Tag Archives: urban fantasy

July 2017 Reading Wrapup: Part II

5 Aug

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

LipstickRating1Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

Books Read: 128/200

Goal Books: 121

Impulse Reads: 7

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 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

2 Jun

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

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

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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?

October 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 1 & 2

20 Oct

It’s October, and you know what that means! Spooky book month. I’ve shifted my reading focus to horror and new weird, though of course some other genres are going to sneak their way in there depending on my mood. I think I might skip doing a series this month and instead focus on the 2spoopy4me books, because I’ll be honest–it’s kind of draining at this point. I haven’t even gotten to any of the big books I swore I was going to read, because I’ve been putting so much focus into picking & reading series! (Am I going to be able to read Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, and Ulysses before the year is up?… probably not). I miiiigh finish the last 3 Kate Daniels books, though I have to be honest–I really don’t want to.

On a more positive note, I hit my 150 book challenge! My reading seems to be increasing slowly every year. In 2013 it was 137 books, in 2014 it was 160, and I’m at 157 right now so I’ll clearly break that unless I like fall into a coma or something. Maybe I’ll set next year’s challenge for 175!

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Books of Blood VII, by Clive Barker: Finished October 1st. Starting off with horror! I always find Barker’s work to be a mixed bag: he’s written my all time favorite short story (“In The Hills, The Cities”) but others just don’t do it for me. Probably because he dabbles in a lot of types of horror and I’m not a fan of all of them. This, like his other collections, follows that same pattern: I LOVED some of them (“Dread,” “The Skins of the Fathers”), liked others (“Jacqueline Ess,” “New Murders in the Rue Morgue”), and disliked one of them (“Hell’s Event”).

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson: Finished October 3rd. A historical fiction book with a dose of fantasy. It covers the life of Ursula… or rather, the lives of Ursula. She lives, she dies, she comes back and does it all over again. This was a great way for Atkinson to explore the different paths lives can lead us down, all those unexplored avenues of choice. There was an overarching plot, that she was destined to do one specific thing, but I’ll admit that didn’t interest me much. What did was all the subtle ways her lives changed, and how her environment affected her personality and mood. This is a really lush and beautiful book, and actually made me like WWII historical fiction which is kind of a miracle.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

 

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Harvest Home, by Thomas Tryon: Finished October 5th. This is one of those books that I read compulsively in my early teens (along with Valley of the Dolls, The Thornbirds, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle). I wanted to revisit it and see if it held up now, and it does! I love gothic horror that focuses on a small town–it always feels very Stephen King to me, even though this was published a year before King’s first book. I did forget how long it takes to really build up to the horror: there are a few creepy incidents, but the tension builds and doesn’t break until the very end. It kind of lulls you into a false sense of security, only to slam you in the chest when you get to the climax. I’d forgotten the very end, which is so deliciously disturbing. A perfect October read!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Magic Rises, by Illona Andrews: Finished October 6th. Guys, I am so done with this series. I loved the premise, loved a lot of the characters, but it’s literally turned into the Kate & Curran soap opera. The tension in this book comes from the fact that Curran is being a total psychopath idiot and treating Kate like shit. Wow, just what I want from urban fantasy! Also, Curran is the worst. Why does anyone like him. This book was basically “let’s talk about pack dynamics and watch Kate moon over Curran!” which… is everything I didn’t want. So frustrating, made no sense, huge deus ex machina ending. I don’t know if I can finish the next books at this point, but I’m already 6 in and I really don’t want to be a quitter.

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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Cthulhurotica, curated by Carrie Cuinn. I will admit that I read this because I thought it would be stupid and fun, but it’s actually really good. Like no joke. It’s not exactly Lovecraft erotica, more like a feminist slant on the mythos (with some sex thrown in). The stories have a nice amount of variety, and I really didn’t feel like there were any weak points in the collection. Some were kind of mediocre, but I didn’t skim through any or find any of them downright bad. This also sent me down the slippery slope of Lovecraft Mythos–I will admit that I’m kind of snobby about Lovecraft, and so far have only read the original stuff, none of the expanded works. But after reading this I just wanted more. Oh, and this was my 150th book of the year!

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Rose Madder, by Stephen King: Finished October 11th. Rose Madder is part of a loose trio of books with Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, connected not by plot but by theme (the lives of women). Gerald’s Game is one of my top 3 favorite King novels and I really enjoyed Dolores, so of course I had to read this one eventually. The beginning of this is so strong, a brutal peek into the life of a woman living in an abusive relationship. It was really stomach-churning and you just felt so, so bad for Rose. But I think after the first section, it kind of slides downhill. Her husband was an absolutely amazing villain, but all her day-to-day life stuff felt kind of dull after 500 pages. And while there is a supernatural element, I really feel like it would have been stronger without it.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota. Finished October 13th. This was the last book on my Man Booker list (and, hilariously, the only one I didn’t read/didn’t want to won! my life, sigh). Oh, by the way, I’m really bitter about A Little Life not winning. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Anyway, this sounds like a book I should love–it’s about immigrants from India, both legal and illegal, trying to start a life in the UK. The cultural background is rich, and the layers of detail really make you feel like the setting & story is alive. But that’s kind of all I liked about it. Two of the main characters, Tochi and Narinder, I adored–but more of the focus is on Randeep and Avtar, who I really didn’t like. Also I kept confusing them, because their stories are kind of similar. The plot just dragged on and on and really had no direction. The focus was never on the important stuff (for instance, towards the end one character is living on the streets with no job–yet there were like 2 scenes of that), instead we ended up dealing with a seemingly endless amount of minute details about their everyday lives while big plot moments were skimmed over. I really wanted so much more from this.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Hear the Wind Sing, by Haruki Murakami: Finished October 14th. This and its sister novel finally got re-translated! I can’t believe I didn’t hunt down a copy before, but here we are. In this short work you can see so many of the classic Murakami traits: jazz, cooking spaghetti, a male protagonist filled with ennui, a girl with a strange but alluring trait, weird obsessions, and seemingly unconnected side tales. There was none of the magic realism that is in most of his books, but you can see the scaffolding of his style taking form, which is really amazing if you’ve read a lot of his later stuff. The writing is a bit more… stiff? I guess, than his other stuff, and the plot is a little looser than what I normally like from him, but it was really fun going back to the beginning.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Pinball, 1973, by Haruki Murakami. Finished October 15th. These books were written very close together, but you can see the progress. This book is more cohesive, and a bit more bizarre, than Hear The Wind Sing. There’s still no outright magical realism elements, though the strangeness of some of the occurrences hints at it. Plus, finally cats make an appearance! I found this more compelling than HTWS, though it’s so short it was hard to really sink your teeth into. But the twins might be some of my favorite characters of his, I wish we got more of their backstory! Though, really, I think the mystery is what makes them so great.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Pretty Ones, by Ania Ahlborn. Finished October 15th. Oh Ania. What are you doing. I usually don’t do spoilers, but this mini-review is going to contain full spoilers for The Pretty Ones. It’s not worth reading, so don’t worry. It’s about a downtrodden, dumpy office worker who feels like the world is out to get her. Her brother, mute from a terrible childhood accident, lives with her and pushes her limits constantly. She’s full of just-contained rage and fantasizes about killing her co-workers. Then one day, one of them is actually murdered! And she thinks her brother did it, dun dun duuun.

The twist is so obvious, just from that little writeup. Her brother died as a kid, she’s batshit crazy and hallucinates him/thinks she is him while killing people. This is a twist that has been done SO MANY TIMES. I can think of 7 books that do exactly this, or some variation of it (one sibling dead, person thinking they’re someone else while killing, etc) and it’s just painfully, stupidly obvious. Reading this made me feel dumber because why, Ania, why! I really adore two of her books (The Seed, The Bird Eater), and one of them is just okay (The Neighbors), but everything else is trash. How is she so painfully inconsistent.

Lipstick Rating Half

 

 

 

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Year’s Best Weird Fiction, curated by Laird Barron. Finished October 18th. I am such a Laird Barron fangirl that I will read anything he even remotely worked on. Plus, after Cthulhurotica, I really wanted more weird fiction and Cthulhu mythos. This anthology has a LOT of stories in it, so of course there will be hits and misses–I really adored a good chunk of them though, especially “Furnace,” “Success,” and “The Year of the Rat,” and it introduced me to a ton of authors I’m really excited about. The misses were also few and far between (and were more about my reading taste than actual quality), and this was a really well-crafted collection that I couldn’t put down.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck. Finished October 19th. Oh. My. Goodness. This slim little collection of tales from a Swedish author is absolutely amazing. It’s hard to classify: weird fiction would be the best category, I guess. Though there are only a few stories in here they hit a bunch of different genres: folktale, steampunk, new weird, and even bizarro. They are beautifully crafted with lush language and amazing imagery, and while each story is technically unconnected to the ones around it there are trails that link many of them together–and not just thematically. Though there is a running theme (family dynamics–especially parent/child and sibling) which makes this weird little collection feel entirely cohesive. If you like lyrical weird fiction please read this–it won’t disappoint!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

September 2015 Wrapup: Week 4

11 Oct

September was, overall, a good reading month for me. It started out pretty lackluster, but picked up once I dumped a series that was holding me down. And the last week was as good as the rest: 5 books read, which is pretty much my ideal pace. Yeah, I think the insane sprint of week 3 was a fluke…

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Magic Strikes, by Illona Andrews: Finished Sept 23rd. Book 3 of the Kate Daniels! This is one of those series where people say “oh, it gets really good at book 3!” They were right about the Dresden Files, but after finishing this I was still not 100% sold on the series. The plot is a definite improvement over the first two, the characters were far more fleshed out, and I loved the Indian mythology. But, once again, Kate was threatened with sexual violence for absolutely no reason. And I still don’t like Curran.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Magic Bleeds, by Illona Andrews: Finished Sept 25th. Okay, so this is where I was finally like “oh yes, now I get why people enjoy this series!” I think everything picked up here: the plot was connected to the meta-story that’s been floating in the background, we got more of my fave (Ghastek), the bad guy was totally amazing, there was some nice character development, and I finally bought into the Kate x Curran romance. Okay, not until the last 10% of the book, but that ending? Yeah, I finally liked them as a couple (though how they got from ”omg you suck but you’re hot” to “I HAVE UNDYING LOVE FOR YOU.” is still kind of a mystery).

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler: Finished Sept 27th. Continuing the Man Booker shortlist! I’ve really liked what I read so far, but this was a disappointment for me. It’s a totally average book: a literary fiction family drama about disparate siblings that are drawn back together by a family illness/mystery. Yawn, been there done that. And I don’t think this really offers anything new: the writing was a bit bland, the characters were nothing memorable, the plot kind of drifted aimlessly. The base idea (of a family history unraveling backwards over the course of the story) is interesting, but it takes a really long time to get from the core story to the backstory. The focus is also all over the place: some siblings get a ton of backstory, and others are totally ignored. I really don’t understand how this got a Man Booker nod, it’s so prosaic.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma: Finished Sept 29th. The Fishermen is a lush, gorgeous book, a family fable wrapped in a blend of folklore and Greek tragedy. The premise makes it seem as if this will be some sort of coming-of-age family drama but it is a dark, brooding look at what madness and obsession can do to people. How the actions of one person can echo through an entire family, causing events no one could possibly foresee. It’s is peppered with a myriad of folklore, mythology and religious imagery: definitely one of those books that would benefit from a re-read, because I’m sure I missed a lot of them. And then there are clever hidden twists in the text, like the fact that almost all of Abulu’s prophecies are things that happened in his past. There are a few places that are a bit rough around the edges (at time the symbolism gets a bit heavy-handed, for instance) but this is a clever and deep first novel.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Magic Slays, by Illona Andrews: Finished September 30th. Just when I was getting into this series, I hit a roadbump. This was nowhere near as good as Magic Bleeds for me, and I had a lot of issues. Mainly on the Kate x Curran aspect: after a good moment in book 4, they felt so toxic here. Kate is physically abusive, Curran is mentally abusive, and they seem to only like each other because they both love violence so much.

Also, I hate the focus on Pack dynamics! Shifters are not one of my favorite paranormal beasties, and I dislike that every book is SO heavily focused on them. No matter who the bad guy is (and area where the series really does show great diversity) it’s always “hey, let’s call the Pack!” It’s sad, because we got to see so many new factions in this book but of course the center of it was Pack dynamics. Do not like. One of the things I love about the Dresden Files is how well spread out all the factions and people are: you rarely get, say, two Fae-heavy books back to back. Imagine if Harry only called Billy & the werewolves every time there was a problem? Yeah, it’d be dull, which is what this series is starting to suffer from (for me). Honestly, I’m not sure if I want to continue… but there’s only 3 books left, so I feel like I have to

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

September 2015 Wrapup: Week 3

21 Sep

It seems like ditching the Malazan series last week was definitely a good idea. In the first 2 weeks of September, I read 4 books (and one of them was a novella). In the 3rd week I read 7 books. 7!! I think this is a record for this year. Since there’s a lot of content to go over, let’s just dive right in.

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The Animals, by Christian Kiefer: Finished September 14th. This book is everything I wanted The Wolf Border to be. It’s about a man who runs a wildlife sanctuary in a small, wintry town. He has a criminal history that comes into conflict with his idyllic present life, so in a lot of ways it’s a book about old vs new, past vs present. While the plot might not sound like edge-of-your-seat excitement, I loved every single thing about it. The writing is lush and gorgeous. The characters are complex and well drawn, including the animals in the sanctuary–by the end you feel like you know them, especially the bear Majer. The story unfolds organically, alternating between past and present. It’s a dark, lush, gorgeous book that ripped my heart right out. And I loved every second of it. If you like literary fiction and/or grit lit, I highly recommend this!

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell: Finished September 16th. This is not the kind of book I’d normally gravitate towards. It’s a family drama, basically. A woman’s husband goes missing in the heatwave of ’76 in London. This crisis pulls together her three disparate children, who have all basically abandoned their family a long time ago. The actual core mystery is not what is interesting here: I mean, it’s okay, and I did like the resolution. What really shines here is the characters.

There are two sisters and one brother, all of whom are incredibly well done. Each is going through a kind of mini personal crisis in the midst of this reunion, so this book is like a nesting doll of family drama. And as I’ve said, that type of thing usually bores me to death. But man, something about this book! The heatwave was a great backdrop, and I just loved all the characters. It was far from perfect, though: I think everyone’s plot threads got wrapped up way too fast and neatly, and I think the main mystery could have been stronger.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Breathe, by C.D Reiss: Finished September 16th. This is the 10th book in a series, so it’s hard to talk about it without major spoilers. It’s actually kind of a standalone (though reading it before the rest of the series really spoils the ending, so… if you don’t mind knowing what happens with Johnathan and Monica, maybe it’s a good place to start?), and focuses on the empty time period in Coda. This was too short for me to get really invested in the plot, but I love these characters and story so much that even a little bite is wonderful.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Mind of Winter, by Laura Kasischke: Finished September 17th. I’ve been over psychological thrillers for a while. After reading a chain of just really terrible ones (Before I Go To Sleep, The Good Girl, The Girl On The Train, Don’t Stand So Close) I kind of broke up with the genre. But I guess it’s been long enough since I read one that I saw this and thought “yes, this is a great idea. Let’s read it!” Though actually, I did enjoy this. It’s about a woman and her adopted daughter, who are trapped together during snowstorm on Christmas. Yeah, sounds a lot like Don’t Stand So Close, but this is a decent read. The writing gets a little repetitive (though for a reason explained later on), and I felt like it was lacking that special spark, but… a fun, fast read. It had a really creepy mood that was closer to horror than thriller, and some of the scenes were very unsettling. And, for once, the conclusion/twist was actually interesting! You can go back and see all the pieces fit together. Overall, though, a little forgettable–I think I’ll look back at the end of the year and go “what was that about?”

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Satin Island, by Tom McCarthy: Finished September 17th. It seems that all the reviews of Satin Island are all either one stars (this is the crappiest book I’ve ever read) or 5 stars (it’s a masterpiece!). It’s obvious what side I fall on, but I understand why people hate this book. In fact, I’m kind of shocked anyone but me likes it. Imagine if Sam Pink and Haruki Murakami teamed up to write the echo chapter in House of Leaves, and then turned it into an introspective anthropological article. Yeah, not appealing for most people. But not only do I love all of those things, I have a degree in cultural anthropology, so reading this was like coming home.

Satin Island has none of the things you would expect in a book–plot, fleshed out characters, consistent pacing. It’s kind of a not-book, an unconnected series of rambling about an odd assortment of things (oil spills, parachute deaths, the Shroud of Turin, cancer) with no particular drive or direction. Except… they all are connected, thematically. This book tackles a lot of the big questions that pop up in anthro: how do we invest things with meaning? Who decides what is real and not real? How do things BECOME real? Does the act of recording something change it? How do we define reality from perception? I just loved everything about Satin Island.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Magic Bites, by Illona Andrews: Finished September 19th. So after I dumped the Malazan books, I really did need a series for September. So of course I picked an 8-book one, sigh. Really, I’m probably not going to finish this in September. I’m honestly not even sure why I picked the Kate Daniels series: urban fantasy is not usually my thing, but I loved the Dresden Files SO much I was like “hey, why not?”

Like most long UF series, this starts out slow. A lot of this book is just setting up the world, which I don’t particularly mind because the world is awesome. It’s an almost post-apocalyptic Atlanta, where magic and technology clash in ‘waves’ of power. I loved Kate: a strong female character who doesn’t fall into the “super girly” or “acts like a dude” binary. Kate is decidedly feminine, but unlike some UF female leads she doesn’t run around in a corset and leather and perfectly styled hair. However, I wasn’t attached to any of the supporting characters here, I thought the main plot was a little lackluster, and I wanted to throw my book when it turned out that the big bad was a rape monster. WHY is that such a trope in UF? I don’t like it. I don’t want it. Makes me appreciate the Dresden Files even more.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Magic Burns, by Illona Andrews: Finished September 20th. Continuing on with Kate! There was definitely improvement in this book: the main plot was a lot more interesting, and we got the full info on why the world is like it is. And the side characters! Liked them so much more here! Mostly Ghastek, who I adore so much.

But I still have some quibbles. I hate that the big “mystery” of Kate’s powers/heritage is already totally solved. I was hoping for a slow-burn development on that (a la Harry Dresden’s still-unsolved mystery past/purpose), but it’s just handed to you. Also… WHY is every male character threatening Kate with sexual violence? Bad guys, good guys: they all want to force her into bed. It’s not a fucking compliment. If this continues in book 3, I don’t know if I can go on even though I do love the world & main character.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

June 2015 Wrapup: Weeks 2-4

1 Aug

You may have noticed a conspicuous lack of updates for July, aside from the week 1 wrapup of only two books. That’s because July was just not a great reading month for me: I felt very reading-slumpy for the first half of the month, and ended up starting a bunch of books and hating them for ridiculously minor reasons. Like Nick Cutter’s The Acolyte, a book focused solely on religion, where he quotes the Book of Revelations. RevelationS. There’s no s, Nick Cutter. Petty? Yes (then again, it really petty to expect an author to do basic research?), but I felt that way about half a dozen books this month. I only read 17 books in July, which is low for me especially considering that it’s a longer month, so I decided to just put it all in one post–which, like previous long ones, will be after the jump!

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May 2015 Wrapup: Week 4

4 Jun

I’m super behind on this one, huh? I mean, it’s June. Like, almost-the-second-week-of-June. But I had BEA/BookCon last weekend (which I will post about eventually!) and then I got sick. Plus I’ve fallen desperately behind on makeup posts, so I’ve been hemming and hawing over that little dilemma. I could just, you know, work on some posts, but agonizing over it seems like a better option to my brain. Anyway, yeah. Week 4 of May, done! Finished my reading goals for the month! Halfway through Dresden, finally got to another one of the classics/giant monsters on my list. It was a good week!

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Death Masks, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 25th. This is the 5th book in the series, and for me it was when things really picked up and got serious. I did enjoy Summer Knight, the 4th book, more than any of the others, but until Death Masks the series was still “fun light guilty pleasure” to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re still not super serious literary fantasy, but Butcher ups the amp in Death Masks. More plot, more worldbuilding: we’re introduced to my favorite “group” so far, a pack of humans who worship/are vessels for fallen angels. I mean, how fun right? Who doesn’t want to read about crazy demon cults? Speaking of which, I have read a very high number of demon-centric books this year. Odd.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Blood Rites, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 27th. Throughout the first 5 books, small threads have been teased at a steady but very slow pace. Obviously mentioning them at all would be a huge spoiler but let’s just say that this book is the one where the meta-plot (or one of them, at least) finally starts coming together. Secrets unveiled! Backstories finally fleshed out! Succubi running amok on the set of a porno! I have to say, I’m of mixed minds about the humor in these books. On one hand, they’re totally hilarious and I love Harry (and Bob, especially Bob). But on the other side, this series is never going to be a “wham” one for me because I tend to view them as light and fluffy, even when things are serious. Like brain candy. There are certainly some emotional scenes here, and they were quite effective, but still… the lighter tone sets these apart from the other series I’ve read this year. Which is a good thing (nobody wants only serious all the time), but it also has reminded me of why I usually don’t like urban fantasy. It tends to be a lighter, popcorn genre: Dresden is probably going to be my only real foray into it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Dead Beat, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 28th. The only bad thing about reading all of these back-to-back is that I get a bit confused about what happened in each book. They’ve blurred together. I’m looking at the summary thinking “um, which one is this?” And then I remember, this is the one with the polka. And Sue. So far, this has been my favorite: the plot is only loosely connected to the meta-plot (which, funnily enough, has been my favorite thing so far) but oh my god is it hilarious. But also, somehow, a lot darker in tone. Something that happened about 2 (3?) books back is really starting to eat away at Harry. So things are both a lot darker and a lot more hilarious. Which is exactly what I want in an urban fantasy. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll ride around on a zombie t-rex.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

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Proven Guilty, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 30th. For me, this was a step back for the series, and very much a filler book. The thing is, I’m sure people could say that about Dead Beat, but I just HATED the main side-character from Proven Guilty. I didn’t care about the plot. The main monsters were cool, and I liked that the fairies eventually got involved, but I found myself skimming this one. It reminded me of the earlier books (especially Harry’s bizarre sexual fixation on Molly–who is friggin seventeen), mostly fluff without substance. And particularly light on the humor. Then again, I might also be Dresden’d out: reading 8 of the books in one month was a pretty intense journey. I’m actually going to take June off and read another series, then finish Dresden in July.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

My goal this year is to read 150 books (I went past that last year, but this year I have some behemoths on the list so I’m giving myself wiggle room). Funnily enough, I hit book 75, halfway through my goal, with Proven Guilty–which is roughly halfway through the Dresden series. My plan for next month is to go light and pick maybe a trilogy, and then catch up on the books I had to pass over in May. Danielewski, Barker, and Bacigalupi, oh my!

May 2015 Wrapup: Week 2

18 May

Week 2 of May has come and gone! In fact, I’m a little behind on this: I mean, better than the months-behind I was only a short while ago, but it still counts! I had some computer issues this past week that caused this to get pushed back a bit, but I’m back on track now.

Week 2 of May was decent: better than week 1 for sure. I read one less book,  but enjoyed all of them a lot more.

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Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 10th. There’s a theme this week (and probably this whole month). I’m actually on-track to read half the Dresden Files series in May, which is pretty awesome! This was a definite improvement over Storm Front: the pacing was more solid, and I adored the depth of the werewolf mythology. There were at least 4 different kinds: 5, if you count Terra West, who I am convinced is a Skinwalker.

While I’m early on in the series, I’d like to address an issue that seems to pop up in a lot of reviews: Harry Dresden is a bit of a misogynist. For some reason, people seem to think this makes Jim Butcher a misogynist. I think Harry’s hypocrisy comes through loud and clear: it’s not intended for us to think “wow, women sure are dumb and need saving!” but rather “man, Harry sure can be a moron.” Author intent and author belief are not one and the same.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Grave Peril, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 13th. I’ve heard, over and over, that this series is a slow trek uphill in terms of quality and it hits its stride around the middle. However, I liked Fool Moon more than Grave Peril: maybe because I’m a slut for mythology, and the werewolf stuff in FM was amazing, whereas the ghost aspect of GP didn’t really bring anything new to the table. GP also brings us new characters (Michael & Lea), but unlike those in FM (Tera and Billy & the werewolves) I only liked one. I’ll admit that while everyone seems to love Michael, and even I admit that the idea of the Knights is very cool, I’m not a fan. Though the dialogue we get from Harry because of his “zomg no cursing! God is listening!” deal is pretty great.

Lea (short for Leanan Sidhe, one of my all time favorite fae), though… man, this gives us a great taste of the next book. Which is so much better. I feel like Grave Peril pretty much just exists to set up things for the future.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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All The Rage, by Courtney Summers: Finished May 13th. This is the highest rating I’ve given a book this month. Before you go diving in, there is a HUGE trigger warning for rape. It’s at the core of this book, and while this is a young adult novel it’s brutal: it does not shy away from the realities of being a survivor, from the trauma and the horror of just trying to live your life after being broken like that. But this is an amazingly important and beautifully written book. It manages to be tasteful while also being brutally honest: it is real and dreamlike, horrible but amazing. If you feel like you are in a place where this would not trigger you in a harmful way, I suggest you read it. I really wish everyone would: it really gets to the core of what that act of violence really, truly means.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

 

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Summer Knight, by Jim Butcher: Finished May 16th. FAERIES! Definitely my favorite so far, and I can see why so many people say that this is where the series gets “serious.” There’s a lot of heavy mythology and worldbuilding like the previous books, along with the witty dialogue and action scenes you’d expect (although confession, I don’t love action scenes and tend to skim them) but here we finally get… serious character development! A look at the White Council! Serious peeks into Harry’s past! Lots of things that were hinted at in books 1-3 are actually brought to the table here.

And man, let’s just talk about how Butcher handles the Fae. He doesn’t go for cute/sexy, like so many people, but makes them truly alien and unpredictable. Or at least for the most part: I guessed the “bad guy” pretty easily based on how unpredictable the whole thing was (though that’s not really a fault, exactly). I loved all the courts, and I know that the Queens are seriously important in the rest of the books so I am really looking forward to that.

A last note: I really enjoy this series, but I don’t love it. I’m really hoping I do (since I’ve basically committed myself to 16+ books), but at this point I am 1/4 of the way through and the “I LOVE THIS SO MUCH!” has yet to kick in. They’re still just light, enjoyable reads for me. I’m hoping for more wham-moments and real character depth in the future.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half