2017: A Year In Review

Reading challenge: 139/75

So back when I first began this blog, one of the challenges I wanted to do was set a goal in Goodreads, and then NOT CHANGE IT! I set my goal of 75 books based on how I did in 2016, and I ended up reading 139.

It felt strange to me after I hit the 75 goal mark to keep adding to my challenge without changing the number, but I did. Maybe it seems strange, but keeping the goal the same was a reminder of how different this year was compared to the last, and continued to remind me that it isn’t about the number, but about focusing on the reading itself.

Favorite reads by month:

There were some amazing books in 2017. And some not so amazing. I also reviewed a majority of the books I read, and that experience was better than I expected. Reviewing books changed the way I read. Rather than simply zoning out into the book, I became a more active reader. I payed attention to the things I was enjoying and the things I wasn’t. It made me notice writing techniques in a different way, and I think it made me not just a better reader, but a better writer as well.

This discovery was surprising, as I didn’t expect writing reviews to change the way or read or the way I write. It was a pleasant discovery. And while reading books I don’t enjoy wasn’t exactly a pleasurable experience, I also found value in completing those books. Again, it made me focus more on why I wasn’t enjoying it. Which helped make me aware of things to avoid in my own writing.

So whether I loved a book, or felt blah about a book, each one was an experience worth having. Here’s a breakdown of my favorite read by month, and some notables. I couldn’t just choose one!!! I’ve also linked each title to my review, if you’re interested.

January – 9 books read

How to Build a Girl

Notables: Girl on a Train, Tony & Susan

February – 6 books read

How To Murder Your Life

Notables: Red Queen

March – 6 books

Female Of The Species

Notables: All The Ugly & Wonderful Things, Carve The Mark

April – 11 books

Strange The Dreamer

Notables: Me Before You, Simon vs The Homosapien Agenda

May – 15 books

Six Stories

Notables: Follow Me Back, The Last Neanderthal, 10 Things I can See From Here

June – 15 books

Nyxia

Notables: Block 46, Lost Boy, Women No 17, Crowns of Croswold

July – 14 books

The People We Hate At The Wedding

Notables: Spoonbenders, Arena, The Address

August – 13 books

The Reminders

Notables: Fitness Junkie, Emma in the Night, Afterlife

September – 16 books

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Notables: The Salt Line, Good Me Bad Me, Mask of Shadows, Final Girls

October – 19 books

Hearts Invisible Furies

Notables: The Creswell Plot, Beneath the Trees, Blades Edge, Daughter 4254

November – 12 books read

Nevernight

Notables: Turtles All The Way Down, The Nine, Exquisite

December – 14 books read

Everless

Notables: Godsgrave, The Wife Between Us, Gunslinger Girl, The Wolves of Winter

The other reading challenge I signed up for was the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. This one I didn’t do so well at.

Of the 24 challenges, which range from “read a book about sports” to “read a book published by a micro press”, I completed 10 of those challenges. Which is disappointing, so I will be trying this one again in 2018.

It wasn’t listed in my goals, but I did sign up for a few other challenges throughout the year and several read-a-thons. They were a lot of fun and got me into different reading patterns.

2018 Goals

For 2018 I want to do several things with my reading.

First, I plan on doing another Goodreads challenge, which I will update once I’ve set it in stone.

Second, do another challenge like BookRiot’s, to add more diversity to my reading.

Third, read more of what is on my shelves, and only request what I really want to read. Mediocre books have taught me a lot, but they are also a chore to get through. I need less of that this year.

Fourth, review everything, even if it is a book just for me.

Of course, I will have other goals, namely in writing, and hope to get more writing posts into this space, but that will be another post in the New Year!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year!!! Tomorrow the entire year opens up to us, blank with enormous possibility. Let’s cheer each other on and make it the best one yet!!!

A Review: The Hot Guy

The Hot GuyThe Hot Guy by Mel Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the premise of this book, and really wanted it to be more. It sounded fun, had some really funny, witty writing and even had a decent plot line.

Which makes this a difficult review to write, because I did enjoy the read. But, in order to enjoy it, I had to suspend my belief in how things work in the real world. And not in a fantasy, action adventure, use your imagination to dream big type of suspension. More like, I had to believe that simply waving a ridiculously attractive man on a Jumbotron would be enough to cause a stampede of women trying to simply touch him.

Unfortunately, for me, it was a bit too ridiculous. It was also a bit sexist, so be warned. (See example above)

In this town, there is one guy, a ridiculously attractive guy, that every woman knows as ‘The Hot Guy’. This guy is the balm to every woman’s need. Simply show up at the bar he regularly attends, flirt, and BAM! Your problems are solved.

Obviously, there are issues with this one plot point alone. Women do not need a hot guy to validate their beauty, importance, intelligence, etc. Nor do they not need to have sex in order to feel better about themselves. And they certainly don’t need a meaningless one night stand.

I’ll suspend my irritation on this, and go with the more empowering view that women can do whatever they like, including sleeping with a man, for one night, for whatever reason they want. Fine. Good. But, the whole idea is to sleep with him to get over another man. In order to find ‘the one’. It’s a bit of a stretch for me. Moving on.

When Cate gets dumped by her mediocre boyfriend, she finds herself in said slump. So, her friends jump to action taking her to meet, ‘The Hot Guy’. Somehow Cate is the only woman in this area who has no idea this is a thing.

Anyway, she sleeps with him and finds she really likes him. So the one night stand, turns into a weekend, which turns into more.

Her friends, knowing how to handle all her relationship woes, are adamantly opposed to this. They tell her she can’t handle dating someone that hot. It’s too much pressure. Someone else can take him away. When she refuses to listen, they try to create chaos to help the break up along. Who needs enemies, right?

Adam, however, is apparently completely oblivious to how hot he is. He has no idea that women have been using him for sex his entire life, or that he is a commodity in this small town. All he wants to do is direct, and doesn’t understand why everyone just wants him to act.

There is an attempt in this plot to use the man as a sex object and sex symbol, and the women as the ones in positions of power. He just wants to find a nice girl and settle down, while fulfilling his dreams. Even being pushed into acting is a focus on using him for his body, and not his mind. I appreciate the attempt to highlight sexism in this way.

However, it just didn’t hit the target for me.

Let’s take the women. First, we are to believe that women are willing to work together in the name of sisterhood so that everyone can take their turn with ‘The Hot Guy’. Yet, the second he dates one seriously, all bets are off. They kidnap Cate, they threaten her, they try to bribe her, all to break up with Adam. So much for sisterhood.

I was hoping for a Bridget Jones-esque romp through the hilarious and often painful world of dating. Love is messy, but it can also be painfully funny. Instead, we are given an outlandish mockery of these ideas.

When you have his parents hoisting ladders to his bedroom window (so she can escape in the middle of the night, like the rest), strange side plots with ex-girlfriends, and a group of obsessed women who have a Facebook page and a waiting list (yes, I am not making that up), well, it’s a bit too much.

The difference with Bridget Jones, is that while I’ve never slid down a fireman pole in a skirt on National Television personally, I can see it happening. I can even see myself doing it, if the circumstances were aligned. With The Hot Guy, I just didn’t buy it.

Before Brad Pitt was Brad Pitt, he was attractive. But he wasn’t women losing their minds attractive because he wasn’t Brad Pitt yet. He was just good looking guy X. And while he like looking at good looking guys, and may even find ourselves doing ridiculous things to gain their attention, I’ve never heard of women losing their minds over some random guy.

I also didn’t buy that Adam was clueless. How many one night stands does a guy think is normal? I mean, every Friday for years. Enough to have a Facebook page and women lined up? His parents helping girls escape in the night so that they didn’t have to explain to him that women wanted him only for his looks? Nope. Not buying it.

Even with those issues, there are some genuinely funny parts. The writing is witty. The characters are true to themselves, ridiculousness and all. If you could suspend the disbelief, and just enjoy it at face value, it is a funny read.

I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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April wrap up

Half way through May, and I realized I hadn’t done an April wrap up. The horror!

The good news, I’ve managed to write a review for all the books I read, so YAY ME!!! If I didn’t post all the reviews on my blog, they are all on Goodreads. FIND ME HERE

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Crimes Against a Book Club – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • Ruby – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • The Falconer – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • Strange The Dreamer – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • My Life to Live – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • The Rebellion’s Last Traitor – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • New Boy – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • Me Before You – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ
  • Hunted – ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Strange the Dreamer is setting the bar pretty high for best read this year. Though, it’s still tied with Female of the Species. I hope to read a lot more books that make the competition fierce for the top spot!

Reading for review is a new process for me. I am finding that it is helping me with my own writing as it opens the critical part of my brain that I need to analyze and evaluate my own work. Reading a variety of books is also helpful.

I find that I tend to go for the same books and the same authors all the time. Expanding on what I read, introduces me to different voices and styles that I may have been missing before. It helps me look at my own work through new eyes.

Anyway, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet! Did you read any of the books I listed? Are any on your TBR? Leave a comment and let’s chat!

A review: Running Beyond Empty

Running Beyond EmptyRunning Beyond Empty by Ben Kruser

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Amazon: Fun and entertaining, Running Beyond Empty explores the many challenges faced by mother and daughter when their world crumbles.

Dinah is suddenly jobless and forced to move in order to provide for herself and Selah, who is hurt, angry and confused. Face-to-face with life’s realities, their emotions are stretched by the new people and events in their lives. Both learn to stand up to obnoxious folks and find that their hard work helps them stay focused on their goals.

The empowerment of caring relationships carries Selah and Dinah through heartbreak and loss as they discover that running starts with believing in yourself. Ultimately their resiliency opens up new hopes and dreams — shared with Bill and Norm, the two special men in their lives.

Enriched by many colorful characters — Johnny Pancakes, Blackie, Patsy, Wawaneehi — the story of these two feisty women will capture your imagination.

This book started out promising. I liked the characters, it had an interesting premise, and was funny. I liked how the chapters were presented as miles in a marathon. That detail supported how the author used running and training to run as the driving force to the plot line.

But, the book just didn’t hit the target for me. The writing style was difficult to adjust to. It felt like the characters all rambled and gave speeches where they announced their thoughts and decisions and motivations. I could not hear realistic dialogue in most of the conversations.

The pacing was also off. I felt like characters made decisions that simply fit with the plot, rather than because that was what any reasonable person would do. Or, even, what any unreasonable person would do. They just didn’t feel genuine or realistic to me. Because the characters tend to talk a lot, and reveal everything while talking, I just didn’t feel that there was any mystery to the plot. When things unraveled, there was no aha! moment, or surprise to the events. If anything, I felt more frustrated at the lack of mystery. There was no compelling pull to keep reading.

Overall, this was a fast read, and did have it’s funny parts. It is a very sweet story, with a lot of emphasis on believing in yourself and the power of kindness.

I was given a copy of this book for an unbiased and honest review.

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A review: Me Before You

Typical romance novels are not my jam. I can do without heaving bosoms and deep, meaningful stares. Bleh. And after falling for the 50 shades hype, I am highly skeptical of all hyped romance novels.

Part of my issue with the genre is all the sex. Not that I care about sex in a book. I don’t. I can get hot and bothered over a well placed sex scene like anyone. But, I don’t need half the book to be sex scenes. They get boring. I mean, let’s get real. There’s only so much heavy breathing and passionate throws a girl can take without massive eye rolling.

Romance also typically means: happily ever after.

I am a sucker for a tragic ending. Throw star-crossed in there, and I’m done for. Blame Shakespeare. I don’t crave happily ever after. Maybe it makes me an evil reader, but I like my fictional characters to earn their happy. Like the rest of us.

So I was wary to read Me Before You. To be fair, I did not learn much about the story. The only two plot points I knew were this: he is in a wheelchair and bumblebee tights.

This book probably would never have even crossed my radar if the movie didn’t come out. Finnick Odair and Daenerys Targaryen?! Falling in love?! Well, who wouldn’t want to see that? Ever wondered how TBR piles get out of control? This is how.

Skepticism in hand, I sat down to read.ย Words of warning trickled through my brain. Words like predictable and typical. But I needed to watch the movie! Finnick and Khaleesi people!!! So, like the dedicated book nerd I am, I opened the book.

Can I just say, wow?!

I mean, yes there certainly is an air of predictability to the book. To a point. If you haven’t read this book – STOP HERE!!! YE BE WARNED!!!

Okay – we are entering the spoiler zone.

First, I really liked Louisa Clark. I will accept and fully admit my bias since I couldn’t get Khaleesi out of my head, but whatever. I still really liked her character. She was funny and adorable and real. I could picture being friends with her. And then there’s Finnick, I mean, Will. *sigh*

I expected to see the relationship between them develop. It’s hard to see the movie poster of them smiling at each other and NOT piece that together. How they ended in that relationship was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t a cutesy, easy relationship. She did win him over, but not in the easy predictable way I expected.

This book tore my heart out. Which, as I said before, I love. I’m a weirdo, I know.

Honestly, I expected to be disappointed by the ending. I fully expected the author to take the easy road. For him to declare that Clark had, in fact, given him the will to live. I would have rolled my eyes at that ending, and thrown the book down, disappointed at the fluff I had just read.

I know that there is a point of view that this book is terrible because a man who is severely disabled chooses not to live. They are upset at the connotations this brings, and perhaps about the negative message it gives to those who live disabled lives. I disagree.

Full disclaimer: I do not have a debilitating disability. I do get severe migraines along with a myriad of other health issues that often make me feel as if my body has taken me hostage. It does not compare to a spinal cord injury. But I do understand what it might mean to be this man.

My husband is a lot like Will. He loves doing dangerous, exotic things. He has jumped out of a helicopter in Poland (he doesn’t speak Polish), and swam with sharks. He snowboards and hikes and rides a motorcycle. We don’t live quite the adventurous life as Will, but if he could, he would.

He has struggled with his own health issues, that have put a damper on his outdoor life. And the depression that follows is no joke. It is real. Luckily, his issues have an answer. They have treatments that work. But I won’t lie. As I was reading the end, all I could think was what if.

What if he had no hope of recovery? What if he had to accept living a life he didn’t plan, or want? What if things got worse? What if?

I completely understand the argument, that being disabled does not mean a lesser life. I fully agree. But, I also agree that no one has a right to tell you what a lesser life is. One way or the other.

Maybe it’s because I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve struggled with this dark thing that no one else seems to understand. It isn’t a matter of going outside and realizing life is beautiful. Or appreciating the people who love you. It is bleak and heavy and overwhelming.

So it felt real to me that even this bright, bubbly woman, who he clearly loved, wouldn’t change his mind. I understood when he told her, loving her was a constant reminder of who he couldn’t be, what he couldn’t have. Sometimes accepting a life as is, just isn’t enough. Maybe that doesn’t make people happy. It doesn’t make it less true.

We are constantly told to live up to our potential. To reach for the stars. Yet, when it suits us, the message changes. Accept life as it is. Be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t. For someone who knows themselves, or who has lived to their potential and had it taken away, perhaps they know the path to their own happiness best.

As a society, I think we are afraid to have difficult conversations. The message wasn’t kill yourself if you have a disability. In fact, the author highlighted the chat rooms and people who were able to accept their changed lives and make the best of them. But even they understood when someone couldn’t.

So yes. This book had an air of predictability to it. They fell in love. She won him over. But, as in life, it was a touch more complicated than that.

Sometimes we don’t get the ending we want. Sometimes we fall in love with someone who isn’t meant to stay in our life. But sometimes, we get to open our eyes, push through the pain, and really learn how to live.

A review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It was such an adorable, easy read.

Simon is such a lovable character. Even when he is having a bad day, you just want to hug him, don’t you? There is so much I adore in this book, I don’t even know where to start.

Wait, yes I do, the parents.

As a parent, I find that a lot of books, especially in the YA realm are sparse on the parent front. Either they aren’t really solid characters, or they have an antagonistic relationship with the main characters, or, in the case of most dystopians, they don’t even exist. I don’t say this to criticize other books, because every character has its place. Even parents. And, let’s be real, teenagers drive parents crazy. Even the good ones. That said, I love Simon’s parents. They are cute, supportive parents who make mistakes and are just struggling to raise a teenager. Believe me, I get where they are coming from!

Simon and his friends made me laugh so much! They remind me of when I was in High School, and had a group of close-knit friends. When we would do things out of character, and everything felt so big, and new. When we would laugh and cry and fight. When going to class could offer amazing insights and unexpected delights. When sitting on the floor of a random party was considered a good night.

Albertalli makes this book so relatable, so warm and funny, that anyone can empathize with the struggles Simon goes through.

We make a lot of mistakes in High School. Hell, we make a lot of mistakes in life. How do we handle them? How do we learn to deal with them? That ends up defining who we are as adults. These kids make mistakes throughout this book. Simon makes many mistakes, and he also finds himself on the receiving end of other peoples mistakes. It is a good lesson that life often doesn’t cooperate when we have plans.

The one thing I really liked was how this book analyzes the topic of coming out. At one point, he asks, “don’t you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default?” And this is a really insightful question. Again, as a parent, there are things that you wonder as your child develops. Are they healthy, are they eating, are they growing. And as they enter adolescence, how will their sexuality emerge? Whether or not my child was gay or straight was never the issue for me, but I did ponder how to bring up the conversation. Because, whether we talked about girls or boys, learning how too set boundaries and be safe still needed to be discussed.

Boundaries are at the core of this book. When to set them, how to have them, what to do when someone pushes them. Simon has to make choices regarding his own boundaries when blackmailed. And other choices as life plays out.

Physical boundaries are often analyzed and discussed, but what about the more ambitious ones? I really think there is an important conversation about boundaries in this book. What someone can physically do to your body is definitely an important topic. It is equally important to discuss the non-physical boundaries as well. Bullying and violation through words is something that happens every day. While the subject matter in this book was kept on the lighter end of the spectrum, it still has the potential to hurt.

I also loved how Simon’s sense of self developed. He has to confront things about himself throughout the book. Who he is as a friend, a son, a brother, a boyfriend. Sometimes he finds that who he is and who he wants to be, don’t quite match up. So again, he has decisions to make. Can he become who he wants to be? And in doing so, he has to decide, really decide, who that is.

The struggle to find ourselves isn’t unique to adolescents. Or to boys. Or to homosexuals. We all go through that. It’s a lifelong process. Simon laments how his parents make a big deal over any small changes he goes through. “I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.” And yes! Welcome to life, Simon, welcome to life.

I would encourage parents to read this book. At worst, you will laugh and remember what it was like to be young. At best, you will have some subject matter to discuss with your own kids. No matter who you are, or why you decide to read this, I highly recommend it. Read for the laughs. Read for the life lessons. Just read!

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My Life to Live

Most everyone I know grew up watching soap operas. At least, they watched them in the way we watch what our mothers, and aunts, and grandmothers watched. Reluctantly since if we didn’t, we wouldn’t watch anything at all. So, willingly or unwillingly, we all knew the plots.

My mother watched All My Children religiously. She taped them every day and watched them either that night or over the weekend while my dad escaped to do dad things. There were others, but Erica Kane and Pine Valley were practically family in our house.

When I saw that the creator of the show had written a memoir, I was curious to read it.

Agnes Nixon led an incredible life. It wasn’t just that she was a woman writer in a time when that was practically unheard of. It wasn’t even that she created two successful shows that ran for four decades. Those are amazing accomplishments to be sure, but she achieved these milestones in spite of facing multiple obstacles and set backs.

One of the most interesting parts of this book was reading about her initial writing process. She includes one of the scripts she wrote for radio that launched her career. I’ve never given much thought to how writers had to evolve their writing to meet the new demands of television before. Things like timing in plot, dialogue and even having to consider visual effects were considerable changes. It was fascinating to read how she learned from each change and had to work to adapt her writing to meet these new demands.

Having grown up with these shows, I honestly had never given much thought to them.ย I had neverย consideredย how provocative, or how socially aware and cutting edge they actually were. They seemed silly and outlandish. People got married and divorced. They lied, cheated and stole. They faked deaths and kidnapped their rivals. They encountered bizarre medical conditions. They were outrageous and dramatic. That’s what I remember.

What I didn’t remember, partly because some happened before my time, were the plot lines bringing attention to racial tension, the war in Vietnam, abortion, drug addiction, child and domestic abuse, and so much more. They were one of the first shows to haveย an actor play a gay man coming out. And to his High School class no less.

They put banners at the end of episodes directing their audience to resources based on the subject matter, and were very successful in increasing programs and awareness by doing this. They increased awareness for drug addition, AIDS, Diabetes, and more. Nixon and several actors playing the roles have won awards, or been given recognition for their work in these areas. Social impact went hand in hand with these daily episodes.

Nixon talks quite a bit about how she watched things happen in her childhood, and throughout her life, social issues that made her feel helpless. She wanted to bring these subjects to light. She wanted to give people a chance to change their opinions or learn something new. This was her motivation. And she was constantly listening and learning to stay relevant to the times.

That sort of determination shows exactly what type of woman Agnes Nixon was. It is true that she had an incredibly supportive mother and an aunt who pushed her to reach for the stars. She married a man who was ahead of his time in his unwavering support of her career. But she faced the constant criticism of her father and numerous obstacles from men in the industry.

Yet, she still pushed forward and carried on, going back to her belief in herself and her willingness to work hard.ย One of the best summations of writing I’ve read is when she said, “the biggest element of successful writing is the ability to get the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair.” Make yourself write. Do the work. Simple but true.

Another, and this oneย moreย profound, was her opinion on criticism. “I didn’t mind the criticism; it meant our show was helping people voice their opinions,” she wrote. To be able to choose to air risky and controversial topics is one thing. To accept the criticism without taking it personally is phenomenal.

I didn’t know what I expected when I picked up this book. A fun trip remembering some of my favorite characters? She gave me that. But she gave me more too. Lessons and reminders on how to be a writer. Lessons and reminders that everyone will have an opinion of your life. But the best lesson and reminder was this: “We only have one life to live, and we have to try to make the most of it.”

I received this book fromย Blogging for Booksย for this review. I’ve included links below.

 

March Wrap Up

March was a busy month for me. I ended up reading six books. Goodreads suspiciously has my reading challenge as ahead of schedule. I’m beginning to think Goodreads is just trying to keep my self-esteem intact.

I finished the second and third book in the Red Queen series. I have mixed feelings about them. First, I waited over a year to even begin the series because I hate waiting to read sequels. (It’s a problem, I know!) So, when I got half-way through the third book and realized there was no way this was the last book, I may or may not have thrown a tantrum.

Yes, that reaction may have been immature. But, in my defense, if the third book was so chock full of plot that there was no way it could have been wrapped up in three books, fine. That’s one thing. As unhappy as it would have made me, I would have totally understood. That’s not how I felt though. It felt like the book was stretched. Stretched to justify a fourth book. So, I am reserving final judgement until the final book is in my hands. I hope it’s worth the wait.

Carve the Mark was next. Okay, okay, I know! I just said I hate waiting. I get it. I’m a book hypocrite who can’t even get my own rules straight. I KNOW! Some books scream for attention though. I had to.

There has been a lot of criticism over this book, so I admit my curiosity did play a role in voiding my do not wait rule. I also loved the Divergent series, (yes, even how Allegiant ended), so I was really interested to see what direction this new world would take.

Honestly, I loved it. The only thing I will say regarding the controversy is this. Every book can be dissected and torn apart given enough scrutiny. Any book. I do not believe in encouraging ANYONE to not read a book based on what I think of it. That’s encouraging censorship.

I understand that some people feel that some subjects can be harmful. That they can in fact, be more harmful than helpful. But, that’s not anyone’s decision to make but mine. I should be able to read whatever I want and form my own opinion. And I adamantly believe that anyone should have that right.

It’s easy to get caught up in hype. Good hype and bad. We don’t want to support racism, or sexism, or oppression in any way. We shouldn’t want to support those. But sometimes, one person’s opinion of an issue, is just that. Their opinion. Being an engaged reader means we read to form our own opinions. And we should never push those opinions on anyone. Instead, we should open a dialogue and engage in conversation.

Lauren Oliver has been a long time favorite author if mine. I was thrilled when I got to meet her last year at a book conference! Her new book, Rooms, was next on my list.

Normally Oliver writes YA. This was her first foray into adult fiction and she did not hold back. Ghosts and hidden pasts and intertwining story lines wove together to create a beautiful story. I love her writing, always have, and this book was no different. I was enthralled with the story and enjoyed watching how all the characters came together in the end.

Finally, March ended with two emotional whoppers. Female of the Species and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Both books were incredible. I would recommend them to anyone, and wrote separate posts about each one. Be warned, they cover topics that are difficult to read and may not be for sensitive readers.

Books that make me think and feel are some of my favorites. March gave me books that were both. They each made me think and feel for widely different reasons. You can’t ask for a better reading month than that.

January Wrap up

While February was an odd month, January ended up being a pretty productive reading month. I read 9 books. Hooray!

Now, I don’t know what the rules are, (or even if there are rules), but #bookishconfessions: Two of the books I had started in December. One of the them was mostly read in January (Queen of Shadows) but Tony & Susan was mostly December. Since I tend towards the rebel side, I’m counting them as a January read.ย RULES BE DAMNED!

Here are the books I read:

  • Tony & Susan
  • Queen of Shadows
  • Empire of Storms
  • The Young Elites
  • The Rose Society
  • The Midnight Star
  • How to Build a Girl
  • Girl on a Train
  • Conversion

I wrote a blog post about Tony & Susan and How to Build a Girl. I enjoyed those immensely. So, I won’t go into anything more about them.

Queen of Shadowsย and Empire of Storms were the last two books in the Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas. If I’m completely honest, I was hesitant to start reading these. I don’t know why, I just didn’t ever get around to them. And then there was drama.

I don’t remember exactly when the controversy started, but sometime late last year (I think), I started hearing about all this drama around this series. As I started hearing more, obviously my interest and curiosity was peaked. Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in suspense.

There were two pieces to the drama.

The first is that apparently some retailers released the newest in the series, Empire of Storms, early. *GASP* the horror!

Ok, so I get it. If you’ve been waiting an entire year to find out what happens to characters you have become legit emotionally attached to, the knowledge that someone else in the world got to find out before you is a crime of monstrous proportion. I get it. BUT. It isn’t the authors fault. So,ย there were death threats sent to the author and things on Twitter derailed fairly quickly. (Which, I feel is the general Twitter experience.)

Cue drama storm two.

Now, whether this was because a large amount of adolescent angst was swirling over the early release or if this was brewing before, I don’t know. But, the conversation got fairly heated over her books lacking diversity and that non-white characters were killed off more. This is actually why I ordered the books and settled in for a five book marathon reading. I’m always curious as to what detracts from a book, and to see if I agree.

I didn’t see it. In fact, I was surprised that these claims were even gaining traction. First, these are high fantasy books. There are multiple races of creatures in a variety of worlds along with several cultural variations within these worlds. Most of the characters aren’t human, and within those non-human, there are a lot of races. The main character is fae, not human.

Further, there are several same sex relationships. While they aren’t the main characters, they are prominent enough to be woven into a decent amount of the story thread. I suppose the argument could be given that it isn’t prominent enough, I don’t know. Personally, given the amount of trash talking, I was expecting a much different cast of characters.

Outside of that, I’m glad I read the books. The first book was a slow start. If I hadn’t already ordered the other four books, I probably wouldn’t have plowed forward. Oh. My. God. Am I glad I did. These books are a slow infiltration into your inner psyche. It’s a set of books that I found myself thinking about at random points throughout my day. And the end of Empire of Storms?! Holy shitballs man.

There are less than a dozen books that have left me so emotionally bereft as Empire of Storms. Game of Thrones series. Red Rising trilogy. The Dark Tower series. Very few. I felt like I was sucker punched and then had my heart ripped out. Needless to say, I will be patiently (#whydoIhavetowait) waiting for the next book. If you can make it through the first book, this series is worth the time.

After being left with a book hangover of epic proportions, I turned to an author I’ve previously enjoyed. Marie Lu.

Her first trilogy, Legend, was one I enjoyed tremendously. She did not disappoint in this series. I was excited to read this trilogy because the main character is one that can easily be described as a villain. I dabble in the Dark Side myself, from time to time, so I strapped in for a fun ride.

I don’t know what it is about being a villain that is just so fun. Even when you know it’s wrong, it’s still fun. Maybe it’s the power. Maybe it’s the strength. Maybe it’s just that we all have a bit of Dark Side in us, and it’s circumstance and chance that separates us in the end. I think for me, I enjoy exploring the tragedy that goes into making a villain. Generally speaking, most villains are not evil people. At least, not at first. Just watch Star Wars. I mean, Anakin clearly had a lot of good in him. Until he didn’t. It’s a fascinating process.

There are also some incredible quotes in this series:

“No one wants you to be yourself. They want you to be the version of yourself that they like.”

“It is pointless to believe what you see, if you only see what you believe.”

“The irony of life is that those who wear masks often tell us more truths than those with open faces.”

“Desperation brings out the darkness in everyone.”

“Tragedy follows those who cannot accept their true destiny.”

I’ve always been a firm believer that reading helps us develop empathy. And there can be no greater empathy than to those who turn to anger and hate in response to being shown anger and hate.

My next read was a change of pace, but the movie is coming out soon so I needed to read the book first. #booknerdproblems

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins already had rave reviews, and was made into a movie, so I was expecting a good story. The use of the unreliable narrator was amazing. I mean, amazing.ย Any book that keeps me unsure of what’s happening until the author is ready to reveal her hand, is worthy of Book God status.

The mystery and intrigue alone makes this novel compelling. But Hawkins doesn’t stop there. She makes multiple observations on how women can view themselves in today’s society. Both women live drastically different lives, yet they both feel their worth and value is dependent on the men in their lives. But these observations, these inner thoughts are so subtle, it’s easy to miss. It’s also not the point, which makes the thoughts that much more poignant. At least, in my opinion. I’m hoping the movie is done as masterfully as the novel.

Finally, I read Conversion by Katherine Howe.

This book was a bit of a miss for me. I enjoyed it until the end. Beware, because there will be some spoilers here.

The book goes back and forth between two narrators in different centuries. It’s set in Danvers, Massachusetts which was originally Salem. A series of unexplained events begin happening to the girls at a prep school, which are eerily similar to the unexplained events that triggered the Salem Witch Trials.

Now, the narration was good, and the mystery behind the plot had a nice pace and build up. We know that the girls in Salem had made the entire thing up.ย The narrator in the past, Ann, is actually the girl who confessed, albeit years later. She recounts how it began and how they all got wrapped up in the whirlwind of attention. It’s a fantastic reminder of how hysteria can start and blossom into a life of it’s own.

The present narrator, Colleen, is a girl who doesn’t experience any of the symptoms (at first) and is skeptical of the entire thing. But, even with her skepticism and distrust of the situation, she feels the urge to join in. The thing that sort of threw me with this book, is you are led to believe that as opposed to the confession in the past about it all being made up and exaggerated, we are led to believe that her friend Emma is actually capable of the supernatural and is behind the entire thing.

Except, you’re sort of left with more questions than answers. Which is fine, but some of these were so vague I felt they could have been wrapped up a bit better. Emma, seems to have this ability to direct her feelings and cause these strange things to happen to others. Even at the end, her mother alludes to it. Telling Colleen, that Emma is like she is and it’s better that she stays near home for school because she’s delicate. It seems like the entire thing was supernatural.

What I didn’t like, is the confession from Ann doesn’t mention any actual supernatural activities, or anything remotely similar to what happened to Colleen and her classmates. Or leave a hint that perhaps those events too were supernatural. And this is where I thought the story could be better. How could one be made up, and then the other witchcraft?

Usually, when you alternate POV, it’s because those characters intersect in some way. Other than mimicking the same symptoms, its difficult to see how they intersect. Is Emma a descendent of one of the girls? Were the claims of witchcraft true? There just isn’t anything to clear this up. Which was disappointing, because I would have loved the book if it had been just a little clearer.

I will say, ending up on antidepressants is a much better ending than getting hanged. But, I think the end could have been a touch clearer. Whether it was supposed to hint at witchcraft, or hysteria, either ending would have been better than both. Or neither.

In all, I had a good reading month. I set my reading goal at 75 books for 2017. 9 feels like a good start. Happy reading!

**Originally I listed Heir of Fire as the 4th book. I grabbed the wrong book for the picture. Oops. The writing is fixed but the picture stays**