Tuesday, May 10, 2016

April 2016 Wrap-Up

Welcome back readers to another wrap-up post where I share my thoughts on every book I've read this past month, be they good or bad. At first, I was afraid that April would be the month of the reading slump, but luckily I avoided that disaster. As far as April goes it was a bit of a mixed bag. I read some really great books as well as some pretty horrible ones. Now instead of rambling on endlessly, I should get to reviewing because there are so many books and only so much time before I'm tempted by Gilmore Girls again.
  • A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

I'm going to start out by saying that I think this is one of those books where the cover is more interesting than the story. Basically the story is as follows. Grace is currently hidden away in an asylum by her father because of her pregnancy. Everything, including the excitement of the plot, changes when Grace strikes a deal with a doctor to help him solve crimes. The first part of the book dealt with the construction of madness and asylums in the 1800s, which was interesting enough to read. The rest of the book, I'm sorry to say, was boring. Even the plot twist lost some weight because it was surrounded by a bunch of narrative that I wasn't the least bit interested in.

  • Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Normally, I read a Richelle Mead book as soon as it comes out, but for some reason I decided to wait before picking this up. I think it was because I was a bit hesitant to see how she handled dystopian fiction. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed. This dystopian world is set in a future where religious extremists nearly caused the downfall of society and now religious groups are heavily sanctioned. As with nearly all dystopian societies, there is one nation that benefits from money, education, and scientific advancements, while the rest live life without those qualities.

Our two main characters are Justin, an ousted government investigator given a second chance, and Mai, an elite soldier whose reputation has also been tarnished. Justin is given his position back in order to investigate a series of ritualistic/supernatural murders and Mai is assigned to guard him.

What I really enjoyed about this book is that it doesn't follow the usual dystopian cliches. This book of course has those elements of a dystopian with some romance thrown in, but it also has elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and even mythology. The world building could have been a bit better, but I imagine as the series continues, readers will learn more about the structure of the society.
  • Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon

That's right readers. I finally FINALLY finished this 880 page tome of a book. I started reading it last year and it took the premiere of the second season of Outlander on Starz to muster up the ambition to finish it. I'd really like to know if Gabaldon's books get edited for length because I felt like so many passages and descriptions could have been shortened. Out of all of the books in the series I've read so far, Drums of Autumn was one of the harder ones to get into. In this book, Jaime and Claire find themselves in colonial America. I wonder if anyone else felt like taking the characters out of Scotland was a big mistake because it did to me. Nothing about the setting or even the plot at most points seemed interesting. It was almost like Gabaldon is relying on the characters to carry the story. I'm not even sure if I want to read the next book in the series, particularly since that one is over a thousand pages!!
  • A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Just before I started this book, I heard about all of the negative reviews that this received. People kept saying the cover was more interesting than the actual story and I ignored that in order to form my own opinion. Turns out sadly all the reviews were right, except the one that touted this book was Cloud Atlas meets Orphan Black. That comparison was completely wrong.

 A Thousand Pieces of You tells the story of Marguerite, a girl whose parents developed a dimension hopping device. When her father is supposedly killed by his assistant, Paul, She decides to go after Paul with Theo. Like many ya dystopian novels, the author decided the insta-love triangle was more important than this interesting world she created. I would have loved to have read about the construction of a future where accessing multiple dimensions was possible. Maybe the author does that later on in the series, but I'm just not interested enough to continue.
  • Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket



As some of you may know already, the current focus of my Nostalgiareads blog series is A Series of Unfortunate Events. I decided that in addition to re-reading the series, I wanted to read all of the companion books. I don't want to reveal any of my thoughts here. You'll just have to wait for the next Nostalgiareads post.

  • To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

Now on to the "classic" book of the month. I know deep down that I shouldn't be writing this review now, right after I've finished reading the book. I just can't help it, so be prepared for a rant. As you may know if you've followed my blog for any length of time, I don't throw around the red star rating often. Sure, if a book is bad, I'll give it one or two stars. The red star is for books I hate so violently, it's hard to control my rage.

If you can remember from my April TBR post, I mentioned I wasn't a fan of Ernest Hemingway. I disliked The Old Man and the Sea, but as a whole had pretty tepid feelings about some of his short stories. I made a decision this month to give him a second chance with To Have and Have Not. Little did I know that this book has been universally panned as Hemingway's worst book. Oh boy does it live up to that claim. Ok, time for me to form something coherent about my hatred of the book.

Well...it starts out in a Hemingway-esque fashion. The setting is in Cuba and the Florida Keys and deals with a time worn fisherman. Sound familiar. This fisherman, Harry, decides to take a guest out fishing with him and this man's incompetence costs Harry an expensive fishing rig. In true Hemingway hero fashion, the guest skips out on paying the cost of the trips and the rig, leaving our protagonist poor, downtrodden, and willing to do anything to make some money. Enter the cliched commentary about the rich getting more insensitive and richer, and the poor getting poorer. Harry decides to become a runner for illegal people and goods. You know where this is going right because you can't imagine such a decision will make Harry's life better. Rather than following this decent into poverty, Hemingway decides to let his novel devolve into a deluge of useless secondary character arcs and then an awkwardly stilted commentary on money and class status. Then he finally returns to his protagonist for the few ending pages of the novel to provide some closure to this circus of a plot.

That's not all though. I've forgotten to mention one theme. One very Hemingway theme that frustrates, no dare I say, pisses me off to no end: the deterioration of masculinity. Cue gasps of shock and awe. That's right dear readers, Hemingway doesn't forget to pelt you with images and statements about masculinity. Good old Harry's masculinity is threatened because his lack of wealth makes him a poor provider for his family. Let's not forget Hemingway's disgusting story tangent that involves a rich man, who used his wife for her money and then discarded her when he was richer than her. But readers are supposed to feel sorry for him now because he lies on his bed with such large and well endowed "equipment," that is now useless and sterile. BOO HOO.

Shall we also talk about the women in this book. Nay, they aren't really women, they're objects because Hemingway can't write them any other way. One minute Harry's wife is the "perfect woman." She supports her husband and ceaselessly strokes his ego and masculinity. The next minute secondary male characters are commenting on how ugly, fat, and broad she is, even though this is the exact moment Hemingway could translate the grief she feels over the fact that her husband has gone missing. The men in this book are presented to be emotionally complex and the women...well they are objects to be described. This woman here is fat with a bad complexion and this one is a beautiful "jewess." This woman here seems like she is on a yacht having deep thoughts, but those thoughts are just bursts of short, inconsequential sentences. Oh, by the way did you notice how taunt her nipples are in the cool breeze?! Let me just translate that beauty and sexuality for you. UGH UGH UGH.

I could rant and rage for probably a few more paragraphs, but I've had enough. I still have a few more Hemingway books in my TBR pile, but at this point even the unsavory thought of book burning seems appealing right now. Time to move on.

Editing Penny here. Even after giving myself some time for the rage to settle, I'm still just as disappointed now as I was then. At least now I can have a nice chuckle over how angry I was in the moment. 
  • The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

I'll let you in on another book lover secret of mine: I'm a sucker for a dual narrative, particularly if they take place in two different time periods. This book falls perfectly in that wheelhouse. Grace is a 1950s housewife who lives a sub-par life. She doesn't get any enjoyment from attending social engagements or propping up her husband, particularly when she suspects that he might be having an affair. Her life is poised for change when she finds out that she has inherited a fortune from a complete stranger. The other half of the narrative follows Eva d’Orsey in the 1920s which includes the role that perfume ultimately plays in her life.

Both characters were fully developed, with most of the narrative devoted to their own personal journeys. I love character development and this book has it in spades. The ending was completely predictable, but I became attached to the characters in the process, which is what I look for in a great story.    
  • The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

Why Richelle Mead? Why! I don't know what it is, but once Richelle Mead left the land of the Vampire Academy, her books haven't quite felt the same. Particularly in the case of The Glittering Court. The book is about a countess who decides to pose as her servant to escape an arranged marriage by joining the glittering court. What is that you ask? Well, it's a business venture where servants and lower class girls with potential are gathered up and trained to act like gentile ladies. Then they are shipped off to this book's "new world" to be matched up with men there.

Had the author's name been hidden, I would have never guessed that this was a Richelle Mead book. It has all the hallmarks of a bad ya novel. First, there is the poor world building. Sure the book designates the two lands as Osfrid and Adoria, but when you read the story, it just feels like Britain and colonial America. Next, there is the insta-love between the main character and the one dimensional love interest. Let's not forget the best friends that exist to prop up the main character and a lackluster plot aside from the romance. Moving on! 

  • Inland by Kat Rosenfield 

I'm going to let you in on a little personal secret of mine. I'm not quite sure I'm that big a fan of magical realism. Gasps of shock. Yep, that's right. I don't know if it's because I've only read bad instances of magical realism, but I just don't like it. Whenever a book seems to be set in a normal, everyday world and then shifts to something in the realm of the magical or fable, it's just jarring and confusing for me. That was the case with Inland. The book focuses on Callie, a girl who lost her mother when she was young. Now she lives with her father and suffers from an undiagnosed lung condition. All of that changes when they move to the Florida coast. Her health starts to improve, she makes some friends, and even has a boyfriend. Oh just as a warning, prepare yourself for whiplash when the story takes a weird turn, which may or may not involve mythical sea creatures and a sentient body of water. Maybe other people will like this book, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline 

Ready Player One was also one of those super popular and hyped up books that I was afraid to read. Normally, those are the types of books that I end up hating. Instead, this is probably one of the best books I've read this year. Ready Player One is a ya sci-fi book that takes place in a future where the quality of life has been drastically lessened because the population has used up the majority of the fossil fuels. Now there is widespread poverty with a small wealthy class. The only highlight to this reality is the OASIS, a virtual reality that has become an ingrained part of everyday life. People create their own avatars within the system and can even attend school. After his death, the creator of OASIS leaves fortune to the player that can solve what is basically a virtual treasure hunt with clues that have to do with 80s pop culture. The book focuses on our main character, Wade Watts, as he attempts to win this fortune.

The world building in the book is solid, there is a nice balance of friendship, romance, action, and exposition, and the 80s references were a cool addition. All of the main and secondary characters were fully fleshed out too. For some, all of the pop culture and nerdy references might be foreign and alienating, but it's part of what makes it a great book and I would absolutely recommend it.

After all of that procrastination and tea fueled typing those were all of the books that I read in the month of April. Like I said, a mixed bag of opinions, but I'm looking forward to what May has to bring. So far 2016 seems to be a great reading year for me!