For once, I actually came up with a top ten list of books that actually sticks to ten books. Kind of.
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.
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.
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.
Armada 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.
Hollow 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.
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.
Avatar: The Last Airbender-Smoke and Shadow Part One by Gene Luen
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.
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.
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.
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.
Room 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.
Bookstagramming is a new favorite pasttime of mine (Instagram: @thestarlightshelves)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I spent this month watching another three and half seasons of Supernatural on Netfilx, so this will be a short post one once again, even including comic books in the mix. Only three more seasons until I’m caught up and hopefully back to a more robust reading schedule once again!
It’s been a really long time since I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but I wasn’t too lost diving straight into this companion “musical novel”. It was funny and sweet, packing a little more punch than I thought it might going into it. as we explore Tiny Cooper’s life from childhood all the way through his parade of ex-boyfriends up to and including Will Grayson.
A multi-character, multi-layered story done fantastically well. Adichie explores romantic and familial relationships and the good and bad of humanity in war-time in this novel set during Nigeria’s 1960’s Biafran War. She centers the story on five Biafran characters whose stories are immediately and clearly intertwined, creating a story that offers multiple perspectives, but is still narrow enough in scope to feel intimate. I disliked the timeline jump forward, then flashback/flashforward that happened in the middle of the book, but otherwise the structure of this worked quite well, as not one of the multiple POV characters was less interesting than the rest since all of them had such poignant things to show and say about love and war and guilt and goodness. Definitely recommended.
A strange post-apocalyptic tale about a sheltered boy who ventures out on his own after the death of his father. This takes a little getting used to, and it’s fairly slow moving, but I enjoyed the mystery and action elements of this and I think Gus will be an interesting character to follow as he learns more and more about the realities of the world outside his woods.
Series I’m Following-Issues
I think Kaptara has a lot of creativity and a lot of promise, but after only three issues, it’s still finding its footing. It’s funny, but I could use a few more serious moments I think. Or something. I don’t feel particularly invested in it at the moment as I feel so little for the characters. But it’s still early.
The fifth arc of Saga ended at the beginning of July and it was just as gut-wrenching as every other finale in this series so far. Saga was the first comic book I ever read (a year ago now, which is crazy, I still feel like a total newbie) and it continues to be my favorite. It balances humor and weirdness and action and emotion perfectly.
Issue #50 released at the beginning of July, concluding the tenth arc of this planned twelve arc series, and I can’t even begin to explain how epic it was. I’m dying for the next installment because the epilogue little teaser in this was way too much.
I’m not even caught up on Brian K. Vaughan’s backlist, but I knew I had to run out and get this. I usually don’t get hooked by one issue of anything, but this did it. Unusual conflict, major apocalypse, ragtag band of revolutionaries. I was sold.
This one is really beautiful to look at. I read the first three issues all spread out over a few weeks and I’m kind of lost, but that’s one of those things that is probably my fault, not the story’s.
Read the first issue of this so far and I quite enjoyed the premise (getting sucked into the story! Every reader’s wish come true!) and the action of the first installment. Definitely going to continue with it.
You wanna know something pathetic? I only just now got the reference in the title. Moving on.
This volume slowed down a bit, taking time to develop characters. The plot advanced a lot more slowly than I might have liked, but it had some beautiful serious moments. It also, of course had some unbelievably hilarious moments as well (Suzie at the gynecologist and The Wicked and The Divine parody are coming to mind first here)
This volume somehow made me fall in love with this series; I was pretty indifferent about it before. But this was adorable and fun. It seems to have found a sweet spot for its irreverent charm and I’m really looking forward to following it more closely in the future.
It took me almost a year, but I finally finished this series. I stopped halfway through this volume because I didn’t want it to end, but when I finally got there, I really liked the conclusion. Even though it hurt a little bit.
I feel like I’m finally starting to get/get into this series. I want to reread it and try to understand it a little bit better before I pick up volume 4, because I think it is going to go some very interesting places and be worth the effort.
This was really cute. I love the colors and the go-girl, strong feminist attitude of the whole thing. It also had its moments where it was funny, but it had more where I thought it was trying way too hard to be funny. I do really like most of the characters, distinctive and fun, but I hope they get some more depth to their personalities as the series goes on. I’ll pick up the next volume when it’s out and see where it goes.
The Wicked and The Divine Vol 2: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
This is another series that has a great concept and is really beautiful to look at, but seems to be missing something. This volume turned around at the very end and had an awesome, wtf cliffhanger ending, but the rest of it was kind of slow and repetitive in theme.
What are you reading? What should I be checking out? With Saga and Chew on hiatus I’m in need of some more amazing series to be excited about.
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.
Illusions 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Miss 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.