“Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet” by H.P. Wood

Magruder's Curiosity Cabinet

(Author: H.P. Wood) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I had a rather pessimistic approach to this book, because I believed, and still do, that the world has had just about enough carnival books, movies and shows. I, personally, have read and watched too many to count, some of which so bad and boring that I don’t even want to remember them.

Luckily, even though they sell it as such, Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is not a carnival book. There are a number of strange people, who consider themselves separate from the normal ones, in this book, but they are not the typical cliches: bearded lady, strongman, giant, dwarf and a pretty main heroine who feeds the animals a.k.a. the usual cliche.

This was the first thing I liked about Magruder’s. They break stereotypes in the genre and have a balanced mix of Unusuals and Dozens(the book slang for the weirdos and the mundanes). I liked following the cooperation between the different people, instead of the black and white heroes vs villains routine that usually happens. Having an Uzbek leader of sorts was also fun. And, as my fate is, there were also Turkish characters, so… ha-ha. This was one of those times when the author likes to mix foreign languages, a thing I usually criticize, but this time they were actual foreigners mixing the English they more or less knew with their native tongues, so I am willing to take it easy on the book.

My favourite aspect of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, however, was the fact that it was not a struggle for a great love or “who will rule the circus” or whatever, but a story about the yellow fever. That was actually the first book that I read on this topic and it was both interesting and informative, even though it is fiction. I was curious to see how they quarantined everything off, how they reacted – a situation much closer to the present and therefore easier to analyze than, say, the Black death.

What I did not like was the fact that there were too many main characters so even though we were provided sufficient information about their personalities, we could not spend enough time in their private space to connect to them and care about them. I did not feel specific affection to anyone, including the child, which was obviously meant to play with reader’s feelings and make things more personal. I read the book with a detached interest but the good or the bad moments of the characters were just that, the moments of some random character that I will forget. It did not go beyond that and that really affected my attitude toward the book in general.

“The Lie” by C.L. Taylor

The Lie

(Author: C.L. Taylor) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** 3.5 stars ***

I should add this to the “Unexpected Netgalley Gem” shelf. I had not set any expectations and I was pleasantly surprised by the book.

My initial thought was that this can potentially turn in The Girl on the Train, which I really didn’t like despite all of the positive reviews it got. But I was surprised to find myself with a much more interesting and suspenseful novel.

The story revolves around a woman, Emma, who went on a nightmarish trip to Nepal with her friends after which she was forced to change her name and escape her previous life.

The setting was great, both the story in the past and the one in the present were engaging and creepy and I found myself having no idea what to expect will happen, which has become a rare occurrence nowadays. I was eager to read on and on and I kept that pace up until the book was over (and I was just about expecting someone to jump from under my bed). Personally, I found the events in Nepal to be scarier and  very unsettling. This is my second book of this type in the last couple of months (I will not disclose the other one because the common denominator in both is not shown in the description and can be seen as a spoiler by the pickier readers), but this was surely the better one. The entire storyline in the resort made me feel bothered and creeped out, which is always exciting when you are reading a book or watching a movie on a similar subject. Overall, the author did a very good job setting up the atmosphere, especially the jumps from the present to the past and the other way around, which were set in the exactly right moments.

As for the characters, I think they were also a writing success, that not meaning that I liked them. In fact, I disliked the majority of them with a special fire and I think that was the intention of Taylor, so good job, buddy. Daisy was a very unpleasant person, and although I saw what the others might have liked about her, she was overall just so damaged that I am surprised anyone could find her “the best one” in a group, which says a lot about the group itself. But it was Leanne that I could have punched in the face with… a chair or an ax or something. She was just the most horrible human being. Isaac was a close second but it was immediately obvious that there was something wrong with him and the entire hippie group in Nepal. However, among the four friends there was a certain normalcy at the beginning so it was both interesting and unbelievably frustrating to see how their relationship began falling apart because of their disgusting personalities. Al was just annoying, because she was the real peoplepleaser. She sided with whomever was convenient, not with whomever she really liked and trusted. As to Emma/Jane, she was by far the most normal one, but I do agree that she was a wet blanket. Especially considering how drastically her personality changed from the past to the present, which made it obvious that she could act like a normal person if she wanted to.

My issues with the book were of less importance, to a degree. I did not like the ending, specifically. The tension did not build to a high enough degree. The author did a masterful job of building it throughout the entire book and there was no outlet in the end. It kind of just dropped.

As for the other thing, it is not a problem as much as I found it weird. There were two expressions that I have never in my life seen in a book. Ever. I would have paid attention like I did now and I would have remembered it. I realize that they are probably local expressions to the author, but as they are clearly not that popular, as for me to have never read it among hundreds of books, I ask myself, why were they repeated so often. One of them in particular seemed like a joke the first time I read it but then it was repeated over and over and over again:

“But Leanne and Daisy have been living in each other’s pockets for days now.”

And this one… every time they were talking about blushing, this was used instead.

“… the base of her throat coloring pink.”

rainbow unicorn of the day the more you know

…about the English language.

“Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge” by Paul Krueger

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

(Author: Paul Krueger) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Well… here’s for trying. I mean, Mr Krueger certainly tried to make this different and interesting. But I think it turned out just a bit too different.

First of all, I tried explaining this to several people and most laughed me off at “supernatural, demon-fighting bartenders”. In an age when everything has been written, it is true that one needs an original idea, but the point is for it not to be so original that it is laughable. I gave it a chance, because I am weird and I like experimenting with my books. But I can assure you that many would just drop it right where they took it from with no more than a look of surprise.

That being said, generally, for someone like me, this sounds like something that might have some potential: A Chinese-American girl (I am pointing it out because the author was extremely intent of us not forgetting it throughout the entire book) starts working in a bar and not long after she finds out that her boss, and practically everyone who works at the bar, are “bartenders”, magical soldiers, fighting the tremens, demons which like sucking the life out of drunk people. The bartenders prepare special magical cocktails and go fight the tremens, while at the same time trying to find the Holy Grail – the magical recipe for the philosopher’s stone, the Long Island ice tea. 

I had my reasons, okay?

The book is just messy. There is this entire bartenders lore, but aside from the cocktails themselves, little is explained about the bartenders, how they came to be, how they found magic and so on and so on.

Bailey is just an intolerable human being and so is Zane, her male counterpart. She is either referred to as very smart, in fact, brilliant, very educated and hard-working and yadda-yadda-yadda, or as the loser that she actually is, because she is not really doing anything with her life whatsoever before accidentally stumbling into the bartender life. And she has no clear aims, aside from being able to afford gel nail polish, apparently. She is a downer, has serious issues with competition, despite having no grounds to think of herself as brilliant, and is way overpraised by everyone. All of her powers and abilities were plain and simple ~magical~. She didn’t work to gain anything in this book, she was just kind of able to do it, which is… yes, you guessed it, just the author making her cooler than he could by actually building her as a character and letting us decide without shoving it in our faces.

Zane was even worse. And after all of his disbelief, meanness, rudeness and plain stupidity, he was still shown to us as a good guy and Bailey just forgave and forgot all of his crap. The scene after the court was just a giant proof that he is a horrible person, but that was miraculously forgotten by everyone.

I really did not care about anyone in this book, sadly.

And that was basically it, bad characters and an insane story.

The only thing that I did like about Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge were the cocktail recipes. Those were handy first, because they explained many details I did not know about different beverages, as I was not aware that vermouth is dry wine, and second, because they provided recipes. I approved of that a lot, at least.

PS. Bailey? Baileys? What? Anyone?

“The A to Z of You and Me” by James Hannah

The A to Z of You and Me

(Author: James Hannah) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

I got contacted by the publishers to pick one of their newest books to review. Initially this was my pick. Because the blurb:

He has all kinds of everyday joy in his life — he’s young, he’s in love, he has friends who promise to stand by him if life ever goes wrong.

Then one day, life does go wrong.

(…)

This is a story about how far love must stretch to gather a life in pieces — and about how a strong friendship never dies.

Then, I also saw the great and positive reviews. Enough good adjectives were thrown in to make me believe this is a pretty cool, funny, interesting, yet somehow bittersweet book about redemption.

DID WE EVEN READ THE SAME BOOK???

What in the world? This book is anything but cool, it is utterly depressing. Anything but funny, it is dreary. Anything but interesting, it attempts to prompt you to kill yourself. On several occasions. Literally. I mean like literally. Suicide is not out of the question if you have problems. It is not a book about redemption!!?! It is a book about a failed life which fails to the end. FRIENDSHIP? Where the heck did you see friendship? A STRONG, NEVER-ENDING friendship, at that.

I think I got a different book.

What I actually read was a book about a junkie who screwed up his life through and through, time and again. He caused everything in this book all by himself. I really doubt he would have changed if he was simply not stranded to a bed. I am fully convinced he would have been as self-destructive as ever. And that he was. A guy who does drugs because he is bored from sitting at home waiting for his working girlfriend. A person who has diabetes and yet does not see it as wrong to do all the wrong things because he is lazy and forgets that he has to take care of himself. A person with no aims, no goals, no values. Despite the entire love arc in the book, I am not fully convinced he really loved his girlfriend either. He ignored all chances of making it right with her, doing just whatever he wanted.

There was no aim behind this book at all. It was not creative, it was dull and made me consider euthanizing myself.

All of the characters were equally as horrible as Ivo, aside from Sheila and Mia. Ivo’s gross sister, the slutty one, Becky or Becca or whatever, the atrocious low-life drug dealer Mal, the spineless Kelvin. Oh my God, a total shit-fest of characters.

I might be overly harsh but I am really fed up with authors using disease, mass killings, domestic violence and other important social topics as a way of making you feel sorry for the characters and building the entire otherwise sloppy and pointless plot, counting that you will be touched by the entire “Oh, but he is dying, pity him” routine. Emotional manipulation does not make a book better, if anything, it makes it worse once a person sees through the bad… everything in the book.

So, no, I will not like The A to Z of You and Me, which has zero plot, -40 character development, two mildly likable characters and an entire list of people who deserve a solid slap, NO friendship, I repeat, NONE, no redemption by anyone(I dare you to say that Mal redeemed himself, taking into an account how he wanted to clear his conscience and all that), nothing, nothing, but tearjerker moments that I could not muster patience or interest for. If this was not a short read, I think I would have given up. Even the writing fails short stylistically. It is a poor attempt at poetic, meaningful inner dialogues, with lots of single world lines and wanna-be artsy expressions.

I got A Robot In the Garden absolutely accidentally while trying to download this book, and oh my God, I’m so glad I did. They can’t even compare.

“A Robot In The Garden” by Deborah Install

A Robot In The Garden

(Author: Deborah Install) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

“Now, I have to admit that the idea of traveling across the desert in a Dodge Charger with a retro robot and a radioactive sausage dog is not something I would have imagined myself doing. But life takes us in peculiar directions sometimes, and on those occasions the only thing to do is give it a high-five and roll with it. 

That is basically a summary of both the events and the mood of the book.

A Robot In The Garden is an extremely adorable and endearing book about the friendship between a sad man and a small, old broken robot.

When I read the description I was not totally sold, I expected to even be disappointed and/or bored. None of which happened. I really like this sweet and very positive story of friendship, love and adventure. 

Another thing that impressed me was the fact that instead of going great lengths to manipulate our feelings, the author played it cheerful and without too much excessive drama. There were surely sad and negative events, but even they had a tint of hope and optimism and I really liked that. No low that the characters reached was too deep for them not to be able to come out of it.

The two main characters, Ben and Tang, were a great duo. I enjoyed their relationship so much, I had many “Awww” moments and I also laughed a lot during their adventures. Not to mention that I found it the best thing ever when from friendship they moved more to a father/son type of relationship and that opened way for so many amazing events, like Ben buying Tang a wardrobe so he can hide from the witches on Halloween. Adorable!

My favourite secondary character was the abovementioned radioactive sausage dog. You can’t get any cooler than a hitchhiking radioactive sausage dog. That is not to say that the dog could talk or anything like that. It was just cool.

I found everything about the A Robot In The Garden very refreshing and cheerful and cute. It was a great feel-good book that I recommend to everyone, especially people who are feeling down.