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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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.

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.

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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!

April Reviews

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles #3.5) by Marissa Meyer

I really don’t have very many feelings about this one. It was written well. It was interesting to see Luna and something from Levana’s twisted perspective. But I don’t know that it was a necessary addition to the overall story. It was extra, a behind the scenes peek at events we already knew about and an introduction to the character we meet next. I’m a little bitter, I suppose, because I’d rather just have had Winter on the spring publishing slate, but there’s nothing to be done about that and this was definitely an enjoyable one-afternoon kind of read.

Quinn (The Travelers #1) by Marie Evergreen

So Marie Evergreen is actually the Municipal leader for the NaNoWriMo group I’ve worked with the last two years and I was excited to see someone from the little consortium of  “weirdos who sit and the corner on their laptops and don’t talk to each other” (as we’re known at the local coffee shop) publish a book. She wrote this long before I knew her, but she was working on book 3 this year and the time travel premise sounded fascinating so I knew I wanted to buy it and check it out. This has a bit of a vignette style that I never like, and I didn’t like it here, jumping from time to time and place to place without a deep exploration of any character anywhere, but at the end of the day this was a fun read. Very creative with a strong and unpredictable action-packed conclusion. I look forward to later books in the series and watching Marie grow more as a writer.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I’d had this on my TBR for almost two years, wanting to read it before diving into the popular new television series, but during the Xfinity Watchathon week earlier this month I caved and decided to just watch the show… all 10 episodes in 48 hours and I freaking loved every minute of it. The book is also excellent. It’s just a really weird mix of things: famously historical and romantic with a little portal-fantasy twist, it’s also thoughtful and political and written strikingly well. I had some iffy feelings about the ending, but overall I’m loving this series so far.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I found I had a lot to say about this, so expect to see a full review soon. The short version is I didn’t care for it mich at all; found it to be quite generic, predictable and underdeveloped. It was done well enough that I see why people love it, but it was way too overhyped for me to feel anything but disappointed about it.

March Reviews

First, a quick announcement: I started some social media accounts to use in conjunction with the book blog. My personal Instagram was already pretty book-heavy, but I thought it would be better to have one for the stacks of books and things and one for more personal pictures of friends and places because I like sharing the former with anyone and everyone, but the later should stay more private. So, now you can check out the Twitter and/or Instagram extensions of The Starlight Shelves, if you want to. I didn’t get a new Goodreads profile, but this is as good a time as any to plug it!

I was in a bit of a reading slump on and around the Ides of March (I had written “middle part of March” but I couldn’t pass up the pretentious reference!). I did, however, finish few books during the first and last weekends of the month and here are a few quick thoughts to share on each one:

18460392All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I did the thing that I always try to avoid doing with this–namely, reading other people’s reviews after I’ve read the book, but before I’ve written mine. And this book definitely seems to be a bit divisive. People are either over the moon or have a lot of negative things to say about it and I will say it definitely inspires a lot of strong emotion. I fall into the camp that loves it, though I thought the ending was a little rushed or something, didn’t quite fully flesh out everything it needed too. But I thought it was moving, emotional, and very well done overall.

The Duff by Kody Keplinger6931356

The movie release finally motivated me to pick this up, though I’d been eyeing it up for awhile. I loved it a lot more than I thought I would. Bianca had a very strong voice, and was delightfully brash and selfish, which I love to see in a character figuring herself out. It was a little underdeveloped and quick to resolve, but overall it was a really fun read. The movie was really enjoyable as well, but be warned it has a completely different plot.

17143Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

I’m still in awe of James Baldwin. This was my second foray into his work and his writing is spectacular and his characters and settings really come to life. That said, this work employs a vignette style that I have just never been a fan of, bouncing between characters. It wasn’t for me overall, but I still have a high regard for James Baldwin and look forward to reading more of his other novels and essays.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski16069030

A really enjoyable read. It’s hard to genre-place this…I think it’s technically fantasy, but there are no wizards or dragons to be found. Instead, it’s set in a fictional realm, in a conquered nation, with the daughter of the victorious general becoming friends with a slave. It’s a little slow to start, but it’s delightfully complex and logical, the plot is tight and intense and the characters are all very good. I found it to be a little to overburdened with flowery simile and metaphor, but it wasn’t so bad I couldn’t get past it and really love the story.

20443207The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I was a little worried at the end of book one that the plot of this one would drag along, doing nothing but waiting around for book 3. But I was so glad to be wrong. This stepped up the stakes and challenged the characters and–though this will always be a series more focused on the political than the action–this did seem to step up the pacing, though that’s also just a side effect of the intensity. I love the pace this has taken with the romantic entanglement, it jump-started a little quickly in book 1, but there are no easy solutions to problems and this is a world where every little mistake has a consequence. I’m so eager to have book 3, even though it won’t come out for a long time yet, unfortunately.

I Was Here by Gayle Foreman18879761

This is my least favorite of all five Gayle Foreman books I’ve encountered and I’m not sure if it was because of a jumped-up expectation of mine after loving her two popular duos after reading them last year, or if this was just not as good. I think it’s some sort of mixture of both. This did not evoke the emotion I expect it was trying to. Cody and Meg’s story was compelling and from a distance, seems to work, but I just couldn’t get invested. And the romance was clunky. Which was so weird as every other romantic scene of Foreman’s I’ve ever read has had me practically fanning myself. She’s good at it usually, but this time, it was just a really strange situation and it wasn’t for me.

January Reviews

Some ups and downs, but overall a very solid month. I love that I picked up some novels that I wouldn’t normally read, and that I finished one of the series that has been lurking around my TBR for quite a while.

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S. by Doug Dorst & J.J. Abrams

This story within a story was very buzzed about when it came out about a year ago. It’s fascinating to look at. A beautiful old book with yellowed pages and all manner of things–post cards, letters, even a map sketched hastily on a cafe napkin–kept carefully inside. It’s gimmicky, but it works beautifully. Jen and Eric, the two characters who meet and converse in the margins of the novel, are fully formed and their relationship is unusual and complex and really fun to watch. The novel they discuss, The Ship of Theseus, is excellent taken on its own, even though its purpose here is primarily to provide a canvas for the two stories that happen on and under it: Jen and Eric’s and Stratka and Caldiera’s. Jen and Eric discover things together about Stratka and his work through the margins and this haphazard sort of storytelling makes this a book you get to explore, and get excited about. It’s not a sit back and watch the movie happen in your head kind of story, instead I found myself researching and hunting through the pages of the book, looking for answers. It’s hard, but it’s really fun while remaining very serious and engaging.

As a side note: a lot of reviews I saw for this tell you how you should read this book. I would suggest you figure out your own way, don’t hold yourself to any one thing (With one exception: upon opening, definitely take out all the inserts and label them with the page they were stuck in. Then you can keep them out and just refer to them as you reach that page, or you can stick them back in and not worry about losing their place when they invariably fall out by accident.) Personally, I started out reading two facing pages (starting and stopping at paragraph breaks) of Ship of Theseus and then reading all of the margin notes before turning the page. I read inserts as I reached them too. As I got more comfortable and was able to hold what was happening in Ship of Theseus in my head a little better, I’d just read the margin notes as I came to them, jumping in and out of the main text. Then I wound up reading almost all of the inserts ahead of time, which was kind of a spoiler, but I hold to the idea that you can’t really spoil yourself on this book, because figuring out what’s happening is a big deal at any point in the novel. It doesn’t really matter when you do it, only that you do.

Opal, Origin and Opposition by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Lux #3, #4, and #5)

The Lux series rapidly went downhill for me, unfortunately. I liked Obsidian, last month I said I enjoyed Onyx too. I did also like Opal quite a bit, but by the time I was done with Origin things had started to go sour. The high shock cliff-hanger of that fourth book got me to pick up Opposition, but I quickly tired of that one too. The action-y ending got me to finish it, but I almost gave up around halfway through. The problems with the end of the series include a complete and total detachment of its characters from the events around them and its overall lack of depth and thematic complexity. I could not stop groaning in frustration every time Katy and Daemon turned away from some serious problem or serious situation that a loved one found themselves in and instead “got lost in each other” or whatever. Normal, decent people can feel happiness when there’s troublesome times or act on the desire to make the most of a possibly brief amount of time together in a dangerous situation, but this was overkill.

But gratuitous sex scenes aside, this story, in Origin especially, had so much potential to be more than it was. There are these hints at a complex, fascinating, unanswerable question: what makes a hero who kills to protect different from a villain? There’s a character who becomes more and more an antagonist over Opal and Origin who is just trying to save himself and someone he cares about, but meanwhile Daemon and Katy do the exact same thing. Kill other people and risk everything up to and including the fate of the entire world in order to save each other. There are moments when Daemon realizes this, really actively decides that Katy is more important, but he never actually grapples with it with it. Katy has a few scarce moments of moral uncertainty when she kills, but we never see her work through her grief and her moral standards. Because again, screwing your boyfriend in a motel room might help you forget the reprehensible but possibly forgivible stunts you pull, but it doesn’t make them right or better. And one short paragraph of “I’m different now.” doesn’t count as character development either.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I read this over the course of about two months, which is an extremely long time for me. I listened to the audiobook on and off for most of that time, before finishing the last 100 or so pages in one evening. It took so long I think because there wasn’t much of a pull from the plot to keep reading, or to turn the audiobook on when I got back in the car. Still, it’s an excellent story. The timeline bounces between two linear timelines, one starting at the very beginning, the other some years later, though they both come together in time for the climax. Interspersed are the second person, time-independent interludes which are really magical and engrossing. The setting, the circus, is the focus and it’s built beautifully. So, overall, this is a slow burn kind of thing, not a rollicking adventure, though it does have it’s fair share of high-stakes magic.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen has been a quietly lingering favorite of mine for some time now. It’s a hopeful little romance/family drama set in a southern town with a large helping of magical realism. I’ve been meaning to pick up her other books and I saw First Frost on a display at Barnes and Noble, not realizing it was Garden Spells‘ sequel until I looked at the synopsis. It turns out it’s what I always secretly wanted from another book with these characters, back when I thought Garden Spells was a stand alone. Bay–who’s a preschooler in the first book–grown a bit older, falling in love with someone she knows for a certainty (it’s her little magical power, knowing where things belong) she belongs with, and having to deal with the frustration of his slow realization. I loved Bay’s story and the dynamic between her and her mother. We also return to Claire (Bay’s aunt) of course and her story was less compelling, a little unintentionally silly sometimes, but also had its moments. My major complaint is that the ending seemed a bit rushed, but maybe that’s just a clue that there will be another sequel after this.

Serena by Ron Rash

I impulse bought this primarily because Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper were on the cover, having staring roles in the upcoming movie adaptation, but also because it sounded unique. Woman hunts down husband’s illegitimate child after she finds out she can’t have her own. Sounded fascinatingly complicated, especially regarding the female characters and action-y and all around cool, dark atmosphere. It definitely had great atmosphere. It’s set in a logging camp in the Carolinas during the Depression and the scenery was depicted really excellently. Rash constructs prose really well. I also thoroughly enjoyed Rachel, the mother of the camp owner’s illegitimate son. She grew up, got smarter, learned what it took and what it meant to be a mother. Serena, the powerful, jealous wife, I liked at first, I thought she had some nuance, but I found her transition into total cold-hearted evil villainess to be jarring and frankly uninteresting. She was intentionally sort of removed and stylized: seen by the other characters as all-powerful, but I thought it would have been more interesting to examine her more complexly. Still, this novel was an interesting change of pace for me and I quite enjoyed it, just not completely.

Here’s the movie trailer. It hasn’t received great reviews, but again, I think the scenery is beautiful. Serena, though, appears to fall flat here as well, which doesn’t bode well. I’ll probably go see it anyway, because I’ve been loving going to the movies lately, but we’ll have to see how well it turned out.

November Reviews

So it’s been three months since my last post. I knew it had been a little while, but I hadn’t realized I hadn’t written anything all fall. But since blogging is something you can do while wrapped in a blanket on the couch, maybe now that it’s colder I’ll actually get back in the swing of things. And end of the year wrap up posts are really fun to read and to write, so let’s all look forward to that (Spoiler alert: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is my favorite book of the year, hands down).

November was  a touch slower of a reading month than usual, mostly because I attempted NaNoWriMo again this year. I failed at 50k this time around, only getting 12,500 words, but I had a  lot of fun spending my Sunday afternoons in various coffee shops at write-ins with my WriMo friends from last year. My ML was constantly seeking advice on her time travel-heavy plotline, which lead to some fun discussions, and I learned that I am not a pantser. The endless possibilities of the blank page was utterly terrifying. Anyway, I read six books this month: two YA fiction, three nonfiction, and one graphic novel:

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Y The Last Man: Book One (Issues #1-10) by Brian K. Vaughan and Jose Marzan Jr.-4.5 Stars

I absolutely adore the comic book series Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and when I heard about this series, which is also by Vaughan and is also raved about in the comic book world, I knew I had to have it. It did not disappoint. The premise–one man and his monkey alone in a post-apocalyptic world dominated by women–sounded fascinating and it was. Fascinating and well-executed; the characters are complex and the world is built in a way that makes sense. The women face not only a population crisis, but power outages and food shortages (power and truck driving being careers dominated by men). The only thing bothering me thus far is Hero, the main man’s sister. Her actions and their motivations make so little sense to me at this point, and I hope her arc gets fleshed out a little better in the next installments.

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers-3 stars

I was so excited for this final installment in the His Fair Assassin trilogy. The second book, Dark Triumph, was spectacular: full of action, intrigue, unique and unconventional romance, and lots of heart. This book, though, was a bit of a let down. It was ok, not great, not terrible. Annith was an interesting character; her back story was good and the plot in the wider world was good as well. But the romance was odd and the conclusion was a bit of head-scratcher. It was my least favorite in an otherwise amazing series.

Boston Jacky by L.A. Meyer-3 stars

I have been reading the Jacky Faber series for ages. I distinctly remember reading Bloody Jack in Algebra class when I was a freshman in high school which means I’ve been reading this series for nine years. And for the first five or so of those years, I hotly anticipated each new release because the previous book had invariably ended on some sort of crazy cliff-hanger with Jacky and her first and best love Jaimy just out of each other’s reach. But then I got a little older and the books got a little repetitve and my excitement waned. Boston Jacky is the eleventh book in the series and it came out over a year ago, so it had been almost two years since I touched a Jacky Faber book. I was consequently a little lost at first, but caught up fairly quickly. In the end, this was another book I neither loved nor hated. It took on a bit of a slower pace than previous installments, which I view as a positive. I reread my Goodreads review of the tenth book and my biggest complaint was its too fast, jumpy plotlines. In this installment Jacky’s facing some new challenges on land rather than at sea and I really enjoyed that aspect. However, the romantic plot was extraordinarily irritating. Jaimy was keeping himself away from Jacky this go-round and I felt like it was due to the need to stretch the romantic plot line out another book rather than out of any genuine motivation of his as a character. Basically, I was pissed that the book crush of my teenage years was reduced to being an asshole for no justifiable reason.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler-4 stars

This autobiography by the SNL alumna marked my triumphant return to the wonderful world of audiobooks. I more or less quit listening after I moved closer to my workplace, but I’ve begun having to drive about an hour or two a few times a week for work and I rediscovered the fun. And this book was especially fun. Poehler narrates it, with appearances by special guests (her parents are on it, Seth Meyers reads the chapter he contributed, etc.) and there’s plenty of banter to go around on the audio track as well. Nothing in this book was earth-shaking or profound. She gives some good advice, there are heavier moments mixed in with the jokes and funnier stories, and it was entertaining but not life-changing. I don’t think it was trying to be, at least not most of the time, and so I definitely give it a hearty recommendation.

Rosewater (And Then They Came for Me) by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy-4.5 Stars

This is the book/true story that Jon Stewart made a movie out of. I got interested the movie while it was filming–Stewart took a break from The Daily Show last summer to shoot it (John Oliver stepped in and he was wonderful)–and even more interested in the story when The Daily Show did a whole episode on it a couple weeks ago and I saw this interview with the author and the actor who plays him in the film:

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/a4m6u1/maziar-bahari—gael-garcia-bernal

Then I found the book on a feature table at the bookstore and bought it and read it over Thanksgiving weekend. I was only mildly interested by it in the beginning where Bahari details political background and the events leading up to his arrest in the summer of 2009, but I quickly got into it after those first 80 or so pages and overall I think it’s a must-read. It’s thought-provoking. It’s a perfect mix of good journalism and good story-telling with clear, concise and relatively unbiased background, simple but moving composition, and strong voice and universal themes. It’s sticking with me and I think it will continue to for a long time.

Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg-4 stars

I picked this one up at the end of October, whilst trying to get inspired for NaNoWriMo. It was definitely a thought-provoker, and a book I think I’ll be revisiting, as I skipped over the exercises at the end and technically didn’t actually finish it. I would have loved to have read this while I was in school, still plugging away at assigned writing, but it applies well to fiction writing too. Definitely recommended to students and to writers in particular.

That’s all for November; I’ll see you all in a few weeks at the latest for the book blogging extravaganza that is the end of the year!

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

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The Selection (The Selection, #1) by Kiera Cass
Published April 2012 by HarperTeen
336 pages (Hardcover)

Let me just start off by saying I have never been a fan of The Bachelor. I can always feel my IQ dropping whenever I happen to catch a few minutes of it. So really, I should have known what I was getting into with this, but for whatever reason I thought I might like it anyway. And I did, more than a little, but not a whole lot. Three stars.

Summary

If you haven’t heard of it, The Selection is the first book in a YA trilogy of the same name by Kiera Cass. It follows America Singer, a girl living with her family in a post-world war, dystopian, future USA where everyone’s profession and status in life is determined by the numbered caste they are born into. America is a Five, a penniless artist. Her secret boyfriend, Aspen, is a Six, a rung lower on the ladder than she. Her life changes dramatically when it comes time for the country’s crown prince, Maxon, to host The Selection, The Bachelor-style competition in which girls from all over the land, from every caste, are chosen to compete for his hand in marriage and for the crown.

Review

What makes The Selection decent is its fluffiness. Pretty dresses, attractive boys, long walks in a moonlit garden. Your standard Disney movie stuff. The romantic lines can be eye-roll inducing, but most of them are on or just barely over the line into that particular territory. The book is well paced, the exposition is interesting and informative and the plot moves pretty well also. It is a relatively quick book, without much time or space for dragging scenes.

America has enough smarts and personality to make her likeable in this, though I wonder if Cass tried a little too hard to make her so. I, for one, wouldn’t have begrudged her having fun with clothes and make-up, and thought her snubbing them was more off-putting than if she had. But mostly I liked her boldness and her strength. She felt quite real to me, not flat or uninteresting.

Then there’s the love triangle, the central point about which the series spins. Aspen irritates the hell out of me, which is really more of a mark of the strength of the book, that something in the plot itself could upset me. Maxon, the ungainly but clearly meant for the job prince, I quite like, surprisingly. He’s got an uncertain innocence about him that’s pretty endearing. It’s actually, also surprisingly, given my frequent hate for them, a pretty good love triangle. America gets into it in a way that’s believable, and, while I’ve guessed who she’ll wind up with, I’m not entirely certain who she’ll pick. I can tell already, however, (I’m actually 100 pages or so into The Elite as I write this) that the series isn’t really ever going to move beyond the romantic plot line. The books are titled after the different stages of the Selection, after all. And I think three books is going to be waaay too much time to spend on this particular conflict.

There is potentially more to the plot in the dystopian aspect of it, but the dystopian worldbuilding isn’t that good. The US of A with castes and a king and rebels to endanger him. It’s simplisitic and not (yet?) explained well. Why a caste system specifically? What do the rebels even want? Why are there two groups of them? Why “Northerners” and “Southerners”? I just don’t get the sense that there’s any real fight going on anywhere. The castes are there, they’re not fair and that’s it. Maxon’s portrayed with such a good heart that I get the feeling he’ll level the playing field a bit no matter whether or not America sticks around to push him to do it. So then, what else is the point of her choice? Of her continued existence in the heart of her messed up country’s politics? Nothing really, so far as I can see right now.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It was just one of those things I enjoyed even though I knew objectively it was not that great. I feel enough like I’m not able to predict everything that’s going to happen and that combined with my weird obsession to finish series, even ones I hate, to pick up the other two books, though I think that if you’re even a little on the fence about reading this you should probably turn the other way. That being said, if you love romantic drama or reality TV and especially enjoy a drawn out, torturous love triangle, this might just be a good pick for you.

April Wrap-Up (with Mini-Reviews!)

Hello all! It’s been a while since I’ve done a wrap-up post like this, but they’re fun and especially useful for a month like this where I’ve slacked off on reviews.

Books I read in April

Bit of a random assortment this month, but it was pretty great overall! 10 books total, of which 3 got 5 star ratings which is an excellent ratio. That or I’ve just gotten soft.

Click on the cover photos for the Goodreads page, and check out the links on the titles below for Starlight Shelves Reviews. If there’s no link there, and the few lines below just aren’t enough, you are always welcome to check out the babbling and rambling I usually post right as I finish a book on my Goodreads page!

ImageImageGirl of NightmaresLegend ImageRebel BelleEmmaProdigy The Giver The Impossible Knife of Memory

 

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson-4 stars

I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary teen fiction, but then once in awhile I read one like this and wonder why I don’t read more. This was really beautiful and heart-breaking. A story about someone I can’t really relate to on the surface, and so find a lot to learn from as I go along. It’s the type of book that reminds you why reading is so crucial, and reassured me that Halse Anderson is a writer whose books deserve the acclaim they’ve received. I thought it lacked just a little in the character relationship development department, but Hayley’s voice was so strong, you almost forget to notice.

Emma by Jane Austen-4 stars

I am so proud I finished this. I picked up Emma back in the fall, when the YouTube series Emma Approved was just getting started, but put it down pretty early on. I couldn’t get into it enough, and Austen really knows how to make annoying characters actually be annoying. I picked up an audiobook version on the cheap early this month (because I already had a Kindle version, the Audible version was discounted, which is pretty cool). I’ve always sort of liked watching Austen-adaptations better than reading the books, even though they cut things out. I suppose I just like seeing the costumes and the settings, plus the emotion comes through much more on screen than it does buried in language and turns of phrase I don’t entirely understand. A good audiobook, then, was absolutely perfect for me. I got all of the inflections to help me out with the text, while not missing a single word of Ms. Austen’s. The version I read was performed by Juliet Stevenson (Audible link here!), if you’re interested. I thought it was wonderful.

The Girl of Nightmares (Anna Dressed in Blood #2) by Kendare Blake-3 Stars

I read Anna Dressed in Blood last month and really enjoyed it. It’s horror blended with romance and coming of age and I thought it was plotted and written extremely well. This one, the conclusion to the duo, I didn’t like as much, however. It dragged and felt superfluous to the story told in the first installment. It probably would have been better as a novella or a long epilogue as it didn’t stand on its own at all, though its conclusion was solid and meaningful. I liked it in the end, but at the same time I had that nagging feeling that it didn’t really ever need to exist at all.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn-3 Stars

I wrote a whole review trying to explain what I actually felt about this book. It’s hard to do for books that are good, but not that great. The short version is that I think Gone Girl is a bit overhyped and I had a hard time with it; it just wasn’t for me.

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins-4 stars

I finally caved and joined in on a Booksplosion book of the month after hearing some glowing initial reviews for this. It sounds contrite and insane when you try to describe it, but it really is a ton of fun. Rachel Hawkins is hilarious, turns out (I’d heard of her, but never read her, and funny was somehow not a word I’d heard to describe her books), and the book is so quirky. Plus it is so good at making fun of itself that you can’t help but enjoy yourself while reading it. It wasn’t profound and it wasn’t perfection, but I say give it a go.

The Giver by Lois Lowry-5 stars

I read The Giver, or had it read to me, I don’t remember for sure, in 4th or 5th grade. I remember liking it back then, but not completely understanding it and after reading it again, I totally see why. The Giver is deceptively brief. It’s much more than it seems on the surface and it does so much with so few words. It’s really incredible, and I’m so glad that I revisited it. It’s going to be really strange to see it as a movie later in the summer, since it’s always had this weird alien feeling to it, to me at least.

Legend and Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu-5 and 4 stars

I’m completely over the moon about the Legend trilogy thus far, though I should withhold judgement until I’m all the way done with Champion. Still, I think it’s a very smart, very intense dystopian trilogy that you should check out if you haven’t already (I was definitely starting to feel like I was the only one left, but I’m sure I’m not!)

 The Unbound (The Archived #2) by Victoria Schwab-4 Stars

A really cool series that has started to get some more fans due to some dedicated Booktubers, but underrated nonetheless. A super awesome blend of the fantasy adventure and contemporary drama that everyone should be able to enjoy.

 Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3) by Laini Taylor-5 Stars

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy wrapped up this month with Dreams of Gods and Monsters. It was completely not what I was expecting, but it was beautiful and hindsight has told me I wouldn’t have had it end any other way, though at first I was kind of completely startled by it all. Still haven’t reviewed this and probably won’t, just because my brain was so jumbled up about it. But it’s good. And the trilogy as a whole is amazing.  Richly written fantasy, broad in scope and heavily detailed all at once, and an intensely complicated romance. What more could you want?

 Coming Up…

I’m currently reading Champion by Marie Lu, which I should be done with by early this weekend, and listening to The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein. Yes, I have never read LOTR all the way through and it is indeed quite shameful. I am a self proclaimed fantasy addict, but you can’t be a real fantasy fan without reading the universally acknowledged master. Though I get stuck every time at page 130 of volume 1. Tom Bombadil just drags…we’ll see if I can push through this time. I like my audiobook (performed by Rob Inglis) and I’m hoping that the format change will be enough to help me through it and hopefully enjoy it as much as everyone else does.

Then, I have no idea, really. I used to make plans, but they always change, so don’t get out the chisel on this list just yet. I really want to read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo for the Nerdfighter Bookclub, which has to be done by June 10, I think, so I’m sure start sometime in May. Then I still have not read Cress by Marissa Meyer, which is just ridiculous, since I’ve been meaning to since February when it came out. And I will most definitely be reading City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare, which comes out on the 27th. Definitely my most anticipated release of the entire year, though my physical copy of it probably won’t show until June, I’m sure I’ll cave and buy the ebook. Because…just because. I have to know what happens.