Tag Archives: Mark Z. Danielewski

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.

Top 5 Wednesday: Future Classics

29 Mar

You may have noticed that recently I have tried to expand my posting from just reviews & wrapups. Or rather, “I used to do more types of posts but stopped for a long time and now I’m back on the horse.” For some reason, I’ve just been a lot more excited to blog recently, and my reading thoughts go far beyond wrapups. I’ve always liked the Top 5 Wednesday videos & posts, so I thought that was as good a place as any to start!

Especially because I found this week’s topic particularly interesting. How do you know what books will retain their fame and acclaim down the line? Is it the ones with the most awards, the most-read books, or is there some other nebulous quality that makes something a classic? I tried to balance my list with books that I think will be classics and also books that I love. For example, I’m absolutely sure American Gods will be regarded down the line as a classic, but I found it almost unbearably boring so there’s no way it is going on my list. Unsurprisingly, this also serves as a ‘favorite authors’ list of sorts.

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5. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro. My favorite Ishiguro novel, The Unconsoled, has about zero chance of becoming a classic. My second favorite, The Buried Giant, also seems to be pretty hated (for reasons I do not fully understand). So I’m just going to play it safe and go with the hauntingly beautiful The Remains of the Day. Is this cheating because it’s a ~modern classic~? Sometimes I am a bit fuzzy on the distinction between the two. I feel like 27 years is not old enough to be a “classic.” Classic implies an enduring work of fiction that is important many decades after it is published. And while I certainly think Remains will reach that status, it hasn’t yet.

(PS, can we all take a moment to appreciate the fact that the cover for The Remains of the Day states ‘by the author of The Remains of the Day‘ at the bottom? Thanks, I never would have guessed)

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4. Perdido Street Station, China Mieville. Mieville is my favorite author, so of course I had to include him on here! The Scar is my favorite of his books (and indeed, my all-time favorite novel) but I think it is Perdido Street Station that will be a classic. Yes, a “genre” classic (which sadly has a less prestigious connotation) but it’s no secret that this book revolutionized fantasy as a genre. New Weird really took off with PSS, and it’s clear to see Mieville’s massive influence on fantasy as a whole. I greatly prefer this weird, gritty, dirty, phantasmagorical take on the genre to traditional sword & sorcery & dragons, so this is a book with a lot of meaning for me. It’s also probably the best place to start with his work!

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3. Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell. This seems like kind of a vague answer, right? “Something from each of these two authors with similar styles!” But let’s be real, we know that each of them has already produced several classics (and who knows how many more they will write?) and I feel ill-equipped to pick which of their works will be the most remembered. I mean, Cloud Atlas and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle seem like safe choices, but who knows what will happen down the road? Maybe it will be Thousand Autumns and Norwegian Wood that future students will read in class. Or maybe the books of theirs that people will hold up as the best haven’t been written yet!

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2. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski. Another book that is considered a ‘modern classic,’ though this one is certainly more controversial among readers. Then again, controversy is part of what makes a book endure. Lolita is a beautiful book, perhaps the most beautiful book ever written, but we all know that part of the reason it is so famous is because of how absurdly controversial the subject matter is. Everyone wants to read that weird book about a pedophile. And everyone wants to read that weird book about a house.

Not that HoL can be reduced to any simple plot summary: it’s a book in a book about a documentary that doesn’t exist. Bizarre, experimental, and incredibly scary, HoL is basically the holy grail of weird postmodern fiction. When a book leaves this much of a mark on the literary community, there’s no way it won’t be remembered down the line.

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1. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. At only two years old, this is the newest book on my list, but also one of the ones I am most confident about. There was quite the stir in the literary community when A Little Life came out, and opinions range from “this is the best book released in a decade” to “this is exploitative torture porn trash.” It’s a love it or hate it book for sure. I tend to like dark books, the more depressing the better: I enjoy nothing more than a book that really makes me sob. Do you know how many times I cried during ALL? A lot. I stopped keeping track, actually. And at one point (the same point as everyone else, I’m pretty sure) I actually had to put this down and walk away because it was just too much.

I think a book that merits this much discussion definitely has a place in the literary cannon. Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny how explosively popular A Little Life got. And given its massive page count and dark subject matter, that’s pretty impressive.

Reading Wrapup: Febraury 2017 Part II

2 Mar

And here we are, with part 2! Next month I’ll be more timely, I swear.

February was an okay reading month. Not nearly as bad as January, but not quite up to my 2016 stats of 20+ books a month. This could also be because it’s a shorter month: I finished off two books on March 1st, and any other month those would have counted. So I’m trying to look on the positive: 15 books a month isn’t bad at all, and I didn’t have any impulse reads!

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Hurt People. by Cote Smith. Finished February 13th. I picked this up impulsively from the library and let’s be real, it was because of the cover. It’s also described as a dark coming of age tale, a genre I really enjoy when done right. And hey, it fulfilled a Read Harder challenge (debut novel) so it was easy to justify.

This book is so heartbreaking. It’s about two young brothers whose parents have just been through a contentious divorce. Over one summer they are basically left to their own devices while their mother goes to work, and they end up meeting a mysterious older boy at the neighborhood pool. This doesn’t sound like the most compelling summary, but trust me, it works brilliantly. Because it’s clear something really bad is going to happen (and you know what it is fairly early on), but our story is told through the eyes of the younger brother. So the reader can see all these pieces falling into place, but his innocence keeps him blind to the danger all around him.

This is a quiet story. There’s no big action scenes, and the “shocking” event at the end is one you intentionally see coming a mile away. It’s more about people and life and the struggle to just get from one day to the next, and how small actions can have huge consequences. If slow, character-driven coming of age stories (with dark elements–go into this with a strong stomach, people) are your thing, give this underrated read a shot!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Waste Lands, by Stephen King. Finished February 16th. Book 3 in the Dark Tower series, and my favorite so far. Probably will be my favorite of all of them, because I can’t imagine anything topping this. You know how I said The Gunslinger and The Drawing of The Three felt like two different books? This combines all the aspects of the previous additions to spectacular effect.

This is King at his most epic, and also his most devilish. I have a new favorite King villain (yes, Blaine has trumped even Flagg and Pennywise for me). The world is SO compelling: the more we see of it, the more I want answers. Usually with fantasy it’s the opposite, and that cloak of mystery needs to stay on or it gets dull. With this series, every piece of new information that is slowly fed to the reader just makes it better. Of course I don’t think even King knew where he was going when he wrote these, but man am I strapped in for the ride.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Good People, by Hannah Kent. Finished February 18th. I read Burial Rites in 2015 and, like everyone else, totally loved it. It’s kind of shocking to think that was her first novel. So I was highly anticipating her follow up, even if the plot didn’t sound quite as interesting. It takes place in Ireland in 1825. Nora has lost her daughter and husband in the same year, and is left alone with land to take care of and her possibly disabled grandson. She hires a maid, and ends up going to a sort of witch-woman who can talk to fairies (the “good people”) for help.

Doesn’t sound as intriguing as “the last woman executed in Iceland” but as you’d expect from Kent, it packs a punch. It’s also based on a true case, but one that is obscure. Tip: don’t look it up before reading, because I think it’s better to not know what direction the story is going in.

Like Burial Rites, the atmosphere is the star here. You can feel the poverty and despair of the characters, the chill Irish air and the growing desperation as winter gets darker and bleaker. I don’t think the plot or characters are quite as tight as BR, but it’s an amazingly fast-paced read given that most of it is literally just women in cottages sitting and talking. There is a compulsive quality to it: you’re so desperate to know what happens, and the tension gets incredibly high. It wasn’t the book I expected, but I am not at all disappointed.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Marriage Games, by CD Reiss. Finished February 21st. This book pains me. I used to be a big CD Reiss fan–sure, they were almost guilty pleasure books, but she could weave a great story and her relationships were always dynamic and interesting. But ever since the last Fiona book and her attempt to do more mainstream works (ShutterGirl and Hardball) I feel like she’s lost her touch. Remember the tragedy that was Secret Sins? Shudder.

But this looked more promising. It’s not a Drazen book (which I used to love, but now I almost dread) and it’s not light and fluffy. However… I did not enjoy it. The premise sounds at least intriguing, but the hero and heroine are so obtuse and annoying. My eyes rolled so far back into my head when we found out our ~super dreamy hero~ didn’t want to do anything degrading to his wife (even if she wanted it) because it would “ruin her in his eyes.” Toxic masculinity and Madonna/whore complex like woah! But this is never addressed as being weird or anything, it’s just… how he is. And Diana? Even after her chapters she felt like a complete mystery, in a bad way. This was just a meh read but it had so much potential I might try the follow-up.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Familiar Vol 4 Hades, by Mark Z Danielewski. Finished February 21st. Ahh, what is there to say about this series? We’re only on book 4 (of 26) and it might already be my all-time favorite. Danielewski can do no wrong, at least in my eyes. Which might be because we share a love of both cats and intense spookiness.

There’s nothing I can say about the plot without spoiling things. These books are both incredibly complex but also very accessible for postmodern literature. We have 9 characters, each with only slightly overlapping stories (there are 3 who are part of a family, but the others are distant–both in theme and location, we go all over the world). Each character has a different color, font, and stylistic layout. Weird things happen. It’s spooky. It’s strange. It’s wonderful. Do you like cats? Maybe read this and be both excited and confused.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller. Finished February 28th. This month/year I am trying to read more from authors I recently found and loved. The majority of the books I read in 2016 were actually from new-to-me authors, but a lot that I’ve found in the past few years have put out new books. And I should read them! So that was a mini-goal for me in February, and I read both The Good People and this book, which is written by the same woman who did Our Endless Numbered Days. Which I ADORED.

Swimming Lessons is very, very different from Numbered Days. In fact, I wouldn’t have guessed they had the same author if I didn’t know that coming in. It’s about a family where the mother went missing over a decade ago. Our main perspective is Flora, the teenage daughter who still wants to believe that her mom is out there, though every other chapter is actually a letter the mother wrote before she went missing. These letters, tragically, are not read by her family because she hides them in books and no one ever thinks to look. By the end, you aren’t sure if she even wanted them to be found.

There are some thematic overlaps with The Book of Speculation (another book I love): a crumbling family dynamic, a house by the sea, a potentially tragic mother figure who loves to swim. But Swimming Lessons definitely takes a more mystery-driven route and focuses on “what happened.” However, I wouldn’t really recommend this if you’re just looking for a good mystery, because while it’s the driving force of the plot it also kind of takes a back seat to family interactions.

I have mixed feelings about this one. The atmosphere is great, and I adored the letter sections. But I found Flora insufferable. There’s a lot of good here, but I though Flora’s sections were kind of dull and honestly I wasn’t super intrigued by the mystery. The writing was lovely and it’s definitely a compelling book, but I came away thinking it was just okay when I really wanted to love it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 28/200

Goal Books: 25

Impulse Reads: 3

Favorite Books of 2016: Series

10 Jan

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

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June 2016 Wrapup | Part I

19 Jun

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

142/175 Books

18/35 Series Books

47/50 TBR Books

18/15 Different Countries

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

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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