September Reading Wrapup: National Book Award

19 Oct

I never used to care at all about book awards. But last year two of my favorite reads came from the Man Booker shortlist, and I had an absolute blast reading the longlist this year. So when the longlist for the National Book Award popped up I just had to read them all. Or at least attempt to: I had tried What Belongs To You earlier this year and dnf’d it, and I also struggled so much through the first few chapters of The Portable Veblen (too cutesy, not enough substance) that I didn’t finish it. But other than those two, neither of which made the shortlist, I powered through the whole thing! Just kidding, I didn’t read New of the World because it wasn’t out when I started reading the list, and by the time I finished I just didn’t care about it enough to start. So… 7 out of 10. Good enough!


Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet. Finished September 16th. I have no idea what I read. I should have realized this book would be a big pile of wtf when I saw it was written by Lydia Millet, who wrote Mermaids in Paradise: a comedic tale of ecological destruction with the most “what the hell” ending I’ve ever encountered. I’m convinced that Millet’s books are all going through identity crises.

So what exactly is Sweet Lamb of Heaven? It has thriller elements (woman running from a psycho ex), it has supernatural horror elements (main character hearing a voice stemming from her infant child), it has mystery elements (a general sense of “what the hell is going on”), it has quirky slice-of-life elements (her life in the Maine hotel). Yet it is not a thriller, a horror novel, a mystery, or a quirky slice of life book. I’m… I’m not really sure WHAT it is. More importantly, I don’t think the book knows what it is. I did originally rate this 3 stars but after thinking about it, it’s just such a hot mess that I can’t in good faith keep that rating. Even if it was an interesting read.

Basically, this is a book where you have no idea what is going on or how you are supposed to feel about anything. Our narrator has elements of being unreliable: she’ll spend a whole chapter talking about something like it’s still going on, then a chapter later will say “but all that ended years ago” and you’re like… ??? what? Time shifts, events are glossed over, it’s a real sense of unease. But I don’t think it’s executed well–I love books that keep you on your toes mentally, but Sweet Lamb just felt intentional obtuse and confusing. No bueno.

There were elements I liked, though. Millet’s writing is slow-paced but compulsively readable. And there are lots of odd, almost random scientific discussions that I adored. Animal language! Pando! Orcas! These are all areas of study I’m very interested in so I loved seeing them pop up in the story. Even if, you know, it didn’t 100% make sense. But whatever, I’ll take a random paragraph about orca language in literally any book for any reason.

It was actually going well enough until the end, confusion aside. The last chapter was just really, really bad. Nothing made sense, plot points came out of nowhere, it was incredibly rushed and felt like a different novel. I went from “this is weird but enjoyable” to “no why I don’t want this at all.” I don’t think it’s a bad book, but I don’t think it’s a good book either. Is it even a book? Did I just read blank pages and hallucinate the whole thing? Who knows. Certainly not Lydia Millet.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half





Miss Jane, by Brad Watson. Finished September 20th. I love reading through the longlist of book awards because 9 times out of 10 I’m picking up a book I probably wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise. And while there are always some flops, there are winners too: like this book, which (aside from the beautiful cover) seemed not at all appealing to me. How wrong I was!

This is a slow, character-driven piece of historical fiction that centers on Jane, a little disabled girl. The novel follows her life from birth to death, though the majority of it focuses on her childhood and early teen years. That’s probably my only criticism: events at the end felt very rushed. I really wanted this to be a 600 page chunker so I could spend days and days with these characters. It’s a very short novel, just over 200 pages, and I do think it suffers just a little bit because of the length. But that’s literally the only negative.

It’s such a beautiful book. Jane has a rare disability (a genital malformation that makes her permanently incontinent and also unable to conceive a child) and the vast majority of the book is about her dealing with her situation. From realizing as a child that there’s something different about her, to fighting her disability as a teen, to finally accepting it as an adult. I have several disabled family members so of course this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and Brad Watson handled it so deftly and with so much compassion. Jane is a complex, dynamic character who is not defined by her disability, but this is not some “rah rah learn to overcome your problems!” type of narrative. It’s about Jane accepting that her disability is part of her: it doesn’t define her, but it’s certainly part of the overall definition of who she is.

Of course there are other plot threads and characters. We follow the doctor who diagnosed her, my personal favorite character, along with Jane’s dysfunctional family. A bitter mother, and alcoholic father, an older sister who just wants to leave. Issues of sexism and racism are deftly woven into the narrative. This is a book that hits some heavy topics, but it’s really just a book about life. About dealing with the hand you’re dealt and finding happiness anywhere you can.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half





Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson. Finished September 21st. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has so many elements I enjoy: set in NYC, coming-of-age, intense female friendship. And while I liked it, there was nothing I particularly loved. It was a pleasant but unassuming read.

I think a large chunk of that is because of how short it is. I’m not sure what is up with this current “super crazy short” novel trend: the majority of the books on both the Man Booker and National Book Award longlists are under 300 pages. Many are under 250, and this one is under 200. There’s a way to make a short novel work (for example, I thought Hot Milk was the perfect length) but overall I tend to find lengthy books more enjoyable.

There’s just a lot to cover here and not enough pages to bring the emotional impact. We follow our main character August, but there are SO many side stories: her mother’s mental illness, her father’s conversion to Islam and how it affects her family, the lives of August’s 3 very close friends, and snippets of her current life as an anthropologist. The last was definitely my favorite part, and one I wanted a lot more of. I am an absolute sucker for cultural anthropology in novels and it seems so on-trend now which makes me very happy.

I felt like, aside from August, no one was very fleshed out. I wanted to feel the tight relationship between her friends, but the pace was so rapid-fire I had trouble even keeping track of who was who. Compare this to A Little Life, a book about four friends who are so amazingly separate and distinct. Considering some of the struggles these girls go through, I felt like 200 pages was incredibly insufficient. I wanted so, so much more of them.

I also wasn’t a fan of the writing style. It’s very repetitive. For example:

“The government owns the pecan trees now. What had once been my family’s has been taken. By the government.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a writing style like that, but it’s never something I enjoy. I don’t like repetition and stripped-down, simple sentences. It’s meant to feel colloquial and casual but I always have problems with it, like in My Name Is Lucy Barton. It’s just not for me.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





The Throwback Special, by Chris Bachelder. Finished September 23rd. I expected to like this book, but was honestly surprised by how much I loved it. My favorite on the NBA longlist, and I can’t imagine another book knocking it off that spot (though Miss Jane is close). What first drew me to The Throwback Special was that it’s about football: I love football pretty passionately, so whenever it pops up in serious literature I am all over it.

You don’t really need to know anything about football, or even like it, to appreciate this book… but I think it definitely helps. There are many scenes discussing the Theismann-LT play that may read as a little dry if you’re not a fan. And there are also clever elements that can easily be missed if you don’t follow football (their lottery mimicking the NFL draft, for example). I usually have a pretty strong aversion to “manly men discussing being men” type of books, which this definitely is, and I loved it despite that. I mean I kind of hated All That Man Is from the Man Booker list and I think The Throwback Special could definitely go into “boring man stuff” territory but it veers so hard in the opposite direction.

This is a quiet book that is absolutely stuffed with brilliant observations on human nature and life. I have entire pages highlighted because of how meaningful and beautiful I found the passages. They just rang so true to the universal human experience–sometimes a book just strikes right at the heart of things, and The Throwback Special does this with incredible finesse.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Finished September 26th. When I was a kid, I thought the underground railroad was not a metaphor but a literal, physical railroad under the ground like a subway that saved slaves. It was all very exciting and I thought American history was super cool. Then a teacher told me that it was not, in fact, literal. Much sorrow was had that day. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out there was a book that took that concept and ran with it!

I’ve read one of Whitehead’s book in the past, Zone One, and I feel like there’s a huge emotional element missing in his writing. The Underground Railroad is a book that deals with a very heavy topic, slavery, and some scenes are incredibly hard to read. There’s a lot of brutality and it’s based on history, which makes it that much more powerful. But while you cringe and sympathies with the characters, I never felt like I knew them or their motivations.

This didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, though given the content perhaps “enjoy” is too strong of a word. It’s beautifully written, moving, and impactful… but I wanted more of all those elements. I wanted more emotion, more gut-punching sadness (what can I say, I’m a book masochist).

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





Imagine Me Gone, by Adam Haslett. Finished September 27th. This is a hard book to rate. I can’t say I enjoyed it–the reading experience was tense in a not-so-pleasant way, and it filled me with anxiety. Most reviews start off with trigger warnings for depression and mental illness, and of course I ignored them because let’s be honest: just from the description and first chapter, it’s very clear the direction this book is going to go. There’s little surprise when the wham moments come (one of the few negative things I can say about Imagine Me Gone), and in fact the entire plot seems laid out neatly in the first 5 pages.

But. But. There is this sense of unease and dread suffusing every chapter, and if you suffer from anxiety and depression yourself I think certain chapters (aka any of Michael’s) will be hard to get through. His pulsing, roving anxiety is so aptly described that it’s hard to keep your own reigned in. Whenever Michael stuffed a bill in the drawer of his desk without opening it or got increasingly obsessed with some trivial detail of his day I felt my own heart beat a little faster: in sympathy, yes, but also because I related to his situation in a way that made me very uncomfortable. This is a harsh look at what mental illness does to both the sufferer but also to an entire family. It’s raw and, at times, almost unbearable. Even though you know what’s coming, the tension doesn’t let up: in fact, I think knowing the ending makes it just that much harder to get through.

This could have been a 5-star read for me, but I felt a little let down (and upset) by the ending. I think certain characters acted in incredibly stupid ways. I also felt the last few chapters were kind of lackluster: for a book that takes such a hard look a tragedy, all the time-jumping felt a bit flat and detached.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





The Association of Small Bombs, by  Karan Mahajan Finished September 29th. While the subject matter of this book is quite heavy, it left basically no impression on me. I don’t really feel one way or another about it. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it either.

If anything, I found it boring. I flew through the first half and then suddenly found myself dreading picking it up again. I really had to push myself to finish it. I’m pretty sure I will struggle to remember a single detail in only a few weeks. Just super forgettable.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half




My obvious favorites were Miss Jane and The Throwback Special, though sadly only one of them made it to the shortlist/finalists.

Reading Challenge Goals

212/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

57/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

September Reading Wrapup: Part I

25 Sep

September has been a seemingly endless month. I look back at the books I read early in September and say, “really, that was this month?!” It probably feels that way because my reading was very different the first few weeks of the month and the last two. For the first half, I focused on series and a few shorter reads. For the second, I’ve been reading through the National Book Award Longlist (which will be its own post in Part II!). Aside from one small book I read in between the NBA books, which will be included in this wrapup just for cohesion’s sake. So let’s get started!


Dragon Haven, by Robin Hobb. Finished September 3rd. I finished the first book in the Rain Wild Chronicles at the end of August, and dived directly into the rest of the series. I heard pretty negative things about this series (for a Hobb book, I mean, nothing damning) but I really loved this book. So much worldbuilding takes place here, and while it’s a pretty new cast they’re well fleshed out and loveable/hateable like you expect Hobb’s people to be.

I especially loved the focus on the dragons. They’re in the background of all the previous trilogies, so to get a real, close look at how they behave? Fantastic. I’m hoping this all sets up for some dragon shennanigans in the last Fitz trilogy.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur. Finished September 4th.

did you think I was a city
big enough for a weekend getaway
i am the town surrounding it
the one you’ve never heard of
but always pass through
there are no neon lights here
no skyscrapers or statues
but there is thunder
for i make bridges tremble
i am not street meat i am homemade jam
thick enough to cut the sweetest
thing your lips will touch
i am not police sirens
i am the crackle of a fireplace
i’d burn you and you still
couldn’t take your eyes off me
cause i’d look so beautiful doing it
you’d blush
i am not a hotel room i am home
i am not the whiskey you want
i am the water you need
don’t come here with expectations
and try to make a vacation out of me

I impulse-picked this up at The Strand because 1) signed copy, duh and 2) pretty cover. I am such a whore for a good cover. Thankfully, I loved this! I found some of the poems a bit hit-or-miss (the last section especially didn’t resonate with me at all), but the poems that did hit? Man, they were powerful and beautiful. Plus the whole book is illustrated. The art, like the poems, have an air of simplicity that I really loved.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half





Dead Souls, by J. Lincoln Fenn*. Finished September 4th. I will admit that I am a huge impulse reader, and I requested this book because the cover looked pretty and it seemed like a fun horror read. After finishing it, I would not use the word “fun” in any way to describe Dead Souls. In fact, the word “fun” probably has a restraining order and Dead Souls is not allowed to be within 100 feet of it.

This is a dark, gritty horror novel. The premise seems like a setup for a horror-comedy: a girl gets drunk at a bar and sells her soul to the devil, and then joins a support group for other “dead souls.” It’s definitely NOT a comedy, though there are a sprinkling of very dark funny moments. It’s a much more philosophical book than I expected, which perhaps the title (a mirror of Gogol’s Dead Souls, very intentionally) should have tipped me off to. There’s a lot of “what does it mean to be damned, is there any reason to be moral if you know you’re going to hell, what would you do to get your soul back, what kind of sacrifice is too big” stuff going on. This book is very much about people wrestling with the idea that they have no future, yet struggling to build one anyway.

This is also a very, very violent book. The dead souls each have to do a “favor” for the devil (named Scratch here) at some point in the future. There are hints about how dark the favors are, but at about 70% of the way we start seeing some of them in person. Imagine the murder tableaus in Hannibal amped up to 11. I actually physically recoiled from the book at one point, so it’s definitely not for anyone with a weak stomach. However, while the favors are stomach-churning, there’s not even a hint of sexual violence which I really appreciated. I think in the hands of another author this could definitely read as a over-the-top, gratuitous book, but Fenn does such a good job of balancing these moments of disgust with poignant thoughts about the human condition. And our narrator is just as revolted and appalled as we are.

I was pleasantly surprised by Dead Souls: it was nothing like what I expected, in the best way possible.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half





City of Dragons, by Robin Hobb. Finished September 6th. The third Rain Wilds book! And definitely my favorite of the four. Some old favorites re-appear, but I was more impressed by the development of our core, new cast. The story takes some interesting twists and turns but still continues to build on the dragon lore. I grew very, very fond of quite a few of the characters in this and Rapskal in particular probably rates among my favorite Elderling characters.

What I think is perhaps most impressive about Hobb’s writing is how she is able to craft characters that you love one moment yet hate the next without having them be inconsistent. In this installment, a character who I totally loathed had some amazing development and actually had me rooting for him–but it was totally believable as an arc for him.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half





The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley. Finished September 8th. What an odd little book. This is a pretty strange historical fiction/magical realism mashup that definitely was not at all what I was expecting. To be honest, I don’t think any reader would expect the direction it goes in unless they knew the plot beforehand. All you need to know is: a girl in post-WWI England falls in love with her teacher. When she confesses her love, he tells her that he has a special message to deliver…

It’s hard to describe what I liked about this. The story is totally bizarre and it’s a really weird clash of genres that almost doesn’t work, yet somehow does at the same time? Even the parts ‘grounded in reality’ seem kind of surreal: while it’s set right after World War I, some of the historical elements seem like they’re from a much older time. It’s a small, rural farming town, and without the date to ground it I’d easily believe this took place in the 1800′s (or earlier, to be honest).

Something about this book is so dreamy and compelling. It’s certainly not a page-turner, but I was so involved in the writing that I flew through this in one short sitting. If you like magical realism/new weird-style fantasy and can take a healthy dose of strange, I definitely recommend this.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





Blood of Dragons, by Robin Hobb. Finished September 8th. I enjoyed this, but it’s probably my least favorite Robin Hobb book. It lacked the emotional wallop of her other finales, and felt oddly rushed-large chunks of time and important events were skipped over.

I was also pretty unhappy with the entire love triangle situation. I didn’t like the resolution, or what happened with Rapskal’s character. Not a lot of good development for anyone though really. And I felt like core characters from the first 3 books took a backseat for new additions we really didn’t need. Too many story lines for a too short book!

Still enjoyed the series, but it didn’t reach those Fitz/Liveship feels.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. Finished September 14th. Henry James is overly fond of run-on sentences, and commas, but despite this-or perhaps because of it-he has produced a spooky tale, a vague horror, an unsettling ghost story for the ages.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Secret Sins, by C.D. Reiss. Finished September 22nd. It kind of kills me to dislike a C.D. Reiss book, especially one about the Drazen girls, but this was a huge flop for me. It was missing literally everything I enjoy about her books. The characters were flat, dull, and unlikeable. There was no chemistry between our love interests. The drama was dull and predictable. I mean, it’s billed as a book where it’s impossible to guess the twist. However, under 20% of the way in I guessed it exactly and quickly dismissed my assumption as, “oh man, wouldn’t that be stupid? That’s way too stupid to be the actual twist.”

Sadly… it’s a really freaking stupid twist that kind of fucks up all the other Drazen books she’s written. Just why?! Very unhappy with this one.





Reading Challenge Goals

205/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

56/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

August 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part III

5 Sep

August was definitely one of my best reading months ever. I got a ton done, both in terms of numbers and goals! I’d been putting off my series challenge for a while but I finally got back into that (though I think I’ll be modifying it a bit before the end of the year), and I decided to pick up Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge (since I’d already completed 80% of the challenges anyway). I’m pumped for September!


So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder. Finished August 19th. After reading and loving Broder’s Last Sext earlier this year, I wanted to devour basically everything she’s written. Starting with her book of essays! Something about her just speaks to my very soul. It’s strange, because while we share some of the same issues (depression, anxiety) I don’t think her actual life is even remotely like mine. And some of the topics she covers (open marriage, vomit fetish…) are so far out of my experience or comfort zone. Yet in every essay, no matter how foreign the topic, she writes something I can connect to.

It’s like she has a hotline to all that darkness in your soul. She can reach in and say something so personal you’d swear it was written about you, or for you. And realizing that these terrible thoughts are actually near-universal for depressed people is oddly freeing. Like, if this famous and successful person feels this way, maybe I’m not as abnormal as I thought? Also, she’s a brilliant, funny, beautiful writer. Pretty sure Melissa Broder is my spirit animal.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Ferryman Institute, by Colin Gigl*. Finished August 20th. I was really excited for this book, but I think I led myself to believe it was something it just isn’t. I was expecting a slow, thoughtful, dark fantasy about Ferrymen who help dead souls pass over. And while the last part is true, it’s more an action-comedy fantasy. And that’s not a genre I usually go for at all, so I mostly blame myself for how much I disliked The Ferryman Institute (though there is one problematic element I just can’t get over).

If you want a weird/quirky action movie in a book format, this delivers like crazy. It’s nonstop action: car chases, dramatic escapes, backstabbing, twists and turns. The worldbuilding and character development really takes a backseat to the rapid-fire pace. I wanted a LOT more information about the Ferrymen, more background stuff about the characters, and less car chases. But that’s not really the book’s fault, is it? That was just my expectation.

For the most part, it’s just that it wasn’t the book for me. BUT. There’s one kind of huge flaw. The premise is that one of the Ferrymen decides to save a suicidal girl instead of waiting for her to die. The girl, Alice, is depressed, has OCD (well… she shows no signs of OCD but we’re told she has it), and suffers from anorexia and is underweight. Problem one with this: our Ferryman, Charlie, is attracted to her right away. Which, given that she’s sick and underweight, is squicky for me personally. Two: Alice “gets better” over the course of the book because of Charlie. Let’s get this straight: boys do not save girls from depression. A knight in shining armor does not cure mental illness. I just think it’s really irresponsible to present their ~romance~ as saving Alice. Therapy, medication, and self-reflection help depression. Not ~true love~. So, while I want to be like, “oh I just didn’t like this book because I’m not action-oriented” I feel like this is SUCH a huge problem and a really big personal pet peeve of mine.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full





Stranded, by Bracken MacLeod*. Finished August 20th. If a book is compared to The Thing/At The Mountains of Madness I am going to read it. I had great success earlier this year with The Thing Itself, and while this is totally different in basically every way it was also pretty fantastic.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this book, and at its core it’s really a science fiction mystery, so I really don’t want to discuss the plot much. The basics: a ship sent out to refuel an oil rig gets iced in during a huge storm, and the crew starts getting sick. Very, strangely sick: the kind of sick where you see shadows dancing in the corners of your eyes. The first half of this book has an intensely creepy and claustrophobic vibe: it’s a scenario where tensions will obviously be high, and there’s a sense of dread lingering in the background.

While it’s not really a horror, it’s definitely an unsettling and at times downright scary book. The plot is tightly crafted and it’s clear how everything fits together when you get to the end. The characters are messy and human, but they address their flaws in very interesting ways. There was a moment where I thought, “what the hell, protagonist??” that was actually addressed later in the story! Which basically never happens, so I was pretty happy about that. In a way, this reminded me of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter: not in theme or topic at all, but in the way it starts off as a simple but interesting story that builds to an amazing and unexpected conclusion.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





A Desolate Splendor, by John Jantunen*. Finished August 22nd. This is a beautiful book, but I found the description incredibly misleading. Yes, this is a post-apocalyptic novel about survival in the aftermath of disaster. But the end of the world event is basically set dressing: there are many clues that this is the future but there is almost no information about what happened (or why). This isn’t a negative at all, and it adds a lot of atmosphere, but the blurb gives a very precise summary of events that… well… don’t really occur. The two “sets” of bad guys (Reds and Echoes) are not described as being ex-soliders or a weird death cult. The reader is given descriptions of them and their actions, but is really left to draw their own conclusion about motivations and background.

It’s a style of writing I really like: we’re thrown into this survival situation with no information, and have to find our own footing. The narrative is very colloquial in style: many characters aren’t even given names (for example, we have ‘the boy’ and ‘Pa’), and there are no quotation marks during dialogue. And while that, along with the father/son dynamic and setting, may draw comparisons to The Road, they’re wildly different books. A Desolate Splendor has several overlapping character groups, and we switch between them quite frequently. Some have names, some don’t. We get inside the head of some, and are left in the dark about others. The story flits rapidly between plot points and it really takes a while to figure out how any of these stories are connected, but they come together beautifully.

This is the type of book for people who like raw, gritty survival takes. It’s a dark book, with a lot of violence, but none of it is ever gratuitous. We’re shown how desolate and scary the world has become, but perhaps more frighteningly we see how easily humans adapt to this cruelty. There’s not an ounce of telling in this book: character motivations, histories, and even some key plot events are left for the reader to deduce themselves. It’s not a book that holds your hand or offers even an ounce of help, and I loved that. I’d go back and carefully re-read paragraphs to pick up on any hints I missed, and it was so satisfying when I felt like I ‘solved’ something myself. Recommended if you want an apocalyptic tale that feels like grit-lit.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





All The Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood. Finished August 23rd. Sometimes, very rarely, a book will function exactly like an author intends it to. Usually they’re in the ballpark though: a sad book will make you emotional, a scary book will have you checking under the bed. But once in a rare while, a book will be 100% different from what an author intended (like The Dinner). Given the ending here, I think Greenwood’s intent was indeed to show us an “unusual and provocative love story” or whatever else the blurb says. But it doesn’t ask “hard questions” because newsflash: sexually abusing a child is always wrong.

This is not a love story. This is a story of a very damaged young girl who is taken in and groomed by an adult man who enters into a sexual relationship with her when she’s 13 years old. Let’s get one thing straight: a 13-year-old cannot consent to sex with a man ten years older than her. She can think she’s in love, that she wasn’t groomed and it’s totally her choice (or his choice–older woman/male child is just as revolting), but the grownup is responsible here. The grownup is the one who has to say no. Children do not have the emotional capacity to understand romance and sex with an adult.

In terms of showing how twisted the relationship between Kellen and Wavy is, this book actually does a fantastic job. I’m not sure it means to: I think it’s meant to make us uncomfortable but also have us “root for them.” But every scene between them, especially the ones in Kellen’s head, are disgusting. He admits that he fell in love with her when she was 8. He crawls in her bed in the middle of the night before she hits puberty. He goes on and on about her “perfect small tits.” It’s…. just really unsettling. Like in the books that came before it (Lolita, The End of Alice, Tampa, Lamb–all of which handle this topic SO MUCH BETTER) it’s clear that these are the thoughts of a disturbed person. And Wavy’s perspective is equally heartbreaking: she is SO CONVINCED that she loves her abuser. Poor Wavy. I think she really does love him, because she grew up with no love and Kellen has treated her “better” than anyone else. It’s all she thinks she deserves.

I think what people are missing here when they call it a “love story” is that you can abuse someone while thinking you love them. Read interviews with convicted pedophiles–many of them legitimately think the 5-year-old loved them and “wanted it.” This doesn’t mean it’s right, obviously. Kellen really thinks he loves Wavy, and he wants the best for her. Of course he damages her and ruins her life, but he thinks he is doing the right thing. Wavy and Kellen’s relationship is in no way a love story, so I’m super confused by some of the reviews. It is a beautifully written book, but I’m just… I don’t know how to feel about it given the “love story” tone and also the fact that the author’s past mirrors Wavy’s in several ways.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full





Black Fairy Tale, by Otsuichi*. Finished August 26th. I read ZOO by Otsuichi earlier this year and absolutely loved it, so I will admit I had pretty high expectations coming into Black Fairy Tale. While I didn’t love it quite as much as ZOO, I think it actually exceeded my expectations!

Unlike ZOO, this is a novel. However, it does in some ways have the feel of a short story collection. There are numerous layers here, and the first one we’re introduced to is a straight-up fairy tale about a raven collecting eyeballs for a blind girl so she can experience what they’ve seen. This story is actually written by a character in the book, and we have their perspective along with the perspective of a girl who lost her eye and after getting a transplant is experiencing memories from the eye’s “original” owner. These three aspects are spliced together in a very interesting way: there are obvious plot connections between the storylines, but there’s also some very clever mirroring between the “story world” and the “real world.” I was really impressed with how everything came together in the end, and the plot definitely went in some unexpected directions.

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is intensely gruesome and there is a LOT of body horror (think Franken Fran in book format). The violence is shocking: not because it’s upsetting or gratuitous (Otsuichi’s writing never feels like torture porn and there’s no sexual elements), but because it’s so bizarre and almost… whimsical? These absolutely horrific things happen but it’s just so very strange and surreal in both tone and content. There’s definitely elements of magical realism at play, giving it a very different feeling than other intense/graphic horror novels I’ve read. In this way it’s very like ZOO, which had that strange “this is so horrible yet reading it is so pleasant” kind of vibe.

If you like Japanese horror I think Otsuichi is a must-read, and he’s quickly become my favorite author in the genre. Interesting plotlines, bizarre and original concepts, and sparse but lovely writing.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half





The Schooldays of Jesus, by J. M. Coetzee.  Finished August 27th. The last book in my Man Booker bonanza! And, sadly, one of my least favorites (though I am certain it will make the shortlist). I had very high expectations for this: Coetzee has won the Man Booker twice, the title is gorgeous, and the plot summary sounded very interesting.

And indeed, the “main character” David is very interesting. One of the best child characters I’ve ever read: he’s a strange, affected little kid but I loved his portrayal. All of my highlighted quotes are from him. Sadly, it’s clear from early on that while the book title is about David and the summary focuses on him, his fake father Simon is the main character. And Simon is…. boring. Very boring.

I found the plot unbearably boring and, to be honest, pretentious. There’s a lot of discussions about the ~morality~ of murder and like… I don’t really care about what happens to someone who rapes and murders a woman he’s obsessed with? I don’t want to read page after page of a judge brooding over justice and morality and what is right. How did this book turn into a courtroom drama?? This is not what I signed up for. I want to know how David calls down number with his dance, goddamit.

I also found the writing very affected. Simon’s name is repeated ad nauseam to the point that it’s tedious to read sections focused on him (which is basically all of them). Nobody talked like real people: it felt like some kind of weird morality tale.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half





The Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb. Finished August 30th. I was pleasantly surprised by The Dragon Keeper. It seems like every review boils down to “good, but not as good as Fitz/Liveship.” So I really wasn’t expecting to love it. And while, yes, it’s not quite as magical as some of her other books, it still gave me those cozy Elderling-world feelings. As always, the characters are the star here: I love and hate the cast in equal measures already, and I’m constantly flip-flopping on how I feel about certain people (*cough*Seldrin*cough*).

This definitely feels like the first book in a series. To be honest, not a ton happens in 500 pages: I was kind of expecting the whole “dragon journey up the river” to take up most of the plot but they don’t even leave until the last 50 or so pages! I mean, it’s Hobb so I’m perfectly fine reading 450 pages of character building and plot setup, but it does feel particularly slow. I can see why people don’t like it as much as the others but personally, I loved this and can’t wait to start the next one!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





The Language of Dying, by Sarah Pinborough*. Finished August 31st. This slim little book about a woman whose father is dying packs an emotional punch. I hesitate to make this comparison because A Monster Calls is one of my all-time favorite books, but there are some obvious parallels I’d be silly to not point out. Both have a similar visual aesthetic, they’re both about dealing with dying, they’re quietly poetic, and both have a supernatural overtone (though The Language of Dying‘s is much more subtle).

I think this is one of those books where if you read it at the right moment in your life (like, say, when a family member is dying) it will have a huge, unforgettable emotional impact. I’ve had some book experiences like that (I read The Fault in Our Stars a few months after my uncle died of cancer, and A Monster Calls right after my neighbor died–also of cancer, which is what the illness in this book is too. Fuck cancer). And I think this could easily be a “coping with death” book for a lot of people.

The writing is soft and unassuming, but lovely. It flows beautifully and is just so easy to read, even when the subject matter is distressing. And while it’s a short book, Pinborough does a great job of showing us the cast of characters and we get to know them in a very short amount of time. I have a few other books of hers on my Kindle, and I am definitely bumping them up my TBR!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half




Reading Challenge Goals

197/175 Books

21/35 Series Books

56/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

August 2016 Reading Wraupup: Part II

1 Sep

The first chunk of August was all about the Man Booker longlist, and thankfully that reading binge got me out of my kind-of-slump. In July and June I was pretty disappointed in my reading, but August was amazing! So amazing that I’m actually going to have to do 3 wrapups, because there’s just too much from the second half of the month to put in one post.


Yon & Mu by Junji Ito. Finished August 11th.  I read this smack-dab in the middle of the Man Booker books because there’s honestly only so much srs literature I can take in a stretch. Sometimes you just need some spooky cute cats, you know? Junji Ito is by far my favorite manga author (I still have nightmares about the snail people in Uzumaki), so I was over the moon when I found out that he wrote something about cats. Cute cats! Spooky cats! This adorable little work details his interactions with his wife’s cats, and pretty accurately describes the hold those furry little monsters have on our lives. It’s surprisingly touching at times, and has a wham right in the feels ending. Junji Ito, horror master and cute cat drawer extraordinaire.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Last Good Knight, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished August 12th. After Something Nice, I was really craving more of Nora & co. Sadly, I’ve read all of the Original Sinners books… or have I?! Turns out there was a chunky novella I’d somehow skipped over that features Nora in her badass prime. I don’t think this had the emotional depth of the full-length books (and the Soren & Nora-based shorts) but of course I still enjoyed it. It was great to be with these characters again, and even though you know our two main characters won’t get together in the end it’s still a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





Truly Madly Guiltily, by Liane Moriarty. Finished August 15th. Liane Moriarty books are like comfort food to me. If I feel like I need to “reset” my reading brain after a bunch of tough books, or things that got me in a slump, she’s one of my go-to authors (along with Stephen King). Her writing is so breezy and easy to read, but her books aren’t the light and fluffy chick lit you’d expect given the marketing. She deals with serious issues and is absolutely amazing and creating realistic characters.

That said, I didn’t love this as much as The Husband’s Secret or Big Little Lies. I think it’s because the core mystery is a little weaker than it is in those two: Truly Madly Guiltily revolves around a Bad Thing that happened at a barbecue, but it’s clear that it wasn’t, like, a murder or anything like that. So the tension is not as high as in her previous books.

Like most of Moriarty’s books, this is intensely character-driven. If you don’t like them, it’s going to fall flat for you. They definitely worked for me, especially Vid and Tiffany who I loved. Vid, come cook food for me! They’re all complex and flawed and realistic. They have distinctive though patterns so it never feels same-y to read their alternating chapters. I did find them a little less compelling than the women in The Husband’s Secret, but still wonderful as always. That’s actually kind of the theme of this review: I liked it, but not as much as her other works. I do think I would have liked it more if it was the first of hers that I read, but I hold her to a pretty high standard and TMG didn’t quiiiite reach it. I mean, I still enjoyed it and was really drawn into the plot, but it was just a tad more predictable and less exciting than what I expected.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman*. Finished August 16th. It took me quite a while to get around to reading this because of one thing: it’s tagged as young adult on Goodreads. Before I actually get into the review, this is NOT a young adult book. All of the characters are clearly adults, and while it’s not an “edgy grimdark fantasy” with extreme violence or anything there’s adult content. Some creepy violence, lots of drinking, references to sex. You know, the things you don’t see in YA fantasy. It doesn’t have YA tropes like “super special girl” or “broody guy love interest” (in fact I think it plays with these tropes a bit). So if, like me, you were a bit put off by the label don’t fear!

This book is, above all else, hella fun. It’s not deep or meaningful, you won’t find intense philosophical discussions, but you’ll have a blast reading it. It’s a “fantasy kitchen sink” type book: we’ve got an all-powerful (and possibly shady) interdimensional library, a magical language, alternate worlds, dragons, vampires, Fae, werewolves, demons, robots, steampunk elements, chaos and law magic, spies, cat burglars, Victorian-style detectives, water spirits… and that’s just in this book. Since this is a series (at least 5 books atm) you can tell that a lot of this is worldbuilding for things down the line. Some of the elements (werewolves and demons in particular) don’t exactly add a lot to the plot: it’s more set dressings and a way to show how truly weird all the elements are. But I can assume that things mentioned offhand will be important down the line! Which reminds me a lot of the Dresden Files: so many different magical creatures, and with a constantly expanding mythos.

It’s hard to say that any of the elements are unique: even the all-powerful library has been done. But they’re combined in such a clever, fun, action-packed way that I never wanted for some kind of ~new unique never before seen~ monster or ability. The plot is so fast-paced and has so many elements that it feels like you’re on a rollercoaster. And the characters are definitely very fun: I especially loved Irene, our main Librarian.

This is a book for people who love books. It’s about books (and book thieving!) and it has so so many literary references: all of the librarians pick their own names, which means you’ve got about a dozen references to hunt down if you don’t instantly know what they reference. Our detective, Vale, is that charming and familiar “gentleman investigator” type. The world itself (or at least the alternate world this book takes place in) has heavy, heavy steampunk elements reminiscent of Jules Verne. Just a lot of clever references and wordplay that makes the world feel very rich.

It isn’t a perfect book–it was almost too fast-paced for me, and though it’s a deep world we didn’t get enough explanation or description to 100% satisfy me. I wanted a little more showing and a little less telling. But it was just a blast and I’ll definitely continue on with the series.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





The Last Days of New Paris, by China Mieville. Finished August 17th. With every new release, China Mieville just further establishes why he’s my favorite author. If you’ve read any of the Bas Lag books, remember the weird nonsensical bombs? Now imagine dropping one of them on Paris during the Nazi occupation. Surrealist art comes suddenly to life, demons come up from hell, and the city is warped in all sorts of almost indescribable ways. It’s pretty classic Mieville with a historical fiction twist.

This is an incredibly interesting world: weird surrealist art running around, Nazi conspiracies, an interesting take on the French resistance, and of course actual demons are on the scene as well. It’s a strange, evocative, beautiful little book with a truly stunning ending. Plus, Mieville illustrated it!

The only criticism I have is that this book is so short! Only ~180 pages. I could read a 600 page book set in New Paris. Or a whole series. But hey, I say that about pretty much everything he writes.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Summer That Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel. Finished August 18th.

“Don’tcha wanta live forever?”
“I’m the devil. I am already forever.”

This was an absolute cover-based impulse buy, and it’s probably my favorite book I’ve read so far in 2016. Sometimes it pays to get drawn in by good design!

The heat came with the devil. It was the summer of 1984, and while the devil had been invited, the heat had not. Heat is, after all, the devil’s name, and when’s the last time you left home without yours?

This book swept me off my feet. I was expecting an interesting magical realism-type read with perhaps some light emotional impact. What I got was one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, with a story and characters that ripped my heart right out of my chest. I cried reading this book. A lot.

All love leads to cannibalism. I know that now. Sooner or later, our hearts will devour, if not the object of your affections, our very selves. Teeth are the heart’s miracle.

There are scenes here that are burned into my brain, quotes I will never forget. I really don’t want to talk about the plot at all–a boy who claims to be the devil comes to a small town, that’s all you need to know. This may seem like a fun, quirky book at first just based on the premise and the eccentric character names (Autopsy Bliss!), but it is a moving book that tackles some really deep societal issues. I really can’t recommend this enough, everyone should read it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Shrill, by Lindy West. Finished August 18th. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The first half was kind of a mixed bag for me, mostly because all of the chapters about life as a fat girl weren’t something I could identify with, and this is such a personal book that I really WANTED to identify with it. I also felt like some of it was a bit alienating: for example, her descriptions of all the airport-related anxiety she gets (stressed for days before, having to get there at least 2 hours early, shaking through security, getting on line to board insanely early, intense anxiety about who you will sit next to) is something I experience every time I have to fly. And she acts like this is something only fat people experience. It’s something anyone with anxiety can relate with!

But there were large chunks of this that made me want to get up and cheer. I felt like Lindy was speaking directly to me, or for me. Especially the chapters on rape jokes: this is an incredibly sensitive subject for me, and I get apoplectic when people say “oh it’s just a joke chill out.” I want to punch them in the face. And Lindy basically did punch them in the face, verbally. Thank you, Lindy, for saying everything I’ve ever felt on the subject so eloquently and beautifully.

Then there’s the chapters on the trolling she went through. As a female blogger (though on a much smaller platform) I’ve had my fair share of rabid trolls. Rape threats, people assuming I must be fat/hideous/insecure/unable to get a date because I’m ‘bitter’, threats of all sorts of weird violence, people who come after me again and again for weeks. I once had the wife of a fellow blogger leave harassing comments on EVERY POST I did, and my bosses told me to basically just deal with it and wouldn’t delete anything (and of course he didn’t get in any sort of trouble). It’s honestly terrifying. It’s the sense that your whole self has been exposed to the world without your permission, that people hate you just because of your gender (let’s be honest, 100% of the trolling I’ve gotten is because I’m a outspoken woman). I’ve sobbed over threats, ended up having shaking panic attacks while deleting 50+ horrible comments a single troll left in an hour. And everything Lindy said about the subject spoke directly to my soul. You do have to grow an incredibly tough skin, but that’s not a good thing. You shouldn’t be praised because you can ignore rape threats. That’s not a skill anyone should have, ever! And it’s a huge problem people never want to talk about.

Lindy thrusts it right into the spotlight with heartbreaking accuracy. She made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the harassment I’ve experience, and like it’s NOT my fault. I think if you’re a woman on the internet who has ever felt unsafe or unsure just because of your gender, you need to read this. It is eye-opening and amazing and Lindy West is so fucking important.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Warp, by Lev Grossman*. Imagine Quentin Coldwater from The Magicians if he never got into Brakebills, and magic didn’t exist. Pretty depressing, right? Welcome to Warp. This is 24 hours in the life of Hollis, a young man who has no idea what direction his life is moving in and feels incredibly hopeless. A lot of his life is lived in his head: both by going over shows and stories that he likes, but also by writing his own book that mirrors his life. In a way, this is an incredibly meta book. Sure, it’s prototype Quentin, but it’s honestly a book about Lev writing The Magicians. Which is funny, because he wrote this before The Magicians, so he wrote a book about writing a book he wrote before he wrote it.

It’s hard to say that this is an enjoyable book. It’s depressing, and even the “bright spots” have an aura of sadness. Hollis meets a girl, Xanthe, and it’s really unclear how real she is: I mean, other characters have interactions with her, but how much of his perception of her is based on reality? The name alone is kind of a big clue there. And Warp is littered with sci-fi and fantasy references, so the naming is definitely intentional (and clever).

I think that if you like The Magicians, you’ll appreciate this book. It’s both Quentin’s roots and a description of life before Lev wrote Quentin into reality. Like Murakami’s early works that just got re-translated, it’s amazing to look back and see where an author has come from. On its own, Warp isn’t a great read, but it’s such a good look into Lev Grossman as a writer.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full



[Books marked with an * were provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

August 2016 Reading Wrapup: Man Booker Extravaganza

16 Aug

Last year, two of my favorite reads came from the Man Booker shortlist. One of them, A Little Life, is one of my all-time favorite books. Like, possibly top 10. So of course I’ve been anxiously awaiting the longlist for 2016! There are 13 books on it, two of which I’ve already read and 1 of which doesn’t come out in the US until fall (The Schooldays of Jesus), so I read the other 10 back-to-back.

As for the two I’ve read, Eileen and The North Water, you can read my thoughts on those but… let’s just say I don’t think either deserved to be on the longlist (especially when David Mitchell, Don DeLilo, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, etc all had eligible books…).


Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy. Finished July 30th. Last year, I read the Man Booker shortlisted Satin Island and it was one of my favorite books of 2015. My feelings about Hot Milk are very similar to my ones on Satin Island, though I don’t know if objectively they are similar. There are overlapping themes (an anthropologist protagonist, a lack of general plot direction, lots of focus on social science-y themes) but in ways they are wildly different. Yet both are near & dear to my heart and I might not have read them without the Man Booker lists. So thanks, judges, even if I do think you’ve gone a bit off your rocker in 2016.

Hot Milk very much feels like “me as a book.” A directionless 25-year-old girl with a degree in anthropology struggles with her future and general life ennui. I identified very strongly with Sofia: I think for many readers she will come off as annoying but man, so many of her thoughts went straight to my heart.

This is one of those “is there even a plot here?” type of books. This is not an issue for me, and rarely is. This is a slow, dreamy, strange read: the “core” story is about Sofia’s mysteriously sick mother and her determination to find an answer. But this mystery takes a backseat to the strange characters and weird events that happen. This really plays with the idea of magical realism: many of the things seem so circumstantial, so strange, so dreamy that it almost couldn’t happen in real life. Yet there are no straight elements that you could say “oh yes, indeed, magical realism.” It’s all things that could, plausibly, happen. And the surreal mood is really what elevates this from like to love for me. I just… I floated along so happily in this novel. I was so absorbed in the mood and atmosphere and Sofia’s amazing internal monologue that I wanted for nothing.

If you like dream-like literary fiction, plots focusing on cultural anthropology, or “way past coming of age time yet still forever coming of age” type stories, I really can’t recommend this enough. If you loved Satin Island, you’ll probably love this.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Sellout, by Paul Beatty. Finished July 31st. What a fantastic novel. It’s hard to make a book about racism in America absolutely hilarious, but Paul Beatty does it with style. It’s 24/7, no-holds-barred biting sarcasm, which is exactly my style of humor. Somehow this book manages to be totally laugh-out-loud hilarious but also makes some poignant and difficult comments on race relations, identity, and politics. I feel like this is a really important book: one that’s bound to be controversial, one that will touch a lot of sore spots for readers of any race, but one that opens up a discussion that needs to be had. It never feels preachy or like he’s trying to teach you a lesson: it just comes across as a frank, hilarious diatribe. Like the main character is just spilling out his heart and guts to you and all you can do is listen and try to understand.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half





His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Finished August 1st. This is a great literary crime novel with a refreshing structure, which is really the star here. The format is so interesting: we start out with a forward from the “author” who is compiling documents about a crime his ancestor committed. We get brief witness statements from people who saw the crime’s aftermath, a document from the killer about his life (which is the main bulk of the book), autopsy reports, a field report from a psychologist, a recreation of the trial, and finally an end note from our fictional “editor.” It’s a really fresh take on the genre: it presents many different sides of the crime, and also has that meta vibe I absolutely adore where you can spend all day picking apart the layers.

The crime itself is simple: a man, Roderick, kills 3 people. This is not a whodunnit: we know from the opening who the murderer is. Its not even, really, a whydunnit: Roderick’s “motive” is presented fairly early on as well. So what’s the draw here, besides the unique format and the historical setting (which, granted, provides some interesting insights into life in those times)? Well, we know why but we don’t know why. Roderick’s explanation for his motivation doesn’t really make sense, at least in the way a sane person would dissect a murder motive (and Roderick seems quite sane). Something about the whole story is very “off” and the novel spends a great deal of time toying with the reader’s expectations of motivation & twists in a crime novel. We expect a specific progression of events and a set reveal of motivations and hidden facts. There are certainly meaningful reveals here, but there’s no thriller-like twist. This is, in a way, a very realistic book: the WOW moment never comes, but somehow the reader is not upset. It’s oddly a very fulfilling story: by the end you still have questions, but at the same time it feels like we got the closure I needed.

So, I can’t really explain why I rated this 3.5 instead of 4 or 5 stars. I really enjoyed it, I can’t think of any overt flaws. It had an interesting and playful structure, the writing was both engaging and beautiful. Yet I came away thinking, “wow, I really liked that, 3.5 stars!” I think if crime fiction or historical fiction is a genre you love this is easily a 5-star book. It really does everything right and I understand why such an underrated, small-press book was nominated for the Booker prize. But for some reason I came away really enjoying it, appreciating all the work that went in, but just liking it–not loving it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





The Many, by Wyl Menmuir. Finished August 3rd. A book that will leave you scratching your head long after you’ve finished it. The basic story, of a man (Timothy) who moves to a dying seaside village to fix up a house, seems very “been there done that.” You expect the themes of urban vs rural, the story of the outsider. But The Many is unlike any other book I’ve read. It’s so surreal and dream-like and unsettling.

First off, there are about a million questions raised. A lot of the plot focuses on Perran, the man who lived in the house Timothy buys. What was he like? How did he die? What kind of person was he? Why is the fisherman Ethan so obsessed with him ten years after he’s passed? What is Timothy’s connection to Perran? Then there’s Timothy’s wife/girlfriend, Laura. Why isn’t she at the house with him? What is she waiting for? What really happened on the vacation Laura and Timothy took to this town a year ago?

The background of this book, the seaside village, has its own set of questions. Does this even take place in our current world? Because here, the sea water is poisonous and full of chemicals. There is a strict border in the ocean that the fishermen cannot cross. Their catch is strange, sickly fish no one has seen before. Every catch is bought sight-unseen by a shady group of well-dressed strangers. Is this some sort of weird post-environmental-disaster setting? Is it just the regular world? The past? The future?

If you want a book full of answers, don’t come looking for them here. I think I can count on one hand the things that are actually resolved. And as the book goes on, more and more questions come up. Events get increasingly surreal to the point that you’re not sure anything is even happening. How much of this is Timothy’s dream? There are also flashbacks to Timothy & Laura’s past that get more and more strange. How could any of this be happening? I spent a large chunk of this book just like, “what the fuck.” But in a good way.

I feel like this is the type of book that will linger with me, the type where I’ll look back at the end of the year and still be thinking about it. So my rating is very likely to change, depending on how many of the unanswered questions stick with me.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout. Finished August 3rd. Sometimes I look at reviews and wonder if I read a different book than everyone else. Because this has really great reviews, mostly 5 and 4 stars. But I HATED it. Like, this book is now on my shit list. If it wasn’t on the Man Booker longlist I wouldn’t have made it past 20 pages.

First off, the writing is bad. Here’s an example:

“There was a man in the class who had recently lost his wife to cancer, and Sarah was nice to him, I saw this. We all, I felt, saw this. We saw that this man fell in love with a student in the class who was a friend of Sarah’s. It was fine.”

This is like… a 5-year-old telling a story. Dull, repetitive, childish. The entire book is like that. Lucy will go, “I remember x event. Here’s a boring details of x event. I remember this. Or maybe it happened a different way, but this is how I remember it.” Thanks, I didn’t get that you remembered it until the 3rd time in one paragraph that you mentioned it! And the repetitiveness continues through the whole book. She mentions 4 or 5 times that the AIDS epidemic was “a terrible thing.” Do you have no other descriptors? Not to mention that at one point she is jealous of the gay men who died during it because they had “a community.” Lucy is a boring narrator and also kind of a shitty person.

So the majority of this book is Lucy sitting in a hospital room with her estranged mother. Her estranged mother who beat her, never said that she loved her, and did things like lock Lucy in a truck with a snake when she was bad. Yet all Lucy thinks about is how much she loves her mother (the phrase “I love her/I love my mother” is used at least once every 10 pages). Like, I don’t care about the reconciliation between two shitty people when it’s presented as sentimental crap. None of the characters are self-aware. It’s just dozens and dozens of pointless anecdotes that have nothing to do with Lucy and her mom. It’s all “this neighbor got divorced, this neighbor is dead, your cousin billy bob had a heart attack” FOR 200 PAGES. Nothing that happens matters, either to the reader or the plot. I mean, there’s no plot. Sick woman sees her mom and swaps stories. That’s the fucking plot.

This book is trying so hard to be some sort of… I don’t know, chick lit sentimental “think of the family” type of thing. But honestly, it’s so badly written that even if you like that type of novel I can’t see enjoying this. But hey, 90% of people love it, so maybe I did get a defective copy that slipped through the paws of a copy editor.

Lipstick Rating Full






Work Like Any Other, by Virginia Reeves. Finished August 4th. This is the type of book I absolutely would not have picked up if it wasn’t on the Man Booker shortist. Historical fiction about an electrician in 1920′s America who accidentally electrocutes someone and goes to jail? Not my cup of tea. And while I definitely can’t say that this is one of my favorites from the list or that I loved it, I found it a very enjoyable read.

The format here is a little different from your average historical fiction. We have chapters set in the past/when the crime happened that are in 3rd person, and chapters from Roscoe (the electrician) in jail. This is definitely a book that relies on characters and emotion rather than plot, because aside from “Roscoe goes to jail” there isn’t a ton going on. But it is, emotionally, very effective. I started off hating Roscoe (a position the author wants you to take, because one of the first scenes is him abusing his son & screaming at his wife) but by the end my heart was breaking for him. I still didn’t like him but I felt his heartache right alongside him, which just shows how talented Virginia Reeves is.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





Hystopia, by David Means. Finished August 5th. I read a lot of books during Man Booker season that I wouldn’t normally have touched. This is not one of them. In fact, I found the synopsis so appealing that I took it out from the library a few weeks before the longlist was ever announced! It’s an alternate history book-within-a-book written by a Vietnam vet with PTSD. The ‘author’ of Hystopia, Eugene Allen, comes back from the war a broken man and floods his feelings into his writing. At the beginning and end of the book we get snippets of interviews that show how Hystopia mirrors Allen’s own life, making it a book of many layers.

The core text is interesting enough on its own. Kennedy survives the assassination attempt and serves a third term, America is still mired in the Vietnam War, and the government has come up with a drug that “enfolds” PTSD-triggering memories and seals them inside a person (this idea is based, of course, on some of the real-life fucked up shit that MKULTRA did). But on some people, enfolding fails and they turn out the worse for wear. The story follows a failed enfold, Rake, who is on a murder-tour of America, and the agent trying to track him down. Snippets of our fictional author Allen can be clearly seen: Rake kidnaps a girl named Meg, Allen had a sister named Meg who was (potentially) kidnapped by a crazy childhood friend and then wound up dead. The man who ties all our characters together, Billy-T, is Allen’s real-life friend and Meg’s boyfriend who died in the war. So while yeah, the story of Rake is interesting, it’s more fun to unravel how all the threads are connected.

Towards the end, the book-in-a-book starts to fall apart. This is clearly intentional, and an intelligent choice. The author himself comments on it, and it mirrors his psychological state since he killed himself shortly after finishing it. I mean, a book falling apart doesn’t exactly make for a ‘good read’ in the objective sense but it was an amazing and bold stylistic choice. Hystopia isn’t a book you enjoy reading. It’s not fun, it’s brutal, it’s messy (in both plot and writing), but it’s also undeniably brilliant. And one I definitely want to re-read… probably so many nuances I missed the first time around.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Do Not Say That We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien. Finished August 9th. If you want a book that will break your heart and leave you feeling like life is a series of tragedies we can’t escape, boy oh boy do I have the book for you! Do Not Say We Have Nothing takes place over the most tragic moments of China’s recent history: the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and Tiananmen Square. Though these ae obviously big, sweeping events, our story focuses on one family and how greatly these things affected them.

The actual structure is very interesting. There is a ‘framing narrative’ of a girl in our modern times who is looking for her cousin who came to stay with her after Tiananmen Square. There are current-day snippets of her search, but the majority of it focuses on the stories the cousin tells our narrator: the story of their shared family history during the Cultural Revolution. It’s poetically told, and the character names (Sparrow, Swirl, Big Knife) lend it an air of unreality, like maybe it’s a fairy tale or fable. But the events are firmly rooted in reality, and absolutely tragic.

It’s a stark look at the harsh realities of life in China during those times, but as we see in the modern-day narrative, many of these problems have barely been fixed. There’s very little hope here: there’s moving romance, close family bonds, but it is all overshadowed by the way events out of their control can ruin even the most intimate and private aspects of your life. It’s definitely a rough read, and events tend to get worse when you think nothing more tragic could possibly happen, but it is an absolutely stunning book. So beautiful, so touching, and worth it if you have a strong (emotional) stomach.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





All That Man Is, by David Szalay. Finished August 10th. This book should be called “All That White Middle-Class/Rich White Man Is.” This ~novel~ is a collection of 9 short stories that are “thematically linked” (aka dude with no drive suddenly finds ~so much meaning~ in his already full life) and reading it was like some kind of special boring torture. The stories follow a very specific pattern: we’re introduced to a white man (there is cultural diversity though, as it covers several European countries) who feels lost in his life. Some of them have very little, some of them have a lot, some of them are young, some are quite old, but in general they all have an existential problem. Some event happens, and voila, they’re struck with the answer to their problems! Or at least a realization of what their problems are. Rinse and repeat.

My main problem, besides the monotony, was how focused this was on women as accessories. There is a LOT of focus on how fuckable/young women look (a man calls his sister haggard, for example. His own sister). How sleeping with a woman can totally change a man. How important it is to judge every single female immediately based on her appearance. None of the women seem like full characters: they’re props for the male to grow. This is decidedly not true of the other side male characters, so it’s obviously a choice the author made. To make women seem like things men use to further themselves. And the focus on appearance is really, really icky.

There is one exception: the last story, about an old man coping with the loss of mental and physical abilities, was beautiful. His daughter was a great character. He had complex, unique relationships. I really liked it. But the other 8 I really didn’t enjoy. I think a specific type of reader will love this, especially if you are a young man who feels afloat–it’d be easy to identify with the characters. But for me, it offered very little.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full





Serious Sweet, by A.L. Kennedy. Finished August 12th. This is a very strange book. It takes place over 24 hours, and is a back-and-forth story between two characters who at first seem totally unconnected. And by “at first” I mean for 50% of the book, when we finally get some clues to how they are linked. A weird stylistic choice for sure, because this behemoth is 500+ pages and a LOT of it seems unconnected to the overall plot (aka “how will these two meet?”). My main critique is that this is easily 200 pages too long. I think as a slim, 250-300 page book it would work a lot better. As it is now, it’s basically just the boring days of two people and their thoughts on various things.

I actually liked our female narrator, Meg, though she got a bit grating towards the end. Both Jon and Meg are distinct, unique characters that feel very real. They have flaws, a lot of flaws, but very consistent personalities. With Jon, it’s maybe not an… interesting personality (I found his whole “I am a protector of women!” thing frustrating as hell) but he sure is a fully realized character.

Now, it’s hard for me to say I liked this book, but it’s also hard to say I disliked it. I didn’t care about the plot. I found it incredibly, overly long and stuffed with boring mundane events. I wasn’t in love with the characters. But the writing is gorgeous and rich. I was totally smitten with it. You can read pages of drivel written like this and it’s still a really pleasant experience. I had to stop highlighting quotes because it ended up being practically whole pages. I really just wish it was written about something different, if that makes sense.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





So, that’s that! The last Man Booker novel comes out in 2 days, but I needed a little bit of a break before I tackled it so it’ll be in a separate wrapup. I have a few obvious favorites: Hot Milk, The Sellout, and Do Not Say We Have Nothing are my picks for the win, though I’d be quite happy with Hystopia or The Many as well. I’d be downright unhappy if it was Eileen, My Name is Lucy Barton, or All That Man Is.

July 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

3 Aug

I did a lot of reading in the first half of July, but I wasn’t happy with quite a few of the books I read. The second half was the opposite: I read a lot less, but was a lot more pleased with the books I did finish. I liked all of the books in this wrapup (except for the last one, which I love-hate… it’s complicated), and my motivation really picked up at the tail end of the month. So hopefully August will be chock-full of good reads!


Super Sushi Ramen Express, by Michael Booth*. Finished July 20th. I have a passionate love for Japanese food. Probably 8 times out of 10 when I go out to eat, it’s something Japanese (ramen, sushi, an izakaya, yakitori, katsu, curry, etc) and while I love the food of most countries (except for France, sorry France) Japan is near and dear to my foodie heart. I love eating it, cooking it, looking at it, reading about it. So yeah, this book was tailor-made for me.

It’s a food memoir, and while all of the experiences are obviously filtered through Michael Booth’s perception, the focus is much more on food and the food-related travel than it is Japan as a whole and his adventures with his family. I really prefer this: if I want a memoir of someone’s life, I’ll read a regular memoir. I’m here for the food, guys! And there is SO MUCH FOOD HERE.

Booth tackles so many areas of Japanese food: from how the base ingredients are made to street/junk food to incredibly expensive restaurant meals and niche types of cooking, he really runs the gamut. It’s full of really interesting tidbits of information (my brain feels jam-packed with information after reading this), but Booth’s writing is so funny and easy to digest (haha food pun) that it’s a speedy, easy read. I actually ended up buying a few of the cookbooks he mentions in here, and this has only spurred on my love for Japanese cuisine.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, by Yukio Mishima. Finished July 21st. I was not prepared at all for this book. I’ve read and loved Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility quartet, and based on how heartbreaking they are (especially The Decay of the Angel) I probably should have steeled myself emotionally. But I thought to myself, “oh a love story with a sailor and a widow and a kind of weird son.” No. Not at all.

Actually, the first half lulls you into a false sense of security. It very much is a love story between Ryuji (the sailor) and Fusako (the widow). In the background is Noboru, her strange and precocious son who has some… issues, shall we say. The first half, aside from one (admittedly brutal but brief) scene of animal cruelty, is slow-paced and almost serene. But as I hit the halfway point I found myself feeling very uneasy. It’s not even necessarily what’s happening: sure, some of Noboru’s inner monologue is disturbing, but there’s no particularly awful moments. Yet by the end I was filled with so much dread I didn’t even want to read the last chapter.

It’s a short book, so it’s basically impossible to talk about the plot with tons of spoilers. But it is a beautiful and ultimately tragic story that will leave you with so, so many questions. By the end my main one was, is it Ryuji or Noboru who is the titular sailor who falls from grace with the sea? If you’d like a slow, uneasy story of both beauty and violence this would probably be right up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, by Alan Bradley*. Finished July 24th. This is such a cute, cozy book–which seems like an odd thing to say about a murder mystery, but oh well. Cozy mysteries are definitely not my genres, but… let’s be honest, I requested this because it has a cat on the cover, and I am a sucker for “cat related mystery” books. While the cat is only a minor player in this mystery it’s still got a cat in it. Also an adorable possibly sociopathic kid detective!

Flavia, the 12-year-old mystery solver, is really the heart of this story. It’s wonderful being inside of her head: she’s definitely clever and precocious but there are moments of childlike innocence or confusion that make her seem very much like a real, fleshed-out human. She’s kind of like a nicer, girl version of Artemis Fowl. And while some of her actions are, uh, questionable (the scene of her examining the corpse is particularly creepy) she has a lot of heart. The side story of her sick father and her family basically abandoning her is pretty heart-wrenching.

The first 2/3rds of this book were definitely more enjoyable than the last chunk. The mystery aspect is a little lackluster, especially the final reveal, and I didn’t find myself surprised or wowed at all. But hey, it’s a cozy mystery, I honestly was not expecting a big complicated case. It did have a few nice turns that I wasn’t expecting and I certainly didn’t find it dull, but I preferred the chunks of the story that had more to do with Flavia and her relationships. I’d definitely read more in the series, especially because this one ends on a (non-mystery-related) cliffhanger.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





Something Nice, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished July 28th. Two Tiffany Reisz books in one month?? What a time to be alive. This is a short novella that was only available to newsletter subscribers, and of course I read it literally 20 minutes after it downloaded. Because Nora is the light of my life.

This takes place a few months after The Siren, and deals primarily with the emotional fallout Nora is feeling after that crazy ending. It’s a very cathartic read and I feels like it ties up some (emotional) loose ends about Nora/Soren/Wesley that were still lingering in my head. Absolutely a must-read if you’re a fan of the Original Sinners series.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Matter, by Iain M. Banks. Finished July 29th. I have so many conflicting emotions about this book! Probably because, at least to me, it felt like two books: one with crazy space antics and another featuring political intrigue on a low-tech world. Usually the contrast between high- and low-tech societies is something I enjoy in books (The Dreaming Void, A Fire Upon the Deep) but I am generally not a fan of Iain Banks’ more politically driven, almost-fantasy stuff: Inversions is the only Culture book I actively didn’t love, for example. I felt like the two elements didn’t work harmoniously. Even though they are plot-connected, I didn’t feel the mirroring of elements or strong contrast I feel like a low- vs high-tech plot needs.

So let’s talk about the good. I adore the worldbuilding here! So many cool concepts. Tons and tons of really interesting alien races (though tbh I could have used more info or scenes of the other ones in the Shellworld), nifty tech we haven’t seen before, the rumors of ancient alien races, and of course the Shellworld itself–one of my favorite Culture concepts. Just the idea of it was so amazing, and Banks always does such a good job of bringing his ideas to life. I felt like I could picture it all so perfectly.

The characters here, like in many Culture novels, are interesting but not particularly unique feeling. We’ve got the son who doesn’t want to be king, the son who does but is too young and in his head, the scheming overlord, the prodigal sister. I feel like characters are never Banks’ strength, though, so I expected that coming in and it didn’t bother me. Because he always makes up for it with sassy ships & drones! This time we also get a sassy human assistant, because a large chunk takes place on a tech-free world and we need some way to get those sarcastic comments in there.

The last 20% of this book is fantastic. I really felt a huge disjoint between the story aspects, though. The elements of the ending section are touched on but not really talked about until they’re suddenly in play: then it feels like the whole first half of the book (and everything in the Shellworld) were a huge waste of time because they have almost nothing to do with what’s going on. It just feels unbalanced. It could have either been much shorter (we didn’t need half of the on-Shellworld POV scenes for the plot) or the same length but with 1) more space and Culture scenes and 2) more foreshadowing or actual plot-building about the endgame elements.

So, to sum it up, I enjoyed this (like I do most Culture novels) but it’s not one of my favorites from the series. I think my order of preference goes Look to Windward > Excession > Player of Games > Use of Weapons > Matter > State of the Art > Consider Phlebas > Inversions

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. Finished July 31st. I have too many thoughts about this book. It’s impossible to rate. I grew up on Harry Potter, went to all the midnight releases (books and movies!), and have read the series at LEAST a dozen times (and I’ve read OOTP, HBP, and GoF 20x minimum). There was no way for this book to not be massively over-hyped in my head. New Harry Potter? About a new generation of wizards?? Yeah, I was into it.

Now, I don’t think I built it up to the point that it was impossible to enjoy. Heck, I’ve read long HP fanfiction that I loved almost as much as the originals (Methods of Rationality, the first few James Potter books). So I was really just expecting a nostalgic thrill ride through childhood adventures. And… I kind of got that? There are some wonderful Hogwarts scenes that really brought the magic back for me.

Before I get to my problems, which are numerous, I’m just gonna say that I LOVE Scorpius. I don’t love that his “I will die for you” bromance with Albus turned into a weird platonic thing but that’s kind of a different issue. But yeah, Scorpius was amazing and a precious nerd baby. What a fantastic character. And I did actually enjoy a lot of the plot, which seems to be a little controversial.

My main issue is that this book is like holy character assassination Batman. Ron is a one-note idiot. Harry is a cruel jerk. Draco hasn’t changed a day (and the first half of this book erases all of his HBP/DH progression until suddenly he has one “deep meaningful speech” scene). I’m going to be honest: a lot of the character-related stuff read like bad fanfiction. It didn’t add up AT ALL with the books, and this is supposed to be 22 years of character development AFTER them. Yet everyone’s the same as book 1. Sigh.

And then… the big twist. WHY. It made me VERY ANGRY. And it’s just the tip of the plot-hole iceberg. It’s really hard to emotionally separate myself from anything officially Harry Potter because it’s such a huge part of my childhood and shaped a lot of who I am as a reader. If I view this as a fun “what if?” type of scenario that’s basically just fanfiction of the future, I think it’s decently enjoyable–though the twist is stupid as hell, it’s so nice to be in this world and with these characters again. So for me, this isn’t officially the 8th book and never will be. It’s just a play. I’m gonna keep telling myself that.

No rating because my heart is confused

So I actually did read two other books in July, but they are both up for the Man Booker (Hot Milk and The Sellout), and I’m going to binge-read the longlist and do them as a separate post.

Reading Challenge Goals

171/175 Books

20/35 Series Books

53/50 TBR Books

20/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

July 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part I

2 Aug

Like June before it, July was not the best reading month for me. Sure, I got through 17 books (still a bit below my average for 2016), but I read a lot of books I felt only so-so about. In fact, I hit a serious slump mid-month and had to force myself to read at all. Honestly, July is my least-favorite month of the year so I didn’t expect to get a lot accomplished, but I am really looking forward to August–where I will be reading all the Man Booker nominees and hopefully getting through quite a few of my ARCs!


The Bourbon Thief, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished July 1st. So, this month actually started out quite well. A new release from Tiffany Reisz, the queen of my heart? Sure, it’s not an Original Sinners novel, but it’s a grim and broody standalone. I’d class this as modern gothic: it’s the torrid history of a Kentucky bourbon family that gets increasingly dark and twisty as the plot goes on.

There are two dual storylines: in modern times, a woman named Paris has just stolen a million dollar bottle of bourbon. She says it’s her birthright, and weaves for us the history of the Maddox family who made that original bottle. Of course the stories overlap, but Paris is really just a framing for the historical narrative. Which is everything you’d expect from Reisz: dark, sexy, and tragic. I thought I saw most of the twists coming but this book really plays with reader expectations. As always, totally fabulous.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Fool’s Fate, by Robin Hobb. Finished July 7th. I spent the last 100 pages of this book crying off and on. Not full-on sobs or anything, but I don’t think my eyes were dry for even a second. This series just makes me feel SO MANY EMOTIONS. I cried when something sad happened, I cried when people said goodbye, I cried when the characters were happy. I’m way too overly attached, guys.

So, this is the 9th book in the Realm of the Elderlings so of course any amount of plot discussion would be spoilery as hell, but it was, as every Robin Hobb book seems to be, utter perfection. There are many overlaps here with, obviously, the first Farseer trilogy, but we get some nice cameos from the Liveship Traders as well! The plots of these two worlds really “collide” in an interesting fashion. And while the plot and the writing are amazing, it’s the characters who will steal your heart and make you feel things you didn’t think were possible. Always and forever I adore this series.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Lions, by Bonnie Nadzam*. Finished July 9th. I (very) recently read Bonnie Nadzam’s first novel, Lamb, and really enjoyed it. Lamb is a tense, tight little novel with a very limited cast and a slim but well-crafted plot. Lions is the opposite in pretty much every way, as the name cleverly implies. This takes place in a modern ghost town with barely over 100 people, but the cast includes quite a few of these intrepid/desperate souls. The plot is sprawling: there are a few key “events” (a stranger comes to town, someone dies, a boy has to take on a family task–though these things are not necessarily connected), but overall it’s a rambling sort of novel.

There is no sense of linear time here. The reader feels afloat in the story: in a paragraph, we will go from a present-day event to a conversation in the past almost mid-sentence. It always takes a second to get re-oriented, though I never found it confusing. The structure did remind me a bit of Man Tiger, a book I loved for its unconventional timeline. Some of the characters seem to blur together, locations overlap in confusing ways: it’s a clever way to portray how unmoored our main cast feels both in time and in their own lives.

The plot really centers around two teens, Gordon and Leigh, who are the only young people in Lions. They become swept up in events bigger than themselves, but at the same time they are struggling to separate themselves from the town/their parents and form their own identities. It’s not really a coming of age novel, though that is definitely one of the themes explored.

Interestingly, with all the people in it this novel feels kind of empty. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s a lonely book. You feel like you’re on these big empty plains in the middle of nowhere with a group of people you don’t fit in with. You’re a stranger here: you never feel like “part of the town.” Just a visitor, nose pressed up against the glass, getting bits and pieces of these peoples’ stories and histories. I think the structure and tone of the book are much more effective than the plot (which I do think could have used a bit of tightening) but it definitely made an impression on me.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





Drowned Worlds, by Jonathan Strahan*. Finished July 10th. So, funny story. When I was about 14 I started reading a book that took place on a flooded earth. My room was painted while I was reading and somehow the book got lost in the shuffle. It was so evocative and I’ve spent years unsuccessfully looking for it. Well, it turns out that book was J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (which of course I’ve finally picked up a new copy of), and this short story collection is inspired by that work! Only took me 13 years but I finally solved the mystery.

Short story collections are always hard to talk about, because I can’t go over every single one. This is a really evocative, dreamy collection and while of course the theme is very similar from story to story, there’s no sense of same-ness that makes it boring. I think they actually work better together than separately: I have fond memories of reading this, yet only a few stand out in my mind. The theme really holds them together and makes even the more mediocre ones fun to read.

“Dispatches from the Cradle” by Ken Liu, “Who Do You Love?” by Kathleen Ann Goonan, “Inselberg” by Nalo Hopkins, “Last Gods” by Sam J. Miller, and “The Future is Blue” by Catherynne M. Valente were the standouts for me. While these are all technically in the science fiction genre there’s such a variety (hard scifi, new weird, straight-up bizarro) that I was 100% okay with what was, to be honest, just the same premise (flooded worlds) over and over. If you like science fiction with an environmentalist twist definitely give this one a go.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





Listen to Me, by Hannah Pittard*. Finished July 10th. I’ve read a surprising amount of road trip books this year. I can barely think of any I’ve read in the past but so far I’ve tackled I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Binary Star, both of which I’ve adored. So when I heard the summary of Listen to Me (a modern gothic thriller roadtrip novel???) I was hooked. However, I think the marketing for this is SO misleading. It’s the story of a rocky marriage, not a tense thriller.

Sure, there’s quite a bit of tension. Maggie, the wife, was violently mugged recently and has grown paranoid about, well, everything. I really liked this aspect of the novel: it portrayed PTSD in a very realistic manner. It’s not always full-on panic attacks and specific triggers. When you’re attacked like this (muggings, assaults, rapes) the world loses its sense of safety. Suddenly things you trusted and took for granted have sinister angles. Everyone is a potential predator. Every street a potential incident. Maggie’s paranoia may seem overdone but trust me, it’s quite realistic and for me at least very sympathetic.

Her husband Mark, however, is just an asshole. It’s hard to sympathies with his “oh my god my wife is so traumatized and that is very hard for ME because this is all obviously about MY COMFORT.” I think he’s supposed to be unlikeable, but it’s hard to portray a broken marriage between two people who aren’t on the same level. Like, you feel super bad for Maggie and hate Mark. You should either hate or love both of them, and the book seems a little uneven because of this.

Now, my real issue is the ending, which obviously I’m not going to spoil. But it was SUCH a letdown. There’s this huge building of tension: Mark and Maggie are fighting, there’s a huge storm in the distance, towns are losing power, even the dog is getting more and more anxious. But there’s no huge event or climax. A thing happens, and poof, that’s it. There’s no resolution to the problems (or at least a reasonable and believable resolution), there’s no big thriller-y event. I was so let down.

If you like tense stories about relationships and don’t expect a big reveal or climax, this might be a book for you. But domestic drama is usually not my forte and I wish this was marketed more towards its target audience. I think the ending is very fitting for the type of book it is, but not for the type of book readers expect it to be.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half





True Crime Addict, by James Renner. Finished July 11th. This is a hard book to review. As a true crime book, it’s easily a 1-star read. Renner muddies the facts of the case, does wildly inaccurate research, and makes insane claims with no proof to back it up. But as a psychological study of a delusional sociopath? It’s truly amazing. And I’m not pulling the sociopath thing out of my ass: in one of the very first chapters, Renner informs the reader that he scored as a sociopath on a therapist-issued personality test. He’s also a lush and potentially a drug addict (also admitted by him, as he detoxes in jail), but we’re supposed to believe a word out of his mouth? Okay.

To be honest, the Maura Murray case isn’t that interesting as far as unsolved mysteries go. Here’s what we know: leading up to her disappearance, Maura was a very troubled individual. She was a kleptomaniac, she committed credit card fraud, had a breakdown at work, lied to her employer about a family member dying, was on probation, and got in 2 car accidents in a few days. If you want to believe Renner’s claims, she also had an eating disorder (I’m not going to touch the promiscuity angle because he has NO valid sources on that-a slighted ex does not count-and it has nothing to do with her being “troubled” anyway ffs). If Maura got in trouble with the law again, her credit fraud would count as a felony and she wouldn’t be able to finish nursing school. She crashes her car while drunk on a back road in the middle of nowhere during winter, denies help from 2 separate people, and goes missing 5 minutes later. She either 1) ran into the woods in order to hide from the cops and died of exposure or 2) was picked up by someone very bad. No other option makes logical sense. Renner denies #1 because they couldn’t see her footprints in the woods from a helicopter. First off, are you kidding me?? And second, even the slightest bit of wind is enough to bury prints. They searched for prints at least 12 hours after she disappeared, plenty of time for the wind to destroy them.

But Renner picks the 2 most insane theories and runs with them, ignoring all evidence that doesn’t agree with his ideas. He’s convinced there was a second car Maura was following (that no one, not the 2 people who tried to help her OR the cops, saw? lol okay). He’s also convinced that she ran away to Canada and is living there. His “evidence” for this is shaky witness testimony that they “totally saw someone who looks like an older Maura!” Sightings like this are not taken seriously because 99% of the time it’s just someone WANTING to see the victim (i.e. Maddie McCann’s “sightings” all over the damn world). None of the evidence points to this, but he’s so fucking obsessed with the idea of “solving” it that he’s blind to its faults.

This book is an utter trainwreck in terms of, well, everything. Renner mentions upwards of a dozen cold cases and solved cases that have NOTHING to do with Maura. He mentions like 5 girls who went missing “near” the area but most of them are solved, or from decades ago. He mentions random serial killer and kidnappers who, again, have nothing to do with Maura. It’s like his brain threw up on the page and we’re just running on his rambling train of thought. Interspersed with his “investigation” (I really don’t consider harassing the family nonstop and getting an army of online minions to find shit for you actual investigation, but ymmv) are random snippets of his life. It includes things like getting put in jail for assaulting a cop, ignoring his autistic son’s diagnosis, becoming convinced that said son is psychic (I’m not lying, he literally thinks his son can read minds), and going to a crackpot medium to “find Maura.” It’s… just really weird. He also thinks that life is giving him clues in the form of “fearful symmetry” (aka coincidences he reads wayyyy too much into).

So every aspect of his investigation into Maura is bullshit. It’s terrible journalism, terrible writing. But this is a fucking fascinating book. The way Renner tries to manipulate the audience, the way he presents the facts about himself but then skirts around the implications, how he glosses over his downright stalking of the family members? It makes for a riveting and disturbing read. Just don’t expect any actual closure on the Maura case.

Lipstick Rating Full





The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta. Finished July 11th. I really love Tom Perrotta. Something about his writing is just very cozy and comforting, though given the themes he tackles it really shouldn’t be. But there’s just something about his suburban settings that feel so delightfully familiar it’s like snuggling up with a cup of tea.

The Leftovers is actually a pretty grim book: there’s a Rapture-like event and the majority of the population is “left behind” to deal with a world that’s suddenly much smaller. Many people lose loved ones, everyone loses friends. This isn’t really an “end of the world” type book, though. It’s about regular people struggling with tragedy. It’s about carrying on after you think you’ve lost everything. It’s about finding a reason to live–a good reason to live. It’s about family.

I read this over the course of about 3 weeks, bit by bit, but not once did even the slightest detail fade for me. I’d go 5 days without reading it at all, pick it up in the middle of the chapter and feel like instantly I was with friends. There’s so much depth and meaning here but as always with Perrotta, it’s the characters that make it special. They’re just so realistic and flawed and you want to hug (almost) all of them.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson. Finished July 14th. I am a huge fan of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. It’s everything I want in a mystery: amazing characters, beautiful writing, strong plot & mystery, tons of subtext and interesting themes. I have yet to find a true mystery even slightly similar (though The City & the City and Kraken also fill out the “everything I want in a mystery” list, but they’re kind of fantasy as well). You usually get either a cool mystery (He Who Fears the Wolf, any and all Agatha Christie) OR interesting characters (1st and 3rd Cormoran Strike, Gillian Flynn, Summertime All the Cats Are Bored). It’s really hard for me to find literary mysteries that are strong in all aspects of the story. So when I heard that the author of Life After Life wrote a mystery series, I assumed I would be all about that.

Well, I assumed wrong. This book didn’t have any of the things I look for in a mystery. It wasn’t even the trashy sort of fun you get from books like Heartsick. First off, I was misled into thinking that the 3 seemingly random cases at the beginning were connected. Spoiler alert: they’re not. At all. I was expecting a cool twist or… something. One gets solved (in a way I found very unsatisfying), one remains solved but also open-ended (hard to explain) and the other… isn’t a mystery? Has nothing to do with anything? Very confusing.

Our main detective was very boring. All of his character traits seemed very trite and played out, plus he was kind of sexist (and not in a Cormoran Strike “we’re playing with noir tropes” kind of way, which I find annoying as well). I did really like Amelia & Julie and the dad of the dead girl (whose name, 4 days later, I cannot remember–shows how well this book held my attention). They were interesting and sympathetic. But everyone else… bleh. There were just SO MANY characters and plots, it felt convoluted and like you never got to know anyone else.

I think this book had potential but needed a really heavy-handed editor. Take out most of the plotlines, leave us with just one of the mysteries (maybe 2 if they actually connected), trim the character list by half. I mean, obviously this book has great reviews and I seem to be mostly alone in this opinion. I think if you’re more of a mystery reader you probably would enjoy this. But it’s a genre I am insanely, overly picky about. The thing is, I really love a mystery done right, but I tend to be super critical and unable to overlook “flaws” in mystery/noir books. This one just read like a batch of all my pet peeves (weak mystery, lackluster characters, too many plots) thrown together.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full





My Sister Rosa, by Justine Larbalestier. Finished July 15th. So I read a few lackluster books in a row. I was really feeling the true crime/mystery genre (due to listening to nothing but crime podcasts for 3 days tbh) and I thought to myself, “a book about a child sociopath! How could I go wrong with this.” I feel like I need to have a sit-down with myself and be like, Leah, you don’t like YA as a genre. Stop trying to make it happen for you. It’s not going to happen. (There are a few YA books I LOVE, but literally 90% of the things I read in it are 1 or 2 star reads for me). I mean, I didn’t really read YA books when I was the age they’re aimed at. If that stuff didn’t appeal to 16-year-old me, it sure as hell isn’t going to 11 years later. This is not in any way a dig at anyone who likes YA, it’s just not for me! And I need to accept that.

This is not really a book about Rosa, the tiny sociopath. It’s your usual YA coming-of-age type stuff. Guy moves to a new city, guy is insecure about his future & identity, guy makes new friends and finds love. Sure, his sister is a potential murderer, but that takes a backseat until the end of the book. And while the stuff with Rosa was good, the rest of it made me legitimately angry. Like, I wanted to throw the book I was so angry.

It’s just… it’s really fucking preachy. I adore diversity in books, and it’s something I intentionally seek out. There’s diversity here but it’s sooooo forced. Every character literally gives a lil monologue about how ~different~ they are. It’s bizarre and so unlike real life. When you have a random, everyday discussion with a gay/black/asian/agender/etc person it doesn’t start off with “I AM GAY AND LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT AND MY GIRLFRIEND AND MY GENDER IDENTITY.” We’d even get weird monologues about diversity from random characters, like Rosa the sociopath who in real life wouldn’t care at all. Many of the side characters were basically only their “diversity” and nothing else. Aside from Leilani (one of my least favorite characters of all time, would rather read 50 Shades than a book about this bitch), they were paper thin and so tropey and it seemed like the author was trying SO HARD to be all “look, diversity, I’m so accepting, check out my cool hip characters.” Also, some of the preachier moments made no sense. Sid will only date someone who “has Jesus in their life” (we get tons and tons of paragraphs about religion and acceptance, possibly the most forced aspect) but her mom runs a non-denominational church and people of several, non-Christian religions attend it? We get a paragraphs-long speech about how a 1k tshirt is what it “actually costs” to make a shirt if you don’t use sweatshops and buying anything cheaper is unethical, and our POV character agrees? Just lots of weird, wtf moments.

In the last 10% or so the focus goes back to Rosa and I was actually invested, which is why this gets 2 and not 1 stars (just kidding, bumped down my rating a lot after thinking on it). I actually thought it was going in a really cool direction that would have saved the entire book for me, but sadly… no. I mean, honestly, for a YA book the ending was pretty brave and refreshing. It wasn’t sugary-sweet happy times everyone gets what they want. Seemed a lot more realistic and I appreciated that a lot. But I wasn’t even that satisfied with the ending and lets’ be real, 5% of good content doesn’t save the 95% that is shitty.





So, that was the first half of July! It was really a combination of Case Histories/My Sister Rosa that put me in a funk. Reading was going all right until then, but I didn’t finish another book until the 20th!

Reading Challenge Goals

164/175 Books

19/35 Series Books

53/50 TBR Books

20/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

June 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

30 Jun

The first half of June was a big case of quality over quantity. I read very few books (for me) but I adored all of them. Sadly, the second half of June ended up being the opposite. My reading really picked up and I’m finally out of my slump, but I read a lot of bad books. I did read some that I really loved, but the overall rating was so low. And I even ended the month with four 2-star books in a row! I really am glad to put June behind me because it felt like the month I just couldn’t win.


Age of Myth, by Michael J. Sullivan*. Finished June 20th. I am always saying that I am not a fan of epic fantasy. Fantasy as a genre? Sure. But more traditional, sword-and-sorcery, men-and-elves type fantasy is not usually my jam. Though so far this year my reading might be changing my opinion on that: first the Farseer books and now this! Perhaps I don’t dislike epic fantasy as much as I think I do?

This is very much the first book in a series: a large chunk of it is spent setting up the world, the magic, the races, the history. Given that it’s the first of five that is to be expected. However, we don’t get a ton of large info-dumps that are immersion breaking. Information is doled out in casual conversation so it never feels like a textbook. And even though I feel like I understand the basics of the world there are still a lot of questions left unanswered and obviously so much more to learn in the coming books.

I think, for the first half or so, I was plodding along and enjoying the story kind of passively. I didn’t feel very invested in the plot or characters (even though I immediately appreciated Persephone, who is a 37-year-old woman whose storyline DOESN’T revolve around her being a wife or mother). But the last half of this book, especially the ending ~100 pages or so, had me so involved! There are a lot of small clues and things mentioned in passing that are integral to the ending. So many things come together neatly and cohesively in ways that I definitely wasn’t expecting. I never guessed any twists until they actually came to light, which was refreshing (I think when you read a lot it’s easy to guess twists/see patterns evolve but it definitely wasn’t an issue for me here).

While the world and magic system(s?) are interesting, it’s really the characters and their relationships that drew me in. I loved so many of them: sassy Malcolm (I’m such a sucker for smartasses), willful Persephone, strangely clever Suri, Minna (a wolf, enough said), and my favorites: Gifford and Roan, who I ship so hard. I have a real soft spot for disabled characters who are portrayed as fully fleshed out humans and aren’t fully defined by their disability, and I found Gifford to be so immediately endearing and sweet. My brother is disabled so it’s a real personal issue for me, and I’m always so thankful to see characters like Gifford.

While there are obviously a lot of things that I enjoyed about Age of Myth, I was especially impressed by how it set up an overarching plot that I assume will run through all 5 books while also giving us a solid 1-book arc that neatly wrapped up. There’s no cliffhanger, and while there are many unresolved threads I felt that the conclusion was very satisfying. The final conflict also managed to show us a lot about the characters without telling–we get to see Persephone being badass and strong rather than having other characters/the narrator simply state it as an aspect of her personality.

The mood of this book is really hard to pin down. You think at the beginning that it’s a happy, lighter fantasy: sure, bad things happen, but in kind of an abstract way. And then there’s a scene that had my stomach absolutely churning–there’s not a lot of description of what happens, but it was so unexpected and brutal that it really just took me by surprise and made me feel like no one was safe. Is this LOTR-style fantasy where everyone gets a happy ending? Are all my favorites going to die horrible deaths? I just don’t know what to expect from the next few books, which has me even more excited to read them.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





The Devourers, by Indra Das*. Finished June 21st. Sometimes books get under your skin and make you shiver in ways you can’t explain. I cannot adequately describe what I loved about The Devourers. I can tell you that the language is lush, evocative, and brilliant. I can tell you that it is a beautiful and brutal story. It’s gory and mesmerizing. I can tell you about the amazing characters, the meaningful discussions of gender and society. The rich shifter mythology (this is not a book about werewolves: it’s about shapeshifters in general, and covers tons of different myths from Norse to Indian). I can mention how everything is important: even the names of our three “werewolves” are packed full of meaning.

But none of that scratches the surface of my feelings about The Devourers. I was absolutely hypnotized by this novel. Sure, all the individual elements are perfect, and combined together it’s great. But there is something else here. Something magic. In the story, shifters have the ability to mesmerize humans while telling a story and literally transport them into whatever world they are talking about. In a sense, the book achieves that (how meta!). I just… I felt like I was living every second. I felt hurt and scared and excited and brave as our characters did. I felt shocked and elated at revelations. I felt drawn into the web of mythology as it was slowly unraveled. For a short while, it was a life I lived.

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can’t recommend it enough if you like fantasy, mythology, weird fiction, werewolves/shifters, India, gender politics… basically if you like books maybe read this and be amazed.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, by Paul Tremblay. Finished June 23rd. I’m having a lot of trouble rating this one. I absolutely loved A Head Full of Ghosts so of course I was over the moon to read Paul Tremblay’s next book. I actually dropped something I was in the middle of reading the day this came out. There are very few authors I will do that for but AHFoG just made that much of an impression on me (and I should probably up my rating of it to 5 stars).

This is… different. I think I was tricked (by my own head mostly) into thinking Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was going the same way as AHFoG. There’s a similar kind of mood: something strange has happened, and it might be supernatural or it might be just the horrors of real life. Tons of pop-culture references, both overt and sneaky. Creepy things going on with kids. The involvement of the media. A mystery.

But Devil’s Rock is a very different book. Sure, it lulls you into a false sense of security. I thought I knew where this was going, or at least where I wanted it to go. And I was really, really wrong. And to be honest, disappointed. I LOVED the first half: so spooky, so clever, so ambiguous. But by the time we got to the first of the reveals in Tommy’s notebook? I had a sneaking suspicion this was going to go in a direction I just… didn’t care about?

I’m not saying it’s bad: I think it has a great twisty plot and a lot of people will love it. It was just so much lighter on the horror than what I expected. It just didn’t give me the shivery feelings I was expecting (or the humor–AHFoG was pretty hilarious at parts). Also the damn notebook pages are SO hard to read on the Kindle version, like goddamn, that’s some tiny-ass writing. But I really don’t think this is a book that will stick with me: I read it, I enjoyed it, but it’s not memorable in any way. And given how I feel about Tremblay’s previous novel and short stories I was super disappointed. More New Weird less twisty mysteries, please!

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





The Butterfly Garden, by Dot Hutchison*. Finished June 23rd. This is one of the worst books I’ve ever read in my life. The premise seems right up my alley: the ominous Gardener kidnaps girls, tattoos butterfly wings on their backs, and keeps them locked up in his secret garden. Like The Collector on steroids, right? No. No to everything. I have no words for how much I hated this (but I did write a quiz so you can see just how unlike humans the characters all act).

Everyone in this book, including the Gardener and his family (and the cops) are so incredibly stupid. They lack the logic to realize super simple solutions to their problems. The girls in particular are so problematic: they act dumb, catty, vain, selfish… basically all the negative traits associated with women amped to eleven. And this book was written by a woman! Which in itself is a disturbing fact.

This book tries to shock with ~gore factor~ and ~disturbing content~ but it’s so laughably implausible and strange that none of it effected me (and I am particularly sensitive to girl-being-captured horror elements). And the “twists” make no sense, add nothing to the story, and just further convolute an already muddy plot. Plus, nothing happens! How can you make a horror novel so dull? Truly, a mystery for the ages.

Lipstick Rating Half





Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach. Finished June 24th. So the other night I was up late reading /r/nosleep. It was time to go to bed & read but I wanted to stay up and read those damn addictive stories. This book, which originally appeared as a story series on nosleep, was my compromise.

I think this really works better as a set of posts than it does as a book. The atmosphere is just as spooky as what I remember when I originally read these, but the flaws just seem so much more obvious. For example, the main character acts WAY older than his stated age of 6 and it’s kind of distracting. I’d also managed to block out how disappointing the ending was. This has the potential for greatness but it really needs a lot of editing.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half





Lamb, by Bonnie Nadzam. Finished June 24th. I’ve read a lot of amazing literary fiction on this exact topic (Lolita, The End of Alice, Tampa). It’s a subject I’m fascinated and disgusted by, and I can’t help picking up anything with good reviews in the genre. And this is definitely a book that hurts to read: it’s far less explicit than any of the other ones I mentioned, but just as emotionally devastating. It focuses on a man who is grooming a child, and justifying it to himself in a million unsettling ways. Whether or not he actually abuses her at the end is left extremely open-ended, and it’s pretty much on the reader to decide (and is a good way to gauge if you’re an optimist or a pessimist). I still wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who is even slightly triggered by child molestation/abuse/sexualization: it’s a very disturbing book.

The writing here is amazing. Just the descriptions of the wilderness alone were enough to sell me on this, but all of David/Gary’s strange dreamlike monologues? There is a hallucinatory quality to the prose: it wraps you up and you feel trapped and horrified but unable to look away. Something as simple as buying an 11-year-old girl a coat becomes a moment of extreme terror for the reader. Is he going to hurt her? Why would he do this? Does he even know what he’s doing and why he’s doing it? Just questions running constantly through your head.

I really wanted this to be a 5-star read, and it was so close. But. But. The Linnie (his girlfriend) sub-plot. I really wish it had been totally dropped. It did lead to one scene that will be forever burned into my memory but I feel like there was an easier way to do that than the very extended scenes of her. I just didn’t care about their relationship. I get that it framed him as having adult relationships, and no previous attraction to children, but I was 100% over it by the second Linnie scene. It almost ruined the book for me, to be honest, since she comes back in so close to the conclusion and it’s very unrealistic the way it plays out. Still an amazing book, just a flawed one.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





We Could Be Beautiful, by Swan Huntley* . Finished June 25th. This is the kind of book I almost feel guilty for liking and giving such a high rating. It’s just such a breezy and light read about a total unrepentant bitch. I think this is what a lot of “hot new thing” type books want to be: the main reason I dnf’d Before the Fall was that it was about annoying rich people. The main reason I liked this book was because it was about annoying rich people. The difference here is that Catherine West, our main girl, is a pseudo-villain that you adore to hate. I loved being in her vapid, bitchy head. I loved watching her fuck up. But by the end, I was almost rooting for her. She’s the anti-hero every psychological thriller with a “bad girl” wants to be.

However, this is not a psychological thriller. There’s certainly a mystery element, and there’s that “strange guy who may not be who he says he is” and ~family secrets~ but this is definitely not a thriller of any sort. If anything, it’s a character study of a truly flawed human. And while I usually don’t like these types of books (for example, I was neutral about Eileen even though it does something very similar) but I don’t know… I just devoured this.

I do think the charm and intensity tapers of a bit towards the end. Once the mystery element is unveiled it felt almost… anticlimactic? Like I wasn’t even reading to “find out what happened” so I basically found it distracting from the main plot I was interested in aka the character development of Catherine. But when I ended the book I still felt really satisfied. I actually held off on rating it because my initial reaction was “I so want to give this 4 stars. Does it deserve 4 stars? Is it really THAT much better than 3 star books I’ve read?” And I think for a lot of people, this doesn’t have the qualities of a “good” book. The writing is hilarious but not particularly beautiful. The characters are amazing but they’re all 100% hateable. The plot is minimal. Almost nothing happens. There’s name/brand dropping out the ass. But it was just SO fun, the definition of a guilty pleasure read.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Cam Girl, by Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake. Finished June 25th. I absolutely adore Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake’s books. He just does dark, destructive, passionate, twisted relationships like no one else. You can feel in your bones how toxic Ellis and Vada are together but you want them to be happy so bad. Add in a really decent mystery plotline and psychological thriller elements and you’ve got gold.

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Black Iris (which might be because I just identified with that book really strongly) but as expected I found myself so drawn into Wake’s amazingly evocative, twisty language. It’s just so raw and passionate. The scene-like descriptions of Vada’s paintings? Magic. Makes me want to read Unteachable immediately.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





The Ballroom, by Anna Hope*. Finished June 26th. This book has two main storylines, and I only really cared about one of them. I found the love story of Ella and John to be downright boring. I’m just not a romance kind of girl: there are exceptions, of course, but generally it’s something I can do without. I prefer books sans-romance, though I do have a few literary couples I am SO attached to. It’s not that I hate romance, I just don’t like storylines that revolve around it. And the main story of The Ballroom is 100% a romance. Sure, it’s historical fiction in an insane asylum, but it’s two people falling in love. Meh. I also found some things confusing about their relationship.

All of the sub-plots, though… yeah, loved ‘em. There’s a third POV character, Charles, who is a doctor at the asylum and a proponent of eugenics. I found this book frighteningly enlightening (Churchill was pro-eugenics???) and I adored Charles’ chapters. His character was just intense and creepy but almost sympathetic. I felt bad for him but also wanted to punch him in the face by the end.

I also loved many of the side-characters, like Clem. I really enjoyed that (aside from Ella, our ~super special girl~) the people here actually have mental problems. So often authors fall into the trope of “none of these poor people are crazy!” which frames actual mental illness as being something negative and horrible. Which it’s not. Here, our love interest John suffered from severe depression. His best friend is a little manic. Ella’s best friend is a self-harmer with an eating disorder. Even Ella, who is the “not crazy one” has a few extreme outbursts. It was just nice to see mental illness so humanized (which, sadly, is rare in an asylum book).

I also appreciated how this wrapped up. The prologue made it seem like things would resolve quite neatly and I was annoyed it was included until I actually got to the end. Very satisfying but not in a ~storybook romance everything is perfect~ kind of way. So 2.5 stars for the main plot, 3.5 stars for everything else.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





Valley of the Moon, by Melanie Gideon*. Finished June 27th. I enjoyed the first half of this and hated the second half. Literally had to force myself to finish it. So what went wrong?

At the beginning, this is an interesting tale of time-travel with a kind of unique twist. A group of farmers in California from 1906 get stuck out of time. A fog descends on their village, and they are unable to get through it, cutting them off from everything. In 1975, a woman discovers that she alone can travel through the fog on the full moon (well, some full moons–the nature of the fog is pretty all over the place in regards to its “rules”). It’s one of those books that uses science fiction elements to discuss a modern issue: feeling like you don’t belong in your own time, wistfulness for the past, nostalgia. I think these types of books can be very successful if they’re sufficiently literary (Never Let Me Go, The Time Traveler’s Wife) and Valley of the Moon starts out seeming like it’ll be one of those types (if not nearly as well-written).

Lux, our protagonist, hates her life. She feels unmoored and like she’s ruined her future. So Greengage, the farmer’s valley, is like paradise to her. She feels accepted there, and like she has a place. But she has a son in the present, so she can’t up and leave her life behind. She struggles the entire book with feeling pulled between two very different worlds: one she loves and belongs to, and the “real” world.

I really liked a lot of how the plot played out…. until right about the halfway mark. There’s a big event (that I thought was actually a cool choice), but it led to this book being turned into a romance. First off, the author fridges a really great female character just so two others can get together which had me fuming. Did this book need romance? Absolutely not. It had an interesting concept and a clever discussion about society, gender, and acceptance going on. Suddenly it heads into sappy, trite, chick-lit territory. Why???

After that, it’s basically a ripoff of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Similar issues are presented, but it’s very been-there-done-that. There’s none of the emotional tug I want from a story like this. I was just frustrated and annoyed. Every new event/twist made me angrier. I was so disappointed to go from really enjoying a book to hating it. Part of me was like, “where’s the end of the book I started? This is a different book. This is all wrong.”

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half





Brother, by Ania Ahlborn. Finished June 28th. I have such a rocky relationship with Ania Ahlborn. She wrote one of my all-time favorite horror novels (The Bird Eater) and another that I really enjoyed (Seed) along with a just-okay “fun but no substance” book (The Neighbors). Then there were two I wasn’t crazy about (Within These Walls, The Shuddering). Which, let’s be honest, is kind of putting it lightly–The Shuddering was hilariously stupid and Within These Walls delivered on none of its promises. And then her last novella, The Pretty Ones, I hated. One of the worst pieces of horror I’ve ever read. So I honestly get kind of nervous whenever I pick up a new book by her–were The Bird Eater/Seed just flukes? Survey says… quite possibly, because I did NOT like this. At all.

You know what I don’t want in my horror? Insta-love and romance. You know what I do want in horror about a crazy backwoods family? Gore and disturbing content. Guess which one I got and which one I didn’t. Yeah, there is a luuuuv story here (though admittedly a kind of twisted one). Our main protagonist, Michael, is a whiny little emo teen who talks about how HARD HIS LIFE IS and oh woe is him when he literally helps kill people?? Like Michael, there are bigger issues at hand than whether or not the girl at the record store likes you. Like your psychotic murderous family and your sister who is trying to bone you. But nope, his ~so hard life~ is what the majority of this book is about. That and all of his ~feels~.

This book promises shocking horror and gore and all that good stuff, but if you’re well-versed in the genre it’s super tame. Not scary, not disturbing. I think Momma had the potential to be a terrifying character but we see SO little of her. And not in a “the less you see of the monster the better” kind of way. We never find out what she does to the girls really, or get a satisfying explanation for why. Or, you know, how/why the dad is involved. I think there are some moments of really strong horror (like the bunny scene, shivers) but they’re so buried that they lose their effectiveness. There is no tension, no building horror. The final “reveal” is really obvious at 48% of the way in so there’s not even a shock factor for that. I think this miiiight work better as a movie, but fell crazy flat for me as a book.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full





The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood. Finished June 29th. This is a book I wanted to love. It sounds like something right up my alley: a group of women are kidnapped and put in a forced labor camp. It turns out that all of them were involved in very public sex scandals and somehow are being punished for this. I mean, it sounds like a premise that would really delve into feminist ideas about womanhood and slut-shaming and consent (because several of the girls had ‘sex’ scandals about being raped/molested), about how femaleness is pinned as the source of so many wrongs in society. Also, you know, creepy prison shit in a really cool environment (the Outback).

But… it was none of these things. In fact, I think this book is ridiculously sexist. Like offensively sexist. The women here are paper-thin tropes. There is NO connection between any of them, and they turn on each other on a dime. They are judgmental and vain and whine about expensive boots while being forced to work themselves to death. They even slut-shame each other and our two POV girls both think they are both “special” and “different” aka not deserving of the treatment that these other woman obviously deserve for their “actions.” Like… what? Sure, women are not some monolith ~rah rah women power~ super sweet lovely nurturing construct. But surely, out of TEN WOMEN, you’d have one who acted like a decent human. Instead it’s like some right-wing dude’s idea of how women would act together. But the author is female! And this book is supposed to be feminist! How did this happen? I’m so confused.

The plot is all over the place. We never find out why they’re in the camp, who had the money to execute this plan, or even how it happened. The entire book is just “oh here we are in this camp” and then 300 pages of them working and whining and bitching at each other and slowly going crazy. Okay, the going crazy part was interesting, but there is NO PLOT. No character development (aside from some very forced stuff at the end). No action. Basically two big things happen in the entire book. It was so dreadfully dull. If you’re going to do a plot-less book (a style I usually enjoy) you need either strong characters or a strong theme/idea to discuss. This book has, like, none of the things you want in a book.

Except for the language. I think this was beautifully written, especially the descriptions of the environment and the animals. That’s what is saving this from a one-star read. I was just really, really frustrated with every aspect of it other than the writing. Bad characters, no plot, zero discussion of any of the myriad of issues this type of situation would bring up. Bleh. But the cover sure is nice!

Lipstick Rating 2 Full





A Man Came Out of A Door in The Mountain, by Adrianne Harun. Finished June 30th. I was so desperate to like this book. I’d just read a ton of stinkers, and this had been floating around on my tbr for quite some time. Spooky woods, devil in a small town, missing girls. Sounds great! But the book gods have been oh so cruel to me this month and another “I can’t wait to read it!” book ended up being a total flop.

I feel like the book I read was totally different than the description. Yes, there is a small town in Canada with a half-white/half-native population that are constantly at odds. Yes, it touches on the very real problem of missing native girls. Yes, there’s a devil character. Yes, it’s pretty much Canadian grit-lit. Buuuuut it reads like YA for many of the chapters. At the core of the story is a group of 5 friends who are teenagers. So an inordinately large part of the book focuses on their very teen problems. Several chapters are dedicated to Leo’s problems with his physics homework. It just felt jarring. Also, one of them kind of vanishes 10% of the way in and, like, two people are all “hey where’s character x” but that’s it???

It’s a inconsistent, messy book. Very uncohesive. There are SO many plots in a very slim novel, but none of them (besides “oh god I have to do my physics homework!”) gets enough focus. The story jumps all over the place and I kept having to re-orient myself. It was very muddy going, and I often found myself feeling kind of lost (which is not something that happens to me when reading!). Characters acted bizarrely, there was no consistent characterization, new plot points bloomed out of nowhere 50% of the way into a chapter, old ones were dumped unceremoniously… it was just bad.

I did really enjoy two characters (Hana Swann and Keven Seven) but we barely see any of them. The one saving grace was those two and the little vignettes between chapters: there are bits of folklore and myth scattered through that read very evocatively. I wish the whole book was like that.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full




Reading Challenge Goals

155/175 Books

18/35 Series Books

51/50 TBR Books

20/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

June 2016 Wrapup | Part I

19 Jun

So far June has been the exact opposite of May: instead of waiting too long and having too many books to review, I had a… shall we say slow reading month so far. I started off picking up a bunch of books I couldn’t get interested in, and actually dnf’d Before The Fall. I ended up reading one book in the first week of June, and since then I’ve only managed to get through 4 more. However 4 of the 5 were exceptionally long, with the shortest at 672 pages and the longest at 880. And I absolutely adored all of the chunky books, so even if it is a slow month it’s a great one!


Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb. Finished June 8th. The second book in the Tawny Man trilogy, and the 8th in the Realm of the Elderlings. These books give me the same warm, cozy, “this feels like home” vibe as Harry Potter, which is something I don’t say lightly. Aside from both being fantasy series they have nothing in common, but I just feel so comforted by Robin Hobb’s books–even when horrible, sad, tear-inducing things are happening I still feel like I’m wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket of happy feelings.

Of course I can’t really talk about the plot without huge spoilers for all the previous books, but so far I think this is my favorite trilogy of the 3 I’ve tackled so far. It doesn’t have the pacing issues of the Farseer trilogy, and I find myself slightly more invested in the characters than I did in Liveship. Of course I adore all 3 series and it’s really hard to pick favorites but this is probably #1 of the Hobb books I’ve read thus far. It’s just… ugh, the feelings. The plot is slow but driven, the magic is fantastically deep, the characters are so real. This is a long book, and I think a lot of fantasy authors would cram the same amount of plot into a 400 or 500 page novel and come up with something fast-paced, but Hobb takes her time to develop the characters and the world. There are many scenes between characters that don’t drive the story forward but work towards building relationships and making the world feel deep and involved. I just love them so, so much and can’t recommend these books enough if you like epic fantasy.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Abyss Beyond Dreams, by Peter Hamilton. Finished June 14th. First off, I’ve seen a lot of reviews say that this can be read as a stand-alone series without tackling the previous books in the Commonwealth Saga: the Pandora’s Star duology and the Void trilogy. This is definitely not true! You definitely need to have read all of the previous books because there are overlapping characters AND the beginning of the second book has huge spoilers for the Void trilogy.

Peter Hamilton is known mostly for his incredibly sprawling space operas, with tons of POV characters and scattered storylines that come together perfectly at the end. This book is a little different, and the structure is quite unusual for what I’ve seen from him. The first sections follow the pattern: we have two long “chunks” of story with different POV characters in scattered locations, and both heavily feature Commonwealth technology. After that it switches drastically. 80% of the book takes place in the Void, so it’s more like Inigo’s dreams than any of the previous tech-heavy books. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the differences between A Fire Upon the Deep and The Children of the Sky. The Void books were a mix of high-tech and low-tech, but this book (and The Children of the Sky) are almost entirely low-tech. If you skimmed/skipped the Inigo sections in the Void books you probably won’t enjoy this very much, but if those held your interest it’ll probably be right up your alley.

Other than the tech-level shift and more limited cast, this has a lot in common with the rest of Hamilton’s books and features a lot of what I love about him. The characters are, as always, fantastic–Kysandra in particular really stood out to me, but that’s not really a surprise because his female characters tend to be the most memorable. There are of course cameos by characters from the previous books, and Nigel is a main character (though not really a POV one for most of the book). The story, while small in scope, is nicely nuanced and contains some nice twists and turns. I was really expecting our main male character, Slvasta, to have an Edeard-like arc since it was shaping up that way, but it went in a really unexpected direction. Plus we get revelations about some elements of the Void trilogy (genistars and Skylords in particular) that totally blew my mind.

There’s a cool race of aliens, if by cool you actually mean “totally terrifying.” They’re not as scary as the Primes, who still remain my favorite bad aliens, but oh my god are they creepy. It’s not universe-destroying terror like the Primes but a more close, claustrophobic, Alien-like horror. Especially in the opening chapter which sent chills down my spine. In fact, I think this book is a lot more horror-heavy than the previous Commonwealth ones which is always a plus in my book because I adore space horror. We’ve also got some cool tech, though of course it’s a lot more limited in this setting.

While I think this would be a 5-star book for me if it was written by another author, I didn’t find it quite as compelling as some of his others because of the narrative change. I still really enjoyed it and am especially looking forward to the sequel, which I’ve already started.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Night Without Stars, by Peter Hamilton*. Finished June 17th. (This review contains light spoilers for the previous books in the series, but none for Night Without Stars!)

I really enjoyed the first book in this series but I think it was lacking a little bit of Hamilton’s signature flare. The scope was a bit more limited, and it took place almost entirely on a very low-tech world. The sequel, however, doesn’t suffer from this: we’re still on the same planet, but a few hundred years in the future and it’s no longer low-tech. Sure, they’re not up to Commonwealth levels of coolness, but there’s a lot more going on in the actual scifi department. It also has a bigger cast with more POV characters, some cool new alien races, tons of clever callbacks to the past books, returning familiar faces, and a sassy spaceship. So basically it just feels more like a Commonwealth book that Abyss Beyond Dreams.

One of the things I love about Hamilton’s novels is how disparate plot threads come together so tightly by the end. This takes place all on one planet, so the POV characters “fit” together a lot more cohesively than, say, Pandora’s Star, but there’s still a massive amount of minor events in the novel (and from the Void trilogy even) that just come together so cleanly at the end. The characters are, as always, totally fantastic. My boo from the first novel, Kysandra, is back with a vengeance and show so much character growth. We’ve also got possibly my favorite new Hamilton character Joey, the world’s sassiest space ship. Most of the cast is brand-new but they’re easy to love (and hate, for a few of them).

Funnily enough the thing I loved most about the first book, the space horror elements, are totally gone here. The Fallers are still a threat but it’s more of a worldwide ‘we’re all going to die’ type of scenario in contrast to the more personal horror of the first. But I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t even miss it! I know this is a duology and they obviously go together but the tone is just so different from book to book. It’s not a bad thing at all, and really helps you separate one from the other (especially if you’re like me and tend to blur books in a series together). I think if you like smaller, more claustrophobic science fiction you’ll prefer the first one, but if you like broader-scope space opera this will be your favorite. I usually find Hamilton series to read like one huge novel chopped up into parts, so this is definitely a different style for him.

As satisfying as I found the conclusion, I’m really hoping this isn’t the last Commonwealth book. I’m just so invested in the world and the characters–he could write a dozen series in it and I’d happily read them all! I’m also really hoping the next one involves the Planters…

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Familiar Vol 3 Honeysuckle & Pain, by Mark Z. Danielewski. Finished June 17th. I’m so invested in these books it’s not even funny: I read this behemoth in 3 days because I absolutely couldn’t stand not knowing what was going to happen. I know I should savor them and take my time but I just… I can’t. I want all 27 volumes right now!

This series is done in the style of a television show, and there are 9 main characters who (for the most part) have stories that only overlap slightly. Each book tends to give different side characters a stronger “focus” and my favorite, Shnorhk, got three whole chapters in this one!

The thrill of these books is figuring out slowly how everything is connected and what all the symbolism and plot threads really mean. Everything from the formatting of each section to the color of the thread holding the pages together holds meaning–I could probably re-read each volume 10 times (let’s be honest, I probably will) and discover something new with each read. Of course this is really just the beginning and I have no idea how things will develop, but I get mighty excited whenever I work out some little twist or factoid on my own. These are definitely more accessible than, say, House of Leaves or Only Revolutions but still make your brain work overtime while reading them.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton*. Finished June 17th. I went into this book really wanting to love it. It’s literary apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction in the style of Station Eleven or The Road, where the focus is much more on characters than it is on the “big event” that changed everything. But sadly, Good Morning, Midnight kind of left me wanting.

I think the real problem for me was how terribly predictable everything was. You can see every plot event (I hesitate to call them twists but I guess there are some twisty turns) coming from a mile away. There’s no element of surprise, no emotional moments that take the reader’s breath away. Something big happens and you think, “oh yeah, of course, I knew that was coming.” It’s kind of disappointing because I think with a little tweaking this could have been a totally fantastic book.

Part of my issue is the lack of depth in the world. This does not feel like a real, fleshed-out future world, it feels exactly like ours. There’s no worldbuilding at all. One of our main characters, Augie, finds a young girl in his research station and there’s literally NO mention of who she is/how she got there/how this is possible. It’s just “oh look a child” and the reader is left scratching their head. It would be a cool element in a magical realism book, but this is (supposed to be) based purely in reality. Then we have our astronaut team: they are returning from a mission to Jupiter and there is no mention of any kind of space exploration other than the past (our present) and their current mission. You’d think, when mentioning their idols, they’d you know… talk about the first person who went to Mars (which must have happened before humans started heading to Jupiter, right?) but nope. It makes the world feel paper-thin, like the author put NO thought into anything besides the main plot of the novel. I like when worlds feel rich, deep, like there’s real things happening off-screen you’ll never know about. This book does not feel real at all.

This review has seemed pretty negative so far, but I didn’t hate this book by any means. I enjoyed it–it was a fun, light read (not exactly a great thing to say about apocalyptic fiction, I guess) but it just wasn’t memorable. I did like the characters, and I loved most of the spaceship chapters. But there was no wow factor. I feel like I’ll look at this book in two months and think, “what the heck was this about?”

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half




Reading Challenge Goals

142/175 Books

18/35 Series Books

47/50 TBR Books

18/15 Different Countries

[books marked with a * were provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own]

May 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

2 Jun

The first week of May was a great one for reading. The rest of the month? Maybe not so much. In terms of number of books read nothing much has changed (in fact May was very high in that regard) but my reading was all over the place. I skimped on my goals (only one series book read, and 1/3rd of the tbr books that I did in April). I also read a lot of lackluster novels. I think this is because I am in a major reading slump that started mid-month: nothing I pick up holds my attention, and I’ve found myself bouncing from book to book without settling down. I started a bunch of books that I really should love (authors/series I adore) but couldn’t get more than 10 pages in before giving up. So I spent most of the month reading “fast” books, ones that grab you and reel you in but are totally forgettable the moment you put them down. Yeah, not the best, but at least I got something done!

Strap in, because this is a long one. I originally intended to do weekly posts for May, but I guess because of my slumpy-ness I thought I didn’t tackle that much this month. I was horribly, horribly wrong. We’ve got a lot of books coming up.