Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 2015 Wrap-Up

Yet another month has come and gone readers. I would say in the blink of an eye, but that would mean repeating myself. It is true though. The plus side is I had more time to read than I originally thought and I put a nice sized dent in my TBR pile. I can only hope that July provides me with the same abundance of reading time. So time to find out what books I read during this rather short month of June.
  • Cary Grant: A Biography by Marc Eliot   



Rating: 

I decided to start this new month of reading by dabbling in a bit of nonfiction again. This time I made the decision to look into some biographies of Cary Grant, an actor I've loved for a couple of years now. When I started my search, this was the first biography to come up and without a second thought I made up my mind to read it. Some of you are probably wondering if I liked to actor so much, then why would I rate one of his biographies so low. Well, that all has to do with the author of this biography, Marc Eliot, a man who I think should never be allowed to pass any more of his books off as nonfiction considering the experience I had with this one.

In regard to biographies, I have some pretty distinct opinions about the author's voice. In an autobiography, I want as much of the author's voice as possible because they are telling their own life story. In fact author commentary feels like a must. In a biography where the author is not telling their own story I want their authorial voice to be completely nonexistent. The author of a biography should put aside all of their biases and inhabit the roles of the researcher, interviewer, and writer. Marc Eliot prefers to have his own commentary be the star of this book, not Cary Grant himself.

The other huge problem I had was that Eliot preferred to make his own assertions about Grant's sexuality the star of this biography. While the information provided about Grant's life seems comprehensive, so much of it felt gossipy and hearsay-ish. Again and again Eliot circled back to what he believes to be the homosexual relationship between Grant and Randolph Scott drawing links that felt crass and untrue. I knew I was in for a troubling read when Eliot uses some hastily crafted Freudian mumbo-jumbo to argue that the feminine outfits Grant's mother put him in as a child, outfits typical for the time period, must have predicated his obvious homosexuality. Whether Cary Grant had an intimate or friendly relationship with Randolph Scott feels unimportant compared to the rest of his life and his whole body of work.

As a whole I felt like I really didn't learn much more about my favorite actor. I'm hesitant to believe any of the information I gleaned from this so called "Biography" and I wish I had sought out a different biography to read. Those looking to learn more about Cary Grant's life should probably just avoid this book at all costs.

  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Rating: 

A Court of Thorns and Roses is yet another ya fairytale re-imagining and despite what the title would have you think, this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. A tale as old as time...and by that I mean Stockholm Syndrome. That was a hit right to the childhood, but it had to be done. So this book follows Feyre, a woman who has been almost single-handedly been keeping her formerly rich family from starving to death. She does into the woods one day to hunt for food for them and ends up killing an unnaturally large wolf, that turns out to be a fairy. As a result, she is taken prisoner by Tamlin. You know what happens next if you've seen Beauty and the Beast.

I'm going to be honest, I had high expectations for this book because I love the Throne of Glass series so much. I really should have known better. If you'd hidden the name of the author from me before I started reading, I would have never believed that this was written by Sarah J. Maas. Never in a million years. This read like a typical ya supernatural romance. Nothing innovative and full of cliches like the one dimensional characters, insta-love, and of course a developing love triangle. I just wanted this to be so much more than it actually was and I'm not sure this book has enough of a story to carry a whole series. If you're never read a Sarah J. Maas book, please don't start with this one.

  • Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

Rating: 

I don't know what has happened with these books so far this month, but they really haven't been meeting my expectations for awesomeness. Dragonfly in Amber is the second book in the Outlander series and I started this book immediately after I finished the first one. It took me almost a month to get through if that tells you anything.

The whole plot of this book is that Claire and Jaime have traveled to France and intend on involving themselves with the impending Jacobite uprising. The majority of this book is dominated by court intrigue, which normally isn't a bad thing. The problem is that all of the court plots bog down the story making everything so incredibly boring. What I loved about the first book was the great balance between the interesting romance, the actions scenes, and the historical references. In this book I found myself frequently skimming over chunks of the Paris section and I always felt bad for it. At least I'm not alone in my sentiments. I finally got a chance to look at the Goodreads reviews, which I normally don't like to do until after I've written my own reviews, and the predominate sentiment was that this was the worst book in the series. I really hope that's true because I've decided to go on to the third book and I really don't want another long, boring read. Fans of the first book will really need a lot of patience and will-power to get through it.

  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Rating: 

This is the one book that I read for this month that I was a little reluctant to write a review about because I feel like there really isn't much to say on my part. In all honesty, I can sum up this book in one word: boring. The Miniaturist centers around Nella, a girl newly married to a merchant. Her husband is pretty distant, but he surprises her with the gift of a cabinet. In order to fill the empty space in the gift, Nella engages a miniaturist with the task of creating miniature replicas of items in the house. The book synopsis seems to place a heavy emphasis on the mysterious nature of the miniaturist, but in reality the story mostly deals with the conflict of morals and lifestyles in a heavily religious society. As a result, much of the story deals with the everyday lives of the characters, without much exciting plot twists. After reading this book, I've learned more about selling sugar loaf than I ever needed to know. My advice is unless the story sounds really appealing to you, I would ignore all of the hype and find a better book to read.

  • Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon
Rating: 

After finishing Dragonfly in Amber, I wasn't quite sure if the series would get any better. Thankfully, while the previous book was full of repetitive plot points and boring court intrigue, Voyager was packed full of the action, history, and romance that people were won over with in Outlander. This books follows what happens when Claire decides to make the important decision to go back through the stones at craigh na dun and rejoin Jamie back in Scotland's past. In doing so, she makes the conscious decision to leave the new life she's built as a doctor and her now grown daughter. Of course nothing goes right when Claire reunites with Jaime, something we've all come to expect from this series at this point.

 I don't want to give too much more away, but I do have to say that slogging through the previous book was well worth getting to this one. Maybe Diana Gabaldon suffered from sophomore slump or something. While I felt this book was well paced and the action stayed pretty consistent, I couldn't rate this book a full five stars because a couple plot points felt so contrived as to not be even remotely believable. A couple of characters from the past also make reappearances, some of which worked, while others seems pretty ludicrous. I'm also not really sure I completely like the portrayals of the gay characters in this series, not to mention I'm pretty tired of every character in the book, be it male or female, swooning at the sight of Jaime. That being said, I completely enjoyed reading Voyager and I can't wait to start the next book in the series.

  • Underworld (Abandon #2) by Meg Cabot

Rating: 


There is something else you may not know about me. I'm a huge fan of Meg Cabot. I can't remember exactly when I first started reading her books, but I distinctly remember is was after I'd bought a bind-up of the first two Princess Diaries books, From there I was completely hooked. I've read the majority of her books and I usually try my best to keep up with the newer books she's written (or is going to publish. Is anyone else excited for the new Mediator book?!). 

The Abandon series is one that I never managed to actually keep up with. I read the first book a couple of years ago and never got around to picking up the next one...that is until today. The Abandon series for some slightly unfortunate reason seems to be Meg Cabot's shot at the well inundated ya paranormal romance genre. For those not familiar with the series, it is a re imagining of the Hades/ Persephone story (Those not familiar with that story need to get their sorry butts over to wikipedia or something because somebody's failed you in your education). 

Anyway, the series follows Pierce Oliviera, our ya "special snowflake" and her romance with a death deity named John. In Cabot's book there is no singular underworld run exclusively by Hades. Instead there are numerous versions of the underworld and this particular version is located under Isla Huesos. The majority of this book really places a heavy focus on the romance, rather than the plot, which is usually the downfall of so many ya books. Again Underworld feels like a bit of a sophomore slump. While the first book had a nice balance between action and romance, this one did not. Instead it seemed to fall into the usual pitfalls of the ya supernatural romance genre. The one gigantic plus side to this book and the series so far is that there is NO LOVE TRIANGLE. Meg Cabot you always do me right.  While I could go on to nitpick the book for pros and cons, all I have to say is that this is really at its heart a light guilty pleasure read. You know you should be reading more intellectually complex books, but something about Meg Cabot's writing makes you not care in the least bit.

  • Awaken (Abandon #3) by Meg Cabot

Rating: 

Nooooooo! I was so optimistic after reading the second book and look where I am now. I'm going to be bluntly honest here and say that this is probably the worst Meg Cabot book I have ever read in my entire life. It hurts my childhood to even type these words right now. Am I being a little hyperbolic...maybe, but that's beside the point. I can honestly say that if you hadn't told me who the author was when I first started reading Awaken, I would have never guessed in a thousand years that it was Meg Cabot. Usually her characters are so well rounded, hilarious, and infinitely likable. Of course leave it to the ya supernatural romance genre to ruin all of that.

I know, I know. You'e thinking that I should stop complaining and actually get around to talking about the book and what made it so terrible. Basically the initial ludicrous plot point that gets this whole story going is that John has been killed. "A death deity killed?", you ask incredulously. "How is that even possible?" Well it isn't and everybody knows that, so why it was incorporated into the story is beyond me. About 10ish wasteful pages later we learn that Thanatos is keeping John's soul prisoner. Sounds like the beginning of a Percy Jackson-esque adventure right? Well you would be wrong. What follows is a collection of the inane, love ridden thoughts of a useless main character. For the sake of brevity, we should probably just call her Pierce though. She is your typical ya romance heroine, who abandons her whole life and causes her parents immense emotional hardship all for the sake of her bad boy "tweew luve." A loosely termed "man," who is so controlling and emotionally manipulative you can't stomach any scene with him in it. Needless to say I will cut this developing rant short and just say that the plot here is paper thin, the story wraps up with a series of well times coincidences, and the romance is so juvenile and saccharine sweet that you basically can't stand it. If you want a light and fun read please try any other book Cabot has written. You'll thank me later,

  • Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
     
Rating: 


I'm a sucker for a good fairytale remake if you haven't figured that out by now, particularly if they have anything to do with Beauty and the Beast. I can't recall when I first heard about Cruel Beauty, but I immediately had to check it out. Normally I don't buy into the claims that the book synopsis makes and I shouldn't have let this one influence me. It is billed as a book that combines Beauty and the Beast and Graceling. I figured it would combine everything I love about the Disney story with the awesome strongwilled female character and story of Graceling. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Basically, the story focuses on Nyx, a woman who has been promised to the evil ruler of her kingdom because of a bargain her father struck with him so that his wife could have children. Now that Nyx has come of age, it is time for her to travel to Ignifex's castle and become his wife. This book is set in some sort of vaguely described magical realm and she needs to use her time in the castle to destroy the hold Ignifex has over the kingdom. What results is pure insta-love and a love triangle, not even a well constructed one at that. 

  • Educating Caroline, Lady of Skye, and An Improper Proposal by Patricia Cabot
  

Rating: 

For a while now, I was aware that Meg Cabot wrote books under a pseudonym earlier in her career and that some of them fell out of her usual ya genre. This month I finally decided out of the blue to give a couple of them a try. After reading these three books, I realized it would be easier to talk about them together rather than separately. The reason is because all of them are historical romances, of the harlequin variety, albeit well written ones. I wouldn't exactly call them bodice rippers, but they do have the same sort of feeling. They are the fluffy, romantic, wish-fulfillment that has captivated what I imagine to be millions of women. Now I'm not putting the genre down, I'm just letting you know in uncertain terms what to expect from these books. In fact, I quite enjoyed them in the hour or two that it took me to read them. Sometimes as a reader you just need to take a break and read some of the fluffiest, wish-fulfillment books you can get your hands on.


  • Nicola and the Viscount by Meg Cabot

  Rating: 

Nicola and the Viscount: Patricia Cabot's books for a ya audience. That is basically the only way I can describe this book. It's a historical romance that centers around Nicola, an orphan who has control over her family's estate and the meager living it provides for her. She is in London for the season living with one of her school friends and spends most of her time trying to find the right man to spend the rest of her life with. To say anymore about the plot would give away the rest of the book. Suffice it to say this is a historical romance without all of the sex scenes. Did I love this book? 
Did I hate this book?

I think that's all that needs to be said or giffed.

  • The Princess Diaries Series by Meg Cabot


Overall Rating: 

During my unexpected Meg Cabot reading binge I came to the weirdest realization. Despite having nearly read everything Cabot has written, I never got around to completely reading the whole Princess Diaries series. I mean, it's her most popular series and it's what she's known best for. Not to mention the latest book in the series, Royal Wedding, was just released. After that I resolved to sit down and read the entire series, which I did...with the exception of two of the smaller companion books, which I couldn't get my hands on. Honestly my younger self doesn't know what a great thing she missed out on. When I started reading the first book, I felt this awesome wave of nostalgia come over me. Then I remembered exactly why I love this series so much. Despite the whole finding out you are a princess thing, Mia is an easy character to identify with. The books are always hilarious and captivating, not to mention they make you wish you could run into Lilly and Grandmere in a back alley somewhere to teach them a lesson about interfering with people's lives...nope just me?? If you happened to miss out on this series when you were in middle school, you should definitely check it out. Before you know it, you'll have devoured the whole series in less than a weekend.

  • From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot
  Rating: 

You thought my Meg Cabot binge was over didn't you? Well you guessed wrong. While I was reading Royal Wedding, I found out that Meg Cabot wrote the first book in a middle grade spin-off series. Now this is the part where I tell you that if you don't want the last book in the Princess Diaries series to be spoiled, then you shouldn't read this section of the wrap-up. In fact, don't even read the synopsis for this book. Now that I've warned you, time to return to the subject at hand. This book follows Olivia, who we learned is the daughter Mia's father kept secret from everyone. The book is told from the point of view of Olivia and follows most of the same events that happen in Royal Wedding.

 All in all it wasn't a terrible book, particularly for a middle grade novel, but of course you noticed that I gave it 2 stars. The reason I did such a thing was because I'm really not sure what kind of audience this book is for. As I mentioned before this is a middle grade book, written for a younger audience, yet most of this book loses it's context if you haven't read the Princess Diaries series. The problem is the audience for that series is much older than the audience for this series. Not to mention, I bet the majority of the people that bought this book were people that read the original series and hoped this series would continue on with the characters we all know and love. That's why I'm questioning whether this spin-off series will even last past the second book, since you can't really bet on an adult audience consistently reading a middle grade series.

  • A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas
 
 Rating: 

That's right. Apparently after my huge Meg Cabot binge, I'd completely forgotten about the terrible fairytale retelling I'd read beforehand and decided to give another one of those books a chance. I guess I don't really learn from my reading mistakes as this book has completely proven. Granted it isn't exactly a fairytale retelling so much as what happens after the fairytale is over. A Wicked Thing centers around Aurora/Sleeping Beauty and tells the story of what happens after she is woken up by "true love's kiss." Aurora awakens to find that the kingdom she once knew is completely gone. Her entire family has long since died and the kingdom is rife with hunger, poverty, and riots as a result of the terrible leadership of the current king. The Prince of the kingdom is the one who woke her up from her slumber and now she is expected to marry him, despite knowing nothing about him. Sounds like a great start to a book/series right? Well throw in some insta-love, a love square (because a love triangle just isn't enough at this point), and a clueless heroine and you've got yourself a book that has been properly ruined, at least for me anyway.

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

 Rating: 

Before watching YouTube and the subset of awesome people on there known as booktube, I had never even heard of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. All it took were some rave reviews on there to make me immediately add it to my TBR shelf. For whatever reason, I promptly forgot about it until I saw the commercials for the movie they made based off of the book. After that I made up my mind to sit down and power through this after work. Sadly for me, this book didn't live up to all of the hype. Rather the whole story can be summed up in one phrase/trope: 
Granted this story doesn't completely fit the trope of the manic pixie dream girl, but boy does it come close. Basically, at its core a story with a manic pixie dream girl is one where there is usually an emotionally stunted, reclusive male main character. His life is nondescript and boring, that is until a certain girl enters his life. Usually, pixie dream girls have some weird quirks about them, which stand in for actual character development. Basically, they are one dimensional female characters whose only purpose is to enter the main male character's life and make him a better person. In the process they usually become a romantic love interest and depending on the story, the main character either ends up with the girl or she exits his life leaving him to be the wiser and better person. If you've read this book before, does that sound familiar? Be honest. If you look past the fancy narrative style, which granted does have some nice comedic moments, aren't all of the characters just as I've described.

Greg is basically an outsider at his school. He's acquaintances with many, but kind of friends with only one person: Earl. He brags about his ability to go unnoticed at his school and he leads a life of mediocrity. He doesn't have any plans after high school and he isn't particularly motivated to excel at school. Then one day his mother encourages him to talk to Rachel, a childhood friend that is dying of cancer. You'd think a terminal illness would be the perfect impetus for character growth right? Well you'd be wrong. Rachel is just the cancer girl. She's there to laugh at Greg's jokes, to make him consider his own life from a different perspective, and ultimately encourage him to have some life goals after high school. You can guess what happens after she fulfills her role as the pixie dream girl. I almost wish there wasn't a movie adaption of this book because then it could have promptly faded back into obscurity where it belongs.

  •  Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

 Rating: 

Finding Audrey is Sophie Kinsella's stab at a young adult contemporary novel, which is a slight deviation from her solid status as an adult women's fiction writer (even though I detest the women's fiction and chick lit labels out of principle since it assumes men could never like these kinds of stories). The book centers around Audrey, a young girl who after some unexplained incident of school bullying develops a social anxiety disorder that keeps her home and unable to talk to anyone but her family and Dr. Sarah. The book chronicles her slow recovery and the relationship that she develops with her brother's best friend. While the romance in the book did border on insta-love, I really enjoyed how the majority of the book is devoted to Audrey's emotional recovery and the weird quirks/problems that her family faces, including having a mother that is obsessed with how much time Audrey's brother spends playing video games. Most of the characters felt well developed and relateable for once, which is a change from the majority of the books I've read this month. I would have rated this story a bit higher if Audrey's mother didn't come off as a ridiculous caricature and if readers had actually gotten some backstory about what caused Audrey to retreat inside herself.
  • The Cinderella Pact by Sarah Strohmeyer


  Rating: 

I'm going to be honest and let you all know that I was only motivated to pick up this book after I watched the Lifetime movie adaption. As I am with every movie I watch that has a book counterpart, I had to see how the text measured up, even compared to a fluffy lifetime movie. In a shocking turn of events, I found out that I actually prefer the movie to the book. Basically, The Cinderella Pact is about three best friends who all make a resolution to lose weight together. The majority of the story focuses on Nola, a magazine editor that has been posing as a British advice column writer named Belinda, and the problems that ensue because of it. The other part of the story deals with her weight loss and new romantic relationship. The Cinderella Pact is one of those frustrating books where the main conflict of the story could be solved with one or two honest conversations and you really have no motivation to continue reading when the main character does everything in her power to get herself into a bigger mess than she was in before. If the story sounds remotely interesting to anyone I would just recommend that you watch the movie. It will save you loads of time.


  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale


 Rating: 

Shannon Hale's middle grade books are the books that I'd wished I'd read when I was actually at a middle grade reading level. For whatever reason I didn't discover her until high school and here I am still reading them. Princess Academy centers around Miri, who lives in a mountain village where the majority of the people quarry stone. One day the village learns that the prince is destined to marry one of the girls there. To prepare for such an occasion, all of the eligible girls are sent to a princess academy to learn all of the skill necessary to become a princess. Those deemed worthy will be presented to the prince and he will chose who he'd like to marry. It sounds like a simple premise, but the book is so well crafted. The world building is fully fleshed out and the book centers on the relationships the girls build with each other. It also helps that the book has nice twist ending. I'm just left wondering how this book could be turned into a series.


Those are all of the books that I read during June. Don't forget to stick around to find out what books I'm hoping to finish during July and let me know what books have made your summer reading list!