Tag Archives: Tiffany Reisz

July 2017 Wrapup: Part I

23 Jul

Time for my only-slightly-late July part I wrapup! This month has been so brutally hot and I just don’t feel like I have the brain strength for anything too serious, so there were a lot of fluffy reads this month. Sometimes I feel guilty when I don’t read any “serious literature” for a while but that is silly, right? Reading should be fun, and if I want to read trashy YA I should be okay with that. My relationship with guilt and reading is a work in progress, but I am really trying!

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Rawblood, by Catroina Ward. Finished July 3rd. This book was probably the biggest surprise for me this year. It’s been on my TBR for quite a while, but I only had a vague idea of what it was about (“Gothic haunted house” basically) and I will admit I mostly added it because of the cool cover(s) and title. But man, this blew me away.

The setup for this seems like a classic Gothic novel. We have a huge, creepy house (Rawblood) and the family that lives there seems to be cursed. They all die young, and seem to suffer from some sort of genetic madness. Been there done that, right? But Rawblood takes off in strange, wild directions. The storytelling itself is incredibly layered: we have a core main character Iris, who seems to be the last of her line, but the narrative is non-linear and follows a ton of different characters. Each section raises a question that is answered in the next, which is clever because we flip back and forth in time pretty rapidly. We’ll go from Iris as a child to 50 years in the past to 25 years in the past to Iris a year after we met her. Through these narratives the true story of Rawblood and its history are unveiled and the conclusion is truly shocking.

I loved basically everything about this. The writing was great, it felt very Victorian without coming across as trying too hard or old-fashioned. The plot was absolutely riveting and such a cool twist on the Woman in White/haunted family tropes. The characters were great: some of them are only with the reader for 20 or so pages, but they are all memorable and interesting. Really a near-perfect Gothic tale.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier*. Finished July 4th. So far there have been 5 releases in the Hogarth Shakespeare line, and this is the 3rd that I have read. I really enjoyed my first two (Vinegar Girl, which is a Taming of the Shrew retelling; and Hag-Seed, a Tempest retelling). This is a take on Othello, only the characters are middle schoolers in the 70′s and it takes place over a very short time period.

This is one of those novels that manages to be about children without falling into annoying young adult tropes. It’s a dark book, obviously, especially since it focuses on the racism that Othello (Osei here) experiences. Having to read about such a young kid being taunted and tormented for his race was pretty rough at times, especially since it is very clear the other children are just mimicking the behavior of authority figures.

While the setting is totally new, this is probably the most true-to-the-play Hogarth I’ve read so far. The plot is near-identical, which is not a criticism but after the breakneck weirdness of Hag-Seed it was a sharp change of pace. It also doesn’t push the story as far as I thought it could: Othello has a violent end, and it is softened quite a bit here. I get why the decision was made (this is about kids, after all), but I do think it would have been more impactful and interesting to stick a little closer to the traditional ending.

While this is my least-favorite Hogarth book so far, I still really enjoyed it (which just goes to show how quality this project is!). The characters were very well fleshed out for such a short read, and I found them all to be quite relateable, even the “bad” ones. Even though I knew where the story was going I found myself riveted: New Boy is a real page-turner.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Shock of the Fall, by Nathan Filer. Finished July 4th. This was such a hyped book that I was almost afraid to pick it up. Every review is about how it ripped their heart to shreds and they cried for ages. I love books that hurt the reader, but I tend to get nervous when everyone else feels that way. Like, “what if I don’t think this is sad? What if I’m some sort of horrible emotionless monster?!” Sometimes I get a bit dramatic about books, it’s true.

I should not have been nervous, because this book is SO SAD. It’s about a schizophrenic man whose disabled brother died as a child in front of him and the impact that had on his life. Considering that my family has a long history of mental illness AND I also have a disabled brother, some of The Shock of the Fall was almost too close to home. It just hurt my soul, guys, and I loved it.

This wasn’t quite A Little Life level of heartbreak, but it was so effectively bleak and emotional. Your heart aches for everyone in the story: poor Matt locked away in a mental institution, his parents who never quite get over their grief, doomed and unbearably sweet Simon. The narrative just builds up this intense sense of nostalgia and grief: Matt’s storytelling flits from childish and repetitive to heartbreakingly self-aware. It’s just a really tragic story.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Lady Midnight, by Cassandra Clare. Finished July 8th. I realize that I have probably never talked about a Cassie Clare book on this blog. I have a love-hate relationship with her: I love to hate her books. They’re just… they’re really trashy and kind of stupid but I love them?? Especially because I read them with my mom and we trash them together. Mother-daughter bonding at its finest!

I have read 3.5 out of the 6 Mortal Instruments books and all 3 of the Infernal Devices. And while the world is great, there are always huge issues. Like Clare’s constant, incessant description of peoples’ eye color and the fact that all her books are exactly the same. In many ways, Lady Midnight is an improvement for her. But in others, it’s… the exact same book once again. Sure, she gender-swapped her two “main” roles so we now have a sassy lead girl (Emma) instead of a sassy lead guy (Jace/Will), and the boy (Julian) is relegated to love interest (Clary/Tessa). The plot is basically the same too: there’s sexual tension between the two leads that is ~forbidden~ for some reason, there’s ancient magic afoot, a “surprise” villain reveal, the grownups are literally never around and/or they’re incompetent, the tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders is on full display… I could go on.

But, as I said, this is better than her previous books! The characters are a lot more tolerable, and we have a bona fide autistic character who is done so well. There’s a love triangle, but it seems like it might end the way I always want them to (everyone should just bone). And it seems like it’s setting up for a pretty epic trilogy. I mean, it’s still 3 stars because her writing is not good let’s be honest, but I genuinely enjoyed this.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Strange Heart Beating, by Eli Goldstone. Finished July 9th. This was a novel with a lot of potential that just didn’t quite become what I wanted it to. The premise is just so fascinating: a woman named Leda drowns after a swan capsizes her boat, and her husband goes on a journey to discover her past. It’s a fun play on the Leda & the Swan myth, plus I love the whole “family secrets, person isn’t who you thought they were” trope.

The writing here is beautiful, very lyrical and poetic. But there is SUCH a distance between the reader and the main character. It made it hard to care about anything that was happening, because it was like watching a play in a football stadium. I had to squint to see the characters’ emotions. It kind of reads like a drunk guy trying to re-create an event when he clearly doesn’t actually know what happened. Characters would do things that made no sense to me, and we’d never get any explanation.

I don’t mind distanced narratives. I don’t mind character motives that you have to suss out for yourself. I don’t mind oblivious narrators. But all 3 of these things together in a less-than-compelling narrative? It doesn’t make for an engaging read. I did absolutely adore the reading and it wasn’t a bad book, but I just wanted so much more from it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Lord of Shadows, by Cassandra Clare. Finished July 11th. So I picked up Lord of Shadows basically right after finishing Lady Midnight. And it was even better than the first one! It starts out with some tropes I REALLY hate (like ~just kidding the enemy you killed in the first book was alive whole time~), but in a shocking twist Clare didn’t follow her usual formula and mixed things up in an unexpected way. I was like, “yes Cassie yes spread those wings.”

We get a bunch of things here I’ve wanted the entire time I’ve been reading this series, like a better explanation of the magic system and finally a trip into Faerie. I still do think Clare is holding back a bit in terms of rough things happening to her characters, but this was such a fun romp. I am getting quite attached to the characters (aside from our leads, Emma and Julian, who I find kind of boring: but this is normal with her stuff, side characters are always better) and am honestly excited for the final book in the trilogy.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Red, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished July 14th. I almost squealed when I heard that this book was really coming out. It has been mentioned before quite a few times in Reisz’ Original Sinners series because the main character, Nora, wrote it. Yes, a book in a book that is now a real book! What more could I want?

While I really miss the OS gang and how dark Reisz got with them, this was a really nice replacement. And not just because I can pretend Nora wrote it: this book is weird and really out there. It’s romance/erotica with some verrry strange and fringe elements, so if you’re sensitive to like basically any weird fetish this probably isn’t for you. The premise is that a gallery owner, Mona, is going out of business but a man offers to save the gallery if she agrees to spend 1 night a month with him for a full year. Mona is a girl who likes to live dangerously so she says “hell yeah that sounds safe sane and consensual!”

Mona has to re-create famous erotic paintings with her patron, which is such an unusual and interesting concept. Things get very weird very fast: the first one is pretty normal (“Olympia”), but the second (“The Slave Market”) almost had me questioning what I was reading. And it just descends into some pretty surreal things from there. Like giant Minotaurs and human sacrifices and ghosts. So be warned, if you open up this book you’re in for a wild ride.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Final Girls, by Riley Sager. Finished July 15th. This is a book that had so much potential. The idea of a real life Final Girls club is just awesome: as a big horror movie fan, I found this concept instantly appealing. However, it’s really being marketed as this intense action romp where the Final Girls are hunted down one by one, and it is decidedly not that. By the way, if someone wants to write a book where that is the actual plot, I am behind you 100%.

First of all, there are only 3 Final Girls in this book, which is… not a lot. Certainly not enough for a bloody horror adventure. The focus is almost entirely on our main girl, Quincy, who conveniently has amnesia about her own Final Girl experience. Throughout the noel there are snippets of what happened that night, but 90% of it is teenagers getting drunk and squabbling with each other and agonizing over losing their virginity. So, like the setup to a horror movie, only it’s almost all of the content instead of the opening 20 minutes. Sadly, these kind-of-boring snippets are the most action-packed of the novel, because most of it is just Quincy like hanging out with another girl.

Lisa, one of the Final Girls, has died, and the two remaining ones come together to deal with their loss. Quincey and Sam form a weird sisterhood based on trauma, and while this part was quite slow I actually enjoyed it. I’m a sucker for toxic female friendships and this one was great. Shoplifting, vigilantism in Central Park, drugs, lies, and secrets. Of course the book starts off as being one thing (horror movie), switches to this female friendship section, and then takes a hard right into over-the-top drama in the last 15%. There are basically 5 characters here so no matter who the final ‘big bad’ is, it’s not going to be a surprise. I mean, not many options. And the actual conclusion was just ridiculous. Like, too ridiculous for even a cheesy horror movie (unless it was straight to video!).

The writing was fine and I found the characters engaging so I can’t really give this lower than 2.5 stars, but this was a huge disappointment.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 117/200

Goal Books: 110

Impulse Reads: 7

[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]

December Reading Wrapup: Part II

4 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

268/175 Books

28/28 Series Books

70/50 TBR Books

27/15 Different Countries

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

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]

July 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part I

2 Aug

Like June before it, July was not the best reading month for me. Sure, I got through 17 books (still a bit below my average for 2016), but I read a lot of books I felt only so-so about. In fact, I hit a serious slump mid-month and had to force myself to read at all. Honestly, July is my least-favorite month of the year so I didn’t expect to get a lot accomplished, but I am really looking forward to August–where I will be reading all the Man Booker nominees and hopefully getting through quite a few of my ARCs!

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The Bourbon Thief, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished July 1st. So, this month actually started out quite well. A new release from Tiffany Reisz, the queen of my heart? Sure, it’s not an Original Sinners novel, but it’s a grim and broody standalone. I’d class this as modern gothic: it’s the torrid history of a Kentucky bourbon family that gets increasingly dark and twisty as the plot goes on.

There are two dual storylines: in modern times, a woman named Paris has just stolen a million dollar bottle of bourbon. She says it’s her birthright, and weaves for us the history of the Maddox family who made that original bottle. Of course the stories overlap, but Paris is really just a framing for the historical narrative. Which is everything you’d expect from Reisz: dark, sexy, and tragic. I thought I saw most of the twists coming but this book really plays with reader expectations. As always, totally fabulous.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Fool’s Fate, by Robin Hobb. Finished July 7th. I spent the last 100 pages of this book crying off and on. Not full-on sobs or anything, but I don’t think my eyes were dry for even a second. This series just makes me feel SO MANY EMOTIONS. I cried when something sad happened, I cried when people said goodbye, I cried when the characters were happy. I’m way too overly attached, guys.

So, this is the 9th book in the Realm of the Elderlings so of course any amount of plot discussion would be spoilery as hell, but it was, as every Robin Hobb book seems to be, utter perfection. There are many overlaps here with, obviously, the first Farseer trilogy, but we get some nice cameos from the Liveship Traders as well! The plots of these two worlds really “collide” in an interesting fashion. And while the plot and the writing are amazing, it’s the characters who will steal your heart and make you feel things you didn’t think were possible. Always and forever I adore this series.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Lions, by Bonnie Nadzam*. Finished July 9th. I (very) recently read Bonnie Nadzam’s first novel, Lamb, and really enjoyed it. Lamb is a tense, tight little novel with a very limited cast and a slim but well-crafted plot. Lions is the opposite in pretty much every way, as the name cleverly implies. This takes place in a modern ghost town with barely over 100 people, but the cast includes quite a few of these intrepid/desperate souls. The plot is sprawling: there are a few key “events” (a stranger comes to town, someone dies, a boy has to take on a family task–though these things are not necessarily connected), but overall it’s a rambling sort of novel.

There is no sense of linear time here. The reader feels afloat in the story: in a paragraph, we will go from a present-day event to a conversation in the past almost mid-sentence. It always takes a second to get re-oriented, though I never found it confusing. The structure did remind me a bit of Man Tiger, a book I loved for its unconventional timeline. Some of the characters seem to blur together, locations overlap in confusing ways: it’s a clever way to portray how unmoored our main cast feels both in time and in their own lives.

The plot really centers around two teens, Gordon and Leigh, who are the only young people in Lions. They become swept up in events bigger than themselves, but at the same time they are struggling to separate themselves from the town/their parents and form their own identities. It’s not really a coming of age novel, though that is definitely one of the themes explored.

Interestingly, with all the people in it this novel feels kind of empty. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s a lonely book. You feel like you’re on these big empty plains in the middle of nowhere with a group of people you don’t fit in with. You’re a stranger here: you never feel like “part of the town.” Just a visitor, nose pressed up against the glass, getting bits and pieces of these peoples’ stories and histories. I think the structure and tone of the book are much more effective than the plot (which I do think could have used a bit of tightening) but it definitely made an impression on me.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Drowned Worlds, by Jonathan Strahan*. Finished July 10th. So, funny story. When I was about 14 I started reading a book that took place on a flooded earth. My room was painted while I was reading and somehow the book got lost in the shuffle. It was so evocative and I’ve spent years unsuccessfully looking for it. Well, it turns out that book was J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (which of course I’ve finally picked up a new copy of), and this short story collection is inspired by that work! Only took me 13 years but I finally solved the mystery.

Short story collections are always hard to talk about, because I can’t go over every single one. This is a really evocative, dreamy collection and while of course the theme is very similar from story to story, there’s no sense of same-ness that makes it boring. I think they actually work better together than separately: I have fond memories of reading this, yet only a few stand out in my mind. The theme really holds them together and makes even the more mediocre ones fun to read.

“Dispatches from the Cradle” by Ken Liu, “Who Do You Love?” by Kathleen Ann Goonan, “Inselberg” by Nalo Hopkins, “Last Gods” by Sam J. Miller, and “The Future is Blue” by Catherynne M. Valente were the standouts for me. While these are all technically in the science fiction genre there’s such a variety (hard scifi, new weird, straight-up bizarro) that I was 100% okay with what was, to be honest, just the same premise (flooded worlds) over and over. If you like science fiction with an environmentalist twist definitely give this one a go.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Listen to Me, by Hannah Pittard*. Finished July 10th. I’ve read a surprising amount of road trip books this year. I can barely think of any I’ve read in the past but so far I’ve tackled I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Binary Star, both of which I’ve adored. So when I heard the summary of Listen to Me (a modern gothic thriller roadtrip novel???) I was hooked. However, I think the marketing for this is SO misleading. It’s the story of a rocky marriage, not a tense thriller.

Sure, there’s quite a bit of tension. Maggie, the wife, was violently mugged recently and has grown paranoid about, well, everything. I really liked this aspect of the novel: it portrayed PTSD in a very realistic manner. It’s not always full-on panic attacks and specific triggers. When you’re attacked like this (muggings, assaults, rapes) the world loses its sense of safety. Suddenly things you trusted and took for granted have sinister angles. Everyone is a potential predator. Every street a potential incident. Maggie’s paranoia may seem overdone but trust me, it’s quite realistic and for me at least very sympathetic.

Her husband Mark, however, is just an asshole. It’s hard to sympathies with his “oh my god my wife is so traumatized and that is very hard for ME because this is all obviously about MY COMFORT.” I think he’s supposed to be unlikeable, but it’s hard to portray a broken marriage between two people who aren’t on the same level. Like, you feel super bad for Maggie and hate Mark. You should either hate or love both of them, and the book seems a little uneven because of this.

Now, my real issue is the ending, which obviously I’m not going to spoil. But it was SUCH a letdown. There’s this huge building of tension: Mark and Maggie are fighting, there’s a huge storm in the distance, towns are losing power, even the dog is getting more and more anxious. But there’s no huge event or climax. A thing happens, and poof, that’s it. There’s no resolution to the problems (or at least a reasonable and believable resolution), there’s no big thriller-y event. I was so let down.

If you like tense stories about relationships and don’t expect a big reveal or climax, this might be a book for you. But domestic drama is usually not my forte and I wish this was marketed more towards its target audience. I think the ending is very fitting for the type of book it is, but not for the type of book readers expect it to be.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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True Crime Addict, by James Renner. Finished July 11th. This is a hard book to review. As a true crime book, it’s easily a 1-star read. Renner muddies the facts of the case, does wildly inaccurate research, and makes insane claims with no proof to back it up. But as a psychological study of a delusional sociopath? It’s truly amazing. And I’m not pulling the sociopath thing out of my ass: in one of the very first chapters, Renner informs the reader that he scored as a sociopath on a therapist-issued personality test. He’s also a lush and potentially a drug addict (also admitted by him, as he detoxes in jail), but we’re supposed to believe a word out of his mouth? Okay.

To be honest, the Maura Murray case isn’t that interesting as far as unsolved mysteries go. Here’s what we know: leading up to her disappearance, Maura was a very troubled individual. She was a kleptomaniac, she committed credit card fraud, had a breakdown at work, lied to her employer about a family member dying, was on probation, and got in 2 car accidents in a few days. If you want to believe Renner’s claims, she also had an eating disorder (I’m not going to touch the promiscuity angle because he has NO valid sources on that-a slighted ex does not count-and it has nothing to do with her being “troubled” anyway ffs). If Maura got in trouble with the law again, her credit fraud would count as a felony and she wouldn’t be able to finish nursing school. She crashes her car while drunk on a back road in the middle of nowhere during winter, denies help from 2 separate people, and goes missing 5 minutes later. She either 1) ran into the woods in order to hide from the cops and died of exposure or 2) was picked up by someone very bad. No other option makes logical sense. Renner denies #1 because they couldn’t see her footprints in the woods from a helicopter. First off, are you kidding me?? And second, even the slightest bit of wind is enough to bury prints. They searched for prints at least 12 hours after she disappeared, plenty of time for the wind to destroy them.

But Renner picks the 2 most insane theories and runs with them, ignoring all evidence that doesn’t agree with his ideas. He’s convinced there was a second car Maura was following (that no one, not the 2 people who tried to help her OR the cops, saw? lol okay). He’s also convinced that she ran away to Canada and is living there. His “evidence” for this is shaky witness testimony that they “totally saw someone who looks like an older Maura!” Sightings like this are not taken seriously because 99% of the time it’s just someone WANTING to see the victim (i.e. Maddie McCann’s “sightings” all over the damn world). None of the evidence points to this, but he’s so fucking obsessed with the idea of “solving” it that he’s blind to its faults.

This book is an utter trainwreck in terms of, well, everything. Renner mentions upwards of a dozen cold cases and solved cases that have NOTHING to do with Maura. He mentions like 5 girls who went missing “near” the area but most of them are solved, or from decades ago. He mentions random serial killer and kidnappers who, again, have nothing to do with Maura. It’s like his brain threw up on the page and we’re just running on his rambling train of thought. Interspersed with his “investigation” (I really don’t consider harassing the family nonstop and getting an army of online minions to find shit for you actual investigation, but ymmv) are random snippets of his life. It includes things like getting put in jail for assaulting a cop, ignoring his autistic son’s diagnosis, becoming convinced that said son is psychic (I’m not lying, he literally thinks his son can read minds), and going to a crackpot medium to “find Maura.” It’s… just really weird. He also thinks that life is giving him clues in the form of “fearful symmetry” (aka coincidences he reads wayyyy too much into).

So every aspect of his investigation into Maura is bullshit. It’s terrible journalism, terrible writing. But this is a fucking fascinating book. The way Renner tries to manipulate the audience, the way he presents the facts about himself but then skirts around the implications, how he glosses over his downright stalking of the family members? It makes for a riveting and disturbing read. Just don’t expect any actual closure on the Maura case.

Lipstick Rating Full

 

 

 

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The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta. Finished July 11th. I really love Tom Perrotta. Something about his writing is just very cozy and comforting, though given the themes he tackles it really shouldn’t be. But there’s just something about his suburban settings that feel so delightfully familiar it’s like snuggling up with a cup of tea.

The Leftovers is actually a pretty grim book: there’s a Rapture-like event and the majority of the population is “left behind” to deal with a world that’s suddenly much smaller. Many people lose loved ones, everyone loses friends. This isn’t really an “end of the world” type book, though. It’s about regular people struggling with tragedy. It’s about carrying on after you think you’ve lost everything. It’s about finding a reason to live–a good reason to live. It’s about family.

I read this over the course of about 3 weeks, bit by bit, but not once did even the slightest detail fade for me. I’d go 5 days without reading it at all, pick it up in the middle of the chapter and feel like instantly I was with friends. There’s so much depth and meaning here but as always with Perrotta, it’s the characters that make it special. They’re just so realistic and flawed and you want to hug (almost) all of them.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson. Finished July 14th. I am a huge fan of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. It’s everything I want in a mystery: amazing characters, beautiful writing, strong plot & mystery, tons of subtext and interesting themes. I have yet to find a true mystery even slightly similar (though The City & the City and Kraken also fill out the “everything I want in a mystery” list, but they’re kind of fantasy as well). You usually get either a cool mystery (He Who Fears the Wolf, any and all Agatha Christie) OR interesting characters (1st and 3rd Cormoran Strike, Gillian Flynn, Summertime All the Cats Are Bored). It’s really hard for me to find literary mysteries that are strong in all aspects of the story. So when I heard that the author of Life After Life wrote a mystery series, I assumed I would be all about that.

Well, I assumed wrong. This book didn’t have any of the things I look for in a mystery. It wasn’t even the trashy sort of fun you get from books like Heartsick. First off, I was misled into thinking that the 3 seemingly random cases at the beginning were connected. Spoiler alert: they’re not. At all. I was expecting a cool twist or… something. One gets solved (in a way I found very unsatisfying), one remains solved but also open-ended (hard to explain) and the other… isn’t a mystery? Has nothing to do with anything? Very confusing.

Our main detective was very boring. All of his character traits seemed very trite and played out, plus he was kind of sexist (and not in a Cormoran Strike “we’re playing with noir tropes” kind of way, which I find annoying as well). I did really like Amelia & Julie and the dad of the dead girl (whose name, 4 days later, I cannot remember–shows how well this book held my attention). They were interesting and sympathetic. But everyone else… bleh. There were just SO MANY characters and plots, it felt convoluted and like you never got to know anyone else.

I think this book had potential but needed a really heavy-handed editor. Take out most of the plotlines, leave us with just one of the mysteries (maybe 2 if they actually connected), trim the character list by half. I mean, obviously this book has great reviews and I seem to be mostly alone in this opinion. I think if you’re more of a mystery reader you probably would enjoy this. But it’s a genre I am insanely, overly picky about. The thing is, I really love a mystery done right, but I tend to be super critical and unable to overlook “flaws” in mystery/noir books. This one just read like a batch of all my pet peeves (weak mystery, lackluster characters, too many plots) thrown together.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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My Sister Rosa, by Justine Larbalestier. Finished July 15th. So I read a few lackluster books in a row. I was really feeling the true crime/mystery genre (due to listening to nothing but crime podcasts for 3 days tbh) and I thought to myself, “a book about a child sociopath! How could I go wrong with this.” I feel like I need to have a sit-down with myself and be like, Leah, you don’t like YA as a genre. Stop trying to make it happen for you. It’s not going to happen. (There are a few YA books I LOVE, but literally 90% of the things I read in it are 1 or 2 star reads for me). I mean, I didn’t really read YA books when I was the age they’re aimed at. If that stuff didn’t appeal to 16-year-old me, it sure as hell isn’t going to 11 years later. This is not in any way a dig at anyone who likes YA, it’s just not for me! And I need to accept that.

This is not really a book about Rosa, the tiny sociopath. It’s your usual YA coming-of-age type stuff. Guy moves to a new city, guy is insecure about his future & identity, guy makes new friends and finds love. Sure, his sister is a potential murderer, but that takes a backseat until the end of the book. And while the stuff with Rosa was good, the rest of it made me legitimately angry. Like, I wanted to throw the book I was so angry.

It’s just… it’s really fucking preachy. I adore diversity in books, and it’s something I intentionally seek out. There’s diversity here but it’s sooooo forced. Every character literally gives a lil monologue about how ~different~ they are. It’s bizarre and so unlike real life. When you have a random, everyday discussion with a gay/black/asian/agender/etc person it doesn’t start off with “I AM GAY AND LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT AND MY GIRLFRIEND AND MY GENDER IDENTITY.” We’d even get weird monologues about diversity from random characters, like Rosa the sociopath who in real life wouldn’t care at all. Many of the side characters were basically only their “diversity” and nothing else. Aside from Leilani (one of my least favorite characters of all time, would rather read 50 Shades than a book about this bitch), they were paper thin and so tropey and it seemed like the author was trying SO HARD to be all “look, diversity, I’m so accepting, check out my cool hip characters.” Also, some of the preachier moments made no sense. Sid will only date someone who “has Jesus in their life” (we get tons and tons of paragraphs about religion and acceptance, possibly the most forced aspect) but her mom runs a non-denominational church and people of several, non-Christian religions attend it? We get a paragraphs-long speech about how a 1k tshirt is what it “actually costs” to make a shirt if you don’t use sweatshops and buying anything cheaper is unethical, and our POV character agrees? Just lots of weird, wtf moments.

In the last 10% or so the focus goes back to Rosa and I was actually invested, which is why this gets 2 and not 1 stars (just kidding, bumped down my rating a lot after thinking on it). I actually thought it was going in a really cool direction that would have saved the entire book for me, but sadly… no. I mean, honestly, for a YA book the ending was pretty brave and refreshing. It wasn’t sugary-sweet happy times everyone gets what they want. Seemed a lot more realistic and I appreciated that a lot. But I wasn’t even that satisfied with the ending and lets’ be real, 5% of good content doesn’t save the 95% that is shitty.

LipstickRating1Half

 

 

 

So, that was the first half of July! It was really a combination of Case Histories/My Sister Rosa that put me in a funk. Reading was going all right until then, but I didn’t finish another book until the 20th!

Reading Challenge Goals

164/175 Books

19/35 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]

Favorite Books of 2015, And A Year In Retrospect

4 Jan

2015 is over! It’s funny, years passing didn’t used to mean a whole lot to me, but now that I’ve started doing yearly reading goals it’s an exciting time. A time to celebrate the achievements of the past year and set goals for the future! Those goals will be in another post because come on, no one wants to read 5+ pages of me rambling.

This year I met almost all of my goals. I read 191 books out of my initial goal of 150. I read 72,025 pages out of a set goal of 45,000. I got through 12 series (a total of 56 books), which was right on track with my goals for one a month! I didn’t hit my goal to get through big books I’ve been putting off (only did 1 of 4) but I’m overall very satisfied with my reading this year. I hit so many different genres, and there was a pretty good diversity in terms of author’s gender, sexuality, and home nation.

So, let’s talk about my favorites. Given the number I read there was no way I could do one of those concise, 10-book lists like many people. So I decided to sit down, comb through my list (excluding re-reads, of course), and write down every one I really loved with an idea to trim it down to about 20 at the end. Well… I made my list, and it was only 19! Yeah, I was pretty proud. Instead of adding another book I just went with my gut. So these are my top 19 favorites of 2015! In alphabetical order, because I’m not going to pick favorites. These were all fantastic.

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The Animals, by Christian Kiefer: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel like your heart just got ripped out of your chest. I had basically no expectations going into this novel and it blew me away. It’s bleak and depressing but full of am amazing amount of emotional punch. I actually cried reading this: in fact, I cried reading 4 books this year (and, of course, all of them are on this list!). The Animals skirts a lot of genres, dipping its toes into grit-lit but never quite settling there because there is more… humanity and connection here than you’d expect from grit-lit. I mean, I grew emotionally attached to a bear in this book. And I’m terrified of bears.

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The Blue Fox, by Sjón: This slim little volume is part fairytale, part family drama, part survival-adventure, and part pure magic. The writing is simple but amazingly lyrical, and the plot manages to have many twists and turns given how few pages it covers. There’s a strong undercurrent of folklore and magical realism here, and while I suppose you could consider this a moral tale it’s quite twisted and emotional. The characterization manages to be incredibly well done given how little the author gives himself to work with: there’s a disabled girl here who isn’t even alive in any of the scenes, yet manages to be absolutely amazing and compelling.

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Broken Harbor, by Tana French: I honestly never thought a Tana French novel could surpass In The Woods for me (and yes, I’m working on those Dublin Murder Squad posts!). Yet somehow, Broken Harbor did. This book takes the “is there something weird/supernatural going on here?” theme that ran through ITW and shoots it into overdrive. This book is really a combo horror-mystery, and it’s spooky as hell. And the main mystery is, of course, combined with a fantastic lead detective with a… colorful home life, to say the least, with an element of madness that just amplifies the creep-factor of the main murders.

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The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro: This seems to be a very divisive book. Fans of Ishiguro’s more mainstream books like The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go generally don’t like it, and I can see why. But my favorite Ishiguro books (The Unconsoled, A Pale View of the Hills) contain a streak of strange unreality. The Buried Giant takes this and runs with it: it’s technically a fantasy book, and includes things like dragons and giants and demons. However, fans of fantasy were also disappointed because it’s not exactly a swashbuckling adventure. The story focuses on an elderly married couple and their search for their son… and also their memories. This is more a book about memory, war, and love than it is about dragons or adventure. And while it’s an Arthurian tale with characters borrowed from that world, there’s nothing epic about it. This is a slow, character-driven tale that has an absolutely heartbreaking conclusion that had me in tears. If you like unusual, slow, fairytale-like fantasy I highly, highly recommend this!

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Dead Beat, by Jim Butcher: The Dresden Files was my second-favorite series that I discovered this year, and of course one of the books was going to make it into my favorites list. It wasn’t even a debate which one: Dead Beat encompasses everything I love about the series. The characters are absolute perfection (Butters~), the fantasy aspect is great (necromancers! the Wild Hunt! the Erlking!), the story is riveting with some nice twists & turns, it advances the meta-plot, and most importantly it has the greatest action scene I’ve ever read. It’s just… if you like urban fantasy and haven’t read this, what’s wrong with you?! And if you don’t like urban fantasy, give it a shot: it’s a genre I don’t particularly enjoy, except for the Dresden Files. Which is pure magic.

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The Evolutionary Void, by Peter Hamilton: I am a longtime fan of Peter Hamilton. I devoured Pandora’s Star & Judas Unchained in my late teens, but somehow I hadn’t read the follow-up trilogy. Well, okay, I know exactly how. I bought the first book the day it came out, read it, and by the time the second one came out I forgot everything that happened. And re-reading a 800+ page book is no small feat, so eventually I gave up. This year I re-dedicated myself and read all of them in a row. What an amazing ride! I didn’t think I could love a book of his more than Pandora’s Star, but this came hella close. All of the parts come together perfectly in the finale, every stray thread wrapped up and every character proven useful to the plot. Of course characters are where Hamilton really shines and this has some great ones. But my favorite thing (aside from, you know, everything else I loved) was the incredible easter eggs from Pandora’s Star. My favorite character came back in the most perfect way imaginable. Peter Hamilton, how even are you so amazing.

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Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff: Few books inspire as much passion in me as Fates and Furies. Something about this book struck a deep chord in me: the writing is beyond gorgeous, the characters are fantastically complex, the plot unfolds in incredibly unexpected ways and it’s deliciously meta. I’m on a warpath when it comes to pushing this book on people: if you know me in person, I’ve probably tried to get you to read it. I feel all fuzzy thinking about it: it’s one of those books you could re-read a dozen times and find something new each go through. And the main theme, of what makes an event “real” and how perception affects reality, is pretty much my absolute favorite. Oh, and the book-in-a-book…. which is also present here. It’s seriously perfect, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.

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A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay: 2015 was not a great year for horror (unlike 2014, which was spectacular!) but I did find some great reads. Including the amazingly-meta House of Leaves-inspired A Head Full of Ghosts. It’s about a possibly-possessed girl who gets a documentary made about her, but it’s the telling of the story that is so compelling. We get the story from the “possessed” girl’s sisters, the filtered experience of a reporter, and a series of blog posts that dissect the documentary on its 10-year anniversary. There are so many references to other horror novels and movies, far more than I could ever hope to catch, but there are some pretty clever ones from my favorite horror book of all time (House of Leaves) and an absolute whammy from We Have Always Lived In The Castle. It wasn’t a perfect book, and I had a few issues with it, but my overall enjoyment and the high scare-factor (that sun room scene oh my god) overrode all the (small) negatives.

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Hyperion, by Dan Simmons: Hyperion is a book I picked up over a decade ago and never finished. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because the first story (The Priest’s Tale) was just 2spooky4me. I have a high scare tolerance but man… that one got me to the bone. I decided to finish the book (and series) this year and, yeah, The Priest’s Tale is just as unbearably freaky the second time around. But Hyperion is also awe-inspiring, heartbreakingly sad, tense as hell, and absolutely magical. This is everything science fiction should be: the main concept does not override the plot, but serves to provide a platform for an absolutely amazing story. While the over-arching plot is great it’s the tales from the pilgrims that make Hyperion shine. Definitely one of the all-time scifi greats, even if the sequels never quite reach its fevered pitch of intensity.

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The Incarnations, by Susan Barker: I love fiction set in Asia, and while my particular area of focus is Japan (especially when written by Japanese authors) I love China too. Or rather the idea of it: with the current censorship from the Chinese government, it’s hard to find modern fiction set in China that really feels like it’s set there, rather than the author just choosing it as an “exotic” set piece. The Incarnations is compared to David Mitchell frequently, and it deserves this high praise: it tells the story of a series of incarnations between two people over a thousand+ years of China’s history. It really feels steeped in culture, and every detail (from historical accuracy to the modern food) is well-researched. Of course none of this means anything if the story isn’t great but oh man is it compelling. It’s part historical fiction, part mystery, and totally amazing. Though all those damn dumpling descriptions will make you hungry, so have a snack ready when reading.

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A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara: This book tore me apart. It’s a devastating read, and contains pretty much every trigger imaginable (self harm, substance abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, mental illness, suicide, and more!). It’s amazingly hard to get through, and there’s one scene where I had to physically put down my Kindle because it was too much. Yet for all this book rips your heart to shreds, it’s just… it’s perfection. I loved it so much. Even though it made me cry (multiple times). The characters are the most fleshed-out and realistic I’ve ever encountered in fiction, and while it’s uncompromisingly brutal it’s well worth the read if you have a strong stomach. One of my favorite books of all time, and probably my favorite read of the year.

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Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov: The one “big book” I wanted to read this year that I actually got through! Sure, it isn’t big in terms of length, but it’s one of the most beloved books of all time. That kind of thing makes me nervous. But I shouldn’t have been, because I loved it. I think this is the best execution of the unreliable narrator I’ve ever read: while it’s clear Humbert Humbert isn’t telling us any of the truth and constantly lies to himself or misses incredibly important details, you at times almost find yourself siding with him. Which is truly masterful writing, because it’s about a child rapist who is practically proud of his actions. It’s also downright hilarious at times, a stark contrast to how sad and tragic the overall plot is. The writing is, of course, the star: every sentence is pure poetry.

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The Magician King, by Lev Grossman: The last of the 4 books that made me cry! You’d think the first book in the series, The Magicians, would be on my list. But oh. My. Lord. This book takes everything I loved in the first (super meta, references to fantasy classics, twisted plot, characters you love and love to hate, beautiful writing & worldbuilding) and amped them up to 11. The story here is darker than The Magicians: much darker. Julia’s summoning scene was unbearable to read. But the character growth here is fantastic, and of course it’s more of one of my favorite worlds. Definitely my favorite of the trilogy, though I truly loved all of them. This was my favorite series discovery of the year.

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The Queen, by Tiffany Reisz: Tiffany Reisz is the queen of my heart. I love everything she does, but nothing comes close to the Original Sinners series. Nora is one of my all-time favorite characters, so this book was kind of bittersweet. It’s the end of the series–or at least for a while, since Reisz has since announced that it will continue at some point in the future. So it’s just goodbye for now, not goodbye forever. But man was it hard for me to say farewell to these characters and their world.

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Quicksand, by Junichiro Tanizaki: It’s kind of shocking that I love Japanese literature so much but hadn’t yet read any Junichiro Tanizaki. I certainly fixed that in 2015, and while I liked everything of his that I read Quicksand holds a special place in my heart. Like its namesake, it lures you into a sense of complacency and then you find yourself sinking into absolute madness. It seems like a simple premise: woman cheats on her husband with another woman. But the plot here gets so amazingly, dementedly complex, and it seems like every page there’s a new twist in the plot. It just gets worse and worse for the characters until we’re far into magical realism territory because it’s just so unbelievable–yet because the burn is so slow, you’re never taken out of the core story. It’s a masterfully constructed novel.

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Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch: Another “you ripped my heart out but I loved every second of it” novel. That seems to be a theme of the year, no? Another theme: liking the second book in a trilogy the best. This actually seems to be the least-liked Gentleman Bastards novel but I loved it so much. There’s a heist (of course), pirates, a fantastical casino, plots, sabotage, character development, world development, interesting magic, fantastic female characters, a super interesting twisty plot, and of course more Jean x Locke bromance. It’s everything that makes the series unique and interesting on hyperdrive.

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Satin Island, by Tom McCarthy: This might be the weirdest book I read this year, and it was also one of my favorites. It has no plot, and it barely has characters either. What it does have is some amazing discussion of anthropology, which I have a degree in so of course it was right up my alley! It’s really a series of interconnected stories that answer one of the big anthro questions: how does perception affect reality? What version of an event is the true story? If you like weird philosophical texts that focus on meaning and connections rather than, you know, everything else you’d expect in a book, you might love this! But probably not. I mean, it’s so weird. How did this even get published.

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When We Were Animals, by Joshua Gaylord: I really didn’t expect a young adult book to end up here. It’s a genre that has totally lost my interest, and I tend to skim over any releases that are tagged YA. But all the good reviews (and the compelling plot description) swayed me to pick up When We Were Animals and I am SO thankful I did. This book is ethereal and fantastical, an amazing twist on the coming-of-age story. It’s as wild as its premise makes it out to be, but amazingly deep and with some fantastic characters. I assume it’s YA because of the age of the main characters, because there’s nothing simplified about the writing (which is AMAZING), plot, or characters. I was so enthralled with this book, and I absolutely devoured it.

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The Wide, Carnivorous Sky, by John Langan: I know a lot of people don’t like short stories, but they might be my favorite writing medium. Especially horror & new weird short stories, which these definitely are. This book plays with the format & boundaries of the short story: there’s a play, a movie, and a classroom lecture, along with classic throwbacks to Lovecraft & Poe. The monsters are classics as well (vampires, werewolves, zombies) but the structure of each one is just so fresh and interesting. Every twist was pleasantly unexpected, and I loved every one of these stories. John Langan has quickly moved up on the list of my favorite horror authors, and I can’t wait to catch up on his other books and, of course, to read what he has coming out next!

So that’s it for 2015! As you can see, my favorites were kind of all over the place: literary fiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror, short stories, classics, romance, mystery, young adult, historical fiction, and urban fantasy all had books on the list. And 6 of them were from series I read this year, making me very happy with my decision to hit so many! So what were your favorite books of the year?

December 2015 Wrapup: Part II

1 Jan

I can hardly believe it’s the end of December, but another year has come and gone. With the holiday rush I didn’t have as much time as I usually did for reading this half of the month, and I spent a large chunk of time traveling (4 weekends in a row away from home!), but I still made a decent dent in my ever-growing digital pile of books.

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Alice, by Christina Henry. Finished December 16th. This book is not for those with weak stomachs. It is, in a way, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland: but it is much more so a totally fresh story that uses the world & characters of Alice as set pieces. Alice here is a girl freshly escaped from a mental institution, and there are particularly demented interpretations of the March Hare, the Walrus, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and many other familiar faces. This book is absolutely jam-packed with horrific violence against women, but manages to not be exploitative or titillating at all, which is really quite a feat. It’s definitely a hard read, but the writing is beautiful and I loved this dark, violent spin on Alice. Especially Christina Henry’s take on the White Rabbit, who was my absolute favorite part of the book.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

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Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King. Finished December 19th. Onward in my quest to read every Stephen King novel! I know a lot of people dislike “new” King but Revival is probably in my top 3 favorites of his works, and I’ve really enjoyed Doctor Sleep and his newer short stories so I wasn’t hesitant about diving into this. Like most of his books, Lisey’s Story felt comfortably familiar. There’s a character who is a writer, strange & surreal supernatural elements, a psychotic but very human bad guy, a very well fleshed out female main character, and of course something sad happens to an animal. I think the book is overly long, though that’s probably a criticism you can levy about most of his books (especially the more recent ones) but it held my attention all the way through. There’s a scene towards the end that’s one of the most gruesome he’s written, and given the premise (writer’s widow finds out some spooky supernatural stuff) I was not at all expecting the dark direction this turned in.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

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Summer, by Edith Wharton. Finished December 20th. Sometimes I feel intensely guilty when I read a classic and don’t particularly enjoy it. Then I have to remember my love for many classics (Dracula, Great Expectations), and that not liking one of them doesn’t make me some kind of uneducated trollop. But man did I feel guilty for not liking this book. I mean, it’s Edith Wharton, it deals with abortion in a time where that was a forbidden topic, it’s a feminist text. And… I mean, I didn’t hate it. The language was beautiful and I got lost in Wharton’s descriptions of the countryside and mountains. But I found the main character insufferably naive but also incredibly fat-headed–not the best combo. The plot was kind of meandering, and Victorian-style romances have never been my thing, so I guess it wasn’t a shock that I found this so-so.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

 

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Poinsettia, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished December 21st. This short holiday-themed novella is part of the Original Sinners series, one of my favorite of all time, so of course I devoured it right before Christmas! It deals with one of the main characters in a time period we’ve never seen him during, which was great, along with a character who was named but never appeared on-page. It was short but sweet–or rather, bittersweet, because it deals with some surprisingly heavy topics that I wasn’t expecting. And perhaps the best part: in the intro, Reisz states that The Queen is “the eighth and final (for now, not forever)” in the series. Which means… more books in the future?! More Nora? Yes, please.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

 

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Among Others, by Jo Walton. Finished December 23rd. My dad has been asking me to read this for about a year now, and I have no idea why it took me so long. Okay, I do know why: the cover reads as total chick-lit, and the premise doesn’t sound the least bit interesting to me. But I adored this! It has a wonderful fairytale feel, but walks a thin line between “this is totally magic!” and “um, is this girl a little unhinged?” The magic system is absolutely beautiful, the fairies are suitably creepy, and the plot is just the kind of slow-paced, character-driven fantasy I adore. But the second layer to the book is what makes it great. Our main character reads a lot of scifi, so the book is sprinkled with discussions & commentary on scifi classics, along with a playful play dance along the barrier between fantasy and science fiction. If you like magical reads that make you wistful for your childhood, but still manage to remain firmly in the “adult” side of the genre, I highly highly recommend this.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

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The Unnoticeables, by Robert Brockway . Finished December 26th. This short novel is a jaunty ride through the 70′s punk scene in New York combined with some splatterpunk horror-comedy centered around a particularly terrifying take on angels. The writing here is irreverently funny and really carries the book along: it reminded me strongly of Sam Pink and Peter Stenson, which is high praise. It kind of tapers off in intensity towards the end and I feel like the plot wasn’t as strong as the characters, writing, & monsters deserved, but I really enjoyed it and am definitely looking forward to whatever Brockway works on next.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

 

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Last Days, by Adam Nevill. Finished December 29th. Oh, Adam Nevill. I can’t quit you. The Ritual is one of my favorite horror novels despite HUGE flaws, and Last Days suffers a similar fate (without being anywhere near as compelling as The Ritual). The first half is strong and creepy, with a slow-burn horror. The second half is a huge, tedious info-dump. Literally dozens upon dozens of pages of one character telling another what’s “actually going on.” Along with relevant info we get a ton of irrelevant tidbits that have nothing to do with the actual plot (including about 20 pages spent describing a painting. No joke). Then, inexplicably, the ending switches into an action flick, removing all of the mystery from the supernatural element and making it almost goofy. There are soooo many issues with this book, which makes me sad because the first half of The Ritual is perfect horror. Yet it seems like Nevill is incapable of building that amount of horror again, let alone finishing a book without derailing it.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

October 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 3 & 4

5 Nov

Sadly, spooky book month has come and gone! Even though I will probably continue reading horror into November because it’s really what I am in the mood for. I read a ton of great stuff in October, and I feel good about how much I got through even though (for the first time this year!) I didn’t read a series. I just wasn’t feeling it and didn’t want to force myself to read something I didn’t want to. So, aside from that one Kate Daniels novel at the beginning of the month, no series this month! Which I actually feel okay about.

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Burnt Black Suns, by Simon Strantza. Finished Oct 21st. So this month I was really in the mood for short stories, especially horror and new weird ones. I blame it on Cthulhurotica! People who love Laird Barron recommend this collection over and over, so I had to take a shot at it. The opening story (“On Ice”) is a wonderful Lovecraftian tale, and there’s some Ligotti inspired work here as well, but a lot of it is original in both concept and execution. “One Last Bloom,” a short novella about scientists and creepy things under the sea, was by far my favorite.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Blackout, by Tim Curran. Finished October 22nd. This book sounds like everything you’d want in an October book. The storm of the century! Tentacles descending from the sky! A small town plagued by horror! Sadly, it falls completely flat. Sure, the core concept is really cool (and the ending is the only thing that saves it from mediocrity), but nothing else stood up. The characters were boring, the action was so expected, the plot was… kind of dull. Kind of disappointing, because the monsters were totally fantastic.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Children of the Old Leech, curated by Ross E. Lockhart. Finished October 23rd. I adore Laird Barron, so of course I had to read a collection inspired by this cosmos. Sadly, this was not exactly what I was expecting. None of the stories have that same spark that Barron puts in everything he touches, it’s more just stories set in his world (but lacking a lot of my favorite elements). The entire first half was, for the most part, kind of dull. But the second half was incredibly strong with a lot of great stories. It left me feeling like I really enjoyed it, but looking back it was just terribly uneven. The stories should have been in a totally different order, and I wish there had been more… pizzazz? in them. Some of the stories were 5 stars for sure, but it’s hard to rate overall because I was kind of disappointed in the experience.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Wide, Carnivorous Sky by John Langan. Finished October 26th. After a kind of mediocre short story collection, I read an amazing one. SO amazing. Everything about this is perfect. John Langan takes classic horror tropes, like zombies, vampires, exorcism, and werewolves, and mashes them up with super inventive story structures. There’s a play, a movie, a classroom lecture, and a second-person piece of investigative journalism. Interspersed are stories inspired by the greats, like Lovecraft and The King In Yellow. The writing in this collection is so amazing: weird, lush, and wildly innovative. I’m totally in love with this author.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Slade House, by David Mitchell. Finished October 27th. Usually we get a David Mitchell book every 4 years, so it was weird to have one a year after The Bone Clocks. But the two are connected, so it makes sense! This is a novella about a house–kind of a haunted house (so it fits the spooky book month theme)–that appears every 9 years. And the plot is directly connected to all the magical goings-on of TBC, so the two are linked. You could technically read Slade House without having read TBC, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are so many references (both to TBC and other Mitchell novels) that this really is not a good starting place. But if you are a Mitchell fan, this book is like candy. Intensely creepy, suffused with magical realism and great characters, along with a tight plot that brings in some great characters from other novels. I actually liked this more than The Bone Clocks: the plot was tighter and the magic system seemed more cohesive (though that’s probably because I knew all about it before I went in).

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Queen, by Tiffany Reisz. Finished October 28th. I have been reading the Original Sinners book series for years. The characters practically feel like extended family. And now we’ve come to the end. This book was kind of heartbreaking to read, because I knew I’d get to the end and then it would be over. I can’t mention anything about the plot because it would just be… a lot of spoilers, but it was perfect. A great end for all the characters, along with a really nice explanation of what happened before the first book kicked off. Nora, I’m going to miss you so much!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Red Tree, by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Finished October 31st. It’s fitting that I spent a month reading horror and saved the creepiest book for last (though not intentionally). Caitlin Kiernan is mentioned whenever someone brings up Laird Barron, John Langan, and all those guys (who I have obviously been exploring in depth this month) so of course I just had to read her. This novel is amazing–it has a simple plot that allows the horror to really build to peak tension, and also my favorite plot device: the book-in-a-book! There’s both a found manuscript and mysterious short stories over the course of The Red Tree, which is basically my favorite thing ever. It’s so creepy and atmospheric, with moments of absolutely chilling horror.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

150 Book Challenge: April 2015 Wrapup

13 May

I know I have already started posting updates for May, but I kind of missed a month in between that and March, didn’t I? And once I finish this, I’ll be all caught up! Except for, you know, February and most of January… but oh well! April was my birthday month, but sadly not the greatest of reading months. I accomplished a decent amount (14 books finished), but aside from the main series I picked and a few outliers, there was nothing particularly spectacular. I’m really selling you on reading this post, huh? Like the March roundup, this is going to be a long one, so you can find all the details after the jump!

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