150 Book Challenge: March 2015 Wrapup

7 May

I haven’t been doing well with my goal of actually reviewing every book I read, have I? No. Not at all. I set a pretty reasonable goal for myself, but when you read a book every 1 or 2 days (and sometimes 2 in 1 day) it’s nearly impossible to keep up with that volume of reviews in full format. So, I’ve decided to take a hint from Booktube and switch to roundups! Monthly at the moment, possibly weekly after April because that seems more reasonable length-wise.

Because this is going to be rather lengthy it’s after the jump, so hit it and let’s get started!


A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E Schwab: Read March 1st. This is one of those books that’s hyped all over Goodreads and Youtube. I always feel obliged to read them, even though they rarely live up to expectations or, honestly, are the type of book I even like. But this one had so much potential: parallel Londons! Magic that eats cities! Thieving! Plus the fact that it’s marketed as YA but is really an adult fantasy. Sadly, these things alone don’t make it a good book. It was enjoyable, sure, but not as wonderful as what I was expecting. The writing was beautiful and I think the characters were great: the tropes of “super special hero” and “one true girl who he keeps bumping into” were nicely played with.

However, it felt watered-down the whole way through. There was so much potential: four parallel Londons, each with a different level of magic, some of them corrupted, one lost entirely. Sure, the idea was great. The execution? Not so much. It feels kind of shallow, and there’s a lot of buildup and teasing for a mediocre ending that I felt was a huge letdown. This is because there’s going to be a second book (and possibly a third). There doesn’t need to be. As one book? Probably would have been fantastic. As it is, this left me wanting.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full






Hyperion, by Dan Simmons: Finished March 5th. My series for March was Hyperion! After 4 fantasy series, I needed a break. I actually started reading this book over 8 years ago, but gave up after the first story because it was too creepy and unsettling for me. This has never happened. I read scary books. Hell, I seek out terrifying books. But the Priest’s Tale in Hyperion? It got to me. And it did the second time too, but I powered through and actually finished the book.

Hyperion is structured like Canterbury Tales: a group of pilgrims are on their way to see the Shrike, a half-mythical, murderous creature that grants the wish of one pilgrim out of every group (and kills the rest). As they travel, each tells their story of how they got to be in this situation. It’s set in the far-future, and while it’s light scifi (my taste usually runs towards hard, science-driven books) Simmons comes up with some really wonderful concepts. There’s a lot of classic history, poetry, literature, and science referenced–it’s a deep book in a genre that many people consider superficial. Those of us who read it know better, but if you know someone who poo-poohs scifi as a “light” or silly genre, give them this book. They’ll change their mind. Can you tell I loved it?

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke: Finished March 6th. There is a specific sub-genre of science fiction that I love. Well, it’s not even a sub-genre, but a super-niche type of book. Space horror that features derelict alien relics of some kind, with a focus on the alien. I don’t want a ship that could have been made for humans (looking at you, Fluency), but something truly bizarre. So far I’ve found very few like this: Ship of Fools, Blindsight, “Diamond Dogs” (which is technically a novella), the Alastair Reynolds short story “Nightingale”, and Hull Zero Three. House of Leaves, while not scifi, is also a perfect example. I was really hoping Rama would fall into this category, so the fact that I didn’t love it was my own damn fault.

Rama is indeed about a derelict alien ship: one that is truly alien, in fact, but there is no horror. It’s more of a shock-and-awe novel, filled with hope and a little bit of trepidation. It’s honestly an amazing, book, objectively, but it’s not really my type of book. I feel bad giving it a (kind of) low rating, but I just never got into it. I kept waiting for the reveal, for the the horror, for the absolute unknown to come slinking out of the corner, and it never did.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





Black Moon, by Kenneth Calhoun: Read March 9th. Black Moon is about an insomnia-based apocalypse, a theme that is oddly trendy right now. This is the second book with this premise I’ve read in the past few months (the first being Sleep Donation). But Black Moon pushes the premise much further, taking you fully into the minds of the afflicted. It has beautiful, hallucinatory writing. This is the kind of weird, fragmented book I am drawn to, but it’s missing something crucial. It’s not quite weird enough to pull off an open ending, but it tries to. If it was either paced & plotted a bit more tightly or went into full-throttle madness, it would be perfect. A promising first novel, though.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full





The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro: Finished March 12th. On the surface this is part-magic-realism, part-historical-fantasy: a tale of Britain after Arthur, with knights and dragons and quests. But if you go into it expecting a fantasy (or if you expect it to be like his most popular books, The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go), you’re probably going to be disappointed.

At its core, this book is about memory and love, war and peace. I understand why Ishiguo didn’t want this classified as a fantasy, even though it ruffled some feathers in the community. It’s decidedly not a fantasy: it’s a quiet little book that uses a handful of fantastical elements, but relies on none of them. The ending struck a cord so deep in me that I teared up, and when later recounting the ending to my SO I started out-and-out bawling. It was gorgeous and tragic. If you liked A Pale View of the Hills or The Unconsoled and have a feel for Ishiguro’s more dreamy, surreal books, this is probably something you will love. Don’t go in with any expectations of what it should or should not be: but you might want to pack some tissues for the ride.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, Finished March 16th. On its own, I might rate this five stars. It’s broader in scope than the first, bringing us a true space opera feel. Sure, it’s kind of soft scifi (which admittedly I don’t usually like) but the lack of hard tech doesn’t feel like a lack at all. The narrative style is wonderful: a mix of first and third person, past and present, real world and digital world. There’s poetry and zen koans. Keats narrates a large chunk of it. What’s not to love?

But of course if you read this, you’ve read the first. And the Canterbury Tales, pilgrimage-style format is dumped completely for this book. Understandably, of course, but it feels like a huge loss. Even though we learn ten times more about the universe and explore dozens of planets, it feels narrower in scope. It had to happen: you can’t have a series of books that’s nothing but people sitting around telling stories. It doesn’t carry the narrative arc along far enough to successfully pull off what a series needs to. But still, I missed those stories so much! A great book, but made lesser by the sheer magnificence of its predecessor.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





The Incarnations by Susan Barker: Finished March 18th. This book is compared so often to David Mitchell that I put off reading it, assuming it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Usually when a book is marketed as “the next x” or “just like writer y!” it’s terrible. See: the dozens of books marketed as “the next Gone Girl.” So I look at a book about reincarnation that’s set in Asia and compared to Mitchell and think “great, a ripoff that’s probably written decently.” Thank god I was wrong!

The Incarnations is a beautifully twisted journey through humanity. Through the six intertwining lives of two reincarnated souls we tackle issues of class, gender, sexuality, inequality, mental illness. It’s done with no heavy-handed metaphors or lecturing: we just see moments in time, and since… well, they’re about human beings, they cover a whole lot of human issues in a wonderfully organic way.

Though this gets a lot of Cloud Atlas comparisons, I think it reminded me most of Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima: it’s heartbreakingly tragic but impossibly beautiful at the same time. Every character is flawed and messed up and it’s all so raw and emotional.

Lipstick Rating5 Full





Coda, by CD Reiss: Finished March 19th. This series (and basically everything C.D Reiss does) is a huge guilty pleasure for me. Are they the deepest? No, not at all. But oh man am I attached to the characters, and I admit that I got a bit teary towards the end here. This tackles a big issue I didn’t think would ever pop up in romance/erotica, and does so with grace. So sad that this is the last we’ll (probably) be seeing of Monica & Jonathan.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Endymion by Dan Simmons: Finished March 23rd. The 3rd Hyperion Cantos book. I’ve heard that the series goes slowly downhill, and I did indeed like the first book better than the second, so I did not have super high hopes for this one. Happily enough, it blew me right out of the water, and is my 2nd favorite of the four.

Endymion takes place many years after Hyperion, and has only a handful of overlapping characters: the main two are brand new, in fact. This gives it the distance from Hyperion‘s storytelling structure that Fall of Hyperion lacked. In its place is a new element: world-jumping. This books spans many, many planets and cultures, giving us a wonderful look at the universe Simmons has created. It also introduces de Soya, possibly my favorite character from the whole series, and he happens to be the bad guy. Finally, the villain’s perspective! If only we got some chapters from the POV of the Shrike.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





Confess by Colleen Hoover: Read March 23rd. I will confess that I loved Hopeless, the Hoover book that everyone and their mom has read. Sure, it was far from perfect, but it hits you right in the heart and certainly accomplishes pulling out a lot of emotions in the reader. Since then, I keep trying her books… and disliking them. I grow more and more bitter about this as time goes on, mainly because Hoover really does have talent but she keeps popping out insanely generic young adult/new adult books. Which, as you may know, is not at all my thing. Especially new adult please god if I never have to read another NA book I will die happy.

Confess is a bit different than her other works: like most of them, it has a special “something else” and this time it’s confessions. Literally. The book is strewn with anonymous confessions, each of them a real one she got from a reader. This is the most interesting part of it… and, I’ll be honest, the only interesting part for me. Basically, Confess is about a girl named Auburn (because god freaking forbid a YA/NA heroine have a real person name) who moves to Houston and works at an art gallery with this ~super dreamy~ guy who she can’t be with for ~plot reasons~. There’s the requisite tension, though I felt no spark between the two leads, and the end was… ugh, I’d like to unread it. I will give it to Hoover: the twist (there’s always a twist, right?) I both did not see coming and managed to be very original. But it (and the confessions) weren’t enough to save this mediocre love story.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full





The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne, finished March 28th. I am a bit over psychological thrillers as a genre. The media game of “let’s find the next Gone Girl!” has led me to some truly terrible books that I regret ever reading: things like Before I Go To Sleep, The Good Girl, and The Girl On The Train: I know that last one will be controversial since it’s well-loved, but I found it trite and predictable with a terrible cast. So any time a book pops up in the psychological thriller genre and gets popular, I roll my eyes a bit and swear not to read it. But this book–this was different. I mean, that premise is just so intriguing. One twin dies, and the other swears she’s the dead twin? I’ve always been fascinated by twins, particularly with how parents tell them apart. I mean, they’re identical. How do you differentiate between identical babies? It’s not an often-discussed topic, though, so my curiosity went unsated. Until now, of course, since that’s the hook this thriller revolves around.

I don’t think The Ice Twins is exactly a psychological thriller, to be honest. Sure it fits in the genre. But it’s also a little bit of a horror novel, and a wrenching look at grief. It manages to do a lot of things. There’s an intensely unsettling atmosphere: the house they move to after the death of their daughter is truly dismal. The characters are incredibly well drawn: very flawed, but human and believable. Kirstie/Lydia, the twin, is the shining beacon here though. S.K. Tremayne did a fantastic job making a realistic child character who isn’t terribly annoying. And the twists! This is one hell of a twisty ride. Things unravel slowly at first, and then all at once. It’s unpredictable but nowhere out of the realm of reality, a trap these sorts of books often fall into. While I’m not sure if I am 100% satisfied with the ending, this was a really enjoyable read and the first time I’ve enjoyed a psychological thriller in ages.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full





The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons: Finished March 28th. I am at a loss as to how to rate this book. There were things I loved and things I hated, and I’m still not sure if it felt like a solid finale to the series. While Hyperion is definitely my favorite of the four, my second-fave is actually Endymion so I had high hopes for this one. But, much like The Fall of Hyperion, it feels fragmented: too many storylines compared to the original. There were huge lulls in the story and all the action seemed squeezed into smaller chapters. For example, we get pages upon pages of life in the new-Tibet planet: paragraphs of building descriptions, infinitely long lists of names, lots of thoughts on Buddhism. And the space battle is squeezed into like a page and a half? What gives? There’s not a good balance. I’m all for long-winded descriptions that create a rich world, but here it felt… indulgent.

My biggest peeve by far was the romance. I hate love stories in scifi unless they are really executed well. Like when they show you something new about the world (Blindsight), further character development (Ship of Fools) or are totally unique and awesome (Tiger Pansy/Quatux in Pandora’s Star is my OTP). Here, the Raul/Aenea dynamic felt forced. I appreciate that Simmons was going for a Dante/Beatrice thing with the age difference but it honestly just felt super creepy. Especially when Raul continued to call her “kiddo” after sleeping with her. I get that it was supposed to show us how love was “the true force of the universe” or whatever, but that was also kind of dropped towards the end and never explained.

Like many people, I hated all the retconning from the first 2 books. Many things are changed from what we learned there, and I didn’t like a single bit of it. Not to mention that the Shrike is so watered-down and what we learn about him doesn’t make a lick of sense when you look at his actions in Hyperion/Fall of Hyperion. Though I did love the twist of his origin story.

The entire far-flung future human society plotline, so integral to Fall of Hyperion, is dashed completely. I mean, Rachel… what even happened there? All the future human evolution? The Time Tombs? Dropped like a hot potato in these books. And there are questions we never get answered, like what the heck even were the labyrinthine worlds? And how did Gladstone see old earth from the moon when it wasn’t actually there? Was there a fake earth? This was just never explained.

I probably seem insanely negative, but I did like a lot of the elements in play here. There were some amazing characters (de Soya and Bettik!) who had great plotlines and character development. The worlds were amazing, totally alien and gorgeous. The peek (finally!) into Ouster civilization was amazingly evocative. But ultimately it felt rushed: it’s over 700 pages but the ending is so short compared to everything else that happened. If the sex scenes could be taken out and replaced with actual, you know, important content… yeah. I wish there was a lot more editing going on her.

In the end, it wasn’t a satisfying conclusion and didn’t feel connected to the world of Hyperion at all. But the worldbuilding, mythos, & character arcs were all fantastic. Few people can weave so many believable future societies the way Simmons can. His glimpse into the “what if” for religion  culture in the future is so magnificent. This series is definitely leaving a hole in my heart, but the lackluster ending has me a bit confused about my feelings for the world as a whole.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half





Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum: Finished March 29th. Sometimes a book can technically do everything right but still leave me wanting. Hausfrau is beautifully written, practically poetic (which makes sense, given that the author is a poet). It has an interesting and unique structure, splicing Anna’s day-to-day life with snippets of her therapy sessions and German class. It’s filled with gorgeous metaphors and interesting questions about human nature. It has well-rounded if flawed characters who seem utterly realistic. The plot is loose at first but draws tighter and tighter until an unexpected wham scene bursts the whole thing messily, artfully open. But still. But still.

I think the character of Anna left me wanting. I felt no connection to her, and little sympathy. Not because of her infidelity, but because she is incredibly weak. This is intentional, and a deliberate part of her characterization. She is passive and goes along with life like she has no control over it, leading to bad decision after bad decision. She constantly does bad things but blames her passive nature. She hurts everyone around her but shrugs it off with “that’s life!” She’s depressed and apathetic and honestly, a little pathetic. Which is realistic: there are lots of people like Anna, and Jill Essbaum did a fantastic job making her seem real and whole. Anna feels like a woman you’ve bumped into on the road, a bored housewife living down the street from you, an old college friend you fell out of touch with. But I didn’t like her at all. Usually I don’t have a problem reading about “bad” characters, but Anna was just… pathetic. I couldn’t sympathize with her lack of agency, her willingness to totally ruin her life for no reason. I don’t think she is supposed to be likeable, but her overall affect was abrasive to me personally.

If not for the wham-element that comes in about 70% of the way into the book, I don’t think I would have liked this at all. But the path Anna’s life takes becomes increasingly tense, and really drew me in. Hopefully Essbaum’s next book is about something a little more interesting & compelling than a bored housewife.


Phew! That’s it! If you actually read all of that, I applaud you. I’ll be doing one big April wrapup, and from then on it will be weekly. Because let’s be honest, no one needs a post this long.

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