benjamin Walker’s lifelong career of testing experimental drugs and medicines, as well as participating in fascinating sleep-related studies, has come to an end. A new and lucrative job opportunity is offered to Ben, working on a project named Lucy, a machine capable of reading and recording a person’s dreams in intimate detail. All is finally going well for Ben . . . until strange dreams of a town named Drapery Falls begin to plague him, and memories once hidden begin to reveal themselves. The doctors and staff onboard team Lucy are not who Ben thinks they are, and Mr. Kalispell will stop at nothing to keep Ben’s emerging memories buried for good. Ben is put on a collision course that will bring him to the brink of total insanity, and perhaps even death. At the heart of it all, Ben’s worst enemy is his own mind, and he must confront his past in order to save his future. The twist and turns in The Experiment of Dreams will keep you guessing, down to the very last line.

This book repeatedly appeared in my recommendations on every site: Audible, Amazon, GoodReads, ets. So after reading and re-reading the summary, I think I purchased it when it was free something like a year and  a half ago. I still didn’t find the urge to sit down and read the thing.

Then I found it on Kindle Unlimited with narration. So, ok, I borrowed it and dove in.

Just like all the other three star and below reviews, I was very interested in the very beginning. Even with Ben sort of shrugging his shoulders at the hinky stuff and pressing the accelerator without too much introspection and curiosity, I was kind of ok with that. I mean, you have to put aside your disbelief sometimes, right?

The machine itself, Lucy? Well, scientists have been trying to build something like that for a while now, especially since those things have appeared in several movies over the past 50 years or so. I can wrap my mind around it easy.

So the first half of the book is beautiful, aside from the easy way Ben has of sliding into this strangeness in the first place. The descriptions are surreal, just like the cover. I liked it.

However, it starts flailing around the second half where suddenly we’re in the middle of so much exposition it felt like an historical text. I did like the twistiness of the end, but probably could have done without the character monologues telling me what happened.

So I’m hovering right about three stars despite the fact that I love the premise. Because who needs to make themselves finish a book when you’ve already figured out the ending and all the characters are doing is telling you in a very long winded fashion that you’re right?

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When She Cries

when she cries

By: Alex Westhaven

Narrated by: Kevin Clay

GoodReads Summary: Nicole Strickly is excited to get out of the city and spend a weekend in the mountains, even if her date is a little sketchy. They aren’t far down the road before she realizes her mistake, but there’s no turning back, and what awaits her when they arrive at camp is far worse than she could ever have imagined.

Forced to run or die, Nicole finds herself embroiled in a gruesome game where the only reward for winning is three more rounds with the huntmaster himself, and an experience that will change the fiber of her very being…for as long as she can survive.

*** – technically 3.5 stars

(I received a free audible copy for an honest review.)

Serial hunters call it a game….

I don’t know where or when the idea of hunting people first slid into a human, but it is a subject that inspires a certain kind of panic. Stuck in the wilds, the higher brain functions of a human can help befuddle any predatory animal and allow for escape. But when the predator is just as high functioning as the human prey, the idea of escape becomes an illusory goal.

I like the narration of When She Cries. It was easy to lose track of time listening to the story. However, I don’t think that Mr. Clay fully utilized the emotions inherent in the writing. While his voice is pleasant and easy to listen to, it might have been better with a few speed differentials within the different scenes.

Of course, some of the dialogue between the characters did feel somewhat stilted and may have influenced Mr. Clay while he read. I rolled my eyes a few times during Nicole’s inner monologues. Not as often as I expected, but a few times where it just seemed a bit forced into the plot rather than fluidly deriving from the character herself.

Because of these thoughts while I read, I did not feel the fear and panic intended by Mrs. Westhaven. But the story and narration is good enough that I really wanted to know how it ended.

And the end is worth gliding along Mr. Clay’s voice and slipping into Mrs. Westhaven’s mind. The end is very satisfying.

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Have You Seen My Son?

have you seen my son

By: Jack Olsen

Narrated by: Becket Royce

GoodReads Summary: Have You Seen My Son? is a powerful novel of child-snatching and a mother’s obsessed hunt for her five-year-old son — “a gripping, intensely moving novel,” writes Robert Daley, author of Prince of the City and Year of the Dragon. “The ending left me with tears in my eyes. There is no love like mother love, is there?”

And no greater test of it than what Lael Pritcher is about to endure.

One cool April day, Mike Pritcher visits the home of his estranged wife, Lael, and takes their son, Ace, for an overnight outing. “She pushed her son’s black-rimmed glasses up the slope of his thin nose. He jerked away like a puppy slipping its leash. A giggle, a crunch of gravel, a single wave of a grimy hand, and her only child was gone.”

Gone — child-snatched, though Lael won’t realize that right away, and won’t understand what it means even when the police tell her it’s a “domestic matter.” “You got the right to snatch him back,” her lawyer explains. “That’s about it.” So that’s what she sets out to do, in one of the most suspenseful, emotion-wrenching novels in recent years. Have You Seen My Son? is Lael Pritcher’s story, as she searches for her son throughout the Northwest, Canada and finally Mexico; an odyssey of near-misses and sudden reversals, searing loneliness and unshakable love, as Lael reaches deep inside herself for a resourcefulness and strength she never knew existed. Combining intimate drama with powerful suspense, this is a story with which every woman — and every man — will identify.

(I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Considering this book was published in 1982, it should be seen as an example of the reasons we have new laws to protect children, even (especially) in the middle of custody battles.

Lael is very passive for a woman whose husband stole her asthmatic son in the middle of their divorce and custody proceedings. Of course, she does everything she can to get him back, which, at the time was very limited.

Because of that, the story seemed to lag a few times, her character making the story passive. However, you just can’t help pushing on as she does just to find out if she gets her son back.

Having said that, you must understand that even though I found this a very passive story (not the heart-stopping thriller I thought it would be) there were a few times I gasped aloud.

For an author to be able to do that makes it worth the listen.

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