Tag Archives: Iain M. Banks

Favorite Books of 2016: Series

10 Jan

I read a lot of books this year, so narrowing it down to favorites is so hard. I’m always impressed by those people who manage to pick 5 or 10 books that they loved the most in a calendar year. For me, that’s pretty much impossible! To make it a little more manageable, I’m going to split my favorites into two posts. The first will be my favorite books I read that are part of a series, and the second will be stand-alone along with some honorable poetry mentions. Let’s get to it!

[...]

December Reading Wrapup: Part II

4 Jan

In terms of raw numbers, the first half of December was much better than the second in terms of reading. The holidays are always a rough time for hobbies: there’s so much traveling, so many things to do, so much cooking… and no time for my usual before-bed reading. I got a little bit done, but not as much as I had hoped. Though I wrapped up almost all of my challenges on time, so that’s something to be happy about!

29430686

The River at Night, by Erica Ferencik*. Finished December 16th. There are a few things that will get me to pick up a book no matter the reviews or author. If it has survival elements or spooky woods (and The River at Night has both), I generally don’t even bother to look up information on it. I just read that sucker. This has led me astray many times: according to my shelves, I’ve read 22 unsuccessful spooky woods books and only 10 I actually enjoyed. Thankfully, this is the latter category!

The premise is a wonderful combination of The Descent and The Ritual (which are both about as good as it gets when it comes to survival horror). Four women have been friends for decades, but they only see each other once a year on epic vacations. Beach getaways, skydiving, that sort of thing. This year they’re going white water rafting in an uninhabited part of Maine. No, none of them have ever rafted before, but these girls are desperate for adventure. Or at least their leader, Pia, is.

Most of the first half of the novel is spent setting up the characters. Sure, things happen (the adventure starts!) but it’s mostly building up all 4 women as complex and realistic figures. Their interactions, histories, and personalities feel very fleshed out and realistic. They all have obvious flaws (the divorcee, the adventure addict, the recovered alcoholic, the abused wife) but none fall into trope territory. They feel like real, average humans. Like women you went to school with or talk to at a book club. It’s a nice writing trick: they’re complex enough to hold your interest, but not over-the-top enough to take you out of the mood.

And the mood is fantastic! While this is not technically a horror novel, it has a very moody atmosphere and moments of extreme tension. After all, you know from the blurb (and tone) that the trip does not go well. This is a survival novel, after all. And there’s a lot of surviving going on. There are also some old-fashioned creepy-people-in-the-woods element as well. Stranded in an unexplored forest with potentially Deliverance-level crazies? It makes for some excellent horror moments.

Though the build to the meat of the plot is slow, it never feels like a chore getting there. The pacing is great, and you are carried along the river of these women’s relationship at the exact pace the author intends. Sure, there are some unrealistic elements in play towards the end, but that’s almost always true in survival stories (because if they were realistic, 99% of the time they’d end in “and then they all died of exposure”). But this is an immersive piece of horror masquerading as literary fiction. If you like survival horror, I’d definitely give it a shot.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

25716626

Breaking Wild, by Diane Les Becquets. Finished December 16th. After reading The River at Night I immediately wanted more survival-themed books. Maybe I should have resisted that impulse, because it’s no surprise that Breaking Wild suffered from the comparison. Then again, based on other reviews I might feel just as neutral if I’d waited.

Breaking Wild has a lot of elements I love, aside from survival. There’s a hint of grit lit (without the over-the-top sexually violent tones that plague that genre), strong female characters, and that Gone Girl “is she really who she says she is?” element to the missing woman Amy Raye. Then again, that last one might be a little too on-the-nose for me (I mean, she has the same name–Amy. Kind of trite). We also have lots of animal-based scenes, both friend and foe. Dogs and coyotes and cougars and bears and elk, oh my!

But I felt a huge distance in the narrative. Even when we are with Amy on her survival journey, watching her on the brink of death, I didn’t feel that emotional pull I want. I like being close to characters, getting in their skin and feeling their pain along with them. And I don’t mind the “unlikeable” type that Amy Raye obviously falls into: as long as I understand a character, there’s the potential to like them. But with Amy? Even after her full backstory reveal I didn’t “get” her. And the woman looking for her, Pru, felt like an unnecessary add-in at times. Her home life and backstory was a bit dull next to the excitement and shine of Amy. That might have been an intentional contrast, but that doesn’t make it a good story decision.

There’s one thing this book does amazingly well: build tension. We have alternating chapters from Amy (missing woman) and Pru (looking for missing woman), but the timelines don’t sync up. Amy’s is at a much slower pace: it takes half a dozen chapters to even get to when she goes missing. Pru is way in the future by that point, and desperately looking for Amy. And while Pru’s chapters are in the 1st person, Amy’s are in the 3rd. These combine to create a big sense of unease, because we have no clue if Amy survived or not. And her chances seem quite grim as the book goes on. It’s cleverly executed and is a nice twist to the missing woman genre.

There are definitely highs and lows here. I loved the tone and the pacing, didn’t love the characters or side plots (I don’t care about Pru’s love life or kid, author. I want to know what happens with the cougar!!). I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not a book I will think back fondly on. If you don’t mind distanced narratives, though, and like survival thrillers, this might be right up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

29069543

Bodies of Water, by V. H. Leslie. Finished December 17th. This is one of those books I finished and immediately had almost no opinion on: I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. I feel decidedly lukewarm on pretty much every aspect. Which is odd, because the themes (intense female friendship, bizarre antiquated cures for madness, mythology/magical realism elements, alternating past-and-present storylines, cats!!) are things I almost always love or at least can easily get involved with.

But Bodies of Water was decidedly bland. The writing was decent and had some sparks of beauty, but mostly came across as just adequate. The characters are quite flat. They have interesting backgrounds, but everything we see from their perspective makes them seem dreadfully dull. They also act in a way that drives the plot forward but makes no real-world sense. If you moved into a brand-new apartment and the ceiling started leaking, would you 1) visit your upstairs neighbor to ~investigate~ and then forget about it or 2) call the fucking super to fix it asap because it’s DRIPPING ALL OVER YOUR BED. Our girl Kirsten takes #1 because yeah, that’s logical. Their motivations don’t line up with their actions at all, and it’s a consistent issue.

I think one of the main problems was the length. It’s so short but covers two stories with deep backgrounds. There’s a LOT going on, and each story could have easily been 100+ pages. It wouldn’t fix the other issues but it would make it easier to get invested. With this novella format, by the time I finally gave a damn about the plots it was over. Something interesting happened (there’s honestly only one real ‘event’ in the book) and 10 pages later it’s the end of the book? The pacing is quite poor.

I know this was going for a traditional Gothic atmosphere, and it had a great base to work with. The plot sounds so interesting on paper, and issues of mental illness and sexuality are just begging to play out on a weird Gothic water therapy stage. Yet this was just okay in almost every way. Super forgettable.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

17346798-1

In Pinelight, by Thomas Rayfield. Finished December 17th. This is, without a hint of exaggeration, one of the best pieces of literary fiction I’ve ever read. Yet it has 4, count em FOUR, reviews on Goodreads! I only stumbled upon it because the spine looked intriguing while I was at the library. I am a constant whore for books that take place in spooky woods, and how spooky does that cover look? Very spooky. But misleading, because there’s no horror here and very little woods. But quite a few pine trees, thus the name.

This is a book uniquely told. The plot may seem been-there-done-that: it’s an old man telling his life story to an unnamed interviewer. His life took place entirely in a small rural town and one of the main themes is past vs present, new vs old, progress vs tradition. No new ground there, but it’s dealt with in a very interesting way. The old man’s story is told in stream-of-consciousness. And not in a neat, easy to digest format. It includes all the mess of human speech: repetition, mistakes, grammatical errors and memory flaws. He’s definitely an unreliable narrator, though it is unclear if it’s because of age or intentional deception. At first it’s hard to get more than a paragraph into it without feeling a bit mentally exhausted. But once you get into the meat of the story, the narrative flows like water. It’s so intimate, like you are right in the room with our narrator. Or even better, right in his head. The interviewer actually doesn’t get any lines, so you kind of have to guess from the context what the questions are.

While at first this seems like a simple life story with no drama, the themes and characters get more and more complex and entangled as it goes on. His wife, sister, daughter, and best friend feature prominently, but it’s not told in sequential order. You’ll hear about his wife’s death, and then go back to when he first bought his horses (another important set of characters), then go all the way back to his childhood before snapping back to another memory of his wife. You’re in the stream of his life, and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. If you told me before I read this that I’d be captivated by the life of a guy who drove a horse-and-cart delivery I’d probably have laughed in your face, but In Pinelight is pure magic.

There are some big questions lurking in the background (what happened to his missing sister, what was going on at the weird medical institute in town, who is the interviewer, why is he being questioned, what secret was his friend hiding) that peek up occasionally but generally lurk in the background. They act as ties that bind everything together, but this is in no way a mystery. The joy of reading it is in the telling, not in the answers or cohesion. And while we do get answers (in a way–it’s left up to the reader to put together the pieces), they’re not at all what makes this book shine. It’s the carefully crafted narrative that make it so amazing. If you like literary fiction, please give this a shot. It’s criminally underrated.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

31875632

Some Will Not Sleep, by Adam Nevill. Finished December 19th. I have a fraught relationship with Adam Nevill. You know how Stephen King often can’t write a good ending? Nevill is like that, only it’s the entire second half of his books. When I say that The Ritual is one of my favorite horror novels, what I mean is “the first half of The Ritual is one of my favorite horror novels and I generally pretend the second half doesn’t exist.” Same for Last Days. I felt more positive about diving into a collection of shorts because hey, they aren’t long enough to have a different first and second half, right?

Well, that’s true. But somehow I ended up with the same problem of only liking 50% of the content! Except it was whole stories I liked or hated this time, which is an improvement I guess? Some of them I absolutely adored. “The Original Occupant” is basically a prequel to The Ritual, and takes place in that amazingly creepy forest. “Mother’s Milk” is gross-out body horror at its best. “Yellow Teeth” was so unsettling. “To Forget and be Forgotten” was possibly my favorite, and had me checking behind the shower curtain late at night. “The Ancestors” is a great take on Japanese horror.

But about half of the others were huge flops for me. “Pig Thing” was overly short and predictable. “Doll Hands” seemed to be bizarre just for the sake of being bizarre. “What God Hath Wrought?” had potential but ended up being overly long and about 80% exposition. “The Age of Entitlement” was just dull. “Florrie” was boring and uneventful.

I did enjoy the end section, which had the history of all the stories (both the writing of them and the ideas themselves). Very Stephen King. But at the end of the day, I’m just so confused by Nevill. I can’t believe the same author wrote all of these stories, much like I can’t believe the same author wrote the first half and second half of The Ritual.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

33285053

The Scent of Winter, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished December 20th. MY HEART

“It happens to me sometimes. Something comes on me that’s more animal than human. I wish there was a word for it. The only word that comes close is ‘bloodlust.’ I’d felt it that night in the woods, the first time with you.”
“When you chased me and ran me down.”
“I wasn’t chasing you, Kingsley. I was hunting you.”

This may seem sacrilegious to other Original Sinners fans, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Kingsley. I don’t hate him, but I just don’t like him as much as the other two members of the Unholy Trinity. The books that focus on him tend to be my least favorites. I mean, I still enjoy him, but I never considered myself a real fan. Until this novella. It tugged on my heartstrings, and for the first time I felt totally sold on Soren/Kingsley. The rawness of their relationship here is so authentic and bittersweet.

“Why would I think I could fall in love with a wolf and never get bitten?”

This is probably my favorite of the Christmas novellas. And while at first it doesn’t seem overtly Christmas-themed, it’s perfectly seasonal!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

217605-1

Innocents, by Cathy Coote. Finished December 21st. I have this morbid fascination with all those “it’s like Lolita!” type of novels. Lamb, The End of Alice, Tampa, et cetera. This already backfired on me once this year with All The Ugly & Wonderful Things (which romanticizes pedophilia, why) so I was a little hesitant to pick this up. The premise is a play on all those “Lolita was a seductress!” morons (I almost apologized for that but if you think Lo was anything but a victim please get out immediately). Our 16-year-old heroine, who remains unnamed, is… kind of a sociopath. And by “kind of” I mean “she fantasizes about beating and torturing her classmates.”

One day she decides that seducing her teacher is a great idea. The plot summary makes it sound like she is the hunter and he is the hunted, and indeed that seems like the direction it’s going in. But of course, it’s much more complicated than that. The title, Innocents, could apply to both of them. The teacher thinks his student is innocent, and she thinks he is innocent. There is a very strange predator/prey dynamic here where they both think they are “in charge” of the relationship and manipulating the other one.

There is no question that our heroine is very messed up. She is no innocent, abused girl… but at the same time, she is very young and unable to understand adult relationships. The things about herself that she plays up (childish appearance, carefree demeanor, sexual reluctance, innocence and naivete) are not the things a mentally well adult man are interested in that, but she is totally blind to how creepy he is. She thinks she is totally in control and so clever, but she’s set a trap for a pedophile… and nabbed one. The question becomes, which of them will get hurt first? And how badly?

This is a dark, twisty book. You should have a strong stomach if you’re going into it, and a taste for moral ambiguity. It’s certainly not as upsetting as some of the other books in this “genre” (especially because it’s set in Australia, where 16 is the age of consent… if it’s not with a teacher) but there are many stomach-churning scenes. I hope this is not Coote’s last book, because I’d love to see what she does next.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

1

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling. Finished December 25th. Sometimes you just have to go where your heart takes you. Towards the end of the month, I just really felt like reading Harry Potter. I knew I had one book to get through before the year ended but hey… sometimes you need comfort food, but in book form. Which is what this is. Not really a lot I could possibly say that’d be new: it’s one of my favorite in the series, and I loved it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

13497991

The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks. Finished December 31st. It seemed fitting to have this be my last book of the year. I started the Culture series in January of 2016, and have devoured the 10 books in it over the course of 2016. Sadly, Banks passed away a few years ago so this is the last Culture book we’ll ever get. And since it’s an open world (no books follow the same characters or plot), it had pretty much endless potential.

This is very much the swan song of the Culture world. It’s about a society at the end of its life-cycle: they are done with reality, and about to go post-physical into the Sublime. The Hydrogen Sonata seems like a goodbye letter, both to the Culture world and (tragically) to life. One of the main themes is the life-tasks people in this society give themselves. It can be anything (playing a particularly difficult piece of music, traveling to a far-away place, covering your body in a specific set of tattoos), but the goal is to accomplish a difficult or obscure task before death. Since the civilization is about to leave the Real, many people are rushing to finish their life-tasks. Like oh, you know… writing a book series. Yeah, it’s a little too close to home.

While this wasn’t the most compelling book in the series or the most emotional, it was beautifully crafted. It felt much more somber than anything else in the Culture world, and a little forlorn. It was also a rough read emotionally, not necessarily because of the content (though it’s quite sad) but because of the real-world parallels to Banks’ life. Plus, you know, last book of such a terrible and tragic year.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

268/175 Books

28/28 Series Books

70/50 TBR Books

27/15 Different Countries

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

November Reading Wrapup: Part I

13 Dec

November was, at least for the first half, an absolutely atrocious reading month for me. I got almost nothing done, I couldn’t stick with any book I picked up. I’m sure everyone in America understands why: those post-election blues. I didn’t want to do anything but lay in bed and sigh heavily for a few days, so actually reading words? Difficult. Thankfully, like many people I’ve seen, I dived back into a comforting old favorite and was able to get out of my mini-slump fairy easily. Still a terrible month, though (for reading and, you know, humanity in general).

30117759

Autumn Cthulhu, edited by Mike Davis. Finished November 2nd. As you can probably guess, this was spillover from my October horror reading binge. I think the name of this collection is a bit misleading–it is a Lovecraft-inspired collection (kind of… more on that in a bit) but it is NOT a mythos collection. There is much Lovecraftian inspiration here, but little of it is from his cosmic horror stories. I find it strange that some reviews say that there’s almost no Lovecraft here, because many of the connections are crystal clear (“The Night is a Sea” – “The Dreams in the Witch House,” “The Black Azalea” – “The Colour out of Space,” “End of the Season” – “Shadow over Innsmouth” to name a few).

The main theme here is more so fall horror than Lovecraftian horror. Sure, many of the stories have Lovecraftian themes, but many of them do not. Quite a few feel more Stephen King-esque, or even like they belong in the world of Laird Barron (especially “Cul-De-Sac Virus” and “DST (Fall Back)”) than like Lovecraft stories. Then again, both King and Barron are heavily Lovecraft-inspired… so in a roundabout way you could probably argue that most stories here are indeed Lovecraftian.

Funnily enough, the most heavily Lovecraft story (“Trick… or the Other Thing”) was my least favorite. In fact, I rarely like to call out stories in a collection, but it was BAD. It’s about Nyarlathotep as an agent of vengeance for a spurned love affair. The hell?? Does that sound like the Nyarlathotep we know and love? No. It was kind of a joke of a story and I didn’t even finish it, which is very rare for me. And on the flip side, my favorite story (John Langan’s “Anchor”) was also not very Lovecraftian. It felt very much like a Langan story and not like anything else–as it should, in my opinion.

This is definitely a mixed bag of a collection. There are lots of gems (other than the ones I have mentioned so far, I really liked “Grave Goods” and of course Laird Barron’s contribution), a few middle-of-the-road stories, one that made absolutely no sense, and one absolute stinker. Definitely not the best horror collection I’ve ever read, but it really invokes the fall spirit and was a perfect seasonal read. Well worth dipping into if you like new weird-style horror and Lovecraftian stories a bit off the beaten path.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

28594830

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix. Finished November 4th. I have very mixed feelings about this book, though they are mostly positive. The Sabriel trilogy is one of my favorite series and it just feels so cozy and nostalgic to be back in this world with such familiar characters. It also has my favorite magic system: the Charter/Free Magic dynamic and the role of necromancers is just endlessly fascinating. I’d definitely read a book that takes place entirely in the river Death.

We tie up a lot of loose ends from Abhorsen here: Chlorr, of course, but also the lingering magic in Nick. Plus following up with what happened to Mogget and the Dog! Mogget is my all-time favorite literary character so that’s what I was looking forward to most. Sadly he has a very small role and doesn’t appear until the end but still, it’s Mogget!!

But it wasn’t without flaws. The pacing just seems… off. It takes over 70% of the book for all of our main characters to connect, and I really thought there was way too much plot for the remaining 100~ pages. But the climax is SO rushed! Everything happened way too fast and there wasn’t enough character development. I also felt the Lirael/Nick romance seemed very rushed and super strange by the end.

This was an enjoyable book, and I loved coming back to this world, but I think the plot would have been better served in a duology. Hopefully this isn’t the last book we get in the Old Kingdom.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

25489134

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden*. Finished November 5th. There was so much hype around this book that I was hesitant to pick it up. It’s getting compared to a lot of big-deal books, like The Golem and the Jinn. Thankfully, it definitely lived up to the hype for me and dare I say… surpassed it? I was so smitten with this novel.

The Bear and the Nightingale is part historical fiction, part fairytale. It takes place in snowy Russia and revolves around a young girl whose mother dies in childbirth. Her grandmother was, apparently, a witch, and it seems like Vasilisa might have inherited some of her powers. But this is a time when women were essentially property: how can she reconcile her magical future with a world that won’t give her any agency?

While this is certainly heavy on the magical realism, the fantasy serves as a backdrop to some very intense cultural questions. TB&tN addresses sexism, women’s agency, classism, religious mania, and many other important issues. It never feels heavy-handed or preachy: every part fits together seamlessly, from the possibly insane pastor who comes to Vasilisa’s village to the suitors her father foists upon her. And the fantastical elements, which I don’t want to spoil by discussing in-depth, add another layer of richness.

This is a book to read slowly and savor. There are so many layers to the story, and the characters are richly drawn. I can already tell that this is a book I will read again in the future: in fact, once you know the end, it’s hard to resist the temptation of turning right back to the beginning.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

6

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling. Finished November 12th. Does this need explaining? Post-election, I didn’t want to read anything that didn’t feel like a warm blanket. And what’s more soul-warming than Harry Potter? Though the themes of muggle-racism and government corruption were perhaps a bit too on-the-nose given our current situation.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

7937744

Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks. Finished November 13th. This was definitely one of my favorite Culture novels (probably #3 for me, behind Look to Windward and Excession). It’s also probably the darkest–while Inversions covers some dark topics, this book is literally about hell. Well, it’s literally about a virtual hell, but there are quite a few scenes set in ‘Hell’ that are difficult to read. It’s amazing how these books bounce from genre to genre while still consistently feeling like science fiction, because much of this book is straight horror.

I have noticed a trend in Culture books: there is always an amazing core idea, and so many plot threads that never *quite* come together. This really isn’t a negative for me, because I love the ideas Iain Banks tackles and the worlds he builds so much. But it can be quite frustrating: for example, there’s an entire character here who has basically nothing to do with the plot but gets tons of POV chapters. Why is she in the book? Sure, you get a glimpse at a cool aspect of the Culture we didn’t see before. And to be honest, I think the Culture books are WAY more focused on “look at this cool thing!” than “please admire my well-crafted plot.” Some of the earlier ones (Player of Games and Use of Weapons especially) are quite tightly crafted but the farther you get into them the more they seem to…. unravel, in terms of cohesiveness.

He’s also not that great at characters, except for the various AI Minds and drones and ships which are consistently amazing. It’s funny, there are quite a few negative aspects of these books and I can’t really describe why I love them so much. I usually hate thin characterization and messy plots. But here? All is forgiven. There is something mesmerizing about the Culture world.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

23250725

The Beauty, by Alia Whiteley. Finished November 14th. I was very much looking forward to this book but it let me down hard–I really liked Whiteley’s The Arrival of Missives and was hoping for more like that. The idea here is so cool: all the women in the world contract a strange fungus-based illness and die. After their death, mushrooms start growing on their graves and eventually turn into weird sentient mushroom-women. I HATE mushrooms really passionately (are you a plant? an animal?! make up your damn mind!) so this was particularly horrifying for me.

But overall this novella was all shock and no substance. It’s obviously supposed to be an allegory for gender relations, roles, and expectations but it seems very heavy-handed. Maybe I’m missing something because this has great reviews, but I found the messages trite. Yes indeed, rape culture and forced motherhood and toxic masculinity are bad things, I don’t need a book to tell me that. Not only that, but the delivery is just… strange. This is not magical realism or fantasy, it’s horror. Really extreme body horror. Which is actually a genre I love, but I feel like all of the gross-out moments were included just to make the reader uncomfortable. So we can look at our own ideas of gender, I’m sure, and ~deconstruct~ why we find these scenes so upsetting. But let’s be honest, they’re upsetting because they are gross as hell and overly violent for no reason. It doesn’t really serve the plot, no that there’s much of one. Super disappointed by this and I kind of wish I hadn’t read it.

LipstickRating1And1Half

 

 

32712167

A House at the Bottom of a Lake, by Josh Malerman. Finished November 15th. I read Bird Box in 2014 and it was one of my favorites of the year. A dark, atmospheric piece of literary apocalyptic horror, it shone bright against the cookie-cutter books we usually get in the genre. Of course I’ve been eagerly awaiting Josh Malerman’s next book which isn’t until 2017, but we have this little novella to tide us over until then!

I feel like I’ve been harping on novellas lately. It’s just a format I’m hard to please in. I want a small cast of well-developed characters. A plot that fits the length but feels meaty, like it has life outside of the ~100 pages it’s contained in. But not a plot so big it feels unfinished, or one so small it seems like a stretched-out short story. I want a cool, inventive world that feels alive. This is a lot to ask for, and most authors just don’t deliver on most of these. Thankfully, A House at the Bottom of a Lake is everything I want in a novella and more.

The story centers around Amelia and James, two teens on their first date who discover a secret lake and a house at the bottom of it. They become infatuated with the house and each other, and spend the summer exploring. There are really only those two characters and the plot centers entirely around the house and their relationship. Tightly woven, but at the same time the mystery is expansive.

Like with Bird Box, the atmosphere is what really makes this shine. To James and Amelia, the house is whimsical and magical. They have the time of their life in it, and you can feel that rush of teenage excitement. But at the same time it is so ominous. The house feels oppressive and menacing. It’s a neat writing trick: you see exactly why James and Amelia are enchanted with the house, but the reader feels nothing but terror and apprehension the entire time. All of their sweet romance is tinted with darkness. The more James and Amelia fall for each other, the more nervous the reader gets. It’s just such impressive writing!

I docked half a star because I wasn’t crazy about the ending–it felt unfinished and clashed a bit with the rest of the tone. But that’s really my only complaint!

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

237/175 Books

25/35 Series Books

66/50 TBR Books

24/15 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 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!

29102648

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

 

 

 

162332

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

 

 

 

26194013

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

 

 

 

30553117

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

 

 

 

886066

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

 

 

 

626F6F78747265616D=7474747474727576707<7473

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]

April 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part I

22 Apr

April is my birthday month, which gives me 1) an excuse to buy books I probably shouldn’t and 2) an excuse to read way more than any human should. So April started off with a real bang, and a reading pace that I definitely won’t be able to sustain the whole month! This month I resolved to only read books that I already own (both physical and digital) with no new purchases/downloads, and it’s been going really well so far… though the second half of April will be different for some very good reasons, which I’ll get to when that part goes up.

16101225

Summertime All The Cats Are Bored, by Philippe Georget. Finished April 1st. Let’s be honest, I picked this up because of the absolutely amazing name. I saw it on the shelf at B&N and it was love at first look. It’s a noir, but a very different noir: our main detective is a homebody who doesn’t want any promotions, no one at the station really wants to do a ton of work, people make actual mistakes, there are no red herrings, and the main detective is not some crazy super-genius–the police force actually works together to solve it! It’s definitely a breath of fresh air in the mystery genre. The mystery itself isn’t really the highlight: the characters and the intricacies of the language take the forefront here.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

23393643

Dream Houses, by Genevieve Valentine. Finished April 1st. I have a thing for space horror set in alien and/or abandoned space ships. It’s a very small subgenre, but man, when it’s good… magic happens. Like in Dream Houses, which is about a woman on board a ship ferrying goods from one star to another. She wakes up very early to find that the crew has been murdered, and the ship is… shall we say… not entirely sane. It’s so gorgeous. Lyrical, haunting, creepy, evocative. I loved every second of this.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

Print

Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila. Finished April 2nd. Read for the Man Booker International longlist. I’d like to point out that I read, like, 6 books off of it and not a single one made the shortlist. Not even Man Tiger! My luck, guys, is horrible. I know I rated this book pretty lowly but it’s really on me, not the book. It’s just very… masculine? 2 guys in a club talking about women in a super objectifying way (there’s lots of child prostitution here that’s scarily normalized), there’s very little plot. It’s just nothing I like in a book and I wouldn’t have read it if it wasn’t on the longlist, so I feel kind of bad trashing it. Because the writing was very inventive and cool, but I didn’t like any of the content.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

18490572

The Silent History, by Eli Horowitz. Finished April 5th. World War Z meets disability. This is about a silent plague that sweeps the world: children are suddenly born unable to talk or even understand language. It’s told in snippets from many different people (everything from parents to scientists to stray people obsessed with the Silents). I don’t know if everyone will love this, but my brother is autistic so this hit really close to home and felt very important. The Silent children are a clear metaphor for both autism and deafness, and really highlight the messed-up way that our society treats disability. It’s a hard read, but wonderfully told with an absolutely spectacular ending.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

45101

The Mad Ship, by Robin Hobb. Finished April 7th. I love fantasy, but I don’t tend to read high/traditional fantasy because it’s usually either too Tolkien or too grimdarkedgy for me. These books? Perfect high fantasy. Everything I’d ever want from the genre. A cool world where the worldbuilding is shown, not told. Really fantastic and diverse characters that you get SO attached to. An intricate and complex plot. Cool beasties. Lovely writing. It’s just amazing! I can’t say a single thing about the plot without spoiling the first book (and possibly some of the first trilogy), but if you like fantasy and you haven’t read Hobb…. what are you doing?? Get on that asap.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

21413846

Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekback. Finished April 8th. This is a magical little book. It’s part historical fiction, part mystery, part magical realism. Taking place in Lapland in 1717, it features an isolated community hit by a brutal winter in the midst of a murderer running around. It’s everything I wanted from White Hunger. The writing is so lush, I was lost in the descriptions of the woods and countryside. It felt so claustrophobic, and is one of those books that induce a little bit of anxiety. Plus, witches! I read this shortly after seeing The Witch and it has a similar vibe (goats! witches! isolated houses!) so it was really the perfect time for me to devour this.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

25810500-1

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi. Finished April 9th. I had so many issues with Boy, Snow, Bird, but there was no denying that Oyeyemi’s writing is absolute magic. So I was really excited to pick this up, especially because most of the stories are fairytale inspired. It’s a little bit Angela Carter, but mostly wholly unique. Each story is a glittering little gem of inventiveness. I loved some more than others, as is always the case with story collections, but it’s surprisingly cohesive: there’s lots of character overlap and the theme of keys runs through every one. I think this is a really good place to start with Oyeyemi: bite-sized chunks of her unique and spectacular style.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

25666046

The North Water, by Ian McGuire. Finished April 10th. This is a super-hyped book, and I’m… kind of confused why? It was okay. It was, mainly, disgusting. Just so many scenes of violence and illness in graphic, graphic detail. I’m not at all squeamish but some of these were really hard to read for me. High ick factor. I was expecting more atmosphere: guys stuck in an arctic environment on a whaling boat! But it’s more about the bad dude on the ship and murder and maiming and rape and people getting teeth embedded in their arms and cutting open stomachs to let out pus. Well written, but a little over the top for me personally.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

23453099

Eileen, by Otessa Moshfeg. Finished April 10th. This is such an interesting book. It’s a character study first and foremost, with little in the way of plot. Eileen is a very disturbed and strange girl, and we spend the book in her very odd head. The third act is drastically different, but very cleverly so. I think for what this was, it was pretty much perfect. It’s just not the kind of thing I really enjoy? I mean, I love character-driven books and sometimes character studies, but the thriller-combo with that was a little odd for me. Enjoyed it, didn’t love it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

27814566

The Book Collector, by Alice Thompson. Finished April 10th. This book got a lot of hype around the same time as The Dumb House (which I loved) so of course I wanted to pick it up immediately but it took a while for me to find a copy. And the hype train didn’t lie! This little fable about a woman who marries a mysterious bookseller is just fantastic. Like “The Yellow Wallpaper” x Angela Carter, with more murder. Our narrator gets postpartum psychosis and the real draw of the book is how much we can rely on her narration. Some things are clearly fiction, but how much is the truth? Very creepy and short little read.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

10978

Collected Stories, by William Faulkner. Finished April 11th. I started this way back in the beginning of March and read roughly a story a day. I have such mixed feelings about it: there were a few stories I genuinely loved (“Two Soldiers,” “Hair,” “A Courtship,” “Crevasse,” “Golden Land,” “Beyond,” “The Leg,” and “Carcassonne”) but many I found boring or downright disliked. There’s just a LOT of racism and sexism that I found it hard to overlook even if it was just part of the time when he wrote. Also a lot of war/”the glory of the South” stuff that’s just not for me. I am happy that I read it, but very few felt worth the high effort you have to put into untangling these stories.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

10235919

The Islanders, by Christopher Priest. Finished April 12th. This book is compared to Murakami and David Mitchell, but I think it’s more Invisible Cities meets Abarat. It’s a blurry line between magical realism and fantasy and this book walks it finely. It’s about a group of islands (a HUGE group of islands) and the different people and cities that populate it. Each island that we focus on gets its own chapter, some short and some very long, with a few overlapping characters who appear on many of them. There’s many plot elements: a murder mystery, the history of a famous author, etc. But it’s not a plot-driven book. It’s about the evocative descriptions and the magical quality of the islands. If you liked Invisible Cities I think you’ll love this too.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

233852

Crow, by Ted Hughes. Finished April 13th. I read this “in preparation” for another book but I love crows so I probably would have read it anyway. Everything in here is just amazing, I was highlighting practically every line. There’s just so much: grief, pain, and sorrow mixed with mythology and folktales about my second-favorite animal, the crow. And what a character Crow is. In turns devious, coy, vicious, tricky, and sweet, Crow is really just wonderful to read about (if a little painful). You can feel Hughes’ grief soaking off the pages. It’s funny: I’m not usually into poetry but when I find something I love I’m pretty passionate about it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

25334576

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, by Max Porter. Finished April 13th. This is the book that I read Crow for! It’s about a Hughes scholar whose wife dies, and Crow comes to take care of him and his two sons. No joke. It’s… it’s just amazing. Crow is SO accurate to the poems, and his chapters were so perfect and amazing. This book is like evil magical realism: it’s so dark and twisty and grief-laden, a rough read at points but suffused with enough magic to not make it a real downer. Highly, highly recommended–but read Crow first.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

25489025

The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. Finished April 15th. So, I dnf’d this book last month because I found a section of it really triggering–something I don’t usually experience with books. But it made the Man Booker International shortlist and no other book I attempted did, so I felt obliged to pick it up again. And, um, I’m not super happy I did. Once you get over the rape sections, it’s just… I don’t even know. Trying SO hard to be ~bizarre~ and ~weird~ and ~whimsical~ and ~dark.~ I mean, the writing was good so I can’t knock it down too far, but the plot went nowhere I was expecting (in a bad way) and while I did enjoy the second section, the first was horrible for me and the third was weirdly dull.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

12016

Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks. Finished April 17th. After the incredibly disappointing Inversions, I was hesitant to pick up the next Culture book. I shouldn’t have been, because this is by far my favorite of the series (yes, more than Excession!). It shouts out to the first book, which I enjoyed because there’s barely any overlap between the series, and takes us to so many places: a strange caste-based society, one of the Culture’s magical orbitals, and a very, very unique and strange world where a scientist lives on a giant blimp-like sentient beast. It tackles some really serious questions about war and humanity while giving us a really engaging plotline. It also has probably my favorite Culture character: Kabe, the philosophical alien who plots along through the book and gives us some truly hilarious scenes. This was everything I want in science fiction.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

45102

Ship of Destiny, by Robin Hobb. Finished April 20th. The last Liveship Traders book stabbed me right in the heart. I laughed, I cried, I cried some more and cursed Hobb for making me feel such feelings. Most of all, I was shocked about how neatly all the disparate threads were drawn together. Her craftsmanship is masterful: like Peter Hamilton, there is a LOT going on in this series and you think “hmm, there’s no way this will all be nice and neat at the end.” But it is! All the threads, from the strange serpent chapters to Malta’s unexpected transformation (a character I started out loathing and ended up loving) come together brilliantly. But this book is a rough read: harder even than some of the most brutal moments of Farseer. My heart may never recover.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Progress

97/175 Books

14/33 Series Books

34/50 TBR Books

17/15 Different Countries

March 2016 Reading Wrapup

7 Apr

Another month, another late wrapup! It’s a trend, I tell you. But hey, some people did their February wrapups just a few days ago, so I don’t feel that bad about it. Actually I do, so let’s just pretend this is totally on time!

March was an amazing reading month for me, my best ever. However, until I actually looked at my stats at the end of the month I felt like it was going rather slowly. Odd, right? It’s probably because my nightime reading (which is all on Kindle) was kind of slow due to some chunkers. But my daytime reading, which is physical books (and a new addition to my reading routine) more than made up for that. Since this is a long one hit the jump to get started!

[...]

February 2016 Wrapup: Part II

5 Mar

The first half of February was an absolutely amazing stretch of reading for me, but things slowed down towards the second half. This is probably because I put off my series reading and had to squeeze in a lot of big books in the last two weeks of the month (and didn’t even finish one of them until March!). So let’s dive right in.

23548141

The Dumb House, by John Burnside. Finished February 17th. This is a super hyped book that it took me ages to read, mostly because I had to get a physical copy (I read mainly ebooks), and I wanted the UK cover because I’m picky. But finally! I can’t say that it was everything I expected because it was so much more than I expected. It’s billed as a story about a man obsessed with language who decides to raise children in absolute silence to see if they develop speech. Creepy, right? But that doesn’t actually happen until the last third of the book, and the first two might actually be more unsettling and disturbing. It’s like Lolita x Oedipus Rex x American Psycho. Just chilling, beautifully written, and disturbing in the best way. I loved this even more than I was expecting, which was surprising cause my expectations were already sky-high.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

1009709

Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie. Finished February 17th. I read And Then There Were None and Murder On The Orient Express last year, my first Christies. And I enjoyed them thoroughly. So why not read another? Sadly, I just didn’t feel the same way about this one. It’s kind of hard to get past the rampant racism, but even so I just didn’t find it very compelling. The mystery was neat, and I love how it was wrapped up (clever as always), but it took SO long to get to the murder and I felt like a lot of the buildup was unnecessary. There was a lot of interaction between characters but not much character development: I didn’t feel like I really knew anyone. Okay, but nothing special.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

18782854

The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgard Cantero. Finished February 19th. Another book I’ve been wanting for ages but had to get in a physical copy because of the strange formatting. This book is told in letters, notes, film footage, telegrams, cryptograms, and more. It’s about a ~spooky house~ which is, like, my #1 book buzzword because of House of Leaves. This actually is less about a haunted house (though trust me, there’s a haunted house) and more about secret societies. It’s like a really creepy National Treasure–secrets upon secrets and clues that lead to nothing but dozens of other clues. It’s a very inventive, clever book that’s told in the kind of quirky way that I love.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

68487

Royal Assassin, by Robin Hobb. Finished February 20th. Book 2 of the Farseer Trilogy, and by far my favorite! I just love these books. There’s something magical about them. They’re slow, character-driven fantasy and if that’s your jam, read them! Right now! The characters are so rich and complex, the world is really great, the worldbuilding is so subtle and fantastic, it’s dark without being ~wow grimdark so edgy.~ This was my favorite of the three probably because of Nighteyes, the world’s best wolf. Plus, so much happens! These books have a strange quality where they feel slow and meandering but at the same time a TON of stuff happens. So it’s both slow and fast paced? Hard to explain, but executed so well. Hobb is really a master of the craft.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

26074200

Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman . Finished February 22nd. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I found lacking in this book. On the surface, it was great. I love the “destructive, consuming female friendship” trope, the writing is really gorgeous at places (though not consistently so), the plot was definitely a page-turner, I loved how complex all the characters were. But. I’m not sure how real they felt. On the one hand, they’re wonderfully fleshed out and feel like real people when we’re in their heads. On the other, they do things that make no sense with what we know about them. I felt a big dissonance between their inner monologues/personalities and actions, with Hannah/Dex in particular (but towards the end this happened with Lacey and Nikki too). It’s a little *too* unbelievable, and verges on Lifetime movie drama when you get to the climax. It really took me out of the book: I was like, “really? There’s no way this is happening.” But not at all in a good, surprised kind of way.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

25434342

Felines of New York, by Jim Tews. Finished February 23rd. This was a total impulse purchase. I was at B&N, I saw cats, I saw New York, I was sold. This is, of course, a riff on Humans of New York. But with cats. Basically hilarious quotes with pictures of amazing cats. What more could I want? It was really funny, much funnier than I was expecting, and of course there were so many cute kitties. A+ cat humor.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

24724564

Bats of the Republic, by  Zachary Thomas Dodson. Finished February 25th. THIS BOOK. I have so many emotions, guys. So. Many. Emotions. This might be my favorite book of the year so far. It’s so hard to describe: it takes place in two timelines, one in frontier-era America and one in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic (? maybe) America 300 years later. Both storylines revolve around an unopened letter (which is actually in the physical book, but you can’t open it until the end). It’s told through letters, illustrations, phone conversations, and actual narrative. It’s an “illuminated novel” and in full color, which means basically every page is gorgeous. It’s so meta and recursive and weird. There’s literally a book in the book that looks like it was just scanned in. It’s… it’s perfect. If you like weird, quirky, meta, clever reads, PICK THIS UP. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

25109947

Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff. Finished February 25th. Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors, and I have struggled for years with his rampant racism. On one hand, he was a product of his times. On the other, racism of that level is never excusable. But at the same time, his incredible xenophobia is what crafted his amazing world: the fear of the other drives almost every one of his stories. So how to come to terms with this? Enter Lovecraft Country, a book that takes Lovecraftian elements and mixes them with a cast of black characters in Jim Crow-era America. What’s scarier than Cthulhu? Cops who want to shoot you because of your skin color, that’s what. This is a really clever, inventive book that takes two very different kind of horrors and melds them together perfectly. I do think it was a little light on the horror aspects, and I wish there was more of a focus on crazy monsters (it was more Lovecraft’s cults and weird houses), but I really enjoyed this. A very different and important take on Lovecraftian fiction.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

12013

Excession, by Iain Banks. Finished February 27th. I decided to take a brief break from Farseer to tackle the 5th Culture book. And, finally, it gave me what I had been wanting from the beginning! A truly varied, large cast of characters. Strong horror elements. Philosophical questions. Twists and turns. A detailed look at weird aliens. Main female characters. Space mystery. Plus we got so much of what is, to me, the heart of the Culture novels: the droids and Minds. Who are just… oh my god, I never thought I’d love robots so much. This was so close to 5 stars for me (I felt the two different plot “strands” didn’t meet up neatly enough at the end, which knocked it to 4 1/2) but this made me very excited to read the remaining 5 books.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

I also got 90% into the last Farseer book, but alas, I couldn’t actually wrap it up until March!

Reading Challenge Progress

50/175 Books

7/33 Series Books

15/50 TBR Books

12/15 Different Countries

January 2016 Reading Wrapup

1 Feb

So, I’ve kind of already blown one of my bookish resolutions: two reading wrapups per month. I mean, I do have reasons: I had a family member in the hospital, stressful apartment shit to deal with, and just general crappy life situations going on. So, no time (or rather too much stress) to write that Part I and Part II. But, thankfully, it didn’t affect my reading! In fact, January was my best reading month ever. I read 26 books. 26! If I read that much every month, I’d hit over 300 books this year. Which definitely isn’t going to happen, but I’m still pretty happy with it. And since this is going to be an epically long roundup it’s under the cut, so hit the jump to get started.

[...]