Tag Archives: nonfiction

July 2017 Reading Wrapup: Part II

5 Aug

I just realized how inconsistently I have been titling my wrapups. Hmm, at least I’m not late this month? In fact, I am totally on time! Because the Man Booker longlist just came out and I will be devoting a few weeks to reading all of those back-to-back, and they’ll be getting their own post (I read 2 in July). I already have 11 books in this wrapup though so it’s definitely long enough!

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I’ll Eat When I’m Dead, by Barbara Bourland. Finished July 17th. This book was such a pleasant surprise. I was definitely expecting a light, fluffy read based on the premise (a peek into the life of rich, fashionable women working at a magazine and also maybe there’s murder). Instead it’s a pretty toothy satire of modern life, sexism, social media, and consumerism.

In many ways, it reminds me of We Could Be Beautiful. Both of them follow a rather vapid protagonist but uses them as a lens for cultural criticism while also being over-the-top hilarious. I’ll Eat When I’m Dead is slightly more serious though, especially after a big event halfway through that totally changes the plot and tone. It gets quite dark, and deals realistically with eating disorders and drug addiction. There’s still a fluffy, frivolous layer of fashion and glamour overlaying the whole thing, but it’s not enough to mask this novel’s dark heart.

If you like books that focus a lot on clothing (for example, historical fiction that is like 15% dress descriptions) and satires of the rich & famous, you’ll probably like this. I really don’t think it is for everyone, though: it’s a very niche book but it accomplishes exactly what it set out to. If you want a fluffy contemporary and/or a murder mystery definitely stay away: while it is marketed as being both of those things, it’s neither.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips. Finished July 18th. Fierce Kingdom is a hard book to review, because it relies so hard on the unknown. It is not a spoiler to say that it is about a woman and her son at the zoo who hear gunshots, and end up running (and hiding) for their lives.

This is a thriller in the truest sense: there is no mystery, no stretched-out narrative (it takes place over only 3 hours). It’s just a woman and child trying to survive in very tough and complex circumstances. There is an edge of terror to the whole thing: it really skirts the border between the two genres: horror and thriller (though personally I think a LOT of thrillers & horror overlap).

While this is a very fast read and really gripped me, I didn’t find it very memorable after. There are thrillers that get under your bones, and ones that are just a fast fun read that satisfy that “I want a fun read” itch. Fierce Kingdom was the latter, for me. The setting was great, the characters were decent, the plot was cool, the writing was crisp. I enjoyed this but didn’t love it, and I’m not quite sure why.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Roanoke Girls, by Amy Engel. Finished July 19th. I have a lot of feelings about this book, and none of them are positive. I was expecting a “dark” thriller in that whole “YA masquerading as adult fiction” genre we’ve been getting recently. What can I say: it’s summer, it’s brutally hot, way too hot to actually think complex thoughts while reading. I thought this would be light and breezy. It’s… well, it is those things, very simply written with short, binge-able chapters, but the content made me want to smash my head into a wall.

Let me start off by saying that I have no issue with dark content. I tend to gravitate towards books that deal with heavier topics, so I knew going into this that incest is a theme (that is not really a spoiler, it’s revealed on like page 20), and for some reason I thought it would be handled well. Oh no, my friends, this novel is a slap in the face to real victims of incest.

This is the story of a man who rapes his sisters, his daughters (that he had with his sisters), and then his granddaughters (who are also still kind of technically his daughters). Not ONCE in the ENTIRE BOOK where we learn about the THREE GENERATIONS OF WOMEN he has abused is the word rape used. Nor even is it called abuse. This book ROMANTICIZES INCEST. I’m not shitting you. In every scenario aside for one (out of 6+ girls) it’s shown as voluntary. Like, the fall in love (with their brother/father/grandfather) and sleep with him of their own free will. Sure, the phrase grooming is thrown around, but it’s more “he sets them up to to fall in love with him” rather than “he grooms them for sexual abuse at a young age.” Also, despite what this author thinks, children in this scenario in real life do not think it is “normal.” A child being abused will generally know it is wrong, even if their contact with the outside world is limited. No 14-year-old wants to be raped by her elderly grandfather. I just… I was SO ANGRY with this book.

Oh, and there’s the fact that the plot (aside from, you know, the generational abuse) is ripped straight from Sharp Objects, even including a troubled girl who needs to carve words on things to let out her emotions. Though remember this is pretend-adult-fiction, so she carves them into the wood not her flesh. So, you know, if you really want to read a YA version of Sharp Objects that has no conception of how human relationships work (let me tell you, people do not spend their whole lives agonizing over 6-month-long teenage love affairs, sight) that makes a gross mockery of real-life abuse, boy oh boy is this the book for you.

LipstickRating1Half

 

 

 

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All That’s Left To Tell, by Daniel Lowe. Finished July 19th. What a wonderful surprise this novel was. I had little expectations going into it: in fact, I barely knew what the plot was about (aside from “man in Middle East has a weird relationship with kidnapper”). I honestly don’t even remember why this was on my TBR. Probably saw it recommended somewhere, but I have no memory of this at all.

I think that this being marketed as a thriller is going to hurt it. I say that a lot recently, but I think it’s really true. So many novels with any layer of mystery are shoved in the “thriller” genre when they really don’t belong. Sure, there is suspense here, there’s mystery and intrigue, but it’s a slow burn and 100% character driven. In fact, there is little in the way of plot at all. A man, Marc, is kidnapped in Pakistan and spends all of the book talking to Josephine, one of his captors. But Josephine is not interrogating him, she simply wants to know about Marc’s relationship with his recently deceased teenage daughter, Claire.

Marc tells Josephine stories about Claire’s childhood, and Josephine weaves for him a story of future-Claire that will never be. In this story, 35-year-oldClaire is on a road trip to visit Marc on his deathbead, and picks up a traveler named Genevieve. At some point along the way, Genevieve starts telling Claire stories… about Marc. Sounds a little confusing? It’s meant to. There are so many layers to the tales that Josephine and Marc (and Genevieve) start weaving that they being to overlap for the reader in unexpected ways. At times, it’s hard to know who is really telling the story and who is simply listening to it.

There is a layer of the surreal here, of course, because why would Josephine even care about Marc’s child? Why was he kidnapped in the first place, if he is not rich enough to ransom and not famous enough to draw attention? Why did Marc not travel home for his daughter’s funeral? Half of the time I expected magical realism elements to come into play, but the story is mostly grounded in reality. It reminded me of In Pinelight: A Novel, another beautiful book about memory and the power of stories. But don’t come into this expecting a final chapter that gives you all the answers: the ending is very open-ended, and I think there are a lot of different ways to interpret this story (which really fits the themes).

This was a beautiful, powerful reading experience and definitely one of my favorites of the year so far.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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You Should Have Left, by Daniel Kehlmann. Finished July 19th. The best description of this book I can come up with is condensed House of Leaves. Imagine the core narrative of HoL in novella form: a family in a strange, dangerous house trying to escape.

I absolutely adored this slim little book. It’s so unsettling, so creepy, so downright “I need to check behind the shower curtains before I go to sleep” scary. A writer takes a vacation in a house that turns out to be… more than meets the eye. That’s all you need to know. I just loved every inch of this, and it had me nervous and anxious by the end (a mark of really good horror).

But this is also quite a literary piece of terror. The writing is deft and strong (even in translation) and the plot allows for multiple interpretations of the events. There are so many layers here, which is amazing because it is barely over 100 pages. I really want to re-read this, because I think it would be very rewarding.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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If We Were Villains, by M.L Rio. I am such a sucker for any book that’s marketed as being like The Secret History. Funnily enough, TSH isn’t one of my favorite books or anything, I just really love that “close, pretentious group of college-age friends with secrets and possibly murder” vibe. So when I saw If We Were Villains I knew we’d be getting along well. Incredibly pretentious college for Shakespearean actors and a group of kids who get maybe a little too into their roles? Sign me up.

IWWV (which, for some reason, I thought was called When We Were Villains the entire time I read it: imagine my disappointment) is very conscious of its Secret History roots. We have many of the same tropes here (including tangled sexual relations, a member of the group on the outskirts, a main character who feels like he doesn’t fit in and has way less money, etc) but goes right off the familiar rails about halfway through. It makes for an uneasy reading experience, because you feel like you know what is going to happen next but then the rug is pulled out and there’s a sudden sense of being in unfamiliar territory.

This was a solid 4-star read for me until the end, when I burst into tears upon reading the last chapter. I really didn’t think I was that invested until I got so emotionally overwhelmed I had to put the book down. And this is, I think, a strength Villains has that Secret History is missing: characters you actually care about. I’m not saying it’s a better book (I enjoyed it more, but I think History is better written by far), but M.L. Rio really made me care about all these lil acting assholes.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Crooked House, by Agatha Christie. Finished July 22nd. I have read 3 Agatha Christie books previously, and I loved my first two (And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express) but found the third (Murder on the Nile) just okay. And this one was another step down. I wonder if it’s that I read her two “best” books first, or if her allure only held for two books for me.

My issue here was the mystery: for me it was paper-thin, and I guessed the twist the second we were introduced to the character who ended up being the murderer. The writing was solid and it had an interesting cast, but as a mystery novel it fell really flat for me. I think I’ll give Christie one more try, because I really did love None/Murder.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne su Maurier. Finished July 22nd. True story: I read this book as a buddy read with my mom. I have a very reading-heavy family, but my parents fall into opposite sides of the reading spectrum (my dad enjoys scifi and fantasy, my mom literary fiction and mystery/thriller). I fall firmly into the middle (aka I read all the genres), so I often end up reading a book along with one of them. Sometimes, we all read the same book and it’s super fun (Raw Shark Texts and Into The Woods are a few we have enjoyed together).

Anyway, my mom told me she was reading this book (and we have a shared Kindle account) so I decided to hop right on that. After all, I really enjoyed Rebecca! And I think I might actually like Rachel more. There is just something so sinister going on here: the reader spends a LOT of time with Rachel, but it feels like we never really know her. It’s quite clever: you never feel like the narrative is lying to you, but it’s so easy to accept that a bunch of shit is going on behind the scenes that you will never know about.

Is Rachel innocent and trapped in terrible circumstances? Is she a black widow looking for her next victim? Is she something in between: a woman in stuck in a shitty life who knows how to manipulate men? Did she love anyone, ever? Is she vulnerable and sweet and constantly taken advantage of, or is it all an act? Is she manipulated by outside forces, or is she in charge of her own destiny?

I think many readers will be unsatisfied by this novel. Rachel is at the core, but we never truly see into her soul. She is an enigma to us, as she is to the narrator. I really, really loved this aspect: figuring her out was a real joy. If you like Gothic fiction with complex characters and uneasy, unclear endings I would definitely recommend this. But if you want your endings neat and wrapped in a bow, stay far away.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Break Down, by B.A. Paris. Finished July 25th. I really enjoyed B.A. Paris’ first novel, Behind Closed Doors, which was a tense piece of psychological horror. It was marketed as a thriller but had no true mystery elements, so I was really hoping The Breakdown would be similar. Because the blurb makes it seem like a Agatha Christie-style mystery, whereas I think Paris’ strength lies in suspense and horror. Sadly it’s more the former than the latter.

This was… okay. Nowhere near as good as Behind Closed Doors, but I also think it’s a lot more marketable since it’s more firmly in the domestic thriller genre. Cass is having memory issues that seem to be triggered by a traumatic event: on a stormy night, she drove by a woman in a broken down car and didn’t stop. Less than an hour later, that woman was murdered. Plagued by guilt and doubting everything she remembers, Cass spirals into darkness.

The mystery element is played pretty straight. I wanted a lot more from this than what I got: all the scenes of Cass forgetting things, acting crazy, having breakdowns, etc were fantastic and very tense (I also liked the interplay of the murder victim’s car break down and Cass’ mental break down–cleverly done). She is also getting mysterious phone calls that she thinks are from the killer, so there’s a hint of a horror element. But the story ends up wrapped in a bow, with a solid conclusion that ties up all the loose ends. That may seem like an odd complaint, but I prefer a bit of ambiguity when it comes to the mystery/thriller genre. And the reveal is written like it’s supposed to be a big twist/wow-moment when it’s honestly pretty predictable: there are only two options for what could be happening, after all (either Cass is crazy or she isn’t crazy).

I will definitely be reading Paris’ next book but I hope it is more like her debut and this is just a second-novel slump.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Tales from Shadowhunter Academy, by Cassandra Clare. Finished July 25th. Ah, more trash. I thought I was free of the Shadowhunter world but here I am again. While I have absolutely no desire to finish The Mortal Instruments, I like basically all the rest of the world.

This was so much fun, just a really enjoyable read. It features one of my favorite of Clare’s characters, but it also delves into SO much of the world. We get backstory for a lot of the Dark Artifices characters, a closer look at Magnus & Alec’s relationship, a lot about Faerie and the Cold Peace… just so much worldbuilding goes on here. I really think it should be labeled as part of the main series because a lot of this is really indispensable and I wish I’d read it before Lady Midnight.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Tokyo Vice, by Jake Adelstein. Finished July 27th. Tokyo Vice is the memoir/nonfiction account of the first American reporter to work on a major Tokyo newspaper. It’s is a really interesting look at how Japanese society works (something I am always fascinated by), but I think the writing does leave something to be desired.

While the case details are fascinating, Adelstein leaves a LOT to the imagination. The narrative will suddenly skip over 2-5 years with no warning, and we are often given cases without personal context. The writing is also clipped and abrupt, which I suppose makes sense for a newspaper reporter. Often huge periods of time are skipped over (Adelstein goes from single to married for years in a chapter: it’s a little confusing, and I wish we had more personal backstory).

Overall I did really enjoy this despite the writing flaws. It reads like fiction (so smooth & quick), but you learn a LOT while reading it. I also enjoyed Jake as a protagonist: most reviews mention what a terrible person he is, but I think that is totally missing the point. The book clearly lays out how Japan expects its reporters to behave in a terrible matter: it’s either lie and cheat and be a dick, or get fired. Adelstein HAD to act the way he did, and his contribution to journalism was incredibly important. I feel like simplifying this book to “author is kind of a jerk” misses the entire point. It’s not Adelstein who is awful: it’s the entire system.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 128/200

Goal Books: 121

Impulse Reads: 7

June 2017 Wrapup: Part I

17 Jul

June started off absolutely terribly for me. It took me almost 10 days to get through 3 slim books, way off my usual pace. I’m not exactly sure why–it wasn’t a reading slump, I was just slow as molasses. Thankfully it picked up in the last few days and I read some really fun & great books back-to-back. There’s even a mini theme (horror with mountains on the cover, what a strange niche genre) going on. So let’s get into it!

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The Perfect Stranger, by Megan Miranda*. Finished June 3rd. Unlike most people, I actually found this book to be more impressive than All the Missing Girls. ATMG relies on its flash-backwards narrative to hold interest: if told from past to present it’s a pretty dull mystery with unlikeable characters and nonsensical side plots. It’s certainly a page-turner, but the core story did not stand out among the sea of female-lead thrillers we’ve been getting this past few years. However, I think The Perfect Stranger is a far superior novel.

It actually has a lot of thematic overlap: the main character is bitter and aloof, trying to start over for herself. The other main female character is a mysterious figure from her past who disappears. There’s that small-town claustrophobia and lots of flashbacks. But TPS has much, much stronger characters. Leah, our lead, is indeed and unlikeable character but it’s handled much better. You never feel any fondness towards her but she’s very intriguing and fleshed out well. She was a reporter in Boston and lost her job under suspicious circumstances and is starting over in Pennsylvania as a teacher with her best friend Emmy. This is a thriller, not a character-driven novel, so don’t expect perfection about Leah’s jobs–past and present. Becoming a HS teacher is not really as easy as saying “yes I will do this” and getting a job 5 minutes latter but that’s the realm of thrillers for you.

Emmy, the friend from the past and current roommate, is really the star here. She’s so strange and intriguing–clearly a ‘bad girl’ but in a very interesting way. Her legal indiscretions often seem geared to help Leah rather than hurt her, and her motives (both when they first met 8 years ago and in present-day Penn) remain cloaked in mystery. “Who is Emmy?” is really the core narrative question. As for the mystery itself, a lot is going on. Leah is being stalked by a teacher at her work and a woman in the woods near her house (who looks suspiciously like Leah) is attacked. A few days later, Emmy goes missing. So we have 3 strands in the present, plus the slowly unraveling mystery of how Leah lost her job.

They tie together really perfectly, and while I guessed some of the twists the full end did come as a surprise. It’s not a ‘wow shock what a TWIST’ kind of book because all the details add up so smoothly you definitely could do the detective work on your own. But I tend to like that kind of mystery: where the pieces are right in front of you and the author does some clever sleight of hand to keep you from the answer rather than springing some big huge twist on the reader.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller this is definitely better than most of the books flooding the market. It’s far from perfect–a lot of the job-related details make no sense and Leah is incredibly frustrating as a main character at times–but it scratches that girl-lead-thriller itch really well.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Persons Unknown, by Susie Steiner*. Finished June 7th. For some reason, I was really in the mood for thrillers and mysteries this month. I think it’s in part because Man Booker International and the Bailey’s Prize are finally over and I was kind of literary fiction’d out. Last year I read the first book in this series, Persons Unknown, and really enjoyed it. While I was hoping the next book in the series would be from a different POV character this focuses on Manon again, which I ended up enjoying a lot more than I thought I would.

Manon is such an interesting lead for a detective novel. This book has many POV characters, but she is obviously the focus: not only is the series named after her, but she forms the heart and soul of both books. She is flawed, but not in the usual way you see in detective novels. She’s not the “tough with a heart of god, has daddy issues, drinks too much” trope. Manon truly tries her best in every situation and wants to make life better for all her friends and family, yet ends up failing (sometimes rather spectacularly) because her intentions never seen to quite meet up with what she thought things would be like.

This takes place quite a bit after the first book in the series. Manon has adopted Fly, who she was taking care of in the first book, moved them to a more rural location, and switched her job to to cold cases. Fly is a city kid at heart and Manon is a detective at heart, so these all end up being pretty bad moves. To top it off Manon is pregnant, and Fly none too happy about that decision. While her personal life is falling apart her family, including the sister she lives with, becomes involved in the newest murder case.

I think this is a stronger book in every way than the first one. Maybe it’s because we already know the characters, but I felt that the personal drama was a lot more hard-hitting. The case is also more intriguing, and while Missing, Presumed faltered a bit towards the end Persons Unknown picks up the pace rapidly and ends with a bang. This is definitely a series I will be continuing with: it’s the closest thing I’ve found to Tana French.

 

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, by Dorthe Nors. Finished June 8th. When I first heard about Mirror, Shoulder, Signal it sounded like something I would love. In fact, it was at the top of my “want to read” list for Man Booker International. I mean, it’s about a woman with driving anxiety i.e. me. That’s right, I don’t know how to drive. It’s actually because I have no reason to (where am I going to store a car in NYC?) but at this point I’ve built it up as this big scary thing I will one day have to do. So I expected this to be very relateble.

But… it’s not. The main character, Ingrid, is absolutely unbearable. She’s a hot mess, which is certainly something you can do and make your main character likeable, but everything about Ingrid is annoying. Her “car anxiety” isn’t actually about driving, it’s because she literally doesn’t have the spine to tell her instructor she doesn’t know how to switch gears. Most of the first half of the book is her internally whining about this but doing absolutely nothing to solve it. Riveting fiction, let me tell you.

Ingrid thinks her life is terrible. She has a nice apartment, she has her dream job (translating the works of a very prolific crime novelist), she has disposable cash. What a hard, terrible life. But Ingrid will tell you it’s ~literally the worst~ because her sister is married? Ingrid’s sister Kate, who she has fallen out of touch with, got married. This is enough to make Ingrid apoplectic with jealousy. A large chunk of the book is her writing letters to Kate and then promptly throwing them out. They aren’t even interesting letters. It’s like “Hey Kate, we’ve fallen out of touch but I think of you often. Remember [childhood occurrence]? Anyway, give me a call when you have a chance!” Then she throws out the letter and writes an identical one two chapters later. When she finally does call Kate, Ingrid spends their entire conversation ranting about her own life while simultaneously imagining that Kate is lying and trying to get rid of her (I mean, even if she is, can you blame her? I’m on team Kate here).

Ingrid’s other problem (other than being the worst) is that she has very few friends. However, this is totally on her because 1) she seems like a terrible person and who would want to be friends with her and 2) she throws away the opportunity to form new friendships multiple times in this slim little novel. Her massage therapist invites her on a hike with a few other people and Ingrid goes and then literally runs away from them. Now you might be thinking “she has anxiety!” No. Ingrid runs away to go eat cake and think about how lame and stupid her massage therapist is. What a classy, lovely dame. No idea why she’s friendless.

If you want to read a dry, dull book about a self-obsessed moron boy oh boy is this the book for you. I honestly don’t understand how it made the MBI longlist (let alone the shortlist) because the translation is just not great. It uses odd, stilted slang that feels very out of place with the tone and there are some obvious errors (like referring to a greeting card as a postcard–they’re not the same thing).

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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Compass, by Mathias Enard. Finished June 10th. This is a book I was not expecting to love so much. I have seen it described as difficult, erudite, surreal, and dense. I suppose it is all of those things, but I fell utterly in love.

This is not a casual reading experience. In some ways, calling it dense is an understatement. Compass is one night in the mind of a dying man who is reminiscing about his past. He is an Orientalist, as are all of his friends and colleagues. While there is a kind of over-arching plot focusing on Sarah, a girl he loves but never quite found the right moment to be with, most of his thoughts are reminiscing about Orientalism. There is a lot of discussion about Orient vs Occident, what makes something seem exotic, the line between the two both geographically and metaphorically. There are dozens and dozens of anecdotes about the history of Orientalism. If any of this sounds boring to you, turn back now. But if it’s a concept you are interested in, be prepared to learn more than you ever thought you would.

The amazing thing about Compass is that you can have no background knowledge of the subject matter and not feel lost. Enard guides us gently along the stories and anecdotes, and while I’m sure I missed well over 75% of the references I never felt confused or overwhelmed. I found the history described here fascinating, as it’s an area I never really knew much about. The history of Europe and the Middle East is a lot more complex (and entertaining) than I originally thought. Did you know the first mosque in Germany was built in a POW camp during WWI? Just one of the many forgotten parts of history Compass covers.

I found basically everything about this book magical. The whole new world of knowledge opening before me, the lyrical and smooth writing, the tangled history of our protagonist. I feel like you could read this a dozen times and come away with something new. I stretched this book out over as many days as possible because I really didn’t want it to end. Perhaps my second-favorite of the MBI longlist, and a keen example of why I love literary prizes: had this not been shortlisted, there is no way I would have read it. And what a mistake that would have been.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The White Road, by Sarah Lotz. Finished June 12th.

Who is the third who walks beside you?

I am a big fan of Sarah Lotz’ previous two books, The Three and Day Four. I know the latter is far from popular but I just really enjoy her weird, quirky, literary brand of horror. Everything in her books is just slightly off-kilter and surreal, the line between real-world horror and supernatural horror is excellent, and while her books tend to be large they are also very compelling. I was thrilled when we got the synopsis for The White Road because it sounds a lot like The Descent, one of my favorite horror movies. I was ready for strange cave horror and I… kind of got it?

The first 20% of this book is phenomenal. It’s two guys in a terrifying cave system looking for dead bodies. I’m very claustrophobic, so even normal caving is difficult for me to read about. Add in a possibly haunted set of narrow caves with dead bodies and rising waters and I’m sold. Because above all else, I love being scared. It’s why I read horror: that creeping terror that has you checking behind the shower curtain at 2am, the way you’ll rush into bed and get your feet off the floor as soon as possible just in case there are gremlins lurking there. And boy oh boy does the first section deliver on that. It’s so eerie and surreal, really pushing the “is this just crazy people or is something more sinister at work” vibe of hers that I love so much.

From there, it is kind of downhill. It pains me to say that because I did enjoy The White Road, but it did not live up to my expectations. As you can tell from the cover, this switches to mountain horror early on. It’s an interesting contrast, going from the bowls of the earth to the top of Everest. And there’s certainly a lot of potential in mountain horror. But it felt a little flat. The characters were trope-y, the horror was not as potent, the vibe was a lot less subtle. It plays with some cool ideas but most of them never feel explored to their full potential.

I think one of the main problems is that it’s too short for what it tries to do. There’s the first cave section, the “middle” mountain section which makes up most of the book, and then a sort of afterword that deals with PTSD and mental illness. The middle section was too long and stiffer than what we usually get from Lotz. The ending part was great, but too short–it felt very rushed. I wanted at least 50 more pages to explore that section of the main character’s life, and it was really weird that we’d skip over years after spending the majority of the book exploring just a few weeks in Simon’s life.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked this, and I think if I hadn’t read her other books I would like it more. The first section is really a master class in horror. But I am hoping she returns to the world of The Three in her next book, because it’s where she excels and I think there’s a lot of potential left there.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Black Mad Wheel, by Josh Malerman. Finished June 12th. Josh Malerman is an absolute master of sensory horror. In Bird Box the horror element is something the protagonists cannot see, and here it is a noise–which, obviously as readers, we cannot hear. I fully expect his next novel to involve some weird qualia like color or emotion. Bird Box was great, but I without a doubt prefer Black Mad Wheel. Sadly, I don’t think it will be anywhere near as popular, because it is just really strange and surreal.

The premise is… odd, and you do have to kind of accept that this is a book-world and not the real world. It’s the late 50′s and a band called The Danes gets a rather odd offer from the government. All 4 of the band members used to be soldiers, and the US wants to put them in service again and ship them off to Africa to investigate a strange sound. You can spend a lot of time thinking, “why this group of people? If they need musicians, why not find some in active service?” but just let that go and come along for the ride.

BMW is told in alternating past-present chapters. We get Philip in the hospital after some horrible accident in the desert broke almost all of his bones, and Philip before as he explores the sound with his band-mates and a few soldiers. The switching back and forth is done smoothly and becomes a set rhythm early on, but halfway through Malerman toys with the reader and starts giving us, say, 2 chapters set in Africa back to back. It’s disorienting in a way I’ve never experienced a text to be disorienting. Which, given the focus on the sound being some kind of new horrible thing, is quite deliciously smart. A lot of the book is like this: the horror elements are strong, but nothing you can quite pin down and say “it’s scary because of x and y.” In a way, this book reminds me of House of Leaves. There’s just something horribly wrong with every aspect of the story but I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly what it is.

I docked half a star because there’s a romance element I think ended up being unnecessary, but I adored everything else here. It’s a riveting, can’t-sleep-until-I-finish-this type of book. It is surreal and upsetting. It’s evocative and dreamy in a nightmarish sort of way. It’s basically everything I want from a horror novel, and Malerman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors in the genre.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Ararat, by Christopher Golden. Finished June 14th.

“I felt it in me, like poison in my veins, and I know God couldn’t stop it. Do you see? God isn’t here anymore. He can’t help us.”

This book is the equivalent of an action movie: all flash, no substance. This is not exactly a criticism because there is certainly a place in literature for fun, dramatic romps. Not every book needs to be deep and meaningful. Sometimes you really just want something that will clean out your brain, and Ararat definitely delivers on that.

The concept is actually super interesting: due to an avalanche, Noah’s ark is discovered hidden inside of Mount Ararat. Only instead of finding Noah inside, they find the mummified corpse of what appears to be a demon. Things understandably go downhill from there. This reminds me of writers like Crichton, where a really interesting idea that could be used to explore some deep concepts turns into a fast-paced thriller. So don’t go into this expecting some intense discussions of religion and evil, cause you won’t find that here.

What you will find is some over-the-top violent horror. I mean, people get their jaws ripped off. It’s great for gore-fiends like me, but not for the faint of heart. There’s also a lot of personal relationship and familial drama injected, which usually I would find annoying but it does work here. There’s a lot of “are these people just doing horrible things because they’re human, or is it the demon” layer of mystery. I mean, it’s a thin layer, but it’s there. It’s one of those things I wish was explored more (my major complaint throughout the book) but I have to remind myself that’s not what Ararat is trying to accomplish.

This was a solid 3-star read for me until the end, which was quite unexpected and great. Definitely worth half a star, and really a different twist from what you expect from action-movie-in-a-book. And, of course, this would make a fantastic movie: it’s very cinematic, and I think they trope-y characters would work a lot better on the full screen. I also have to give a big shoutout to Golden for including an incredibly diverse cast in a genre that tends to go for all-white-male testosterone fest.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Hunger, by Roxane Gay. Finished June 14th. This was a rough book for me to read, probably because it hit quite close to home. Like Roxane, I developed an eating disorder as a teenager in a response to trauma (though mine went in the opposite direction). Like Roxane, I inexplicably have no memory of vast swaths of my childhood. Like Roxane, I recoil from physical touch with strangers and spend a lot of time making myself as small as possible in public situations. Like Roxane, I have items of clothing I adore but am scared to wear out of the house. We are opposites physically (I am quite short and small) but I felt an almost immediate and intense connection to her in the opening chapters. So for me, parts of this book were a knife to the heart because they rang brutally, honestly true.

The strength of Hunger is in how blatantly honest Roxane is about her life and body. She does not shy away from the rough details, the pain of her day to day life, the struggle to love any part of herself. It is almost never an easy thing to read about. In the last chapter she states that this is the hardest thing she’s ever done, and it reads like it. At 12 she was gang raped and the chapters detailing that are searing and vivid. Huge TW if that’s an issue for you, obviously, because it forms the core of this memoir. There is, thankfully, not enough detail for it to feel voyeuristic or intentionally upsetting, but even the blurry moments we get are almost too much.

Up until about halfway through this was an easy 5-star for me. The writing is as beautiful and crisp as what you’d expect from Gay. Her writing is so personal and involving, but you know she’s holding just a bit of herself back–enough to keep the reader at the distance she likes to keep strangers. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not but it’s quite clever. I find memoirs written in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way kind of boring. I want the writing, the mood, to fit the story being told, and Hunger does that with finesse. But by the halfway mark I was actually asking myself, “didn’t I read this already?”

Hunger is broken up into almost 90 mini-chapters, flitting from thought to thought. The central narrative moves forward in time from childhood to now, but many of the chapters deal with her personal struggles with her body. But many (and I mean MANY) of them are simply saying the same thing over and over and over. With the same words, even. Repetition of overarching thematic phrases can be done well, but here it is excessive. I think it’s because snippets of this are from other things (her tumblr, various online publications) and towards the end it really does feel slapped together. I think this needed some serious editing, because it starts feeling like a slog when you’re reading the exact same phrase about the exact same topic over and over and over. It would have been much, much better to condense the similar-sounding chapters together into something a bit longer and more cohesive. I think with a good edit this would easily be 5 stars, but I can’t overlook something that large and distracting.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Down Among The Sicks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire. Finished June 15th.

Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

Other adventures must be committed to before they have even properly begun. How else will they know the worthy from the unworthy, if they do not require a certain amount of effort on the part of the ones who would undertake them? Some adventures are cruel, because it is the only way they know how to be kind.

Every Heart a Doorway was one of my favorite reads from last year. I was thrilled to learn that it was actually a series of novellas, with Every Heart a sort of core narrative that we would be spinning off from. We are getting the stories of several occupants of the boarding house, following their portal fantasy adventures to some very strange worlds. This is the story of Jack and Jill, central characters to Every Heart, and their trip to a world of vampires and mad scientists.

Like the first book in the series, this is a fairy tale with a dark heart. There is, of course, an element of whimsy to twin girls finding a door to another world. But the world they find is the Moors, where they are forced to choose between living with a vampire or living with, essentially, Dr. Frankenstein. Oh, and there are werewolves and ghouls and hints of Lovecraftian cults as well, elements I wish were explored a bit more in the narrative.

And, like Every Heart, we explore the ideas of gender and sexuality in a way that never seems heavy-handed or preachy. Jack and Jill have been forced by their parents into separate and very different roles: Jacqueline is the pretty girlie one, and Jillian is the tomboy. Neither has a say in this, and it’s not what they want. So when they go to a world where they can re-imagine themselves, where Jack can be the apprentice of a mad scientist and Jill can be the haunted daughter of a vampire? They jump at the opportunity like the children they are. There are an unlimited number of ways to “be a girl” and Sticks and Bones really plays with this idea to its full potential.

I feel like the first 2/3rds of this were much stronger than the ending section, which is something I felt about the first book as well. There’s a slow, creeping pace to it, and then we are thrown several years into the future. I think this series would just generally work better as full-length novels, or at least with another 50 pages to work with. That’s pretty much my only complaint, though.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 99/200

Goal Books: 93

Impulse Reads: 6

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

May 2017 Wrapup: Part I

16 May

My TBR list is getting frighteningly, unmanageably out of control. One of my goals this year was to read 75 books off of it, which is a noble endeavor that I’ve kind of been avoiding. So I’ve decided that May is “read your TBR month” meaning that all of my night-time (aka primary) reads can only be books from that list. Which is 445+ titles, so a lot to pick from! It’s gone well so far with 7 TBR books down, and I am currently in the middle of 2 others. Ideally I’d love to read 15 by the end of the month, but we’ll see how that goes…

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Daredevils, by Shawn Vestal. Finished May 1st. Everything about this book sounded so appealing to me. It’s about a Mormon girl who is forced to be a Sister Wife (aka second/third/etc wife of a polygamist) at the tender age of 15. She is wild at heart and does not at all believe in the community, so from the moment she finds out about her “engagement” she plots to escape–along with the help of her husband’s nephew, who falls head over heels for her.

This may seem like a damsel in distress story but Loretta is anything but a damsel. Even amidst horrifying circumstances she is brave and canny. And, thankfully, also not a “heart of gold with a rough exterior” archetype. Part of the magic of this novel is slowly realizing that Loretta is very much in charge of everything that happens, and works very hard to shape the reactions (and actions) of everyone around her. She’s a fascinating character, and I do wish we’d been given a bit more of her perspective.

Intertwined with Loretta’s story is the lore of Evel Knievel. Thus the title, Daredevils. We get in-between fragment-chapters of Knievel addressing America about his long history of daredevil tricks, and these themes mirror the actual narrative. He’s also an important, shadowy presence in the book in many clever and strange ways. It sounds like a bizarre combination of things (escape from a cult, coming of age, crazy road trips, Evel Knievel…) but some weird alchemy holds it all together very well.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Night Mark, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished May 3rd. I hate to say that a Tiffany Reisz book was not for me, but I think I am just not the target audience here. I love Reisz for the snark and bite of her work: sure, we get happy stories from her, but there is always darkness teeming under the surface. And while I suppose The Night Mark has a few dark moments, it is primarily a romance. Which I don’t like.

I mean, we do get time travel, which I thought was enough of a hook to get me to bite. But this is not The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s not a tragedy, it’s not a deconstruction of time travel tropes. It’s a pretty straightforward ‘woman’s husband dies, woman gets with new terrible husband, woman gets divorced, woman somehow travels back to 1921 and finds a man who is exactly like husband #1 in looks and personality’ story. There is death, there are elements of sadness, but the focus is on the love between Faye (our heroine) and Will/Carrick (first husband/dude in past).

As usual with Reisz, I think the characters were the strongest point of this. The side characters are great, and Faye is a decently snarky narrator (though she pales in comparison to queen Nora). I’m sure romance lovers will enjoy this because the writing is much better than what you usually find in the genre and there’s a decently engaging plot with twists and turns. I just wanted something more like her Original Sinners series or her stand-alone The Bourbon Thief, which does the “dark romance” thing way better.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Oola, by Brittany Newell. Finished May 4th. A dark, quirky, moody story of obsession gone wrong. 20-somethings Leif and Oola meet at a party and he is almost instantly smitten with her. Well, I suppose smitten is not the right word exactly, because there is nothing positive about Leif’s attention. It is clear that Oola isn’t exactly looking for a relationship, but the two end up together anyway under strange circumstances. Leif is part of an extensive and very wealthy family, and his “job” is to house-sit for various relatives while they are on vacation. Which is a lot. Basically, Leif offers Oola free room and board and an adventurous romp across Europe & the US. She says yes because come on now, who wouldn’t?

It is clear from the beginning that neither of our protagonists is quite right in the head, but it’s truly shocking how bizarre things get. Oola at first appears listless and eccentric, but it’s soon clear that she is perhaps as crazy as Leif. And Leif… whoof. One of the most unique narrators I have ever encountered. There are shades of Joe from You, but Leif is delivered with more insidious finesse. His madness creeps up on the reader as slowly as it creeps up on Oola. By the time they are in Big Sur and Leif has constructed a literal museum to Oola in the attic by stealing everything she touches, part of you doesn’t even realize how crazy it is until you put the book down.

This is a purely character-driven book, so if you’re looking for plot it’s probably not for you. I mean, things happen, but the actual events are few and far between. For the most part we are just hanging out with Leif and Oola as they drift aimlessly through life. There’s a sense of ennui and hopelessness to both the writing and the plot. While Leif’s commentary is biting and sarcastic, it’s also sad and rather pathetic. Just like him.

I was going to rate this a solid 4 until I got to the last chapter. In it, Leif addresses the reader directly. He’d done it a few times before but only in bits and pieces: his end monologue sent shivers down my spine and I know it’s going to stay with me for a long, long time

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Moto and Me, by Suzi Eszterhas*. Finished May 4th. As a kid, I was pretty obsessed with Joy Adamson. I read all of her books over and over for probably a year straight. My mom kept Queen of Shaba: The Story of an African Leopard from me until I had run through the lion & cheetah ones a thousand times, so for a while I got to live in a blissful world where an amazing human wasn’t killed by poachers because she loved animals. SIGH. So obviously I am a sucker for abandoned wildlife stories.

I also got to kind of live out that fantasy when, at 16 years old, my mom and I ended up with three 10-day old kittens. Because their cat-mom tried to eat them (and successfully ate two of their siblings, rip those adorable kittens). They were kind of shoved on us by a negligent owner, and the animal rescue place told us that they’d take them, but there was no way 3 kittens that young would survive. I was inconsolable until my mom agreed to raise them with me. And suck it, animal rescue, because all 3 of them are 11 years old now and alive and well (and obnoxious, but we love them. handraised kittens are huge brats!)

So Moto and Me ticks off a lot of boxes for me. Adorable teeny abandoned kitten raised by a woman living on a wildlife reserve? Endless pictures of said adorable Serval kitten along with lots of educational information? Yes please. This book is definitely aimed at a young audience (I think it would be perfect to read with a kid), so don’t expect a huge depth to the story. The focus is definitely on the nitty gritty of taking care of Moto, which includes cool details like teaching him to fish by putting a catfish in a bowl of water. Side note: if you are squeamish, there are shots of Moto hunting and playing with his prey.

The photography is really the star here. While the story is simply told, the photographs are rich and beautiful. We get to see Moto grow from a tiny, helpless kitten to a beautiful wild animal. Because Suzi Eszterhas is just fostering Moto and setting him up for a life in the wild, there is a bittersweet element at play. If you want a book that will make you feel warm and fuzzy in these troubled times and also tug on your heartstrings a lot, check this one out.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Taming the Beast, by Emily McGuire. Finished May 6th. If you want a book that will make you feel non-stop nauseous then boy oh boy do I have something for you. Taming the Beast is a hard thing to describe: we get obvious comparisons to Lolita, Lamb, etc because it is about an “affair” a 14-year-old girl has with her teacher, but that’s really only a small section of the novel. It’s divided into 4 parts, and only in the first do we see poor young Sarah “seduced” by her 40+ year old teacher Daniel.

The rest follows Sarah’s life in the aftermath of this. Her teacher leaves school after only a few months, and her life is just a downward slide from there. Drugs, alcohol, constantly sleeping with anyone she comes into contact with, literally living in squalor. Sarah is such a sad but nuanced character: you want to hug her and shake some sense into her at the same time. The narrative around her is actually quite clever, because it’s clear that the story is framing Daniel as the bad guy (why some people seem to think this is an erotic romance is truly beyond me) but Sarah is obsessed with him. Even as an adult, she thinks they were in love and that there is no other man for her. In fact, her whole life becomes chasing the feeling of their time together. She thinks she’s just looking for love, but she’s looking for someone to hurt her… which doesn’t happen until Daniel comes back 8 years later.

This is a really, really rough read. Big flashing TW for rape & physical abuse. It is a tragedy in 4 acts, and you know from the first chapter that we will not get a happy ending. It’s just a study of the depth of depravity that humans can get up to. And because the reader becomes so fond of poor, precocious Sarah, it’s particularly distressing. It’s hard to watch a character throw away everything good in their life. And in that way, this actually reminded me a smidge of A Little Life. So, you know, if you like books that hurt you deep in your soul perhaps you’d enjoy this!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich. Finished May 8th. Idaho is a hard book to describe. The premise is classic thriller/mystery: on a hot summer day, a child is murdered with an axe. There is indeed a strong mystery element here: not a whodunnit (because this is revealed in the first chapter), but a whydunnit. Because the motive is kept from the reader for the majority of the book. Actually… I would say the motive is kept from the reader from the whole book. Don’t come into this expecting a resolution, because there isn’t one. We are given bits and pieces of the crime, but there is no “so this is what happened” scene that wraps everything in a nice bow. I must admit that I found this a bit frustrating, but I also understand that Idaho is not supposed to be about the answers.

Instead, it is more of a character study. It’s an exploration of the power of memory and how one event can ripple through time. The plot jumps through time and from character to character: we have multiple narrators (most of them female), and flick from 1973 to 2025. The themes (identity, memory, perception) are ones that I adore in fiction, and Emily Ruskovich does an excellent job with them. We have, of course, the memory of the crime resonating through the story, but there is a character with dementia so we explore what it means to forget something horrible. Are you better off living with a memory forever? Could forgetting be somehow worse than never letting it go? And how does your perception of your own memories affect your life? It’s totally up my alley.

And the writing is gorgeous. There are some stunning descriptions of the landscape, but even the quieter moments were beautifully rendered. I really do think this had the making of a 5-star read for me, but the focus on the mystery was distracting. I really wish we had just had Jenny say “I don’t know why I did it” near the beginning because it’s really hard as a reader to not want a resolution when presented with a mystery. And it really does seem like all the threads are coming together, the tension rises with each chapter, but then… there’s nothing. It just ends. If the focus had been on “dealing with a senseless crime” rather than “exploring why/how the crime happened” I would have adored this. As it is, I have a really serious love-hate relationship with it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Impossible Fairy Tale, by Han Yujoo. Finished May 12th. This book has all the ingredients of something I should love. Strange Asian magical realism about dark, disturbing children? Twisted fairy-tale elements? Surreal and unsettling writing? A surprise meta-narrative? Yes to all of these things. And while I think The Impossible Fairy Tale does a lot right, I found it falling surprisingly flat for me by the end.

My absolute favorite element here was the writing itself. It’s strange and disturbing and unlike anything I’ve read before. The narrative will circle around itself, starting with an idea or concept and discussing it in a strangely repetitive fashion before veering in a totally different direction. There are large chunks that literally feel like you are in a dark fairy tale: it’s confusing and gets under your skin, but also feels strangely glimmering and magical. I was totally enchanted by it, and I’ll read anything Yujoo writes in the future for sure.

And the first half of the story is actually fairly strong. It’s definitely got that fairy tale style where the reader is kept at arm’s length from the characters so there is an emotional distance, but the mirroring of Mia (the Good Child) and The Child (the “Bad” Child) was deftly done and very interesting. In fact, there are a lot of aspects of the story (from characters to plots to colors) that are mirrored so cleverly. It makes you feel off-balance because it’s repetitive but also… not quite the same. Like fun house mirror versions of things you read about.

My issue is the same as almost everyone else’s: the big shift right in the middle. I actually loved the idea (someone writing a story suddenly confronted with a character they thought they had made up) but it went nowhere. The plot was moving along steadily, there’s a big event, the characters come to life (or were possibly alive all along?) and then bam, dead in the water. It meanders around for another 40% of what feels like filler. I think there was SO much potential when The Child confronts The Author, but we got nothing out of it. It was a waste of paper, really, and I found myself insanely frustrated with this section. What was the point? I have no idea.

3 stars is usually a pretty “it was okay, I’m neutral on it” rating, but this book I both loved and hated. It was magical but frustrating, and didn’t live up to either the hype or the amazing premise. I’m happy I read it because the writing is truly fantastic, but I’m also really sad about the (lack of) direction it went in to.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Woman No. 17, by Edan Lepucki. Finished May 14th. Toxic friendships/relationships seems to be the theme of the month for me. Oola, Taming the Beast, Daredevils, and now Woman No. 17. This book is like a mashup of Eileen and The Goddesses: two very strange women form a weirdly intense and entwining friendship that threatens to tear them both down.

On one side we have Lady, a woman in her 40′s who has just separated from her husband. She has a young child she needs a nanny for, and also an 18-year-old son from a previous relationship who is totally mute (but otherwise normal). Well, Lady doesn’t really need a nanny: she doesn’t work, she’s not a “lady who lunches.” She just honestly does not want to spend all day caring for her young child. It’s not that she doesn’t love him, it’s just that she finds all-day child-care exhausting. Enter S, a girl fresh out of college who enters Lady’s life as a live-in nanny.

S is a bit more secretive about her past, but she has a lot in common with Lady. They both have pretty severe mother issues, which is the dominant theme of this book: motherhood and womanhood. What makes you a good parent, is it possible to raise a child without messing them up in some way, are we doomed to repeat our parents’ mistakes, etc. Mixed into this are a lot of questions about identity.

Art is also an important theme in Woman No. 17. S is an artist, and Lady’s sister-in-law is a very famous photographer. The idea of “living life like it’s an art piece” is explored in-depth, though in a quite twisted fashion. This book really dives into the psyche of some messed-up people, so if unlikeable protagonists are not your thing steer clear of this one. Both Lady and S are just… they are hot messes. You feel bad for them but at the same time can’t help being a bit horrified and repulsed. We’re just witnesses to them shoving their lives down the drain as they make increasingly bad and stupid decisions.

While there are perhaps some mystery/thriller elements, and I know the phrase ‘noir’ has been tossed about quite a bit, this is a character study more than anything else. We get some reveals but they are of personal histories, not deep and hidden mysteries. There’s tension, but it is not of the classic thriller variety. It’s a book of decadence and self-destruction. I really enjoyed it despite how constantly uneasy it made me feel, and it’s a strong second showing from Lepucki.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition, by J. K. Rowling. Finished May 14th. As I’ve mentioned previously, I got the illustrated editions of the first two Harry Potter books for Christmas last year. It had been ages since I read them, so it was nice going back into these early stories with fresh eyes.

Like with Sorcerer’s Stone, there are so many events here that echo throughout the series. I’d never noticed most of them (for example, we find out how the Vanishing Cabinet was broken!), and while I used to rank this as one of my least-favorite Potter books I appreciated it a whole lot more this time. Plus the illustrations are just… so amazing. If you’re a fan, it’s worth it to grab copies of these. They are truly special.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 80/200

Goal Books: 74

Impulse Reads: 6

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

November Reading Wrapup: Part II

13 Dec

As I mentioned previously, November was a pretty meh reading month for me. Sure, I got a decent amount of books finished off, but a lot of them were just so-so (or outright negative reading experiences). In fact, I only loved a handful of books this month… and almost all of them were in the first half of November. Towards the end of the month things did pick up but man, I really think this is the worst reading month I had all year!

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The Merciless, by Danielle Vega. Finished November 15th. This book is all fluff and no substance, and reads more like a movie script than a novel. I actually do think it will make a great movie, like a slasher version of Mean Girls. I mean, that’s basically what this is. Girl moves into new town, is taken in by the hot popular girls, participates in the ostracization of the weird loner, falls in love with handsome boy. Only this time the mean girls are a psychotic Christian cult and the loner girl may or may not be skinning cats behind the bleachers.

It’s definitely an odd book. It’s hard to place who it was written for: given the high gore level (tame compared to some of the stuff I read, but very high for YA) I assumed it was more adult-minded… like My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which is a book about teens and exorcism and weird violence but has themes that resonate with many readers and writing that’s clearly aimed at an older audience. But so much about this book is juvenile: there’s little to no characterization, the writing is painfully repetitive and simple, the dialogue is stiff, the relationships seem forced. Signs that you’re reading a YA novel, right? But the content is definitely NOT for young teens.

You really have to suspend belief for this book to be halfway effective. Can you imagine, in this day and age, the popular girl group at a public school being crazy devout Christians and baptizing people in bathrooms? No. Somehow I can accept exorcisms and people possibly being possessed by the devil but the idea that a group of teens would be like, “yes, this exorcism sounds like a GREAT IDEA” while also being super hot and popular and appearing totally sane? Nah.

I think the core ideas are good. It’s a very cinematic book, and had potential. But there were a ton of issues! Sofia, our main girl, knows the main girls all of like 4 days before the main events happen. The opening section should have taken place over weeks or months so we feel like she trusts them and they trust her. And why was there a random relationship crammed in there that had nothing to do with the plot? Because teen girls love a good romance? I was a teen girl and let me tell you, if it’s a book about blood and guts I didn’t want to read about making out in between the gore.

The ending definitely redeems it a bit, and while I was not invested at all I’m almost tempted to read the sequel. It’s honestly pretty badly written but was still enjoyable, in that “page-turner thriller every chapter ends on a cliffhanger” bubblegum sort of way. It’s also incredibly short (just over an hour’s read for me) so it’s not a huge time investment. I think readers who like YA would appreciate this more.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb. Finished November 21st. I initially meant to start this trilogy in December. For the first time, I’m reading a Hobb series while it’s in publication, and we aren’t getting the last book until March. So basically, I wanted to end the year on it so it wouldn’t feel like such a long wait. But this was just chilling on my Kindle and I felt inexplicably drawn to it. I’m a heavy mood reader, so off I went back to the Six Duchies! Side note: why is Fitz white on every single cover? Because in the book world, he’s clearly… not. But that’s a topic for another post.

This is the third trilogy featuring Fitz, and the fifth overall in the Elderlings series. I read all of them this year and I became a passionate fan very quickly. There’s just something about Hobb’s writing, world, and characters… even in slow moments (which, to be honest, is 85% of this book at least) it’s so compelling and comfortable feeling. It’s like being with family! The same kind of warm fuzzies I get from Harry Potter & Dresden Files. Which is basically the highest compliment.

But this was not my favorite of her books. Sure, it was a great read, but it was like that slow middle section of the last Farseer book… for 600 pages. Very slow-paced, little happens, and it seems to be mostly a setup book. There are moments of strong tragedy that are like a shock to the system after all that calm slice-of-life stuff, and I think the dark tone of the ending is really setting the stage for the next two books.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Aickman’s Heirs, edited by Simon Strantzas. Finished November 23rd. Aickman is one of the godfathers of modern horror, and while you often see story collections influenced by Poe, Ligotti, and Lovecraft (or even modern authors like Laird Barron!), it’s rare to read straight Aickman-inspired fiction, which is what drew me to this collection.

The mood of this collection is so dreary and unsettling, as you’d expect. The stories are inspired more in terms of tone and pacing than style and setting, which I enjoy: I don’t want to read Aickman fanfiction, but stories that feel like they belong in his world. Which these definitely do! But that’s also kind of a downside and what kept this from a higher rating even though the stories were all high quality. Aickman stories tend to never really explain their horror… or really give any sort of definitive conclusion. And all of these stories follow that path. Lots of buildup, lots of spooks, little emotional payoff. It’s not exactly a frustrating experience but it is like literary blue balls. I mean, it’s totally perfect for what it is, but you need to really be in the mood for some unexplainable fiction.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Witch’s Market, by Mingmei Yip. Finished November 25th. This is a strange little book that’s hard to describe. It’s about a woman doing anthropology fieldwork about witches on the Canary Islands, and she has a history of witchcraft in her own family. Sounds fascinating, right? And all of those elements, the Chinese folklore and witch myths, are great. SO many tidbits and pieces of history.

But the writing style just doesn’t match up with the content, which is a problem I’ve rarely encountered. It’s written like chick-lit or a fluffy romance. Very simplistic, with a focus on mundane details and (of course) the looks of everyone around our heroine. It’s not bad writing, it’s just really solidly mediocre. The premise is literary fiction, the writing is not. It’s so strange!

I think most people wouldn’t really enjoy this book. If you want chick-lit, the premise is way too esoteric (and the book actually turns into a murder mystery with ghosts, no joke). If you want literary fiction, it’s unbearably fluffy. But I have a degree in anthropology and a lifelong obsession with mythology, so I really enjoyed all of the information presented here, both real and made-up. I don’t think I would ever recommend this to anyone, but I did enjoy reading it.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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H.P. Lovecraft: Nightmare Countries, by S. T. Joshi. Finished November 26th. This is an interesting mix of coffee table book and biography. As such, it doesn’t give you a intensely detailed look into Lovecraft’s life and works, but has tons of interesting facts along with fascinating reproduced documents. Everything from the astronomy journal he printed as a child to a handful of letters he wrote to his will and death certificate. And the real illustration of Cthulhu! Most of his stories are also discussed, with insights into how and why they were written. Though obviously, huge spoilers if you haven’t read all of his stories.

While I loved 99% of the book, I found the last chapter (which discusses Lovecraft’s impact on the literary scene) a bit lacking. For example, Joshi states that Stephen King is kind of the anti-Lovecraft (in terms of writing style) and really only has one Lovecraftian story. Anyone who knows King knows that Randall Flagg is literally Nyarlathotep, and there are dozens of Lovecraft references peppered throughout his books and stories. So… that was kind of weird. But very worth reading if you’re a Lovecraft fan.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. Finished November 27th. This was a big improvement over the first book! Hoenstly there’s not a lot more action, but it feels like more happens. There’s a lot more meaningful dialogue between characters, and it’s a lot less exposition-focused than Fools’ Assassin.

The main improvement is that, of course, our two main characters are finally together again! They were apart for 90% of FA and you spend a long time just waiting for them to come together. And, like Malta in the Liveship books, I went from hating a character from the first book (Shun) to growing rather fond of her… though I have mixed feelings about what happened to her character.

I’ve never had to wait for a Hobb book so the 4 months between now and the finale are going to be absolute agony.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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American Hunger, by Eli Saslow. Finished November 29th. I am a serious food stockpiler. I have enough food in my apartment to last my husband and I a month, probably 2, maybe 3 if we really stretched (in case the zombie apocalypse happens, we are ready!). Boxes of pasta, bags of rice and beans, tomato sauces and tuna cans, mac n cheese, pasta- and rice-a-roni, a freezer full of dumplings, chicken thighs, and sausage, tons of imported ramen… just a LOT of food. And the thing is, this is not insanely expensive. It’s not something I spend a lot of time or money on. We’re on a budget, and our food one is often tight, but I like to feel secure about our eating future. But for so many people in America, cupboards stocked with cheap food is literally an impossible dream.

This is kind of a soul-crushing series of articles. I know there’s poverty in America, and like most “middle class” people I deal with periods where things are very tight, often uncomfortably so. But I’ve never stopped and thought about the families who literally can’t feed their children. The ones who rely on school meals and when summer break hits the panic sets in. The families who can only afford/have access to cheap crap so they have obese kids who are starving and suffering from malnutrition. The mothers who have to chose between milk and cereal because they can’t afford them both. This book is about those people, the ones we try not to think about, the millions of suffering Americans who have it rougher than I’d imagined.

I think it’s a very important read and, thankfully, it is wonderfully written. The tone is compelling, the information and facts presented seamlessly within the narrative of these families. I was so intrigued by this that I immediately read another book on the subject, and have quite a few more in the queue. Highly recommended.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer. Finished November 30th. For some reason, after the soul-crushing American Hunger I thought to myself, “let’s read more depressing books about poverty!” And boy is this one a doozy. It’s about the section of America that literally lives on $2 a day–not $2 for food, $2 for every human necessity. It’s something that should be impossible in a 1st world country, yet here we are. After reading this book (and living through the election) I just… America kind of sucks.

This is a great, informative book, but the writing wasn’t nearly as good as American Hunger. I think this actually suffered in my mind because I read them back-to-back. The style here is very to-the-point, and while it follows 8 families below the $2 a day poverty line, you only get a surface level understanding of their lives. I mean, you know their circumstances intimately by the end, but I never knew them as people. For example, one of them is a woman who, in her late 20′s, got into a relationship with a 16 year old boy who ended up being physically abusive. But doesn’t that kind of…. make her a predator? 28-year-old women should not date teens. You get the impression that she is perhaps a little slow, but we don’t get enough information (especially emotional details) to really understand how she ended up in that situation.

I don’t really expect amazing narration from nonfiction, so I can’t dock it too many points for that. Everything else? Fantastic. So much research and information is presented to the reader, but so much of it stuck with me just because of the absolute shock factor. Along with American Hunger, this really changed my perspective on poverty in America.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Springtime, by Michelle de Kretser. Finished November 30th. I was drawn to this slim little novella by the cover. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, and this (along with the ‘A Ghost Story’ subtitle) was impossible to resist. I mean, where can I buy that dress? Because I want it. And maybe the dog too.

This is a hard book to describe. It is a ghost story… kind of. Much of the character’s inner dialogue focuses on how important small details are, and how misleading a story can seem. And this is referenced, of course, directly in the plot itself. It’s an incredibly tricky little book that on the surface appears quite simple. I think it would benefit from a re-read… and it’s one of those books I honestly wish I read in a classroom. I feel like you need some meaty discussion to really understand all the moving parts.

Unfortunately, while the complicated narrative is super interesting, almost nothing else is. The plot seems quite mundane (even with a ghost) and the characters rather dull. I wanted more from this than what I got.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

246/175 Books

27/28 Series Books

66/50 TBR Books

26/15 Different Countries

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]

August 2016 Reading Wraupup: Part II

1 Sep

The first chunk of August was all about the Man Booker longlist, and thankfully that reading binge got me out of my kind-of-slump. In July and June I was pretty disappointed in my reading, but August was amazing! So amazing that I’m actually going to have to do 3 wrapups, because there’s just too much from the second half of the month to put in one post.

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Yon & Mu by Junji Ito. Finished August 11th.  I read this smack-dab in the middle of the Man Booker books because there’s honestly only so much srs literature I can take in a stretch. Sometimes you just need some spooky cute cats, you know? Junji Ito is by far my favorite manga author (I still have nightmares about the snail people in Uzumaki), so I was over the moon when I found out that he wrote something about cats. Cute cats! Spooky cats! This adorable little work details his interactions with his wife’s cats, and pretty accurately describes the hold those furry little monsters have on our lives. It’s surprisingly touching at times, and has a wham right in the feels ending. Junji Ito, horror master and cute cat drawer extraordinaire.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Last Good Knight, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished August 12th. After Something Nice, I was really craving more of Nora & co. Sadly, I’ve read all of the Original Sinners books… or have I?! Turns out there was a chunky novella I’d somehow skipped over that features Nora in her badass prime. I don’t think this had the emotional depth of the full-length books (and the Soren & Nora-based shorts) but of course I still enjoyed it. It was great to be with these characters again, and even though you know our two main characters won’t get together in the end it’s still a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Truly Madly Guiltily, by Liane Moriarty. Finished August 15th. Liane Moriarty books are like comfort food to me. If I feel like I need to “reset” my reading brain after a bunch of tough books, or things that got me in a slump, she’s one of my go-to authors (along with Stephen King). Her writing is so breezy and easy to read, but her books aren’t the light and fluffy chick lit you’d expect given the marketing. She deals with serious issues and is absolutely amazing and creating realistic characters.

That said, I didn’t love this as much as The Husband’s Secret or Big Little Lies. I think it’s because the core mystery is a little weaker than it is in those two: Truly Madly Guiltily revolves around a Bad Thing that happened at a barbecue, but it’s clear that it wasn’t, like, a murder or anything like that. So the tension is not as high as in her previous books.

Like most of Moriarty’s books, this is intensely character-driven. If you don’t like them, it’s going to fall flat for you. They definitely worked for me, especially Vid and Tiffany who I loved. Vid, come cook food for me! They’re all complex and flawed and realistic. They have distinctive though patterns so it never feels same-y to read their alternating chapters. I did find them a little less compelling than the women in The Husband’s Secret, but still wonderful as always. That’s actually kind of the theme of this review: I liked it, but not as much as her other works. I do think I would have liked it more if it was the first of hers that I read, but I hold her to a pretty high standard and TMG didn’t quiiiite reach it. I mean, I still enjoyed it and was really drawn into the plot, but it was just a tad more predictable and less exciting than what I expected.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman*. Finished August 16th. It took me quite a while to get around to reading this because of one thing: it’s tagged as young adult on Goodreads. Before I actually get into the review, this is NOT a young adult book. All of the characters are clearly adults, and while it’s not an “edgy grimdark fantasy” with extreme violence or anything there’s adult content. Some creepy violence, lots of drinking, references to sex. You know, the things you don’t see in YA fantasy. It doesn’t have YA tropes like “super special girl” or “broody guy love interest” (in fact I think it plays with these tropes a bit). So if, like me, you were a bit put off by the label don’t fear!

This book is, above all else, hella fun. It’s not deep or meaningful, you won’t find intense philosophical discussions, but you’ll have a blast reading it. It’s a “fantasy kitchen sink” type book: we’ve got an all-powerful (and possibly shady) interdimensional library, a magical language, alternate worlds, dragons, vampires, Fae, werewolves, demons, robots, steampunk elements, chaos and law magic, spies, cat burglars, Victorian-style detectives, water spirits… and that’s just in this book. Since this is a series (at least 5 books atm) you can tell that a lot of this is worldbuilding for things down the line. Some of the elements (werewolves and demons in particular) don’t exactly add a lot to the plot: it’s more set dressings and a way to show how truly weird all the elements are. But I can assume that things mentioned offhand will be important down the line! Which reminds me a lot of the Dresden Files: so many different magical creatures, and with a constantly expanding mythos.

It’s hard to say that any of the elements are unique: even the all-powerful library has been done. But they’re combined in such a clever, fun, action-packed way that I never wanted for some kind of ~new unique never before seen~ monster or ability. The plot is so fast-paced and has so many elements that it feels like you’re on a rollercoaster. And the characters are definitely very fun: I especially loved Irene, our main Librarian.

This is a book for people who love books. It’s about books (and book thieving!) and it has so so many literary references: all of the librarians pick their own names, which means you’ve got about a dozen references to hunt down if you don’t instantly know what they reference. Our detective, Vale, is that charming and familiar “gentleman investigator” type. The world itself (or at least the alternate world this book takes place in) has heavy, heavy steampunk elements reminiscent of Jules Verne. Just a lot of clever references and wordplay that makes the world feel very rich.

It isn’t a perfect book–it was almost too fast-paced for me, and though it’s a deep world we didn’t get enough explanation or description to 100% satisfy me. I wanted a little more showing and a little less telling. But it was just a blast and I’ll definitely continue on with the series.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Last Days of New Paris, by China Mieville. Finished August 17th. With every new release, China Mieville just further establishes why he’s my favorite author. If you’ve read any of the Bas Lag books, remember the weird nonsensical bombs? Now imagine dropping one of them on Paris during the Nazi occupation. Surrealist art comes suddenly to life, demons come up from hell, and the city is warped in all sorts of almost indescribable ways. It’s pretty classic Mieville with a historical fiction twist.

This is an incredibly interesting world: weird surrealist art running around, Nazi conspiracies, an interesting take on the French resistance, and of course actual demons are on the scene as well. It’s a strange, evocative, beautiful little book with a truly stunning ending. Plus, Mieville illustrated it!

The only criticism I have is that this book is so short! Only ~180 pages. I could read a 600 page book set in New Paris. Or a whole series. But hey, I say that about pretty much everything he writes.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Summer That Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel. Finished August 18th.

“Don’tcha wanta live forever?”
“I’m the devil. I am already forever.”

This was an absolute cover-based impulse buy, and it’s probably my favorite book I’ve read so far in 2016. Sometimes it pays to get drawn in by good design!

The heat came with the devil. It was the summer of 1984, and while the devil had been invited, the heat had not. Heat is, after all, the devil’s name, and when’s the last time you left home without yours?

This book swept me off my feet. I was expecting an interesting magical realism-type read with perhaps some light emotional impact. What I got was one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, with a story and characters that ripped my heart right out of my chest. I cried reading this book. A lot.

All love leads to cannibalism. I know that now. Sooner or later, our hearts will devour, if not the object of your affections, our very selves. Teeth are the heart’s miracle.

There are scenes here that are burned into my brain, quotes I will never forget. I really don’t want to talk about the plot at all–a boy who claims to be the devil comes to a small town, that’s all you need to know. This may seem like a fun, quirky book at first just based on the premise and the eccentric character names (Autopsy Bliss!), but it is a moving book that tackles some really deep societal issues. I really can’t recommend this enough, everyone should read it.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Shrill, by Lindy West. Finished August 18th. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The first half was kind of a mixed bag for me, mostly because all of the chapters about life as a fat girl weren’t something I could identify with, and this is such a personal book that I really WANTED to identify with it. I also felt like some of it was a bit alienating: for example, her descriptions of all the airport-related anxiety she gets (stressed for days before, having to get there at least 2 hours early, shaking through security, getting on line to board insanely early, intense anxiety about who you will sit next to) is something I experience every time I have to fly. And she acts like this is something only fat people experience. It’s something anyone with anxiety can relate with!

But there were large chunks of this that made me want to get up and cheer. I felt like Lindy was speaking directly to me, or for me. Especially the chapters on rape jokes: this is an incredibly sensitive subject for me, and I get apoplectic when people say “oh it’s just a joke chill out.” I want to punch them in the face. And Lindy basically did punch them in the face, verbally. Thank you, Lindy, for saying everything I’ve ever felt on the subject so eloquently and beautifully.

Then there’s the chapters on the trolling she went through. As a female blogger (though on a much smaller platform) I’ve had my fair share of rabid trolls. Rape threats, people assuming I must be fat/hideous/insecure/unable to get a date because I’m ‘bitter’, threats of all sorts of weird violence, people who come after me again and again for weeks. I once had the wife of a fellow blogger leave harassing comments on EVERY POST I did, and my bosses told me to basically just deal with it and wouldn’t delete anything (and of course he didn’t get in any sort of trouble). It’s honestly terrifying. It’s the sense that your whole self has been exposed to the world without your permission, that people hate you just because of your gender (let’s be honest, 100% of the trolling I’ve gotten is because I’m a outspoken woman). I’ve sobbed over threats, ended up having shaking panic attacks while deleting 50+ horrible comments a single troll left in an hour. And everything Lindy said about the subject spoke directly to my soul. You do have to grow an incredibly tough skin, but that’s not a good thing. You shouldn’t be praised because you can ignore rape threats. That’s not a skill anyone should have, ever! And it’s a huge problem people never want to talk about.

Lindy thrusts it right into the spotlight with heartbreaking accuracy. She made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the harassment I’ve experience, and like it’s NOT my fault. I think if you’re a woman on the internet who has ever felt unsafe or unsure just because of your gender, you need to read this. It is eye-opening and amazing and Lindy West is so fucking important.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Warp, by Lev Grossman*. Imagine Quentin Coldwater from The Magicians if he never got into Brakebills, and magic didn’t exist. Pretty depressing, right? Welcome to Warp. This is 24 hours in the life of Hollis, a young man who has no idea what direction his life is moving in and feels incredibly hopeless. A lot of his life is lived in his head: both by going over shows and stories that he likes, but also by writing his own book that mirrors his life. In a way, this is an incredibly meta book. Sure, it’s prototype Quentin, but it’s honestly a book about Lev writing The Magicians. Which is funny, because he wrote this before The Magicians, so he wrote a book about writing a book he wrote before he wrote it.

It’s hard to say that this is an enjoyable book. It’s depressing, and even the “bright spots” have an aura of sadness. Hollis meets a girl, Xanthe, and it’s really unclear how real she is: I mean, other characters have interactions with her, but how much of his perception of her is based on reality? The name alone is kind of a big clue there. And Warp is littered with sci-fi and fantasy references, so the naming is definitely intentional (and clever).

I think that if you like The Magicians, you’ll appreciate this book. It’s both Quentin’s roots and a description of life before Lev wrote Quentin into reality. Like Murakami’s early works that just got re-translated, it’s amazing to look back and see where an author has come from. On its own, Warp isn’t a great read, but it’s such a good look into Lev Grossman as a writer.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

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

July 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

3 Aug

I did a lot of reading in the first half of July, but I wasn’t happy with quite a few of the books I read. The second half was the opposite: I read a lot less, but was a lot more pleased with the books I did finish. I liked all of the books in this wrapup (except for the last one, which I love-hate… it’s complicated), and my motivation really picked up at the tail end of the month. So hopefully August will be chock-full of good reads!

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Super Sushi Ramen Express, by Michael Booth*. Finished July 20th. I have a passionate love for Japanese food. Probably 8 times out of 10 when I go out to eat, it’s something Japanese (ramen, sushi, an izakaya, yakitori, katsu, curry, etc) and while I love the food of most countries (except for France, sorry France) Japan is near and dear to my foodie heart. I love eating it, cooking it, looking at it, reading about it. So yeah, this book was tailor-made for me.

It’s a food memoir, and while all of the experiences are obviously filtered through Michael Booth’s perception, the focus is much more on food and the food-related travel than it is Japan as a whole and his adventures with his family. I really prefer this: if I want a memoir of someone’s life, I’ll read a regular memoir. I’m here for the food, guys! And there is SO MUCH FOOD HERE.

Booth tackles so many areas of Japanese food: from how the base ingredients are made to street/junk food to incredibly expensive restaurant meals and niche types of cooking, he really runs the gamut. It’s full of really interesting tidbits of information (my brain feels jam-packed with information after reading this), but Booth’s writing is so funny and easy to digest (haha food pun) that it’s a speedy, easy read. I actually ended up buying a few of the cookbooks he mentions in here, and this has only spurred on my love for Japanese cuisine.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, by Yukio Mishima. Finished July 21st. I was not prepared at all for this book. I’ve read and loved Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility quartet, and based on how heartbreaking they are (especially The Decay of the Angel) I probably should have steeled myself emotionally. But I thought to myself, “oh a love story with a sailor and a widow and a kind of weird son.” No. Not at all.

Actually, the first half lulls you into a false sense of security. It very much is a love story between Ryuji (the sailor) and Fusako (the widow). In the background is Noboru, her strange and precocious son who has some… issues, shall we say. The first half, aside from one (admittedly brutal but brief) scene of animal cruelty, is slow-paced and almost serene. But as I hit the halfway point I found myself feeling very uneasy. It’s not even necessarily what’s happening: sure, some of Noboru’s inner monologue is disturbing, but there’s no particularly awful moments. Yet by the end I was filled with so much dread I didn’t even want to read the last chapter.

It’s a short book, so it’s basically impossible to talk about the plot with tons of spoilers. But it is a beautiful and ultimately tragic story that will leave you with so, so many questions. By the end my main one was, is it Ryuji or Noboru who is the titular sailor who falls from grace with the sea? If you’d like a slow, uneasy story of both beauty and violence this would probably be right up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, by Alan Bradley*. Finished July 24th. This is such a cute, cozy book–which seems like an odd thing to say about a murder mystery, but oh well. Cozy mysteries are definitely not my genres, but… let’s be honest, I requested this because it has a cat on the cover, and I am a sucker for “cat related mystery” books. While the cat is only a minor player in this mystery it’s still got a cat in it. Also an adorable possibly sociopathic kid detective!

Flavia, the 12-year-old mystery solver, is really the heart of this story. It’s wonderful being inside of her head: she’s definitely clever and precocious but there are moments of childlike innocence or confusion that make her seem very much like a real, fleshed-out human. She’s kind of like a nicer, girl version of Artemis Fowl. And while some of her actions are, uh, questionable (the scene of her examining the corpse is particularly creepy) she has a lot of heart. The side story of her sick father and her family basically abandoning her is pretty heart-wrenching.

The first 2/3rds of this book were definitely more enjoyable than the last chunk. The mystery aspect is a little lackluster, especially the final reveal, and I didn’t find myself surprised or wowed at all. But hey, it’s a cozy mystery, I honestly was not expecting a big complicated case. It did have a few nice turns that I wasn’t expecting and I certainly didn’t find it dull, but I preferred the chunks of the story that had more to do with Flavia and her relationships. I’d definitely read more in the series, especially because this one ends on a (non-mystery-related) cliffhanger.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Something Nice, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished July 28th. Two Tiffany Reisz books in one month?? What a time to be alive. This is a short novella that was only available to newsletter subscribers, and of course I read it literally 20 minutes after it downloaded. Because Nora is the light of my life.

This takes place a few months after The Siren, and deals primarily with the emotional fallout Nora is feeling after that crazy ending. It’s a very cathartic read and I feels like it ties up some (emotional) loose ends about Nora/Soren/Wesley that were still lingering in my head. Absolutely a must-read if you’re a fan of the Original Sinners series.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Matter, by Iain M. Banks. Finished July 29th. I have so many conflicting emotions about this book! Probably because, at least to me, it felt like two books: one with crazy space antics and another featuring political intrigue on a low-tech world. Usually the contrast between high- and low-tech societies is something I enjoy in books (The Dreaming Void, A Fire Upon the Deep) but I am generally not a fan of Iain Banks’ more politically driven, almost-fantasy stuff: Inversions is the only Culture book I actively didn’t love, for example. I felt like the two elements didn’t work harmoniously. Even though they are plot-connected, I didn’t feel the mirroring of elements or strong contrast I feel like a low- vs high-tech plot needs.

So let’s talk about the good. I adore the worldbuilding here! So many cool concepts. Tons and tons of really interesting alien races (though tbh I could have used more info or scenes of the other ones in the Shellworld), nifty tech we haven’t seen before, the rumors of ancient alien races, and of course the Shellworld itself–one of my favorite Culture concepts. Just the idea of it was so amazing, and Banks always does such a good job of bringing his ideas to life. I felt like I could picture it all so perfectly.

The characters here, like in many Culture novels, are interesting but not particularly unique feeling. We’ve got the son who doesn’t want to be king, the son who does but is too young and in his head, the scheming overlord, the prodigal sister. I feel like characters are never Banks’ strength, though, so I expected that coming in and it didn’t bother me. Because he always makes up for it with sassy ships & drones! This time we also get a sassy human assistant, because a large chunk takes place on a tech-free world and we need some way to get those sarcastic comments in there.

The last 20% of this book is fantastic. I really felt a huge disjoint between the story aspects, though. The elements of the ending section are touched on but not really talked about until they’re suddenly in play: then it feels like the whole first half of the book (and everything in the Shellworld) were a huge waste of time because they have almost nothing to do with what’s going on. It just feels unbalanced. It could have either been much shorter (we didn’t need half of the on-Shellworld POV scenes for the plot) or the same length but with 1) more space and Culture scenes and 2) more foreshadowing or actual plot-building about the endgame elements.

So, to sum it up, I enjoyed this (like I do most Culture novels) but it’s not one of my favorites from the series. I think my order of preference goes Look to Windward > Excession > Player of Games > Use of Weapons > Matter > State of the Art > Consider Phlebas > Inversions

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. Finished July 31st. I have too many thoughts about this book. It’s impossible to rate. I grew up on Harry Potter, went to all the midnight releases (books and movies!), and have read the series at LEAST a dozen times (and I’ve read OOTP, HBP, and GoF 20x minimum). There was no way for this book to not be massively over-hyped in my head. New Harry Potter? About a new generation of wizards?? Yeah, I was into it.

Now, I don’t think I built it up to the point that it was impossible to enjoy. Heck, I’ve read long HP fanfiction that I loved almost as much as the originals (Methods of Rationality, the first few James Potter books). So I was really just expecting a nostalgic thrill ride through childhood adventures. And… I kind of got that? There are some wonderful Hogwarts scenes that really brought the magic back for me.

Before I get to my problems, which are numerous, I’m just gonna say that I LOVE Scorpius. I don’t love that his “I will die for you” bromance with Albus turned into a weird platonic thing but that’s kind of a different issue. But yeah, Scorpius was amazing and a precious nerd baby. What a fantastic character. And I did actually enjoy a lot of the plot, which seems to be a little controversial.

My main issue is that this book is like holy character assassination Batman. Ron is a one-note idiot. Harry is a cruel jerk. Draco hasn’t changed a day (and the first half of this book erases all of his HBP/DH progression until suddenly he has one “deep meaningful speech” scene). I’m going to be honest: a lot of the character-related stuff read like bad fanfiction. It didn’t add up AT ALL with the books, and this is supposed to be 22 years of character development AFTER them. Yet everyone’s the same as book 1. Sigh.

And then… the big twist. WHY. It made me VERY ANGRY. And it’s just the tip of the plot-hole iceberg. It’s really hard to emotionally separate myself from anything officially Harry Potter because it’s such a huge part of my childhood and shaped a lot of who I am as a reader. If I view this as a fun “what if?” type of scenario that’s basically just fanfiction of the future, I think it’s decently enjoyable–though the twist is stupid as hell, it’s so nice to be in this world and with these characters again. So for me, this isn’t officially the 8th book and never will be. It’s just a play. I’m gonna keep telling myself that.

No rating because my heart is confused

So I actually did read two other books in July, but they are both up for the Man Booker (Hot Milk and The Sellout), and I’m going to binge-read the longlist and do them as a separate post.

Reading Challenge Goals

171/175 Books

20/35 Series Books

53/50 TBR Books

20/15 Different Countries

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

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.

[...]

May 2016 Reading Wrapup | Part I

9 May

After the amazing end of April, I continued on the “reading lots of arcs” trend. While I did read a lot this week, I felt like somehow my progress was slowing down. Probably because while the number is still high, I read quite a few shorter things: 4 books of poetry and a graphic novel. But hey, reading is reading, and one of my (unofficial) goals this year was to read more diversely in terms of format. So, I definitely accomplished that this week!

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The Girls, by Emma Cline. Read May 1st. This book was really a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” I think most people are going to love this, and I get all the hype surrounding it. The writing is amazing, and it’s infinitely quotable. Emma Cline captures the experience of being a teenage girl so, so well. Everything Evie, our main character, feels was so eerily familiar to me. The way your youth becomes all about presenting yourself, trying on different identities and seeing what people make of you. The way you’re shaped not by how you feel about yourself, but by how others see you.

This book is really two things: a book about a fictionalized Manson family and a book about being a young teenage girl. The two meld together well but I found myself wanting more from both, like the balance between them is so even we don’t get enough depth from either end. Evie spends a lot of time working on her feminine presentation, sexualizing herself from a young age as she’s been socialized to do. There’s some great moments where the extend of sexual abuse and assault that 99% of girls go through (the guy flashing you in the movies, a drunk trying to stick his hand down your pants, mom’s boyfriend being really inappropriate, a terrifying moment in a car with a stranger) is really put into focus. Most of us have experienced it, and there’s a tendency to push it away and laugh about it and say, “oh, that’s just life, it wasn’t anything serious!” when it so greatly shapes how we view ourselves. The sexualization of girls is fed by the violence and pressure around them, but also conflates those experiences. It’s a fascinating dynamic, but this book discusses it just enough to whet your appetite without going in-depth. I wanted more on these topics, which were handled so well but tapered off before I felt the discussion was finished.

The titular Girls are part of a sanitized Manson family. It’s the Mansons without the racism and with way less violence and murder. This is an odd choice, because for so many parts this could almost be a true crime novel. The characters are directly related to the actual Manson family, and so are almost all of the events surrounding them. And while we get tons of creepy cult moments, it’s just much cleaner than reality was. It was an odd choice to remove Helter Skelter and the race war (and yet not have any black characters, smh) but keep in everything else. Except there’s only one murder here (well, 4 people die, but there’s one murderous event), where the real life Mansons killed many times. It’s just… strange editorial decisions that I don’t really understand. In my mind, I’d like it either 100% true to reality OR vastly different and just inspired by reality. My brain got stuck up on all the similarities and differences here, which I found a little distracting.

My favorite part, by far, was the friendship between Evie and Suzanne, the main Manson girl. You know I love toxic, passionate female friendships and we get an amazing one here, along with a discussion of sexual fluidity (though, like before, this is really not gone into enough for me–I wanted more self reflection!). All in all, I’m torn. Parts of this book were magnificent and parts left me wanting.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix. Finished May 2nd. I read Hendrix’s Horrorstor earlier this year and enjoyed it but didn’t love it, so my expectations weren’t super high for this. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised!

I’m not sure if it’s common with readers or just a particular quirk of mine, but whenever I read a book about exorcism I spend the majority of the time trying to guess if it’s a “real” possession or just plain old madness. I never quite believe it’s a devil inside of someone, no matter how strange it gets. I think most books either play it too “obviously it’s just a crazy person” or go so overboard with the demon stuff I kind of lose interest. Few books walk that line really well, which is why exorcism horror is a genre I rarely read. When it’s done well, though, it’s brilliant, like A Head Full of Ghosts.

Given my high rating for this I’m assuming you can guess how it fares in the is-it-a-demon curve. It’s an interesting book: I guess, technically, it’s young adult. It’s about a group of teen girls, and while it’s about demons and shit it’s mostly about friendship. But it doesn’t have any of the obnoxious YA tropes that have recently put me off the genre (insta-love, love triangles, everyone’s an orphan, “special magical girl,” etc). It’s YA as it should be: a story about young people that doesn’t feel dumbed down for the audience.

I am a particular sucker for books that center on female friendship, and that’s really the core here. Gretchen and Abby have a wonderful, realistic teen relationship with all of the ups and downs that come with it. And, of course, the possession works as a metaphor for diverging personalities and the angst of losing a close friend. It’s also got some great gross-out moments (vomit, worms, dead birds, everything you could want) along with some really emotional moments centered around violence (the bathtub, sob). And while it takes over 80% of the book to get to the exorcism, what an exorcism it is. Emotionally charged and comedic while being quite dark and hard to read.

This is horror based firmly in reality. A lot of the issues the girls deal with (eating disorders, sexual violence, the ignorance of adults) are realistically what real teens face. Of course there’s an added layer of threat here, but none of the “teen drama” feels overplayed or out of touch (though this is a book that takes place in the 80′s). Definitely recommended if a blend of female friendship and horror is up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Last Sext, by Melissa Broder. Finished May 3rd. Poetry is a tricky thing to review. Reading it is so deeply personal, and a great poem for one person is not an objectively great poem for another. For example: I hate Emily Dickenson. I don’t think she is a bad poet, but nothing she’s written has moved me at all. I find her very dry. And a lot of people find her one of the best poets to ever write. So when I say I loved and adored Last Sext what I mean is that it spoke to my soul in a way few collections of poetry do.

This is a raw, visceral collection. The bones of Melissa Broder are splayed open. It’s dark, twisted, and lyrical. There are moments of quiet self-reflection, but more loud and explosive moments of violence (against others, against the self, against god). Gender, self identity, sex, death, and god are the main themes: all things that are pretty much universal, but she handles them in a way that felt so unique. At times the lines are so personal and exposed you almost want to look away, until you realize you identify so strongly with them it brings tears to your eyes.

This is not an easy reading collection. There are many changes in tense, pronoun, subject… pretty much any linguistic comfort is turned on its head. There’s lots of vomit and drowning and death. The language is at times crude, not for shock value but to highlight the raw grossness of the human experience. The whole book is a struggle, and it reads like one. Nothing is clean or neatly wrapped up. Emotions are not displayed in little glass boxes for the reader to go “oh, yes, I’ve felt that.” They sweep you up like the thematic ocean that runs through many of the poems, and it’s easy to get lost in them. If you like darker, more experimental poetry with a depressing twist I would definitely recommend giving this a go, but if you like the more traditional it probably isn’t for you.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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History, by David O’Hanlon. Finished May 3rd. As I said, I find it very difficult to review poetry. Either it speaks to me or it doesn’t. And for the things that don’t, it’s really hard to say “objectively, here are all the issues with it.” It’s just a matter of taste. With a novel you can point to characterization or plot holes and say “this is why I didn’t like it.” With poetry? Yeah… hard to pinpoint why, exactly, I found this kind of middle-of-the-road.

I think mostly it’s thematic. I like my poetry either dark and surreal or very descriptive. This is a more homey, cozy set of poems. Even when the poems tackle ancient Greek myths or works of literature, it still feels comforting and somehow familiar (though not derivative). And wholly based in real, prosaic life. The language is nice, but it’s more choppy (without being surreal) than I generally prefer. I don’t think this is a bad collection by any means, it’s just not really for me.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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White Sand Vol 1, by Brandon Sanderson. Finished May 4th. This has pretty much everything you’d expect in a Brandon Sanderson work, only it’s accompanied by beautiful illustrations. And I do mean beautiful: the art here is just gorgeous, really evocative and does a great job creating a unique alien world. And while this is a desert planet, it’s not like your usual scifi desert world. Sure, there’s giant beasts under the sand, but in this world the earth is in perpetual day and the sand is a conduit for magic.

Of course there’s a cool magic system: it involves manipulating the sand itself, everything from using it to move around to transmuting it to water. So far we haven’t seen a ton of how it works, so it’s not as complex as, say, Mistborn’s magic, but it’s interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s used in the next volumes. Especially since our main hero, Kenton, is a novice and will be discovering his powers right along with the audience. Speaking of Kenton, I found him the least-interesting of the characters, but that’s almost always true with Sanderson novels. I’d pick pretty much any character in Alloy of Law over Wax and Vin is okay, but I’d hang with Sazed over her any day.

There are of course other Brandon Sanderson traits in full effect. We have some really great characters (Khriss and Aark were my favorites), and this is also one of his more diverse books. All of the people who live on the Darkside of the planet (which I REALLY hope we see in vol 2 or 3) are black. There are tons of interweaving plotlines that have already started to come together in interesting ways. We’ve got lots of magic-driven fights. And while there are no big twists (yet, I expect many later on) there is a particularly brutal plot shift that happens towards the beginning. I hadn’t read the synopsis so it came as a bit of a shock to me!

If you like Sanderson, you’re going to like this. Don’t expect as much character development or complex magic as his written works, because that’s not something you’ll get a ton of in a visual format, but it has all of his flare. Plus any Cosmere fan has to be DYING to find out what the deal with Khriss is.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Your Glass Head Against the Brick Parade of Now Whats, by Sam Pink. Read May 4th. This was my one non-arc read of the week. I’m a huge Sam Pink fan, and Rontel single-handedly cured me of of fear of tarantulas. Not spiders in general, they still terrify me. But tarantulas? No big deal thanks to our lord & savior Sam Pink. And I was obviously on a bit of a poetry kick, so when I found out I Pink had written a collection? Oh hell yeah. Also I had a bunch of Amazon credit saved up from shipping things slow as hell and I felt like burning them.

Anyway, I don’t even know what to say about this. It’s so perfect. If you’ve ever been depressed and not known where your life was going, but gotten to that point where it’s kind of funny? You know, you’re all “wow life can’t really be THIS bad” and your depression is all, “haha, guess what, I’m gonna make it worse!” And you laugh and cry at the same time because how even? That’s Sam Pink in a nutshell. He’s a national treasure.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Whispers in the Mist, by Lisa Alber. Finished May 5th. To start off, this is the second book in a series but you definitely can start with it (or read it as a stand-alone). While there’s some mention of the previous book and we obviously get character and relationship-related spoilers, not an inch of the mystery from Kilmoon is talked about. So the ending (and the case, really) of the first book are kept totally in the dark! Which I appreciate, because I tend to read mystery novels out of order based on the plot summary (and let’s be honest, the cover. It’s spooky woods! of course I need to read it!).

The location is really the star of this novel. It’s set in a sleepy town in Ireland, and there’s a lot of folklore elements to the mystery. People are convinced it’s the Grey Man, a spirit who lives in the mist, who is murdering ‘Lost Boys.’ There’s also a sparrow-as-psychopomp theme running throughout that I found really intriguing.

It’s hard to pinpoint what I didn’t love about this. Not that I disliked it, but I ended up feeling kind of lukewarm. I loved the setting and the atmosphere. The characters (especially Gemma, Alan, and the dog Bijou) were really well rendered. There were many different plot threads that came together beautifully, and I was actually surprised by the very final reveal. But. But. I guessed the bad guy about 50 pages in (I really think it was too obvious, and not a case of having read too many mysteries because it’s not my usual genre), and the plot relies on amnesia in a key witness. A plot trend I’m pretty darn tired of, even if it was trauma-induced here and made a lot of sense. Or, you know, more sense than it does in most thriller/mystery books.

While individual elements here were great and I think there’s a lot of potential in this series, it never quite came together for me. However, I will say that it’s miles better than most mystery series out there. Good characters, quite decent writing, and a really wonderful setting. I’d definitely be willing to pick up the next book.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Reward for Winter, by Di Slaney. Finished May 7th. This is a hard book to pin down. It’s part poetry, part flash fiction. It’s non-fiction with an edge of the fantastical. Lyrical but realistic. A lot of contrasting elements that wouldn’t seem to fit together, but they do–and beautifully.

I tend to like my poetry pretty description-dense. Give me 20 pages of descriptions of mountains and trees and goats. And this slim collection, which is divided into 3 very separate parts, really delivers on that. The first section centers on Di Slaney’s farm, the animals and the chores and the day-to-day reality of it. It’s earthy and homey and beautifully written. I mean, there are goats and cats. What more could I want?

The second section, my favorite, is about the life and times of a single chicken. That may not sound interesting but man, Slaney made it work. Plus it’s passively educational, teaching me all kinds of chicken-related tidbits without feeling like a school lesson. I could read a massive volume that was just her embodying different animals. The life of a cow. The life of a pig. Yeah, bring it on.

The third, and my least-favorite, was about some of the history of her farm & village. It was actually pretty interesting and covers some unusual historical events (a king hiding in a box, witch trials, forbidden love in the middle ages), but for some reason it just didn’t speak to me like the first two sections. I suppose it’s because these poems are much less personal, and telling a story rather than dealing with emotions.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Sunlight Pilgrims, by Jenni Fagan. Finished May 7th. This beautiful little book is, technically, science fiction. It takes place in the very near future and after reading it you might get a little nervous about the state of the world. The main event here is the melting of the polar icecaps, which starts to plunge earth into a new ice age. This, however, is really background noise to the main story, which focuses on a few lost souls in a trailer park in Scotland. They’re dealing with the incredibly cold weather, but also with their own twisted lives.

We have Dylan, a refugee from London who just lost his mother and grandmother in a 6-month period, and also the cinema both women devoted their lives to. There’s Stella, a teenage trans girl who is struggling with her body and classmates, waging a war of acceptance in a small and insular town. There’s Constance, Stella’s mother, who accepts her daughter with open arms but worries endlessly about her future. And she also is in a, shall we say, non-traditional romance with two men that causes the other townies to look down on her a bit.

In a way, this is a family drama. It’s also about the importance of identity. Stella is an amazingly rendered character, and Jenni Fagan captures the day to day struggles of a trans girl so so well. I loved every second of being in her head, even if it was incredibly painful at times. I think this is a great example of dysphoria and a good place for people who want to understand the trans experience to start, because Stella is wonderfully relateable.

The apocalyptic aspect plays out slowly, with days growing steadily colder and colder in the background. We get snippets of news from around the globe, but this book is not heavy on the science aspect at all. Not that that’s a bad thing: not every scifi book needs to be hard and dense. It’s more like Station Eleven, where the event just serves as a backdrop to study human nature.

Until the very end, this was a 5-star read for me. I honestly have no problem with open-ended or ambiguous endings (and I did like how this ended), but there was an important plot thread left totally hanging. I was really frustrated that there was no closure, or even mention, of it at the end. It just kind of faded away and the characters never even got to talk about it, and given how character-driven this is I was kind of desperate to see it play out.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

Reading Challenge Progress

119/175 Books

14/33 Series Books

40/50 TBR Books

17/15 Different Countries

[arcs provided by Netgalley in exchanged for an honest review]

November 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 1 & 2

17 Nov

I had kind of a bumpy start to November, which is why I didn’t do a wrapup for week 1. I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted my reading to go in and felt generally kind of slump-y. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of dual-week wrapups which you might have noticed. I’m still trying to figure out if weekly or bi-weekly is best: I’d like to stick to one format, but it really depends on how many books I finish in a week! I mean, does anyone want a weekly update if I only finish 1 or 2 books? But if I do 5 in a week, I don’t want to wait until the next one to review. It’s a conundrum. Anyway, let’s get into the reading adventures!

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling. Finished November 3rd. So in the beginning of November I felt kind of lost. Most months I have a theme (like October was horror) or I pick out a series. My to-read list is intimidatingly long, so I always have something to pick from. But I don’t know what it is about November… it’s my least-favorite month, I feel the most blue, and I just didn’t know what to do with my (reading) self. So, back to comfort food, which for me is Stephen King, Harry Potter, or one of my favorite books. I went with a combo: my favorite Harry Potter! I don’t know how many times I’ve read this, so does it even count? But this time no skim reading, I took my time and felt all those good nostalgia tingles.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Brady VS Manning, by Gary Meyers. Finished November 5th. So I’ve probably never mentioned it on this blog, but I have a passionate love of football. I’ve been watching it practically my whole life, but oddly I’ve never combined my love of books and love of football. My mom actually downloaded this one and asked me if I wanted to buddy read it and I was like, hell yes! Finally, these two areas of my life are combined!

If you don’t like football, this is not the book for you. Even if you do like football, it might not be for you. If you like reading endless stats, checking rankings on 6 different sites every week, scrolling through every article about your favorite team… then man, you are gonna love this. It’s filled with an insane amount of details, stats, and anecdotes about (of course) Brady and Manning. I love Manning and hate Brady (though baby Eli is my fave, of course) but even I felt bad for Brady while reading his backstory. This isn’t a perfect book, though: the writing is kind of dry and repetitive, and I feel like there was more about Brady than there was Manning (plus Meyers skims over the Eli/Brady rivalry). In terms of enjoyment based purely on my nerd-like love of football, this was 5 stars. Based on writing, probably 3. So I tried to round the rating out right in the middle.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Finished November 8th. As you can see, I was all over the place in the first week of November. People kept mentioning this book right along with A Little Life in terms of their favorites of the year and for some reason I thought “hey, I could really go for some dense and depressing literary fiction!” And that was such a good decision, because I LOVED it, and it really got me back in the mood for reading. I went into this expecting a book about marriage with two unlikeable main characters, because that is what basically every review frames it as. But that’s not what Fates & Furies is at all. It is a book about a marriage, but it is not really a book about marriage as a theme or institution. And the main characters are far from good, but they are hardly unlikeable. They’re complex and wonderfully real.

This book is really about deception, betrayal, and revenge. It’s subtle, and doesn’t really come together until the end, but it does so beautifully. There is also the question of memory, perception, and whether our actions really matter in the grand scheme of things, a theme I really adore. What makes something the “true” version of events when everyone remembers it differently? Does it even matter? I could say SO much about this book (and have!) so you can check out a more in-depth review here.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge. Finished November 12th. I wasn’t really feeling like a long fantasy series for November, so I turned to scifi! Because let’s be honest, those are the genres that most often have series. I picked this book kind of at random, but I guess not really randomly because my dad recommended it to me a few months ago right around when I read Axis. While I love most forms of science fiction, my favorites are definitely space horror and space opera: the more epic the better. So this, a super epic space opera, is right in my wheelhouse. It also has one of my favorite, and super-obscure, features: when a book combines the story of a very high-tech world with a very low-tech one (as seen in The Void trilogy and the last book in the Revelation Space series). Part of A Fire Upon The Deep takes place in an advanced civilization with crazy tech and aliens (including talking coral), while the other is on a medieval world with some of the craziest aliens I’ve ever met. I won’t spoil it, but they are just… amazing.

The world here is EPIC. You could easily set 10 books in it and still have enticing material. The premise is that the galaxy is divided into zones that limit what technology works. There’s the Unthinking Deep, which is at the center and where basically nothing works; the Slowness (where humanity started out and only basic tech functions); the Beyond, which is super high-tech; and the Transcend, where post-physical all-powerful beings dwell. The plot goes between the zones, and gives us what is essentially a light-years-long high speed chase (awesome!). I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but if you like scifi that gives you that sense of wonder, read this. You won’t regret it! Unless you do. Then you can blame me.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds. Finished November 12th. As you might have guessed, November is going to be scifi month! After A Fire Upon The Deep I wanted more. I loved the Revelation Space series and there’s many Alastair Reynolds books I haven’t read, so I decided to dive into the newest one. This is actually a novella, so it’s kind of impossible to even describe the basic plot without spoilers (I would recommend not reading a synopsis before diving in). It reminded me of how much I love Reynolds: his bleak worlds, the amazing fresh ideas, his strong female characters and grey morality. I loved every single aspect of this. If you like happier, bright scifi with a sense of hope this might not be for you. But if you like a more cynical worldview, you should definitely try out Reynolds.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King. Finished November 15th. I was so bummed that this book didn’t come out in October (since, you know, spooky book month) and then I totally forgot about it. Oops! Better late than never. I love King and his short stories are definitely my favorite thing he does, so of course I had to read his new collection. Unlike his earlier ones, Skeleton Crew and Night Shift, this contains a mix of horror and straighter literary fiction. Of course there’s an element of the macabre in everything he touches, but this collection is definitely lighter on the horror. There are almost no monsters! I know, crazy. But it still reads like classic King.

We have a car story, quite a few dissolving marriages (including the amazing “Morality,” which is already one of my favorites of his), sad tales of aging parents, creepy evil kids (like in “Bad Little Kid” one of my favorites from the collection), stories clearly reflective of King’s addictive past and his post-accident pain, and of course a classic apocalyptic tale (“Summer Thunder” which is so brilliant and it almost made me cry, because sad animal stuff). There were, as always, a few duds (“Premium Harmony,” “The Dune,” and “Blockade Billy” didn’t really do much for me) but were more than balanced out by the good. The longer stories, like “Ur” and “Obits” were just spectacular. A really well-rounded collection.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn. Finished November 15th. Two years ago, when I did my first 52 book challenge, I devoured all of Gillian Flynn’s books (Sharp Objects was my favorite).  I’ve been waiting patiently for a new one, but with all of her movie work it seems like we might be waiting a few more years. But in between, a bit of Flynn in the form of a short story. It was actually originally published in Rouges, a short story collection, but I have such an aversion to R.R. Martin that I skipped it. Thankfully a solo version has been released.

I have mixed feelings on this. It’s got all the traits of her work: a morally ambiguous and ambitious female protagonist, manipulative people, twists and turns, and the stereotypical dark undertone we’ve come to expect. But it was WAY too short, and the various twists at the end were way too close together and felt incredibly rushed. I would have enjoyed this a lot more as a novella, with more time given to flesh out the characters & motivations. The ending was just too ambiguous, and we don’t have enough information to make an informed decision about what we “think” happened. Enjoyable enough for a short read, but also kind of disappointing.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full