Tuesday, June 14, 2016

May 2016 Wrap-Up

Hello readers and welcome to this well overdue wrap-up of all the books that I read during May. On one hand I'm excited that I read a ton of books. On the other hand, now I have to review them all and I'm procrastinating hardcore. Note to future Penny, why don't you review these as you read them? A question for the ages my friends. Let's get to reviewing because nobody wants to read a May wrap-up at the end of June!
  • The Rose and the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh

The first book I read this past month was the sequel to my self proclaimed guilty pleasure read of 2016: The Wrath and the Dawn. After the events of the previous book, Shazi is reunited with her family and her childhood friend/love interest. This is not a happy reunion because she's separated from Khalid, who is dealing with a kingdom in shambles. Question is will these lovers be united again and what will they do about the Caliph's kingdom and the curse that plagues him.

While still a bit of a guilty pleasure read, this book takes what was great about the first installment and improves upon it. There is still the ridiculously gushy ya romance bits, but more of the focus falls on secondary character development as well as plot. There is nothing worse than a book that abandons the plot to wallow in the romance and I love that The Rose and the Dagger doesn't do that. We learn more about Shazi's father and sister, not to mention the politics of Khalid's rule. All in all this was a great duology and I would recommend it.
  • Emergency Room by Caroline B. Cooney

Whenever I find books by some of my favorite authors that I haven't read, I drop everything to read them. That was the case with Emergency Room. At the core of the plot are two college freshman, Seth and Diana, who decide to volunteer in an emergency room. The bulk of the book is broken up into vignettes that tell the story of the people who visit the emergency room that night. The narrative structure kept me interested and it was a nice afternoon read.

  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

While The Nightingale wasn't on my TBR list for May, I caved to media pressure. This book has been quite hyped up for the past couple of months and finally I had to see what all of the buzz was about. Thankfully, this didn't turn out to be one of the many overhyped books I've read. This book follows the lives of two sisters during World War II in France. One sister, Vianne, lives in the French countryside with her husband and daughter. The other younger sister, Isabelle, is the proclaimed "rebellious youth" who gets kicked out of every school she's attended. Both have their own parts to play in a country under the ruthless control of German soldiers.

As with many of the better novels that I've read, this book is primarily character driven. The war around them causes so many challenges and hardships, but it's how the two sisters react that makes the story so enjoyable. The dual narrative also shares two different perspectives of women during the war. Vianne is like many of the women who remain home to care for their families while their husbands are out on the front lines. They run their own households despite the shortages of war and in the case of Vianne, the presence of German soldiers in her own home. Isabelle, on the other hand, wants to play a much more active part in the war, hoping to fill a role that is routinely denied to those of her gender. She joins the resistance and risks her life whenever possible. This book is well-written, the characters are fully fleshed out, and the ending was heartfelt. I say give into the hype and read this book as soon as possible.
  • The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen by Katherine Howe

Ever since I read the The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, I've sought out every book that Katherine Howe has written. When I picked up this book, I didn't realize that it skewed more YA than adult and needless to say I much prefer the author's adult novels. The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen focuses on an aspiring filmmaker, Wes, who is doing a summer term at NYU. While helping a friend with one of his film projects at a psychic performance, he meets a girl named Annie. Initially, he seeks her out to have her sign a release for the film project, but gets dragged into her otherworldly past and her search for a missing ring.

To put it generally, the story kind of plodded along with so sense of excitement and the paranormal aspect to the story was immediately apparent. It felt less like a paranormal historical fiction and more like a paranormal romance.
  • Eligible (The Austen Project #4) by Curtis Sittenfeld

What a shocker! Penny decided to read something based on Jane Austen. Eligable is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice that solidly falls in the adult genre. As such many of the scenes and societal pressures have been molded to fit modern day. Both Liz and Jane are in their 30s, which is the modern day equivalent age where women are pressured to settle down and get married. Liz is a magazine writer living in New York City with her sister, Jane. Both decide to return home to their rapidly decaying Tudor home to care for their father in the wake of his recent heart attack.

There Jane and Liz encounter Chip Bingley, doctor and recent star of a reality dating show, and his friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is neurosurgeon. In light of my recent obsession with Pride and Prejudice adaptions, I felt like this book read as a much more adult adaption of the story. In comparison, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries did the modernization well, but it still seems geared towards a younger audience. All I have to say is don't let the thought of Bingley as a reality tv star stop you from reading the book. Eligable does still deal with the complexities and pitfalls of social classes as well as manners. The plot is also full of twists and turns, the characters are just as easy to connect with as the originals, and the book is just plain witty and hilarious. Needless to say I will be checking out the rest of the books in The Austen Project series.
  • Royal Wedding Disaster (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #2) by Meg Cabot

That's right. I'm a grown woman in her twenties still reading middle grade novels. I guess you'll just have to deal with that for the time being. For those of us that grew up with the Princess Diaries series, it's a little hard to let go of characters that you've grown to love. That, dear readers, is the reason why I decided to continue reading a middle grade series created for a younger audience that did not grow up with Mia and her misadventures.

I'm not the target audience for this book, so I'm not really in the right place to give a proper review. Regardless, Olivia's narrative is cute and I like how she continues Mia's story for the rest of us eager to read about Mia and Michael's wedding.

  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

After I finished reading The Rose and the Dagger, this is one of the books that was a suggested read on Goodreads. While one was a well written guilty pleasure read, this one was something else. The Star-Touched Queen is a story about Maya, the daughter of the Raja, who is cursed with a horoscope that promises a future of death and destruction after her marriage. Now that the land she lives in is on the brink of political turmoil, Maya's father hopes an arranged marriage will solve all of their problems. That turns out to be false and Maya is saved from the upheaval and taken to a shadowy realm and made it's ruler's queen.

Not too terrible a story, except there is insta-love, of course, and not a lot of world building to suit my taste. My greatest gripe with the story has to be the excess of purple prose. This book lacks a real, driving plot, and instead has description upon description and line upon line that sound pretty, but don't add up to much. Just another book that places the primary focus on the romance and not on the plot or character development.
  • One Rainy Day (The Familiar #1) by Mark Z. Danielewski

I make it no secret that I love a great book with an innovative format and one of my favorite books that fits that description is Danielewski's House of Leaves. One day when I was in Barnes and Noble, I happened to glance at his section of the shelve and saw One Rainy Day. Out of morbid curiosity, I opened the book and saw the formatting. Needless to say I bought the book without even knowing what it was about.

Sadly, I think Danielewski took the innovative format to an extreme that I really didn't enjoy. This series basically exemplifies that saying, "All form and no substance." There are nine different narrators, a fact which is reflected in the formatting of the writing, right down to the font choice. The structure of the story is the most interesting aspect about it. There is no plot to speak of until the last couple of pages, and calling that a plot is being quite generous. Apparently, this is supposed to be a 27 volume series and after my experience with this book, I'm not ready for that kind of commitment.
  • The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

I think just about everyone and their brother my age read Louis Sachar's book Holes when they were in school. For whatever reason, I never bothered to keep up with anything else he'd written. When I saw this book at the recent library book sale held near my area, I knew I had to give it a try regardless of the plot.

The Cardturner takes place the summer before Alton Richard's senior year of high school. His parents pressure him to get to know his rich great uncle, who is currently ill in the hopes of getting in his good graces, and his will. Alton drives his uncle, Lester Trapp, to a bridge club, where he functions as Trapp's cardturner. Trapp is blind, but remembers all of the cards that Alton reads off to him. Slowly over the course of the summer, Alton develops an interest in bridge, where he ultimately learns more about his uncle and himself in the process.

Aside from learning more about bridge than I ever wanted to know, I found this to be a really enjoyable contemporary novel and I liked reading Alton's sort of coming of age novel. All of the characters were easy to connect with and the plot was engaging. The ending was really impactful as well. All I can say is you are missing out if you decide to stop reading anything by Sachar after Holes. 
  • Splintered by A.G. Howard

If you've been following these wrap-ups for quite some time, you know I've read enough fairy tale re-workings to last a lifetime. The most recent retelling fad seems to be finding an edgier way to retell Alice in Wonderland and I've been sucked in by all of them. To date I hadn't really come across a retelling that I didn't like in all media forms. I actually enjoyed the first Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie and I watched every episode of the Once Upon a Time TV spin-off series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. I read all three of Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars books and one of my favorite video games is American McGee's Alice: Madness Returns.

When I read the synopsis for Splintered, I was drawn in by the promise of another alternative re-telling of Carroll's work. Sadly, this is the first re-telling to really let me down. In this novel, Alyssa Gardner is one of the cursed descendants of the Alice Liddell that inspired Carroll's work, Alyssa's mother is currently in an asylum and she wonders if her newly found ability to hear bugs and flowers speak will cause her to end up in the same place. In order to break the curse, Alice decides to travel to wonderland, a so called "dark and twisted" place and accidentally brings along her friend/crush, Jeb.

This book really had quite a bit of potential, but everything fell flat for me. All I have to say is that Splintered read like a scene kid's fever dream after reading Alice in Wonderland as part of an assignment for school. Alyssa is this "alternative and edgy girl" (notice the quotation marks) that has this long standing crush on Jeb, who is dating one of the popular girls. Are you starting to see all of the cliches yet? Upon reaching wonderland, Alyssa encounters the mad hatter equivalent character in this novel, Morpheus, and can't help but be attracted to him. I, on the other hand couldn't be more repulsed, particularly when he refers to Alyssa as "luv." Yes, that's the way it's spelled by the way.

I can't tell if I'm too old for this book, or if it was really as juvenile as I thought it to be. All I can say is there are plenty of other Alice re-tellings to enjoy if you're interested in the idea.
  • The Library At Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Where do I even begin with this novel. I'm going to be frank and say I've never wanted to give a review less than I have with this book. I just don't think the book is worth the effort to gather my thoughts into something coherent, when all I want to do is move on with my life and forget I ever read it. I'm going to give it some effort though.

The Library at Mount Char is a book that draws you in with an interesting premise, a well written synopsis, and a promising first 50 pages. After that prepare to be completely let down...unless you are part of it's cult following. Let's just say I won't be drinking any Mount Char kool-aid anytime soon. Anyway, the narrative primarily focuses on Carolyn, who is one of the many adopted siblings under the tutelage of Father. He assigns each of the children a catalog of knowledge to master and discourages them from exploring a catalog other than their own. When their Father mysteriously disappears, everyone struggles to piece together what could have caused his absence.

At first I was really intrigued by this book. The thought of children forced into learning one catalog of knowledge and then dealing with the repercussions of such limited world views seemed pretty intriguing. The beginning hinted at some pending fantasy elements that I was looking forward to. Then the plot completely slowed, almost to a stand still. Some people tend to classify this book in the horror genre, but it's horror in the way that the Saw movies are horror. What I mean is there are way too many gory scenes that just didn't fit with the fantasy elements. Then the writing took a weird turn  about halfway through the book and there was no real comprehensible world building to tie everything together. Then I just completely lost interest. This wasn't an enjoyable reading experience for me and I really would recommend this to anyone. You'll have to take this on under your own volition.
  • Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories

Last winter I read My True Love Gave to Me, the first anthology edited by Stephanie Perkins and I really enjoyed it. There was a nice mixture of good and not so great stories, plus it was a light and easy read. When I heard about Summer Days and Summer Nights, I knew I had to read it as soon as it came out. Let's just say it wasn't quite what I expected.

Based on the title and cover alone, I assumed this would be a book full of stories about summer love. I guess that lesson about never judging a book by its cover was right. Quite a few of these stories fell more into the science fiction and horror genre rather than contemporary. Granted that doesn't mean I liked those stories any less, but I figured it was something you should know if you want to read this. As with any anthology there were some stories that I absolutely detested and others that I wished could be turned into a full length novel.

My favorite story out of the whole book was Stephanie Perkins' “In Ninety Minutes, Turn North,” which is a continuation of her story from My True Love Gave to Me. It was great to see where the characters ended up after the "happily ever after" from the first short story. I also loved that this anthology had a greater diversity of characters as well as relationships (Yeah for that LGBT representation). All I can say is if you want an enjoyable summer read, this is the book for you.

FINALLY!! Those are all of the books that I read during May. I think we all learned something today readers. Procrastination doesn't end just because you are no longer a student. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post and found yourself a couple of new books to read during the summer months!