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)

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Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell Published 2012 328 Pages (Hardcover)
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published 2012
328 Pages (Hardcover)

Quick Review

Everyone loves this book. I’m sure it’ll be making favorite book of the year lists all over the place this week, and it’ll probably be on mine too. Whenever I actually come up with it. (Hopefully before February.) It’s a love story that both warms and breaks your heart in equal measure, made timeless by its deliberate dating and enduring theme. The characters shine and each of their simplest gestures of romance take your breath away. Read it, read it, read it. 5/5 Stars

Storytime

I normally don’t do this, but I want to pause the review and tell the story of how my reading this book came about, since it’s just a fun story on its own. Eleanor and Park had been floating around my mental list of things to read for a long while, but it came back to the forefront after I finished Fangirl and then it leaped to the top of the list this past week after it was recommended back to me by a friend.

“Recommended back” is a weird way to put it, but here’s how things went down:

I met up with some friends last Tuesday night to exchange Christmas gifts and have dinner. One of these friends, Savanna, is a big reader as well and we got to talking about books after I gifted The Raven Boys to her. Brittney, who is decidedly not a reader, was also there and she was shocked at how flustered we both got when cryptically (friend #4, Kayla, hasn’t read it it yet) talking about The Fiery Heart. Determined to get her on the crazy reading train with us once and for all, Savanna and I convinced Britt to accompany us to Barnes & Noble to pick something out. After a good half hour of wandering, trying to suss out what she might be interested it, we were vacillating between several YA contemporaries, one or two of which I had read before and liked. She almost bought Thirteen Reasons Why, was definitely interested in borrowing my copy of The Fault in Our Stars, but Savanna thought it would be most fun to have her buy and read something we hadn’t before, thinking it made the most sense to have her get something one of us didn’t already own. So after spotting Fangirl (which I had just finished) on an end-cap, I remembered hearing amazing things about Eleanor & Park and used my expert book-shopping skills to hunt it down (I couldn’t find it, had to ask at customer service, and was directed to a table three feet behind me.) Brittney bought it and we all went home. I thought it would take her at least a week to read it, and I was nervous. I’d heard wonderful things about Eleanor & Park, but I couldn’t know they were true until I read it myself. Still thinking about it on Thursday, I grabbed it at the library, intending to get to it only after I’d finished the other library books due back sooner, because I’m OCD about my library due dates.

Then on Friday morning I wake up to a Facebook message Britt sent just after midnight saying that she “couldn’t put it down” and “I couldn’t believe that it was over,” offering it up to whoever wanted it next while begging me for The Fault in Our Stars. I dropped my phone and grabbed Eleanor and Park off my TBR pile, getting 40 pages in before leaving TFIOS on my front porch for her to pick up that day if she wanted and dashing out the door to work. I thought I was misreading her excitement in assuming she’d want to go out of her way to come to my house and navigate the icy steps up to my door to grab a book out of the storm door that never opens right because Dad thought it would be a good idea to install it himself, but it was gone when I got home that night. Now we’ll see who blushes and gets all excited when we next talk about books.

TL;DR: My friend who “doesn’t read” picked up Eleanor and Park and loved it and I have an over-inflated sense of pride about being the one to hand it to her in the bookstore.

Back to Business

I pretty much liked everything about this book, so this section is superfluous and I’ll try to keep it short.

This is a romance book that I loved, so of course, I loved the romance. It evolves well, from first day hesitance to charged friendship to infatuation over the course of a few months with all the requisite speed bumps along the way. The physical scenes are quiet, but every small gesture is detailed and heavy with emotion, though never in a way that felt overly saccharine or just plain over done.

I enjoyed the characters overall also. They are both just so realistic as teenagers. They are uncertain yet unerringly passionate; striving for independence as they stick close to home. I loved them even as they made mistakes because their mistakes made them all that much more real. Setting this book so firmly in the past was a stroke of genius that made it timeless (and helped the plot near the end there). This is a book that can never feel dated, written as it is almost as a historical fiction (landlines and paper book covers and cassette tapes and handwritten letters)

Wrap-Up

This is sweet and true, idealistic without shying away from imperfection, celebrating both youth and love. I think teenagers can relate, and those of us who aren’t teenagers anymore will find themselves remembering something from that time when every moment felt important. It’s not overstating it to call it a standout in the genre in recent years. If you’ve read all these rave reviews and haven’t checked it out for yourself you should. As soon as you can.

A Blizzard of Mini-Reviews (Doctor Sleep, Fangirl, & Sea of Monsters)

I haven’t posted in well over a week since I’ve been working a lot of hours in the weeks leading up to Christmas and instead of stressing myself out by trying to write a bunch of lengthy reviews, I thought I’d get caught up by just writing some short ones and putting them all in one big post, even if the books are pretty different from each other. There will be a full review of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park up soon as well, and then hopefully I’ll be caught up to my reading pace and can get back to a 2-3 posts per week schedule.

Mini Review #1: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep Cover4/5 Stars

The Shining was my first King novel and I read it just a few months ago, in September. I liked it. I didn’t love it; I thought it was kind of slow and boring at the beginning, though it did really scare me at the end. I went into its sequel, Doctor Sleep thinking it would be similarly quite boring before terrifying the pants off me, worried that it would take me weeks to finish. I was totally wrong. It was less scary than The Shining (to me anyway, I had a friend not finish it because it scared her and she’d read/seen The Shining) either because I knew what to expect or because the scares are different.

What stood out to me in Doctor Sleep was the characterization. Dan Torrance is just as messed up by the events of The Shining as you would expect him to be, and so you see him struggle with alcoholism, hit rock bottom, and claw his way back up until he finds himself in the position of needing to help someone else. His journey was the core of the book and it was interwoven masterfully with the supernatural adventure that accompanied it, though I thought that the plot point about the connection between him and Abra was a little forced and weird. Overall, though, I really loved this a lot more than I thought I  would.

Mini Review #2-Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl Cover4/5 Stars

This one’s pretty popular in the internet world of book reviews, so you’ve probably heard of it before. Cath is a huge Simon Snow (read: Harry Potter) fan who spends her days writing slash fan fic. She starts college all on her own after her twin, Wren, decides its time for them to get some time apart. Socially anxious Cath then must contend with her aloof roommate and her super-cute maybe-boyfriend, a professor who thinks fan fic is plagiarism, and her family’s many problems.

I really enjoyed Fangirl. Cath is likable and relateable without being too flat or cliche. Her romance with Levi is unique in that they have completely opposite personalities. The obvious thing is to pair a nerd with another nerd who will validate her nerdiness, but here Cath is challenged yet supported by a cute, outgoing Ag. major. It was fun, it was cute, and it helped them both jump off the page. The story had more than one layer as well, exploring Cath’s relationships with her father, sister and absent mother. Her relationship with her roommate Reagan was another highlight for me, as it was complicated without devolving into frienemy territory and yet still close and good for both of them.

Mini Review #3-Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson #2) by Rick Riordan

Sea of Monsters Cover4/5 Stars

I liked this one too. My biggest complaint with The Lightning Thief was, surprisingly, too much action, but here each scene flowed a lot more gracefully together and the world building continues to be well-executed. The humor was amazing as well, and the characters are done well also, with shockingly complicated relationships and personalities, given the large cast and short page-count of the series thus far. I continue to be amazed by how much I like this series, given that I am a decade out from its intended audience and it is so highly hyped. It’s fun and funny and a hell of a ride for all ages.