June 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 2-4

1 Aug

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

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White Night, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 7th. Back into the Dresden Files! Though it was nice to have June “off” I found myself really missing the world, so this was a nice dip back into the familiar. Since it’s the 9th book in a series it’s hard to summarize my thoughts without spoiling a whole ton of stuff, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. The plot actually wasn’t one of my favorites, and it focuses heavily on the White Court vampires who are definitely not my preferred big bad, but the payoff of the climax was well worth it. Plus it had a whole lot of Lash, one of my favorite characters, which is always a huge plus.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Silence, by Tim Lebbon: Finished July 9th. This is a confusing book. For the first half it’s good but not great: filled with a lot of tropes and some pretty major plot holes/bad science when it comes to the monsters. But the concept of a deaf girl being most suited for this new apocalyptic world is really interesting and enough to hold my attention. There’s also snippets from news, social media, etc at the beginning of each chapter which helps broaden the perspective quite efficiently.

Then you get to a scene in the middle that is just AMAZING (the car one… if you read it, you know what I’m talking about). It’s powerful, scary, and full of emotion. I assumed after this that the book was on an upswing and would get better as it went along. Sadly, I was wrong. It’s a pretty steep drop after that and gets surprisingly dull for an apocalyptic monster book. It’s quite boring, and the characters start making mind-numbingly stupid decisions. The end is a ridiculous letdown. It feels super rushed, and generally just not good after a decent start. Worth reading for the one great scene, though.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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House of Small Shadows, by Adam Nevill: Finished July 10th. Nevill’s The Ritual is one of my absolute favorite horror novels, and I’ve been chasing the feeling of it for a long time now (thus my obsession with woods-based horror). I hadn’t read any of his other stuff, though, because reviews generally agree that none of it lives up to The Ritual. But hey, I’m a rebel, so I decided to read this anyway.

And, in a way, the reviews are right: this isn’t quite as good as The Ritual. But it’s also a totally different book. This one focuses on a woman appraising a strange collection of dolls and taxidermy, and is more about a descent into madness than survival horror. It’s got an old mansion, creepy servants, dead animals, weird dolls, and terrifying puppets. Plus a mysterious empty village. And after the rampant sexism in The Ritual, I was shocked to see how well Nevill handled a main female character: she wasn’t a “strong female character” in the physical/mental sense, but she was very well rounded and felt realistic. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Scar, by China Mieville: Finished July 14th. This is a re-read for me. I used to read this once a year, but with my goals the past couple years I’ve totally skipped out on the re-reads of my favorites. Time to fix that! I mean, what better way to overcome a slump than to read your favorite book? I love this more and more every time I dive into it: there’s just so much going on you find something new every time, it’s a very rewarding re-read.

I feel like an evangelist when it comes to this book, because I try to get everyone to read it. Do you like New Weird? Do you like pirates? Adventure? Vampires? Weird cities? Horrific mutant water monsters? Strange beasties and horror? Intrigue and sabotage? Mosquito people? Read this book. It’s so good, I really can’t do it justice.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Small Favor, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 15th. The Dresden books have a distinct numerical pattern: big bads come in waves, and every 5th book focuses on the Denarians. Aka crazy fallen angels who are a nightmare version of a religious cult. They’re some of my favorite characters in the series, especially since they are kind of held at arm’s length: we don’t get a ton of information on them when they appear, and their purpose remains obfuscated even this far into the series. So of course I was thrilled to read this book, because they’re the main antagonists!

Plus we get the return of Ivy, one of my very favorite side characters (though I feel I say that about so many–Bob, Butters, Toot-Toot, Marcone, Lea, and like 5 others). The plot is a lot tighter and more fast-paced than White Night, the action better spaced out. One of my favorite Dresden books (so far).

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 17th. I really should have liked this more than I did. It has all the ingredients for success: a super cool/scary bad guy (Shagnasty), possibly the best fight scene in the series, and it finally focuses on a mystery that’s been in the background for over half the series (the Black Council). But. But. The character with the most focus (aside from Harry, of course) is Molly, Harry’s teenage apprentice. And I hate Molly.

I know that’s probably controversial, but I really detest pre-Changes Molly. She’s whiny and annoying and does the wrong thing every freaking time like a moron. I’m also 100% tired of descriptions of how sexy she is. Ugh. The thing is, she’s actually a really complex and well-drawn character, I just hate everything about her. So this ended up being one of my least-favorite Dresden books, when it really should have been one of my favorites. Sorry, Listens-to-Wind, not even you can redeem such a Molly-heavy book for me.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Changes, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 19th. After the disappointment of Turn Coat, this was just perfection. As the name implies (and the ominous fact that the title is one word, not two) this book has a lot of major shifts for the characters. A lot of what we find comfortably familiar is ripped away and the series heads off in a much darker direction. Which, of course, I love. Dark and gloomy and depressing? Sign me the hell on up!

This book finds plots that have been in the works since book 3 finally coming to a head. Minor scenes from ages ago are suddenly important, and more of the over-arching backstory is unveiled. Plus Mayan gods, which is always a win. We’re also introduced to one of my favorite reoccurring characters, Vaderrung, in Changes. It’s just all-around great.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams: Finished July 20th. After a Dresden-heavy stretch, I decided to take a little break. And after reading two Williams plays last month, what better for a breather than my favorite of his works? This is the 4th time I’ve read Streetcar, and I find more to love every time I dip into it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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When We Were Animals, by Joshua Gaylord: Finished July 21st. I’ve had this book for a while but kept putting it aside, mostly because of the YA label, which was such a terrible mistake because this is one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. It’s a coming of age tale like none other. In a small town, teenagers are afflicted with the Breach every full moon: like animals, they run wild, fighting and baying in the streets. It sounds like werewolf-lite but it’s not at all.

I loved so many things about this book. In fact, I loved everything (aside from the problematic use of the slur gypsy, but that only popped up once, so I can give the author a pass). It captures the wild abandon of highschool, the blood in your veins that feels like it’s going to burst right out of your body. The confusing, painful emotions. The hunger to be free and wild and the conflicting fear of growing up. I have never read a better coming of age tale, and I’m horrified to think that I honestly almost didn’t read it.

This book shocked me, the plot moved in directions unexpected and heart-wrenching, and it turns so many tropes like love triangles right on their head. Just, passionately loved it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Paperweight, by Meg Haston: Finished July 22nd. It’s a book about eating disorders so of course I read it. It’s honestly like a compulsion, I see one and I have to read it immediately. And I think, if I hadn’t read many similar books, I might have liked this more. Let’s start with the good: the main character, Stevie, is great. She’s not your stereotypical ED heroine. This isn’t the typical “diet gone TOO FAR” narrative that we see so often (and, honestly, is totally unrealistic and has very little to do with real eating disorders). Stevie goes through trauma, which her brain links to food: this causes disordered thoughts and behaviors. Meg Haston also did a good job illustrating the “I want to be discovered/I don’t want to be discovered” back-and-forth that happens with many mental illnesses and addictions. Stevie wants to keep her illness a secret and goes to great lengths to hide binges, but she also goes out of her way to tell family members she’s not eating. It’s an odd conundrum, and nicely captured here.

So what didn’t I like? Well, for one, I’m a bit tired of the “main character states the day that they are going to kill themselves, but you know they probably won’t” plot that seems kind of popular right now. While it makes sense plot-wise here I’m just… tired of it. It gives us no tension: I mean, do we really believe that Stevie is going to kill herself? No, the reader never feels that tension, because this is a book clearly about recovery. The overarching plot also feel a bit generic and never pulled me in, but Haston did a good job representing eating disorders and I did love the main character.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 23rd. This book serves as a kind of breather between Changes and the rest of the series. After the huge upheavals that take place, Ghost Story acts as a medium between what was and what will be. New status quos are not set up, and while we get hints at the changing landscape this book is more about Harry’s journey from pre-Changes life to post-Changes life.

A lot of reviewers mark this a lot lower than Changes, but I liked it just as much. I love that the formula has finally been changed, that we’re seeing new players enter the game, that characters are getting tons of development. This is a bittersweet book, because it’s really a goodbye to the Dresden Files that existed before, and a slow sink into the newer world. While perhaps slower than some of its predecessors, I adored the pacing and story, especially the heavy focus on ghost mythology that was set up back in book 3 (because, yes, book 3 and 13 are ~surprise~ heavily linked).

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Cold Days, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 26th. I honestly never thought a Dresden book would beat Dead Beat out as my favorite. I mean, what could be better than Butters and a zombie dinosaur? This book. This book could be better. I love the new status quo. I loved Harry’s shifting mental process. I loved the deeper look into the Faerie Courts.

I know a lot of people were unhappy with post-Changes Harry, and the changes to the world–but come on, what did you expect? I don’t think the series would be nearly as effective if we didn’t have major shakeups. I love the new dynamics and plots that are building here, and all of the new elements that come into play like Demonreach. Plus, this book actually makes me like Molly. I mean, I hated her a whole lot less in Ghost Story, but I’m downright excited for her character arc after the events of Cold Days.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Skin Game, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 27th. This was a bittersweet read for me. It’s the last published Dresden book, and there are many more down the pipe (since the series will eventually be 23 books long). But after binge-reading them in the span of two months I kind of expect there to be another book after this right now. But I’m going to have to wait. Ugh! It’s torture!

Skin Game seems to rank super high on a lot of people’s lists, but I definitely liked Cold Days and Ghost Story more. This is more of a return to the earlier books: it’s a heist, and the plot takes place over 2 or 3 days, so there’s not a lot of time to explore the changes to the world. It’s much more fast paced than the previous few books, which is probably a good thing for most people but while I liked this I just didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. Which is not to say it was bad: it’s definitely one of the better books in the series, especially because it expands the mythos so much.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Side Jobs, by Jim Butcher: Finished July 30th. I never thought I’d get as attached to this series as I am. I don’t even like urban fantasy, but here I am, bereft that I don’t have any more Dresden Files books to read. Or rather, no more main ones! There’s still short stories and comics to hold me over. This is the former: a collection of stories that takes place from pre-the first book to Changes. In fact, it’s book 12.5, so I could have read it earlier.

I have to admit, Butcher is much better at long fiction than he is at short fiction. Some of these stories are great, others are just okay, and a few fall pretty damn flat. But it’s still Dresden, so I feel a little better about having to wait for the next book *sob*

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Books of Blood Vol. 1, by Clive Barker: Finished July 31st. If you asked me my favorite genre, I’d probably say speculative fiction or New Weird. Fantasy, scifi, and magic realism might rank higher than horror for me. But horror is, undoubtedly, my “comfort” genre. When I need a reading break, I turn to King or Barker: when I want something “soothing” I read about weird apocalyptic monsters. So after the long, Dresden-heavy July I went and read the first Book of Blood.

“In the Hills, the Cities”, the last story here, is my favorite short story of all time, so I was pretty excited to read the rest of them. And while none of them are as strong as “Hills” (kind of obviously, since I can’t imagine him topping it) this is a nice collection that showcases Barker’s variety. We have straight-up splatterpunk (“The Midnight Meat Train”), more comedic horror (“The Yattering and Jack”), an eerie “ghost” story (“Sex, Death and Starshine”) and of course the bizarre majesty of “In The Hills, The Cities.” I do think the opening story is quite weak compared to the rest, but this is a pretty damn solid collection of short stories.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

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