Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Penny's Music Recommendations: October 2015

Hello readers and music lovers alike. We're now almost halfway through the month of October and this past Saturday, the first snowflakes of the season just fell. While I'm not ready for snow just yet, since we haven't had enough crisp autumn days, the passage of time does mean the discovery of awesome old and new songs. Some of my favorite bands have just released new albums and others are in the process of creating them. Anyway, here is a list of all of the songs I've been obsessively listening to this month that I want to recommend to you. As always most of them have an indie rock flavor to them, but my taste in music is always surprising, so you never know.
  • Victorious by Panic! At The Disco

When Panic! At The Disco released the song, "Death of a Bachelor," I wasn't too impressed or excited, but the thought of a brand new album in the works made up for that lack of excitement. Victorious is the latest song released off of that album and has much more of a pop rock sound to it. Whether you want it to or not, this song will definitely get stuck in your head. Victorious also seems like an awesome fusion of the Panic! At The Disco we all initially fell in love with and their new sound. All I can say is I need their new album soooooo bad right now,
  • Rollercoaster by Bleachers 

I initially discovered the song, Rollercoater, from the indie pop station that I listen to occasionally on Pandora. At first, I wasn't such a huge fan of it, but as with many of my favorite songs, it grew on me. The other day I was talking with someone about how I feel like new indie pop/rock songs have a huge 80s influence/aesthetic that's very hard to ignore. Rollercoaster is one of those songs that feels like it was ripped right off of the soundtrack of an 80s John Hughes movie and shoved into the 21st century, which is a plus in opinion. It's also one of those songs that is instantly uplifting and you can't help tapping your foot or outright dancing to it. This is the only song I've heard from Bleachers and if this song represents the band's style, I just might have to spend an afternoon digging through their discography.
  • Cardiac Arrest by Bad Suns

Cardiac Arrest was another song that took a long time for me to love. Initially, the song was featured in a music list in one of's posts. I listened to it and didn't think too much of it. Later on I heard it again on the same Pandora station that played Rollercoaster. This song is, of course, classified as indie rock, but has some great 70s and 80s influences that make it one of those awesome easy listening rock songs. I also love that it has a loud, prominent bass line that begs you to jam along with it as you listen.
  • Make Them Gold by Chvrches

It's probably no surprise that I included another song off of the new Chvrches album, Every Open Eye. When the album came out, I had to listen to the whole thing in one day. There are songs that I loved the minute I first heard them and there are others that I'm still warming up to today. Make Them Gold is one of those songs that I instantly loved. This is one of the more upbeat songs from the album which features their iconic synth/electro-pop sound. I also can't recommend this song enough because I really connected with the lyrics: "We are made of our longest days/We are falling but not alone/We will take the best parts of ourselves/And make them gold" It's inspiring to think about how all of our daily trials make up who we are as people. All I can say is it's going to be a while before I stop listening to this song and this entire album.  
  • Stone Cold by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Stone Cold is the wild card on this list. In fact, it almost didn't make the list because I heard it so late in the month. Luckily, I decided to release this post a week later, so you get the chance to hear it. Originally this song is sung by Demi Lovato and I didn't hear it until Carrie Hope Fletcher released a cover of it on her YouTube channel. As a general rule, I've never been a fan of Demi. She reached her peak Disney Channel days when I was too old to really be sucked into her hype and fame. When she made her natural transition to troubled teen years and a larger music career, I really didn't pay attention. Regardless, when I heard Carrie sing this song, I immediately liked it. Stone Cold is one of those stripped down songs that you just want to sing along with at the top of your lungs. I may or may not sing this in shower. You'll never know. 
  • Vicious Love by New Found Glory ft. Hayley Williams

As many of you may know, I'm a huge fan of Paramore and anything Hayley Williams does, so when she mentioned this collaboration on Twitter, I had to check it out. Surprisingly, New Found Glory wasn't one of the bands that I liked to listen to in my middle and high school days when I was really really into pop punk. What's great about this song is that the pop punk sound reminds me of the music I used to listen to and I love that kind of nostalgic factor. It's one of those catchy rock songs that deals with a love hate relationship and the video does hilariously riff on couple's tattoos.  
  • Always Be One by Night Terrors of 1927
When I first started this music recommendations series, I featured one or two songs by Night Terrors of 1927, which I couldn't rave enough about. After that I really didn't give the rest of their music a chance. On a whim the other day, I decided to do that. Always Be One was one of those songs that I couldn't believe I'd overlooked before. For those that have never heard of Night Terrors of 1927, they are an indie pop duo that recently collaborated with Tegan and Sara for one of their songs on their first album, Everything's Coming Up Roses. Always Be One is one of those awesome upbeat, atmospheric songs with a bit of electronic influence thrown in. This band kind of reminds me of a more mellow version of Neon Trees from their earlier work before they became heavily pop in nature. If you are a fan of indie pop and rock music, you really need to check out this band. I'm just disappointed that they don't have any more music for me to listen to. I need a second album. Stat.

Those are all of the songs that I've been repeatedly listening to this month and can't help but recommend to you. As always I hope you found something new to listen to or maybe even a new favorite band. Now to start finding new music for next month.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon Finale!: Jane Eyre (2006)

Dear readers, we are finally here and honestly I can't believe how long this journey took! Months ago I was determined to carry on this watch-a-thon series with Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books. After watching every movie adaption and taking copious notes, it's time for me to tackle the last movie in this series. I think it's only appropriate that we end with the adaption that is nearest and dearest to my heart.
Jane Eyre (2006)
Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre
Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester
This version was released as a mini series in 4 parts with a total runtime of 230 minutes.
Here is a link to the IMDb page for more information:

Oh Masterpiece Theatre, what would the world do without you! My experience with book to movie adaptations of the classic variety is that the masterpiece label usually guarantees that the production value will be lavish and the content will follow the source material closer than any other adaption. This particular version of Jane Eyre is no different. Let me tell you. Once you watch the masterpiece or pbs adaptions, every other adaption will be ruined for you. When I first started looking for movie adaptions of Jane Eyre forever ago, I loved the 1996 version with William Hurt. At that time, I hadn't watched the Timothy Dalton version, nor this one. I bought the dvd and rewatched it religiously. One day I noticed that Ovation was playing a complete miniseries of Jane Eyre and I just had to watch it. (The mini series being the one we will be talking about today). Almost four hours later, I had reached the point of no return. No other adaption could compare to this one and that statement, if I'm going to be honest, still holds true today. That is not to say that I don't recognize the glaring flaws in this adaption. In fact, I made much more of an effort to look for the downsides in order to provide less of a biased review. Then again all reviews are based on personal opinion, so there you go.

Rather than break up this review into pros and cons as I've done in the past, I think I'm going to stick with the layout where I reveal the natural progression of my thoughts as the movie unfolded. As always this review will be comprehensive, so there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

As with the majority of the adaptions I've covered, this movie seems to drop the ball on Jane's childhood years. I think so many filmmakers are concerned with Jane and Rochester's romance that they overlook the importance of her childhood. Here I think that Masterpiece kind of let me down. All of the childhood scenes feel very stylized, which isn't necessarily bad. The problem is so much focus is placed on all of the scenes looking visually engaging that not much of the story is relayed. We get a few brief scenes of her time at Gateshead as well as a few scenes of her time at Lowood. The unfortunate reality is if you haven't read the book beforehand, you'll have no idea what's going on. Mr. Brocklehurst is never named and he doesn't express anything remarkable to differentiate himself from the other portrayals of the character. For whatever reason, I didn't find Georgie Henley's performance as Young Jane very captivating. She felt kind of flat. Again at Lowood we get a stylized scene of girls crying and coughing, but no mention of the Typhoid outbreak. Then before you know it, Helen is dead. There is literally one scene where Jane and Helen talk together and then the next she is dead. Yeah, it's a little hard to believe the two of them were the best of friends after that level of interaction.
"Hey I just met you and this is crazy, but we've had one conversation, so best friends maybe?"
There are no scenes of Young Jane being educated at Lowood and then the movie jumps forward in time to Jane teaching young students how to draw. I double checked the time stamp to make sure I was right and in this almost 4 hour long adaption, only 15 minutes of it are spent on her childhood. That really disappoints me every time I watch it. 

While I wasn't a fan of the style/substance discrepancy of the adaption, I do have to say this is one of the best musically scored versions. It doesn't have those keening oboe soundtracks that every other version is so found of nor does it have the earsplitting soundtrack of the 1943 version. Much of the gothic atmosphere is conveyed by the music in just the right amount, but it also amplifies all of the tender moments that occur throughout the film. 

Of course you can't talk about a Jane Eyre adaption without spending a little bit of time discussing the literary figure many women swoon over: Mr. Rochester. Here the choice of Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester provides the audience with a much more handsome interpretation of the Byronic hero. I would be lying if I said I didn't find him attractive in this role.
Brooding smolder at its finest
While he is much more conventionally handsome than Rochester is described in the novel, I don't really care because Toby Stephens' acting is on point. He's one of those actors that I love to see in period dramas. When I found out he played Gilbert Markham in the adaption of The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall, I happily freaked out a bit. Anyway, he portrays just the right amount of brooding and rudeness to reflect the byronic traits, but not to the extreme extent that they alienate you a la Welles 1943 version. I really like that this version does take some time to portray Rochester's tormented past in scenes scattered throughout the narrative. Audiences get to see Bertha's slow progression into madness and a young Rochester struggling to maintain a happy marriage with a woman his family pressured him into wedding. Even the story of how he took Adele on as his ward gets some lavish flashback scenes full of emotion. Out of the context of the rest of the adaption, I love these scenes. Since the romance between him and Jane is usually the focus of these adaptions, not much time is usually spent on his backstory with the exception of the requisite Bertha reveal. What sucks is I feel like we get Rochester's backstory at the cost of Jane's childhood. Since this adaption is so Rochester focused, it feels like this is Mr. Rochester's story, not Jane's...and that's not right. As I've said time and time again Jane Eyre isn't supposed to be the story of Jane and Rochester's romance. The primary focus is Jane's personal growth and her struggle to find happiness in spite of the bleak moments in her life.

The one casting choice I really didn't understand in this adaption has to be the actress they chose to play Adele: Cosima Littlewood.

I'm going to be blunt. She is way too old to be playing Adele. Adele's naivete and her spoiled, childish nature fit a younger child who doesn't really know any better. In some ways that makes her likable and endearing. Here having an older actress portray those same traits makes Adele seem preening and annoying as hell. As a result, I personally didn't really enjoy many of the scenes she was in.

Since I've somehow ended up on this tangent of critiquing the performances of all the actors, it's only right that I spend a chunk of time on the most important character in this whole adaption: Jane Eyre. Part of the reason I really enjoy the 2006 version the best has to be Ruth Wilson's performance as Jane.

While some people might be opposed to this particular casting choice, since Ruth is much too attractive to be the plain Jane and she looks much closer in age to Mr. Rochester, I don't find fault with the choice. As Jane, she provides one of the most well acted, emotionally poignant performances I've seen out of all of the adaptions. She brings the character I love to read about to life on screen. I think I could spend quite a lot of time singing her praises, but for my sake and yours (since you've been waiting a long time for this finale) I'll try to keep it brief. Ruth's incarnation of Jane gives audiences the full spectrum of her character. Often we see her steadfastness of character and fierce independence. Then we get glimpses into Jane's deep self doubt and insecurity, particularly when she starts to develop romantic feelings for Mr. Rochester.

 One of my favorite scenes has to the portrait drawing one where Jane takes the time to do a self portrait and then draw in detail what she imagines the beautiful Blanche will look like. In this one scene, she manages to convey Jane's insecurities about her appearance while struggling to control her feelings towards Rochester. It's one of her most vulnerable moments. Another notable scene has to be the one when Lady Ingram is railing against governesses and their uselessness while Jane is in the room. Poor Jane is basically being insulted right to her face and there is no way she can defend herself, nor does anyone else in the room come to her direct defense. I always love when an adaption includes this scene because it helps to illustrate the awkward position Jane and just governesses historically have held. Often governesses were poorer, unmarried women brought in to be essentially the sole educator and caregiver for the children. As a result, governesses occupied this awkward space were they weren't quite the same as the rest of the servants in the household, but by no means were they considered family. That sort of discrepancy is what makes Jane's place at Thornfield and her feelings for Rochester so complicated. For those interested in a story that illustrates that sort of dynamic in more detail, you should really read Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey. I feel like Anne is always the least appreciated Bronte, despite the fact that her work is superb.

Another great facet of this adaption is that Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens have some really fantastic chemistry, which brings the romance alive. In the scene when Jane saves Rochester from burning in his bed, you can really feel the tension in the room. Not to mention their conversations with each other are always entertaining and they have some great playful moments. The one that immediately comes to mind is when Jane reminds Rochester that she hasn't been paid yet before she leaves to see her sick Aunt Reed. First, Rochester kindly offers her much more money that he owes her and, of course, Jane refuses him and accepts a lesser amount than is owed to her. This is the following exchange:

Of course their chemistry extends to the some of the more pivotal scenes in the movie, but I don't want to get ahead of myself just yet. 

Other surprising cast members are Pam Ferris (aka the Trunchbull for all my Matilda fans) as Grace Poole.

Then in an unsurprising turn of events, Christina Cole plays Blanche Ingram.
Seriously, I feel like anytime they need someone to play a haughty, beautiful noblewoman who gets her comeuppance in the end, they give Christina a call. Not saying that's a bad thing because that's a character she does very well. I don't think anybody could play Blanche as well as she does in this movie. 

Time to move on to some nitpicking. Just bear with me. I'll never be satisfied until I point them out to you. While I'm glad this adaption chooses to include the gypsy scene, I don't understand why the production would go to all that effort to include it and then not even do it right! Like the Timothy Dalton version, Rochester is supposed to be the gypsy, not hire one. I also like how this version includes Bessie's visit to Thornfield as the bearer of the bad news (or maybe good news?) that Mrs. Reed is almost dead. The problem is the audience doesn't get the chance to know Bessie because the childhood scenes are so short. The older Jane comments on her friendship with Bessie, but we never see any of that in the childhood scenes.

Thankfully, this version doesn't skip over Jane's return to Gateshead. For the most part, this section is fully fleshed out and I really appreciated how they included a scene where Jane has flashbacks from her childhood. It's as if Jane is confronting the demons from her past and gaining some well needed closure. This version even includes a scene or two with her cousins, Georgiana and Eliza. The two of them are often cut out of Jane Eyre adaptions and here we get to see how the two spoiled girls have grown, how they detest each other, and what sort of uncertain futures they face now that their mother is dying. 

Since this adaption has two great lead actors, it's no surprise that the culminating scene where Jane declares herself equal in standing to Mr. Rochester and Rochester subsequently declares his love for her happens to be one of the best that I've seen out of all the adaptions. Jane is given plenty of time for her fantastic speech where she tells Rochester that she isn't an automaton nor a bird in a cage. Rochester even gets plenty of time to explain that he won't be marrying Blanche and loves Jane instead. 

All the emotion Ruth Wilson puts into this scene feels completely authentic, ugly cry and all. For this brief moment, the audience gets to enjoy the culmination of Rochester and Jane's romance and every time I always wish the movie could end there. Sadly, the foreboding image of the tree getting struck by lighting perfectly punctuates that a happily ever after isn't in the cards for Jane and Rochester just yet. 

As a whole I do feel like the adaption does a great job of conveying the gothic mood of the story with the exception of the scene where Bertha rips Jane's veil. I mean that is the scene where Jane kind of knows for certain that there is something a bit more menacing lurking around Thornfield than Rochester lets on. 

As with every Jane Eyre adaption we do get the requisite scenes where Jane finds out about Mr. Rochester's first wife on her wedding day, but this adaption is unique in that we actually see Jane's own private reaction after Bertha is shown to everyone. The camera fixes on Jane as she heartrendingly puts away her wedding dress and then puts her drab, gray governess dress back on. In this one action, Jane already makes her final choice to leave Rochester even before he gets a chance to talk to her. She resigns herself to the sad realization that she can no longer reside with Rochester after he's concealed his first wife's existence. To me that one scene conveys all the loss and heartbreak Jane must feel. 

Now like the newest Jane Eyre adaption, this version makes the decision to break from a linear narrative, but does it in a way that doesn't hinder the audience's understanding of the whole story like the newest adaption does. After Jane lays down in bed, the film flashes forward to Jane wandering the moors, cold, hungry, and destitute. Here Jane collapses and St. John just happens upon her and takes her back to his sisters' home to be cared for. 

Sadly, this version makes the decision to cut out all of the scenes were Jane goes begging for food and the scene where Hannah actually turns her away from Diana and Mary's home. I always hate that this part of the book gets put on the chopping block when film adaptions are created. By showing Jane begging in the streets, it really helps to illustrate the precarious position women held during that time period. You either had a male relative to support you or you were lucky enough to happen upon a paid working position. The reality of life was that unless you were part of a titled family, you weren't that far from poverty. 

For the most part, the scenes with Diana, Mary, and St. John are fully fleshed out. Jane builds friendships with each one of them and it seems like she might find happiness there. St. John arranges for Jane to teach at a children's school and finally this adaption includes St. John's failed romance with Rosamond Oliver, who is shockingly played by none other than Georgia King.

What's hilarious is the way she plays Rosamond in Jane Eyre is exactly how she overacts her character in the movie, Austenland. The voice she uses and her outfits feel almost the same. Anyway, you see here just how cold and distant St. John is when interacting with the woman he loves. He is a man that sacrifices everything for his supposed purpose in life.

It is during this section of the adaption that I find its biggest fault. I mentioned earlier that the movie breaks from its linear story telling when it skips from the failed wedding right to Jane wandering the moors. Well, during her time teaching, the movie flashes back to the moments after the failed wedding. In the book, that section illustrates how Jane refuses to give up her honor and her principles. She acknowledges the love that she has for Rochester, but realizes that a life with him would be a life of sin and would compromise the honest life she's lead so far. Not to mention he lied to her about his first wife the entire time they knew each other. Here the adaption departs from the book to provide the audience with a much more modern, highly romanticized series of flashbacks where Rochester tries to convince Jane to stay with him.

What follows is a lot of chest heaving, kissing, and stroking while Rochester reminds Jane of the love they have for each other and then offers a series of compromises in an attempt to get her to stay. While this scene amps up the romance between the two of them, it doesn't feel right. I find it hard to believe that Jane would agree to something like this after she learns that Rochester has been concealing a wife from her and almost involved her in a bigamist relationship. 

Another aspect of this adaption that I'm not a huge fan of has to be the fact that St. John's proposal and the scene where Jane hears Rochester calling out to her are so close together. Jane isn't given any time to consider that proposal before she rushes off to find Rochester. In that one moment her time with Diana, Mary, and St. John is abandoned.

The plus side is that the reunion scenes personally feel like they are the best out of all of the adaptions. The majority of the adaptions rush the reunion between Jane and Rochester and then use it as the final scene in the movie. Here their interactions are longer like the book. When Jane returns to Rochester is seems like his injuries are accurately represented. Not to mention you can see the marked difference in their characters. Rochester is no longer the powerful and imposing man he once was. Now he is broken down and weak, which is in direct contrast to the independent and forceful Jane. With wealth and confidence to back up her independent convictions, she finally feels superior to Rochester. She's no longer dependent on him and their relationship can now be based purely on love and personal affection.

This adaption ends with the painting of a family portrait. While I do miss the usual narration where Jane announces her decision to marry Rochester, I didn't mind that this adaption ended with everybody gathering together to have an artist paint a family portrait. It really helped to illustrate how far Jane has come. In her childhood, she was rejected, cast aside, and not allowed to be in the Reed's family portrait. Here Jane is happily married and surrounded by people that love her and that she considers family. The adaption finishes on an overwhelmingly happy note and Jane's story finally feels complete. 

As a whole the 2006 adaption of Jane Eyre is engaging while being quite faithful to the book. Despite it's nearly four hour long run time, the adaption doesn't lag behind nor is it mentally exhausting to watch. Every time I watch it, I notice something new and amazing about the film that hadn't noticed before and I feel like every actor gives their best performance. While this adaption does have its flaws, I feel like the actors brought the characters I know and love to life. Whether you are are new to Jane Eyre or read the book plenty of times, this is the adaption I'd recommend every time.

Whew! After what feels like a lifetime spent watching all of the adaptions and taking copious notes throughout, the Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon is finally over. On one hand I'm excited that I got the chance to do this and on the other, I'm a bit sad that it's finally over. Sometimes I love just sitting down and doing a nice long review of a book to movie adaption. I hope that you've enjoyed this series as much as I have and I'd love to hear your own personal thoughts on the adaptions. For those worried that this will be the last Watch-a-thon series, have no fear! I definitely plan on doing this again, but right now I haven't decided on which book I should cover next. It's hard to simultaneously pick a book that you love that also has numerous film adaptions created from it. In the interim, there will be some new blog series headed your way and I'll be hard at work finding a new book to feature in this series. I hope you enjoyed this journey and if you haven't already, check out the Pride and Prejudice Watch-a-thon I did last year. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mini Book Haul - October 2015

Hello again readers! It's seems like the end of September and the beginning of October this year is when all of the great books are being released. I worked some overtime hours this week, so naturally I decided now would be the perfect time to take a trip to the bookstore and buy all of the books I've been waiting to read. It was one of those short trips where I knew exactly what I wanted and didn't browse, particularly since I didn't want to spend my whole paycheck in there. Here are all of the newly released books that I purchased this weekend.

The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley is the book that I primarily went to the bookstore to get. As many of you may already know, I love Pride and Prejudice and I love the YouTube modernization, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. In my review of the series, I mentioned that I really appreciated how they updated Lydia Bennet's character. She was transformed from a figure of condemnation to a girl that has been under-appreciated by her sisters and abused by a boyfriend. I was so excited when I learned that her story would be continued in a new novel. This book takes place after the events in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and I can't wait to read it. For those that prefer audio books. The actress that plays Lydia in the series, Mary Kate Wiles, did the narration for the audio book as well.

Lair of Dreams by Libbra Bray is the sequel to the book, The Diviners which is a supernatural ya novel that takes place in the 1920s. Evie has supernatural powers, which classify her as a diviner. Her powers have been revealed to everyone now and it seems like this book is focused on other people that have the same powers that Evie possesses. What sucks is that it's been so long since I read the first book that the details are kind of fuzzy. I might have to refresh my memory before reading this book.

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs is the third and I think final book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series. What makes this series so unique is that it's a ya book with fantasy, paranormal, and historical fiction elements all smashed together with creepy black and white photographs. I don't want to say too much about the plot because it might spoil the series for people that haven't read it yet, but basically this book continues Jacob's quest to save Miss Peregrine and all of the peculiar children. 

I only found out about this book a week ago and in that moment I knew I had to have it for my collection. "But Penny," you say, "you already own the whole series, so why buy the first book again?". Well, it turns out that new fully illustrated copies of each book in the series are being released every year!! When I saw this in the bookstore and looked at all of the beautiful color illustrations, I knew I had to have it regardless of the price. I've only had a chance to flip through a couple of pages, but everything I've seen looks amazing. Even though I just re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K Rowling, I might have to read this particular version soon.

Those are all of the books that I bought on my most recent trip to the bookstore and I can't wait to read all of them. All I can say is that it's going to be hard to stick to reading the books on my monthly TBR challenge now. Are any of these books on your wish list? Or are there other recently released books that you just have to get your hands on? See all of you next week for another post, which may just surprise you.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

October 2015 TBR

Hello readers and welcome back to another monthly TBR post. Now that it's October, you know what that means? I can officially celebrate the arrival of fall, my favorite season to be be honest. My poor pale skin now has a chance to heal after numerous sunburns and I can start breaking out all of my fabulous sweaters!! So grab your pumpkin spice everything, cover up with a fluffy blanket and get ready to hear about all of the fabulous books I hope to read this month.
  • The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

After I finished The Queen of the Tearling in September, I immediately started The Invasion of he Tearling, but I made the decision to put it down in favor of finishing Sense and Sensibility last month. Now I'm ready to start this October with what could potentially be a fabulous sequel. As the title suggests, this book deals with the fall out from Kelsea's decision to break the terms of the treaty with Mortmesne. Now the threat of an invasion by the Red Queen is immanent and Kelsea has to prepare her kingdom. The synopsis also kind of suggests that this book will help explain the history of the tearling more and will finally give readers some world building, which I'm really looking forward to. Fingers crossed that this turns out to be one of the better books I'll read this October.

  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
You had to know this was coming right? How could I possibly not read the recently released sequel to a series that I rave about on here. Despite the fact that this was released near the end of September, I feel like I'm the last one to read it and avoiding spoilers has been SO hard. Since I'm hoping nobody will spoil me, I'll return the favor and not spoil this series for anyone that hasn't read it yet. That being said, if you haven't read the Throne of Glass series yet, what are you doing with your life? Get on that right now.

  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Every once in a while you come across a book whose premise is so intriguing and goes against the grain of everything being published in its genre right now that you just have to read it. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is one of those books. The minute I heard about it, I knew I had to read it. Curious? Here is the first line of the synopsis: "What if you aren’t the Chosen One?" Basically, this book tells the story of someone who has to live his everyday life knowing he isn't the chosen one to save the world. Since the majority of ya protagonists are the chosen ones, it's nice to see a story crafted around one of the side characters, the one that doesn't usually have their story told.

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
 We've come to the end of my TBR post and that means it's time for my classic pick of the month. I took a look at the giant stockpile of classic books I have in my TBR pile and figured it was only appropriate that I pick something spooky and gothic to celebrate October and of course Halloween. I've read so many books about vampires and it never seemed right that I hadn't picked up Dracula yet. There is nothing like celebrating the spirit of the season with a corresponding book.

While this TBR list is a little bit ambitious page count wise, I'm hoping I'll have enough time to read all of these books and more. Now I'm off to fill my coffee cup with more pumpkin coffee and decide whether it's too early in the month to start watching all of my favorite Halloween movies.

Friday, October 2, 2015

September 2015 Wrap-Up

I'm going to be honest, now that I no longer have school, September flew by so quickly I'm convinced it never happened...well except for the fact that I read quite a number of books during that time. So welcome back readers to another monthly wrap-up where I provide you with mini reviews of all the books I've read during the month of September. Without further ado here they are.
  • The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

The Goddess Test is one in a long line of books that deal with the Hades/Persephone myth, a number of which I've come across recently. A couple of months ago I read Meg Cabot's very similar ya version of the myth and I wasn't a huge fan of it, so I was kind of apprehensive going into this new series. As you can tell from my rating, my initial reaction was correct unfortunately. The story focuses on Kate, your average high school student, except for the fact that she is dealing with her mother's declining health due to cancer. Everything changes when she meets Henry, aka Hades, and he offers her a deal in exchange for her agreement to live in the underworld with him. The goddess test is something Kate must pass in order to remain in the underworld, that is if she really wants to stay.

 The problem I had with this book is the fact that everything felt way too rushed and the mythical characters were completely unrecognizable. I find it hard to believe Kate would trade her freedom to save someone who kind of bullied her during her first days of school and then claim that she is Kate's dearest friend. It also probably wouldn't shock anyone to find out that this has hard core insta-love. Even worse than that is the characterization of Hades in this book. Hades is the fearsome, unrelenting god of the underworld, who takes what he wants and really doesn't freely give life back to the dead. In his place we have this bland, white bread love interest that is supposed to be tender, understanding, and everything young girls swoon over. Ehhhhhhhhhh. This series doesn't really do anything to distinguish itself from the rest of the ya genre, so I won't be continuing on with the series and I don't quite know if I'd recommend it.
  • Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Rebel Belle: The quintessential over-hyped book. I could end my review there and you would know what all of my thoughts about this book boil down to. Every ya cliche is here just as you would expect. The special snowflake heroine who discovers she has special powers that make her super special.

There is the requite bland best friend who is there to bolster the main character's ego and of course let's not forget the love triangle which includes the sensitive boy and the popular one that everybody loves. Could I tell you what this book is actually about? Yes, yes I could, but in all honesty the plot is insignificant...well except for the fact that the main character Harper is a Paladin, which always reminds me of Dungeons and Dragons. If only the author had watched a game or two so she could better portray Paladin characters. Anyway, the plot is just a prop for the love triangle. If you see this book in a bookstore, just ignore it because unlike the main character, this book is nothing special.
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I took a trip to the land of over-hyped books again when I decided to finally read Red Queen and it didn't turn out terribly. Granted this wasn't that great of a book either. This book again has the requisite ya special snowflake with a hidden power and a mission to save the world. This society is split up between those that have red and silver blood. The red bloods are considered common and make up the poor working class as well as conscripted soldiers in an endless war. The silvers are the noble, ruling class and maintain their leadership because each noble family has special powers. All of this changes when the reds start building a resistance. Mare is the main character in the story and she is unique because she has red blood, but the powers of a silver. To hide this abnormality the queen declares Mare a long lost daughter of a silver and engages her to her son, second in line to the throne. Of course this book wouldn't be complete without a love triangle that begins to overshadow the plot. I feel like this book had some pretty fantastic potential, but was sadly weighed down by all the ya cliches. I've also read a lot of other reviews mentioning the similarities between this book and other recently released ya novels. Something to keep in mind.
  • Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

You know those books that are so completely unlike any other book? You know those books that are actually nothing like their synopsis makes them out to be? Well that's Magonia. Sadly, that unique factor doesn't make it a great book, at least not for me anyway. Magonia starts out kind of normally. Aza is a teenage girl that suffers from a strange lung disease that makes it hard for her to breathe. All she is trying to do is live a normal life with her best friend/potential love interest, Jason. That is until she dies and becomes a bird person. Yep, you read that right. Aza becomes this weird bird person, but her body has this opening in her chest where a real bird lives and they sing together or something. I feels awkward trying to explain this book to you because it barely explains itself. There isn't any world building to speak of. It just blatantly says "Hey, there are these bird creatures that live in ships in the sky, but they also have bird servants/companions that live in their chests. Oh and they have this weird one sided relationship with people on Earth and the food/environmental destruction they cause. I know I said that I wanted original concepts in ya fiction, but this book was just out of control. Let's just say this will be you if you consciously choose to read this book.
  • The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

I completely disliked this book and it appears I'm in the minority. Everybody loves The Winner's Curse and that's why I picked it up in the first place despite my knee-jerk reaction at the synopsis. Normally I steer far away from any love stories that have to do with slaves and masters because they are always a mess to deal with. This book is no exception. Essentially the story takes place in an alternate world where there are two types of people: the Herrani and the Valorians. The Herrani are conquered by the Valorians and become their slaves. The story is basically the romance between a wealthy Valorian, Kestral, and a Herrani slave, Arin.

For all those wondering, this book illustrates the worst case scenario of what happens when you don't put any effort into world building. Those few basic facts I told you above...that's the world building. Yep. The problem with this lack of world building is that there is no longer any constructed fiction preventing readers from making the natural connection to the real world history of slavery, which is even worse considering this book makes no effort to breakdown the inhumanity of slavery, because this ya book is only concerned with the romance of course, It's really hard to express the amount of deep frustration I have towards this book. The en-slavers are painted as innocent high society types while the slaves are the villains. Oh how dare they rebel against their oppressors. How dare the heroine experience the same sort of everyday oppression that she inflicted on her own slaves without a second thought. Don't even get me started on the romance that so many readers swoon over. A healthy relationship is one where the balance of power is equal. Each person has their own individual freedoms and respect each another. Terrible, unhealthy relationships happen when that power balance is disrupted. That's why master/slave relationships in fiction make me uncomfortable. That's why master/slave relationships are routinely discussed in intellectual or educational settings, particularity when the historical reality is that slaves were often raped and abused by their white masters. There is no romance involved when white male masters got multiple slaves pregnant, sired illegitimate children, who then became valuable slaves, which added to the white master's wealth. That's why I can't like this book for even a second. Rather than recommend this book, do you know what I would recommend? If you ever get the chance, take an African American Literature course. Take a step back from this kind of ya drivel and the old white male literary canon and expand your horizons. It will do you a world of good.
  • To All The Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

After finishing all of those mediocre/terrible ya dystopias I needed a literary palate cleanser and of course I turned to ya contemporary romance for all the light, fluffy reading I'm hoping for. To All The Boys I've Loved Before was the perfect book for that. The story focuses on Lara Jean and her relationship with her sisters, Margo and Kitty, as well as her romantic relationships...or lack thereof. After Margo leaves for college in Scotland and breaks up with her boyfriend, Josh, Lara Jean is struggling to adjust to this change in routine. She also has this habit where in order to get over a crush she has on a boy, she writes out all of her feelings in a love letter addressed to them and then she saves it in one of her mother's hat boxes. One of those letters is addressed to her sister's ex-boyfriend. Everything in her life starts to get more complicated when those letters get mailed to all of the boys. While the majority of this book is just a love triangle, I didn't mind because none of the romantic relationships came off as insta-love and most of the characters were so well developed. I do have to say that my favorite character is Kitty and not Lara Jean. She is so hilarious and quirky that I kind of wish she was my little sister. I came into the reading experience expecting something fluffy and easy to read and that's what I got.
  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

While I love a good ya contemporary romance, they really aren't meant to have sequels. A great contemporary romance can be ruined by a lack luster sequel and sadly that is what happened. To All The Boys I've Loved Before really shouldn't have ended on a cliffhanger. If you'd just tacked on the first two chapters of this book on the end, it would have been a complete novel. Instead we get another book with a less tolerable love triangle and an even less mature heroine. Rather than deal with Lara Jean's personal growth, this is just a book of Lara Jean breaking up and getting back together with her boyfriend, while also asking herself, "Do I love this boy, or this boy? Oh the difficult choices." It was bland and it was boring. Let's move on!

  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I decided to return to the ya dystopian genre again to tackle another recently over-hyped book. I think I'm running out of ways to say I was disappointed. Finding a good book in the genre is like finding a small needle in a giant haystack. Here's what the book is about (imagine an epic movie voice saying this): In a martial empire which lacks any decent amount of world building, there are scholars and soldiers. Obviously the soldiers control everything, but in this nondescript world we don't use the word soldiers, we say "masks" because they wear masks. Meet Laia, she is one of the scholar class, despite lacking any discernible intellect or common sense, and is forced to become a slave to the commandant to help the resistance and rescue her captured brother. In a not so surprising turn of events there is some insta-love and not just a love triangle, but a love square. Tune in for another cliche filled and boring ya dystopian book.

Wasn't that just beautiful? Anyway, moving on. An Ember in the Ashes, despite being touted as an action packed novel is one of the most boring reading experiences you will ever have. The plot just sort of plods along without any excitement. Not to mention there is one really glaring problem that I have with this book and it is the blase way it treats rape. I'm the first one to admit that in a military regime full of human rights violations rape is a unfortunate reality, but this book treats rape like it's nothing, and even worse a cheap plot device. It's the same reason I refuse to watch the Game of Thrones series. I wish I'd just stopped reading this halfway through like I wanted to instead of forcing myself to read its terrible conclusion.   
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

This book is the exception to the rule. This book is the reason why I continue to read over-hyped books in the ya dystopian genre because occasionally a gem comes along that makes you forget all of the crappy books you've read earlier. The Queen of the Tearling centers on Kelsea, a girl that has been raised in secret to become the next queen when she is of age. On her 19th birthday, the queen's guard arrives to take her to the tearling to stop her uncle, the corrupt regent, and take control of the throne. Her rise to power is further complicated by the Red Queen, the totalitarian ruler of Mortmesne. The Red Queen struck a deal with the previous queen where she agreed to not invade the kingdom again if human tributes are sent to Mortmesne regularly. Kelsea not only has to negotiate a kingdom divided between the uncaring nobles and the poor, abused citizens, but also has to prepare for the threat that the Red Queens poses to her.

This book does just about everything right in my eyes. Kelsea is a strong and motivated main character that does have her faults, but ultimately tries her best to be selfless for the good of her kingdom. Much of the plot does center on court intrigue and the politics of the kingdom, but all of it is action packed and exciting. Kelsea and all of the side characters are fully fleshed out and don't feel too one dimensional, with the exception of the Red Queen. She feels like a stereotypical villain, but I'm hoping she gets more depth in the later books. You know what else I love? The complete lack of an obnoxious love triangle or any overt romantic elements. You do get the sense that there will be some romance for Kelsea later in the series, but here it focuses on what's most important for her: ruling a troubled and broken down kingdom. Without a romance to distract the plot, the focus shifts to Kelsea's personal development, where she's forced to make decisions that could either drastically improve the kingdom's quality of life or kill them all. I'm going to be honest and say that I almost took a star away from this book because of the confusing world building. It talks about early settlers fleeing from their previous country, yet much of the story has a medieval flare to it that I can't place it's time period. Technically, this is dystopian, and it's a time in the future. Yet this is not an alternate realm since it mentions the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series. I just loved the story so much that I overlooked it now in the hopes that the sequel will resolve the world building problem. All I can say is that I'm definitely recommending The Queen of the Tearling. Put down that ya dystopian book you're currently reading and read this one.
  • Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

Never Always Sometimes or the book whose entire premise is based on a single overworked cliche and tries to be unique by subverting that cliche in the end in the most uninteresting way possible. Dave and Julia, two best friends, decide before starting high school that they want to avoid doing all of the usual activities people do in high school, thereby seeing themselves as socially superior and unique. In order to do that they compile a list of "nevers" and agree to never do anything on that list. Everything changes before the end of their senior year, when the two of them decide to change their minds and do everything on that list before graduating. What makes this book a romantic ya contemporary is that one of the "nevers" on that list is to never fall in love with your best friend, something both Dave and Julia might have already done.

While this book is told half from the perspective of Dave and half from Julia, it definitely feels like this is primarily Dave's story. Julia reads like a watered down or half cousin to the manic pixie dream girl trope. Dave is the one who primarily grows as a person when he is exposed to all of the high school cliches that turn out to be great experiences. Julia seems to be along for the ride and in no way does she grow as a person. She tries to develop an inappropriate relationship with a teacher as a joke and there is a hint that maybe her home life isn't as great as it ought to be. The readers never get a chance to consider the relationship she has with her two fathers or the rather strained relationship she has with her absent mother. This is Dave's story and features Dave's romantic interests, Julia just happens to be one of the two. Additionally, Dave and Julia felt more like quirky caricatures than actual people. Imagine two John Green characters times ten. That's what you get here. My recommendation is that you skip over this book and find something better in the ya contemporary genre.
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Now on to the classic pick of the month where I've continued on my personal quest to read all of Austen's work. Before September, I'd already read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey. Sense and Sensibility was the next book on the list. Austen's first published book focuses on two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, as they cope with leaving Norland, their beloved home, and moving to a new area. Obviously this can't be an Austen novel without some romantic misadventures and social commentary about the relationship between marriage, love, and money. As you can tell from my fairly low rating, I really didn't enjoy this book as much as the other Austen books. The whole story and even the romantic relationships felt lifeless, which is a problem because the driving force of the plot is the romance. Aside from the fact that Elinor is supposed to represent sense and Marianne is the sensibility, their characters were kind of indistinguishable. The romantic interests were also kind of uninteresting. Rather than the final marriages feeling like triumphs, they kind of seemed like the characters were settling for each another. All I can say is if you want to become an Austen fan or look into her body of work, maybe you shouldn't start with this one.

Those are all of the books I read this September and it goes to show you that just because a book gets a lot of positive press, that doesn't necessarily mean it will always turn out to be a great book for you. While most of my reading experiences were negative this month, luckily I have another monthly TBR full of books to look forward to. I'd love to hear your thoughts about these books and what you're planning to read next month. Don't forget to stick around for my October TBR list, which should be out shortly!