Tag Archives: young adult

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

December Reading Wrapup: Part I

3 Jan

I find the last month of the year to be the most difficult in terms of reading. I’m already looking ahead to my 2017 goals, or looking back on my favorite books of the year. By mid-December I kind of think of the year as “over” already. But despite that, I still had a pretty good reading month! I finished off my series challenge and got quite a few off my TBR read.

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A Gambler’s Anatomy, by Jonathan Lethem*. Finished December 1st. Jonathan Lethem is one of my favorite authors, but for some reason I only gravitate towards his weirder, lesser-known books like As She Climbed across the Table, Amnesia Moon, and Girl in Landscape. Though let’s be honest, I don’t think you could classify any of his books as normal. I haven’t read any of his “big” works like Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, etc–I guess I will eventually, but I have no real drive to. Which is weird, because the books I’ve read of his I adore!

I think A Gambler’s Anatomy falls rather uncomfortably between his odd, quirky books and his more mainstream ones. There are a few elements of magical realism (our main character is psychic, for example) but they don’t add much to the book either in terms of plot or metaphor. It would be basically the exact same book if the mind-reading element was removed. Which is odd–why was it included? It adds an extra layer to the final chapter but that’s about it. I think it would have been a much more interesting book if 1) the magical realism was just removed or 2) it was amped up and more integral to the plot/characters.

My main issues with the book are all the elements that seem neither here nor there. A lot of plot points seem randomly jumbled together, and there’s not enough of any one to make a cohesive whole. It’s hard to even pinpoint what the book is about (and not in a “so many interesting elements!”) kind of way. Is it about gambling? Yes and no. Is it about backgammon? Yes and no. Is it about severe illness? Yes and no. Is it about communist revolutions? Yes and no. Is it about the negative effects of capitalism? Yes and no. Is it about addiction? Yes and no. All of these elements are fascinating on their own, but somehow putting it all in the same plot dilutes all of the oomph.

The writing is, of course, beautiful and it is a compelling read. Even when I wasn’t very interested in what was going on I wanted to keep going, which is an impressive feat. And all of the side characters were great! Our main character? Not so much. He’s supposed to be stoic and boring and his perspective comes off as… stoic and boring. I really dislike “boring, blank-slate” narrators that kind of serve as a widow to the action more than a direct player in it. So while there are lots of redeeming features here, and it was far from a bad book, nothing drew me in. A disappointment, to say the least, though I certainly don’t regret reading it.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino. Finished December 2nd. Other than my love affair with Tana French, I find myself continually disappointed by Western crime fiction. I’m just never that interested in whodunnits, so often I feel that any side plots or forced character “development” are just standing in the way of getting the reader to the solution. So it’s no surprise that I adore Eastern crime fiction: in almost all the ones I’ve read (Malice, The Investigation, Confessions) you find out who the killer is fairly early on, and it’s more about the characters and motives. The Devotion of Suspect X takes this to new heights: it’s not a whodunnit, because it starts from the POV of the killers. It’s not even a whydunnit, because the murder takes place very early on and the motives are crystal clear. It is the rarest of things in crime fiction: a howdunnit.

Yasuko is being stalked by her ex-husband. When he goes after her teenage daughter, she kills him in a fit of fear and protectiveness. Her neighbor, the unassuming math teacher Ishigami, helps them cover it up. But it cuts from the murder to days later, when Yasuko comes under suspicion. The mystery here is how Ishigami covered it up. Every angle of the murder is examined, and he seems to have covered it all. But how? It seems like the perfect crime.

Ingeniously, because the book starts out from Yasuko’s POV you are 100% on her side (and thus, on the side of the criminals). I was dying to know how Ishigami managed the coverup, but I wanted even more for them both to get off scott free and for the cops to remain in the dark. This is a riveting novel, a real page-turner but without the fake “cliffanger every chapter” that so many books in the genre rely on. This is my second Higashino book, and I doubt it will be my last. If only more of his work was translated!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Inheritance, by Robin Hobb. Finished December 3rd. This is, technically, the last Realm of the Elderlings book I have to read. I say technically because it’s a collection of short stories, and only the last section is set in that world. The other half is by Robin Hobb’s other pen name, and take place more in the real world (though they have many elements of magical realism and fantasy in them).

I was kind of expecting to skim through the first half in an effort to get to Hobb’s section, but I found them surprisingly enjoyable. I don’t know if it’s a writing style I would seek out on its own, but the stories were quite memorable. A few fell flat, but for the most part-success! But, of course, I came for the Hobb and that’s where this book shined for me.

There are only 3 Hobb stories because as you’d suspect, they are very long. They’re all wonderful, though the first (which is about the settling of the Rainwilds) and the last (which has a cat perspective) were particularly amazing. I don’t think I will ever get enough of this series, so let’s hope that the new one coming out in spring isn’t the last!

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Into The Forest, by Jean Hegland. Finished December 4th. What a mixed bag of a book this was. I love survival stories and I love post-apocalyptic fiction so theoretically, I should have loved this. And I will freely admit that those aspects were fantastic. There’s a large amount of day-to-day survival stuff: growing a garden, canning and drying food for winter, figuring out how to hunt, etc. Given my love for survival classics like Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson I am a total sucker for “here’s 20 pages that list all the different plants here and what they do!” type of things, which this book has in droves. And the apocalypse itself is very interesting: it’s not one big event, but the culmination of many. Climate change, unstable currency, political strife, a failing economy… sounds eerily familiar.

If the novel had stuck with the survival aspects as the main focus and given us more character development between sisters Nell and Eva, it would have easily been 4 stars. I was so involved for the first 100 pages or so, even though a few of the elements (the forced romance for Nell, the constant flashbacks to her parents) were almost too young-adult-y for my taste. But then, sigh, it takes a very sharp nosedive.

For some reason, the main message of this book seems to be that men are bad and women are victims. I hate hate HATE when fiction frames sexual interaction with men as only negative. If it’s consensual, watch out, you’ll get pregnant and be a single mom! And then, of course, we have to threaten the girls with rape because an apocalypse and having your parents die and almost starving to death just isn’t spooky enough. Sigh. It’s so unfair to both genders. Not all men are evil, obviously, and the “it’s the apocalypse so men revert to being horrible rapists” thing is truly baffling as a trope. And women are not victims! A girl can insist on birth control. A girl can consent to sex and not have any negative consequences, emotional or physical. A girl can, gasp, enjoy sex without somehow getting in trouble for it.

Weird 60′s feminist themes aside, this book really suffers in the last 100 pages or so. There are some truly baffling scenes that serve no purpose besides making the reader uncomfortable (sudden incest like woah) and the book seems to go from reality to magical realism very quickly and suddenly. Things that aren’t physically possible happen with no discussion. And tonally it’s weird. I think the end is meant to be read as inspiring or empowering which is… weird, because it seems more like the girls went totally insane. But rah rah women living together in the forest female power?

If you’d like to read a book about survival in the forest and a (kind of) apocalypse, I’d really recommend Our Endless Numbered Days. It deals with many of the same themes in a far more mature and coherent way (and manages to be much darker without the “men are out to get us!” bullshit).

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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World War Z, by Max Brooks. Finished December 6th. I read this years ago and loved it, and while I’ve heard many people raving about the audiobook I was never really interested. Audiobooks just aren’t my thing. But then I heard that it was what everyone wanted from the movie (an abomination we shall not speak of), plus I needed to read an award-winning audiobook for the Read Harder challenge. So WWZ audiobook it was!

This is just amazing. So immersive, and it really feels like the way the book is meant to be “read.” It is really more like a radio play than a regular audiobook. Fully voice acted, with a consistent narrator. Definitely get the full edition though: many of my favorite stories were left out of the original release.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund. Finished December 9th. This is a dark, dark book. Before you consider reading it, I’d add heavy trigger warnings for child abuse, rape, and incest. If any of these are upsetting topics for you I’d definitely proceed with caution. While none of the violence is gratuitous and most of it happens either in memory or off-screen, a lot of the details are hard to get through even if you have a strong stomach. Though this does work against the book in some ways: by the time you get to the end and the final reveal of the horrors the murderer has created, it seems almost blase. I feel like this is a danger with any long, dark book: eventually the reader is immune to the shocks. But that doesn’t negate how grim and effective 90% of it is.

The Crow Girl neatly toes the line between police procedural and psychological thriller. We have a ton of POVs: everything from the cops working on the case to the killer. Quite a few seem unrelated and really only come together at the end, and there’s a ton of misdirection and potentially unreliable narrators. It’s one of those “who am I supposed to trust?” type of novels, which I always enjoy. Every time I was sure I knew what was going on another twist and turn was revealed. It’s not a wham-twist type of novel like Gone Girl: sure, there’s a lot going on, but it’s hard to say that there is “one big reveal.” It’s more a series of smaller (but still effective) surprises.

The most interesting aspect of the book is the discussions of mental health. It’s both my favorite and least-favorite thing about The Crow Girl. I loved how complex all the characters were, and how intensely it looks at trauma, memory, and mental health. There are some wonderful moments of insight and really interesting discussions.

However, every mentally ill character in the book (and there are quite a few) is either an abuser or a victim. It’s absolutely a myth that the mentally ill are more likely to commit violent crimes: in fact, there’s no proven link between mental illness and criminal behavior. However, the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victim of a crime. For all its interesting discussions, The Crow Girl still uses mental illness as a plot point. It’s supposed to be a revealing look at the cycle of abuse but it kind of comes off as “wow mentally ill people sure are crazy, look at the stuff they do!” It’s a sore subject for me and I didn’t appreciate how black and white the issue was. You also really need to suspend belief for some of the bigger twists, or know nothing about mental illness.

To end on a positive note, this is an incredibly compulsive read. The chapters are quite short (2-5 pages) and the POV/time period changes constantly, making it feel insanely fast paced even though it takes place over the course of a few months. I never felt bored by the length or wanted things to happen faster. In fact, I think it could have been a bit longer: the end is slightly rushed!

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Memories of my Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel García Márquez. Finished December 10th. This is my first Marquez, and I think it was a poor choice on my part. I picked it out because I saw it hanging out at the library, and let’s be honest… it’s really short. I don’t read a ton of physical books (almost all of my reading is done late at night on my Kindle, with the lights off), so when I pick one up from the library I don’t want it to be a chunker.

But this book is about age and the path our lives take: it’s an old man hitting 90 reflecting on his life. I just can’t connect with the themes, which is obviously on me and not the book. The writing is beautiful and I think the plot fits the themes perfectly, but I just felt really distanced. It’s hard for me to rate, and I’d love to go back to it in a few decades when the “I’m old and I feel like I’ve wasted my life” is something that I can connect with.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay*. Finished December 10th. I came into this book with low expectations. I know Roxane Gay only from her nonfiction work, so I was expecting a collection of stories with interesting ideas and feminist themes, but perhaps not the most elegant writing. And I was pleasantly very wrong: this book absolutely blew me away.

It is, as the title states, a book about difficult women. Women who strike out on their own path and refuse to follow traditional gender roles. Women who do anything it takes to survive. Women in bad situations, or women in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s easy to classify them all as ‘difficult’ but it’s also a bit depressing to realize that a women can be difficult for something as simple as not listening to a man. As you’d expect from Gay, these stories have a strong feminist vibe and sell the message very well. It never feels forced or preachy: in fact, it’s a depressingly realistic realization that all women are ‘difficult women.’

The writing here is lush and varied. We go from stories totally grounded in reality to hints of magical realism to full-out fantasy to a terrifying dystopian future. The mood changes: we get more upbeat love-themed tales, heartbreaking life stories, little slice of life pieces that are nearly flash fiction, epic-in-scope fantasy… I was wowed by how easily she shifted genre, mood, and tone while still giving them all a cohesive vibe.

Every story felt like it belonged here. Some were so depressing I almost hated them because of how they made me feel, others so short and brief they don’t seem to fit at first. There are stories that end at the worst possible moment, ones that start after the action. And yet they mesh together perfectly by the end. Difficult women are not just difficult in the way they live their lives, but in how their stories are told. They’re not easy to digest: some are challenging thematically, some emotionally. One made me cry. But they all touched me in different ways, and for once I feel like I’ve read a short story collection where I wouldn’t remove a single one

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Mongrels, by Stephen Graham Jones. Finished December 11th. Earlier this year I read Stephen Graham Jones’ Demon Theory, and it’s absolutely one of my favorite books of 2016. I really wanted to read more of him but he has a LOT of books out. An intimidating amount, to be honest, and I didn’t know where to start. Mongrels is actually a brand-new release and seems to be getting a lot of hype, plus it’s a modern werewolf tale which is usually something I really enjoy. So it seemed like as good a place as any to dive into his body of work!

Mongrels is about a young boy who is convinced his family is full of werewolves. His mother died in childbirth, and he lives with his aunt and uncle. They are a family of vagabonds, moving from place to place and picking up whatever odd jobs are available along the way. So while this is, on the surface, a story about monsters, it’s much more a book about humanity. It’s about how we all have something monstrous inside of us, and how it can shape our lives in ways we never expected.

Mongrels deals with poverty and classism/racism in America as much as it deals with howling at the moon and eating people. Like all good monster novels, the fantastic elements serve as a metaphor for real-world issues… though it also tackles these themes head-on in a more literal sense. It’s a very fast-paced book but it’s surprisingly deep, and cleverly skirts the line between adult fiction and YA. It’s totally, completely different from Demon Theory and I’m now even more intrigued to read more of Jones’ books.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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Rules for Werewolves, by Kirk Lynn. Finished December 13th. I had two werewolf books on my TBR and thought to myself, “why not read them in a row?!” So here we are, with a very wolfish December. Rules for Werewolves is compared to Sharp Teeth in the blurb and that happens to be one of my favorite books so how can I resist?

RfW is told almost entirely in dialogue, but with no speech tags. So there are no descriptions of the action, or even clear ways to know who is talking at any point in time. It reads very much like poetry (thus the Sharp Teeth comparison) and obviously can be intensely confusing at times. The plot itself is simple enough: a group of homeless young people are moving from abandoned house to abandoned house… oh, and their (possibly insane) leader is convinced they are werewolves.

Unlike Mongrels (and Sharp Teeth) this is not an overt “werewolf book.” It’s incredibly unclear if this is a cult-type situation or if they are actual werewolves. This is a difficult book: the plot is messy, there are so many characters it’s almost impossible to keep them straight, and most of the time the reader is a bit unclear on what is going on. But I loved it! It’s so lyrical and interesting, and raises some very interesting questions about how we live our lives. If you like challenging books and possibly-magical-realism with a dark turn, I really recommend this.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Driver’s Seat, by Muriel Sparks. Finished December 14th. Sometimes I let myself get swayed by hype. I read a bunch of glowing reviews, see it’s a short novel, and pick it up. Though to be honest, this has been sitting on my Kindle for about a year–back when I first read those rave reviews. Even the mid-tier ones mentioned the amazing twists of this little mystery/thriller/whatever it is. I stumbled upon it recently while trying to give some order to the 1,800+ books on my device and off we went.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to the hype. I almost want to give this 2 stars because it was such a disappointment, but the writing was clever and well-crafted. I just… I was SO BORED. The plot sounds so interesting: Lise, a woman who has lived an ordinary life and seems ordinary in every respect, goes on a self-destructive adventure into the long-hidden dark side of her personality. It’s short, witty, and to the point. But I just. Didn’t. Care.

It has a manic energy but manages to be very pedestrian at the same time. Lise acts completely insane: flitting from person to person, topic to topic, changing her personality or aims on a whim. Yet it’s not very interesting to read about because Lise is just a dull person. Even when trying her hardest to get into trouble, the height of her craziness seems to be bold miss-matched prints and stealing car keys. Ooh, scandalous.

Sure, the ending is good. But it wasn’t a twist–you see it coming from a mile away–and you don’t even get any insight into why she chooses that path. Crazy woman does a crazy thing, the book. I prefer more depth and meat to my stories, but maybe I just missed something because this has generally great reviews.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood*. Finished December 14th. Until now, I have not been wowed by the Hogarth Shakespeare line. The ones I have read are, admittedly, exactly as advertised: retellings of Shakespearean stories. But I have always wanted more from these books: more attention to detail, more commentary on society, more meta narratives. Thankfully, Hag-Seed is what I’ve been searching for all along. Which is particularly fitting since The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play!

Like many of Shakespeare’s works, Hag-Seed is a play within a play. The main character, Felix, is putting on The Tempest in a prison, but his actual life mirrors the play. He was deposed from a position of power, is essentially in exile, and is using his in-prison play to get revenge on those who wronged him. His daughter is even named Miranda! So for most characters you have both the in-book counterparts and their in-prison-play counterparts. Felix is, of course, both the in-book Prospero along with playing him in his own play. I’m making this sound way more confusing than it is probably, but basically the book has a play in it and both mirror The Tempest both literally and thematically.

Much like how TT is aware that it is a play, HS seems to be aware that it is a book. Felix’s inner monologue often comes off as a speech to an audience, and many of the book allusions come off as very wink-wink-nudge-nudge to the reader. There’s not a lot of overt 4th-wall breaking, but it’s clear that we are a layer of the book: there’s Felix, then his play, then the audience in the book, and then finally, the reader. Or perhaps we’re the “top” layer of the pile. The question is, are we being played by Felix too or are we in on his shenanigans? This is a book that I already want to re-read because I know there are probably dozens of important things I missed.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Good As Gone, by Amy Gentry. Finished December 15th. I keep picking up these popular thrillers expecting something amazing and getting, surprise surprise, canned mediocrity. If this book had any other premise I would have skipped it: I’ve really trained myself not to pick up those “thriller of the month everyone’s bookclub pick IT’S THE NEXT GONE GIRL” type of things. But I am borderline obsessed with the documentary The Imposter (go watch it, seriously) and this plot seems ripped right from that with the genders reversed.

When she is 13 years old, Julie is kidnapped right out of her bedroom. There are no leads, there’s no evidence, and the case is basically abandoned. She returns many years later and while her parents are thrilled to see her, her mother (Anna) becomes suspicious. Is it really her daughter who has come back, or an imposter?

It’s a really fast read, with chapters that alternate between Anna in the present day and “possibly Julie”‘s past. So you’re going both forward in time and back, which is a nice aspect. It’s smoothy written for the most part, though nothing really stands out and there are some clunky sentences. The pacing is great: very tight, chapter breaks at just the right moments, not a lot of down time or unnecessary content. Every conversation seems packed with meaning, every scene full of clues. If you’re a thriller junkie I think this is probably a great read.

However, I found it really lacking substance. The characters were flat, and the mystery felt very thin (especially because many details were pulled from The Imposter and JonBenet’s case, making it feel overly familiar). The last quarter of the book saved this from being terrible: the reveals are great, and while not totally unexpected they did catch me by surprise.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

259/175 Books

27/28 Series Books

68/50 TBR Books

27/15 Different Countries

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

November Reading Wrapup: Part II

13 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

246/175 Books

27/28 Series Books

66/50 TBR Books

26/15 Different Countries

November Reading Wrapup: Part I

13 Dec

November was, at least for the first half, an absolutely atrocious reading month for me. I got almost nothing done, I couldn’t stick with any book I picked up. I’m sure everyone in America understands why: those post-election blues. I didn’t want to do anything but lay in bed and sigh heavily for a few days, so actually reading words? Difficult. Thankfully, like many people I’ve seen, I dived back into a comforting old favorite and was able to get out of my mini-slump fairy easily. Still a terrible month, though (for reading and, you know, humanity in general).

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Autumn Cthulhu, edited by Mike Davis. Finished November 2nd. As you can probably guess, this was spillover from my October horror reading binge. I think the name of this collection is a bit misleading–it is a Lovecraft-inspired collection (kind of… more on that in a bit) but it is NOT a mythos collection. There is much Lovecraftian inspiration here, but little of it is from his cosmic horror stories. I find it strange that some reviews say that there’s almost no Lovecraft here, because many of the connections are crystal clear (“The Night is a Sea” – “The Dreams in the Witch House,” “The Black Azalea” – “The Colour out of Space,” “End of the Season” – “Shadow over Innsmouth” to name a few).

The main theme here is more so fall horror than Lovecraftian horror. Sure, many of the stories have Lovecraftian themes, but many of them do not. Quite a few feel more Stephen King-esque, or even like they belong in the world of Laird Barron (especially “Cul-De-Sac Virus” and “DST (Fall Back)”) than like Lovecraft stories. Then again, both King and Barron are heavily Lovecraft-inspired… so in a roundabout way you could probably argue that most stories here are indeed Lovecraftian.

Funnily enough, the most heavily Lovecraft story (“Trick… or the Other Thing”) was my least favorite. In fact, I rarely like to call out stories in a collection, but it was BAD. It’s about Nyarlathotep as an agent of vengeance for a spurned love affair. The hell?? Does that sound like the Nyarlathotep we know and love? No. It was kind of a joke of a story and I didn’t even finish it, which is very rare for me. And on the flip side, my favorite story (John Langan’s “Anchor”) was also not very Lovecraftian. It felt very much like a Langan story and not like anything else–as it should, in my opinion.

This is definitely a mixed bag of a collection. There are lots of gems (other than the ones I have mentioned so far, I really liked “Grave Goods” and of course Laird Barron’s contribution), a few middle-of-the-road stories, one that made absolutely no sense, and one absolute stinker. Definitely not the best horror collection I’ve ever read, but it really invokes the fall spirit and was a perfect seasonal read. Well worth dipping into if you like new weird-style horror and Lovecraftian stories a bit off the beaten path.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Goldenhand, by Garth Nix. Finished November 4th. I have very mixed feelings about this book, though they are mostly positive. The Sabriel trilogy is one of my favorite series and it just feels so cozy and nostalgic to be back in this world with such familiar characters. It also has my favorite magic system: the Charter/Free Magic dynamic and the role of necromancers is just endlessly fascinating. I’d definitely read a book that takes place entirely in the river Death.

We tie up a lot of loose ends from Abhorsen here: Chlorr, of course, but also the lingering magic in Nick. Plus following up with what happened to Mogget and the Dog! Mogget is my all-time favorite literary character so that’s what I was looking forward to most. Sadly he has a very small role and doesn’t appear until the end but still, it’s Mogget!!

But it wasn’t without flaws. The pacing just seems… off. It takes over 70% of the book for all of our main characters to connect, and I really thought there was way too much plot for the remaining 100~ pages. But the climax is SO rushed! Everything happened way too fast and there wasn’t enough character development. I also felt the Lirael/Nick romance seemed very rushed and super strange by the end.

This was an enjoyable book, and I loved coming back to this world, but I think the plot would have been better served in a duology. Hopefully this isn’t the last book we get in the Old Kingdom.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden*. Finished November 5th. There was so much hype around this book that I was hesitant to pick it up. It’s getting compared to a lot of big-deal books, like The Golem and the Jinn. Thankfully, it definitely lived up to the hype for me and dare I say… surpassed it? I was so smitten with this novel.

The Bear and the Nightingale is part historical fiction, part fairytale. It takes place in snowy Russia and revolves around a young girl whose mother dies in childbirth. Her grandmother was, apparently, a witch, and it seems like Vasilisa might have inherited some of her powers. But this is a time when women were essentially property: how can she reconcile her magical future with a world that won’t give her any agency?

While this is certainly heavy on the magical realism, the fantasy serves as a backdrop to some very intense cultural questions. TB&tN addresses sexism, women’s agency, classism, religious mania, and many other important issues. It never feels heavy-handed or preachy: every part fits together seamlessly, from the possibly insane pastor who comes to Vasilisa’s village to the suitors her father foists upon her. And the fantastical elements, which I don’t want to spoil by discussing in-depth, add another layer of richness.

This is a book to read slowly and savor. There are so many layers to the story, and the characters are richly drawn. I can already tell that this is a book I will read again in the future: in fact, once you know the end, it’s hard to resist the temptation of turning right back to the beginning.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling. Finished November 12th. Does this need explaining? Post-election, I didn’t want to read anything that didn’t feel like a warm blanket. And what’s more soul-warming than Harry Potter? Though the themes of muggle-racism and government corruption were perhaps a bit too on-the-nose given our current situation.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks. Finished November 13th. This was definitely one of my favorite Culture novels (probably #3 for me, behind Look to Windward and Excession). It’s also probably the darkest–while Inversions covers some dark topics, this book is literally about hell. Well, it’s literally about a virtual hell, but there are quite a few scenes set in ‘Hell’ that are difficult to read. It’s amazing how these books bounce from genre to genre while still consistently feeling like science fiction, because much of this book is straight horror.

I have noticed a trend in Culture books: there is always an amazing core idea, and so many plot threads that never *quite* come together. This really isn’t a negative for me, because I love the ideas Iain Banks tackles and the worlds he builds so much. But it can be quite frustrating: for example, there’s an entire character here who has basically nothing to do with the plot but gets tons of POV chapters. Why is she in the book? Sure, you get a glimpse at a cool aspect of the Culture we didn’t see before. And to be honest, I think the Culture books are WAY more focused on “look at this cool thing!” than “please admire my well-crafted plot.” Some of the earlier ones (Player of Games and Use of Weapons especially) are quite tightly crafted but the farther you get into them the more they seem to…. unravel, in terms of cohesiveness.

He’s also not that great at characters, except for the various AI Minds and drones and ships which are consistently amazing. It’s funny, there are quite a few negative aspects of these books and I can’t really describe why I love them so much. I usually hate thin characterization and messy plots. But here? All is forgiven. There is something mesmerizing about the Culture world.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Beauty, by Alia Whiteley. Finished November 14th. I was very much looking forward to this book but it let me down hard–I really liked Whiteley’s The Arrival of Missives and was hoping for more like that. The idea here is so cool: all the women in the world contract a strange fungus-based illness and die. After their death, mushrooms start growing on their graves and eventually turn into weird sentient mushroom-women. I HATE mushrooms really passionately (are you a plant? an animal?! make up your damn mind!) so this was particularly horrifying for me.

But overall this novella was all shock and no substance. It’s obviously supposed to be an allegory for gender relations, roles, and expectations but it seems very heavy-handed. Maybe I’m missing something because this has great reviews, but I found the messages trite. Yes indeed, rape culture and forced motherhood and toxic masculinity are bad things, I don’t need a book to tell me that. Not only that, but the delivery is just… strange. This is not magical realism or fantasy, it’s horror. Really extreme body horror. Which is actually a genre I love, but I feel like all of the gross-out moments were included just to make the reader uncomfortable. So we can look at our own ideas of gender, I’m sure, and ~deconstruct~ why we find these scenes so upsetting. But let’s be honest, they’re upsetting because they are gross as hell and overly violent for no reason. It doesn’t really serve the plot, no that there’s much of one. Super disappointed by this and I kind of wish I hadn’t read it.

LipstickRating1And1Half

 

 

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A House at the Bottom of a Lake, by Josh Malerman. Finished November 15th. I read Bird Box in 2014 and it was one of my favorites of the year. A dark, atmospheric piece of literary apocalyptic horror, it shone bright against the cookie-cutter books we usually get in the genre. Of course I’ve been eagerly awaiting Josh Malerman’s next book which isn’t until 2017, but we have this little novella to tide us over until then!

I feel like I’ve been harping on novellas lately. It’s just a format I’m hard to please in. I want a small cast of well-developed characters. A plot that fits the length but feels meaty, like it has life outside of the ~100 pages it’s contained in. But not a plot so big it feels unfinished, or one so small it seems like a stretched-out short story. I want a cool, inventive world that feels alive. This is a lot to ask for, and most authors just don’t deliver on most of these. Thankfully, A House at the Bottom of a Lake is everything I want in a novella and more.

The story centers around Amelia and James, two teens on their first date who discover a secret lake and a house at the bottom of it. They become infatuated with the house and each other, and spend the summer exploring. There are really only those two characters and the plot centers entirely around the house and their relationship. Tightly woven, but at the same time the mystery is expansive.

Like with Bird Box, the atmosphere is what really makes this shine. To James and Amelia, the house is whimsical and magical. They have the time of their life in it, and you can feel that rush of teenage excitement. But at the same time it is so ominous. The house feels oppressive and menacing. It’s a neat writing trick: you see exactly why James and Amelia are enchanted with the house, but the reader feels nothing but terror and apprehension the entire time. All of their sweet romance is tinted with darkness. The more James and Amelia fall for each other, the more nervous the reader gets. It’s just such impressive writing!

I docked half a star because I wasn’t crazy about the ending–it felt unfinished and clashed a bit with the rest of the tone. But that’s really my only complaint!

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Goals

237/175 Books

25/35 Series Books

66/50 TBR Books

24/15 Different Countries

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

September Reading Wrapup: National Book Award

19 Oct

I never used to care at all about book awards. But last year two of my favorite reads came from the Man Booker shortlist, and I had an absolute blast reading the longlist this year. So when the longlist for the National Book Award popped up I just had to read them all. Or at least attempt to: I had tried What Belongs To You earlier this year and dnf’d it, and I also struggled so much through the first few chapters of The Portable Veblen (too cutesy, not enough substance) that I didn’t finish it. But other than those two, neither of which made the shortlist, I powered through the whole thing! Just kidding, I didn’t read New of the World because it wasn’t out when I started reading the list, and by the time I finished I just didn’t care about it enough to start. So… 7 out of 10. Good enough!

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Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet. Finished September 16th. I have no idea what I read. I should have realized this book would be a big pile of wtf when I saw it was written by Lydia Millet, who wrote Mermaids in Paradise: a comedic tale of ecological destruction with the most “what the hell” ending I’ve ever encountered. I’m convinced that Millet’s books are all going through identity crises.

So what exactly is Sweet Lamb of Heaven? It has thriller elements (woman running from a psycho ex), it has supernatural horror elements (main character hearing a voice stemming from her infant child), it has mystery elements (a general sense of “what the hell is going on”), it has quirky slice-of-life elements (her life in the Maine hotel). Yet it is not a thriller, a horror novel, a mystery, or a quirky slice of life book. I’m… I’m not really sure WHAT it is. More importantly, I don’t think the book knows what it is. I did originally rate this 3 stars but after thinking about it, it’s just such a hot mess that I can’t in good faith keep that rating. Even if it was an interesting read.

Basically, this is a book where you have no idea what is going on or how you are supposed to feel about anything. Our narrator has elements of being unreliable: she’ll spend a whole chapter talking about something like it’s still going on, then a chapter later will say “but all that ended years ago” and you’re like… ??? what? Time shifts, events are glossed over, it’s a real sense of unease. But I don’t think it’s executed well–I love books that keep you on your toes mentally, but Sweet Lamb just felt intentional obtuse and confusing. No bueno.

There were elements I liked, though. Millet’s writing is slow-paced but compulsively readable. And there are lots of odd, almost random scientific discussions that I adored. Animal language! Pando! Orcas! These are all areas of study I’m very interested in so I loved seeing them pop up in the story. Even if, you know, it didn’t 100% make sense. But whatever, I’ll take a random paragraph about orca language in literally any book for any reason.

It was actually going well enough until the end, confusion aside. The last chapter was just really, really bad. Nothing made sense, plot points came out of nowhere, it was incredibly rushed and felt like a different novel. I went from “this is weird but enjoyable” to “no why I don’t want this at all.” I don’t think it’s a bad book, but I don’t think it’s a good book either. Is it even a book? Did I just read blank pages and hallucinate the whole thing? Who knows. Certainly not Lydia Millet.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Miss Jane, by Brad Watson. Finished September 20th. I love reading through the longlist of book awards because 9 times out of 10 I’m picking up a book I probably wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise. And while there are always some flops, there are winners too: like this book, which (aside from the beautiful cover) seemed not at all appealing to me. How wrong I was!

This is a slow, character-driven piece of historical fiction that centers on Jane, a little disabled girl. The novel follows her life from birth to death, though the majority of it focuses on her childhood and early teen years. That’s probably my only criticism: events at the end felt very rushed. I really wanted this to be a 600 page chunker so I could spend days and days with these characters. It’s a very short novel, just over 200 pages, and I do think it suffers just a little bit because of the length. But that’s literally the only negative.

It’s such a beautiful book. Jane has a rare disability (a genital malformation that makes her permanently incontinent and also unable to conceive a child) and the vast majority of the book is about her dealing with her situation. From realizing as a child that there’s something different about her, to fighting her disability as a teen, to finally accepting it as an adult. I have several disabled family members so of course this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and Brad Watson handled it so deftly and with so much compassion. Jane is a complex, dynamic character who is not defined by her disability, but this is not some “rah rah learn to overcome your problems!” type of narrative. It’s about Jane accepting that her disability is part of her: it doesn’t define her, but it’s certainly part of the overall definition of who she is.

Of course there are other plot threads and characters. We follow the doctor who diagnosed her, my personal favorite character, along with Jane’s dysfunctional family. A bitter mother, and alcoholic father, an older sister who just wants to leave. Issues of sexism and racism are deftly woven into the narrative. This is a book that hits some heavy topics, but it’s really just a book about life. About dealing with the hand you’re dealt and finding happiness anywhere you can.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson. Finished September 21st. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has so many elements I enjoy: set in NYC, coming-of-age, intense female friendship. And while I liked it, there was nothing I particularly loved. It was a pleasant but unassuming read.

I think a large chunk of that is because of how short it is. I’m not sure what is up with this current “super crazy short” novel trend: the majority of the books on both the Man Booker and National Book Award longlists are under 300 pages. Many are under 250, and this one is under 200. There’s a way to make a short novel work (for example, I thought Hot Milk was the perfect length) but overall I tend to find lengthy books more enjoyable.

There’s just a lot to cover here and not enough pages to bring the emotional impact. We follow our main character August, but there are SO many side stories: her mother’s mental illness, her father’s conversion to Islam and how it affects her family, the lives of August’s 3 very close friends, and snippets of her current life as an anthropologist. The last was definitely my favorite part, and one I wanted a lot more of. I am an absolute sucker for cultural anthropology in novels and it seems so on-trend now which makes me very happy.

I felt like, aside from August, no one was very fleshed out. I wanted to feel the tight relationship between her friends, but the pace was so rapid-fire I had trouble even keeping track of who was who. Compare this to A Little Life, a book about four friends who are so amazingly separate and distinct. Considering some of the struggles these girls go through, I felt like 200 pages was incredibly insufficient. I wanted so, so much more of them.

I also wasn’t a fan of the writing style. It’s very repetitive. For example:

“The government owns the pecan trees now. What had once been my family’s has been taken. By the government.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a writing style like that, but it’s never something I enjoy. I don’t like repetition and stripped-down, simple sentences. It’s meant to feel colloquial and casual but I always have problems with it, like in My Name Is Lucy Barton. It’s just not for me.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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The Throwback Special, by Chris Bachelder. Finished September 23rd. I expected to like this book, but was honestly surprised by how much I loved it. My favorite on the NBA longlist, and I can’t imagine another book knocking it off that spot (though Miss Jane is close). What first drew me to The Throwback Special was that it’s about football: I love football pretty passionately, so whenever it pops up in serious literature I am all over it.

You don’t really need to know anything about football, or even like it, to appreciate this book… but I think it definitely helps. There are many scenes discussing the Theismann-LT play that may read as a little dry if you’re not a fan. And there are also clever elements that can easily be missed if you don’t follow football (their lottery mimicking the NFL draft, for example). I usually have a pretty strong aversion to “manly men discussing being men” type of books, which this definitely is, and I loved it despite that. I mean I kind of hated All That Man Is from the Man Booker list and I think The Throwback Special could definitely go into “boring man stuff” territory but it veers so hard in the opposite direction.

This is a quiet book that is absolutely stuffed with brilliant observations on human nature and life. I have entire pages highlighted because of how meaningful and beautiful I found the passages. They just rang so true to the universal human experience–sometimes a book just strikes right at the heart of things, and The Throwback Special does this with incredible finesse.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. Finished September 26th. When I was a kid, I thought the underground railroad was not a metaphor but a literal, physical railroad under the ground like a subway that saved slaves. It was all very exciting and I thought American history was super cool. Then a teacher told me that it was not, in fact, literal. Much sorrow was had that day. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out there was a book that took that concept and ran with it!

I’ve read one of Whitehead’s book in the past, Zone One, and I feel like there’s a huge emotional element missing in his writing. The Underground Railroad is a book that deals with a very heavy topic, slavery, and some scenes are incredibly hard to read. There’s a lot of brutality and it’s based on history, which makes it that much more powerful. But while you cringe and sympathies with the characters, I never felt like I knew them or their motivations.

This didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, though given the content perhaps “enjoy” is too strong of a word. It’s beautifully written, moving, and impactful… but I wanted more of all those elements. I wanted more emotion, more gut-punching sadness (what can I say, I’m a book masochist).

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Imagine Me Gone, by Adam Haslett. Finished September 27th. This is a hard book to rate. I can’t say I enjoyed it–the reading experience was tense in a not-so-pleasant way, and it filled me with anxiety. Most reviews start off with trigger warnings for depression and mental illness, and of course I ignored them because let’s be honest: just from the description and first chapter, it’s very clear the direction this book is going to go. There’s little surprise when the wham moments come (one of the few negative things I can say about Imagine Me Gone), and in fact the entire plot seems laid out neatly in the first 5 pages.

But. But. There is this sense of unease and dread suffusing every chapter, and if you suffer from anxiety and depression yourself I think certain chapters (aka any of Michael’s) will be hard to get through. His pulsing, roving anxiety is so aptly described that it’s hard to keep your own reigned in. Whenever Michael stuffed a bill in the drawer of his desk without opening it or got increasingly obsessed with some trivial detail of his day I felt my own heart beat a little faster: in sympathy, yes, but also because I related to his situation in a way that made me very uncomfortable. This is a harsh look at what mental illness does to both the sufferer but also to an entire family. It’s raw and, at times, almost unbearable. Even though you know what’s coming, the tension doesn’t let up: in fact, I think knowing the ending makes it just that much harder to get through.

This could have been a 5-star read for me, but I felt a little let down (and upset) by the ending. I think certain characters acted in incredibly stupid ways. I also felt the last few chapters were kind of lackluster: for a book that takes such a hard look a tragedy, all the time-jumping felt a bit flat and detached.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Association of Small Bombs, by  Karan Mahajan Finished September 29th. While the subject matter of this book is quite heavy, it left basically no impression on me. I don’t really feel one way or another about it. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it either.

If anything, I found it boring. I flew through the first half and then suddenly found myself dreading picking it up again. I really had to push myself to finish it. I’m pretty sure I will struggle to remember a single detail in only a few weeks. Just super forgettable.

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

My obvious favorites were Miss Jane and The Throwback Special, though sadly only one of them made it to the shortlist/finalists.

Reading Challenge Goals

212/175 Books

24/35 Series Books

57/50 TBR Books

22/15 Different Countries

July 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

3 Aug

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

No rating because my heart is confused

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

Reading Challenge Goals

171/175 Books

20/35 Series Books

53/50 TBR Books

20/15 Different Countries

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

July 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part I

2 Aug

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 2 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 2 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

LipstickRating1Half

 

 

 

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

Reading Challenge Goals

164/175 Books

19/35 Series Books

53/50 TBR Books

20/15 Different Countries

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

May 2016 Reading Wrapup: Part II

2 Jun

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

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

[...]

May 2016 Reading Wrapup | Part I

9 May

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

Reading Challenge Progress

119/175 Books

14/33 Series Books

40/50 TBR Books

17/15 Different Countries

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

March 2016 Reading Wrapup

7 Apr

Another month, another late wrapup! It’s a trend, I tell you. But hey, some people did their February wrapups just a few days ago, so I don’t feel that bad about it. Actually I do, so let’s just pretend this is totally on time!

March was an amazing reading month for me, my best ever. However, until I actually looked at my stats at the end of the month I felt like it was going rather slowly. Odd, right? It’s probably because my nightime reading (which is all on Kindle) was kind of slow due to some chunkers. But my daytime reading, which is physical books (and a new addition to my reading routine) more than made up for that. Since this is a long one hit the jump to get started!

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