Book review roundup

Here are some of my most recent book reviews. There are some great books here and some that everyone besides me seems to love.

life-after-life-185x280Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I just finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and now I’m sitting here saying, “So what? What was the point of that?” You’re forewarned: this contains a lot of spoilers.

Life After Life follows the many lives of Ursula Todd, and when I say “many” I mean many. Does she die 30 times? 40? …continue reading

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffIlluminae Ray V6FrontOnlyA2A_V3.indd

I absolutely love well done epistolary novels, those told through letters, reports, chat transcripts, newspaper clippings, etc. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is one of these novels.

The year is 2575 and widespread space travel, through the use of black holes, is commonplace. …continue reading

undermajordomominor-185x280Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

I have been staring at a blank screen for fifteen minutes, not knowing how to start writing about Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt. I loved deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, a fabulous western with a riveting main character, and though Undermajordomo Minor had a completely different setting, I hoped to read another unforgettable story. What I didn’t expect to find was a lack of character development and a colossal jump the shark moment that ruined everything. …continue reading

undertowmichaelbuckleyUndertow by Michael Buckley

Undertow: racism and segregation through the lens of merpeople.

Okay, it’s not that profound, but one can’t help but think of Civil Rights-era school segregation while reading Michael Buckley’s Undertow.

Lyric Walker was a typical teenager until the Alphas moved to town. …continue reading

thelibraryatmountchar-185x280The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I tend to devour any book that includes librarian characters, but the librarians in The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins are nothing like my kind of librarian. These librarians devour literature, but the kind that teaches them to bend time, bring people back from the dead, and engage in military strategy. …continue reading

welcometonightvale-185x280

 

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Full disclosure: I have never listened to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I tune out things like podcasts, talk radio, and audiobooks, so I’m not part of Serial and Welcome to Night Vale obsessions. After reading the Welcome to Night Vale book, I’m completely content not being part of the obsession.

Welcome to Night Vale is simply a mish mash of idiotic, ridiculous situations in a southwest town. …continue reading

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Cracked

crackedCracked by Eliza Crewe is an urban paranormal fantasy with a snarky main character who is the reason to read this book. Meda is feisty, self-centered, sarcastic, witty, and hilarious, and she just happens to eat human souls in order to live. She was raised believing she was the only one, a special being who needed to eat souls, but this facade is shattered in a dark opening scene in an asylum.

In the asylum, where Meda eats the soul of a disgusting human being, she is interrupted by demons and saved by a Templar, the humans fighting against the demons. Meda discovers she is half-demon half-human and the rest of the book follows Meda as she struggles to figure out where she belongs.

Meda is why this book was so much fun. She tells the story and I loved her voice. She’s pretty biting in her commentary, making witty observations about the people and situations she gets into that had me laughing out loud. But Meda also kicks some ass, and there is a lot of ass kicking that goes on. This is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure which has Meda choosing sides and taking a stand.

The supporting characters are also pretty great, but make up a peculiar cast. Meda befriends Chi, an alpha male who believes he’s unstoppable, Jo, a disabled, angry-at-the-world girl, and Uri, an utterly delightful ray of sunshine. With this cast, Meda has a lot of ammunition to fuel her snark, but she also has friends for the first time in her life, and this is where we see that Meda is more than the self-centered girl we get at the beginning. This really is a coming-of-age story for this half-demon and it’s a great ride.

This book isn’t a literary, award-winning masterpiece, but it was really fun. There are good characters, bad characters, fight scenes, magic, and some secrets revealed, and I was thoroughly entertained, which is sometimes all you need.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.

I also read this book while I curled up with a new blanket my cousin made me and I have to share. I love it!

blanket

Every Day

every dayI loved the hell out of Every Day by David Levithan. The premise is bizarre and completely unique and the questions it raises are provocative and may make you examine what you think about gender and love.

To put the premise simply: Every Day is about A, a genderless, bodiless being who wakes up each day in a stranger’s body. Every chapter is a different day in A’s life and who A is for that day.

But the premise really isn’t simple. I call A a “being,” but I don’t really know what A is. A doesn’t know what A is. A has just always woken up in a different body every morning, encompassing the world of that person for just one day. Sometimes A wakes up as a boy, sometimes a girl, sometimes a transgender individual. A may be a straight white girl, a bisexual black guy, or an Asian lesbian, it really doesn’t matter. The only thing A knows for sure is that the body will always be someone of the same age. 16-year-old A will never wake up inside a 60-year-old.

A struggles with the body of the day and with not wanting to disrupt that person’s life, but when A wakes up in Justin’s body, Justin’s girlfriend changes everything. A is captivated by Rhiannon and needs to see her again, so instead of being respectful of bodies A encompasses, A tries to track down Rhiannon. But when the bodies are different every day, this really can’t work, can it?

This premise charmed me instantly. I don’t know why or how A exists, but I was along for the ride and I loved hearing about each person A became. Many of them were so well developed. I wanted to know more about them, but alas, as the chapter ends, so does A’s time and my time with that person. Except Rhiannon and Nathan, a boy A took over who starts remembering things, questioning A’s existence, and demanding answers. Nathan was probably one of my favorite things about this because he’s a great, impressionable, religious character, quick to judge and go to the extreme. He was a good juxtaposition to the open-minded Rhiannon.

So the plot was great, but the questions this book raises really drew me in. What does gender really matter when it’s the person you’re in love with? Does it matter that the person is a boy? A girl? Someone overweight? Someone really short? And what does it mean to be sexy or sexual?

Or what about morally right and wrong? Is A waking up in these bodies and living these lives morally right? Or is it giving A a better understanding of humanity when viewed from multiple perspectives? But to what end? There really aren’t answers in this book, though you will definitely think about these questions and more as you follow A’s journey, and I loved that.

This is a great book and a quick read, so take some time out of your day to devour this one. You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.

More Than This & other book reviews

I reviewed a lot of books lately, my favorite being More Than This by Patrick Ness. He has solidified his place as an author I will automatically read, without even knowing a thing about the book. If his name is attached, I’m reading it.

Some other books in this group I definitely didn’t like as much as More Than This. Two of them completely disappointed me.

More-Than-ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness

I read this book in a day.

That could be my whole review, because even though I read a lot, I don’t often finish a book in one sitting, so you know it has to be good. Although now that I think about it, this is the third Patrick Ness book I have finished in a day. I just can’t put his books down.

More Than This opens with a death. Seth is in the ocean, off the coast in Washington state, waves throwing him against the rocks, and his skull fractures. He dies. It’s when Seth wakes up that the story begins. …more

days blood starlightDays of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Last year I read and loved Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone. The story followed Karou, a human raised by chimera, creatures from Eretz that have animal and human attributes. In Eretz, the chimera are at war with beautiful seraphim (or angels), one of whom Karou falls in love with, which becomes an issue when Karou discovers she’s a reincarnated chimera. Brimstone, the chimera who raised her, uses the teeth of humans and animals to reincarnate fallen chimera and he has been hiding Karou in our world.

When we last saw Karou, she and Akiva (the beautiful angel) are on the outs, Brimstone is missing, humans are made aware of angels, and Karou decides to enter Eretz to search for her family. Days of Blood & Starlight picks up right where Daughter of Smoke & Bone ended and we get the full picture of what has happened in Eretz. …more

BestOfConnieWillisThe Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Short Stories

I’ve been reading The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories for a couple months now. This isn’t because it’s bad; it’s because it’s so good. Each of these stories is award winning, so there really isn’t a bad story here, and I wanted to savor them. And even though there isn’t a bad story in these ten, I do have my favorites.

A Letter from the Clearys, a 1983 Nebula award winner, is a quiet yet powerful look at life after a nuclear war. A girl and her dog walk back to their home after visiting the post office to announce that they received a letter from the Clearys, but the letter was clearly written before it all happened. …more

sex and violenceSex & Violence by Carrie Mesorobian

Evan Carter is used to being the Eternal New Guy. Moved from school to school because of his father’s work schedule, Evan is never around long enough to make friends. He’s also not interested in relationships with women, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t hook up. He knows how to find women for flings, and at his latest boarding school it’s no different. But this time, he runs into a problem – the ex-boyfriend. After he’s beaten to a pulp, Evan and his father move to a family lake cabin in Minnesota so Evan can heal, both physically and emotionally. …more

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl: a nice book about nice students doing nice things at a nice college. They have nice families, too.

That really sums up Fangirl, the book that was the biggest disappointment for me this year.

Maybe I put too much pressure on Fangirl. I had high expectations considering everyone was praising it and it comes from Rainbow Rowell, the author behind Eleanor & Park, one of the best books I read this year. I assumed Fangirl couldn’t be bad because Eleanor & Park was so good, but Fangirl isn’t. It’s so incredibly boring. …more

Bellman blackBellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

I absolutely loved Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, a great gothic mystery surrounding the details of a reclusive author’s life. I still recommend that book to people, so I was excited to finally have another book by Setterfield that I hoped would be just as fabulous.

Unfortunately, Bellman & Black completely let me down. I don’t know what happened between the The Thirteenth Tale and the release of Bellman & Black, but Setterfield lost her strong storytelling.

Bellman & Black follows the life of William Bellman and I loved how the story began with a young Will playing with three boys in the fields behind his house. …more

I needed Eleanor & Park

eleanorIn the past I’ve written of my love for the book Eleanor & Park. Other people love it, too, as seen in some awesome Eleanor & Park fan art. But there are some people who don’t love it so much.

This isn’t new news. Over a month ago the world was made aware that two parents in the Anoka-Hennepin school district started a crusade against Eleanor & Park. They were able to stop a visit by author Rainbow Rowell in the schools and in the Anoka County Libraries. For more information on how this came about, read the Rainbow Rowell interview at The Toast.

I’ve been stewing over this since I read that interview, and this article, and this one, and this one. It’s all over the news. But what is the most telling is reading the full report by the Parents Action League, the organization these parents use to strong arm county officials. You can find their full report and argument against this book on their website.

Besides the fact that they document how many swear words are in the book, making charts showing that the word “fuck” is used 35 times and “God” is used 67 times, what I found most interesting about their report is the information at the beginning. They give background on how they came to be aware that this book was used for a voluntary summer book club. Their 15-year-old brought it to their attention and they investigated. They state:

After being assaulted by 8 instances of “fuck” or “fucking”, 5 “shit”, 1 “dicklick” and 1 “bastard” in the first three pages of the book it was apparent that someone in the school district had a significant lapse in judgment by allowing this book to be put into the hands of our minor children.

This prompted us to spend roughly 10 hours reading the entire book cover to cover and documenting our findings regarding the content which we have included below. The amount of vile profanity used throughout this publication was absolutely astounding! Never in our 43 years have either of us ever read anything more profane.

Grammar mistakes aside, this is the most telling about the two people who brought this challenge forward. They are clearly not readers.

I say they are not readers because it’s hilarious that they think this is the most profane piece of literature. This book is so incredibly tame.

I like to read young adult literature. At least half the books I read are young adult, if not more. I love a good coming-of-age story where teens are faced with tough challenges and come out of them better and stronger than when they entered. I love a good piece of dystopian YA where teens take on the man because they aren’t yet jaded into thinking that they can’t fix injustices. Hell, I just love a good story, and I don’t care if that story involves teens or adults.

So as a person who reads a lot of YA, I can tell these parents that if their idea of profane is some silly swear words, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Swear words are extremely common in YA lit, and you know why? Because teens swear. I know it may shock these parents, but it’s true. On the school bus to and from school, students will hear more swear words in one day than they will read in this entire book.

I could easily name twenty YA books off the top of my head that are riddled with swear words. These books are probably in the Anoka-Hennepin school libraries, because they should be. Teens want to read stories about themselves. They want to see realistic portrayals of teenage life. And whether or not these parents want to admit it, teens swear.

They also fall in love, which seems to be another irritation for the Parents Action League. In Eleanor & Park, the two teens fall in love and kiss. And touch. But decide not to have sex.

Yes, that’s right, these teens decide not to have sex.

Here, again, is where this book challenge is ridiculous, because many teens do have sex, both in real life and in YA literature. I’ve read a book where a teen boy searches for girls to hook up with but not date. Where teens lose their virginity at summer camp. Where teens find solace in each other when everything else around them is crumbling. Yet the book where the teens decide they do not want to have sex should be called vulgar?

What makes me the most mad is that the teens in this book are so real and the Parents Action League wants to take that away from teens like me who needed a book like this.

I was Eleanor in high school, a chubby, insecure girl who bought into what I was sold about body image and beauty. Beauty was thin and thin is what you needed to be to be loved. There were very few people like me in literature and on television, so it was easy to buy into this construct. If we were in literature or on television we were the ones made fun of because we were disgusting. We were not worthy of love, at least not until we lost weight.

I grew up with “Married with Children” being a staple in my house. For some reason, my dad found Al Bundy funny, and he controlled the remote so I watched what he watched. Looking back on it, “Married with Children” was not something a 9-year-old should watch, but watch it I did, and whenever a large woman was on screen, Al Bundy made awful, horrible jokes about her, jokes that focused on her weight, because we women should be appealing to men, and being appealing meant we needed to be thin.

I needed more books like Eleanor & Park when I was young because Eleanor is worthy of love, even with her crappy home life, her worn clothes, and her chubby body. All of that doesn’t matter when it comes to finding companionship with someone else. That’s what Eleanor & Park teaches us, that above all the crap going on around them and the messages we are fed about beauty, they found each other and fell in love.

Isn’t that a message that parents would want their children to know? That no matter what we look like we are worthy of someone’s affections, someone that generally likes us for who we are?

I was so insecure as a teen, that I questioned or downright grilled a boy when he was flirting with me. Are you really flirting with me? Stop it, not me. Stop saying nice things to me. You’re joking with me, right? You’re pulling a prank on me? That’s nice, but stop it, because you’re clearly lying. I couldn’t accept that someone would actually find me attractive because I was not what attractive was supposed to be.

The parents who have started the crusade against this book are putting teens in a pretty, little, safe box, a box that doesn’t exist outside the minds of these parents. Every teen hears swear words every day at school. This is just a fact. Not every teen has sex or falls in love, but some do. These are the realities of the world in which we live. We are not the world of the “Brady Bunch,” a world that never existed when it was created and that doesn’t exist now.

Books like Eleanor & Park should and need to be on school library shelves for students like me. I needed Eleanor & Park as a teen. I needed to read it and I needed people around me to read it. Sadly, I know there are still teen girls who tell themselves some of the things I told myself as a teen, and they need to read it, too.

Lots of book reviews

I’ve reviewed a lot of books lately that I didn’t post here, so here’s a roundup of the latest ones. For each review, I grabbed the first couple paragraphs and then link out to the full review.

But warning: I didn’t really love any of these. I’m so happy that right now I’m almost finished with a book I absolutely love, because I was in slump.

theshiningirlsThe Shining Girls

I’ve had Lauren Beukes on my radar for awhile now, and I’ve even had a copy of Zoo City since the last Humble Bundle, but I knew I had to read The Shining Girls when I heard about its time traveling serial killer.

In The Shining Girls, Harper is a disturbing, terrifying hunter from the 1930s who stumbles upon a magical house that allows him to travel forward and backward in time. He goes through time to find “shining” girls, gives them a memento from a past kill, and tells them that he’ll see them again in the future. One of his shining girls is Kirby who he meets in 1974 and later tries to kill in the 1990s. Kirby drives this story as she tries to connect murders similar to her attack to find the culprit. …more

someday-someday-maybeSomeday, Someday, Maybe

I loved “The Gilmore Girls,” the smartly written series from the early 2000s featuring Lorelai Gilmore and her teenage daughter, Rory. Everyone watching the show wanted to be friends with this fast-talking duo and live in their quirky town of Stars Hollow. It was a charming show and I will never picture Lauren Graham as anything other than Lorelai Gilmore, which I’m sure she loves.

But if Lauren Graham wants to distance herself from Lorelai, she’s not doing so well by creating a character just as witty, sarcastic, funny, and charming as Lorelai. Franny is simply a younger Lorelai, minus the teenage pregnancy.

In Someday, Someday, Maybe, Franny Banks is a twenty-something struggling actress in New York in the mid-1990s. She’s working as a waitress, taking an acting class, trying to get an agent and auditions, dating the wrong guys, and hating on herself and her looks. This young-woman-trying-to-make-it story is one we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t charmed by Franny. …more

maggot-moonMaggot Moon

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner won the UK’s Costa Coffee Award and the Carnegie Medal, so I had to check out this alternate history about the boy with one brown eye and one blue.

It’s 1956 and Standish Treadwell is a dyslexic teen living in a totalitarian state in the UK, but an alternate universe UK where a Nazi-like group representing the Motherland rules with an iron fist. Anyone who questions the Motherland mysteriously vanishes, like Standish’s parents did years earlier. …more

lexiconLexicon

Wow, did I have a hard time with this book. I thought I would love it. I wanted to love it. I still think I’m supposed to love it. The premise is pretty amazing. The characters kind of fascinate me. So why did I moan every time I picked up the book to keep reading?

Max Berry’s Lexicon sounds like the coolest book. A secret society trains young people on a mysterious way to control others by using words. Not real words, a gobbledygook mishmash of sounds that are reminiscent of what an infant might express when trying to learn how to speak, but words nonetheless. I’m still not clear on why their gobbledygook can control minds, but just go with it, it can. …more

thespectacularnowThe Spectacular Now

The critics have been praising the movie “The Spectacular Now,” and after reading the book I have no idea why. I think this may be one of those rare times when the movie is better than the book.

The Spectacular Now is the story of popular teen Sutter Keely, the life of the party. He drinks daily, parties hard, gets along with everyone, is always looking to have fun, and seems like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Every guy wants to be his friend and every girl wants to be with him. …more

The 5th Wave

the 5th waveI’ve written in the past about my fascination of all things alien. I’m particularly infatuated with “Ancient Aliens,” the show where alien theorists cannot figure out how an ancient civilization did something, so they must’ve had help from aliens. I can sit and watch that show for hours. One moment I’ll think they have some good points, then I feel like they’re really stretching, and then I find myself laughing out loud.

What I find the most interesting about “Ancient Aliens” is that they always talk about the help aliens provided. They’re here to advance our society and if they visit us in the future it will be for that purpose. That’s hilarious. In the history of our world, when one civilization encountered another, it never ended well. What would really happen to us would be what happens in Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave.

In The 5th Wave, a huge alien vessel, the mother ship, enters our atmosphere and starts attacking humanity in different waves. The first wave takes out the electricity, the second wipes out coastal areas, the third brings the plague, and in the fourth they start hunting us. These waves take out seven billion people, but with some left, what will the fifth wave bring?

We learn about these waves from Cassie, a teen on her own, living in the wild, trying to survive. She journals about what she’s doing and what has happened to her and her family. She talks about the alien drones that roam the skies, refugee camps, and a scary realization that the aliens are using our bodies to fight us in the fourth wave. When they look like us, who can you trust?

There are other people in The 5th Wave. The story gets told from other people’s perspectives in the second half of the book, but if I tell you about them I’ll give away the plot. There are a lot of twists and turns here. You may doubt what you think you know multiple times, so I’m going to stop describing plot and tell you what I thought.

I liked Cassie, for the most part. She trying to keep herself alive in dangerous circumstances and she knows how to handle an M-16. She reminded me somewhat of Katniss from The Hunger Games, though Cassie whines a little bit much for my taste. She whines and thinks about boys and how she was somewhat of a misfit in that area. She doesn’t do this all the time, but I suppose it was leading up to the little romance that happens.

The romance was not really a romance. I think I’m coming at this a bit biased because I just finished reading Eleanor & Park, a fabulous teen romance, and this was no where near as good. This also gave me the creeps, because it was sort of a Luke and Laura romance. Do you remember Luke and Laura? They were this supposed amazing couple on “General Hospital,” but before their fairytale wedding, on one of their first dates, Luke rapes Laura. This is why I couldn’t get into “General Hospital.” There is no rape in this scenario, but it’s the same sort of icky romance that I just didn’t buy. And I really hate the “you complete me” or “you saved me” kind of romances, which is the kind of crap we get here.

The romance really threw me off, because I loved everything else. I loved hearing about the alien attacks, the refugee camps, the military training, and what happens to a lot of other characters in this book. It was so gripping and much more plausible than the alien encounters from “Ancient Aliens.” I wanted more of that and less of the supposed romance. In fact, by the end, we’re left with a cliffhanger where we don’t know the fate of everyone, and I’m hoping for some characters it’s fatal. I know that’s not what Yancey wants me to hope for, but I do.

This is the first in a trilogy, so we’ll see what happens next, but I hope it’s more survival and less bad romance.

Reviewed at Minnesota Reads.