Saturday, August 1, 2015

July 2015 Wrap-Up

Is it August? Really? Are you sure? Honestly, where is the summer going? If I were still going to school, I'd be a little bit nervous about the impending school year. Thankfully, that time is over for me and all I have to do is worry about work. July turned out to be the month when I had the most free time, so I read a ton of books. Not to mention I did my Summer Read-a-thon challenge during July. Some of you may recognize a few of the reviews from those posts and if they feel repetitive, apologies. I just read so many books this month that rewriting reviews for those books didn't really appeal to me. So grab yourself something to drink and maybe a snack and get ready to read all of the reviews for the books I read in July.
  • Palace of Stone (Princess Academy #2) by Shannon Hale

 I was a bit apprehensive about reading the sequel to The Princess Academy because the first book felt like such a standalone, but I was pleasantly surprised by Palace of Stone. Much of this book expanded on the world building set up in the first book and gives readers a better understanding of the kingdom Miri lives in. In this story, Miri is given the opportunity to attend school at the Queen's Castle, so she leaves Mount Eskel with the rest of the girls in the princess academy. Much of this book deals with Miri realizing the complicated politics of the kingdom while feeling conflicted over staying at home or continuing her education. While there is kind of an obnoxious love triangle to this book, it doesn't feature prominently in the story and is resolved before you know it. The main conflict in the story did wrap-up rather quickly and conveniently, but that is kind of to be expected in a middle grade novel. All in all this was a great sequel and a quick read. I'm already planning on reading the third book.
  • You Deserve a Drink: Boozy Misadventures and Tales of Debauchery by Mamrie Hart

As I am always want to do, I decided to abandon my monthly TBR just days after writing it. I was in the mood for a funny and light read, so I decided to pick up Mamrie Hart's new book. I do have a confession to make. I've never really liked her YouTube channel. No matter how many times I try to watch You Deserve a Drink, I end up clicking away halfway through the video...which makes sense because I'm not much of a drinker. I still wanted to to check out this book because whenever I've seen Mamrie elsewhere, she has that kind of crass humor that I really enjoy. I was hoping her book would be different from all of the YouTube books I've read before and it actually was a great read. Basically this book is a collection of hilarious stories from Mamrie's life that make you laugh out loud. I love how each chapter is intended to tell some great life stories, not teach the reader a heartfelt and cliche lesson. Speaking of which...

  • My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going With Your Gut by Hannah Hart

I love Hannah Hart's YouTube channel and I think she is an amazing person, but this book ugggghhhhh. It was just so bad and not at all what I was expecting. It's not quite a cook book, not quite a self help book, and not quite a memoir. It tries to be all of those and fails at each one of them miserably. Some of the recipes aren't even recipes. Take for example the one where she essentially tells you to put potato chips on sandwiches. The actually text of the book is just a mish mash of cliche statements like believe in yourself, life gets better etc etc.  I think I'll just stick to watching My Drunk Kitchen.

  • Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler

After reading My Drunk Kitchen I really should have stopped with the celebrity books, but I just couldn't help myself. A couple of people told me that Chelsea Handler's books are hilarious and I decided to check two of them out. This is the first one I got my hands on. I thought I was prepared for this book because I've always been a fan of the show Chelsea Lately on E! and I also love her sharp, crass humor. Really nothing could have prepared me for the load of crap I was about to read. Chelsea Handler's book shows just what entitled pricks people can be when they have loads of money. Sorry to be blunt, but there it is. This book chronicles the African safari trip that Chelsea goes on with her friends where she waxes on about recreational drugs, treats people like crap, and fails to be funny whatsoever.

  • Are You There, Vodka? It's Me Chelsea by Chelsea Handler

Yep. I don't know what I was thinking. If I didn't like the first book that Chelsea wrote, why would I like this one? Not a clue. I guess I wanted to see this mess through and indeed this book was another mess. I wish I had more inventive statements to make about this book, but again this is just a collection of stories and musings from the mind of an incredibly entitled person.

  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

After those awful books, I decided to be done with celebrity memoirs for the time being and read a book that has been on my Goodreads TBR list for a long time. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which has a prominent film adaption tells the story of the friendship between two young boys. One is the son of Nazi officer and the other is in a concentration camp. I haven't seen the movie, so I went into my reading experience not expecting anything and still left monumentally disappointed. The holocaust is one of those subjects that is difficult to tackle in books, particularly for those writing historical fiction and not nonfiction. You have to make sure to write an engaging story without trivializing the experiences of those who have actual lived through the holocaust. Despite being a shockingly award winning book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas most definitely trivializes this terrible time in history.

 First of all, this is not an adult book, something I didn't realize going into the reading experience. The problem is this isn't a decent middle grade book either. When I was in elementary and middle school, I read some amazingly written stories that detail the atrocities of the holocaust. The stories were geared toward a younger mind, but they didn't treat you like an idiot. This book does. The first annoying aspect of the story is that it is narrated in third person limited and much of the story is told through the lens of Bruno, the 9 year old son of the Nazi officer. Much of the story reads as though Bruno is a 6 year old and he is completely clueless about what is happening around him. You just have to make educated guesses like the "Out-With" Bruno constantly refers to is actually Auschwitz, something you couldn't do without previous knowledge about the holocaust. I was also completely surprised that not much time was spent developing the friendship lauded about in the synopsis. The story is also lacking in emotional depth and when I got to the ending, it was neither sad nor shocking. I urge all of you to ignore all of the praise for this book. You will only be left disappointed.
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

As I mentioned in my TBR post, the premise of this book sounded so amazing that I had to give it a chance. Basically the story centers around Ismae, who has been forced into a marriage by her uncaring father, Rather than live out an unhappy life with her husband, Ismae ends up escaping to convent where all of the nuns are assassins that worship the god of death. As interesting as the premise is, this book is a combination of action, romance, and unfortunately court intrigue. I don't know why, but court intrigue books, for me at least, turn out to be so boring. So much of the action ends up revolving around a series of conversations that get rehashed over and over again. Here it's about who the duchess is going to marry and whether that alliance will instigate a war. I gave this book three stars because it was actually a pretty decent book apart from all of the boring court intrigue passages. There are two other books in this series told from different perspectives and I haven't quite decided whether I want to read them or not.
  • The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy #3) by Shannon Hale

Of course after enjoying the second book in the Princess Academy series so much, I had to check out the third installment. Again it kind of felt like the second book in the series ended on a happy note and didn't necessitate a sequel. The premise of this book is that the kingdom is being threatened by a neighboring kingdom and the only way the king can see to quell their discontentment is to marry the neighboring king off to one of the three female cousins of the royal family. As a result, Miri is sent off to the swamp where the three girls live to become their teacher in a makeshift princess academy. Obviously nothing works out according to plan and Miri faces danger while uncovering some important secrets. While this was a quick read (the audience is supposed to be middle grade), the story was fleshed out really well and all of the new characters were just as dynamic as the old ones. This is sadly an aspect of writing that many authors in the adult genre haven't grasped. A would recommend this series to anyone, regardless of your age.
  • Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Ruby Red was one of those books that I was kind of skeptical about from the beginning. It looked like it had all of the calling cards of the ya books I've come to hate. You know the ones. The main female character finds out something that makes her a super special snowflake and she exists in a world that is drastically different from our's. Let's not forget the flawed, but ever dreamy love interest. I was prepared for that and Ruby Red does follow all of those cliches to an extent, but for some reason I enjoyed this book. I think it's because for the majority of the book, the love interest takes a back seat in favor of the main character's personal growth. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here since I haven't even told you what the book is about. The main character is Gwenyth, a girl who lives in a world where time travel is possible for those that carry the gene. Everyone in her family is prepared for her cousin's first time travel experience, but nobody expects Gwenyth to be the one to carry the gene. She is taken to an organization to be trained and paired up with Gideon as her traveling partner. The two are expected to work together to help the organization achieve a secretive goal laid out by the Count de Saint Germain.

Much of the story involves Gwenyth trying to come to terms with her new power while questioning the aims of the new organization she's involved with. I do have to say though that the world building is a bit confusing. Does the whole world know of this time traveling gene or not? If not, why is everyone familiar with the thought of Charlotte time traveling in class at any moment? That being said, I'm still looking forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy.
  • Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer


Between the Lines is one of those books that has a story I'm sure book lovers have thought about occasionally. Delilah is obsessed with reading the same fairytale over and over again. Prince Oliver is the main character in that book who is tired of living the same story over and over again. Despite the fact that the story ends with his "happily ever after," Oliver wishes for a different life. Delilah opens the book one day and discovers she and Oliver can talk to each other. This is one of those quick and easy light reads that is utterly predictable. Now I'm busy trying to think about what character I'd like to help escape out of their book.

  • Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

I always have a hard time trying to talk about books that I love so much. If a book isn't enjoyable, I always have a list of reasons to go along with my opinion. I wish I had a ton of concrete reasons that could explain my love for this book. Originally, I was only going to rate Amy and Roger's Epic Detour 4 stars, but then I questioned why I was withholding a star from a book I liked so much. So the story is exactly what the title suggests. Amy's mother is moving the entire family from California to Connecticut and left Amy behind so she could go set up their new house. The only problem is they need to get their car transported cross country too. That's where Roger comes in. He's agreed to drive their car, since he is heading to Philadelphia to see his father. Amy's mother sets up the whole route for them, but the two decide to have some fun on this trip and follow their own path across the country. This has to be one of the few young adult contemporary novels that manages to create a nice combination of interesting plot, character development, and a romance. What I loved about this book is that the romance between Amy and Roger isn't the primary focus of the book. Instead, it's about the two of them dealing with their own problems during the course of their journey. Amy is trying to come to terms with her father's recent death and Roger is also struggling over his girlfriend breaking up with him. I honestly felt like I was on the journey with the two of them and I enjoyed the music playlists that the author included. When I finally got to the end, I desperately wanted more story, even though it did wrap-up rather neatly. If you are looking for a great contemporary read, this is the first book I'd recommend. Out of all of the books I've read this month, this is the one to stand out. 

  • Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Off the Page is the sequel/companion novel to Between the Lines and tells what happens *spoiler alert for the first book* when Oliver makes it out of his book. As I said in the Summer Read-a-thon post, this book really was kind of a let down compared to the first. For whatever reason, every little bit of plot felt weak and contrived, not to mention it seemed like the language and content tended towards the border of middle grade/YA when Jodi Picoult is obviously an adult writer. I'm just curious who this book is actually marketed towards. Most of the conflict of the book dealt with the petty high school fights that Oliver and Delilah had with each other. The ending also felt a little bit unsatisfying too because Oliver and Delilah's relationship causes so many problems for the other characters and they even care as long as they can be together.

  • Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

The book centers around Anna, an illusionist, who takes part in her mother's traveling magic show. The setting is in New York City in the 1920s, which seems to be a popular time and place to set stories in the ya genre. The interesting part about this book is that her mother plays at being a medium and a mentalist while Anna attempts to hide her actual supernatural powers. She can see visions of the future, read people's emotions, and communicate with the dead. There is some mystery and intrigue thrown into the mix, but the best part of the book has to be Anna's own personal struggles as the entertainer always in the shadow of her mother. I really enjoyed the story and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is part of a series. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel sometime soon.

  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Oh, The Rosie Project. You are a book I should have stayed miles away from. Honestly, you have all the same characteristics as every over-hyped book I've been burned by in the past, but did I listen to my gut. Nope. I chose to read you anyway and look were that got me. Now that I've gotten a good bit of the histrionics out of the way maybe I should tell you about the book. So as I mentioned oh about two sentences or so ago, The Rosie Project is one of those books that has been getting a lot of press about it lately. Everybody seems to be talking about it and I've seen it on the shelves of numerous stores I've been to. It's really was hard to ignore this book's existence, so finally I just picked it up. Those of you who stuck around for the Summer Read-a-thon challenge know what it's about, but I might as well tell it again. The main character, Don, is a professor of genetics and comes up with an idea for The Wife Project. Don is a socially awkward person that finds the normal avenues of dating ill-suited to producing the type of woman he would like to marry. As a result, he comes up with a survey that will help him gauge the women he meets, thereby determining whether they are marriage material. Of course all of that goes out the window when he meets Rosie, our requisite manic pixie dream girl. Goody. Here is where my rant about manic pixie dream girls would go, but I have so many more reviews to write, so just imagine my rage. Or go to my June wrap-up and read my review of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. That should suffice.

Oh, but we aren't done yet dear reader. The Rosie Project is also one of those books with an obnoxious narrator in a way that harkens back to the book I love to hate: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In fact The Rosie Project really reads like an adult version of that book. Here is where I'm a little hesitant to continue because I might offend some people, but I hated the narration. Like hated, hated it. It was so wooden and weird and I get it. The book subtly hints that maybe Don has Asperger's and I'm all for diversity in literature, but really this is a topic never discussed in reference to Don. It's not used for character growth or explanation or even just plainly stated. It feels like a gimmick to get attention. I guess I could forgive this book for it's narration, but at the end of the day it is also so chock full of stereotypes and cliches that I can't overlook it.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black


The Darkest Part of the Forest is another one of those books that got a lot of press a couple of months back, but I couldn't remember if it was good or bad. I decided to give it a chance despite the fact that it is a paranormal ya book with fairies. Normally that combination of descriptors gives me flashbacks of all the terrible books I've read in the past that deal with love triangles and fairies. Here the story centers on a brother and sister named Ben and Hazel. What makes their world different from ours is that they live near a forest inhabited by fairies. Even stranger is the horned boy encased in a glass coffin. Nothing about this story really grabbed my attention. Granted, the world building was great, but I think I personally can't get any sort of enjoyment out of a ya book that has fairies. As a whole, the plot just felt "meh"-ish  and the romances were complete insta-love.

  • Othello by William Shakespeare


As I mentioned in my TBR post, this book is kind of special because one of my favorite professors gave it to me and it's a shame that I hadn't read it until now. As a whole, I'm much more of a fan of Shakespeare's comedies rather than his tragedies, but I can still appreciate the tragedies, which is what I did for Othello. I'm glad this was my first classic book selection of the month.

  • Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

The premise of the book is that Min is writing a letter to her recent ex-boyfriend letting him know why they broke up. This letter is the narrative of the book, which Min plans to include with a box of stuff she's saved during their relationship. Each section focuses on an item in the box and flashes back to the point in their relationship that is relevant to the object. In theory, this book sounds great. Who wouldn't want to read a contemporary book that chronicles the emotional ups and downs of a relationship. In reality, the book is a jumbled, run-on mess of sentences that try to explain how emotionally crushing this shallow high school romance is supposed to be. As you can tell, I really wasn't a fan.

  • An Autobiography by Agatha Christie

Technically, I've had this listed as currently reading on Goodreads since December, but I really haven't been reading it. You've got to be in a certain mood to read an autobiography and finally that happened this month. I think this is one of the best autobiographies I've ever read, but maybe that's because I love Agatha Christie's work so much. This book provides a funny and comprehensive view of her life, while also giving readers a glimpse into the past...a past where even middle class families had a maid and a nurse.

  • Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley
Ugh this book. I honestly feel like it doesn't deserve the effort it takes to write another review of it. That's how much I really disliked reading Season of Storms. This is a book that I can't quite remember discovering, but the synopsis sounded so interesting that I had to check it out. The story centers on Celia, an actress, who is contacted about traveling to an Italian villa in order to star in a performance. The complication comes from the fact that the playwright wrote the play for his mistress, a woman that Celia shares a name with. Sounds appropriately gothic-y and mysterious, right? With a bit of romance thrown in to spice things up? Well, nothing happens. I'm serious. A couple of times during the reading experience, I seriously considered just giving up and moving on to a different book. All of the action is crammed into the last 100 pages of the book and none of it is built up to or even hinted at. Not to mention there is romance in this book, but so much of the interactions are bland and forgettable. Needless to say I wouldn't recommend it. Ever.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman

As I mentioned before in my Summer Read-a-thon post, Coraline is one of those books I've wanted to read for the longest time. When I was in school, this book was considered below my reading level, which mean't I wasn't allowed to read it in english class. Then when the movie was released and I enjoyed that quite a lot, my interest in this book was renewed. Obviously now that I'm a college graduate, I'm not the intended audience for the book, but I liked it just the same. During my challenge, I remember mentioning that I wish I'd discovered this around the same time I was really into Roald Dahl. For whatever reason in my mind they pair so well together. For the handful of people who haven't read Coraline, it's about a girl who discovers a previously walled up doorway leads to another world. In this world, her parents and neighbors seem perfect. It's only when Coraline's alternate mother insists that she stay that everything starts to turn sour. Now she has to face the nightmares of the other world to save her family. The story is delightfully creepy and honestly can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age.
  • The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

Do you know all of those internet lists of the best bookstores? You've probably read a few of them on Buzzfeed and had the biggest urge to visit all the shops shown. Well The Bookshop Book is basically that. It's a book that talks about some of the most memorable bookshops around the world. It also includes some blurbs from authors and other famous people about the impact books and bookshops have had on their lives. There are also some interesting bookish facts thrown into the mix to beef up the page count. One that grabbed by attention had to do with the fact that trees have this polymer closely related to vanillin (vanilla anyone) and that polymer breaks down with age, which explains why old books smell so good. It's nice to have a logical explanation for when people ask me why I sniff my books all the time.
 Anyway, this is one of those books that makes for a great, light read if you have a genuine interest in books and bookshops. It's also one of those books that I'd recommend you either check out from a library or borrow from a friend because it's just so short and coffee table-esque (you know those books that are meant to be set on a coffee table and lightly perused occasionally). That being said it was a nice hour long read.
  • Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

I originally found out about this book from one of my favorite booktubers when she did a video about the kinds of things people say in the bookstore she works at. That video was so great that I figured why not keep the hilarity going and read this book. The title is kind of self explanatory. The book is basically a collection of the funny, weird, and even stupid things people have said in the bookshops Jen Campbell has worked at. All I can say is this book at times makes you laugh out loud and other times makes you question the intelligence of humanity. If a desk were nearby while reading this book, I can guarantee I would have wanted to head-desk more than a few times. 
The most memorable scene from the book had to be the person who asked if Anne Frank had written a sequel to her diary. I don't know how I would have dealt with that question honestly. See above gif. Again the book was a short read and I'd totally recommend this if you're going through a reading slump.
  • More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell


Of course right after I finished Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, I had to read the sequel. The premise is the same as the first book. It's just a collection of all the weird things customers have said in bookshops. The great part about this book is that it includes a nice section of weird things people have said in other bookshops as well as a smaller portion that includes some of the ridiculous things people have said to Jen Campbell while she was in other bookshops signing copies of her first book. I kind of wish these books would continue on in some sort of online format, like a tumblr blog, so I could continue to enjoy the hilarity on days when I need a little pick me up.

  • 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I was in a mood to continue reading books about people that enjoy books and when I looked on Goodreads for suggestions, this book repeatedly topped all of the lists I found, so I decided to read it. I was a bit apprehensive about the reading experience because the book is so small, but I found myself really enjoying the story so much that I was sad when it ended so abruptly. This book is a nonfiction/memoir composed of the letters exchanged by Helene Hanff and the employees at a bookstore on 84, Charing Cross Road. You wouldn't think a bunch of letters requesting books from a bookstore would be so interesting, but it was. Helene's sarcasm and love for books comes through. Not to mention through these letters she builds complex relationships with all of the employees. If you like reading books about bookstores and a love for reading, you should definitely pick this up.

  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

I think I've mentioned on here before that in college I was also a women and gender studies minor in addition to being an english major and this is one of the books I'm kind of angry I didn't read during my academic career. It's one of those books that really should be read in an academic setting and I could rant about about the monumental inefficiencies of my college's gender studies minor, but I won't. So The Feminine Mystique is one of those books that has been considered quintessential reading for those interested in breaking down the inequalities and social pressures women have faced throughout history. This book deals with the social and psychological implications of expecting all women to become housewives and have no personal aspirations. At the time, such an argument was radical and we benefit from all the work women's rights activists have put in to give women greater social freedom. As with any text like this, you do have to be a careful and intelligent reader before wholeheartedly endorsing an author's assertions. Betty Friedan is labeled as an important feminist and women's right activist, but her early options did tend to reflect a homophobic attitude, which is unfortunate and really hard to overlook while reading this. Like I said, you really should read an important text like this if you get a chance, but always take it in with a grain of salt as they say.
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd


I recently came across The Secret Life of Bees in a used bookstore and decided on a whim to buy it and read it. I remember watching the film adaption a while ago and enjoying it quite a lot. Since I'm one of those people that has to read the book as well as see the film adaption, I was curious to see how the book compared. For those unfamiliar with the story, it centers around Lily, a young girl coping with her unhappy life. Her mother is dead and her father basically abuses her. The book takes place in South Carolina around the push for civil rights and desegregation. One day Lily makes the decision to run away to Tiburon, a city name written on the back of one of her dead mother's pictures. That's how she comes to live with three black sisters and helps out with their beekeeping. Much of the story revolves around Lily's character growth and the secrets she uncovers about her mother's past during the backdrop of the racist south and struggle for equal rights in that time period.

As a whole I really enjoyed the book, since I am a sucker for a story with some fantastic character growth and development. I do have to say though that I always have problems with books of this caliber and its problematic narrative. Sadly, there is this consistent trend in literature where stories of African American struggles are told through the limited lens of a white narrator, usually one who is sympathetic to the problems they face in society. To add on to that, the story never really addresses those problems because the focus of the story is almost exclusively on the white narrator and his/her problems. The African Americans are usually the secondary characters and they are there to contribute to the white narrator's personal growth. It reminds me of the huge and admittedly valid controversy surrounding the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Does that mean you or I should hate books like these out of principle? I don't necessarily think so, but it helps to be knowledgeable about the deeper issues involving these stories and the struggles of black people in America while seeking out and supporting those narratives actually written by African Americans. It's important to recognize that the history of racism and its institutionalized nature shouldn't provide an interesting back drop to a story, it should be the story itself.
  • Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Rooms is Lauren Oliver's deviation from her normal ya adult genre and all I have to say is she should totally consider writing more adult books. So Rooms starts with the death of Richard Walker, which brings his estranged family back to the house to sort out his funeral and all of the possessions he's left behind. When Trenton and Minna, his children, and Caroline, his ex-wife, return, old memories return and only complicate all of the issues they are currently struggling with. What makes this book unique is that the house is also inhabited by two ghosts, whose inability to deal with the problems they suffered with in life prevents them from moving on in death. Basically, the whole book deals with dysfunctional characters in a way that could border on soap opera-esque, but it doesn't manage to quite get on that level of ridiculousness. At times keeping track of the characters and their multiple narrations was difficult, but by the middle of the novel I got it all sorted out. If you're looking for a well written book with complex characters, this is a book you really should look into.

Phew. That was a lot books to cover in just one post. Hopefully you stuck it out til the end and found some new books for your TBR list. August is going to look pitiful compared to this. I just know it. That being said, make sure to check back soon to see what books I plan to read this month!