Tag Archives: Japanese Literature

Favorite Books of 2017

11 Jan

It’s that time of year again, and I’m only a little bit late! It’s always a struggle to cull down my read books to my absolute favorites, especially since I read so much. Choosing a mere 10% of them as my favorites would still be 24 books, and my favorites of 2017 shelf was at 46 by the end of the year. But somehow I have done the impossible, and ended up with 15. The usual rules apply: one book per series, no re-reads, and it’s alphabetically ordered.

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Assassin’s Fate, Robin Hobb. I read all of Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books last year and it quickly became my all-time fantasy series. Like hands down, no competition, give me these books over even Harry Potter. This year we got the ultimate conclusion and it absolutely broke my heart and soul. Perhaps objectively this is not a perfect book (it’s a bit too long, and I feel like there are probably too many fake-out endings) but to me it is the shining jewel atop a pile of fantasy perfection. It’s everything I wanted for the characters, even if their fates do make you want to rip your heart out and sacrifice it to a dragon god.

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Black Mad Wheel, Josh Malerman. Probably the most controversial book on this list, but I loved Black Mad Wheel even more than Bird Box. The atmosphere in this fucked me up hard. I was absolutely terrified reading it: it’s got the kind of existential dread you’d find in House of Leaves combined with a bizarre non-linear narrative. If you want a neat horror story, this is not for you. In fact there are basically zero answers to be found, and let’s be real… the setup doesn’t make a ton of sense. But I adored it not despite these things, but because of them. It’s utterly bizarre and captivating and such a mindfuck. I already loved Malerman because of Bird Box and A House at the Bottom of a Lake, but he is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite horror authors.

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The Familiar Vol 4 Hades, Mark Z. Danielewski. What a surprise, a volume of The Familiar on my favorites! There is going to be one every year until it finally ends, so prepare yourselves. There is something so magical about this series: it’s strange, dark, disturbing, creepy, and confusing, but also whimsical and magical. A crooked fairytale for the modern age. If you like postmodern fiction and haven’t picked this up, what are you waiting for?

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Fever Dream, Samantha Schweblin. Never has a book had a more accurate title than Fever Dream. The entire narrative feels like a hallucination, and I spent pretty much the entire time thinking “what the hell is happening here?” And, shockingly, it does come together and make sense in the end. The swirling, dreamlike horror turns swiftly into dark realism. A word of warning: if you plan on reading this, I highly suggest doing it in one sitting. There are no chapters or even real breaks in the story, and it’s definitely short enough to read in an hour or two.

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Journey Under the Midnight Sun, Keigo Higashino. This is a book that really snuck up on me. I enjoyed it while reading it, but it wasn’t until the last third that I realized how brilliantly it was put together. Even then I only rated it 4 stars initially, and about a week later I couldn’t stop thinking about it and upped my rating to 5 stars. The structure and plot are SO tight, and it might be one of the most perfect mysteries I’ve ever read. Unfortunately everything special about this book is way too spoiler-y to talk about, but if you like grim Asian thrillers/mysteries this is the absolute cream of the crop. It’s a slow burn for sure, so be prepared for tension that ramps up to almost unbearable levels.

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Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders. This is the first time the book I loved the most from the Man Booker longlist actually won. Let me tell you, there was loud and exuberant squealing in my house when the winner was revealed. This is such a strange book, with two plot elements (Lincoln mourning his dead son, and ghosts partying it up in limbo) that really don’t seem to fit together. It is told entirely in dialogue and snippets of historical documents (both real and imagined), and while it’s a decent length the pace absolutely flies by. It’s comic and heartbreaking, and if I made a top 5 of 2017 list this would definitely be on it.

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Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O’Neill. This is a book I never would have read if it wasn’t on the Bailey’s longlist. I mean, look at the cover: it’s pretty, but it looks very chick-lit. Especially given the name. But this is a heartbreaking work of historical fiction that is so fantastical it feels like magical realism. There are no actually magical elements here, but it has a dark fairytale vibe. And I do mean dark: there is some really disturbing content in here, interspersed with moments of absolute breathtaking beauty. I cringed, I cried, I wished I could stay in this book-world forever.

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Montpelier Parade, Karl Geary. Ugh, talk about heartbreak. This is another “I wouldn’t have read this if it wasn’t on a book award longlist” entry, and I am so so glad I picked this one up. It’s one of those books that really creeps up on you slowly. At the beginning I was enjoying it, but wasn’t very invested in the plot or characters. By the time I got to the end I was sobbing my eyes out. I just… I can’t with this book. It is SO sad but also really beautiful and moving. The ending destroyed me but was also utterly perfect for the characters? It’s just so good.

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Marlena, Julie Buntin. I love stories about toxic female friendships, and Marlena is pretty much the Platonic ideal of a toxic female friendship story. This book is so beautifully written and moving: it’s everything I have ever wanted in this micro-genre. It seriously feels like I’ve been searching for years for this exact book. It is mature and insightful while managing to maintain a youthful spirit. It portrays the narrow-minded focus of teenage girls with pinpoint precision. There were so many moments that took my breath away, either because I cared so much about the characters or because there was some great insight into teenage girlhood that brought me back to my own childhood.

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The Ones that Got Away, Stephen Graham Jones. This book was a really last-minute addition. I read it during October and didn’t even add it to my yearly favorites shelf then, but I have thought so often about the stories in this collection since I finished it. The first story in particular haunts me, but really everything in this book was fantastic. I love Jones but you never really know what to expect from him: he goes from mood to mood depending on the release. This book is pure, intense, visceral horror: it is exceptionally bloody and disturbing, but all of the gore reveals some cold truths about the human condition. If you like body horror with a little heart (hehe) this is for you!

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Oola, Brittany Newell. While Oola is nowhere near a horror novel, it might be the creepiest thing I read all year. And I read 42 horror books in October alone! It reminds me strongly of both You and Lolita: a story told from the eyes of an obsessive stalker/boyfriend who wears a girl down to her limits. The sanity of both the protagonist and Oola unravel slowly, and you don’t realize how absolutely insane things have gotten until it’s far too late for either of them. The writing is gorgeous and lush and the content will shake your soul up. I think about this book often, and it’s one I would really love to re-read.

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A Short Stay in Hell, Steven L. Peck. This was such a random impulse purchase. I saw it sitting at Barnes & Noble and couldn’t resist that title or premise! It’s about a man who goes to hell and is given a task to escape: he is in the Library of Babel and has to find the story of his life. Once he’s done that, he is free to go to heaven! Sounds simple, right? Well… it’s not. This book gets so much darker and weirder and philosophical than I expected, and I loved every (short) second of it.

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A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson. UGH, my heart. It hurts every time I look at that cover. This is another made-me-cry novel, and those always get on my favorites list. What can I say, I’m a glutton for emotional punishment. This novella is very strange fantasy set in a possibly-post-apocalyptic African country. It’s a love story, but one that will both destroy you and leave you very content. If that makes sense. I loved the world, loved the characters, and am still shocked that Wilson made me feel so strongly in such a short amount of pages.

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson. Oh man. This… might actually be my favorite book of the year, if I had to pick just one. It’s at least top 3. I accidentally read this in scifi September (it’s fantasy–I let the “is it a cyborg mask?” cover confuse me), and I am still recovering. Everything about this is glittering and perfect. The world is incredibly deep (I cannot WAIT for the next book, which is next October), the characters are insanely complex and morally grey, the writing is sharp and poignant, the plot is so twisty, and Dickinson actually made me care about a plot based on accounting. Yes, this is about an accountant in a fantasy world. I fucking hate math yet I love everything about this book. Especially how much it ripped my heart out.

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The Waste Lands, Stephen King. The first half of my reading year was absolutely dominated by my buddy-read of the Dark Tower series. It was so much fun, especially since I had a friend to chat with nonstop along the way! Of course I had to include one of them in my favorites, and while I gave quite a few of the volumes 5 stars it was easy to pick my #1. This book is just bafflingly bizarre. It’s got an evil talking train that tells riddles as the main bad guy. Like, that cover is not metaphorical. There’s a bad train named Blaine. Also a giant guardian bear, a distorted mirror-world New York, gangs that live in a trash labyrinth, a nuclear wasteland complete with mutant animals, doors between worlds, a wheelchair-bound badass black lady, and so much more. If you like sff this series is an absolute must read… although it is very, very strange. Prepare yourself.

 Honorable Mentions (aka I could swap out most of the books on this list with one of these without issue): The Hike, The Golem & The Jinn, Autumn, 4 3 2 1

The interesting thing about compiling these lists is how unexpected the final product ends up being. There were a shocking number of books from award lists (in fact, there was at least one from every award I read with the exception of the National Book Award). Some books I though I would forget ended up instantly on it, and a few I thought were shoe-ins (Autumn, Pachinko, Multiple Choice) were easy to cull from my initial list of about 25. I read a lot of really wonderful books in 2017 and honestly, a random mix of any of the 46 on my favorites shelf would have been easy to be pleased with. I’m sure a month from now I’d organize this list differently, but at the moment I am quite happy with it.

May 2017 Wrapup: Part II

13 Jun

May ended up being a very solid reading month, and the best one in terms of meeting goals. I was very behind on my TBR challenge (read 75 TBR books before the end of the year) and decided that May was going to be focused on that. I aimed for 15 read and ended up with 16! Plus I finished my first long series of the year. All in all a really great month.

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The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey. Finished May 17th. This is a book that I think is going to suffer from terrible marketing. I have seen multiple blurbs that state it is The Martian x Station Eleven. I guess that’s true if by that you mean that they have vaguely connected elements (astronauts and uh… being alone?). But then you might as well say that The Wanderers is Brokeback Mountain x Halo, because it has gay characters and video games.

Even though I knew it probably wouldn’t be what the blurb promised, I still felt let down by The Wanderers. The premise is fantastic, but it feels bogged down by multiple, pointless side stories. We get the perspective of three astronauts who are doing a “test run” of a Mars mission in a desert in Utah. But we also get the perspectives of their family members (one for each astronaut, so 3 in total) and the perspective of one of the men assigned to watch the test run. Which gives us a whopping total of 7 perspectives in what is honestly a pretty short novel. It’s too many! I honestly only liked 3 of them in total (2 of the astronauts and 1 of the family members), and basically every family member added nothing to the plot besides “it’s hard to have a parent/husband who is often in space.” Like wow, I actually could have guessed that one all on my own! Some of the stories, like Dmitri’s, were actually kind of cute but they didn’t connect at ALL to the main plot so reading them felt odd and disjointed.

The writing here is lovely, but the plot is a hot mess. You’d think a story revolving around 3 people spent in fake isolation for a year and a half would get very strange and psychological. Well, about 70% of the way in some very cool elements of paranoia are introduced, but like every other story thread they are quickly wrapped up or dropped entirely. This did have the core of a very strong book. If it was just Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei in “fake space” as they slowly started to lose their grip on reality, it could have been spectacular. Easily a 5-star book. Instead it’s an odd sort of family drama that touches lightly on a lot of really cool elements but never gives the reader a good look at any of them.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami. Finished May 20th. I love Murakami. He is one of my favorite authors. But for some reason, I haven’t been wowed by his previous short story collections. I find them okay, but not very memorable. In (almost) all of his novels, there are moments where you get stories from very fringe side-characters that end up being very bizarre and nonsensical. His short stories tend to read like just those moments, without the context of a whole novel. And while the “short story in the actual story” tends to be my favorite moments of his books, I never like them that much on their own. I think the whimsy fades when we get 8 or 10 “what the hell, this is so weird” stories all in a row.

Men Without Women is the exact opposite of his previous collections. The stories are grounded in reality, and while there are a few almost-magical-realism elements in a few of them, the focus is on the characters. As you might guess from the title, this is a collection about love and heartbreak. All of them have a male protagonist who either loses a woman over the course of the story or is reminiscing about his loss. These encounters range from marriage to one-night-stands, but they show the massive impact a person can have on our life.

The writing is, of course, beautiful (and by extension beautifully translated). Of course all of his usual tropes are here (middle-age man with ennui, jazz, cats, strange ladies, beer, bars, etc) so if Murakami doesn’t do it for you I don’t think this collection will change your mind. But it is a massive treat for long-time fans and I also think would be an excellent starting point for Murakami newbies. There is such a deep, emotional humanity in every one of these tales. This is the rare collection where I would not leave out a single story. And I will think about them all for a long time to come.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Dear Friend, From My Life I Write To You In Your Life, by Yiyun Li. Finished May 20th. This is a difficult book to review, because it’s hard to explain. It bills itself as a memoir and I suppose that’s the most accurate label, but it rarely feels like a true memoir. Yiyun Li spends very little time thinking about her own life and the events that are at the core of this story remain shrouded in mystery.

It is, above all else, a book about mental health. Li suffers from depression and has been hospitalized several times for it. These hospitalizations are really all the center of the story, though we get very few scenes actually in the hospital. It’s talked about in vague terms (for example, she refers to her ever-changing “roommates” and it’s not until a few chapters later that I realized she meant people sharing a room with her in the hospital, not literal roommates) and Li skirts around her own issues. This may seem like a negative trait, but it works quite well. She’s very open about how depression makes you feel, and there are some hauntingly beautiful passages I related to a little too much.

My main issue was her heavy reliance on other literature throughout. A lot of this book is her in conversation with other authors or famous works of literature. Which could be interesting but I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know most of what she was referencing. This can certainly be done well (Compass, Do Not Say We Have Nothing), but she didn’t really provide a lot of context clues to help the reader out. She’ll mention a book and spend 2 paragraphs talking about why it was important to her life, but never go into what the damn book is even about. It is at times frustrating, but I think that is almost the point. This is not really a memoir, and it is also not really a book for the reader. It’s Li exploring her mental illness and life on her own terms, which is certainly an interesting concept. I’m not sure it’s pulled off as well as it could be, but the parts of this that worked for me really worked.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Devil’s Larder, by Jim Crace. Finished May 22nd. This is, strangely enough, the first collection of flash fiction I have ever read. I do love short stories, but I always found the idea of 1-5 pages stories a little odd. How can you fit anything in that? Well, Jim Crace is here to school me on the art of micro-stories because this book was amazing.

It’s a collection of over 60 pieces of flash fiction, which might seem intimidating but it’s also a ridiculously short book for so much content. There are stories that range from about 6 pages to one that is only 2 words. How could that be effective, you wonder? Well, the unifying theme of food really helps tie everything together. There is a strong magical realism bend here, but each story stands on its own as a unique little oddity. While they all involve food in one way or another, they vary wildly in tone and content. Some are about the mundane lives of average people, others veer right into bizarro. The variety keeps it fresh and interesting the whole way through.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Dark Tower, by Stephen King. Finished May 25th. I have finally climbed to the top of the dark tower, and my heart will forever hurt over what I found there. There is nothing I can say about the plot of this book that would not be a spoiler for the previous ones (given that it’s book 8 in a series), but suffice to say The Dark Tower ripped my heart out, stomped on it, and made me love every second of this torture.

This is a series unlike any other. It’s a mashup of so many genres: science fiction, epic fantasy, Western, even elements of magical realism and straight-up surrealism. While the plot and mood vary wildly from book to book, it’s really the characters that hold the whole thing together. I will never forget Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy. If, like me, you were hesitating on picking up this series because it’s described as being “really weird” and “so strange,” don’t! Any fan of King will feel right at home in the world of the dark tower.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Hotels of North America, by Rick Moody. Finished May 25th. I read a lot of odd, off-the-wall books in May, and this was probably the strangest. It’s about the life of a middle-age man (Reginald) who gives inspirational lectures, but it is told entirely through online hotel reviews. Yes, you read that right. The entire book is a series of hotel reviews on a travel site.

It’s an interesting idea, but tricky to pull off. Thankfully Moody really put a lot of effort into the format. Each review contains a kernel of Reginald’s life while also being depressingly funny. Reginald is not a happy man: his life is kind of in shambles, and he stays in some truly horrible hotels for his job. His reviews are rambling messes that only occasionally touch on the amenities of the hotel. Most of them are more about the mood and atmosphere of the place, and what happened to him there. Of course, realistically, these wouldn’t fly as popular reviews, but if you can suspend your disbelief it’s a really wonderful little gem.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar. Finished May 26th. Finally, King has returned to Castle Rock! It has been many years for him, but I read Needful Things only a year or so ago so it doesn’t really feel like that long. It’s definitely one of his richest settings and with the upcoming TV show I was very pleased to see new written content for the town.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Gwendy’s Button Box is its Dark Tower connections. Sure, it takes place in Castle Rock, but it opens with the Man in Black giving a girl an item that can fulfill her heart’s desires (very Leland Gaunt, no? more ammo for my ‘Gaunt is Flagg’ headcanon). So it really has connections to a ton of King’s other works.

This was a pleasant but not spectacular read. It definitely went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and the scenes right before the end were a real punch in the gut, but I feel it was a little more bright and happy than what we usually get from King (perhaps because he had a co-writer?). A great novella for Constant Readers but if you’re not familiar with his other books I don’t know how effective this would be.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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How to Be Human, by Paula Cocozza. Finished May 27th. He was an escape artist, she thought admiringly. Maybe he could free her too.

This is, oddly enough, the third book I have read about humans having strange relationships with foxes. There’s Lady into Fox, The Fox Woman, and now How to Be Human. But unlike the other books in the same vein that I have read, there is no aspect of humanity to the fox in Human. It’s literally about a woman who becomes utterly obsessed with an animal.

Mary has recently gotten out of a horrible relationship, and her life seems very small and sad. She goes to work, comes home, eats, sleeps, repeat. She is often late and is constantly berated by her boss. She lusts after the seemingly happy life of her next-door neighbors and their two small children. Basically, Mary is a crazy cat lady without the cats. One day she finds a fox in her backyard and quickly becomes… enamored with it.

This is a very uncomfortable book. There is nothing overtly illicit between Mary’s feelings about “her fox” but the book is always pushing you right to the edge of your comfort level. Mary refers to the fox as her boyfriend in public. She gets flustered every time he leaves her a “present.” She thinks, longingly, about what life would be if she could just run away and live with her fox. It’s not a “I wish he was my pet” type of affection, so if you are easily squicked out this is probably not the book for you.

Somehow it manages to be both fascinating and boring. As many other reviews have noted, How to be Human is a strange combination of factors and you’re probably not going to love all of them. It is deathly slow and really drags towards the middle. But the writing is lovely and the plot so fascinating that you can’t look away. It feels very much like a first novel: there are moments of brilliance and it has the bones of something utterly amazing. I rated it 4 stars so obviously I enjoyed it, but it always felt like it could have been better. Like it needed another layer of polish to really deliver on everything it promises.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi. Finished May 29th. He knew what haunted meant. The dead don’t haunt the living. The living haunt themselves.

This book was such a pleasant surprise. Let’s be honest, I picked it up because there is a wolf on a cover. That’s literally enough to sell a book for me. Plus it’s shelved as a thriller/mystery, which is also right up my alley. Thankfully I did not read the whole blurb (which has some early-book spoilers, so if you’re interested in Hold the Dark I would recommend NOT looking at the Goodreads summary) and went into this totally blind.

It is indeed a thriller… of sorts. This is a bloody, bleak revenge tale. The premise is simple: in a small village in Alaska, wolves have taken (and eaten) 3 children in a very short span of time. One of the grieving mothers (Medora Slone) contacts a man who is something of a wolf expert to come and help them. This man, Russel Core, loves wolves and is very reluctant about killing one but goes to the village anyway. Both Medora and Core have ulterior motives here, and nothing is what it first seems like.

This is a very bleak book. It is set in utter desolation: we are in Alaska right before the winter solstice, which means about 6 hours of light a day. It’s freezing cold, the village barely has enough people to be called that, and everyone who lives there is far below the poverty line. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel lonely and cold right down to your bones. There are a few scenes of Medora’s huband, Vernon, at war in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, and while the scenery is certainly different the tone is the same. Instead of cold we have oppressive heat, and the horrors of war are not exactly pleasant reading. This is an uncomfortable novel in almost every aspect.

It is also brutal. There is a lot of violence here, and most of it is senseless. Remember when I said this was a revenge story? Well, it’s not a justice sort of revenge. It’s revenge blinded by bloodlust and anger. There is little logic to how the characters act: for the most part, they are actually insane or teetering right on the border. It’s like the Alaskan wilderness has burrowed into their hearts and turned them into something other than human. Which is a main theme of the book: what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be an animal? And where do we draw the line between the two?

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Scratch, by Steve Himmer. Finished May 31st. Even when other animals lose their ability to plant fear in your hearts, when the howl of coyotes or the rumbling of bears makes your heart flutter with the nostalgia of ignorance, and you feel yourself drawn back to nature-as if you have ever been able to leave-the call-and-response of a pack in the hills sends you scampering back to your cars, onto the roads, out of the mountains toward home where you lock double-paned windows and pull down heavy shades and turn up the lights as bright as you can. Is there anything else left in the forest as frightening as wolves?

There’s me, I suppose. There’s still me.

This book was such a pleasant surprise. I am easily sucked in by a good book cover and that is about 80% of the reason I picked up Scratch. That and the title. I barely even skimmed over the summary before I added it to my TBR. Usually this ends badly for me, but Scratch is a very happy exception.

It’s a hard book to describe. On the surface it is about a construction planner named Martin who starts a project in a small town. It’s a very isolated community, but he falls in love with it and wants to live in one of the houses he is building. But something about the town is… off. Martin begins having very strange dreams, the animals start acting bizarrely, and people are slowly disappearing.

It’s a good setup, but the charm of this book lies in the narrator. Because it’s told to us by the devil. Or rather, a devil. Scratch is a disembodied entity who lives in the forest Martin is building in, and he has complete control over the environment. Most of the book follows Martin directly but we get increasingly eerie asides as Scratch talks directly to the reader. It’s used sparingly and very effectively. It’s clear that Scratch has a plan for Martin (and the reader!), and watching it play out is an increasingly stressful experience.

This is a tense, psychologically-driven book. It’s not a thriller per say because the pacing is slow and there is only a faint air of mystery, but if you like spooky woods and devils and mayhem I really can’t recommend this enough.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

It’s odd that I rounded off the month with 3 books that had very similar themes (human vs animal, nature vs humans) even though I really didn’t intend to. I also read 4 in a row with wolves/foxes (the last 3 I read, plus one I am in the middle of). Is it a sign?! Probably not, but I always love odd coincidences like that.

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 90/200

Goal Books: 84

Impulse Reads: 6

Reading Wrapup: February 2017 Part I

1 Mar

Every month I insist to myself that I am totally going to be on top of getting my wrapup up in a timely fashion. And every month that somehow doesn’t happen. Obviously, I have only myself to blame… I was much more timely last year, when my reading was on track and I didn’t feel pangs of guilt when looking at my challenge. Yes, after my end-of-January revelation I am doing much better at hitting goals, but I am still 3 books behind! Nothing a spur of the moment 24 hour self-imposed readathon can’t fix, right? Because that might be in the stars for March.

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 A Short Stay in Hell, by Steven L. Peck. Finished February 1st. What a way to start out this month. A Short Stay in Hell is my favorite book that I’ve read so far this year, and definitely has the potential to be an all-time favorite. It’s about a Mormon man who dies and wakes up in the afterlife, only it’s not the one he was promised. Turns out a different religion got it right, so all the non-believers are doomed to hell. Oh, but it’s not an eternal hell! No, everyone has a way to escape.

Our protagonist is thrown into the Library of Babel (yes, the famous one from the story). A place where anything that could ever be written has been written. And not just actual books that make sense: any combination of words that is possible is contained here. All our protagonist has to do is find the book that tells his life story and he’s free to leave hell.

That’s just the setup, and this is a short novel so I am not going to discuss the events of the plot at all because I don’t want to ruin anything. It’s bizarre and existential, filled with dread and horror but also moments of pure hope and human intimacy. There’s something so compelling and horrifying about the setting and mood that I can’t quite put into words. If you enjoy weird fiction, postmodern literature, existential dread, or just excellent writing and storytelling I really can’t recommend this enough!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Elephant Vanishes, by Haruki Murakami. Finished February 2nd. Murakami is one of my favorite authors, but I have mixed opinions on his short fiction. I loved most of the stories in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman but The Elephant Vanishes just didn’t do it for me.

There were, of course, some stories here that I found very effective… but the two I liked the most were also later included in his books, so I’d already read them. The title story is also a good one, and really perfectly captures that sense of unreal that’s never quite explained in his works. I think every story in here has an open end, so if you want closure… Murakami is not your guy. I can’t say I hated or even disliked any of the stories here, but I find that only a few of them have stuck with me after reading, and I’d struggle to recall what some of them are about based on the title. I did really enjoy the few stories that I can remember in detail, so I can’t bring myself to rate it lower than 3.5.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Shogun, by James Clavell. Finished February 3rd. When I was in AP Literature in high school, we were assigned Dracula. However, I’d already read Dracula–3 times! I talked to my (amazing) teacher about it, and he said he’d give me a different book to read for the paper. The next day he handed me a copy of Shogun, and said it was one of his favorite books of all time. Looking back, I realize that’s a lot of trust to place in a high school student: not only did he give me a massive book twice as long as the required reading, but he trusted me with one of his favorite pieces of literature. I don’t know if I’d be willing to do that with a teenager!

Shogun dazzled me. I devoured it in only a few days, and was totally swept away in Clavell’s vision of Japan. And it also sparked something inside of me: a desire to read more about Japan, both fiction and nonfiction. As you probably realize if you read my blog frequently, I read a lot of Japanese literature, and Shogun is the reason why. It changed me so significantly as a reader that I really can’t imagine what my reading life would look like today if I’d never picked it up.

It’s been years since I last re-read this book, and 2017 seemed as good a time as any to both dive back into it and continue on with the rest of the series (which, shock, I’ve never even thought of reading!). And, thankfully, Shogun holds up over the years. It’s a tale of adventure, honor, love, tragedy, and human triumph that feels so epic in scope it might as well be fantasy.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty. Finished February 5th. I really wanted to like this more than I did. The concept is so interesting: Six Wakes is basically an Agatha Christie novel in space. Six people wake up on a spaceship freshly cloned. Their previous incarnations have been murdered, and they are the only people awake on the ship. So they have to solve their own murders… knowing that it’s more than likely that one of them is a killer. Oh, and they all have criminal backgrounds, but none of them know what crimes the others have committed in the past. Plus they’re missing memories of the last 20 years of their lives.

The cast is diverse and entertaining. We get chapters from each of their perspectives, as well as their backstories. In Christie-fashion it seems like they all have means, motive, and opportunity. It’s a traditional whodunnit with a scifi twist. And the science fiction elements aren’t just set dressing: cloning in particular is vital to the plot, and there’s a lot of political drama as well. I found the discussions about the ethics of cloning and clones’ rights to be the best part of the books, and I wish there had been a little more focus on that.

I was really enjoying this until about the 60% mark, when things started to fall apart. Then again, this has mostly very positive reviews, so I think most people will not have my issues. In short: everything is too neat. It comes together so cleanly, and the reader is never given the opportunity to put the pieces together themselves. Every reveal is handed to us on a silver platter. There will be a backstory scene that hints as to motive, and then we get a character discussing what it means in length. I like a bit of a challenge in my mystery novels, and this flips from a moody mystery to a fast-paced scifi thriller about halfway through. I think it just tried to do too many things: murder mystery, character study, political and ethical discussions, intense action scenes… you need at least another 100 pages to execute all those things successfully.

If I went into this expecting a bit of a fluffy fast ride, I think I would have enjoyed it more. I was expecting more of a horror/mystery vibe (which admittedly is what the first few chapters serve up). If you don’t want deep, meaningful reveals and are okay with everything wrapped up in a big neat bow, this would probably be very enjoyable. It’s not a bad book… just a flawed one that left me feeling cold.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Drawing of The Three, by Stephen King. Finished February 7th. This is the second book in the Dark Tower series, and if the character names weren’t the same I don’t know if I would ever guess they were in the same world. The Drawing of The Three is so drastically different in every way: mood, tone, writing style, plot, world… obviously there’s nothing specific I can talk about without spoilers, but it just goes off in a totally different direction.

Thankfully, that change works like a charm! While The Gunslinger is a desolate feeling novel with more stories than action, TDoTT is action-packed and rapid-fire paced. We bounce around a lot in the narrative, and King really keeps you on your toes. While reading this I still had no idea what was going on in the overarching plot (and lemme tell you, you don’t get a good hint until book 4) but I loved every second of it. I’m just here for whatever crazy rollercoaster ride King has planned for his Constant Reader.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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A Perfect Crime, by A Yi. Finished February 7th. This is the story of a teenage boy who hates his life and decides to kill somebody. That’s… that’s pretty much it. He plans a murder, commits a murder, goes on the run, etc. It’s exactly what it says on the box. And, like much Asian crime fiction, this is whydunnit rather than a whodunnit–because obviously we know who did it and how it was done because our protagonist is the criminal. The core “mystery” of the novel is why he committed the crime, because he’s very vague about his intentions. We’re in his head, but it’s clear that his narration is intentionally misleading (so there is an element of the unreliable narrator).

I found something in this book severely lacking. I think there was just no soul to it. Sure, we’re in the head of a sociopath, but the narration is as bland as his personality. There’s no connection between reader and protagonist. It’s definitely possible to make a murderer relateable (or at least entertaining), but I think the goal here was to create an almost alien protagonist that was impossible to identify with. In which case… success, I guess? But it doesn’t make for a very engaging read.

The writing was decent and it was paced well, so I don’t want to knock it down below 3 stars. And I didn’t hate reading it… but I didn’t enjoy it either. It was an entirely neutral reading experience. I do think the final “why I did it” reveal was well done, but it also lacked any element of surprise. While our narrator is trying to hide his motives for the “big reveal” any intuitive reader will guess why long before he decides to tell us. So there’s no wow moment, just another “that was well written but I don’t care at all” type of scene.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Kingdom, by Fuminori Nakamura. Finished February 8th. I really love Asian crime fiction, so I was very disappointed to read 2 bland books in a row from the genre. I didn’t love A Perfect Crime, and I actually had very similar issues with this novel. Which is funny, since I read them back-to-back.

The plot here is definitely very engaging. Our main character Yurika works as a fake prostitute: she picks specific Johns, then drugs them and takes incriminating photos/video for blackmail. Her boss never gives her any details, so she is completely in the dark about why these people are targeted… or what her employer is doing with the photos she produces. It’s a pretty interesting twist on the traditional mystery genre: there’s definitely a mystery, but the criminal activity itself is part of the mystery rather than the reason for it.

But like with A Perfect Crime, I found our narrator totally bland. Yurika is a criminal so she should be pretty interesting, but her personality is so very blah. I felt like I knew nothing about her after reading the entire book. Even when you find out about her past, she never seems like a fleshed-out character. She’s just the vehicle for the story. And we don’t even get any real answers! So basically it’s an unsatisfying mystery with a boring main character. At one point, our villain says, “this was all meaningless” and I was like yeah dude, it totally was.

Why 3.5 stars then? Because the writing was very good. Especially the weird, almost nonsensical speeches our villain gives: they often revolve around obscure religious details, and they’re kind of fascinating. I really wish we had been in his head the whole time! I think a book of him hunting & manipulating our heroine would have been way more interesting. While I found this book to be disappointing, I would definitely read another book by Nakamura (and indeed, I have another queued up on my Kindle!).

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Universal Harvester, by John Darnielle. Finished February 10th. It kind of kills me to give this book less than 5 stars. I was anticipating it so much, I loved Wolf in White Van, and for like 75% this was hands-down the best book I’ve read this year. But alas, it didn’t follow through until the end.

Let’s start with the good: the writing. WiWV is a well-written book, but this manages to amp that up to 11. There’s a lot more finesse here. Which is good, because it’s a very rambling book. We flit from character to character, shifting through time and sometimes taking very random-seeming detours. But because of the wonderful writing, I was totally along for the ride. 4-paragraph description of a farmhouse that ends with philosophical musings about what it means to be a farmhouse? Yes please. Description of a cornfield that ends with all the things said cornfield has heard inside of it (this one gets dark)? Why not! Random details about recording on VCR tape? Sign me up! Really, this book could have been almost entirely strange descriptions and I would have been happy.

I think the flaw here is that it’s both too plot driven but at the same time not plot-heavy enough. The core concept, of videos at a late-90′s movie store showing up with weird, creepy home movies cut into them, is great. And for the first half or so we’re really centered around Jeremy the cashier as he tries to unravel the mystery. It’s compelling, and all of the asides the narration wanders into fit well. That long, rambling description of a farmhouse I mentioned before? Turns out the actual building is on one of the tapes! It all seems to come together neatly. But about 70% of the way in we go in a totally different direction. And it’s not one I was very happy about. I was so invested in the plot that this felt like a betrayal. The plot is totally lost, and it really only feels loosely connected. Plus I found the ending lackluster. There was a definite answer, but it didn’t live up to the promise of the premise. Honestly, I would rather have had it be more open-ended. It felt like I was eating an amazing cake, and when I got to the center it was suddenly a steak & potatoes dinner. Steak is great… if you’re in the mood for it and don’t think you are eating cake when you take a bite.

Of course I still gave this 4 stars, even if the ending was incredibly disappointing. This is because of the writing, of course, and also the fantastic atmosphere. This book is so creepy, so unsettling and spine-tingling. Even when nothing much was happening I found myself very nervous. If you liked Wolf in White Van I would still definitely recommend giving this a shot. I hope that Darnielle’s next book combines the tight plot of WiWV with the next-level writing of UH: they might just combine to make a perfect novel.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Miranda and Caliban, by Jacqueline Carey*. Finished February 13th. It was almost Valentine’s Day, the day of love, when I read this! And what better way to celebrate that than by reading a Shakespearean tragedy? It’s a perfect fit. Especially if you are a fan of The Tempest. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play, and man is it a good time to be a fan of it. First Hag-Seed and now this? What a time to be alive.

This is kind of a prequel to The Tempest. The majority of it takes place before the events of the play, and we follow both Miranda and Caliban from their first meeting as children to their last moments on the island. And it is, in many ways, a doomed love story. We know that Miranda is beautiful and pure and her father wants her wed to royalty, and we know that Caliban is bent and misshapen and painted as a villain. It can’t have a happy ending. And yet you root for them so hard!

As you’d expect from Jacqueline Carey, the writing is lush and descriptive. The fantasy elements of TT are really brought to the forefront, so this reads like historical fantasy/romance more than a straight retelling of the original work. She’s really brought the unnamed island to life, along with its small group of inhabitants. It is, to be trite, quite magical.

I’ve noticed some comments about the liberties she took with the characters, but let’s be real: Prospero is totally an asshole in the play. Sure, he got dethroned and abandoned on an island, but he literally takes a human (and a fairy!) as prisoner just so they can do shit for him, and he treats his daughter like a piece on a chessboard. Does Miranda WANT to marry Ferdinand? Prospero doesn’t care. He’s just looking out for himself. So while the version of him portrayed here is perhaps more maniacal and evil than in the play, it’s not far off the beaten track. Caliban, too, is not as bad as Prospero would have you think in the play: I mean, he grew up as a wild boy and then was forced into slavery. Poor kid. So I feel like while this is a romanticized view of him, it’s certainly one I can get behind.

I was so transported by Miranda & Caliban’s friendship-turning-to-love that I really wanted more from this book. It was beautiful and bittersweet, don’t get me wrong, but I think their adult section is rushed… as is the last 80%, which is when we finally get to the events of The Tempest. I think Carey does best in epically long books, and this certainly could have been 500+ pages. The rushed nature of the last half is really the only “flaw” (and I did dock a full star for it) but I totally adored this. Not quite as good a retelling as Hag-Seed, but given the different genres they were aiming for it feels almost unfair to compare them.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 21/200

Goal Books: 18

Impulse Reads: 3

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

December Reading Wrapup: Part I

3 Jan

I find the last month of the year to be the most difficult in terms of reading. I’m already looking ahead to my 2017 goals, or looking back on my favorite books of the year. By mid-December I kind of think of the year as “over” already. But despite that, I still had a pretty good reading month! I finished off my series challenge and got quite a few off my TBR read.

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A Gambler’s Anatomy, by Jonathan Lethem*. Finished December 1st. Jonathan Lethem is one of my favorite authors, but for some reason I only gravitate towards his weirder, lesser-known books like As She Climbed across the Table, Amnesia Moon, and Girl in Landscape. Though let’s be honest, I don’t think you could classify any of his books as normal. I haven’t read any of his “big” works like Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, etc–I guess I will eventually, but I have no real drive to. Which is weird, because the books I’ve read of his I adore!

I think A Gambler’s Anatomy falls rather uncomfortably between his odd, quirky books and his more mainstream ones. There are a few elements of magical realism (our main character is psychic, for example) but they don’t add much to the book either in terms of plot or metaphor. It would be basically the exact same book if the mind-reading element was removed. Which is odd–why was it included? It adds an extra layer to the final chapter but that’s about it. I think it would have been a much more interesting book if 1) the magical realism was just removed or 2) it was amped up and more integral to the plot/characters.

My main issues with the book are all the elements that seem neither here nor there. A lot of plot points seem randomly jumbled together, and there’s not enough of any one to make a cohesive whole. It’s hard to even pinpoint what the book is about (and not in a “so many interesting elements!”) kind of way. Is it about gambling? Yes and no. Is it about backgammon? Yes and no. Is it about severe illness? Yes and no. Is it about communist revolutions? Yes and no. Is it about the negative effects of capitalism? Yes and no. Is it about addiction? Yes and no. All of these elements are fascinating on their own, but somehow putting it all in the same plot dilutes all of the oomph.

The writing is, of course, beautiful and it is a compelling read. Even when I wasn’t very interested in what was going on I wanted to keep going, which is an impressive feat. And all of the side characters were great! Our main character? Not so much. He’s supposed to be stoic and boring and his perspective comes off as… stoic and boring. I really dislike “boring, blank-slate” narrators that kind of serve as a widow to the action more than a direct player in it. So while there are lots of redeeming features here, and it was far from a bad book, nothing drew me in. A disappointment, to say the least, though I certainly don’t regret reading it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino. Finished December 2nd. Other than my love affair with Tana French, I find myself continually disappointed by Western crime fiction. I’m just never that interested in whodunnits, so often I feel that any side plots or forced character “development” are just standing in the way of getting the reader to the solution. So it’s no surprise that I adore Eastern crime fiction: in almost all the ones I’ve read (Malice, The Investigation, Confessions) you find out who the killer is fairly early on, and it’s more about the characters and motives. The Devotion of Suspect X takes this to new heights: it’s not a whodunnit, because it starts from the POV of the killers. It’s not even a whydunnit, because the murder takes place very early on and the motives are crystal clear. It is the rarest of things in crime fiction: a howdunnit.

Yasuko is being stalked by her ex-husband. When he goes after her teenage daughter, she kills him in a fit of fear and protectiveness. Her neighbor, the unassuming math teacher Ishigami, helps them cover it up. But it cuts from the murder to days later, when Yasuko comes under suspicion. The mystery here is how Ishigami covered it up. Every angle of the murder is examined, and he seems to have covered it all. But how? It seems like the perfect crime.

Ingeniously, because the book starts out from Yasuko’s POV you are 100% on her side (and thus, on the side of the criminals). I was dying to know how Ishigami managed the coverup, but I wanted even more for them both to get off scott free and for the cops to remain in the dark. This is a riveting novel, a real page-turner but without the fake “cliffanger every chapter” that so many books in the genre rely on. This is my second Higashino book, and I doubt it will be my last. If only more of his work was translated!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Inheritance, by Robin Hobb. Finished December 3rd. This is, technically, the last Realm of the Elderlings book I have to read. I say technically because it’s a collection of short stories, and only the last section is set in that world. The other half is by Robin Hobb’s other pen name, and take place more in the real world (though they have many elements of magical realism and fantasy in them).

I was kind of expecting to skim through the first half in an effort to get to Hobb’s section, but I found them surprisingly enjoyable. I don’t know if it’s a writing style I would seek out on its own, but the stories were quite memorable. A few fell flat, but for the most part-success! But, of course, I came for the Hobb and that’s where this book shined for me.

There are only 3 Hobb stories because as you’d suspect, they are very long. They’re all wonderful, though the first (which is about the settling of the Rainwilds) and the last (which has a cat perspective) were particularly amazing. I don’t think I will ever get enough of this series, so let’s hope that the new one coming out in spring isn’t the last!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Into The Forest, by Jean Hegland. Finished December 4th. What a mixed bag of a book this was. I love survival stories and I love post-apocalyptic fiction so theoretically, I should have loved this. And I will freely admit that those aspects were fantastic. There’s a large amount of day-to-day survival stuff: growing a garden, canning and drying food for winter, figuring out how to hunt, etc. Given my love for survival classics like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson I am a total sucker for “here’s 20 pages that list all the different plants here and what they do!” type of things, which this book has in droves. And the apocalypse itself is very interesting: it’s not one big event, but the culmination of many. Climate change, unstable currency, political strife, a failing economy… sounds eerily familiar.

If the novel had stuck with the survival aspects as the main focus and given us more character development between sisters Nell and Eva, it would have easily been 4 stars. I was so involved for the first 100 pages or so, even though a few of the elements (the forced romance for Nell, the constant flashbacks to her parents) were almost too young-adult-y for my taste. But then, sigh, it takes a very sharp nosedive.

For some reason, the main message of this book seems to be that men are bad and women are victims. I hate hate HATE when fiction frames sexual interaction with men as only negative. If it’s consensual, watch out, you’ll get pregnant and be a single mom! And then, of course, we have to threaten the girls with rape because an apocalypse and having your parents die and almost starving to death just isn’t spooky enough. Sigh. It’s so unfair to both genders. Not all men are evil, obviously, and the “it’s the apocalypse so men revert to being horrible rapists” thing is truly baffling as a trope. And women are not victims! A girl can insist on birth control. A girl can consent to sex and not have any negative consequences, emotional or physical. A girl can, gasp, enjoy sex without somehow getting in trouble for it.

Weird 60′s feminist themes aside, this book really suffers in the last 100 pages or so. There are some truly baffling scenes that serve no purpose besides making the reader uncomfortable (sudden incest like woah) and the book seems to go from reality to magical realism very quickly and suddenly. Things that aren’t physically possible happen with no discussion. And tonally it’s weird. I think the end is meant to be read as inspiring or empowering which is… weird, because it seems more like the girls went totally insane. But rah rah women living together in the forest female power?

If you’d like to read a book about survival in the forest and a (kind of) apocalypse, I’d really recommend Our Endless Numbered Days. It deals with many of the same themes in a far more mature and coherent way (and manages to be much darker without the “men are out to get us!” bullshit).

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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World War Z, by Max Brooks. Finished December 6th. I read this years ago and loved it, and while I’ve heard many people raving about the audiobook I was never really interested. Audiobooks just aren’t my thing. But then I heard that it was what everyone wanted from the movie (an abomination we shall not speak of), plus I needed to read an award-winning audiobook for the Read Harder challenge. So WWZ audiobook it was!

This is just amazing. So immersive, and it really feels like the way the book is meant to be “read.” It is really more like a radio play than a regular audiobook. Fully voice acted, with a consistent narrator. Definitely get the full edition though: many of my favorite stories were left out of the original release.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund. Finished December 9th. This is a dark, dark book. Before you consider reading it, I’d add heavy trigger warnings for child abuse, rape, and incest. If any of these are upsetting topics for you I’d definitely proceed with caution. While none of the violence is gratuitous and most of it happens either in memory or off-screen, a lot of the details are hard to get through even if you have a strong stomach. Though this does work against the book in some ways: by the time you get to the end and the final reveal of the horrors the murderer has created, it seems almost blase. I feel like this is a danger with any long, dark book: eventually the reader is immune to the shocks. But that doesn’t negate how grim and effective 90% of it is.

The Crow Girl neatly toes the line between police procedural and psychological thriller. We have a ton of POVs: everything from the cops working on the case to the killer. Quite a few seem unrelated and really only come together at the end, and there’s a ton of misdirection and potentially unreliable narrators. It’s one of those “who am I supposed to trust?” type of novels, which I always enjoy. Every time I was sure I knew what was going on another twist and turn was revealed. It’s not a wham-twist type of novel like Gone Girl: sure, there’s a lot going on, but it’s hard to say that there is “one big reveal.” It’s more a series of smaller (but still effective) surprises.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the discussions of mental health. It’s both my favorite and least-favorite thing about The Crow Girl. I loved how complex all the characters were, and how intensely it looks at trauma, memory, and mental health. There are some wonderful moments of insight and really interesting discussions.

However, every mentally ill character in the book (and there are quite a few) is either an abuser or a victim. It’s absolutely a myth that the mentally ill are more likely to commit violent crimes: in fact, there’s no proven link between mental illness and criminal behavior. However, the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victim of a crime. For all its interesting discussions, The Crow Girl still uses mental illness as a plot point. It’s supposed to be a revealing look at the cycle of abuse but it kind of comes off as “wow mentally ill people sure are crazy, look at the stuff they do!” It’s a sore subject for me and I didn’t appreciate how black and white the issue was. You also really need to suspend belief for some of the bigger twists, or know nothing about mental illness.

To end on a positive note, this is an incredibly compulsive read. The chapters are quite short (2-5 pages) and the POV/time period changes constantly, making it feel insanely fast paced even though it takes place over the course of a few months. I never felt bored by the length or wanted things to happen faster. In fact, I think it could have been a bit longer: the end is slightly rushed!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Memories of my Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel García Márquez. Finished December 10th. This is my first Marquez, and I think it was a poor choice on my part. I picked it out because I saw it hanging out at the library, and let’s be honest… it’s really short. I don’t read a ton of physical books (almost all of my reading is done late at night on my Kindle, with the lights off), so when I pick one up from the library I don’t want it to be a chunker.

But this book is about age and the path our lives take: it’s an old man hitting 90 reflecting on his life. I just can’t connect with the themes, which is obviously on me and not the book. The writing is beautiful and I think the plot fits the themes perfectly, but I just felt really distanced. It’s hard for me to rate, and I’d love to go back to it in a few decades when the “I’m old and I feel like I’ve wasted my life” is something that I can connect with.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay*. Finished December 10th. I came into this book with low expectations. I know Roxane Gay only from her nonfiction work, so I was expecting a collection of stories with interesting ideas and feminist themes, but perhaps not the most elegant writing. And I was pleasantly very wrong: this book absolutely blew me away.

It is, as the title states, a book about difficult women. Women who strike out on their own path and refuse to follow traditional gender roles. Women who do anything it takes to survive. Women in bad situations, or women in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s easy to classify them all as ‘difficult’ but it’s also a bit depressing to realize that a women can be difficult for something as simple as not listening to a man. As you’d expect from Gay, these stories have a strong feminist vibe and sell the message very well. It never feels forced or preachy: in fact, it’s a depressingly realistic realization that all women are ‘difficult women.’

The writing here is lush and varied. We go from stories totally grounded in reality to hints of magical realism to full-out fantasy to a terrifying dystopian future. The mood changes: we get more upbeat love-themed tales, heartbreaking life stories, little slice of life pieces that are nearly flash fiction, epic-in-scope fantasy… I was wowed by how easily she shifted genre, mood, and tone while still giving them all a cohesive vibe.

Every story felt like it belonged here. Some were so depressing I almost hated them because of how they made me feel, others so short and brief they don’t seem to fit at first. There are stories that end at the worst possible moment, ones that start after the action. And yet they mesh together perfectly by the end. Difficult women are not just difficult in the way they live their lives, but in how their stories are told. They’re not easy to digest: some are challenging thematically, some emotionally. One made me cry. But they all touched me in different ways, and for once I feel like I’ve read a short story collection where I wouldn’t remove a single one

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Mongrels, by Stephen Graham Jones. Finished December 11th. Earlier this year I read Stephen Graham Jones’ Demon Theory, and it’s absolutely one of my favorite books of 2016. I really wanted to read more of him but he has a LOT of books out. An intimidating amount, to be honest, and I didn’t know where to start. Mongrels is actually a brand-new release and seems to be getting a lot of hype, plus it’s a modern werewolf tale which is usually something I really enjoy. So it seemed like as good a place as any to dive into his body of work!

Mongrels is about a young boy who is convinced his family is full of werewolves. His mother died in childbirth, and he lives with his aunt and uncle. They are a family of vagabonds, moving from place to place and picking up whatever odd jobs are available along the way. So while this is, on the surface, a story about monsters, it’s much more a book about humanity. It’s about how we all have something monstrous inside of us, and how it can shape our lives in ways we never expected.

Mongrels deals with poverty and classism/racism in America as much as it deals with howling at the moon and eating people. Like all good monster novels, the fantastic elements serve as a metaphor for real-world issues… though it also tackles these themes head-on in a more literal sense. It’s a very fast-paced book but it’s surprisingly deep, and cleverly skirts the line between adult fiction and YA. It’s totally, completely different from Demon Theory and I’m now even more intrigued to read more of Jones’ books.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Rules for Werewolves, by Kirk Lynn. Finished December 13th. I had two werewolf books on my TBR and thought to myself, “why not read them in a row?!” So here we are, with a very wolfish December. Rules for Werewolves is compared to Sharp Teeth in the blurb and that happens to be one of my favorite books so how can I resist?

RfW is told almost entirely in dialogue, but with no speech tags. So there are no descriptions of the action, or even clear ways to know who is talking at any point in time. It reads very much like poetry (thus the Sharp Teeth comparison) and obviously can be intensely confusing at times. The plot itself is simple enough: a group of homeless young people are moving from abandoned house to abandoned house… oh, and their (possibly insane) leader is convinced they are werewolves.

Unlike Mongrels (and Sharp Teeth) this is not an overt “werewolf book.” It’s incredibly unclear if this is a cult-type situation or if they are actual werewolves. This is a difficult book: the plot is messy, there are so many characters it’s almost impossible to keep them straight, and most of the time the reader is a bit unclear on what is going on. But I loved it! It’s so lyrical and interesting, and raises some very interesting questions about how we live our lives. If you like challenging books and possibly-magical-realism with a dark turn, I really recommend this.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Driver’s Seat, by Muriel Sparks. Finished December 14th. Sometimes I let myself get swayed by hype. I read a bunch of glowing reviews, see it’s a short novel, and pick it up. Though to be honest, this has been sitting on my Kindle for about a year–back when I first read those rave reviews. Even the mid-tier ones mentioned the amazing twists of this little mystery/thriller/whatever it is. I stumbled upon it recently while trying to give some order to the 1,800+ books on my device and off we went.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to the hype. I almost want to give this 2 stars because it was such a disappointment, but the writing was clever and well-crafted. I just… I was SO BORED. The plot sounds so interesting: Lise, a woman who has lived an ordinary life and seems ordinary in every respect, goes on a self-destructive adventure into the long-hidden dark side of her personality. It’s short, witty, and to the point. But I just. Didn’t. Care.

It has a manic energy but manages to be very pedestrian at the same time. Lise acts completely insane: flitting from person to person, topic to topic, changing her personality or aims on a whim. Yet it’s not very interesting to read about because Lise is just a dull person. Even when trying her hardest to get into trouble, the height of her craziness seems to be bold miss-matched prints and stealing car keys. Ooh, scandalous.

Sure, the ending is good. But it wasn’t a twist–you see it coming from a mile away–and you don’t even get any insight into why she chooses that path. Crazy woman does a crazy thing, the book. I prefer more depth and meat to my stories, but maybe I just missed something because this has generally great reviews.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood*. Finished December 14th. Until now, I have not been wowed by the Hogarth Shakespeare line. The ones I have read are, admittedly, exactly as advertised: retellings of Shakespearean stories. But I have always wanted more from these books: more attention to detail, more commentary on society, more meta narratives. Thankfully, Hag-Seed is what I’ve been searching for all along. Which is particularly fitting since The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play!

Like many of Shakespeare’s works, Hag-Seed is a play within a play. The main character, Felix, is putting on The Tempest in a prison, but his actual life mirrors the play. He was deposed from a position of power, is essentially in exile, and is using his in-prison play to get revenge on those who wronged him. His daughter is even named Miranda! So for most characters you have both the in-book counterparts and their in-prison-play counterparts. Felix is, of course, both the in-book Prospero along with playing him in his own play. I’m making this sound way more confusing than it is probably, but basically the book has a play in it and both mirror The Tempest both literally and thematically.

Much like how TT is aware that it is a play, HS seems to be aware that it is a book. Felix’s inner monologue often comes off as a speech to an audience, and many of the book allusions come off as very wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the reader. There’s not a lot of overt 4th-wall breaking, but it’s clear that we are a layer of the book: there’s Felix, then his play, then the audience in the book, and then finally, the reader. Or perhaps we’re the “top” layer of the pile. The question is, are we being played by Felix too or are we in on his shenanigans? This is a book that I already want to re-read because I know there are probably dozens of important things I missed.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Good As Gone, by Amy Gentry. Finished December 15th. I keep picking up these popular thrillers expecting something amazing and getting, surprise surprise, canned mediocrity. If this book had any other premise I would have skipped it: I’ve really trained myself not to pick up those “thriller of the month everyone’s bookclub pick IT’S THE NEXT GONE GIRL” type of things. But I am borderline obsessed with the documentary The Imposter (go watch it, seriously) and this plot seems ripped right from that with the genders reversed.

When she is 13 years old, Julie is kidnapped right out of her bedroom. There are no leads, there’s no evidence, and the case is basically abandoned. She returns many years later and while her parents are thrilled to see her, her mother (Anna) becomes suspicious. Is it really her daughter who has come back, or an imposter?

It’s a really fast read, with chapters that alternate between Anna in the present day and “possibly Julie”‘s past. So you’re going both forward in time and back, which is a nice aspect. It’s smoothy written for the most part, though nothing really stands out and there are some clunky sentences. The pacing is great: very tight, chapter breaks at just the right moments, not a lot of down time or unnecessary content. Every conversation seems packed with meaning, every scene full of clues. If you’re a thriller junkie I think this is probably a great read.

However, I found it really lacking substance. The characters were flat, and the mystery felt very thin (especially because many details were pulled from The Imposter and JonBenet’s case, making it feel overly familiar). The last quarter of the book saved this from being terrible: the reveals are great, and while not totally unexpected they did catch me by surprise.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

259/175 Books

27/28 Series Books

68/50 TBR Books

27/15 Different Countries

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

October Reading Wrapup: Spooktober Part I

16 Nov

I’m sorry this wrapup is so late, but October was a busy month… and November has been a rough one. After an action-packed few weeks I suffered from election hangover (both metaphorical and literal) but now I’m back on track! My November reading has suffered a little but this is about October, the spookiest month. For years I’ve wanted to do an all-horror reading month for Halloween and I finally did it in 2016! All horror, all month. It was a blast, though I am sure I’ll be tired of the genre for quite some time.

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The Trespasser, by Tana French. Finished October 3rd. So this isn’t technically a horror novel, but 1) Tana French goes to the top of my TBR no matter the situation and 2) a lot of people consider crime/thrillers totally fine for a spooky book read. So, it counts! Technically.

I’m a massive Tana French fangirl. Eventually I’ll have a whole series of posts on her Dublin Murder Squad books, which this is the 6th book in. Suffice to say, it’s one of my favorite series, and Ms. French has basically ruined the mystery genre for me because I’ve never found anything nearly as good. And this one was, like all the others (except maybe Faithful Place which I didn’t love) fantastic. It’s a bit more by-the-books than some of her others at first glance: a deceptively simple case, characters we’ve already gotten to know well, and not-so-complicated relationships. But this is Tana French, so of course things get hinky. She plays with the unreliable narrator (which we haven’t really seen since In The Woods!), and our MC might be in actual, physical danger. The case itself isn’t as intriguing as some of the others, but the character development and writing are, as always, stunning.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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White, by Tim Lebbon*. Finished October 4th. Winter-themed horror is something I always want to love, but am constantly disappointed by. Snow, The Shuddering… it’s usually just bad. I mean, we also have stuff like At The Mountains of Madness, but modern “snow horror” tends to leave me feeling very un-spooked. I had middling success with Tim Lebbon’s The Silence and thought, “hey, that guy’s okay, let’s read some creepy snow stuff for Spooktober!”

This was an okay book. The bad guys (bad… entities? bad ghosts?) were inventive and certainly original. The snowy setting was quite effective: our main characters are snowbound in a remote mansion while they watch the world end on tv. They’re technically only 5 miles from town, but with the snow several feet deep getting there is an impossible task. Eventually, the tv and radio go out. What happened to the world outside? And what are the strange white creatures they’ve been seeing out of the corner of their eyes?

However, the length really hurts the mood and storytelling. It’s quite short, barely novella length. It’s easier to categorize this as a lengthy short story. And while the cast is small, I felt like we never really got to know anyone. A lot of time is spent setting up events: what’s happening now, what happened before. There’s little time for any character development or discoveries, and we find out literally nothing about the white things OR what happened outside. Which, in a longer book where we got more hints and ominous background information, would be fine. But I found this overall a frustrating read: it had a lot of potential, and I think there was way too much crammed into about 60 pages. It wasn’t a bad book, and it was an easy read, but it’s nothing I will look back fondly on.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Nightmares & Dreamscapes, by Stephen King. Finished October 10th. I love Stephen King, and I especially love his short stories. As the reigning king of horror, I of course had to read something by him this month, and short stories seemed the way to go. I’ve read many of his other collections (Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Everything’s Eventual) and loved all of them. This one, sadly, didn’t have as much of an effect on me.

There were gems, of course–I loved “Dolan’s Cadillac,” “Home Delivery,” and “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band.” But overall, I think only “Band” will stick with me: they were pleasant enough (well, not pleasant… you know what I mean) but not as spectacular and horrifying as his usual work.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell. Finished October 11th. Novellas are always a tricky subject for me. There are quite a few I love (Diamond Dogs, Every Heart a Doorway, This Census-Taker) but usually I am left wanting. It’s very hard to strike a balance of decent characters and worldbuilding and a contained plot in such a short page count without it feeling like an overly long short story or a too short novel. To me, a novella has to feel like a full story even if it’s part of a series and basically setting up a world.

This comes SO close to being that perfect balance for me. The urban fantasy world that’s set up is very interesting: it’s not totally unique (town on the border of magical realms has been done nearly to death) but it’s handled in a clever way that felt fresh and not derivative. There’s certainly a ton of room for expansion here, and it’s clearly meant to be the first in the series. But… that’s also kind of my problem. It very much feels like “first novel, setting up the world” but it’s even shorter than your usual “setting shit up” UF book. The plot takes a backseat to worldbuilding and character introduction, to the point where I barely cared about the actual story because it was clear that anything resolved in ~100 pages wasn’t going to be very dramatic. I just never felt any tension even though the stakes were quite high.

Of course there are lots of positives. As I mentioned, I enjoyed the world, but it’s really the characters that shine. We have a group of three “witches” who are quite diverse: there’s Judith, the traditional trope-y older witch, but even she manages to feel unique. There’s Lizzie, a Reverend who is questioning her faith after the death of her boyfriend. And finally Autumn, who runs the New Age store but doesn’t believe in magic. All three were very interesting but their dynamic together was pure magic. We get amazing exchanges like this:

“So,” she said, “that’s a fairy.”
“Yeah,” whispered Autumn.
“He didn’t look like a fairy.”
“What were you expecting?”
“For him to look like a fairy.”

These ladies are high sass all the time. I’m definitely going to continue the series because I think now that we’ve had “meet the characters, learn about the world” the others will be more emotionally deep and have fuller stories. I just wish that this had been longer OR had less plot and focused just on introductory things.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Graveyard Apartment, by Mariko Koike*. Finished October 13th. I think there was a lot of potential here, but The Graveyard Apartment never really delivered. I feel like I’d been on a streak of mediocre horror when I read this, and while this was almost great it never really quite raised up out of “just okay.”

The mood of this book is definitely the strong point. It’s a very slow-burn horror, with ominous moments through the first half that really notch up the tension. It’s the type of horror that I think would be way more effective in a visual format (this would make a fantastic movie): it’s SO slow-burn that at times you almost forget you’re reading horror until another unsettling event occurs. And the book itself is highly visual, easy to picture in your head–especially the more horror-driven scenes towards the end.

I’m a fan of slow-burn horror but it was almost too slow for even me. The last 25% of the book is drastically different from the rest and far more frightening–while reading I kept wishing that it had been divided up a little more evenly. The events that kick off the last quarter could have easily happened halfway through and given us a solid half a book of high-octane terror. It’s disturbing, unsettling, and features a really interesting mix of supernatural and survival horror. While I loved the end sections, they actually just served to show how unnaturally slow the pace is through the beginning part.

The character development was also a little lacking. I know horror isn’t a genre known for its great characters, but everyone here (aside from Misao, the mother, who I really liked) felt like thin paper cutouts. So when they were all shoved together at the end, I felt like the tension between them was a bit flat. If we had a better look at their motivations, it would have been far more effective. So overall this was an “almost great but actually just okay” book in basically every aspect. Disappointing, because it’s clear that the potential is there.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Fisherman, by John Langan. Finished October 16th. In the first half of October, I read a lot of mediocre horror. It wasn’t bad, but it was disappointing–which was a shame, because horror is one of my favorite genres. Thankfully, John Langan once again saved the day. I read one of his short story collections last year and was so smitten by his unique brand of cosmic-horror-meets-classic-tropes. Plus, a ton of it is set in the Hudson Valley where I grew up! Including this book, which is set like half an hour from my hometown. Awesome, but also now I’m really scared of the reservoir. Thanks Langan.

This is hands down my favorite book I read in October, and one of my favorites of the year. It’s about a man dealing with grief after his wife dies. He turns to fishing and eventually finds a fishing companion suffering through a similar loss. Sounds like the plot of a dry but well-written literary fiction novel but this is definitely horror. The two guys discover a hidden stream and the sordid history behind it… and of course decide to go fishing there themselves.

The structure is quite interesting. Right in the middle we get the story of Fisherman’s Creek, which is at least a third of the novel and comes basically without warning. We’re with our main characters in a diner, and suddenly it switches to historical fiction horror. A bold choice, and it works beautifully. The tone instantly goes from lightly ominous to intensely terrifying, and ramps up as we finish the tale and then dive back into the “real” plot.

I loved everything about this. The tone, the atmosphere, the twisty plot, the deep look we get into the psyche of our main character. It’s pure yet complex horror, and it goes in a really amazing direction. Langan obviously is part of the current weird horror movement, but his stuff feels so unique and distinctly his own. I’m definitely a rabid fan now and really can’t recommend this enough for horror fans.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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HEX, by  Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Finished October 20th. As I mentioned, I have a huge weakness for books set near my hometown in the Hudson Valley. Probably because it happens so rarely, and when it does it’s almost always in horror, one of my favorite genres. I inexplicably read not one but TWO horror novels set in the Hudson Valley recently, and this one is basically set in a fictional version of my teeny tiny hometown (at least the English version is–I know it was re-written from the original for this translation). Only, you know, it’s haunted by a 300 year old witch who has her eyes and mouth sewn shut.

While the premise (a haunted town you can’t leave without wanting to commit suicide) is horrifying, there are moments of pure comedy in here. In the opening scene, the witch Katherine appears in a family’s living room while they are eating. Everyone sighs, used to her weird habits, and they drape a towel over her head so they don’t have to look at her face. There are other lighthearted moments where the teens of the town play a series of ridiculous pranks on her, but despite these scenes it’s quite a dark book. Funny, but dark.

The premise is very ‘Blair Witch’ and Thomas Heuvelt plays with the concept a lot. A few of the teens of the town have started secretly filming the witch and prepare on releasing some viral videos of her… things obviously don’t go according to their plan. And I really wasn’t expecting the direction this book went in. It’s darker and more unsettling than your typical “supernatural witch horror” because so many of the moments of terror rely on the depths and darkness of human nature rather than jumpy spooks. It really twists your expectations on their head.

Despite its strengths (truly effective horror, a great setting, original concept, the humor) it’s not a book without flaws. Some events felt a little disjointed, and others intentionally over-the-top for the shock factor. There’s also a very large cast of characters, and while most of them get decent to great character development, others (especially the “villains”) are really lacking. I feel like there also should have been more lead-up to the end: the last 10% or so is really intense but a bit too fast-paced and at times I was almost lost with what was going on and who was where.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

As you can probably tell, Spooktober did not start off that well. There was really only one stand-out book (The Fisherman), though honestly I’d be happy if that was the only book I read for the first half of the month. It was that good. Thankfully, the second half of the month really picked up and I read a ton of great horror overall in October.

Reading Challenge Goals

219/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

61/50 TBR Books

23/15 Different Countries

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

August 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part III

5 Sep

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

197/175 Books

21/35 Series Books

56/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

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

May 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

2 Jun

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

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

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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!

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February 2016 Wrapup: Part I

16 Feb

Ah, February, the month of love! And reading a lot of books. I don’t know why this year has gotten off to such a good start, but I’ve been a reading fiend! And I haven’t just been reading a lot of books, I’ve been reading a lot of good books. My goals this year (focusing on my TBR, series, and authors from many countries) have me tackling things that I almost always love. I mean, if a book has been on my TBR for 1 year+ and survived all my purges, I’m probably going to like it. And that’s definitely been the case so far!

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The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 1st. After finishing Shadows of Self last month, I absolutely had to read the next Wax & Wayne book. At first I was kind of skeptical about this series. I am sorry for doubting you, Lord of Fantasy Brandon Sanderson. This book is just… amazing. The plot goes in really weird places I was never expecting. The character development is ridiculously good. I can’t say anything about the plot without spoiling 5 other books but it’s safe to say that I am going to die waiting another year for the final installment.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Mistborn: Secret History, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 2nd. A surprise Mistborn book! This one takes place during the first trilogy, and gives us a peek at what was going on behind all the big events. I have mixed feelings about it: on one hand, I loved all the Cosmere mythos we got and I loved the characters. On the second, it kind of spoiled some of the mystery and I almost liked it better before I knew what happened “behind the curtain.” But I still liked reading it? Very confusing!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Shadows For Silence In The Forest Of Hell, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished Feb 3rd. I was really on a Cosmere kick at the beginning of February. This is one of Sanderson’s novellas that doesn’t directly tie into any of his book series, but it does contain bits and pieces of Cosmere info. I feel like Sanderson is not at his best in short format: there’s not enough time for character development or his signature twists (though we do get some of both). I liked this, but didn’t love it. The world was amazing though and I’d love to see a full-length novel set in the Forest.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Suicide of Claire Bishop, by Carmiel Banasky. Finished Feb 4th. This book is hard to describe. It has two plotlines. One is about a woman named Claire in the 1950′s (and onward) who has a portrait painted of her but the artist paints Claire committing suicide. The second plot is about a schizophrenic man named West in the present time who becomes obsessed with Claire’s portrait and is convinced that the artist who painted it is also a (young) woman he knows. Claire’s story takes place over decades and just gets more and more bleak. West’s takes place over a week or so and his madness becomes more and more pronounced, coinciding with Claire’s downward spiral. It’s a strange, beautiful novel with the lightest touch of magical realism and a heavy focus on personality, identity, and madness.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Our Endless Numbered Days, by Claire Fuller. Finished Feb 5th. A girl is kidnapped by her father who takes her out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and tells her the world has ended. It’s a horror/survival novel which is right up my alley. I love bleak, depressing stories! I love horror! I love the woods! The writing here was gorgeous and lush, and while I had a few issues (mainly I felt like it was way too short) I was just in love with it. Though I will admit that I only picked this up because the title is an Iron & Wine lyric (and also because of the hype).

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Into The Forest, by Mark Z Danielewski. Finished Feb 5th. THESE GODDAMN BOOKS. I am so wrapped up in this strange little world, even though I have basically no idea what is going on. I love all of it, even the incomprehensible bits. If you like weird, experimental, postmodern fiction this is a must. Also if you like cats. Potentially very creepy and evil but cute cats.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud. Finished Feb 5th. I hate The Stranger. “Oh, woe is me, I’m so ~tortured~ and filled with ennui that I have to kill a guy to feel anything!” Lol no thank you. So this book, which is about the unnamed man who was murdered (and set in a universe where The Stranger was published as nonfiction, so clever) was everything I ever wanted. It’s philosophical, clever, witty, deep, moving, and at times shocking. I’d recommend this to anyone who has read The Stranger, whether you love it or hate it. It’s an excellent companion novel/counterpoint.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts. Finished Feb 7th. Have you ever felt like a book was written just for you? The Thing Itself starts out with a The Thing/At The Mountains Of Madness sequence with scientists in Antarctica when ~strange things~ start to happen. After that it skips back and forward in time, giving us many different perspectives though the main storyline centers on one of the scientists. And it involves philosophy and sentient computers and so many references you could get lost chasing them all down. It’s hilarious and sad, with a very strong focus on the “what ifs” that science fiction is such a good platform for. Plus it tackles the Fermi Paradox. What’s not to love?

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Z Danielewski. Finished Feb 8th. I have this weird quirk when it comes to authors I love. I have trouble reading all their books, and tend to pick one to “set aside” and read “later.” Later usually = never, because I have this strange fear of running out of their books. I actually got this book in the original pressing of only 1,000, not the re-release. I have had it for AGES. But I read House of Leaves and Only Revolutions and Danielewski used to publish so slowly that I was terrified there would be no more, and I would have already read this–my last book of his. But with The Familiar, which is going to have 25 (!!) more volumes, enough to last me many years, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have to read this. So I finally did! If you like Danielewski, you will like this. It seems like most people don’t, and that’s understandable, but I love weird, experimental, and creepy books. So of course I adore him. I actually think this is his most accessible text: sure, the format is a little strange, but you don’t need to dissect it to understand what is happening and the core story is really straightforward. Plus, pretty pictures. It might be a good introduction if you’re put off by the density of HoL, the strangeness of The Familiar, or the downright bizarre journey of OR.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Way Inn, by Will Wiles. Finished Feb 8th. This has been on my TBR for ages, and I never paid much attention to it. But there is a reference to it in The Thing Itself, so of course I bumped it right up to the top! It’s the kind of book I love (for the most part). A quirky book where there’s a ~spooky hotel~ that’s bigger on the inside. It also has some nice discussions about the same-ness of modern life. It gets very strange, but for some reason the ending fell a little flat for me. It was weird but not as weird as I wanted? If that makes sense. I loved the first 2/3rds but I do wish the author had pushed the envelope a little bit more towards the end section.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Demon Theory, by Stephen Graham Jones. Finished Feb 10th. If you like House of Leaves and The Raw Shark Texts, this book is always the next one recommended. And those are two of my favorite books (top 10 favorite, serious business) yet I never read Demon Theory? What is wrong with me, seriously. This book is about a trilogy of horror films: or rather, it’s a scene for scene description of a trilogy of horror films. It’s super meta and I freaking love horror movies. And books centered on fake media. And footnotes. And did I mention horror movies? This book was just… perfection. Everything I want.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami. Finished Feb 11th. There are only a few Murakami books that I haven’t read, and I am trying to get over my “leave one book unread per author” thing and tackle the remaining ones. This is a short story, really a children’s tale, with some gorgeous illustrations. Like many of his shorts it’s… really weird. And it has the Sheep Man! It was a little too short with not enough explanation for me to really love it, but it was an enjoyable read.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Finished Feb 13th. My first series book of the year! Unlike last year, I’m not set on reading each series straight through so I took a short break from Culture to read the first Realm of the Enderlings book. So how do I describe this? It’s a fantasy, but it’s majorly focused on the characters. There’s worldbuilding, but it’s not “hey here is how things work!” It’s subtle and you learn so much just from character interactions. The plot is very much in the background. The magic is fresh but also feels very classic. I see already why people are so crazy about this series. If you like character-driven fantasy and slow burn plot, you absolutely have to pick these up.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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American Housewife, by Helen Ellis. Finished Feb 13th. This was a real impulse read for me. The description kind of sounds like Desperate Housewives but with more murder, so I was all about it. And it was! Kind of. This is a collection of clever little short stories that very much work as satire on modern life in America. It’s absolutely hilarious in a grimdark sort of way. You know, if you think people possibly getting eaten by mutant housecats and a reality show about dumpster diving are hilarious. Highly recommended for people who like comic darkness and short stories.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Dare Me, by Stella Rhys. Finished Feb 14th. I have been really sick for the past few days and reading got really difficult. I picked up the next Culture book and read the same page 5 times (!!) before I accepted that I needed to read something stupid if I was going to read. So, for Valentine’s Day, a romance! The blurb sells this as the story of two kids who played twisted truth or dare. That’s, like, 3 scenes in the book. It’s really your stereotypical romance/erotica with a ~so rich so handsome so perfect~ dude and a ~mysterious past gorgeous SO TORTURED~ girl who the universe just keeps trying to keep apart. It’s dull and predictable and the girl’s “mystery past” was so freaking stupid I wanted to die. But, um, it could have been even worse? And hey, this is only the fourth below-3-stars book I’ve read this year, so it’s hard to be mad about that!

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Progress

41/175 Books

5/36 Series Books

11/50 TBR Books

11/15 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.

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