- Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas
Of course I started this month by avoiding all of the books I chose for my monthly TBR. Then again no matter how many times I get burned by them, I can't resist a fairy tale retelling, particularly when it's a dark retelling. The crux of this whole book is that the fairy godmother is evil and crafts her own happily ever afters in service to the Story, this sort of evil, omnipresent being that doesn't quite ever get explained but is hell bent on forcing people into fairy tale roles and their corresponding stories. Ash and Bramble focuses on Pen, a girl who can't remember her past, but is forced to become one of the many seamstresses enslaved to the Godmother and tasked with making the garments needed to craft the Godmother's stories. Everything changes when she decides to break free and enlists the help of the Shoemaker, hereafter referred to as "Shoe."
As a whole I didn't necessarily hate this book. I think it started off with a really great, dark premise. Granted Shrek did the whole evil fairy godmother thing first, so there you go. The reason I rated it so low was the kind of shaky world building and of course the usual ya cliches. As you can probably guess there is a whole lot of ridiculous insta-love and even an obnoxious love triangle which develops later on in the story. I also felt like the fairy godmother was a very one dimensional villain. Still I was intrigued enough by the premise to finish it and I can't definitively say whether or not I'll read the companion novel to this should it ever come out.
- The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Right after I finished The Queen of the Tearling, I just had to start reading The Invasion of the Tearling because this is just one of the best fantasy series I've read in a really long time and it's a ya book no less. This book continues to chronicle Kelsea's struggle as the new queen of the tearling, where she has to deal with rebellious nobles and of course the ever impending invasion of the Red Queen's army from Mortmesne. What makes this book so different from the first is that this story does the majority of the world building. In fact, it felt kind of like a huge info dump, which I wasn't a huge fan of, but I loved finally getting a sense of the world. To clear up the confusion I had from the first book, this world is in fact in the future, but it's a dystopian and regressed society. That's why the story has such a colonial feel to it. The majority of the world building is revealed to readers through a parallel story-line that takes place in the past and stars a woman named Lily. I don't want to give too much away about the alternate story because it would probably start to spoil the book for other people. All I'm going to say is that Lily's life distinctly echoes The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and Lily reminds me so much of Offred, which is great in my opinion because I loved The Handmaid's Tale. There's also a bit of romance in this book, but it, thankfully, doesn't overshadow the plot. All I have to say is if you haven't started reading this series, what are you waiting for? It's amazing.
- Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
October has just been the best month for ya fantasy books for me and Queen of Shadows did not disappoint. This is the fourth book in the Throne of Glass series and deals with Celaena Sardothien's return to Rifthold to dethrone the king and fight the valg invasion of the kingdom. Before I get any further, I think it's important to point out for those that are currently making their way through the series, you really should read The Assassin's Blade, which is the collection of Throne of Glass novellas, before you read Queen of Shadows. This book makes numerous slightly vague references to what happened in those novellas that you won't really understand unless you've read them. Now in this book Celaena has completely embraced her true identity as Aelin Galathynius, the Queen of Terrasen, so be prepared for Sarah J. Maas to exclusively refer to her as Aelin. It had been quite a long time since I'd read Heir of Fire, so the names were a bit fuzzy in my mind, particularly since the majority of them start with the letter A. That mean't when I first started this book I was like "Who is Aelin? Where's Celaena? Is Aelin the fae relative?" A quick google search cleared up all the names for me, so be prepared for that. Maybe it's just me and I need to take more B12 or something.
As a whole, I completely loved this book. Compared to Heir of Fire, it was so action-packed and the story just flew by even with the hefty page count. I also liked how the book continued to be split between Aelin's adventures and Manon's struggles as a coven leader. I know some people think her story is boring, but it really helps to widen the world presented in the story. This isn't just Aelin's struggle anymore. The one problem I had with the story had to be all of the romantic relationships and the way they kind of warped the characters in them. Chaol is such a different character now and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Don't even get me started on Rowan and Dorian's respective relationships or rather lack thereof in this book. I'm trying to be as non-spoilery as possible, so I won't go into great detail. As a whole this is a great addition to the series and it sucks having to wait for the next book to come out.
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
The Rest of Us Just Live Here in summation ended up being all premise with no substance, which is immensely sad. The book blurb asks the question: "What if you aren’t the Chosen One?" and that basically explains the book. The story doesn't center around the Chosen One, but rather Mikey, an average boy trying to live his life in a town routinely torn apart by the adventures of the chosen ones, or what this book likes to call the "indie kids." Every chapter begins with a small blurb summarizing what's currently happening with the indie kids at the same time that Mikey, his friends, and his family are dealing with their own complicated issues which, as is with every ya book that tries to reflect the deep happenings of teenage life, revolve around eating disorders, mental anxieties, and substance abuse. Even with all of that, the biggest problem with this book is that it is so boring. Granted, the everyday lives of people would seem boring next to a chosen one story-line. I just can't excuse it here because the regular characters' lives were full of drama, but none of it was compelling and I had a really hard time trying to connect with any of the characters. This wasn't that long of a book, but I had to force myself to finish it. I think I entered this reading experience with too many expectations, since the premise was so engaging. This is probably pretty mean to say, but I kind of hope that somebody reworks the same idea and makes into a much more enthralling narrative.
- The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet
You had to know the minute that I got this book, I wouldn't be able to resist reading it. In fact, I think I took a break from reading The Rest of Us Just Live Here in order to start and finish The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. This book has been on my Goodreads to be read shelf for quite a long time. I think this was first announced not long after The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet was published. I looked forward to this book much more than its predecessor because it's a whole new story. The first book seemed more like a behind the scenes retelling of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Series on YouTube, while this book is a completely original story that reveals what happens to Lydia after the events of the web series.
Here Lydia is trying to piece together her life after George Wickham tried to exploit her and their personal relationship for money. The book starts out with Lydia attending summer school in order to make up for all of the classes she missed while dealing with the sex tape and George debacle. This is all in an effort to finally graduate and transfer to a different school. Additionally Mary moves into the Bennet home for the summer and Lydia is seeing a therapist to try to work through everything. Sadly old habits die hard and self doubt rears its ugly head and Lydia is again sent through a spiral of emotions and unfortunate situations. While Lydia's sisters do make a few appearances, the cast of characters is for the most part brand new. Lydia makes new friends, casts off old ones, and of course develops a new love interest all while trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Granted, there isn't a whole ton of plot to this book, but there are heaps and heaps of character development. I love that this book takes a character that got the shaft in the original Pride and Prejudice and gives her a story of her own. Finally, Lydia isn't a side character that demonstrates to audiences the consequences of going against social mores. She is a brave and dynamic figure. If you loved The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, you definitely need to read this book.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
In the spirit of the Halloween season, this book was my classic pick for the month. Despite reading my share of gothic horror stories in college, Dracula never happened to be one of them. Thankfully, this month changed that. Although I'm quite positive everybody knows the story of Dracula, I might as well give a quick summary. Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania in order to help facilitate Count Dracula's purchase of a property. While there he begins to notice the peculiarities of the castle and the count that lives within. Soon Harker realizes that he is actually a prisoner of the Count and tries his best to escape Dracula and the horrifying temptation of the three vampire women. The story then transitions to Mina, Harker's fiancee and her friend, Lucy's life in England anticipating their happy, married lives. The resulting story slowly reveals Lucy's supernatural transformation and the threat that Dracula poses to humanity, particularly the ever fragile female psyche and their burgeoning and dangerous sexuality (Victorian gasps ensue).
Dracula is an epistolary novel, meaning it is told through the letters and diary entries of the primary characters as they record their experiences. I think this format might have been the reason why I had such a hard time getting into the story. When the narrative is so choppy and told from a multitude of perspectives, it's kind of hard to immerse yourself, well maybe that was just me. Anyway, I had such a difficult time reading this book that in order to force myself to read it, I actually explored into personally uncharted territory and listened to an audiobook version that I found on YouTube read by Rob Goll. As a whole the narration was pretty good, except I couldn't take any of Van Helsing's dialogue seriously because the reader used an effected voice that sounded eerily similar to Christopher Walken, which is like my worst nightmare. Additionally, the problem that I run into when I listen to audiobooks is that the pacing is so slow. I feel like listening to an audiobook takes me double the time it would to just sit down and read the physical book itself. As a result, there were periods where I listened to the audiobook and then spent an hour of two reading my physical copy. YouTube also lets you change the speed of the videos you watch, so I often sped up the video to make the chapters go by faster. As a whole, I didn't necessarily hate Dracula, but the story didn't grab my attention they way I was hoping it would. The plus side is I can finally get rid of my guilt over not having read it.
Those were all of the books that I read this October. I hope this inspired you to pick up a few more books for your TBR pile and don't forget to stick around to find out what books I'm hoping to read in November.