Abarat by Clive Barker

Abarat is a very nostalgic book for me. It was published near 20 years ago and I remember reading it as a kid. The first edition I had at the time was filled with full-color illustrations done by the author himself. These works of art really brought the Abarat to life, and I’d recommend finding a first edition if possible, or searching for the art online.

See the source image
Clive Barker’s illustration of the main character, Candy Quackenbush

So, you might be able to tell from the main character’s name that this is technically a children’s book. In my opinion though, if you let that stop you from picking this one up, you’re missing out on a vibrant fantasy world. This story follows a bored, young girl as she is swept away from her home of Chickentown into the fantasy world of the Abarat. In this world, time doesn’t function how it does in our world. There are 25 islands, each accounting for one hour of the day – plus one mysterious island outside time. Not only are there strange creatures living here, one in particular is hunting Candy: Christopher Carrion of the Midnight Isle.

The Good

This book is so vibrant. I fall in love with the characters, the setting, and the story every time I read it. It’s one of those that you just can’t put down, and you feel like you truly know the characters. The setting is fantastic, and the author really brings it to life, especially with the inhabitants of the islands. There’s even tourism in the Abarat, which I think is such a cool detail for world-building.

I also enjoy that you can see the characters learning and changing as the story goes on, as opposed to being flat. There’s nothing worse than someone that never learns from their mistakes – I see this a lot in early 2000’s TV shows, and it really disrupts a good show binge for me.

The Bad

I really have to stretch to find something to dislike about this book for me. The only thing I can imagine is that there is death and danger and a creepy kind of stalking “love”, which some parents may find unsuitable for their kids. For me, even when I read it as a kid, it wasn’t off-putting. Then again, I was raised on graphic horror movies, so this was truly tame for me.

This book is also the first in a series. It’s intended to be five books, but only three have been published so far, with the last one released in 2011. So I guess one of the major “bads” about this is that I want more but can’t get it yet!

The Verdict

Abarat is one I will read again and again. Period. 5/5.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Christopher Paolini is best known for his Inheritance Cycle, a fantasy four-part series beginning with Eragon. I don’t know about you, but Eragon was a teenage favorite of mine. It had the right mix of suspense, angst, and, of course, dragons. When I saw TSIASOS was released, I had to pick it up. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon:

Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

As a note, TSIASOS is hard sci-fi. Technology, space travel, aliens, the works. If you’re not into that, this may not be the book for you. It’s also an epic, coming in at nearly 900 pages including the appendices.

We have to give props for a stunning cover!

The Good

The characters in this story were very full, and I found myself really rooting for the main character, Kira. I liked that she wasn’t this perfect individual that would save the world or whatever. She was flawed. Stubborn, a little naive, and just plain difficult at times. This, to me, made her an excellent, relatable protagonist.

The world-building in this book is also truly amazing. The story takes place sometime in the distant future on a distant planet. The tech has (obviously) advanced far beyond what we have on Earth today. Paolini does well in describing this tech to me without it feeling like he’s just dumping info. The knowledge comes in an organic way, which I really appreciate. I also enjoy that this tech has limits and drawbacks. For example, humans can be placed in cryostasis, but it can have negative effects on their health. Ships can travel at the speed of light, but can overheat. These little details made the world feel very real, as opposed to fictional.

The Bad

In truth, it took me 300 pages before I really got into this book. After I got into it, I read the last 600 pages over 2 days. The first 300 pages, for context, took several weeks to get through. Many times, I felt like putting it down. It was my knowledge of the Inheritance Cycle and its payoff that kept me going. In my opinion, the plot didn’t really move much in the first third of the book after Kira finds the relic, and the stakes were quite low in the beginning (or at least that’s how I perceived them).

There were some romance elements in the book that just felt unnecessary, and I didn’t feel that they added anything to the characters or the plot. Maybe if they were fleshed out further and impacted the story beyond a chapter or two, they would work for me.

I was also slightly dissatisfied with the ending. After the climax, there was a second reveal — I’ll keep it secret, don’t worry! However, this second reveal felt like a tacked on ending to open up the possibility of a sequel. Personally, I don’t think every book has to be a part of a series.

The Verdict

I’ll give this one a 3/5. I don’t think I’ll be picking it up again soon, but I really enjoyed the last 2/3 of the book.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Trigger Warning

This review will discuss triggering content explored in Maya Angelou’s book, including childhood abuse and trauma, rape, and racism.

This book is a classic for a reason. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou does not pull a single punch. She is matter-of-fact when discussing the prejudice and racism inflicted upon her from a young age. She is fearless in her retelling of a childhood rape. Dr. Angelou writes about such heavy issues with a hand that says, “Here it is – keep looking.”

The Good

This book is fantastically written. I may be partial as a poet myself, but I loved the way Dr. Angelou wrote, as though the whole book were a work of poetry. She fit words together in such a way that I was left reeling. I think this is a difficult thing to do for a novel-length piece. However, I believe it was executed in such a way that it enhanced the book rather than overwhelming it.

I also have to laud the honesty of the piece. It takes great courage to write so openly about trauma and tragedy. Imagine as a child a white woman decides your name is too hard to pronounce and therefore calls you something else entirely. The dehumanization of that single act is something that has remained at the forefront of my mind. This book is a reminder that, though we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

The Bad

I’ll be honest – this book took me weeks to get through. I enjoyed the way it was written, and the story is compelling with good pacing. So what was the issue? The problem for me lay within myself, not the book. The subject matter is really heavy. Given the current climate of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, as well as my own traumas, at times I had to put this book down and walk away, sometimes for days at a time. I needed time to process what I was reading and the emotions evoked by the author.

I also felt that the ending was a little abrupt. But, considering it’s the first in a decent-sized series, I get why she ended there. It made me want to know what happened next.

The Verdict

Overall, I’ll give this book a 4/5. The subject matter is profoundly important, so it is a must-read for everyone, in my opinion. That said, because of the weight of the subject matter, I don’t think this is a book I’ll be picking up for a second read in the near future.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is a psychological thriller, and my goodness does it keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s one of those books that after you read it, you can’t describe it decently without giving away the ending. So, to avoid any spoilers, I’ll link to a synopsis of the plot here, and do my utmost to keep an air of *mystery* about the plot moving forward.

The Good:

As a whole, I think TSP is well-written. There are two points of view (Theo and Alicia) and each has its own distinct voice. I sometimes find that two points of view in a book end up sounding like the same person – or rather, like a one-human play in which the same person just puts on a hat and an accent – but not here. It did help that there was a narrator for each of the main characters on the audiobook version. That aside, the speech patterns of both characters, and even the other characters in the story, felt distinctly different to each other.

The pacing of the book was quite good, and I found it to be driving forward nicely. In my opinion, it falters a bit around the 2/3 mark, but we’ll get into that later. That said, I blew through TSP. Even listening to it as an audiobook (narration time around 9 hours), I was finished in just two days.

Right up until the twist, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I kept wondering how on earth the two storylines would collide, if at all. Truly, I thought the book would end with the storylines being close but never really coming together as one. Maybe that’s just a bit of naïveté on my part, or maybe I was just that immersed in the story. I like to think I’m halfway decent at picking up on clues, but not with this book. The twist made me say “wow” out loud. That doesn’t happen often. In fact, the last time it did was when I read The Woman in Cabin 10 three years ago.

The Bad:

There was a portion about 2/3 of the way through the book in which Theo really does go on about a personal situation he finds himself in. I’ll not give any specifics, but trust me: you’ll know what I mean. This part of the book was very monotonous for me. If I’d been reading a hard copy instead of listening to the audiobook, I would have flipped ahead. Others might find the situation interesting, but in my opinion, it went on too long. Though, perhaps, the endless effect of it was true to how someone would feel in that situation in real life. Unsure… As a reader though, I’m not feeling it.

The Verdict:

All in all, I give this title a solid 4.5/5. It was a good, engaging read that kept me wondering and interested. I would definitely recommend this to a friend, especially if that person is into thrillers.