Tag Archives: YA

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]

Top 5 Wednesday: Summer Reads

17 May

Surprise, it’s another Top 5 Wednesday! I know I don’t do them very frequently, but I like to wait until a topic really piques my interest if I’m going to do a whole post on it.

When I think of summer reads, I think of books that make you really feel the season. Books that are hot, humid, and sweltering. The kind of books that if you read in the dead of winter, you’d find yourself throwing off your blanket because it just feels wrong to read them all bundled up. I know a lot of people think summer = light, fun, fluffy books but I like to read things that are seasonal in setting rather than mood (for summertime, at least). So let’s get into it!

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Summertime, All The Cats Are Bored, by Philippe Georget. Everything about this book screams “summer.” The title, the cover, the moody hot atmosphere of the mystery. It’s a very slow, languid detective novel, so if you are in the mood for a fast-paced thriller this is not the book for you. The mystery is interesting enough, but the real reason to read this is the main detective. He’s hilarious, and nothing like your usual “tough grizzled murder mystery solver.” Basically he just wants a nice calm summer break but all these dang murders keep happening!

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Panic, by Lauren Oliver. My most potent summer memories all revolve around high school. You still get summer vacation like a kid, but you’re old enough to make the memories last. And, you know, to do really stupid things like hang out in derelict buildings and jump into waterfalls from cliffs dangling above them. Panic might not be an amazing book (even I must admit it’s only okay), but it captures that feeling of I-can-do-anything teen invincibility so well. There are few books that really feel like you do in that time of your life: the summer heat, the hormones, the rush of doing dangerous things just to feel alive. If you want a book that makes you look back at your own teenage choices and think, “holy hell was I stupid” then Panic might be the book for you.

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Hurt People, by Cote Smith. This is a recent read, but it’s also the first one I thought of when this topic came up. Hurt People is from the perspective of a young child and his (slightly older) brother one hot and dangerous summer. The actual plot is quite bleak but the childish perspective adds a layer of dreaminess to the narrative. The boys spend the majority of the summer plotting ways to get into the neighborhood swimming pool without their mom knowing, and what person doesn’t have insanely fond memories of swimming in cool water during a heat wave? It’s a nostalgic read, but one that will also tug on your heartstrings a bit.

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The Summer that Melted Everything, by Tiffany Daniels. As you can tell by the name, this book is hot. It takes place during the hottest summer on record in a small town when… the devil comes to visit. Only the devil is a little black boy. Tiffany McDaniel’s descriptions of the heat made me feel sweltering: I was desperate for an ice pop basically the whole time. This was also my favorite book of 2016! The writing is stunning, the plot is interesting, the themes are dark and relevant… you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wish that you too had an ice pop.

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The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. When I think “books that make you feel so hot you want to die” nothing can beat The Windup Girl. It takes place in a flooded, post-apocalyptic Thailand and is a strange mashup of steampunk and environmental spec fic. It’s also so freaking hot. Every moment in this book is dripping in sweat: not only is there no air conditioning, but global warming has kicked into full gear so it’s routinely around 110 degrees. And the characters are surrounded by water, so it’s also humid. Lovely! It’s also tragically sad, like the other top three books on this list: I wonder if summer books are more likely to be melancholy, or if I just read a lot of depressing fiction?

May 2016 Reading Wrapup | Part I

9 May

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

22399997

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

Reading Challenge Progress

119/175 Books

14/33 Series Books

40/50 TBR Books

17/15 Different Countries

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

January 2016 Reading Wrapup

1 Feb

So, I’ve kind of already blown one of my bookish resolutions: two reading wrapups per month. I mean, I do have reasons: I had a family member in the hospital, stressful apartment shit to deal with, and just general crappy life situations going on. So, no time (or rather too much stress) to write that Part I and Part II. But, thankfully, it didn’t affect my reading! In fact, January was my best reading month ever. I read 26 books. 26! If I read that much every month, I’d hit over 300 books this year. Which definitely isn’t going to happen, but I’m still pretty happy with it. And since this is going to be an epically long roundup it’s under the cut, so hit the jump to get started.

[...]

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!

[...]

52 Book Challenge: The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian

4 Jul

wwhd_10a

{Proceed with caution, mid-level spoilers all up in this bitch}

[Trigger Warning for school/mass shootings. No graphic descriptions, but if it is a sensitive topic for you please proceed with caution!]

I am convinced that for some reason, someone out there wants me to believe that just because you are a murderer, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person! Let me tell you something: it does. Unless it was self defense. And then it’s no longer murder. But between The Enchanted, In The Miso Soup, and this book, I’m tearing my hair out about all the “poor little murderer” plotlines I’ve come across this year.

The Wicked We Have Done is yet another Hunger Games clone that the market has birthed. But this time it’s The Hunger Games… with murderers! Literally. Well, not “literally” because they aren’t supposed to kill each other. But this is a Hunger Games fanfic so of course they do.

The Plot: ten murderers are put in the Compass Room, a new high-tech thingy (yes, thingy, it’s not explained at all) that will test their morality and see if any of them are innocent. If they pass, they are free. If they don’t pass, they’re put on death row. Or killed instantly. I kind of don’t remember and am NOT going back to check. Let me just say that I HATE random super-advanced technology that is not explained at all in an otherwise normal society. Are we in the future? Are there robots? Because the Compass Room can do things like create highly realistic holograms and explode people. But it isn’t even questioned.

The Compass Room is actually (act surprised) in a forest! Where they have to go do moral things. The convicted rapist was the first to die–the Compass Room presents him with one of his victims, and he doesn’t apologize so it kills him. This was about the only thing in the book that I liked. But it kind of made no sense–that’s all it takes to say you are worthy of death? Did it see into his mind? Did it know if he was just faking to look cool in front of all the other murderers? Who knows. The author sure doesn’t seem to.

Of course we have a group of “good murderers” who are totes innocent and/or have a valid explanation for their crime. Like a girl who was driving and hit a family and didn’t mean to. If that was true, and it was really an accident, why would she be in jail? On death row? Who knows! The boy who becomes the ~wuv interest~ killed his abusive father after years of being beaten by him and watching his mother being beaten. Yes, that is a boy who certainly would be sent STRAIGHT TO HARDCORE JAIL. I mean, it’s laughable. The “good guys” have “crimes” that aren’t crimes and would barely land them in a low-security jail, let alone the monolith of a prison we’re presented with.

Except… for our heroine. Who was involved in a school shooting where dozens died. We get some backstory here: her friend’s crazy boyfriend made her do it by threatening to kill said friend. But… she just goes and kill people? She doesn’t try to kill the boyfriend? Or herself? She literally shoots a teacher in the head and feels nothing about it. Our heroine is a very bad person. It’s so, so hard to feel sorry for her. We are clearly meant to, but she is emotionless. Oh and surprise surprise, bad boyfriend killed the friend anyway (because she could back up the “I was forced into it” story) so waaah poor heroine had to go to jail for shooting people! Totes unfair! She does not deserve a second chance because she killed people.

Of course we get a group of “bad murderers” that the “good murderers” have to defend themselves from. Which makes sense, right? I mean they’re all here for another shot at life so the first thing they’d do would be to… start killing each other? Wait, that doesn’t make any sense! Like everything else in this book! Such as the crazy high-tech hologram “tests” that push the morality of the contestants. Or the “glitching out” of the Compass Room that involves strange flashes in the sky in the shape of a dome (sound familiar?). Or the TWO romance plots and all the sex we get after these people have known each other for a week.

I honestly thought the Compass Room would turn out to be all in their heads. Like literally all a hologram, which would make sense. Because people kept dying in insane, gory ways. But no, it was real. So it’s legal in this universe to just… blow up criminals? Burn them to death? What is this technology even? Do they live on the moon? There’s no back story, no fleshing out of the world. It’s horrible. The whole thing is horrible.

Rating

Book 53 The Wicked We Have Done

LipstickRating1Full

52 Book Challenge: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

17 May

Lockdown

{Proceed with caution, mid-level spoilers all up in this bitch}

While I would definitely consider myself a feminist (though perhaps not in the slightly loony modern interpretation), all of my favorite authors are male. China Mieville, Haruki Murakami, H.P. Lovecraft, Italo Calvino, Mark Z. Danielewski, David Mitchell. There is one genre, though, that is with no question dominated by female writers: young adult. And this is for a really good reason. I have read a lot in the genre (mainly, I admit, out of curiosity: I *might* be planning a book in that milieu), and women are far better at it. Take, for example, the wildly popular Maze Runner: great concept, fantastic setting, amazingly dull characters and dialogue that is almost unbearably cringey. Or The Troop, young adult dressed up as horror that fails to deliver.

So I was hesitant about picking up Lockdown, which is billed as a gritty young adult novel that dips its toes into both science fiction, dystopia, and horror. But, you know, it’s prison horror and has a skull on the cover? Why not try it? I guess we’ll start with the good. The setting is great: Furnace, the prison, is horribly detailed and oppressive. The Wheezers were great “big bads” and the hounds gave me chills.

Other than that? Yeah… Lockdown kind of sucks. The characters are trite, tropes stacked on top of tropes. The fat kid is bullied! But he’s a good chef! One rough and tumble newcomer beats up the reigning bully and, surprise, turns out to be even worse. And our main character has a super heart of gold and wants to help everyone and wouldn’t you know it, literally no one ever in the history of this prison has ever shown kindess like that before! Wow!

And the plot… my god. It’s painfully obvious the author thought of the prison and came up with a paper-thin reason for it to exist. Basically, gangs in Englad got a little crazy one summer (the “Summer of Blood” ooooh spoooooky) so there’s a zero-tolerance policy on young adult offenders. They are sent to prison, for life, if they kill anyone. And it’s a special prison! No family visits. No chance of parole. And it’s a prison buried into the earth, called Furnace (after the creator, so it’s not painfully obvious it is a Hell metaphor sure okay then). Where they do terrible experiments on the boys but no one notices? The government doesn’t have any regulations here? And the prison is going through kids so fast, they’ve started framing innocent ones. So, of course, all the “good” characters in the book are totally 100% innocent! Except for, you know, the fact that our hero was a thief.

It literally makes no sense if you think about it for more than 5 minutes. I spent the rest of the book thinking about how freaking stupid it was. Plot holes everywhere. There are 4 more books in this series, and apparently the owner of Furnace takes over the earth or something I don’t know. I don’t even have the drive to read the rest. But hey, the Wheezers are still pretty cool. A decent author should pick them up for a spinoff.

Rating

Book 31 Lockdown

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

52 Book Challenge: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

15 May

The Winner's Curse

{Proceed with caution, mild spoilers all up in this bitch}

I will freely admit that I expected to hate this book. I don’t really remember why I downloaded it: I think it was on a list with another book I liked? Or it was on Goodread’s rising novels? Anyway, I really wanted to shift my focus to Japanese literature and told myself I couldn’t do that until I finished the most recent batch of downloads. I have a terrible habit of downloading a dozen books and reading half of them, maybe less, and I want to stop. If I pick something to read, I should at least give it a shot, right? And I only gave up on 4 books last year so really, a book has to be pretty fucking awful for me to put it down.

Thankfully, The Winner’s Curse was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting something atrocious like The Elite: I mean, it’s young adult and there’s a pretty dress on the cover. So many things could go wrong. But The Winner’s Curse has two things going for it: first off, it’s based on an interesting principle. They say the person who wins an auction is “cursed” because they have paid more for it than anyone else in the room thinks it is worth, and thus too much. Second, it takes place in a fictional world in a medieval phase of history, but 1) it doesn’t feature the awful “women are super oppressed and raped and abused all the time for no reason” trope (COUGH Game of Fucks COUGH COUGHHHH) and 2) there are two major “countries” the book focuses on, and neither of them are really the “good” side. Much like The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, there’s a lot of grey area which I love. It’s so often ignored in YA: things are often painfully black and white.

The sides here are a huge, expansive empire and the small country they have taken over and enslaved. It may seem very black and white, but around 50% of the way in things get insane. I really, really don’t want to give anything away but the “bad guys” and the “good guys” (slaves) are not 100% clear cut. Our heroine, Kestrel, is the daughter of the general currently ruling this small captive territory. The starting plot sounds really trite: she has to either wed, or join the military. But that is far from the focus of the book, and while there are about ten pages of “love triangle” The Winner’s Curse manages to skirt most obnoxious YA romance tropes.

Kestrel wins a slave at auction for an insane price, and she is not even sure why. Well lo and behold, there’s drama involving the slave, who acts like anything but. Parties are had and dresses are made, so we get the girlie frippery that happens in most YA books (come on, even The Hunger Games has dress porn), but… there’s a lot of action. Trust me! If you want a different spin on young adult, this is well worth the read. It is part of a trilogy, though based on the end (which I admit, I am not a fan of–total curveball out of nowhere) I’m not sure how it will stretch out over two more books. I guess we’ll wait and see!

Rating

Book 33 The Winner’s Curse

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

52 Book Challenge: The Outside by Laura Bickle

7 May

The Outside

{Proceed with caution, heavy spoilers all up in this bitch}

So, this is technically part of my attempt to conquer series this year. I read the first in the series, The Hallowed Ones, in 2013 because I thought the premise sounded absolutely ridiculous: Amish people in a vampire apocalypse! Pure comedic gold, right? But it was actually a well thought out and surprisingly insightful book about culture, belief, religion and… vampires, of course. The heroine, Katie, was a smart, intuitive girl who managed to challenge the Amish life she led while still having faith in God. Religion is a topic you almost never see in YA fiction because, well, teens just aren’t religious anymore. And while I am not religious myself I love mythology, and there are some lovely passages about all kinds of theologies here. And I mean, the main male love interest has two Egyptian mythos tattoos. The Egyptian deities are totes my favorite.

Also, the vampires were pretty great. They were a sleek combination of oldschool (clever, intelligent, able to “glamour”) and newschool (fast, superstrong, monstrous). And the thing that really drew me in: they were repelled by religion. Any religion. As long as you had faith, and you believed, and were in a holy place… bam, vampire-proof! As long as you didn’t invite them in. Basically if you like vampires and think it’d be cool to see the Amish have a theological war over how to deal with them, go read The Hallowed Ones.

I expected The Outside which features (brace yourselves) Katie outside of the Amish community, to be just as good. Books don’t have sophomore slumps. Series get better the longer they go on. Look at Harry Potter. Look at almost any fantasy series. But for some reason, this book reads like it was literally written by a different person.

All of a sudden, Katie is super-uber-most-religious-ever. Half the book is her praying. Religion is drilled into your head over and over. They also kind of drop the whole “wow, every religion on earth repels the vamps!” and instead we focus on a ton of different facets of Christianity. Including a Pentecostal church where Katie *I shit you not* gets bit by a snake and then ~healed by God~ (even though the snake that bit her isn’t really toxic enough to kill?). And while Katie is so ~super very religious~ and knows in her heart that her secular boyfriend will never ever go to heaven, she has no trouble having sex with him. Because hey, she can break whatever rules she wants and that’s okay? Even when she straight-up admits she’s not even sure that she loves him.

I mean, there are vampire nuns, so that’s kind of cool? But the vampires lose the cleverness that made them threatening in the first book. There is so much deus ex machina going on it’s almost laughable. Katie and her Egyptian tattoo wearing boyfriend Alex befriend a wolf. A WOLF. It’s part dog but seriously, wolfdogs ARE NOT PETS. If you have one in your house it is a family member and a pain in the ass to train. But Katie and Alex have a simpering puppy bringing them rabbits when they run out of food.

Then there’s… the science. Magic water molecules made pure by faith. Infusing human DNA with algae luminosity. It’s laughable. Laura Bickle didn’t even TRY to make anything plausible in this book. It is such a disappointment. I can take a bad book and laugh at it or get mad at it with no qualms, but since I know this author is capable of actually writing a good book this just leaves me sad.

Also, the ending leaves us hanging as to the direction of the series. It could be the absolute end. Or there could be a third book. What will happen? Do I even care? Nope. But these are super fast reads so if there is a third, I will give it a go in the hopes that Bickle’s work improves.

Rating

The Outside Book 26

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

52 Book Challenge: The Elite by Kiera Cass

23 Apr

The Elite

Our favorite totally-not-Katniss clone is back! Because reading The Selection was just so much super fun, I have decided to slug through all three of them. Except, you know, only two have been written. But let me tell you I am just *so excited* for the third and final one.

Man, when I read this I remember fits of giggling and making a mental list of even more similarities to The Hunger Games. Now I can’t even remember what happened in it. Okay, I’m going to get it together and think really hard about this book, but only because I love you. It’s seriously worse than the first one

  • America is made a bird dress because of her “bird necklace” from her “home sector”
  • She feels a rift forming between her and The Blonde
  • Her romantic feelings for Dark & Handsome deepen as The Blonde drifts away from her
  • The live tv sessions get much more personal and invasive
  • The Evil Brunette Girl is featured as a prominent rival
  • We get to meet a past winner of The Game
  • There are SUPER BIG SECRETS about Scary Future America that are becoming more prominent
  • Katniss-clone’s family is enjoying the riches of her new position
  • The action amps up more

There actually is more action in this one, I guess. People fight and stuff! There are rebels in the kingdom! Hmm, rebels. Fighting against the capital city of a post-apocalyptic future America where a contest is being held featuring unwilling youngsters?!?! Unheard of!

We get more insight into how ~super sweet~ Maxon is, but America’s heart is torn! Who will she end up with?! Well we certainly don’t find out in this book because they spend 2/3rds of it on a Halloween party (no one in this century has ever heard of Halloween, how wacky!) and the rest holding greeting parties for foreign dignitaries. That was a fun one: the kingdom greatly needs alliances with these two countries, and they are relying on these opening soirees to garner support. So they let 16-year-old girls do all the work.

We also get more lovely snippets of what an uber-bitch America is! Check out this gem:

All the maids I’d encountered were sweet girls. I couldn’t imagine any of them doing something that would provoke getting hit at all, let alone regularly.

That’s right: the future Queen (we all know she is going to win), thinks that these maids don’t really deserve to get hit. But the implication is clear: a maid totally could do something to provoke getting hit. Regularly. Lovely.

I have to say, the hilarity of The Selection had worn off in The Elite. I mean, the whole girl-on-girl hate was there, but it was a little sad and too realistic. Less giggles, more cringe. You know how 50 Shades of Grey is a blast to laugh at (blushes) but by the time you get to the last one you’re lost in a whirlwind of domestic abuse and shallow horrible people and you want to die and it’s not so-bad-it’s-good anymore, it’s just bad? I feel like by the time we get to the last book, I’m gonna be curled up in a ball on the floor, sobbing. And not because of my feels.

Rating

The Elite Book 21

Lipstick Rating Half