January – September Book Round Up

2015 January to September Book Round Up

Warning, this post contains Harry Potter Spoilers, if you haven’t read them, what’s wrong with you?

2015 had been the year of the reread. Knowing that I’d be visiting Scotland in March of 2015 I decided to start rereading Harry Potter back in December. I hadn’t reread Harry Potter so it was a fun experience, especially when you know that in a few months you’ll be at Kings Cross. It took FOREVER, and reading Harry Potter as an adult compared to the young teenager I was when I first started reading the series is very different. But I’ll be honest, you can read a lot of Harry Potter reviews and so all I’ll say only the few things:

  • Severus Snape is as romantic as Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, so not at ALL.
  • Severus Snape shouldn’t be allowed around children, his treatment of Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter should have ended in a call to the Ministry of Magical Child Welfare.
  • Molly Weasley and Minerva McGonagall are the best adult characters.
  • Nymphadora Tonks is a seriously underrated character.
  • The death of Fred Weasley impacted me more than I thought. I wanted to put the book down because I knew it was coming, but yeah, I cried and I’m not ashamed of that.

There are however, some books I’ve read this year that I am kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve read.

Title: Christopher’s Diary: Secrets of Foxworth and Christopher’s Diary: Echos of Dollanganger

Author: V.C. Andrews

Rating: 2/5 for both

These books are bad. I wasn’t expecting much, it’s V.C. Andrews’ after all but after the success of the Lifetime movie versions of Flowers in the Attic, Petals on the Wind, and If There Be Thorns, I wanted to give the new books put out by the ghost writer a chance. The Christopher’s Diary books show just how disconnected from what the Ghostwriter would probably call “kids today” while complaining about how music today doesn’t compare. The writing style is fine, but the verbiage is very “kids don’t talk like that”. I wanted a lot more dirt than is actually included but I have to remind myself that in Flowers in the Attic had very little sex in it.

The ARCS:

I attended the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference in Chicago and one of the really amazing thing is that as a library affiliate you can get books before they are published to read and review.

Title: Finding Jake

Author: Bryan Reardon

Rating: 3/5

I liked this book, it reminded me of We Need to Talk About Kevin for obvious reasons and honestly I think the signage at Midwinter even reference Shriver’s book. It focuses on the relationship of Jake’s parents before and after a school shooting but it seemed emotionally empty, that may have been the point but it didn’t feel like I was reading about love that had changed and faded, that I was instead reading about one that existed between two people with the emotional range of teaspoons. I wanted it to be We Need to Talk About Kevin and it wasn’t.

Title: Pretty Baby

Author: Mary Kubica

Rating: 4/5

This book is not Gone Girl but I feel like it maybe got published because of the popularity of Gone Girl. That said, I actually liked this book a lot, it was well written, gripping and heavy – but not mind bending. The point-of-view changes can be jarring but overall I liked this book and will check out more by Kubica.

The Series:

I’m not counting Harry Potter or the Christopher’s Diary books.

Title: Smoke

Author: Ellen Hopkins

Rating: 3/5

When I read Burned a few years ago I didn’t expect a sequel and I don’t think Hopkins ever expected to write one. It continues the story of Pattyn Von Stratten and her sister Jackie after the murder of their father. Pattyn is on the run and Jackie is consumed with guilt. It’s written in Hopkins standard prose style and by now I’m starting to wonder if she’s capable of writing in a different style. The story is engaging, sad but not unusual for Hopkins. It’s a safe read if you’ve liked others by her.

Title: Just One Night

Author: Gayle Forman

Rating: 4/5

This was one of the first books I read of 2015 as I read it during the snow storm that hit ALA Midwinter in Chicago. This novella is a companion to Just for Day and its sequel Just for One year. It follows Allyson and Willem as they find each other again. It’s not as magical as the first two books in the series and seems like it lacks emotion, but hey, I was in a pretty bleak emotional place when I read it so I’ll admit I might be biased. It works a lot on coincidence, she as here then, he was here then, they were both here when, etc, but it works well for this type of book.

Title: Fairest:

Author: Marissa Meyer

Rating: 4/5

I want Winter to be published NOW. I read this on a plane to Arizona and while it helped satisfy my desire to finish the Lunar Chronicles it did not sate it at ALL. I like the idea of getting to understand how Levana has become the woman she has, to understand the hurt that she feels. But I feel like this trend of getting to know the “bad” guy is getting stagnant and I really wanted it to get back to the main story. I can’t wait for Winter to come out though.

The European Reads:

Technically I read Pretty Baby while I was in Scotland but since it’s an ARC I’m counting it there:

Title: Aftermath

Author: Levar Burton

Rating: 3/5

So I really like Levar Burton, so much so that I’m trying to figure out how to send him a wedding invitation. That said, I liked Aftermath, you can really feel the influence of Octavia Butler on his writing style and the story idea. It was like reading a side novel to the Parable series that she wrote. Disturbing, engaging, and kept me entertained the first few hours of my loooooooong flight to Edinburgh.

Title: And the Mountain’s Echoed

Author: Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 3/5

I’m not going to lie, I finished reading this book in a hotel room in London. The room was a 4th floor walkup that my friend and I got for a steal. It was a good read – but not my favorite Hosseini book. It was lighter than the other two books of his that I’ve read. That said, I was able to see Hosseini talk as the 2015 McFadden Lecturer and he was amazing. Answered a lot of interesting questions and seemed like an amazing guy.

The Best:

 Title: Americanah

Author: Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rating: 7/5

Yes, you read that right, I rated a book higher than my out of five scale. This is one of the best books I’ve read, hands down. I recently finished reading the short We Should All Be Feminists but Americanah is one of the best books I’d read in the last five years. Adichie manages to be about so little but so much. The observations she makes in the blog are really apt and it was a really excellent book to read.

Title: This is How You Lose Her

Author: Junot Diaz

Rating: 5/5

I really loved this collection of short stories. Diaz manages to make this book about different characters but all are relatable (but not necessarily likeable). He’s probably one of my favorite “new” authors. I like his writing style and I liked this book a lot.

The Oddity of 2015:

 I’ve dubbed this year “the year of the reread” because I addition to Harry Potter, I’ve reread several favorites such as Beloved by Toni Morrison, Stardust by Neil Gaiman and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I’m a big re-reader of books but this year was probably one where I reread the most books when I had access to a library. I still plan on doing “The Year of Atwood”, a year in which I rearead my favorite works by Margaret Atwood. I’ve had a lot go on in both my academic and personal life, most of it good.

So what’s coming up: More book reviews (I always promise this but really I mean it), some non-fiction about my life and where I am career-wise.  It’s October 5th and I read 40 of my 50 book goals for 2015, so expect at least 10 more posts.

Coming Up: Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, Game of Thrones and me trying to get through my ALA Midwinter Arcs.

Google and its Dominance in my Sources

Gstrein, S., & Muhlberger, G. (2011). Producing eBooks on Demand: A European Library Network. In K. Price, & V. Havergal, eBooks in Libraries: A Practical Guide (pp. 37-52). London: Facet Publishing.

Gstrein and Muhlberger’s section on Producing eBooks on demand was an interesting project where users could request an “ebook on demand”. While this appears to have simply been a scanned version of a book many users found the service to be good, however many 30% felt the price was high for the material. Because many of the users in my target audience are those that like ebooks because of the “instant” nature, it’s interesting to look at a service like this because while you could get an electronic version, it could take quite a while, and unlike traditional ebooks for public libraries, it wasn’t free.

Price, K. (2011). eBooks for Free: Finding, Creating and Managing Freely Available Texts. In K. Price, & V. Havergal, eBooks in Libraries: A Practical Guide (pp. 53-70). London: Facet Publishing.

Price actually manages to bring it all back to Jeanneney by talking about if Google Books would be the ultimate library. She points out the conflict between Google, a for profit company and libraries such as Harvard University Library, New York Public Library, Stanford University Library are working to make their collections available for free. But I think that there’s an upside to all of these different entities doing “the same” work. Each is done with the same intent, to preserve information and to make it available to the masses. And realistically speaking I think that’s the end goal.

Darnton, R. (2009). The Case For Books: Past, Present and Future. New York: PublicAffairs.

One of the things I find interesting about research is the whole, rabbit hole aspect of it. You start out on a specific topic and find yourself immersed in a book about the case for books. I do however think this is relevant because I hear too often when people point out that things are online, so there isn’t a need for printed books or public libraries. I tend to laugh in those people’s faces. Like Jeanneney and Price, Google is brought up and its plans for literary domination are discussed. More than that though, Darnton discusses the copyright case Authors Guild, Inc. vs Google, Inc. However the book was published in 2009 so it doesn’t reflect that the case was dismissed in 2013.

A Wrinkle in Time (Graphic Novel)

Book Review
Book Title: A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel
Author: Madeline L’Engle & Hope Larson
Medium: Physical Book – Graphic Novel
Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books as a child. I mean, come on, a story about an awkward teenage girl who doesn’t quite fit in with society or with her own family – that has my name written all over it.

Larson takes one of my favorite L’Engle books and brings it to life. The elements of L’Engle’s story are still there, Meg Murray’s father is missing and she is subjected the snarky comments of adults who should know better about him, and her younger brother Charles Wallace. The original A Wrinkle in Time is from Meg’s perspective, so we get her view of herself and the members of her family. Larson manages to keep Meg the central character, but showing us that Meg’s view is skewed. Instead of a perfect looking, flawless, brilliant mother, we see Mrs. Murray as she likely is, pretty but worn and worried. We see Charles Wallace as he likely appears to others, kind of other worldly, with eyes that seem not only a bit large for his face, but worn and tired.

Not to mention how Meg herself is drawn. Meg feels like she is a hideous gangly teenager with no hope of redemption, but Larson manages to draw Meg with the perfect combination of awkward and normal.

For some reason though, I always pictured Aunt Beast to look more like Snuffaluffagus than a tentacle “monster” but really that’s my only beef with the artistry. I’m only giving it 4/5 stars because I feel like while it’s a great adaptation, it’s missing some of the charm that the original book had.

2014 – The Roundup

According to Goodreads I read about 42 books – not bad for someone taking 6 graduate school credits a semester! Like I said last year, this roundup isn’t going to include any of the journal articles I read for class.

 

The Good

Best Audio book: Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis

Remember Rider Strong who played Shawn Hunter, the bad boy best friend of Corey Matthews on the 90’s sitcom Boy Meets World? He narrated my favorite audio book of the year: Scar Tissue by Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis. While the book was published back in 2004, I just got around to it this year and I’m kicking myself for not listening to it, or reading it sooner.

Scar Tissue is Kiedis’ memoir detailing his birth, life, addiction and recovery along with how The Red Hot Chili Peppers got started. This was the perfect 2014 read after Superbowl 2014’s half time show with Bruno Mars and The Red Hot Chili Peppers and it reminded me of my (probably unhealthy) obsession with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their guitarist John Frusciate (but that’s another post entirely). Rider does a fantastic job, he is unflinching in his reading of Kiedis’ life, even in scenes that are downright depressing and discuss drug use or drug related deaths.

He also does a really good impression of Sinead O’Connor. It seems like a really odd combination but reading it was like a high school flashback. Considering that 2014 was the year of my 10th high school reunion it worked out really well. Plus you know, we’ll always love Shawn Hunter’s hair.

thehair

 

 

Best Book (Physical): Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Anyone who knows me, or has been reading this blog for any amount of time knows that while I love Stephen King, I have a fundamental problem with the way he writes characters of color and women. That being said, when King is good, he’s GOOD. The long awaited sequel to The Shining made me remember why I like King. The story is just creepy enough, it’s long but because of the pacing and the tension it’s easy to lose an afternoon (or several) in the pages.  

Doctor Sleep is the story of grown up Danny Torrance (Dan), the young survivor from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. He still sees dead people but numbs himself with drugs and alcohol until after one particularly depressing encounter with cocaine and a small child he decides to get clean. While he is getting sober he makes mental contact with a young girl named Abra, who also has the shining, but much stronger than Dan’s.

The two realize that they have a common foe, a woman named  Rose The Hat, the leader of a group of “immortals” who are killing children like Abra, who have the shining for their life essence (called Steam). King paints a particularly chilling, creepy image of Rose the Hat and her band of ghouls that stuck with me for days. While it’s not free of King’s standard “magical negro” cliche, I fee like since the book is about magical people, Dick Hallorann gets a slight pass. Only slight though. That being said, it was a great, great read and reminded me of why people love Stephen King.

Best Book (ebook): Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler

I honestly don’t think this choice should surprise anyone who knows me well! I literally was shaking and crying with joy when I head that unreleased Octavia E. Butler novellas would be released. While not my favorite Butler overall, I really liked the feel and pacing of Childfinder and I feel saddened that it wasn’t released sooner because it was honestly fantastic.

 

The Bad

This year if a book was really bad I was smart and didn’t finish it. That’s why this year there’s no “The Ugly” category. However, there’s some books I just plain didn’t enjoy.

Escape and Triumph by Carolyn Jessop

While I don’t doubt the bravery and strength it took for Carolyn Jessop to escape the Fundamentalist sect of the Church of Latter Day Saints, these books were pretty bad. If you want a good read try The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser (which I also read this year) or Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall. Both of Jessop’s books had the same problem for me, the timeline. She jumps around and one moment she’s a teenager, and the next she’s talking about her youngest children. Just back and forth, it’s awful.

Spark and Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan

These are the last two books in Ryan’s Skychaser’s trilogy and follow Kieran, Waverly and Seth on their space adventure. The problem is, I hated all three of them. These were my “hate reads” for the year. You know, when you realize you dislike a series of books but you are halfway through the second one and you want to know how it ends? Yep, that was Flame. It’s hard to read a book when both of the male main characters seem like sociopaths. Kieran really comes across as a narcissistic megalomaniac and it bugged me.

The Honorable Mentions

Horns by Joe Hill

In the Age of Love and Chocolate and Because it is my Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

Fangirl, Landline and Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

 

Sons From Afar

Title: Sons From Afar
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Medium: Trade Paperback

Last year Two years ago I read Cynthia Voigt’s books Homecoming and Dicey’s Song. The first two books in the series about the Tillerman Children, whose mother abandons them and the four children, led by the eldest sister Dicey make their way to their Grandmother’s home.

I skipped a few books in between, A Solitary BlueThe Runner, and Come a Stranger, but I was cleaning and found my copy of Son’s From Afar, and decided to give it a go because it’s a short book, I have a lot of books that I need to get around to reading, and it’s a beautiful Saturday that was perfect for sitting out on my balcony with a book. Oh and I like Voigt’s writing style.

This book focuses on the two Tillerman boys, James (15 almost 16) and Sammy (12). Dicey makes an appearance when she comes home from college, but she seems different. She’s still the same, strong independent Dicey Tillerman but she very easily could have not come home in this book.

I still am not a big fan of James as a character. He’s significantly less annoying in this book than he was in the other two, but that’s not saying much. I know that it’s a clear indication that James is emotionally stunted and insecure about himself physically, he really needed a lot more personal growth than I think we see in Sons from Afar Sammy on the other hand, was a whiny six-seven year old who said “good-o” way to much, but he’s not like that anymore. I think emotionally Sammy is facing a lot of the same problems James is, but makes up for it with physical strength and a tough guy bravado. Sammy’s weakness is on his sleeve though, when James brings up the idea of their father, a man who abandoned their mother before Sammy was even born, Sammy gets angry. You see a full range of emotions from Sammy, anger at being abandoned, the desire for love and acceptance through is friend Robin’s family, the shame of having people ask about his parents. So where James seem overly braggy, you see Sammy’s youth and vulnerability.

I wasn’t planning on reading another Tillerman book but I want the closure I think reading Seventeen Against the Dealer will bring. Plus the book is only 233 pages, I should be able to knock that out in a few quiet hours. I also ended up putting the other three books on hold even though they don’t focus on the main characters. Instead they focus on Sammy’s namesake, Sam “Bullet” Tillerman, and Dicey’s friends Jeff and Mina.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Rain, Lightning Strikes, Eye of The Storm Part II

Whatever, Whatever, I Read What I Want
Title: Rain, Lightning Strikes, Eye of The Storm Part II
Author: V.C. Andrews
Medium: Hardbacks

Megan and Victoria, oh, this is going to be fun. Megan is in Mrs. Hudson words “A spoiled brat” who had her father give her everything she ever wanted, including having Ken, who worked for the Hudson’s take her illegitimate, biracial child for a measly $10,000. We have, in proper V.C. Andrews fashion, Victoria, Megan’s polar opposite. Victoria is a comical version of how someone thinks a rich unmarried woman would act. Married to the business as they say (no, they actually say this). Megan is beautiful, Victoria is less so (we’ll come back to this fact later). These two girls have one think in common, they are both totally awesome.

Megan’s husband wants to run for Senate, which adds to her desire to keep Rain a secret. So Rain moves in with Megan’s mother, under the guise of being some sort of acting prodigy, this absolutely infuriates Victoria, who has the audacity to show up unannounced during dinner. Rain makes some snappy comments that are kind of boring. Whatever.

Victoria, put back in her place, leaves. And we get to follow Rain to school, which is boring, she’s perfect and impresses her teachers and there’s this awkward moment where you think someone is going to say something horrifically offensive like “you are a credit to your race”, but that is avoided by Rain trying out for the school play. I only mention it because it brings up Megan’s other mistakes children, Brody and Allison.

Allison is of course the polar opposite of Rain, just like her mother pretty much just a bratty kid. Brody on the other hand is okay. Now being that this is a V.C. Andrews book and Megan’s husband is running for the Senate the family can’t possibly know about Megan’s little black indiscretion. Brody of course is therefore smitten with Rain. Yep, both of her brothers, Roy and Brody both totally want to hit that. Oh and some boy named Corbette. Luckily the boy that isn’t related to Rain wins out, leaving all the others heartbroken. Well kind of, Roy joined the army shortly after Rain left home and she only hears from him a few times, most notably when he calls to let her know that their mother (Latisha) has died of lung cancer, whatever. Let’s be perfectly honest, we knew it was coming from the beginning, it’s a V.C. Andrews book, if she had a place to go back to away from all of the batshittery there would be no need for Lightening Strikes or Eye of the Storm.

The thing that I like about the Hudson series is really Victoria. Rain and Megan are pretty stale characters that don’t change very much throughout the course of the books, Victoria however is awesome. For those of you familiar with other V.C. Andrews books, I’d say Victoria is second only to my favorite V.C. Andrews character of all time, Vera, from the standalone My Sweet Audrina.

Anyways, back to the main plot point because Victoria doesn’t start to get really fun until the third book, Rain wins the lead in the school play and is so awesome she gets to go to London to go to a performing arts school there and stay with Mrs. Hudson’s younger sister in their manor. That book is pretty weird and creepy so it’ll get it’s own post, soon.