April Book Reviews

A wee bit late, but here’s my April wrap-up! Every month I say time has gone by too quickly, but April in particular just disappeared. Seriously, where’d it go? This has been an interesting month for me. Injuries and lots of life changes have kept me rather preoccupied so I haven’t been posting or reading very much lately. I only got through two books this month, but they’ve been waiting on the TBR shelf for a while. So feeling rather satisfied to check them off the list.

gathering-of-shadows

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

Read it? Dear Lord, yes.

I loved A Darker Shade of Magic to pieces. Really, really loved it. I was worried AGOS would let me down. The plot pacing was much slower in this one. So much time was spent on the Essen Tasch and various romantic side stories in this one, while the real dangers brewed and festered slowly in the background. Not to say there weren’t some epic moments along the way, but we don’t get much real excitement related to the central plotline until right at the very end when we’re left with an excruciating cliff-hanger. Nonetheless, I was still drowning in feels and I very much enjoyed this sequel. Schwab has a way of writing such brilliant, real, lovable characters that it really makes up for any of the other issues for me. I’ve already started reading A Conjuring of Light and am already sad because this series is coming to an end all too quickly. Please stoooooop.

 

thenightcircus

The Night Circus by Erin Mergenstern

Read it? Sure, why not.

Whimsical, but unsubstantial. The Night Circus is full of vivid imagery, unique ideas and rather curious circumstances. But underneath all the flowery writing and mysterious characters, we just don’t get a lot. I expected a “duel” similar to the Prestige, if you’ve seen that movie. Intense, and obsessive, but it’s all very mild. There’s really hardly a sense of competition at all and the conflict seems kind of forced, the ultimatums full of loopholes.  That combined with all the time skips,  perspective shifts, and various sub-stories, The Night Circus can be difficult to follow and fully grasp sometimes. I’m somewhat tempted to re-read it and see if it changes anything. Overall, I thought it was an entertaining read. Discovering the world of the circus is definitely enchanting, but there’s nothing to invest in here really. You don’t get to intimately meet your protagonists or feel the tension of their struggle. Fun ideas, but it read one-dimensionally to me.

May Book Reviews

Read in May 2016 : City of Fallen Angels, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Everything Everything, The Raven Boys, and Wink Poppy Midnight.

cityoffallenangels__span

1.City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

As mentioned in my February Read List, I’ve been working my way through the Mortal Instruments series. Thus far, this was my least favorite installment. It just kind of dragged for me. The conflict in City of Glass was so high-stakes. The coming together of downworlders and nephilim combined with the unveiling of some of the biggest secrets in the series made it feel like the climax. It’s a tough act to follow and City of Fallen Angels fell pretty short of that excitement.

toalltheboysivelovedbefore

2. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

All the posts I read about this book promised cute fluff. It was definitely fluff, just not sure if I found it cute. For starters, I couldn’t really get over Jenny Han’s style. The protagonist Lara Jean’s narration sounded more like the thoughts of a twelve-year-old than a sixteen-going-on-seventeen girl. I also found her to be whiny and passive instead of “quirky cute” and couldn’t bring myself to root for either of her love interests. The high point of the book though and what made me keep wanting to like it was the dynamic of the Song family. There were little bits and pieces of the book that I could cut and paste into a biography about my life with my own sisters. That being said, it’s not enough to redeem the book for me and despite those pretty, pretty covers, I probably won’t be back. Sorry, Lara Jean.

everything-everything

 

3. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

The format takes a little bit of getting used to. I opened and closed the book quite a few times before actually reading it because the drawings and diagrams were a definite turn-off at first. The story is also pretty impractical, but all that aside, I think Maddy’s feelings were incredibly relatable. You don’t have to have been raised in a bubble to know that scary, liberating feeling of being out on your own for the first time or first love or taking a risk that makes you feel so young and alive and present. Reliving that feeling made it an enjoyable read. I wish the story had just ended at that though. I could have done without the twist and the ending. For me it changed what the story was about and took away some of what made the situation relevant. Sometimes things should just end the way you expect them too.

maggie-stiefvater-the-raven-boys

4. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

So this series has been out for a while, but I didn’t discover it until seeing it here on The Excellent Library’s blog. Very, very glad I did because I loved it. The writing style was superb, the characters were well fleshed out and it was always obvious who was speaking in each chapter. The story follows a series of teens on a search for a magical mythological king supposedly buried somewhere in their town. If any of you watch the show Teen Wolf (my guilty pleasure), it has a lot of elements in common. High-school teens unraveling a mystery in a small town that somehow heightens or attracts the supernatural. It was a lot of build-up, so the actual story moves along a little slowly, but the characters and writing were so great to me that I didn’t mind. I kind of wanted more to be revealed by the end, but it was an excellent set-up and first installment to the series. One of those can’t put it down reads. I’m already a third of the way through Book II. My favorite read of this month!

picture-6

5. Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke

Wink Poppy Midnight. I have mixed feelings about this book and I was sitting on the fence for a good hour after I finished it. But I think I’m leaning negative. The prose is lyrical and yes, very full of whimsy. But it tries so hard to be whimsical that it fails to be relatable. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; the message felt unclear and oftentimes elements of prose that felt like should be perspective specific were present regardless of the speaker. (i.e. The repetition of phrases like “as if, as if, as if” or “green, green, green”). It made each character’s voice less distinguishable. There were so many fairytale references that you can get a little lost and they didn’t add much to Wink’s character once she was already established. The ending felt rushed and again, didn’t make a whole lot of sense. It read like it wanted to be magical realism, but didn’t have any of the magic. Then it attempted to twist into some sort of psychological mystery but there it felt short for me as well. There were too many characters and too many elements. The story was being pulled in too many different directions and no amount of “beautiful” writing could reign it all in. That being said, it is a very weird, interesting read. You’re not a hundred percent sure where you’re going as a reader and that experience is kind of a unique one.

I think Bone Gap by Laura Ruby establishes a similar setting and story, but does so in a much more heartfelt way. Finn, another handsome, gentle boy, is a much more successful hero than Midnight and Petey as the whimsical girl-next-door is much more endearing than Wink by far.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

if-i-stay-gayle-forman1

This one surprised me. I’ve been thoroughly disappointed with most of the YA books I’ve read lately. They’re written in a half-assed way by authors who seem to have forgotten how they thought as teens. I spend half of the book cringing. If I Stay still had its fair share of cringe worthy cheesey moments, but it also carried a good amount of substance. The story follows Mia through an out-of-body experience in which she must decide whether or not she wants to stay in this world. Mia, for the most part, felt like a genuine teenager. She questioned where she fit in her family, felt insecure in her relationship, and was equally hesitant and excited about her future in music. Since she wasn’t written as one of those pseudo-intellectual teens* that I hate or made out to be some sort of special cookie for no reason**, it made her emotional struggles much more relatable. When Mia makes her ultimate choice, she does it for a reason that I can respect and one that was consistent with her character.

The story never quite hit a climactic peak, though. It stays relatively within the same emotional range throughout. You don’t fall in love with her necessarily or many of the people in her life, but Gayle Forman’s writing is good enough to finish it out. Not a superbly spectacular read, but an enjoyable one. And if you’re considering picking something up from the genre of teen melodrama, If I Stay‘s not a bad choice.

3 / 5

*See any John Green heroine
**See Bella Swan

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

My second year of college, I took a class in experience design. One particular week we had a guest lecturer who warned us of “The Curse of Knowledge”. The idea is that those with a certain knowledge of a subject have a bias that prevents them from understanding the perspective of those without it. Imagine a person with a song stuck in their head. They spend the whole day tapping out a rhythm with their fingers and that rhythm sounds unmistakably like the song they hear. However, to you, me and the rest of the world, that rhythm could be any number of things and holds no significant value to us.

The vast majority of us go through life blissfully unaware of that curse. We take advantage of the fact that we can think and function by the same rules as most other people. It takes no conscious effort on our part to read emotions, default to standard social norms or pick up new slang (i.e. “on fleek”). We all hear that song in our heads.

For those like the autistic 15-year-old Christopher Boone, those rules aren’t innate. He operates on an entirely different set of logic and has to manually translate all the overwhelming information around him into something he can process. Nonetheless, Christopher proves to be remarkably intelligent, brave and endearing as a hero. The novel starts off as Christopher’s adventure in solving a local mystery, but quickly evolves into a journey in which he learns to navigate his family problems and the world on his own.

I’m finding that my favorite novels are ones with the simplest language. Less is more right? Christopher as a narrator is quirky and smart-definitely not one for fluff paragraphs. It makes this novel a quick and easy read with plenty of humor, heart-warming moments and a whole lot of perspective. Pick it up if you get a chance.

3.8/5*

*I am not a fan of numerically rating novels. It’s difficult to put such different books on a singular scale. However! I know it makes a difference to a reader deciding what to pick up next, so I’ll be adding these ratings as just a footnote from now on.

Middlesex

Middlesex was one of the books that kickstarted my accidental book blogging. It was also one of the books I was most excited to read this summer. If you haven’t heard of the book by now, the story centers on Cal, a Greek-American intersex man who was originally assigned female at birth. I went into the novel thinking it would focus heavily on the narrator’s intersex status and the gender identity struggle. But surprisingly, that particular part of the story may have been the least fleshed out. In fact, there isn’t much focus on Cal’s experiences until the end of the novel and Eugenides has openly stated that he didn’t do any extensive research on the gender topic.

So no it’s not a strikingly educational book on gender and sexuality. But it is, however, an amazing telling of three generations of an immigrant greek family. Eugenides has one hell of a way of storytelling. He manages to grow these characters from childhood to old age in a way that shows decades of growth but retains the core of who they are. The very traits that made them successful or endearing in early years become their downfalls or weaknesses later in life.

Cal begins the story with his grandparents in Greece. Their old greek suspicions and beliefs follow the family across the seas against a backdrop of historical events. Desdemona, Cal’s grandmother, places such whole-hearted faith in those beliefs and their consequences that at times the novel reads like magical realism. It’s no Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but there are moments reminiscent of that feeling.

Eugenides creates such striking images in his words. Lefty and his wife lying in the lifeboat, Cal chasing down a military tank down the streets of Detroit on an old bike, the mermaid tank in San Francisco…if you haven’t read the book, this doesn’t make too much sense to you. Fingers crossed that they’ll at least make you curious! These scenes are still vivid in my mind despite having read the book three months ago.

So while most of the book is not directly about Cal, you realize that at the end of the day, it really was. Cal is the sum of every man and woman that came before him. Who he ultimately becomes and what he faces is a consequence of the actions of his parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents. It may be somewhat disappointing that the gender issue is a small part of the story, but for me it wasn’t quite a problem. Maybe it was part of the point-that who we are isn’t so much defined by sex and gender but by the people who came to bring us into life and the world we were brought into. It was one of those stories that comes full circle and closes in an immensely satisfying way.

If you’ve got the time, squeeze in this book. I, for one, am glad I did.

Sunday Spotlight | Misery by Stephen King

This post written by Vy at Ice Queen, Yous Queen.

Maybe I don’t read enough Stephen King. Maybe I haven’t read the right Stephen King novels. But I don’t like Stephen King. And Misery was no exception. Classified “psychological horror”, it follows the imprisonment of famous author Paul Sheldon, who is kidnapped by his “number one fan” horrifying ex-nurse Annie Wilkes. However, when Annie finds that Paul has killed off her favorite character, Misery Chastain, to end the unsatisfying cheap romance novel arc, and has written his lifelong dream story about a vulgar car thief, Annie seeks to force him to write Misery back to life.

I found this novel quite unsatisfying, but it is most definitely redeemable because no matter how infuriatingly pointless and slow the progression of the plot seems, the reader is riveted and in suspense, and horrified of Annie Wilkes (she showed up in one of my dreams when I stayed up to read and I was up the rest of the night), so the book does accomplish its purpose, and for that reason could be of interest to some readers. It is astonishingly difficult to read Paul’s adventures without sitting on the edge of your seat. Besides, if you can stick it out until the final few chapters, the plot hurtles on toward a spectacular climax.

Another positive note about Misery, there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, and the ultimate climax comes very late into the book, but it’s hard to be bored with this novel. There really isn’t anything mundane about a terrifyingly clever nurse whose weapon of choice is drugs and axes.

So in conclusion, I’m not a fan of Misery. But I can see where the love for this book would stem from. Some critics claim Annie Wilkes is Stephen King’s most terrifying creation yet, and I can see it. True horror writing is derived from fear of the natural, not the supernatural. I’d give this book an overall strong 6.5/10, but as far as the character development of Annie WIlkes, I can’t complain at all. She’s a horror goddess. As a closing note, this book was published in 1988 and the movie debuted in 1990, but I wouldn’t know anything about it, I haven’t seen it. And a lot of the graphic horror is better left to the imagination.

The Bell Jar | Sunday Spotlight

This post written by Vy at Ice Queen, Yous Queen.

I’d never heard of The Bell Jar but I’d heard of Sylvia Plath years before I ever laid eyes on this book, actually because of one of those simulation games based on Degrassi, where one of the potential comebacks when talking to a character was “Who pissed on your Sylvia Plath?” But anyways, that’s irrelevant. The Bell Jar first came into my possession from my sister’s book collection. Both my sisters had read it, and the way they talked about it, I feared it would be mediocre at best. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

The Bell Jar is a somewhat autobiographical novel following the protagonist, Esther Greenwood’s start as a journalist and novelist, but her downward spiral into depression. I loved and related to Esther and how Plath wrote her point of view. I loved how static the other characters were, and how fluid the writing was, the plot portrayed as if it were a movie. Despite Esther’s mental illness, all her views and experiences are spoken with lucidity. Returning to my point about the other characters, one of my all time favorite supporting characters was actually Esther’s so-called fiance, Buddy. Their relationship is central in Esther’s development as a character, and he is overly representative of the archetypal male in those times, just as Esther’s mother is a symbol of all working women at the time, doing typical “women’s work” like stenographer and raising a family.

The Bell Jar, like The Fountainhead, will always hold a special place in my heart for its tackling of the important idea of identity. Esther’s downward spiral stems from her having nothing to root her identity to now that she’s not in school, and she is faced with latching onto something else, like motherhood, her novel, a man, etc. And I love that this novel is quite daring and forward in its portrayal of the mentally ill. Although Esther’s mother is rigid in her belief that depression is a choice, Plath, through Esther, shows a deep insight about the mentally ill through her experiences with psychiatrists, those around her, and herself as she fights through the stigma of being in a mental hospital.

One of my all time favorite things about this novel, is its conclusion, and just how open ended it is. It can be argued that Esther has not grown at all and only relapsed into the vicious cycle of her illness although she doesn’t even know it because ultimately she has sacrificed her identity and free will because of her illness. Others will argue that the ending marks Esther’s recovery and return to society and a healthy existence. However you choose to look at it, it’s refreshing to read fiction that is based around a strong female character of different background – there is no love triangle of admiring men who lust after her untamed spirit. There are only the conflicts within Esther and between Esther and society.

The voice and style of this novel are truly distinct, as is the story, and the characters. It’s truly a shame that The Bell Jar was the only novel ever published by Sylvia Plath before her untimely death; her poetry is beautiful but lacks the clarity and voice of this novel.