Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Annihilation" Review

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's “Southern Reach” trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.

The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist (the de facto leader), and our narrator – a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and – above all – avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers―they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding―but it's the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

My husband's take:

I am a huge fan of Sci-Fi and fantasy books, and I have been for as long as I can remember. But even I must admit that sometimes they can be a bit cookie cutter. The hero finds him/herself in space/a distant land and must conquer the aliens/dragons and save the love interest. Occasionally you get something different, but that really doesn’t happen too often. 

Now don’t get me wrong – I still love reading these types of books even if it is the same basic story over and over. I’m a fan, and there is something to be said for the familiar. 

However, Annihilation is something different. Very different. So different that it is hard for me to put it into a category or even decide if I liked it or not.

The story is of an expedition in Area X. Actually, this is the story of the 12th expedition in the strange area that has been cut off from the rest of America. Each of the previous expeditions all died in very strange ways, so this expedition is treated differently. Four women with varying skill sets enter the zone, completely alienated from the history of the area and each other. They don’t even know each other’s names. With tensions already high, they start to become affected by Area X and slowly descend into madness.

This book is written from the perspective of one of the four women’s journal entries. The author does a fantastic job of painting a picture of the surroundings and giving you a real grasp of the tension among the four women. One of the women is a psychologist who has given them hypnotic suggestions to try to control them without their knowledge. When the narrator figures this out, she immediately tries to figure out why. Each of the women’s mental state decays throughout the novel, which is actually pretty cool. Our main character sees them all start to lose it but can’t figure out if she is going crazy or not. The descriptions of Area X were amazing, and trying to figure out what happened to the area and the previous expeditions was appealing, too.

But even though parts of this story were interesting, I still felt as if it was missing…something. I’m not sure if “missing” is the right word to use here, but it was definitely lacking in story lines and progressions. There didn’t seem to be much of a story arc – just a slow descent into more questions. And each question that was raised seemed to just lead to more questions. There were no answers – none at all. There were lots of little storylines that looked like they might be promising, but they went no further than a few steps and then veered right back onto the path to nowhere.

It doesn’t help that I didn’t realize this was the first book in a trilogy (I should have known. Is it possible for someone to write a book that isn’t part of a trilogy these days?), so the ending was completely unsatisfying. Maybe there would be more of a story arc over the entire trilogy and maybe those questions would get answers eventually. When I did learn it was a trilogy, the biggest question that came to mind was – is this book good enough for me to want to read two more? And like all of the other questions raised in this novel, I really don’t know the answer to that one, either. 

I will give Annihilation ... 3 BookWorms.










Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from HarperCollins UK/4th Estate Publishing through NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"A Worthy Pursuit" Review

A teacher on the run. A bounty hunter in pursuit. Can two enemies learn to trust each other before they both lose what they hold most dear?

Stone Hammond is the best tracker in Texas. He never comes home empty-handed. So when a wealthy railroad investor hires him to find his abducted granddaughter, Stone eagerly accepts.

Charlotte Atherton, former headmistress of Sullivan's Academy for Exceptional Youths, will do anything to keep her charges safe, especially the orphaned girl entrusted to her care. Charlotte promised Lily's mother she'd keep the girl away from her unscrupulous grandfather, and nothing will stop Charlotte from fulfilling that pledge. Not even the handsome bounty hunter with surprisingly honest eyes who comes looking for them.

When Miss Atherton produces documentation that shows her to be Lily's legal guardian, Stone must reevaluate everything he's been led to believe. Is she villain or victim? 

Then a new danger forces Charlotte to trust the man sent to destroy her. Stone vows to protect what he once sought to tear apart. Besides, he's ready to start a new pursuit: winning Charlotte's heart.

My Take:

Books by Karen Witemeyer were some of the first ones I read when I started doing book reviews several years ago. Some of her novels I have thought were just OK, but there are a couple of hers that I would list among my favorite books that I have reviewed.

Fortunately, this latest novel can be counted as a favorite.

First of all, the setup for this book was one that I thought was very unique. A bounty hunter chasing a supposedly kidnapped girl and a guardian trying to protect that same girl from her disreputable grandfather – it made for a great stepping off point for the rest of the novel.

And what a multi-layered novel it was.

The complicated setup only led to an intriguing novel that had so many dimensions that I never once felt bored. There were just so many things that led to my overall enjoyment of this book. The talented children, the bounty hunter with a heart of gold, the uptight music teacher who was running from the emotional turmoil in her past, the suspense, the witty banter – all of it came together into a very well-written book that was extremely hard to put down.

One thing that has been lacking in recent novels I have read is the depth of the characters. This was definitely not lacking with A Worthy Pursuit. Charlotte and Stone and especially the children leapt off the page. They never once felt as if they were cookie-cutter characters, and their actions and dialogue seemed genuine. The plot of this novel really could have led to many Big Misunderstandings in order to keep the characters apart, but even though one time it got close, it never fully went that route. And for that I am very grateful! 

I also appreciated the relationship between Charlotte and Stone. I knew where it would ultimately end up, but it was fun to see their journey. Even though the physical descriptions at times were a bit eye-rolling or unnecessary, their courtship still felt genuine, and I liked seeing how they fell in love.

The suspense throughout this novel was something else that kept things interesting. I like having another dimension to a romance besides the courtship, and this novel definitely had that. Poor Stone was beaten up and shot at so many times it became borderline unbelievable, but it still made for an interesting story.

One of my favorite aspects of the Charlotte character was her love of music. I so related to how she could just let go and lose herself in the music when she played the piano. I saw a quote years ago (attributed to a German opera house), and the last part said, “God gave us music that we might pray without words.” This came to mind at once when Charlotte played the piano in the book, and there are so many times when I feel the same way when I play.

If I had to pick something that could have been done a little bit better, it would be the spiritual aspect. The two main characters already had a relationship with God, and they did rely on Him and the Bible for guidance. It was very seamless in its presentation, which is something I appreciate, but I wish at times that it just went a bit deeper.

Something that I thought was really cute in this novel was how Stone, because of his career as a bounty hunter, ended up being portrayed in dime novels as a character. It was a neat way for Stone to relate to Lily as her protector, and I thought it was just flat-out funny at times. Stone’s friend and fellow dime novel character, Dan, was fun, too, and I would love to read a book about him in the future!

I truly feel that this novel was reminiscent of what I really liked about Karen Witemeyer’s books back in the beginning of her career. A Worthy Pursuit is definitely a favorite read of the year.

I will give  A Worthy Pursuit ... 4 BookWorms.











Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."