Sunday, August 7, 2016

July 2016 Wrap-Up

Hello again readers and welcome back to our regularly scheduled program, a few days late as per usual. I don't know about you, but July was a fantastic month. I held my Summer Read-a-thon 2016, enjoyed some lazy summer days, and had a marvelous week off from work. Now I'm back to work and still battling that impending reading slump. I refuse to let it happen. REFUSE! That being said I read a ton of books this past month, so sit down, get comfortable, grab some snacks, and let's get down to reviewing all of the books that I read during the month of July.
  • The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (The Checquy Files #1)

Whoa, I'm starting out this wrap-up post on a high note with a book that could possibly be one of my better reads from the past couple of months. The Rook begins with the main character, Myfanwy Thomas, returning to consciousness with no recollection of her past. Immediately, she has to fight for her life and discovers that the previous Myfanwy knew she would lose her memories and left letters instructing her new personality. Myfanwy works as a Rook in the Checquy, a secret organization that protects Britain from supernatural phenomena. A large portion of the organization is run by people with extraordinary powers, one of those people being Myfanwy herself. Now, she has the challenge of running an organization with no recollection of her life while also trying to determine the identity of the traitor that wiped her memories clean.

What I love about this book is that you go on the same journey as Myfanwy. As she learns more about the Checquy, so do the readers. While the letters that the old Myfanwy wrote are kind of an info dump, the world building is solid and engaging. The novel is over 400 pages, but every bit of it is action-packed. For those who like to stay away from books that are full of cliches, Myfanwy doesn't have that "special-snowflake" feel about her and did I mention there is NO ROMANCE!!!! There is just a strong protagonist trying to find more out about herself and building relationships with those around her.
  • The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George


The Little Paris Bookshop focuses on a man named Jean Perdu, who runs a bookstore on a boat, which he calls a literary apothecary. Jean gives people the books he thinks will cure whatever emotional ailment they're currently suffering from. When a newly heartbroken woman moves into an apartment next to Jean, she discovers a letter from his lost love that he's avoided for years. She convinces him to read the letter, an action that forces Jean to confront his past while traveling to the south of France.

When I first picked up this book, I was excited by the plot, but as with any potentially great book, the story was ruined by the characters. So many of the secondary characters were one dimensional and highly forgettable. Jean seemed to be the only character with any dimension, but I hated him anyway. The book bills the relationship with his lost love as heartrending, yet the narrative makes it read as carnal and cheap. Jean doesn't relate to any woman in this novel except physically. They are just a collection of attractive body parts that he recalls from time to time. Basically, this story is all potential and no heart.
  • Gimme a Kiss by Christopher Pike

Out of all the Christopher Pike books I've read, this one has to be the weirdest/ most eye roll inducing one yet. The story starts out with Jane, just your average high school girl. She gets decent grades, has good friends, and is in a happy relationship with her boyfriend. Everything changes when everybody at her school reads one of her juicer diary entries. Rather than brush the incident off, Jane sets her mind to revenge, the kind that might involve murder.

The plot was kind of predictable, but the characters' decisions were way out of left field. I also felt like this was one of the few Pike books where I didn't find the story to be interesting enough to grab my attention. Reading this now, you can definitely tell this book is a relic of it's time.

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In this work of non-fiction, Skloot shares the life of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who receives treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital for cervical cancer. This event leads to the creation of the infamous HeLa cells that scientists used in a variety of scientific research and discovery. Those so called "immortal cells" were taken from Henrietta without her knowledge and Skloot shines a spotlight on Lacks' life, her influence on the scientific world, and the fall-out that the Lacks family had to endure because of it.

Every bit of this non fiction story was interesting and completely captivating. What you should know is that this isn't just a story about Henrietta. It's also sort of Skloot's quest to find out more about Lacks and to give her and her family a voice that they never had before. Near the end of the book, the real life discoveries that Henrietta's family makes are quite touching. This has to be the easiest nonfiction book that I've ever read. I also just found out about a week or two ago that HBO will be producing a biopic based on the book.
  • My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Next I was really in the mood for some light YA contemporary romance and My Life Next Door is just that. The book focuses on two families that live next door to each other. The Reeds are a quiet, small family, which includes our protagonist, Samantha. The Garretts, in comparison, are loud, messy, and have plenty of siblings to go around. Since Samantha just lives with her mother and sister, she envies the exciting life next door and watches them from afar. All of that changes when Sam meets the love interest of the story: Jase Garrett. She experiences first love and finally has an inside look at the life that goes on next door.

The conflict of the story was kind of a bit wimpy, but with romance books there has to be some conflict to throw the lovers apart or the plot just starts to get boring. If you're looking for a beach read or a light summer read, this is the book for you.
  • Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley (The Checquy Files #2)

Now time for the book that took up much of my time during the Summer Read-a-thon. After I read The Rook, I needed to read the sequel immediately, That is how much I loved the characters and the story. Stiletto picks up the story right where the first left off with the tenuous alliance of the Checquy and the Grafters. Their cooperation is put to the test when a number of supernatural attacks plague London.

I was ready for a plot driven follow up with one of my favorite protagonists, Myfanwy Thomas, but as I disappointingly discovered, she is not the protagonist of this novel. Some people weren't bothered by this, but I think that was what ruined the story for me. In her place are the point of views of Felicity Clements, a Checquy Pawn, and Odette Leliefeld, a grafter. I get that having viewpoints from both sides of the alliance is supposed to better illustrate the strains in the groups, but the whole time I kept imagining how better this would be through Myfanwy's perspective.

I also felt like the plot wasn't quite as action packed as the first book and there is one moment of shock in the whole novel, but it didn't save the story for me. Honestly, I wish I had just read the first book because it was so perfect.
  • Emma by Alexander McCall Smith 

I decided to give the Austen Project books another chance and here we are. For those not aware, the Austen Project is where a select few writers were chosen to write modern adaptions of Jane Austen's novels. To date I have disliked every version, but the retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book is a piece of work let me tell you. In case you didn't catch the disdain dripping from that sentence, that's not a good thing.

As far as the re-tellings are concerned, this is by far the weakest of the bunch. While the others were imperfect, they at least made some attempt to bring the story forward in time and do something with the characters. All this version of Emma succeeds in doing is making you hate the characters more than you could have ever thought. Smith doesn't really do much to modernize it and the story is utterly forgettable.

He tries to spend much more time on Emma's upbringing and Miss Taylor is a larger secondary character in comparison to Austen. Knightley is non-existent, which depresses me to no end and of course kills the romantic aspect to this story. Let's not forget with no real redeeming qualities to this iteration of Emma, she just comes off as a rich, entitled meddler with no respect for those around her. Oh and every female character in this story is urged on to find a decent marriage in order to avoid working. The final nail in this "modern" re-telling. I was planning on reading the Sense and Sensibility re-telling, but I think it's time to abandon the Austen Project for my own sanity.
  • Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon

As many of you may know, one of my favorite actors is Cary Grant. Over the course of this past year, I've tried to seek out autobiographies of people I'm interested in learning more about. When I came across this book at a library book sale, I was intrigued. I recently read a biography about Cary Grant that was pretty horrific in composition and I was curious to know what one of his ex-wives thought about him. This book is a tell-all of Dyan Cannon's time with Cary Grant, from their first meeting until the dissolution of their marriage.

With these kinds of books, I always take the content with a grain of salt so to say. Regardless, I thought this was an interesting read. If anything, what Dyan reveals seems to point out the pitfalls of marrying a man much older than you. He occupies the roles of both father and husband.  While this book reveals more of the darker side of the movie star, I found that it doesn't lessen my enjoyment of any of the movies he stars in. As far as the reading experience is concerned, I don't think you'll like reading this book unless you have some interest in either Grant or Cannon.
  • Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

Even though I wasn't planning on reading a classic book this month, I couldn't resist the urge to read this one. As you know, I'm a big fan of classic movies, particularly ones that star Katharine Hepburn. There is a 1935 movie adaption of the book under the same name starring Hepburn and Fred MacMurray and I really enjoyed it. Since I liked the movie so much, I figured why not give the original story a chance. Let's just say I'm glad that I did.

Alice Adams is a book that heavily deals with issues of social class and trying to uplift your class status. It centers around a middle class family, particularly the daughter, Alice. She tries to associate herself with those higher in society, but really has trouble making friends and connections due to her family's lack of a substantial income. Alice's father is loyal to his employer, but his wife belabors him about the fact that the family lives on so little. Everything changes when Alice's father decides to cave to his wife's entreaties.

I really enjoyed the social commentary of the novel and it turned out to be a quick read. For those wondering, the book does end differently than the movie. As with many Hollywood movies, they needed the picture perfect happily ever after.
  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

After I read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, this was one of the books that people recommended, so I obviously decided to pick it up. The story centers around two different main characters during WWII. Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who lives with her father. The two of them are forced to flee to her uncle's after the German invasion of France. The second half focuses on Werner, a young German orphan, who develops a fascination with radios. His repair jobs end up attracting attention and he is sent to a school that basically trains children to become soldiers.

As you can tell from the rating, I seem to be one of the very few that really didn't enjoy this book. Somewhere in my Summer Read-a-thon posts, I mention that so far the story is building up to a plot and that mostly character development has been the focus. Turns out the story doesn't really build up to much. I always praise books when they have great character development, but this had nothing but that. To put it bluntly: the story kept plodding along and it was boring. In a sea of fantastic historical fiction books about WWII, this just doesn't stand out for me. 

  • The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

I have a secret. A pretty shocking secret when you think about it. That secret is that I've never read the Chronicles of Narnia series. GASP!! I know. I know. I just never had any interest in it when I was younger and then I got sucked up into the Harry Potter fandom. I never had the chance to even consider the series. Then, a couple of weeks ago I was used book shopping and found a box set of the whole series for three dollars. That was a deal that I just couldn't pass up. Now I had no excuse to read it, so I started at what is technically the beginning with The Magician's Nephew.

The basic plot of the story is that two children named Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory's uncle, Andrew, into testing out two types of magic rings that take you to a different land. Uncle Andrew sends Polly into the land and Digory goes after her to save her. While in this mysterious woods, Digory manages to awaken an evil queen. This book also includes the set up of what will soon to become Narnia.

I think this was one of the many cases where I would have enjoyed the book more if I were a child when I read it. The story wasn't half bad and the characters were not one dimensional, but they just didn't manage to grab my attention. All of the biblical allusions also slapped me in the face too hard for my liking. All in all it was just a slightly below average read and I'm going to give the next book a chance just to see where the story goes.
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Now time to review the book that was so good it gave me the first massive instance of book hangover this year. When I first heard about My Lady Jane and that it was a YA revision of the struggle for ruling power after the death of Henry VIII, I was so put off. I was also pretty terrible and judged this book by it's cover, which made me think this would be another childish romance. Boy was I wrong! I have no idea what changed my mind about reading it, but I finally decided to give into the hype again. Thankfully, it turned out in my favor.

My Lady Jane is actually a comedic, fantasy, romantic retelling of the events that occur during the reign of Edward VI, Henry VIII's only son. Instead of tackling the divide between Catholics and Protestants, as well as the struggle for power after Edward's death, the kingdom in this world is divided between the Verities and Eðians. The Verities are basically your normal, average people and the Eðians are people who have the power to shape-shift into an animal.

Here Edward discovers that his illness is actually fatal and is advised to leave his kingdom to the male offspring of his cousin, Jane Grey. The problem is that she isn't married and doesn't have any children. Here is where the political intrigue kicks up and all sorts of shape-shifting misadventures occur.

What I love about this book is that it's just so entertaining, so hilarious that you don't want to ever put it down. It's been so long since a book actually made me laugh out-loud. What also makes this book amazing is that the narrator is so tongue and cheek about everything and acts as the icing on top of such a good book. It has a great balance of comedy, romance, fantasy and drama. I can't recommend My Lady Jane enough and in all honesty, I'm kind of in the mood to read it again...and I don't re-read books that often. 

Twelve books. I read twelve books this month and I waited until the end of the month to write up all of the reviews. C'est la vie I guess. I hope you enjoyed this lengthy wrap-up and I'll see you back here for my August 2016 TBR!