Favorite Reads of 2016

For once, I actually came up with a top ten list of books that actually sticks to ten books. Kind of.

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Review-A Little Life

 

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Doubleday-March 10, 2015
720 pages
Source-Purchased

This was a rare case where I’m really glad I heard all the buzz I did, because I went in about as prepared as one can be for all of the emotional dark turns this takes. Ultimately, I’m calling it the best book I’ve read in a long time, in large part because of its ability to completely wreck my emotions, but also because it is written beautifully and constructed with such care.

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A Few Reviews (March 2016)

I don’t always have a lot to say about every book I read, so I’ve decided to compile those shorter thoughts on various books into one big post. Not as detailed as a formal review and not as comprehensive as a wrap-up but just a fun peek into my brain about some of my latest reads. Click on the cover of each for a better synopsis on Goodreads and if you ever want to see my thoughts on things as and right after I read them you can follow me on Goodreads while you’re there.

25494343Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices #1; Shadowhunters #10) by Cassandra Clare

Once again, Cassandra Clare has used her supernatural world to its fullest extent, creating complicated problems with the rules of the world and not sparing her characters the consequences. The cast in this is probably her largest to date; one large sibling group and a few satellite friends and tutors. It reads a lot stronger than her other two series openers, mostly because it doesn’t endeavor to introduce its readers to the Shadowhunter world and instead it jumps right in. Lady Midnight opens five years after her earlier Mortal Instruments series, and focuses primarily on characters who already live in and know the workings of the shadow world and society. Most of these characters already know each other, which makes their relationships more complicated and much more fascinating. We have family members returning home much changed from when they left, younger children growing up and challenging the status quo set by their parental figures, friends navigating their romantic feelings for each other. It’s not the uninitiated damsel rescued by the warrior demon-hunter of series past, it’s something else entirely and I am very excited to see where this series goes.

6569735Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

A dark mystery about a woman haunted by the questionable guilt of her brother in the massacre of her family twenty years previously. As in Flynn’s most popular psychological thriller–Gone Girl (which I reviewed in 2014)–none of the characters in this are particularly likeable, but that makes what they do even more interesting. The plot is constructed intelligently as well; I was certainly kept guessing. Its shorter length made it much more engrossing for me than Gone Girl was and I’m glad I gave this one a shot.

20613761Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankin

A collection of poetry (and other media) about race in America. It’s use of second person perspective puts the reader right in the middle of the scene, for maximum emotional impact. It’s the kind of poetry that makes you stop and reread a passage because the metaphor is unique and fascinating or the language itself is perfectly composed. Even then, it’s a quick read and very much worth your time.

23395680Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman

The way this book was laid out on the page pushed it past pretty good space-thriller into something really fascinating. White text loops across two facing black pages as a computer contemplates its own consciousness. Fighter pilots’ radio transmissions explode across the pages, emulating the fight itself.  It’s entirely a collection of computer documents, chat conversations and (cleverly) notes on video feed. The characters are full of personality though, even as we see them only through dialogue or totally wordless actions. But at the end of the day this is going for thrilling and the plot reminded me a lot of the show Firefly, just on a larger scale, which made it not totally unique to my eyes, but incredibly entertaining nonetheless.

20443235The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3)

I read the first two books in this series in about three days a year ago, so I had forgotten a lot of things going into this series finale, but I was able to pick up the thread pretty quickly as the characters were also experiencing a big upheaval and change of scene. It was a well handled finale; a little too quick to gloss over the finer political details, but satisfying from a character perspective. Two people learn to fight and handle the consequences of war even as their love for each other and their hope for the future transform them as well. The Winner’s trilogy is spectacular as a whole, very smart, very well written and very underrated.

December Reviews

I’ve now officially reviewed every book and graphic novel and trade paperback comic book bind up that I read in 2015. Mission accomplished! December was primarily a Diana Gabaldon fest–as so many months this year were. What will I do with myself when I’m caught up on the Outlander books in 2016?

1983168A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) by Diana Gabaldon

I was on a tear through this series back last spring/early summer, but The Fiery Cross slowed me way down. Took me two months to finish, then I walked away for two more months just to have a break. When I finally picked this up mid-November, I read it in two weeks. It definitely meanders a bit, and, like The Fiery Cross, it really seems to be made up of a series of smaller episodes that could be individual stories or novels in series, some more interesting than others. But overall, I enjoyed this one thoroughly with it’s focus on the Fraser family and the neighbor turning on neighbor in the beginnings of the American Revolution.

6104759An Echo in the Bone (Outlander #7) by Diana Gabaldon

I enjoyed this one more than any Outlander book since the third one, Voyager. Those all dragged a lot in terms of plot, but this one seemed a lot more tight, probably primarily because we started following more characters. I loved the new characters and having the perspectives on either side of the war.

13634927A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (Outlander Novella) by Diana Gabaldon

I read this between Snow and Ashes and Echo, which was a bad plan, it came out after the 8th book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, and should be read after it, it seems. But I was excited to read it, since it covers the always tantalizingly mysterious back story of Roger’s parents and that piece of it was really excellent. I loved the return to a 1940’s setting and the according tension of the Second World War.

27264691Lifeboats by Diane Duane (Young Wizards Novella)

This nearly novel length installment between books 9 and 10 of the Young Wizards series was interesting in that it followed an apocalypse without action-movie like scenes of falling skies and screaming populace. Instead, we get a lot quieter conflict, overshadowed by a sky that is so evidently literally about to fall that it adds the tension without the melodrama and it was a really genius way to handle the situation. It did get a little too slow at parts, but overall it was a really cool story and I also highly enjoyed the extra adventure we had with the characters.

25422234Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

Basically a cover buy for sure, but I wound up really enjoying the biography inside it as well. I’d been aware of the stir around RBG’s dissents from the bench several years ago, but I knew nothing of her early work and formative years and I found the passages on the sexism she faced and fought in the 1960’s and 1970’s really compelling. The book overall strikes a great balance between seriousness and irreverance (Annotated legal transcripts+the RBG workout!) and it was the best impulse buy I’ve made in awhile.

18630542Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley

I really enjoyed the style of this graphic novel; visually it was really vibrant and laid out well. Story wise, I think it started out pretty strong with lots of convincing magical realism elements and an interesting lead character. However, I thought the romance was pretty flat and boring and the conclusion was too heavy-handed with a too-obvious moral. Fun and worth the read, but the beginning of it had me expecting more from the end than it ultimately delivered.

November Reviews

The reviews catch up continues with a summary of what I read in November–one nonfiction running memoir that I found on recommendation from a friend and the later half of the New Adult Addicted series by Krista and Becca Ritchie. As always, I link the cover photos to Goodreads, so if you’re looking for a summary or more info on a particular title, you can click there:

26204920Confessions of An Unlikely Runner: A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated by Dana L. Ayers

I think the title of this one is just about as long as the actual book…it was a very quick read, which was perfect. (I kinda think any memoir by anyone under the age of 40 or so should be relatively short…) It was fun to read, Ayers is funny and her personality really shines through; making this relateable, whether you can run long distances or not.

Hothouse Flower (Calloway Sisters #2) by Krista and Becca Ritchie18308266

Hothouse Flower is the first installment in the series that really focuses for more than a scene or three on Lily’s younger sister Daisy and Lo’s older brother Ryke. Daisy is a pretty compelling character and Ryke impresses me as well, but they do both grate on me a bit and I was never quite able to get over the fact that Ryke was attracted to Daisy back when she was only 15 (she’s 18 in this book, but they talk about it and it gives me the skeevies). It’s assuaged a bit by the fact that we see the whole thing from inside his head as well as hers and it’s never particularly predatory, but it still rang a bit wrong to me.


18479451Thrive (Addicted #2.5) by Krista and Becca Ritchie

The really weird thing about this installment was that it primarily covered all the same events as the first two Calloway sisters books. It’s necessary to have so that the Addicted books can stand separately as a complete series, but if you’re reading the spinoff in the recommended reading order (which slots them in before this one) it gets repetitive. It’s still a good story, and I still enjoyed it, but you really have to love the characters to find the fun in watching the same scenes from different perspectives.


Addicted After All (Addicted #3) by Krista and Becca Ritchie18308270

One thing I haven’t mentioned is that all of these books are long–up around 400 pages or so, so by the time you reach the 5th novel featuring the trials and tribulations of two characters, the conflicts have become a bit ridiculous and scenes begin to feel overly drawn out. But because of all that time we spend with Lo and Lily, it’s plain fun in this one to see them dramatically improved from where they started in book #1 and to see them face new challenges as much better people.

22024901Fuel the Fire (Calloway Sisters #3) by Krista and Becca Ritchie

Fuel the Fire picks up around the same time as the end of Addicted After All with Lily’s older sister Rose and her husband Connor. They featured in the first book in this spinoff series as well and ended in a pretty solid place, so I wasn’t sure where this one would go in terms of conflict, but I wound up really loving it. Pressure comes from outside the relationship more than from within it, so they’re allowed to grow and change as a team, rather than pushing and pulling at each other. This installment definitely cemented them as my favorite couple to read in the series.

 

22024907Long Way Down (Calloway Sisters #4) by Krista and Becca Ritchie

We go back to Ryke and Daisy for the final installment in this whole super-series and I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The larger Calloway family–the parents and the oldest Calloway sister Poppy, features in this one a bit more, which I appreciated, especially since Daisy’s fraught relationship with her mother needed some more resolution. Ryke had some compelling conflicts in this too and overall it was another excellent character study mixed in with the excellent as always romance. A lengthy epilogue gives a glimpse at the future (and lots of warm fuzzies) so it’s a satisfying conclusion to the whole series.

 

October Reviews

 

I resolved in 2015 to write and post at least a short review of everything I read throughout the year, and I’m still determined to do it. So here are some reviews on the things I read when the leaves were still on the trees.

 

20829029The Martian by Andy Weir

I really highly enjoyed this one. For me, it was one of those all engrossing books that kept me up into the wee hours, perfectly balancing pacing and science-based exposition. I have always had an interest in space and space travel (and biology) and so the science-y bits made it all that much better for me.

Even with its small changes to the end; I loved the movie too. No matter the media, there’s something very real and very beautiful about the way humanity is portrayed in this story. We see resilience and bravery overcoming fear and exactly how much can be accomplished both by an individual working alone with limited resources and by a cooperative global community. Definitely recommend this one.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy22543699

I had this resolution to read the Man Booker shortlist before the end of the year, and it turned out that this (the shortest!) was the only one I completed in that timeframe, but I own a few more that I’m sure I’ll get to sometime in the new year, but I digress.

Satin Island is experimental. A nearly plot-less series of snippets in the life of U, a social anthropologist trying to summarize the whole of society in one “Great Report”. There are some passages in this that I really thought about and found profound, but I mostly felt lost. I think it’s definitely the type of book that isn’t necessarily for everyone, but if you’re interested in putting in the time and effort to think through and make all the connections you can find, I think you might like it. At the time I read it, I just was in too much of a hurry to really want to do that,  but I’d like to pick it up again sometime.

16278318Armada by Ernest Cline (Full Review)

I did a full review on this, so I won’t go into a whole lot of detail here, but I thought this was a fun Sci-Fi tale of video games and alien invasion. Ernest Cline is an excellent comedian and the audiobook is pitch-perfect as well, with Wil Wheaton voicing it. I found the plot to be a bit predictable, and secondary characters in particular lacking in development, but I highly enjoyed listening to it.

23164983Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) by Ranson Riggs

It had been two and half years since I read Miss Peregrine’s when I finally picked this up during the Dewey’s 24 hour read-a-thon and several months since I read the graphic novel adaptation, so it took me a bit to get into this, but I did quite like it in the end, though I feel a bit of a post-hype letdown about it. I found that the old photographs interspersed throughout the story didn’t really add anything to the experience. They usually just clunk up the plot with some side episode that was written purely around one of them,  and they literally interrupt the story with a full page spread of photographs.

But I do really like the way the story is going overall. This was a pretty solid second installment, with good pacing and development. I particularly liked seeing the peculiar kids navigate the wider world and how their extraordinary talents separate and even put them in danger of society at large and how that brings them closer together within their own group.

I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t read this series who wants to, but if you’re interested, definitely go for it. Ransom Riggs is a talented author and I’m happy he’s enjoying some success for it. I’ll be finishing the series at some point, though I haven’t yet.

16065004Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5) by Brandon Sanderson

It’s pretty clear to everyone at this point how much I enjoy all of Brandon Sanderson’s work. His Stormlight Archive books are still my top favorite, but what he’s doing with Scadrial–the setting for his Mistborn series of series is really fascinating. The Mistborn trilogy is a more traditional medieval (though urban) sort of fantasy setting. In this series, we pick up in the same place centuries later and technology has advanced accordingly. Politics are different, the characters are new, but we get to see the world grow and change along with the new cast and that is so interesting.

Shadows of Self is our second foray into the wild west/industrial revolution era series following Wax, a nobleman more interested in fighting crime than politicking as the remaining member of his wealthy house, and Wayne, Wax’s best friend, a rough around the edges master of disguise. As always, Sanderson weaves a plot that is delightfully unpredictable and entertaining, and I loved the subtle ways he developed his characters–particularly more secondary characters like Wax’s betrothed, Steris–as well as the Cosmere universe, in which most of his work takes place.

25233432Avatar: The Last Airbender-Smoke and Shadow Part One by Gene Luen
Yang

This is the fourth series in the post-Avatar, pre-Korra comic book series and I continue to enjoy the additional complexity and adventure it brings to an old favorite of mine.

Carry OnCarry On by Rainbow Rowell

I was so skeptical of this full-length tour of the Harry Potter knock-off Rainbow Rowell created in Fangirl but I wound up absolutely loving it. It plays with the fantasy concept of the chosen one in a way I found incredibly gratifying. And Rowell remains one of–if not my top–favorite romance writer. This love story was hinted at rather subltley early on and then had the kind of scenes I’ve come to expect from Rowell–relatively tame and quiet in their actual physicality but really heavy with emotion. Definitely recommend this one.

22296542Addicted to You Series books 1-2 (Addicted to You, Richochet, Addicted for Now) by Krista and Becca Ritchie

I was pretty skeptical about Addicted to You–the little bit of New Adult Romance I’ve tried I didn’t love, but this was free for Kindle (still is!) and highly recommended in a video by GingerReadsLainey, a booktuber who reads enough of the genre to seem to know what she’s talking about and I am so glad I decided to actually pick it up instead of letting it languish with the rest of my unread Kindle books.

It does require a bit of suspension of disbelief–the characters are unbelievably wealthy, the men unbelievably attractive, but overall the characterization is really excellent. Lily and Lo are majorly screwed up and pretty unrelateable on a surface level, but their insecurity and their undeniable love for each other make them believable, likable even.

20658510Kiss the Sky (Calloway Sisters #1) by Krista and Becca Ritchie

The Calloway Sisters series is a spinoff of the Addicted books, each book told from the point of view of one of two of Lily’s sisters and their corresponding romantic interest. This one follows Lily’s genius older sister Rose and her equally genius boyfriend Connor as Rose capitalizes on the recent media attention brought on their family by convincing all three sisters to star in a reality TV series.

The premise sounds ridiculous, I know, but since I’m writing this after completing the entire series, I can actually say that it’s my favorite of all the books. Rose is smart, focused, driven and confident in just about everything in her life and the microscope of the reality show combined with her realizations and development in her relationship with Connor really throw her off on all fronts.

7937843Room by Emma Donoghue

A moving read with a fascinating choice of narrator. Jack’s view of the world is so heartbreakingly narrow, yet the wonder he has for things and the willingness he has to experience things makes this story more uplifting than it first seems.

img_20151031_140429.jpgBookstagramming is a new favorite pasttime of mine (Instagram: @thestarlightshelves)

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

ArmadaAfter highly enjoying Wil Wheaton’s audio recording of Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One (One of my Top Ten I read in 2014) I knew I had to go for the format again with Cline’s Armada, which, like it’s predecessor, is laced with biting dark humor and loaded with geek-culture references. This one pays homage to space and alien invasion sci-fi, leaning hard on tropes and plotlines found in classic works like Stark Trek and Ender’s Game, but the humor and pacing kept me highly entertained. 4/5 stars.

Synopsis

When Zack Lightman sees a spaceship straight out of his favorite video game, Armada, fly over his high school, he thinks he’s finally lost it.  But it turns out the invasion is happening and the game he’s mastered was simply training for the fight to save Earth.

Review

While I have a few negative things to say about it after analyzing it a bit, taken as a whole, I found this novel to be undeniably fun. I listened to the audiobook in one day while cleaning the house, and anything that makes me laugh out loud while scrubbing my kitchen sink is definitely funny. The seriousness of the alien invasion and battles that follow is addressed as well, in ways both funny and heartfelt as characters face life or death situations with humor and then make and deal with sacrifices and the consequences of global war. It’s not the biggest part of the whole story, but it’s definitely there and it keeps this story from being completely off the wall ridiculous, as I think it could have been otherwise.

Somehow I managed to stay engrossed in this, even though I did find the plot twists to be rather predictable. There’s some early foreshadowing that is definitely laid on a bit too think, but overall, I liked watching Zack navigate everything. The world was built well, I thought he was a character likable enough to root for and his reactions to big and little situations were very entertaining. However, I do think that there were some missed opportunities in the relationships and character building. What we got was all great, but there was one situation in particular where I felt a conflict was glossed over for the sake of moving the plot forward at a climactic moment. I can understand the necessity of keeping the pace up, but the omission took away from the reality of the situation and flattened out a character who showed early signs of being quite interesting.

Although it’s not the most thought-provoking, it’s definitely smart and fun without being too lighthearted, given the seriousness of the situation. I continue to be a fan of Ernest Cline’s and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

September Reviews

I had a pretty good month for quantity and quality this month. And the best news is I finished up my Netflix binge of Supernatural right at the end of September, so I should get even more read and written in October.

991197Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

As most of you probably know, Persepolis is a graphic memoir of Satrapi’s childhood and early adulthood in Iran during the Iranian revolution years of the 1980’s. It simultaneously captures the more universal aspects of her growing-up experience and presents the stress and fear brought on by the threat and reality of war and politically instability and oppression. It was simply and beautifully drawn as well, small panels done in bold lines of black and white, which often really added to the power of the message. I highly recommend this one.

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4) by Sarah J Maas18006496

Overall a very solid installment. This series has expanded above and beyond its somewhat cliched beginnings and become really wonderful. I did have a few small problems with this one, namely that the character development was somewhat lacking. We had good action and some new character introductions, so maybe there just wasn’t time but I felt like a lot of relationships changed somewhat suddenly and that romantic pairs were thrown together simply to satisfy a reader desire for everyone to be happy in love, which I find kind of annoying. But there was great plot development in this, and lots of high-stakes action, which made this 700+ pager fly by extremely quickly. Highly enjoyable, as I’ve come to expect from Ms. Maas.

22754100The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I’d heard some ambivalent and negative reviews and wasn’t sure I’d read it, but I was glad I did. A small cast of characters makes the whodunnit pretty easy to predict, but the genius of this plot is that none of the characters are obviously evil and all of them have motive and some sort of character flaw that would allow them to act on it. They’re all unlikeable, which I thought was really interesting, trying to decide who to like or root for or suspect and I got hooked into it and was kept guessing just enough (my predicition was right in the end, but I just wasn’t sure) to read this in two sittings over two days.

The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon10967

This installment in the saga was pretty good overall, spectacular at moments, but I felt it dragging a lot and I was ultimately pretty unsatisfied with where it left off. There were a few new developments, but it mostly dwelled on problems and conflicts set up at the end of the previous installment that this never actually resolved. There were really remarkable passages, usually in small domestic scenes, that were just beautifully composed, but the overall story was a bit disappointing.

24817626Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

It’s been a few weeks since I finished this and I still can’t figure out how to feel about it. First, I’ll say that in a weird way, this book is trying to do some of the same things that To Kill a Mockingbird does, just less successfully. This dwells rather needlessly on long stretches of Maycomb history and teenage Jean Louise flashback but rushes the climactic confrontation and resolution. I have no basis for saying this, but I strongly suspect something almost identical to this happened to Harper Lee, because it’s emotional, but it lacks the symbolism and subtlety of her other, famous work. It’s ultimately cathartic, but it mostly just meanders. I wish I could read it completely blindly, as though it wasn’t TKM’s characters in “the future” (sarcastic air quotes. I really don’t see this as a direct sequel, since it’s not quite factually consistent) to suss out whether or not I’m jaded or just plainly didn’t enjoy it. I think it’s probably a mix of both.

Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling22716447

This is Mindy Kaling’s second memoir and it mostly covers the few years since the publication of her first, though she did delve back into her years of college and early years in LA as well. I listened to the audiobook, which she narrates, and highly enjoyed it. Mindy’s smart and funny, and she also has some great insights that make it more worthwhile than a piece of light entertainment. In particular, I enjoyed her closing commentary on body image and think it’s definitely worth the listen or read.

July Reviews

Another month, another reviews post. I had a super busy month, so it just flew by, but I did manage to finish a YA fantasy novel that I bought on a whim, some non-fiction choices that have been on my shelf for awhile and fun summer YA contemporary. Not very racially diverse, but it did turn into a No-Boys allowed reading list, which is always fun to do once in a while. 
19367070Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

A short and lovely little stand-alone fantasy novel. Yes, yes a short, stand-alone fantasy novel. It did feel a little bit too short to me, not explaining some oft the politics and thing quite enough, but at the same time I did like the simplicity of it. No lengthy, boring backstories and histories, but very vivid characters and an entertaining story, so if you’re in the mood for some low fantasy but don’t want to commit half your year to a massive series, definitely check this one out.

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Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

So I love the show, but I got done with this book and loved it even more. It dances around explaining why prisons are broken, showing rather than telling how all-consuming and transformative they are, forcing prisoners to adapt to the system, learning only those skills that will not serve them well on the outside. I didn’t really think this book would make me think as much as it did, and I valued it a lot for that.

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Susan Cain’s TED Talk was recommended to me by a career counselor at college, back two years ago when I was struggling to find a job and I found a lot of comfort and inspiration in it at the time. I haven’t watched it again lately, but the book for me did not resurrect those old good feelings. It didn’t feel like it expanded on any one idea, instead reinforcing the duality of introvert/extrovert, rather than exploring some sort of spectrum. I felt like a lot of ideas were touched on and then restated and stated again, without getting any great development. Like a TED talk, only long and boring rather than entertaining or enlightening. I think it’s an interesting piece, but I don’t know that I got all that much more out of the 300 page book than I did the 10 or so minute video.

18189606

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

This was a quick read, despite its apparent thickness, and a fun one. One girl finds herself without her best friend and gains her independence by completing the list of dares she left behind. It was cute, nothing crazy dark or sad, and a fun book to fly through in the summertime.

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And that’s all folks! A short and sweet little review post this month because I spent the second half of the month watching Supernatural on Nextflix thanks to a recommendation from my IRL friend (and blog reader!) Savanna. Bitch.

(If she doesn’t comment “Jerk” and/or none of you know the reference, I’ll look like such a terrible person.)

May and June Reviews

It was my blogging resolution this year to write at least a mini-review of every book I read, and, though I fell behind, I haven’t failed yet! Pretty good genre variety happening in my reading life lately, which has been awesome, but it makes this post look absolutely chaotic. Fantasy? Literary fiction? YA contemporary? Sciency non-fiction? All here. Hope you find something to enjoy.

22465605Miss Mayhem (Rebel Belle #2) by Rachel Hawkins

Like it’s predecessor, Rebel Belle, this was fun modern fantasy fare. It suffers a lot from what I’ve taken to calling second-book syndrome wherein the second book in a trilogy serves only to wrap up the first book and set up the third, with no real solid plot of its own. This felt that way: a little low-stakes and boring while straining the central romance in a way that we know they will resolve by the end of book 3 because, well, we just do. I still have high hopes for book 3 of course, I think this is a solid concept with some pretty fun characters that will conclude staisfactorily, this was just a bit of a rough stop along the way.

Boundless (Unearthly #3) by Cynthia Hand13049981

This is the best paranormal romance I have read in the last year or two. I’d say only Daughter of Smoke and Bone is better (and, really, to be fair, is quite different). I was worried about this series in book 2, which definitely suffered from second book syndrome, but this final installment in the trilogy was not at all disappointing. It ended a bit abruptly, but it was very satisfying and had a love triangle that was frustrating in a good way more than a bad that had a happy–but not too happy–resolution. Clara was strong and honest, a bit of a Mary-Sue admittedly, but the kind of female lead with power I wish more romance books portrayed.

16096824A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I listened to the audiobook of this while road tripping with my friend and we both loved this. The world is built quickly and well, its fairy tale aspects lending it inspiration and the strength of a good story, but by the end it takes enough turns that it feels fresh. I thought certain minor characters could have used more development (and that there could have been more of them in general—a big fancy castle has lots of servants that you might interact with) but overall I’m really excited to continue with this series and watch Sarah J. Maas build even more on an already stunning foundation.

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon5293561

Slow, slow, slow in the middle. I slogged a bit through this one, but ultimately it was really great. I love how Gabaldon played with the timeline in this one, taking us forward and then telling the bulk of the story as a story within the story. It could have been boring, but in this case it played on the tension already inherent in the build up to the Battle of Culloden Moor, which we knew was happening from the very beginning of the series. I think the early episode in Paris was dragged out a bit too long, and I think there are several scenes, like battles, where we are stuck in Claire’s perspective, when it would be a lot more interesting to follow around someone else. Overall, however, this was a really excellent follow-up; a sequel that grew the world and introduced new characters and even more complications to build on in the next installments.

6522033Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

This had some of the same pacing problems as Dragonfly in Amber, but to a lesser extent. I loved the additional perspectives, though there are definitely scenes when the overlap is very odd, especially since Claire’s perspective is always in first person while everyone else’s is told in third. Like at the beginning of this book, we see a character watching Claire in a scene that is very pivotal for Claire’s character. It would make sense to be in her head for this very quiet, internal, decision-making scene and we are not. It felt very strange to be pushed to the outside for that. It makes sense to follow other characters in scenes that Claire isn’t present for, but in a scene in which her thoughts are paramount, it really felt odd. But once we got settled and rolling with the story, the various episodes in this installment were all excellent. There were a few sections that felt overly lengthy, but for the most part the pages flew by and I don’t think the series flagging in quality at all.

Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon6584000

“Oh my God, the book people are making me crazy” was the refrain on my road trip recently. This book makes the price of a Kindle Paperwhite totally worth it so you can read in the dark late into the night without disturbing your travel-mate. It had that mid-act slow down that I seem to experience a lot with this series, but I got into the crazy drama by the end. I’m loving this series. Slipping into some dangerous stereotypes here, but it’s almost soap-opera trashy while still maintaining a intellectual’s historical detail (with plenty of literary misery to go around).

18143977All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I thought the prose in this was great, beautiful descriptions and symbolism and metaphor. The story was good, the characters even better. I get why this was so popular when it came out, but that hype combined with a sense that it was trying too hard to be literary made me like it a little bit less than I might have otherwise. Still highly recommend it, though and I’m very glad I picked it up.

Animal Farm by George Orwell170448

I was supposed to have read this when I was in 8th or 9th grade for this extra-cirricular book group I was in and I wound up not having the time. But the entire time I was reading this I was kicking myself for letting it pass me by back then, because all of my comparisions were not to Soviet Russia, but to the rhetoric of post 9/11 USA, so I kept thinking that this would have had so much more impact on 13 year old me in 2004. But still. It’s classic for a reason; very smart satire. I did think that it got a little bit repetitive at times, Orwell beating a dead horse as it were, trying a little too hard to get the point across.

23399202Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

The negative thing I have to say about this one is that it had somewhat strange pacing: slow to start and too jammed full of stuff in a short amount of space at the end, but overall I enjoyed it. It’s got a rather unique perspective, from a gay teenager who is feeling a little too accepted by his family and decides to move across the country, attend boarding school  where no one knows him and see what he might discover about his identity without the looming shadow of his sexuality defining him. That whole concept was fascinating to watch and it was executed well enough, though I get the feeling I’ll have completely forgotten about this story in a short amount of time.

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger23399277

I really enjoyed The Duff a few months ago, so I knew I had to check this companion novel out. This one follows Sonny, who is the best friend of The Duff’s Wesley’s sister Amy. It’s also a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac as Sonny falls in love with the new guy at school over IM…while (oops!) logged into Amy’s account. I think Kody Keplinger really knows how to construct a good character on the front end of a story, but the plot and development in this left me wanting. Character development was an unconvincing tell, not show and the friendship between Amy and Sonny didn’t ever click for me. I don’t really think this is worth it unless you’re a huge fan of all of Kody Keplinger’s books, in which case you’ve already read it.

11133791Tilt by Ellen Hopkins

My first Ellen Hopkins. I held out for a long time thinking her work wouldn’t be my thing, and it seems I was right. But I mildly enjoyed this while I was reading. A decent story, pretty good characters, ones that felt a little flat, but not so much I wasn’t enjoying myself. I really liked the structured poems with the words pulled out that made another sentence, but otherwise didn’t get the appeal of the free verse style. I finished it, thought “that was nice, but I don’t know that I’ll bother to read one of her books again” and tried to move on with my life.

But moving on with my life involved jumping in the car and driving for over an hour and I got to thinking more about this, especially the little author’s note at the end about resources for AIDS and abstaining from sex until you’re in a committed relationship and whatnot and suddenly the stories clicked together. I realized it wasn’t meant to be a realistic teen tale, but morality propaganda and it went a little more definitely sour for me. Not that abstinence is the worst thing you can preach to kids, but the sad and scary stuff  in this took on a new “Don’t have sex or ELSE” meaning that I really didn’t care for.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss20613511

A really interesting book about a scientific political issue that was not particularly technical or bitingly crictical of any one side (thought that’s not to say it doesn’t argue for one or the other, it just wasn’t overwrought with accusation or emotion, like so many of the vaccine arguments are. It’s extremely insightful, pointing out all kinds of crazy problematic meanings and things between the metaphors we use to describe things and what we think we mean vs what they might be revealing about our attitudes. It was short, but extremely thought-provoking, and its lyrical style makes it a great place to start if you’re looking to break into non-fiction.

22501993Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

This took me absolutely ages to finish and I have no idea how to review it, because so much is going on in it. It’s long–probably too long–but covers an astonishing number of topics quite well. Alan Turing’s life is the thread that connects it all together, but this often deviates for lengthy stretches on tangents about mathematics, history, philosophy, computer science, and the gay experience in the early 20th century.  I found it all fascinating, and Alan Turing’s story amazing and heartbreaking by turns. I definitely recommend this, but only if you’re in for the long haul and you won’t let yourself be intimidated by some discussion of math and logic.

I especially recommend the audiobook, which has a lovely narrator who does different voices for the different written excerpts (including some unintentionally hilarious American accents) that helped me keep everything straight.

I am so glad to be caught up, I hope to have some more posts up this month now that I’m back on track!