August 2015 Wrapup: Week 2

17 Aug

The second week of August was yet another slow reading week for me, with only 3 books read just like last week. At least last week I had the excuse of “but they were so long!!” This week? I don’t even know, guys. Just slow, stagnant reading. The middle book basically took me the entire week and was a huge drag to finish. Plus, I’ve totally neglected my series challenge this month! I was honestly thinking of just skipping August since once September hits I’m tackling the Malazan series, but I don’t want to “give up” on a challenge even though it’s something I made up and I’ve read so many that I could certainly take a break. But my brain is absolutely convinced that I HAVE to finish a series this month, so I feel kind of stressed about that since I’m not in a fantasy/scifi mood really… maybe I’ll pick up the Dublin Murder Squad books, I never did get around to finishing those.

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The Narrow Road To The Deep North, by Richard Flanagan: Finished August 12th. After A Little Life, I was really in the mood for more literary fiction–so why not try last year’s Man Booker winner, which is about the Burma Death Railroad! Because what I need is MORE depressing reads. I really wanted to like this more than I did. The scenes on the railway, which surprisingly was only about half the book, were amazing and shocking. I loved a lot of the side characters. And I especially loved the last third, where we got to see many of the camp leaders after the war–I’ll admit, up until then the book practically felt like anti-Japanese propaganda because there was SO much vitriol from the main character. But it ends up humanizing both sides nicely.

However… I hated the main character. Dorrigo is just awful. He goes on an on about how he is “not a good person” during the war when he does literally everything a good person would do. He goes above and beyond, sacrificing his own health for the health of others. It felt like the “I’m not a good person!!” line was just a way to justify cheating. Which honestly was never really explained. I was expecting the side story with Amy, the woman he has an affair with, (who I also hated) to somehow tie into the main one? Or explain his behavior with women after the war? But it didn’t really. Most of the side plots felt really disjointed, and while the writing was beautiful I just… I didn’t connect to anything.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Stallo, by Stefan Spjut: Finished August 15th. Once again I am sucked in by a creepy woods cover! For some reason (the cover, the friggin description) I expected horror from this. Spooky troll supernatural horror. And I think I’d be less annoyed if the first chapter wasn’t an amazing, perfect, creepy, atmospheric horror scene in the woods. It was great. And then… the tone totally shifts, and it goes from horror to supernatural mystery/thriller. I mean, I’m fine with that, and I actually enjoyed the first half of this book. But it just has this dry, monotonous tone that drags on and on–I think this book is generally too long, and I found myself skimming the last 20% because I just wanted it to be over. Which is a shame, because there’s definitely potential here (the scenes in the troll house!) but the “mystery” aspect is totally weak and I hated how ill-defined the mythology was. There are several different creatures–or several different kinds of the same creature? They have different powers, different personalities, totally inconsistent morals. I LOVE mythology and folklore, so the weak way it was handled here drove me insane. This was just a really disappointing book.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie: Finished August 16th. This is really the perfect murder mystery. The plot is tightly paced, the characters are morally ambiguous, the mystery is intriguing and unusual. I don’t think there is a single wasted scene–it’s a short novel, with all the fat trimmed off.

I think this would be 5 stars for me if I hadn’t guessed the ending. Of course this was the first time this premise and twist were executed, but they are both so common in pop culture now that I feel like I’ve seen this plot over and over and over (with my favorite version being the Dark Brotherhood “murder house” quest in Oblivion). Which, of course, is not at all the fault of the book: but it’s weird to come back and read the origins of a trope after being so familiar with them.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

Southern Comfort Perfumes’ Launch Scents

11 Aug

It’s been a while since I did a perfume post! This is for a couple reasons (trying to spend less on indies, focusing more on the book side of things) but I can never resist a new company. So when Southern Comforts opened their doors with a really stellar sample offer ($8 for all 5 of their launch scents in 2ml vials, with 10% off) I absolutely had to get them. Plus the theme got me: it’s all Southern, obviously, but the names were just so cute. I was helpless in the face of such a good deal.

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Turnaround time was pretty insane: I ordered on the 5th, it shipped on the 6th and got to me on the 10th. 6 days from start to finish! Packaging was unexpectedly adorable: the vials are packaged with a header card and everything. One of the labels was hand-written but the others were printed, which I assume was because I ordered on literally the first day the store opened. The vials are sturdy and larger than your average perfume sample (obviously) at 2ml instead of the usual 1ml. They are a little tricky to open and close, and it requires some force, but they are absolutely leak-proof and not even the scent seeps out.

Grandma Odene’s House (almond, pound cake, milky coffee, peach preserves): Peach is a little iffy on me, so I wasn’t sure about this one even though I adore all the other notes. Thankfully this isn’t the candy-sweet peach I’m used to, and it reminds me of the juicy note Arcana uses. But the peach isn’t front and center: this is definitely primarily a sweet gourmand. The almond (not leaning cherry at all!), cake and coffee are all present, and the strongest elements. It smells like breakfast! In college I used to get almond croissants and iced coffee on the days my classes started early, so this brings back a ton of memories for me. It’s a very comforting smell, simple but full of evocative notes: definitely a good start to my testing!

Aunt Bessie’s Bunnies (creamy violet candy, pound cake batter, geranium, marshmallow fluff): This was the scent I was looking forward to most, because I have a violet fetish and am obsessed with marshmallow blends. On first sniff it’s candied violets, followed by a surprisingly warm burst of geranium and cake. You know those fancy cakes that have thin icing and real flowers for decoration? That’s what this smells like! Only more lived-in and comfortable. It’s hard to describe, but this scent comes off as very cozy. Eating cake on the back porch in summer, feet in the grass kind of cozy. The marshmallow doesn’t really show up until the drydown, when the violets calm down a bit and the other elements come through stronger, and it’s really just a creamy hint but it definitely adds to the overall ambiance of the scent.

Darlin‘ (peach candy, sunscreen, violet, wild rose, day lily, vanilla): I will admit that I see lilies in a scent and panic. It’s a death note for me, and can sometimes trigger migraines–but only some companies’ lily, not all of them, so it’s like a fun game of “is my head going to explode?” scent roulette. Thankfully this blend does not have death lily in it, but just regular lily. It’s mainly peach, the same juicy one in Grandma Odene’s, but there’s a candy edge here and a sweetness from the vanilla. This is a fruity blend, which isn’t really my jam usually, but the florals definitely help balance it–they’re quite soft and in the background, but they keep this blend from being one note. I mean, it mostly smells like I rubbed those Japanese peach gummy snacks all over myself, but that’s definitely a vibe I can get behind. I do wish the sunscreen was a little stronger, just because I think peach-coconut sounds killer.

Bless Your Heart (Night blooming jasmine, white tea, iris, orange rind, powdered musk): Jasmine is really one of those love-it-or-hate it scents, it seems. So I was cautious going in to this, because it’s a note my skin really amps. Thankfully it’s quite tame here… in fact, I don’t really get a ton of jasmine at all. I thought this blend would be very floral, but it’s powdery musk on me: not baby powder, but like sniffing an old compact of perfumed face powder. This is one of those smells that I can’t help but think is “old lady.” For some people that denotes heavy floral: for me, it’s powder. Thankfully after about half an hour the powder calms down and some of the florals start peaking through, white and creamy. Funnily enough this lasted the longest on my skin, with a wear time of several hours.

Folly Beach Follies (light rain, sea spray, ocean breeze, warm sand, dry grass): This is a light, aquatic beach scent–while I get hints of vanilla in the background (where is that coming from?!) it’s mostly natural. No sunscreen, no tropical fruits, just ocean air and rain. It opens with a bright rain note, very fresh and blue, and grass follows. It’s not as in-your-face as most grass notes (I guess that’s the “dry” aspect) and definitely doesn’t dominate the blend. This is one of those scents where it’s kind of hard to pick out individual notes: they just blend together into a general watery green impression. It’s not as salty as I’d expect, and the rain aquatic comes through a lot stronger than the sea spray for me: in fact, I get a kind of wet-meadowy impression. It’s definitely an atmospheric blend, and I think each person will read it a bit differently.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with Southern Comforts’ scents. Especially the first three: I felt their gourmands were definitely the strongest of the bunch, but I’m sure a lot of that was personal preference. I mean, I’m a sucker for violet, and there was a whole lot of that! My only complaint was the wear time: most were pretty weak after only an hour, except for Bless Your Heart which stuck around almost all day. I’m a little less sensitive to wear time than most people since my skin eats perfume anyway and I like to change it up throughout the day, but do keep that in mind if you order.

Since opening, they’ve added 3 scents–all 3 of which I want, of course. There’s a french toast blend, a sweet tea one, and a citrusy yuzu blend. Umm, yes please.

August 2015 Wrapup: Week 1

11 Aug

The first week of August was a total reading rollercoaster. I read less books than usual, but I conquered two absolute beasts and read some of the best books I’ve picked up this year. So let’s just dive right in!

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The Book of Speculation, by Erica Swyler: Finished August 2nd. This book has been on my list for ages, since the first news about it came out. I’ll be honest, it was mostly because of the title and cover. I really didn’t know anything about it going into it, which I think is the way to go. Reading too many details might ruin the experience of this book, which is absolutely magical.

This is a magical realism half-historical-fiction/half-contemporary family mystery, with a healthy dose of gothic decay thrown in. It is a slow creeper of a book: the story unfolds in subtle layers, and the swings back and forth to the past (of a carnival!) and the present (where we follow a librarian in a derelict shorehouse) make the pace rather glacial at times. This is not a plot-heavy book, it’s a character-heavy one, with lots of reliance on mythology and folklore. I adore character-driven books, especially slower literary fiction, so this was right up my alley. I was absolutely transported reading it, and stayed up way too late because I was so desperate to find out what would happen. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if it even remotely sounds like something you’d enjoy I highly suggest giving it a try!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell: Finished August 6th. I have this weird thing with authors I adore: I tend to leave one of their books unread. Why? I honestly have no idea. It’s why I still haven’t read all of Haruki Murakami, and my reluctance to pick up Dial H. If I love an author, I want there to always be more of them after. More to read, more to explore! So there is not one but two David Mitchell books I’ve neglected. He has a new (short) book coming out this fall and he tends to write at a steady pace, so I decided to get over my weird phobia and just read this damn book. And, later this year, Cloud Atlas.

This is an impossible book to explain. It is, in essence, about a woman who seems to attract supernatural interference, and visits her in various stages throughout her life (mostly through the eyes of other people). It’s part historical fiction, part mystery, part fantasy, part slice of life. It’s a mishmash of many things, and there’s even a decidedly meta section narrated by an author who is working on a book that sounds a lot like The Bone Clocks… and a whole lot of literary criticism is heaped upon it in a particularly hilarious self-referential review. There are books-in-books! I LOVE THAT SO MUCH! While I’m not sure if I loved it quite as much as some of his other works, like number9dream and Black Swan Green, those are some of my absolute favorite books so it’s a hard to measure up to them.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara: Finished August 9th. This book ripped my soul out. After finishing it I felt empty, beaten, and utterly defeated. On the surface it is the story of 4 young men making their way through life in New York but it’s actually… well, one of the most amazing and tragic literary experiences I’ve ever had. Things get worse, and worse, and then more horrible than you thought possible. There are many, many scenes from A Little Life that I will never forget. I cried several times reading it, and absolutely bawled at the end.

It’s funny: despite these feelings, or perhaps because of them, I loved this book. Passionately. Like, almost rabidly. I know I’ll read it again, probably many times. It might be my favorite book I’ve read this year. Yet… I don’t know if I could recommend it, unless you have a strong stomach and are ready for some very intense emotions. Make sure you’re stable when reading this, because it has about every trigger imaginable (drug addiction, self harm, suicide, child abuse, sexual assault, abusive relationships, eating disorders… the list goes on). But if you’re up for it, and ready to give over a piece of yourself to this book? Read it. Just don’t expect to sleep anytime soon.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

June 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 2-4

1 Aug

You may have noticed a conspicuous lack of updates for July, aside from the week 1 wrapup of only two books. That’s because July was just not a great reading month for me: I felt very reading-slumpy for the first half of the month, and ended up starting a bunch of books and hating them for ridiculously minor reasons. Like Nick Cutter’s The Acolyte, a book focused solely on religion, where he quotes the Book of Revelations. RevelationS. There’s no s, Nick Cutter. Petty? Yes (then again, it really petty to expect an author to do basic research?), but I felt that way about half a dozen books this month. I only read 17 books in July, which is low for me especially considering that it’s a longer month, so I decided to just put it all in one post–which, like previous long ones, will be after the jump!

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July 2015 Wrapup: Week 1

8 Jul

The first week of July was simultaneously a great and terrible one for reading. I was out of town for the majority of it and actually had to, you know, interact with people instead of sitting around and reading, so I didn’t get much done. Only 2 books, in fact! But one of them was absolutely, amazingly fantastic.

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Three Moments of an Explosion, by China Mieville: Finished July 3rd. When I was 17, my dad brought home a copy of Perdido Street Station. Since then, I’ve been the world’s biggest China Mieville fangirl. I’ve read all of his books multiple times (except for King Rat), and The Scar is my #1 favorite book of all time. Thankfully, he produces books pretty frequently: once every 1-2 years. That is, until her started working on Dial H with DC. We haven’t had a Mieville book since Railsea in 2012, and let me tell you I was seriously dying over the drought. My hype for this book was unreal.

Thankfully, it delivered. Mieville’s characteristic imagination runs deep here, and each story has an amazing core concept that could spawn an entire novel. Flying icebergs, movie trailers, carved bones, secret card-playing societies, aliens hidden in ash… there’s a lot going on. I’ve always been fond of short stories, and all of these (with the exception of one, “The Dusty Hat,” which I didn’t feel very compelled by) were mesmerizing. The open-ending format that seemed to run through almost all of them reminded me strongly of Murakami’s story stories–if you like things nice, tight, and explained, this probably isn’t the book for you, but if you love wild imagination and evocative concepts, read this right now!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Armada, by Ernest Cline: Finished July 5th. I adored Ready Player One. Sure, it’s not the deepest or most thought-out scifi, but it’s an incredible, undeniably fun romp through a world I very much want to live in (Oasis, not the near-apocalyptic future America). So of course my hopes were high for Armada: it was billed as RPO, but with video game references instead of the 80′s pop culture theme.

Sadly, it did not deliver. Maybe I was too hopeful going into it, but none of the magic of RPO was here. Sure, there was a geeky plot and tons and tons of references. But while the references and in-jokes made RPO a better book, they kind of bog things down in Armada. And the fictional concept (the video games Armada and Terra Firma) are not nearly as interesting to read about as Oasis. The characters are a lot less interesting, and include a super obnoxious manic pixie dream girl and ~insta-love.~ The plot is very contrived and reads like a bad 80′s scifi movie. Maybe this was the intention, but this was so trope-tastic I felt like I knew everything that was going to happen. And the ending? Awful. Granted, it was still a fun read, but… I didn’t love it. I’m not even sure if I liked it. I’m really conflicted over how to rate this one: I can’t give it a low rating just because it’s not as good as RPO, but I’m not sure if I can separate the two in my head.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

June 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 3 & 4

1 Jul

If you’re wondering why I’m doing the last two weeks of June together instead of individually, it’s because I read an embarassingly low amount (for me) in week 3 and it really wasn’t worth a whole post of its own. Especially because one of them I only read so I could see how bad it was. I know, I know–that probably seems like a huge waste of reading time, but sometimes I just have to hate-read something so I can get all the jokes people make about it.

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Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton: Finished June 16th. I read this because it’s marketed as Black Swan x Pretty Little Liars: a movie I love combined with one of my favorite guilty pleasures? Yes please! But my hopes were so high. It was lacking the things I liked about both, and the PLL comparison is SO off base. I think my favorite thing about PLL is the solid female friendships: this book is about girls in ballet school who are out to ruin each other. And not regular bullying: no, these girls are out for blood. And while that can be fun if you’re in the mood for it, I’ve recently grown hyper-critical of the girl-on-girl hate that occurs in YA. Personally, I find it very unhealthy and a terrible example to set to young women about how real-life women interact. We don’t all hate each other, YA authors.

I did really like some of the characters, but overall Tiny Pretty Things felt very disjointed to me. There are 3 main POVs: two of the girls have obviously intersecting plots, but the third has a totally different one with a different set of characters, and only some overlap. It also tried to tackle WAY too many issues (mental illness, eating disorders, racism, sexuality, gender, addiction) but I think because there was so much crammed in there, none of them felt successfully dealt with. There’s also a HUGE cliffhanger when I’m pretty sure this could all have been resolved in one book. I’m definitely suffering from “what happened I need to know!” syndrome but I don’t think I’ll be continuing this series.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Everything’s Eventual, by Stephen King: Finished June 19th. My quest of “read as much Stephen King this year as humanly possible” is going pretty well! After the long, drawn-out tension of Needful Things I really needed something of his a bit shorter, so I turned to one of the story collections I haven’t read. I picked this one over the others because it contains “1408,” which I’ve been meaning to read for ages.

As always, I loved this. It wasn’t quite as good for me as Night Shift or Skeleton Crew, but it had more than enough fantastic stories. “The Man in Black” was my favorite, and it still gives me the shivers to think about. Though I must admit something: I actually… skipped one. I never do this with story collections! Ever! But I couldn’t focus on “The Death of Jack Hamilton” so I just flipped to the next one. Oh, the shame!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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In A Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware: Finished June 20th. What is it with me and books with spooky woods on the cover? I seriously have a compulsive need to read them. I see one, think “oh that looks spooky!” and hope that it will be like The Ritual. This book isn’t even horror! It’s one of those dime-a-dozen psychological thrillers that have become the bane of my existence. I can’t even explain why I thought reading this would be a good idea. It’s the cover! Damn you, spooky woods!

Anyway, this was terrible. Like, really unbearably bad. It’s about… okay, honestly, it’s so boring I don’t even want to write the plot. Girls have a hen party (which is what they call bachelorette parties in the UK, TIL) and stuff goes ~awry~. There’s murder (maybe) and intrigue (no, just kidding) and a totally contrived “mystery” you can figure out by page 25. I didn’t care about any of the characters. I didn’t care about discovering what happened. I just wanted it to be over.

LipstickRating1And1Half

 

 

 

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Grey, by E.L. James: Finished June 22nd. Yes, we have arrived at the hate-read. See, these books are impossibly bad, but I feel like you can’t critique something unless you’ve actually read it. Which is why I read the first one. The next three? Car crash syndrome: I couldn’t look away, I wanted to see how bad it got. Also, Jenny Trout’s readalong kept me sane. I mean, these books are hilariously bad. They’re so, so funny.

But this one… first of all, why does it even exist. Second, it’s WORSE than the original trilogy. Can it happen, you wonder? Can anything be worse than the “inner goddess?” Oh yes. Indeed it can. By 30% of the way in I was thinking “why am I doing this to myself?!” I mean this took me 3 days to read. Which is a LONG time for me, given the “content.” It was horrible. Not “so bad it’s good” but “so bad I regret even looking at the cover, why do I do these things to myself.”

Lipstick Rating Half

 

 

 

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Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson: Finished June 25th. It was getting pretty late in the month, so I thought to myself “oh shit, I have to actually read a series.” My non-series freedom made me a little light-headed, I guess, and I forgot that I am not totally skipping goals for this month. Just, you know, not reading 8 books in a series for June.

I am SO glad I picked this one. This is pretty much the perfect science fiction book. There’s an interesting and well thought out plot that both references the old and brings a whole lot of new. The writing is beautiful, a lot more poetic than what we usually see in the genre. And the characters are fantastic–even though I did not like all of them (Diane in particular), they were all incredibly well fleshed out and felt so realistic. Love love loved.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

 

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Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams: Finished June 25th. So “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” was referenced several times in In A Dark, Dark Wood (for no reason, there were no thematic or plot tie-ins) and I realized I’ve never read it. Since “Streetcar Named Desire” is one of my favorite books I thought wow, I should read that. And I did. A thrilling tale, right?

I can’t say that I liked this as much as “Streetcar,” but I did very much enjoy it. Williams has a way of fleshing out characters in only a line or two: by the end of the play, which is under 150 pages long, you feel like you intimately know everyone. And you’re also suffused with despair for the world, because his outlook on life was pretty damn bleak.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Axis, by Robert Charles Wilson: Finished June 26th. I think this series suffers from Hyperion Syndrome. The first book was utter perfection, and how do you follow that up? It’s hard to put together a series where every book feels like a fully fleshed-out, necessary piece, and Axis definitely suffers from being the second book. While it had some very cool concepts (the Ashfall in particular was wow-worthy), the characters lacked the depth that they had in Spin. There was less action, less plot, and it felt a bit more contrived in places. I’m making it sound awful, huh? It was actually good, it just felt like a roadstop on the way to the end of the overarching plot.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams: Finished June 26th. I downloaded a book of three of Tennessee William’s plays in order to read “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” so I thought, might as well read the other one! Because the third is “Streetcar” and I’ve read that like 4 times already. But I’ll probably read it again before July is up–I mean, the book is just sitting at 2/3rds finished on my Kindle. Can’t have that.

I’ve realized something about Williams, or at least how I relate to his work. I adore every female character, even though they are drastically different. Blanche, Maggie, Laura. I love them. But the male characters, especially the ones “opposite” the women (Stanley, Brick, Tom), I really dislike. I mean, maybe Stanley not so much (and he’s the worst of the three, objectively!) but I REALLY did not like Tom in this. But Laura, though. I almost cried when her animal broke.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Maldeamores, by Mara White: Read June 27th. This is one of those books where everyone on my Goodreads feed was going “wow, best book ever, GOAT, read it!” so I did. I mean, it’s been a while since I read something in the genre (Grey does not count, thank you very much) and who doesn’t love a good taboo theme? Because this is about cousins who fall in love. Les Cousins Dangereux.

Except there was just a LOT of angst for being cousins. In most states, you can marry your cousin. There’s very little chance of any genetic problems your kids might have. It’s not quite the FORBIDDEN LOVE that our two characters, Belen and Lucky, think it is (even though we get a kind of explanation for this later on). I also found myself harping on tiny details (dear Mara White: Lolita is not erotica) that, I mean… this is not a serious read. Sometimes I need to chill out when reading and stop thinking so hard about it. But tiny things (like Belen’s therapist recommending she sleep with girls to get over her cousin?? What??) really pulled me out. The chemistry, though, was great, and I liked this more than my little review is letting on.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Vortex, by Robert Charles Wilson: Finished June 28th. Finally, the end of the series! I say finally like I didn’t read all 3 of them in half a week. After Axis my expectations for the end were tempered, and I wasn’t going into this with super high hopes that it would blow me away. Well, it wasn’t quite as good as Spin, but I loved it.

It’s hard to talk about the plot because, well, spoilers, but this book is sliced into present-and-future in a VERY inventive way. The future story had me so hooked, and it threw in some fantastically inventive scifi ideas that I felt were very lacking in Axis. I also liked the tail end better than the rest, so this series ended on a high note for me. Though Spin was really the shining light here, Vortex was a more than decent follow-up.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Amber To Ashes, by Gail McHugh: Finished June 28th. More forbidden love! I thought I would really love this, since it is about a girl (Amber) who is in love with two men (Brock and Ryder). I expected, based on the blurb, an actual poly relationship. But nope, this was more of the bullshit alpha male GET YER PAWS OFF MAH WOMAN crap we constantly get in romance/erotica/chic-lit/YA/NA. It’s exhausting. I am SO tired of the jealous, controlling guy being seen as ~true love~. I will admit that neither of them are nearly as bad as other characters in the genre (no abuse, they’re both quite loving and care about her) BUT they also perpetuate the “I can fix you, broken woman” narrative that’s quite harmful. See, I was a young girl who went through a lot of trauma and I bought into that narrative. That a guy could “fix” me. Could put my pieces back together. It never works out well. And I hate books that push that narrative, because it’s demeaning. Amber can put HERSELF back together, thank you very much.

Okay, let’s talk about Amber. Because I LOVED her. Amber was spunky, quirky without being annoying, smart but made mistakes, and tried so hard not to let her past define her. I also love that she slept around a lot and was not once slut-shamed. Yay! And there’s a second plotline going on that’s actually quite serious, and it brought some depth. But I just… I really hated the two guys. I want Amber to be with none of them. But Gail’s writing is gorgeous and Amber is my bae so I will, of course, read the next one. While I ship Amber with herself. Or anyone besides Brock and Ryder (and their STUPID NAMES, why do guys always have such cheesy names in these books?!).

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Wolf Border, by Sarah Hall: Finished June 30th. There are wolves in this book. That was literally all I needed to know to get me to read it. I think that’s a little misleading, though, because while there are wolves IN the book it is not ABOUT them. They serve as a background, a mini-story tying into the other thematic elements of Wolf Border.

It’s hard to say what this book is “really” about. It’s about a woman (Rachel) in her late 30′s who works in wolf conservation, and comes to England to supervise a project involving (yup) wolves. But it’s more about Rachel’s relationships (with family, lovers, friends, co-workers) than it is about her job, or the wolves. They run in the background of the book, and we get peeks of them but they really just serve as a theme-reinforcer. Which is not a bad thing: it’s done brilliantly and Hall’s writing is lovely. But this is a really slow-paced book that dragged a bit too much for me to really love it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

And that is it for June! I got a LOT of reading done in the last week, you may have noticed. My aunt has a cabin up in the (not so spooky) woods, and I went up there the last weekend in June. And read. A lot. I’m pretty pleased with June’s progress overall: I read some books I loved, I finished a series. But I really need to get started on Infinite Jest!

June 2015 Wrapup: Week 2

17 Jun

The second week of June was a fantastic reading week for me. I got through six books, which is pretty good for me since my usual is 4 to 5. I mean, one of them was really short, but it still counts! I’m also having a great time not having to read a series: it’s funny, I’m very happy with my series progress this year and I’ve loved (almost) all the ones I’ve read, but it can be really draining to have such a strict reading list. So playing it fast-and-loose in June has been pretty freeing… though I am going to read a series this month, it’s only 3 books so I’ll probably tag that on in the last week.

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The Devil You Know, by Trish Doller: Finished June 8th. This is one of those “summer reads” type of books. I usually skip them, because they tend to be gimmick-over-substance, but this was marketed as a psychological thriller and there’s woods on the cover. So I had to read it. It’s about the world’s stupidest teenage girl, who goes on an impromptu roadtrip with two boys she’s know for TWO DAYS. Yeah, great decision. That’s gonna work out well.

This is not a terrible book. The romance aspect is done quite well: you really feel the attraction between the characters. And it definitely has a great lazy summer vibe. But the “twist” and mystery aspect is so easy to figure out, it’s kind of a chore to read once you’ve figured it out. I didn’t absolutely hate this, but I didn’t really enjoy it either. Mostly because of how freaking stupid the main girl is.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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A Head Full Of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay: Finished June 9th. I tend to roll my eyes whenever I see a comparison to House of Leaves because let’s be honest, few things come even close. But this… yeah, it deserves the nod. A Head Full of Ghosts is a multi-layered story that, like HoL, revolves around a piece of fictional media: a “reality” show called The Possession that’s about the exorcism of a mentally ill 14-year-old girl named Marjorie. There are 3 layers in this novel: the core one is Merry, Marjorie’s sister, recounting her experiences. Then we have Merry’s discussions with a reporter about her life during the filming, and finally, a series of blog posts deconstructing the actual show. The blog posts are particularly self-referential because they sweetly mock the insanely high-octane snark, look-at-my-witty-personality schtick that so many bloggers parade around (and grows tiring after about 3 lines–we get it, you’re so clever, just write).

This is a decidedly meta book. There are references everywhere: many of them are in the blog posts, and are highly overt and outright mentioned. But others are more subtle: while we get a House of Leaves shoutout there are several more subtle ones (a doctor named Navidson, a description of the house that mirrors The Five and a Half Minute Hallway). There’s a nice nod to Laird Barron. The Haunting of Hill House is mentioned numerous times but the more influential Shirley Jackson work is clearly We Have Always Lived In The Castle (which happens to be my favorite of hers!). Of course it’s nowhere near as meta as House of Leaves but provides a more accessible, thriller-y take on the book-in-a-book trope. Which happens to basically be my favorite thing ever.

This was a five-star book for me for the first half, which was full of insanely creepy scenes (the sunroom, Marjorie at the dinner table, oh my god) but I feel like it kind of fell off halfway through. There were less “Marjorie acting totally bonkers” scenes and more of a focus on the filming and family dynamics, and the horror aspect took a nosedive. Plus I saw the ending coming a mile away: if I hadn’t, and the horror had kept up the breakneck pace, this would have been totally amazing. As it is, just very amazing. Seriously loved this.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Needful Things, by Stephen King: Finished June 12th. Whenever I can’t think of what I want to read, I turn to King. I have a rather informal goal this year to read as many of his books as I can: I’ve read what seems like an insane amount, but I’m only about halfway through his catalog. I’ve already gone through a few of his books this year, and I can’t believe I overlooked this one for so long: a story about a creepy store that sells you your heart’s desire, in exchange for a prank? Right up my alley.

Like many of King’s works, this is a sprawling book that paints a full picture of a town. There are a dozen “main” characters with POV chapters, and so many interweaving storylines. I don’t think the pure horror element is as high as in some of his other works, but this is one of those books that really transports you to a different world. I felt like I was living in Castle Rock the entire time, which is high praise.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

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The Scared Lies of Minnow Bly, by Stephanie Oakes: Finished June 13th. I think I got swept up in the hype around this book. The reviews out for it are absolute raves, and hey, it’s about a cult! And a girl who actually gets her hands cut off. You know, I read that in the description but thought it MUST be figurative. A girl getting her hands cut off is pretty intense for young adult. But indeed, we get a disabled protagonist! Which is fantastic.

I think this book suffers because of its genre. Young Adult keeps it from ever really taking off into the darker aspects of our heroine’s backstory: or rather, the cult life isn’t really fleshed out enough. I mean yeah, her hands are cut off in a very gruesome scene, but the rest of the book doesn’t keep up the tension. There’s also, of course, a romance (plagued by tropes that really hold it down). This does tackle some issues like racism, sexism, religious fervor, and disability really well. I loved the characters, but I wanted MORE. More backstory. More flashbacks. A bit more fleshing out of Minnow’s character. I really wish this was written as an adult book–which is how I feel about almost every YA, except for The Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Day Four, by Sarah Lotz: Finished June 14th. I think I actually enjoyed this a little more than The Three. The writing is more polished, and there’s less of the dead weight that plagued The Three. It’s not as drawn-out, and the plot feels a lot tighter. Speaking of the plot: it’s about a cruise ship that loses power for several days, and no one comes to save them. Creepy things happen, and it’s got some nice survival-horror elements. The plot isn’t quite as compelling as The Three, but it has a great cast and lots of tension. It’s really the ending, which mimics The Three‘s found-document form, which shines brightest. Kind of reminded me of an SCP file. Honestly, I’m hoping for a third book in the “series”–mostly because of that ending, which tied into the first one SO well.

These are not really “direct” sequels, so if you are expecting a followup to the events of The Three you’re probably going to be disappointed. And it’s really not clear how they are connected (aside from being set in the same world) until the ending chapters. But for what it is, this was really fantastic.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Blue Fox, by Sjón: Finished June 14th. This is an incredibly short, lyrical read revolving around a man hunting a blue fox. There’s a concurrent storyline about another man whose assistant, a mentally disabled woman who he rescued from a shipwreck, has died and he has to plan her funeral. Okay, that doesn’t make it sound too exciting, but it’s really the writing her that shines. It is short, concise, and absolutely gorgeous. The description is so lush and evocative, and the two stories do indeed tie together in a really unexpected way.

This felt like more of an experience than a simple book read. There were also some clever mythological references, which of course I enjoyed! If you enjoy poetic prose, I can’t recommend this enough.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

Well, that was it for week 2! On to tackle another pile of books…

June 2015 Wrapup: Week 1

11 Jun

May has come and gone, which means a brand-new reading month! For some reason a new month feels like a fresh start: I make a new list of books I want to read, catalog all the upcoming titles I’m just dying to get my hands on, and pick out my series for the month. And I have to say, while I enjoy the Dresden Files I am very happy to be taking a month-long break from them: I think two back-to-back 8-book Dresden months would have driven me right over the edge. So what’s my series for June? Probably Spin, though I don’t plan on starting until mid-month. I’m a little series’d out, so this week (and the next) was basically a free-for-all!

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Echo, by E.K Blair: Finished June 2nd. This is the second book in a series. I absolutely adored the first one, Bang, though honestly I did not think it needed a sequel at all. It had a wham ending, not a cliffhanger one. But apparently we are getting two (WHY) more books, and I kept my hopes high because man Bang was just… amazing. This one, though, made me want to flip over tables. It basically takes everything good about the first one (great chemistry, a tragic but tastefully done backstory, a well-done representation of how trauma changes a person, a super kickass female lead) and tears it to shreds. Then sets those shreds on fire, dumps them in napalm, and makes you watch. I can’t reveal why I disliked this without some major spoilers for both this and book one, but let’s just say… I really, REALLY wish I hadn’t read it, because it’s awful. And it’s spoiling my fond memories of Bang.

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The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi: Finished June 4th. I have been waiting so long for this book. The Windup Girl is one of my absolute favorites, but I don’t like Bacigalupi’s YA stuff so it’s been torture waiting for another adult book from him. And while this is a great book, it’s hard to separate it from my (very strong) feelings about The Windup Girl. Both deal with near-future, near-apocalyptic and frighteningly realistic shortages (food in TWG, water in TWK), both have morally questionable but amazingly fleshed-out characters, both have deliciously twisted endings, both make me think that tomorrow is probably going to be the end of the world. But while TWG was wet and damp and hot, TWK is dry and hot. They’re similar, but totally opposites in tone.

This is a great book. But it’s not The Windup Girl, obviously. I mean, that shouldn’t be an issue. But I just love that book so damn much. I think it’s going to take me some distance to really appreciate this book as its own thing, and not my fevered hope for more Windup Girl feels. As it is… I feel thirsty just thinking about The Water Knife. Which says a lot, I think.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Heir, by Kiera Cass: Finished June 5th. So, I hate The Selection series. But I love-hate it: it’s so amazingly bad. Just read my review of the first one. It’s like a bad movie: I can’t stop watching. So of course I had to pick up the sequel series! And… I have a confession. I liked it. Don’t get me wrong, this is no fine literature (in fact it’s not even written that well, though Cass’ writing is vastly improved) but it’s a fun guilty pleasure. Mostly because of the heroine, Eadlyn. Literally 99% of the reviews for this are bashing her, which troubles me. She has flaws: she is vain, self-centered, egotistical, and a little bitchy. Qualities we see in “drool-worthy” male characters all the time (COUGH Jace COUGH). But when a female character is at all negative in ways that can’t be spun as positive, great, she’s a bitch. This is… so problematic I could write a book on it, so let’s just look at why Eadlyn is a kickass role model.

Eadlyn doesn’t care about boys at all. She knows that having a family is not the be-all-end-all thing a woman can achieve. She does not shame other women for acting like women. She sees fashion and makeup as an empowering and progressive tools, not something to be looked down upon. She understands that sexual gratification does not need to be all about your “one true wuvvv” and that saving your first kiss etc is complete bullshit–a woman’s value has nothing to do with how “pure” she is. She makes a TON of mistakes, but is able to understand what she did wrong and actually tries to fix her errors (the underhanded comment about her maid is a great example-she rethinks the conversation, sees what she did wrong, goes back and explains herself/apologizes and tries not to do it again). She is a strong female character without being physically strong or having “one special talent” (*cough*singing*cough*) like every other freaking YA protagonist.

There are lots of issues in this book, but it had an actual, not-perfect strong female character who wasn’t a cut-and-paste Mary Sue. Which shocked me in a very good way.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Rolling In The Deep, by Mira Grant: Finished June 6th. Like all of Mira Grant’s works, this was a fun little slice of horror. There are some things she is very good at: setting up a scene, creating characters you instantly feel sympathetic towards (I loved the human mermaid crew), building tension. But I always find myself liking but not loving her works.

This is probably because it is so, so scientifically inaccurate. This really is a personal pet peeve for me: I like hard scifi, I like accurate details, and there were a bunch of things that suck out here as just… not how the ocean works. Anglerfish don’t prey on humans, sharks can’t withstand pressure on the ocean floor near trenches, Mertensian mimicry is totally different from aggressive mimicry, and let’s not forget about the importance of ocean pressure/the bends (things can’t magically rise up off the ocean floor without going splat). But hey, this is a personal quibble for me. Putting that aside, this was pretty fun… though too short, I think. The buildup was great, but the actual action happened a bit too swiftly and I would have liked a little more explanation about the “mermaids.” The ending, though, was killer.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Normal, by Graeme Cameron: Finished June 7th. This friggin book, guys. I think the author looked at serial killer things that are popular right now (Hannibal, You) and mashed them up in a rather haphazard way. This is a book about a serial killer, from his perspective, and it’s SO BORING. Also it makes no sense: this guy kills in different ways for no set reason (strangulation, shooting with a bow & arrow, sometimes he eats them, etc), he both keeps women captive (but does nothing to them… as serial killers often do?) and hunts and kills women right away. That’s not… how it works. At all. Cameron obviously did ZERO research on psychopaths, and it shows. I mean, our hero falls in love and makes friends. Obviously true sociopath behavior??

The plot is also all over the place. It makes little sense, is full of handy coincidences, and has zero suspense. It’s a mess. Not even an entertaining mess. At least it was a fast read?

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

May 2015 Wrapup: Week 4

4 Jun

I’m super behind on this one, huh? I mean, it’s June. Like, almost-the-second-week-of-June. But I had BEA/BookCon last weekend (which I will post about eventually!) and then I got sick. Plus I’ve fallen desperately behind on makeup posts, so I’ve been hemming and hawing over that little dilemma. I could just, you know, work on some posts, but agonizing over it seems like a better option to my brain. Anyway, yeah. Week 4 of May, done! Finished my reading goals for the month! Halfway through Dresden, finally got to another one of the classics/giant monsters on my list. It was a good week!

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Death Masks, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 25th. This is the 5th book in the series, and for me it was when things really picked up and got serious. I did enjoy Summer Knight, the 4th book, more than any of the others, but until Death Masks the series was still “fun light guilty pleasure” to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re still not super serious literary fantasy, but Butcher ups the amp in Death Masks. More plot, more worldbuilding: we’re introduced to my favorite “group” so far, a pack of humans who worship/are vessels for fallen angels. I mean, how fun right? Who doesn’t want to read about crazy demon cults? Speaking of which, I have read a very high number of demon-centric books this year. Odd.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Blood Rites, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 27th. Throughout the first 5 books, small threads have been teased at a steady but very slow pace. Obviously mentioning them at all would be a huge spoiler but let’s just say that this book is the one where the meta-plot (or one of them, at least) finally starts coming together. Secrets unveiled! Backstories finally fleshed out! Succubi running amok on the set of a porno! I have to say, I’m of mixed minds about the humor in these books. On one hand, they’re totally hilarious and I love Harry (and Bob, especially Bob). But on the other side, this series is never going to be a “wham” one for me because I tend to view them as light and fluffy, even when things are serious. Like brain candy. There are certainly some emotional scenes here, and they were quite effective, but still… the lighter tone sets these apart from the other series I’ve read this year. Which is a good thing (nobody wants only serious all the time), but it also has reminded me of why I usually don’t like urban fantasy. It tends to be a lighter, popcorn genre: Dresden is probably going to be my only real foray into it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Dead Beat, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 28th. The only bad thing about reading all of these back-to-back is that I get a bit confused about what happened in each book. They’ve blurred together. I’m looking at the summary thinking “um, which one is this?” And then I remember, this is the one with the polka. And Sue. So far, this has been my favorite: the plot is only loosely connected to the meta-plot (which, funnily enough, has been my favorite thing so far) but oh my god is it hilarious. But also, somehow, a lot darker in tone. Something that happened about 2 (3?) books back is really starting to eat away at Harry. So things are both a lot darker and a lot more hilarious. Which is exactly what I want in an urban fantasy. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll ride around on a zombie t-rex.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

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Proven Guilty, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 30th. For me, this was a step back for the series, and very much a filler book. The thing is, I’m sure people could say that about Dead Beat, but I just HATED the main side-character from Proven Guilty. I didn’t care about the plot. The main monsters were cool, and I liked that the fairies eventually got involved, but I found myself skimming this one. It reminded me of the earlier books (especially Harry’s bizarre sexual fixation on Molly–who is friggin seventeen), mostly fluff without substance. And particularly light on the humor. Then again, I might also be Dresden’d out: reading 8 of the books in one month was a pretty intense journey. I’m actually going to take June off and read another series, then finish Dresden in July.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

My goal this year is to read 150 books (I went past that last year, but this year I have some behemoths on the list so I’m giving myself wiggle room). Funnily enough, I hit book 75, halfway through my goal, with Proven Guilty–which is roughly halfway through the Dresden series. My plan for next month is to go light and pick maybe a trilogy, and then catch up on the books I had to pass over in May. Danielewski, Barker, and Bacigalupi, oh my!

May 2015 Wrapup: Week 3

24 May

Another week, another pile of books I’ve worked through! I’ll be honest, this week got off to a slow start for me (missed 2 whole days of reading due to various reasons) and I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I wanted to. I was hoping to finish off one or two of the Dresden books, but those got pushed to next week. I did, however, FINALLY start tackling my list of books I’ve been putting off. It’s pretty short, but intimidating: Lolita, Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Ulysses. Of course I picked the easiest first, though I’m hoping to finish IJ in June so halfway through the year, I’ll be halfway done with the list! Hopefully…

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The Devil’s Detective by  Simon Kurt Unsworth: Finished May 20th. I was instantly drawn to the name of this one, but before reading the summary I braced myself for yet another boring detective novel with a cool name that has nothing to do with the plot. Thankfully, The Devil’s Detective is about a detective… in hell! He works for demons! He solves murders! He escorts angels around! It’s everything I always wanted and more.

Though this is indeed a detective novel, I’d also hesitantly shelve it as splatterpunk. It’s heavy on the gore and other revolting details of hell: I mean, it’s hell after all. But basically, don’t read this if you are squeamish. If you like demons, devils, mythology, angels, hellish mysteries, plant monsters? Read this. Read it right now. It’s an absolutely brilliant take on what a modern hell would be, and features an amazing cast of characters. The core mystery is not that mysterious, but the atmosphere is amazing, the writing is gorgeous, and the ending… it’s perfection.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov: Finished May 22nd. There’s little I can say about this that has not already been said a hundred times. Twisted, lyrical, unforgettable. I mean, it’s Lolita. Though honestly, I was expecting it to be more… horrific? Not to underplay the abuse element, of course, but given the fact that this is a banned book and all I thought it would be more explicitly vile (instead of emotionally vile). Possibly because last year I read The End of Alice and Tampa, books with the same thing but with a more nauseatingly graphic tilt. And I loved all 3 of them.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Never Never Part Two, by Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher: Finished May 23rd. I honestly don’t know why I am torturing myself by reading this. I really, really didn’t like the first “part.” Also, this isn’t a serial book, it’s a book they cut up into three sections to draw out hype. Ugh. Honestly, I loved Hopeless, but I become more and more frustrated with Colleen Hoover every time I read a new book of hers.

There’s nothing I can say about the plot (“plot”) without spoiling the first part, but I can say that we get some answers. Well, like one answer. The big mystery is still left untouched for the most part. The thing is… no matter how much I hate this damn thing, I know I’m going to read part 3. I just have to know what happens! It’s like a curse.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker: Finished May 23rd. Read in preparation for The Scarlet Gospels, which I am SO excited about and hopefully will get to next week (if I can keep up with my Dresden reading). This had a nostalgic glow for me that really vanished on the re-read. Now, I love Clive Barker (and his short story “In The Hills, The Cities” is my favorite story of all time), but this left me feeling a little disappointed. Maybe because what everyone thinks of when they think of The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser is the Cenobites, who are only in like 10% of this. No joke.

The rest is the story of the humans who have become wrapped up Lemarchand’s box and the horrible world of the Order of the Gash. Which sounds interesting but… the three main characters (not counting Frank, I love Frank) were very flat and one-dimensional. Sweet, doofy husband. Clumsy girl with crush on said doofy guy. Cold-hearted bitch out to kill anyone who gets in her way. It didn’t feel original or inventive, in sharp contrast to the wildly inventive and original world of the Cenobites. But hey, The Scarlet Gospels is focused almost entirely on Cenobite-world, so at least we have that to look forward to.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full