The Universe vs. Alex Woods by Gavin Extence (June 2013)

alex woodsFabulous book.  And it surprised me.  It’s not about what I thought it was going to be about.  And I don’t want to ruin it here by telling you.  I’ll just say it deals with a somewhat controversial subject, and humanizes it in a wonderful way.  This is a coming-of-age story of a 17-year-old boy in England.  Like any other young person who doesn’t fit the standard mold — Alex has epilepsy brought on by being hit by a meteor — he gets bullied.  This might make you think it’s a YA book.  It could be.  But some of the allusions are ones that YA’s may not get, so I’d put this in more of the adult reading category.  This is a funny book.  Such a light sense of humor (in that lovely British way), especially given what ends up being weighty subject matter.  I had no problem, as a middle aged woman, relating to the story.  Maybe in part because one of the characters is a quirky (slightly crazy?) mother, and if I’m honest, I probably fit into that broad (not specific: I do NOT hold seances or collect all things witchy) category.  You’ll close this book feeling pretty certain that your own uniqueness is quite all right.  And you’ll likely have a refreshed perspective on what makes life worth living.

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The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood (July 2012)

Benjamin Wood’s debut novel, The Bellwether Revivals, is a well written tale of a young man, Oscar, whose chance meeting with the mysterious Bellwether siblings, Eden and Iris, reshapes his entire life. The novel is ambitious in its scope as it forces the reader to question the reality of Eden’s unlikely, but creepy, talent of healing people through music. But while the idea of music therapy initially is the focus, the novel switches to a psychological study as Iris and Oscar enlist the help of a psychiatrist to try and diagnose Eden. It is at this point in the novel when the steady buildup begins to go off course. As the reader, we are waiting for almost the entirety of the novel for something extraordinary to happen and instead there is a buildup to an ending that is predictable while also being confusing and quite sudden. After the slow quality of the majority of the novel, the ending feels rushed as many important events rapidly occur without any explanation as to what just happened. Oscar’s character is well planned out and he goes through a steady arc that is relatable and incredibly realistic. He comes across plainly as the everyday guy that he is supposed to be. Another character that is done well is Eden; while his creepiness could’ve been a bit more extreme at points, his manipulative character was always five steps ahead of everyone else and he was fascinating to read about. A major issue that could be had with the characters is the portrayal of Iris whose personality jumps back and forth without any explanation as to why she changes and what suddenly makes her revert back to who she was just as suddenly. A couple of the supporting characters had problems finding their purpose in the course of the novel and by the end they fell flat.Overall, The Bellwether Revivals is wonderfully written but the story itself doesn’t quite match up to the crafted prose and it could’ve used an editing hand to speed up the action and cut back on the number of characters. — Jennie Conway, Orangeburg Library Staff.  Galley provided by BEA.

Shadow’s Edge (A Night Prowler Novel #1) by J.T. Geissinger (June 2012)

The Ikati — a legendary species of half panther, half human creatures who, in their most powerful incarnations, can shift from one to the other, and to vapor — are the alluring players in this paranormal romance.  The world creation is good, it draws you in.  I really couldn’t put the book down, the first half.  The second half, I started realizing that the characters needed more complexity to really invest in them, and the language was getting too intentionally swooning.  I read the galley I picked up at BEA, so perhaps the finished book edited some of that out.  I enjoyed the story and the fantasy world, nevertheless, and will be buying the 2nd in the series, coming out in October, for the library.

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