Category: Reviews

Jul 21

Book Review: A Killing in the Hills

Books/Writing, Reviews 4

Dun-dun-dun-dun. Isn’t that just such a foreboding title? The title alone was actually what made me first notice this book (unfortunately I don’t remember if it was on a blog post or my random wanderings through the long halls of GoodReads). Then, oh hey! It’s set in West Virginia – which has a real soft spot in my heart, due to my absolute favorite childhood place being my great-grandparents’ farm there.

Unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed with A Killing in the Hills, which was author Julia Keller‘s debut novel (2012). I’m torn between 2.5 and 3 stars out of 5. The issues I had with it were several and overarching and I was in a near-constant state of annoyance.

First. What the everlasting fuck does this author have against teenagers? Carla, the teenage daughter of Bell Elkins, is quite truthfully the flattest character I’ve encountered in a long time. It honestly feels like the author has a personal vendetta against teenagers and took it all out in her writing of Carla. It nearly made me DNF the book, it’s THAT bad. All the way down to her “flying thumbs” on her cell phone. Trust me, we’ve had quite enough of the cell phone cracks. Maybe she just doesn’t have experience with young adults and needed a stock list of characteristics. Sullen? Check. Irresponsible? Check. Drug experimentation? Check. Constantly on the phone? Check. Throwing snarky comments at Mom? Check. Ugh.

Second, I don’t see what the switching of POV to the killer (every few chapters) did for the story. To me you could have left out all those chapters and nothing would have changed. It was just…irritating. Jarring. Trying too hard to be scary.

Speaking of jarring…third problem. Bell’s back story, which is told in flashbacks, felt so familiar. Leftover. Used. Been there done that. The entire story is pretty darn predictable, but especially this part. It felt like the author was trying to be sensational or thriller-like, and in the process just borrowed pieces from popular books in the genre. Sigh.

So, why did I even finish it? I’m not someone who feels bad about tossing a book onto my DNF stack. Life is too short to waste on books that make me want to pull my hair out or have me rolling my eyes every 30 seconds.

The one thing Julia Keller is good at (and maybe I should have seen this coming, since her Pulitzer was for journalism) – is describing her setting. I could have sworn I was walking right down the main drag in my grandparents’ town, Backwoods, WV. Which also happened to be the county seat, just like this one. In fact, there were enough similarities to make me suspect she used their town as the model! Her similes are rather drawn out and overly wordy (see what I did there?), but in her place descriptions they are mostly bearable.

It was a shabby afterthought of a town tucked in the notch between two peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, like the last letter stuck in a mail slot after the post office has closed down for keeps. 

Then there were some spot-on characterizations of the locals accompanied by lines here and there that did genuinely make my heart ache. But, sadly those moments were short-lived and few, and often accompanied by much telling as opposed to showing.

A lot of the people in Raythune County felt invisible. They felt marginalized, forgotten….Being on television, even if it was only to say, Yessir, we’re all pretty darned scared ’round here after that awful shooting’, no question ’bout it, might be the high point of their lives.

Overall…I can’t recommend this one, sadly. Not even in hopes of a sequel. I don’t have enough time to read as it is, and while I’m mildly curious as to what will happen to a couple of the characters in this book, I highly doubt that mild curiosity will ever overcome my massive TBR enough to bump the second of this series to the top. Which, somehow, has accumulated five books. I honestly don’t know how.

I’m taking the time to write this because I wasn’t just “meh” about it, I was massively disappointed. West Virginia and it’s people, with all the problems of drugs, unemployment, and violence, is very close to my heart and I feel it could have been given so much better treatment. Not to gloss anything over, but not to throw worn out sermons (re: drug use) at the reader either. Keller tried to convey the beauty and the pain of the place but ultimately I think the unoriginality of her plot and characters will be what stands out to most readers. IMG_3433

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Jul 20

Book Review: My Lady Jane

Books/Writing, Reviews 4

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This book was like sitting down and eating a big bowl of jelly beans. Or maybe gummy bears. Yes, I think gummy bears. Without the calories!

Like these. My favorites, from the local co-op I used to shop at in Virginia. Mmmmm. (photo from Greenly, but the ones I bought were, um. just pure sugar, haha!)

My Lady Jane is a light-hearted, fun-filled, rollicking good time. It’s billed as YA…fantasy? Alternate history? To me it feels most like humorous alternate history, complete with shapeshifting. Bwhahahaha. Such a refreshing turn on the whole Protestant/Roman Catholic problem. I loved that they took the very gloomy story of Lady Jane Grey and turned it into something so much fun. Note: no one dies in this version. Except…well. Anyway.

Something that always struck me the hardest about Jane’s story is how freaking young all the main players were. Pawns on a chessboard to their scheming, conniving elders. Well, they’re most definitely given their voices here! I was laughing before I got to the end of the second chapter, as the young King Edward is lamenting his death sentence:

There was so much he wanted to do with his life. First of, he wanted to kiss a girl, a pretty girl, the right girl, possibly with tongue. 

And then Jane! I had always suspected, but now I am quite sure, that Jane Grey was a girl after my own heart.

She delighted in the smell of ink, the rough feel of the paper between her fingers, the rustle of sweet pages, the shapes of the letters before her eyes. And most of all, she loved the way that books could transport her from her otherwise mundane and stifling life and offer the experiences of a hundred other lives.

This book does not take itself or its topic too seriously – but, seriously enough to include the facts (and note deviations from them), even down to how Lady Jane’s name came to be carved in the Beauchamp Tower. Alongside that, however, are not-so-subtly-veiled nods to popular culture references that, in context, had me rolling in my chair and my husband wondering if I’d truly lost my marbles. Jane is bookish and nerdy but also a spunky little spitfire, and I love her.

“Who are you calling beef-witted?” she laughed at him. “Your mother was a hamster, and your father stank of elderberries!”

10 points if you can name the original source.

“I might not be able to beat a weapons master, but I can easily best an old, top-heavy, pusillanimous, two-faced, paltry, odious excuse for a man.” He pushed his sword forward until it was against his father’s coat. “Drop your sword.”

Do I even need to explain why it took me 5 minutes to stop laughing enough to continue reading? I’m sure there are probably other references in the book, to other movies/stories, but I’m not the most up on pop culture myself so I might have missed some. 😛

4/5 stars. My only real critiques would be that, even with the obvious goal of being fun and laughter-inducing, the villains should have been a little more, well, villain-y. Even the Duke of Northumberland, for all his plotting and scheming, isn’t very scary. Maybe that would have effected the gummy bear quality too much, but that part felt a bit flat to me. Also, at one point there is a big “hunt,” which all seemed very convoluted and unnecessary but somehow took up several chapters. After that was out of the way though, the romping pace resumed and all was well. The ending was very satisfactory, to all involved. Too bad the real facts aren’t as full of unicorns and butterflies (to be clear: no unicorns actually appear).

“We’d fight so much less if everyone would just sit down and read.”

I quite agree, Jane. Quite agree.

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Jul 18

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Books/Writing, Reviews 4

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I have soooooo many feelings about this book. I loved it, but I have issues with it. I loved the characters, but I want to throttle them. This is my cherry pop for Sarah J. Maas’ books, and I have to say I’m quite definitely hooked. I’ve already checked out A Court of Mist and Fury from the library (thank the stars they HAD it for once). Sadly it will probably be waiting until next weekend, when I can devote an entire day to devouring it all in one go. I’m a bit confused by the GoodReads page for the series, because it lists 8 (count them! 8!) books…while the FAQ on Maas’ author website clearly says “third and final book in the series is slated to be published in 2017.” SOMEONE HELP ME UNDERSTAND!!!! Ahem. Anywho, barring some unforgivable deviation in writing, I’m sure I will be biting my nails for the next release. I’m already waffling on my book buying ban.

ADDENDUM: Oops. A little more digging revealed this announcement! I am trying not to get my expectations too high as I haven’t read that much of her work yet, buuuuut…yeah. So much hope and potential.

My first impression, on page 7 (yes, page 7), was “holy shit does this woman know how to set the atmosphere!” As Fayre is stalking the wolf, my heart was pounding. I actually put the book down for a minute. I was startled at being that sucked in that fast. As the story continued, I continued to be impressed by the world building. Somehow she managed to do it without the massive info-dumps so many authors resort to using. Whoohoo! Mad props. And, I can feel the snow. I can see the poverty, and then the masked glittering court. Ooooh.

Characters. Ah, where do I even start. This could be a very long post. Fayre, we all love you. I do wish you didn’t have quite such a guilt complex though. About 1/5 of the way through the book, she has a dream about the wolf she killed – killed because all her life she was told that wolves were evil, as were the Fae, and would slaughter her and her family without pausing to think twice. And yet, after spending just a few days in the Spring Court, she is suddenly overwrought. Fayre dear, why so many guilty feels?

It was regret, and maybe shame, that coated my tongue, my bones. I shuddered as if I could fling it off, and kicked back the sheets to rise from the bed.

All very dramatic of course, but, um…knowing what she knew at that point in time, I think most of us with an ounce of backbone would have killed the wolf too. Just saying. I’m willing to chalk that up to her being 19 and impressionable. And horny.

Then there is the whole Tamrin Problem. Because while he has some great lines… (Um….possible SPOILERS? You’ve been warned…I tried to be vague but might not have been as vague as I thought)

Against slavery, against tyranny, I would gladly go to my death, no matter whose freedom I was defending.

…he’s a lying bastard who never even apologizes for his myriad deceptions! UGH! I actually kind of liked his over-flown, flowery, stilted mannerisms until his lies are all uncovered. And then even when Fayre is hit in the fucking FACE with them, she just accepts them and follows him to…er…some-indefinite-place-of-mortal-peril.

At least Fayre realizes, however briefly, that she’s caught a bad case of the hots.

I knew I was headed down a path that would likely end in my moral heart being left in pieces, and yet…and yet I couldn’t stop myself.

Well. Bravo to her for realizing it and consciously making the choice, at least. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. The key is personal responsibility, which Fayre seems to have in spades (albeit exhibiting itself most often as the aforementioned guilt complex).

Also, re: Tamrin – HOW, and WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT’S HOLY, is it SEXY for your love interest to lose control and be a mindless beast? I get it, it’s Beauty and the Beast, yadda yadda. But. NOT COOL!! Thankfully that scene is short and not portrayed entirely positively…but it was still more sexy than horrific and it really disturbed me.

About halfway through I felt the story became really predictable. Maybe due to the Beauty and the Beast influence? Still a bit sad. However, Maas still has some lovely, lovely prose that actually stirred my little non-believing critic’s heart.

I was loosened, a top whirling around and around, and I didn’t know who I danced with or what they looked like, only that I had become the music and the fire and the night, and there was nothing that could slow me down.

Ahhhhh. Yes. Talk to me, baby. I kind of wished I was drunk while reading this, because I’m pretty sure I would have been spinning right along with Feyre.

Then we’re kind of back to the predictabilty. Boo. But then, a few interesting things happen. But then, there’s this riddle deal thrown in – was that supposed to be a big mystery? Because honestly. I hadn’t even finished reading it before I was mumbling the answer at the pages in front of me, and yet SOMEHOW it takes Fayre several more chapters to figure it out.

So, this is near the end. I was thinking this was a 3/5 star book. Then…Rhysand happened. Also there’s the little not-much-explained story of Lucien. And OMG Fayre. What happened to you, Love? She’s still Fayre and yet…her naivety and what innocence she had left gets wiped entirely clean. But there is still Rhysand…omg. What…what?? Dun-dun-dun, and it’s over.

Leaving me reeling in my chair and desperately checking the library catalog for the second one. Despite all the flaws. Despite my homicidal feelings toward Tamrin. Despite odd division of the story into 75% slow, sweet romance and then BAM! 25% knives and blood and confusion.

It was lovely, for all its flaws. I am going to be tearing my hair out until I get through A Court of Mist and Fury.

Oh, but…Fayre? Can you please, please get over your obsession with the “shell” of your ear?

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Jul 16

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Books/Writing, Reviews 5

Public Service Announcement: Robert Galbraith = J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame and the almost-singlehanded ensurer of the continuation of the love of reading in the Millennial Generation. Pretty sure most people know that already but just in case, I wanted to put it out there. Knowing that really affected my expectations of this book – whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent I’m really not sure.

The Cuckoo’s Calling (1st in the Cormoran Strike series, 2013) is Rowling’s attempt at a detective novel aimed at fans of hard-boiled crime. I had such ridiculously high hopes for this book! Which, I am happy to report – I found mostly met and justified. Overall I think “hard-boiled” is a bit overstated, as Rowling (I can not refer to her as Galbraith, so help me) seems to shy away from anything particularly descriptive as far as violence or sex, though the language is colorful at times.

We’re first introduced to the secondary main character, Robin – I can’t think of her in anything but that term, because while yes, there are technically TWO main characters, Robin and Strike, Robin is decidedly in the background.

Robin might be a pretty girl, but she could not hold a candle to the woman he had just left.

Oh, but our down-and-out, recently single detective, Cormoran Strike, is so impressed by her efficiency and intelligence, despite her “lack” of physical charms. Which is ironic, given the manner of their first meeting (but I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself). Strike’s ex, Charlotte, while in the background for most of this story, is left not completely tied up. I’m thinking her story is far from finished.

From Charlotte he had learned that the kind of money he had never known could coexist with unhappiness and savagery.

I was a little worried in the beginning that this was going to dive off into the realm of detective love story, seeing as a good portion of the first 75 pages was dedicated to the “whose-fucking-who” of the book…but to my great relief it was left alone for the vast majority of the pages after. The love life of the protagonists is set, but definitely in the background. Phew. Much applause.

The writing is no less than I would expect from someone of Rowing’s caliber. Smooth, flowing, and she manages to weave the threads of so many different stories together so deftly that I found myself interested in them all and yet not getting lost in them (unlike my disastrous attempt at reading Game of Thrones…by the time I was at something like chapter 5 I was so lost in the incest and many different narrators I didn’t know which way was up). There is of course, the murder mystery…which involves both the victim, supermodel Lula Landry, and several members of her family with their own stories. Strike, with his shady and rather convoluted past. Robin, perhaps the most straightforward character of them all but also with the most relatable story for many of us that were spared an abnormal childhood. Lula’s story is convoluted and part of the fun for me was watching Strike weave in and out and around the maze around her.

Rowling is her usual stellar self when it comes to description, entertaining both my brain and my inner ear with her prose. Her style works very well for me…none of the odd turns of punctuation, phrasing, or editing that seem to plague authors sometimes.

When her mouth puckered into hard little lines around the cigarette, it looked like a cat’s anus.

Oh dear god, help me. Did she pluck that ungenerous thought right out of my head? Obviously I am not, as I previously assumed, the only one to be so uncharitable.

“I usually, like, ricochet off the bouncers and they have to push me in.”

I love the way different characters have their own distinctive voices. It isn’t as easy as we might think, to write dialogue in such a way as for the reader to recognize the speaker by reading their lines alone. And she does it pretty consistently.

Strike is also not painted as the dashing hero – and I like that. I like that he is unlikeable, at least in the beginning. Of course by the end I had rather a soft spot for him, but he’s still uncouth and raw and stubborn as hell. He does however, have a keen sense of observation – and one that is believable not only due to what we learn of his background but to little things he says or does throughout the book. To me that is a very important aspect of any mystery novel, because if I can’t believe in the abilities of the detective…well. No. Go.

Overall, I gave this book 4/5 stars on initial reading (which was almost 2 weeks ago). Writing this now, maybe I should have said 3.5/5…but when I finished it, 4/5 was really how I felt. I enjoyed the writing, I liked the characters and I’m really looking forward to the next book because I want to know what happens in their lives. The mystery itself, while finessed and characterized well, wasn’t particularly ingenious but it wasn’t one I guessed within the first hundred pages, either. My feelings on the series could probably go either way, depending on what happens in the next book.

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Jul 11

Book Review: The Graces

Books/Writing, Reviews 7

Releasing September 6, 2016

The Graces, by Laure Eve. Where to even start with this book. I was on such a rollercoaster with it. One minute I wanted to fling it across the room and not even finish, the next I was reading as fast as possible to see what happened next. Then I would go back to the flinging. And the ending? WTF. OMG. The ending left me like this:

Pretty sure I actually said this out loud.

I honestly don’t know how to write this review without spoilers. But I’ll do my best.

*crickets* *thinking* *more crickets* Ok, here we go.

Everyone said the Graces were witches.
They moved through the corridors like sleek fish, ripples in their wake. Stares followed their backs and their hair. They had friends, but they were just distractions. They were waiting for someone different.

All I had to do was show them that person was me.

We experience this story through the eyes of River, a 15-year-old transplanted misfit to a new school and new town. She and the rest of her school are obsessed with (and frequently manipulated) a family of alleged “witches,” 3 of which attend their high school. The life goal of most of the students seems to be to be “in” with the Graces, who not only have their own popular circle of friends, they have their own style, and their own rules. Rumored to have their own “abilities,” but this has never actually been confirmed.

Drama llama, high school drama llama, everywhere.

River refuses to stoop to groveling, like the rest of the school. She is much more experienced in manipulation, we see right from the start. Yet she seems to be such an unconfident, scared little rabbit.

Sometimes they’d paralyze me, the “what ifs” of action, and I didn’t do anything at all because it was safer. 

But why? How? I had so many questions for River, about River, right from the beginning. I was both confused and rather bored through almost the first half of the book. High school politics and teenage drinking (this is one of my pet peeves with SO many YA books – does no one notice these kids are drinking? who provides the alcohol?) really don’t interest me. Though, for once, the author actually explains the drinking somewhat. And, I couldn’t figure out if we were supposed to take magic seriously, or not, or…what. Until the last third of the book, it seemed like all shadows and smoke, nothing else, even though the Graces have all the appearance of a family practicing modern paganism of some type.

That was the first half. I was repeatedly irritated by the amount of time we seemed to spend in the school cafeteria. Teenage angst and drama, wan-wan. But even through all that, I kept getting this odd little 2+2 = 5 feeling. Something wasn’t right.

“We all hide our true selves.”

River’s continuing obsession with the Graces (particularly the youngest, a girl named Summer), and numerous other little red flags I kept seeing out of the corner of my eye, had me convinced at about Chapter 18 that something was seriously wrong with our little narrator. She is intriguing and yet insufferably irritating. Her dependence on her new “friends” is disturbing.

I just had to drift along like the ghost I was before, no Summer to anchor me, feeling like the last three months had never happened, and how fragile my existence was without her for even one afternoon.

This is my “getting-a-leeeeeetle-bit-creeped-out-now” face.

And then things start to happen fast enough to keep me entertained. I started to suspect everything, everyone, nothing could be as it seemed…or could it? Could it?? What? I stayed up until 11:30 on a work night (I’m usually in bed by 9 or 9:30) to finish it and at the end…well, you saw the WTF already. I was completely blown away. I had to go back and re-read, I had to look for clues. I despise – repeat, abso-freaking-lutely despise – sudden twists that have no buildup. Deus ex machina is never an acceptable plot device with me. Well…Laure Eve isn’t using it. The clues are there. You just have to recognize them. And then, naturally, she pulls a cliffhanger. SUCH a cliffhanger. Like, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-that-did-NOTJUSTHAPPEN cliffhanger.

They used truths to tell lies, and they were very good at it. 

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book and had to think about it for awhile before I could rate it. In the end, the things that bothered me so much in the first half brought it down to 3/5 stars. There’s at least one little error in description that REALLY irked me. I still feel all the high school drama fest was really unnecessary. I mean, set the scene and forget it. No one wants to relive the awkwardness and horror of the high school lunch room. Over. And over. In a book, no less.

Besides all that, it was a good story. The characters were interesting when not particularly sympathetic. I love actually being surprised by a book. I’m exceedingly annoyed that I will have to wait an entire year to read the conclusion. If you like twists, off-beat characters, and a bit of pagan woo-woo thrown in definitely give it a try!

Many thanks to Netgalley for providing an early review copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Oh, but can we talk about the cover for a minute? This fantastic, beautiful cover? It’s honestly what FIRST caught my eye when browsing soon-to-be-released books. And then the description, and I was lost. I want it.

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Jul 09

Book Review: Jackaby

Books/Writing, Reviews 5

This book reminded me of why I read. Why, as a child, I could immerse myself in the world my book created and not come out for hours (sadly, as an adult, that feeling is more and more elusive and I’m rarely left alone by the other humans in my life long enough to read for hours). But. This book. I love it. Unequivocally. And I am practically dancing in place waiting for the second one to arrive to me (damn you slow, unfunded library!), and then hopefully followed in short order by the third, which releases on August 23rd.

Jackaby is William Ritter’s debut novel. Everywhere that I can see online, it’s listed as a “teen” book but I would have put in more in middle grades. The subject matter is pretty tame, barely even a flirtation – but maybe the descriptions of demons and demon-slaying push it over the edge to the older label? Regardless, Jackaby has a sense of ageless appeal – the ages of the main characters are never expressly stated, and while the narrator Rook seems the younger she is still independent. Anywho, on to the details!

The end result was astounding. I had managed to completely transform myself into…a silly, obvious girl wearing boy’ clothing.

Meet Abigail Rook – fresh off a boat to America in 1892, she has abandoned her finishing school for more exciting prospects. Her voice is energetic and wry. I wanted to step through the pages of the book and introduce myself. She starts off looking for work, and in her search stumbles upon a certain R.F. Jackaby, whose misplaced soliloquies on the background of whoever he happens to be addressing invoked a certain other finder of facts. (Sherlock, is that you?) This “investigative services” entrepreneur however, specializes in clues that the average human can’t see even when they try – he has the ability to see the supernatural beings that inhabit the world. As such he is quite the anomaly, since the general populace would still like to believe that the supernatural is firmly corralled to their imaginations.

“I have ceased concerning myself with how things look to others, Abigail Rook…in my experience, others are generally wrong.”

Ritter’s supernaturalized New England is entertaining and Rook’s view of the world fresh. So often when I read fantasy or paranormal books I find myself stopping for a groan or eyeroll every few pages, the result being that I’m not able to sink myself completely into the story. Jackaby has none of the jarring halts to my suspension of disbelief. The only thing I stopped for was to scribble note on a quote – and after awhile I was in such a hurry to move along I stopped doing even that. Suffice to say that Rook kept me entertained all the way through.

“I find most men are already more than happy to believe a young woman is a frail little thing. so, technically the deception was already there, I just employed it in a convenient way.”

The girl has balls, pardon the expression.

My words petered out and slipped into the shadows, embarrassed to be seen with me.

Why can I not be this witty in real life? Why?? Ahem. Moving on. Then there is the supporting cast of characters, who are somehow just as intriguing as the main characters. I sincerely hope that the stories of Jenny, Douglas, and Charlie are further expanded on in the subsequent books. I’m a complete sucker for werewolves, and while the appearance they make in this book is minor I reeeeeeeally hope Ritter extends it in the sequel(s). Besides the werewolf appearance, there are also banshees, demons, and faeries…be still my little mythology loving heart!

5/5 stars for me. I love the historical setting, the addition of the supernatural, the repartee between Rook and Jackaby, the enigmatic Jenny. Somehow Ritter has managed to write a story that, I think, will appeal to readers of many ages. Is it the most in-depth story you’ll ever read? No. Is it sexy? No. Is it intriguing? Yes. Is the writing entertaining? YES. And that is what, in my opinion, really makes the book. The writing is practically flawless, and it sufficiently entertained my intellectual side while appealing to my love of the other-worldly.

I found it difficult to be frightened by the announcement. I had crested that emotional hill already, and the view was becoming familiar. IMG_3350

Run, don’t walk, to your bookstore (or library) and get a copy. You won’t regret it!

I read this book on my own dime and was not in any way solicited or compensated for this review.

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Jul 06

Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Books We Have Enjoyed That Have Less Than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads

Books/Writing, Reviews 2

I decided I’d give the Top 10 Tuesday meme from The Broke and the Bookish a try! My first one…no guarantees I’ll be able to keep it going but it sounded fun. 😀 I actually haven’t read that many with low reviews…and some of them were published in the last year, but oh well. Hope at least one bored reader finds a book to kindle the spark!

This week’s topic: Top 10 Books We Have Enjoyed That Have Less Than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads

I read all of these, but I didn’t write reviews on them all, so unfortunately all you get is a cover pic and a star rating! Whoops.

4/5 stars. Um, Gail Carriger? Say no more.

4/5 stars. Start with the first in the series (this is the second).

4/5 stars. Reworking of Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.” Yes, I have a thing for retellings, whaddyawant??

3/5 stars. Light, fluffy, and sweetly immature.

5/5 stars. Awesome book on gardening for city slickers. 😀 Green! Flowers! Food! Herbs! Yes. Yes.

4/5 stars. I did actually write a little review of this one! It was the cure from the book hangover I had after reading Kate Morton’s “The Lake House.”

4/5 stars. Great book. A bit gritty but it needs to be.

4/5 stars. This book convinced me I wasn’t alone in my insatiable desire to hoard – er, collect – books. ALL the books. ALL.

4/5 stars…yeeeeeears ago. I barely remember the book, to be honest, but I was fascinated by the descriptions of gardens, I remember that much. Funny enough, a lot of reviews complain about that very thing.

4/5 stars – Ohmigosh how long ago did I read this?? More than…12 years ago. But it’s really a good book, even looking back now.

So some of these were reeeeeally digging in the archives! Wow. I didn’t want to post anything I couldn’t actually recommend. All kinds of a mish-mash of stuff here…but who cares, read ALL THE BOOKS!! 😀 😀 Hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane.

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Jul 05

Book Review: Eligible

Books/Writing, Reviews 4

Eligible (2016, Curtis Sittenfeld) is one of those books I was just seeing everywhere, and then by some stroke of fortune my tiny little library had it on the “new reads” shelf. I was so excited! I was even the first person to check it out. 🙂 Then of course I discoverd that it is one of a series of Austen retellings called The Austen Project, and of course now I must read all of them. The life of a book addict is hard, I’m telling you! Anyway, on to the review.

Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife.

Eligible is a retelling of Jane Austen’s much beloved Pride and Prejudice. If you haven’t read it, you’re probably not going to appreciate this book nearly as much. Just like the original, it centers around a rich and slowly disintegrating (both money and relationship-wise) family that truly sometimes seems rather ridiculous…while at the same time you can’t help but empathize.

The parallels are obvious at once. The first couple of chapters – which are very short, by the way, the 488 page book has 181 chapters – are almost exact copies of the first bit of P&P, reworked in a modern setting and language. I was nervous the entire book would be like this, but it turns out it’s just setting our minds back towards the original. While the storyline’s correspondence is clear, Sittenfeld manages to put fresh life and creative twists on the plot of the original. Her prose is sparkling.

It wasn’t a secret that her mother fetishized all manner of domestic decor.

I quite literally choked on my coffee as I was reading. The humorous bits come upon you unawares. You’ve been given fair warning! She’s also managed to sneak in some heart-stirring lines that hit rather close to home (which also caught me by surprise).

Since Liz’s adolescence, when viewing television commercials that celebrated the ostensibly unconditional love of mothers for their children…she had felt like a foreign exchange student observing the customs of another country.

I was really wondering how Lydia’s elopement would be handled, since honestly, in a culture where even single motherhood is no longer taboo or shocking, what would have the same level of sucker punch that her story would have had in the 18th century? To lay it all out would be quite a spoiler, but let me assure you – she pulls it off. She more than pulls it off. With all the bells and whistles. It is very suitably altered to today’s environment and I think that in many traditional or typical families, the reaction portrayed is actually rather accurate.

Sittenfeld did substantially alter two of the more minor characters. While I was slightly disappointed she didn’t manage to hold true to the originals for purity’s sake, the changes really did make the story in some ways. Most of the other characters were easily identified not only by name but by their attitudes. Charlotte Lucas, for instance, while definitely more modern, is just as placid and unromantic as in Austen’s tale – but with a slightly warmer feel to her overall.

“Lizzy, nothing could bring me greater happiness than to have you staying at my house, freaking out about a boy.”

My favorite moment overall was the infamous meeting of Darcy and Elizabeth at his house in Pemberley, which, in the original made me break out into laughter at the absurdity and discomfort of the entire thing – and Sittenfeld managed to give the same feel to her scene, only I squirmed even harder as I could definitely relate more to the modern Elizabeth. Darcy is of course his abominable self throughout, and now we see the attraction between him and Elizabeth flare into much more than shared glances and banter during a dance.

Overall, I loved this book. It surprised me, because I was quite prepared to hate it due to my fondness for the original. I really enjoyed how the main points of P&P were translated into fresh, modern events that, I think, gave us as modern readers the same impact that Austen’s tale would have given her Victorian readers. In the words of Mr. Bennet,

“To top what’s come so far, it had better have to do with alien abduction or bestiality.”

It’s not a heavy book. Despite it’s almost 500 pages, it’s a delightfully fluffy read. I can see people tearing it apart due to it’s constant (rather laughable) “first world problems,” but that’s a large part of the point, just as Austen was satirizing her own upper class set, so we can laugh at the ridiculousness of some of the Bennet’s problems. The writing is spectacular. Jane and Lizzy are just as lovable as we’ve always known them, and I think many people will relate to them in completely new ways after reading this book. I was sad when it was over but very satisfied.

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Jul 02

Book Review: The Raven Boys

Books/Writing, Reviews 8

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I know I’m a little late on the bandwagon for this one. However, I couldn’t resist starting the series after seeing all the Instagram hype over the last book coming out a few months ago, so here we are! I was very reticent about starting this series. I absolutely loved the idea of it – set in Virginia, Arthurian legend mixed with modern-day paganism, characters with…issues. However, the YA trappings worried me, as I couldn’t help but think that the idea could very well be ruined by trying to force it into a YA style writing and or setting. 

The opening of The Raven Boys (2012, Maggie Stiefvater) drops you right into a world that, at first, I wasn’t entirely sure I was familiar with. 16-year-old Blue Sargent has grown up in a household where clairvoyance is taken for granted and psychic abilities accepted as normal. The rest of the world though, isn’t so sure – the modern day Virginia depicted is quite typical of the current America, complete with attitudes toward spirituality outside the realm of mainstream Christianity. Blue is the only one of the family to not be gifted some type of clairvoyance herself, but she is still incredibly perceptive and intelligent as a person. She definitely marches to the tune of her own drum, regardless.

She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.

Unlike most high school girls of my acquaintance, she is proud of being different and seems to rather enjoy reminding people of the fact – not so much of her family member’s odd occupations, but of her own sense of style and her unusual interests. Then of course, there is that unusual little prophecy that her mother and aunts and cousins three times removed keep making about her, that if she kisses her true love, he will die. Thankfully, Blue is enough of a forward thinker to not entirely believe this…but, then, it definitely worries her because…well, bit of a damper on typical teenage activities.

Then there is Gansey, the other, male, MC of the story. He is for all intents and purposes little more than a spoiled rich kid, saved only by his genial good nature and constant but unintentional offending of the less fortunate. Gansey has an undeniably good heart combined with a rat terrier’s stubbornness once an idea has entered his head, and somehow it’s very endearing. At a young age Gansey had a life altering experience that brought an ancient Arthurian legend to his attention, and ever since he has been chasing  the idea of it, digging further and further into history and the depths of a spirituality almost forgotten by the modern world.

Gansey attends a high class, expensive prep school with the other “raven boys,” as the local citizens (of which Blue is one) call them. His little posse of friends all have their own intriguing quirks and foibles, which combined are both irritating and curious. In the beginning, a lot is left unexplained. The narrative switches between Blue and Gansey in 3rd person. I was very happy to see this, as it seems like almost every YA book I’ve picked up lately has been from 1st person and honestly I get tired of it! So that was immediately a point in favor.

Now, stick with me – first, the problems I had with the story.

Through about the first 100 pages or so, I was still not convinced that my fears weren’t going to come true. Really, what 17 year old has the money, time, and interest to go traipsing about to multiple different countries looking for a legend, own his own “dorm” because he finds the ones on school grounds too full of annoying other students, and whose biggest problem is that his classic Camaro occasionally breaks down? Seriously? And what about Blue? How many teenage girls are completely ok with being the only odd one out – because even at the end of the book, Blue seems to have no other friends than the ones she has made in the unlikely “raven boys,” despite having lived in their little Virginia town her entire life. Her mother has a fairly hands off parenting approach – typical YA story, in my experience, because too much parental meddling or supervision would interfere with a decent storyline. In fact, at one point of the book, Blue’s mother forbids her to do something, and it appears to be the first time she has ever issued such a command (Blue must have been an exceptionally compliant child, or perhaps her mother was just over-tolerant)! Also, Blue in general seems much older than 16. Her attitudes, even her mannerisms, spoke to me of a woman in her early 20s – as did Gansey and some of the other high school age characters. Their true age is only really revealed in their naivety about some things and their willingness to believe in the good of people. Apparently early jading isn’t actually that common? Oh, and one of the less-mature raven boys in Gansey’s little squad is constantly drinking. WHERE does this underage alcohol come from? How is it he never gets in trouble? Maybe I was just a good kid and didn’t break rules, but without an older sibling/cousin/reprobate parent in the picture, alcohol wasn’t that easy to come by when I was in high school. 😛

So those were my issues with the book. At this point, you’re probably wondering how I still gave it 4 stars!  So let’s get into the good stuff.

As already stated, I was quite taken with the Arthurian legend bit. Add in that it’s set in my claimed home state of Virginia, and the way Stiefvater manages to invoke the true feel of the mountains, the mist and fog and how they can exude both security and foreboding.  Her writing throughout the entire book is by turns intriguing, amusing, and lyrical, and it kept me turning pages even when the initial introductions made me do the internal eyeroll. In fact, halfway through I looked her up to see if she had ever written adult fiction. Her talents seem limited by the YA field. But I digress.

Even now, it seemed to Gansey that he could feel the aching presence of the nearby mountains, like the space between him and the peaks was a tangible thing.

Yes. Yes, it does feel that way. And I can truly identify with Gansey’s desire for the old legends to be true, to find something, somewhere, that will prove to the world that the things he feels are not just a child’s make-believe.

Then, the little rag-tag (rich) group of misfits stumbles upon a wood that, well. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was curled up on the couch in my very well-lit living room as I read it, and I got actual goosebumps. I can even tell you what page it was on, because I was that impressed (it takes quite a lot to give me goosebumps). Page 244 of the hardcover edition, if anyone is wondering. The story just gets better from this point. The atmosphere invoked is just spot on. The characters are revealed more and more as the story moves along. Little immaturities come to light that make their age more believable. I didn’t feel that the romance angle was particularly angsty – Blue’s little prophecy deal makes her gunshy of boys in general, even when her heart and hormones scream at her – her head has, so far, managed to overrule the more impulsive parts of her but there are lots of avenues left open.

There is, of course, a cliff-hanger of sorts – not terribly dramatic but enough to make me wish I had the sequel immediately on hand! I’m anticipating maybe a switch in narrators in the next one, and hope that the slow reveal is continued. Overall, I gave it 4/5 stars. I really did think for awhile that it was going to be 3…but I became so invested about halfway through that despite its issues, I felt it deserved the higher rating. I’m really hoping the ensuing books don’t disappoint!

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Jun 27

Book Review: Poison or Protect

Books/Writing, Reviews 3

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She would not run if he offered her his body; she would if he offered his heart.

Well, wasn’t this a romp! I confess I was a little disappointed in the tamer nature of Gail Carriger’s last completed series, the Finishing School books – but as they were for a YA audience I understood it and thought she handled the romance aspects of that series with aplomb. This little piece brought back all the spice and sizzle of Soulless, with an intriguing flair for readers of the Finishing School series, as we’re already acquainted with the main character! This is quite a different look at Preshea, as you might expect. Not a book for the middle-school readers, ou-la-la. You d0n’t, however, have to have read any of the prior books to enjoy this one.

Poison or Protect is a novella, so the plot, while there, isn’t terribly exciting, and after all it’s a romance, straight-up. In fact, this might qualify for the “bodice-ripper” category of one of my reading challenges this year…not my usual cup of tea at all, but this is Gail we’re talking about. The prose is what I’ve come to expect from her – by turns sharp, witty, heart-melting, and hysterical.

“He smells like Christmas – fresh pine boughs and spices. What right has a man to smell so good?”

Knife-edged Preshea makes an appearance in usual form, but we get to see that flawless exterior crack (creek episodes not withstanding) here, despite her better judgment. And with a burly Scottish captain, no less. Scottish is definitely not what I would have pictured her with, but it definitely works. Works very well. I needed a glass of cold water after completing the read! The supporting cast is just as entertaining as can be and provide a wonderfully colorful background for the two main characters.

Preshea, unflappable though she might be, was flapped.

I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in this little side series, which I’m delighted will also be in a print version at some point. For what it is, it gets 4/5 stars. It doesn’t have the pretense of being anything other than a romance set in an already established world, and for that it does very, very well.

Then there’s the impending release of Imprudence, which I’ve also had pre-ordered for oh, what, a year? It feels that long, at any rate!

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