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.

The Great Big Catch Up Post!

11. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Rating 1/5 and giving anyone (especially white women over 40) who say they loved this book the side eye eternally.

12. Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

Not bad, I mean, it’s a book where you don’t like any of the characters because they all have (kind of realistic) character flaws.

Rating 3/5

 

14. The Secret Life of Bees by Susan Monk Kidd

Not as horrible as The Help but I think that’s only because Lily gets more of a pass than Skeeter because Lily is a kid and Skeeter is a grown college educated woman.

Rating 2/5

15. Bloodchild and other Stories by Octavia E. Butler

Male Pregnancy is always a weird concept but Butler does it well in one of the short stories. It’s an interesting combination of horror, science fiction and what Margaret Atwood would call speculative fiction.

Rating 4/5

16. Finding Miracles by Julia Alvarez

I love Alvarez, at least once every few years I reread In the Time of the Butterflies and Yo!, but this book, I don’t know, Milly is pretty much the type of person that people who are against transracial adoptions want to use as the poster child. It’s well written but the fact that they never actually say which country Milly is from is pretty annoying.

Rating 3/5

17. Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I don’t care if she was going for a modern retelling of Don Quixote, the magical negro trop needs to die.

Rating 2/5

18. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

My friend gave me $20 bucks to read it; I don’t think it was worth it. Considering that the plot doesn’t start until 3/4’s of the book it just drags and drags about those crazy kids Edward and Jacob.

Rating: No Stars Ever

19. Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti

It’s a good into guide to feminism, Valenti is a good author however her online presence and her unwillingness to delve more into the intersectionality of race and gender in the marginalization of women of color leaves much to be desired.

Rating 4/5

20. Voices From the Other Side edited by Brandon Massey

I wasn’t expecting the amount of what I would consider science fiction in this book, but that makes me glad. I’m not the biggest fan of horror, and while I didn’t find all of the stories great, it was a solid collection.

Rating 4/5

21. Cinder by Melissa Meyer

This was a bookclub book and I enjoyed it. Cinder is a modern retelling of Cinderella without the Disney happiness. Cinder has character flaws but it smart and someone I think young girls can relate with.

Rating: 4/5

22. Dead to You by Lisa McMann

What can I say about Dead To You without spoilers? If you watch enough Law and Order: SVU or Nick Stahl movies this one won’t surprise you at all.

Rating 3/5

23. Illegal by Bettina Restrepo

Nora is a hardworking teenage girl living in Mexico with her mother and grandmother. Her father left several years before for work in the United States. Suddenly one day, her father stops sending money and Nora and her mother venture to the United States in search of him. This book combines the fears and worries associated with being an illegal immigrant, the constant fear and tension, without being a woe is me narrative. Nora acknowledges their situation and continues to learn and grow.

Rating: 4/5

24. Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

Super short book about a young girl named Green. Green’s family is killed in a brutal attack on the city when she is left at home. Green and her natural ability to heal and grow things, survives but eventually must re-learn how to live.

Rating 3/5

25. Green Witch by Alice Hoffman

Super short sequel to Green Angel and it follows Green on her search for a missing friend (or two). It’s awkwardly rife with mysticism, but I mean, this is the same woman who wrote Practical Magic so I kind of expected it.

Rating 3/5

26. In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker

This collection of short fiction contains the classic Everyday Use which I had read several times before, and a few other stories that I had read before. One of the new ones, We Drink The Wine in Paris was really beautiful and unexpectedly moving.

Rating 3/5

27.Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Aria has lived her entire life in the protected city of Reverie, safe from the danger of the dangerous aether storms and the outsiders Aria knows only to be savages. It’s kind of like Pure by Julianna Baggott, but less disturbing. Everyone in Under the Never Sky is pretty, and there are absolutely no doll-heads as hands.  If the reader were looking for something dark and serious, I’d recommend Pure over Under the Never Sky, but if the reader were say, thirteen and just wanted a dystopia mixed with a romance, then Under The Never Sky is a good read.

Rating 2/5

28. Hold Still by Nina Lacour

Following the unexpected suicide of her best friend Ingrid, Caitlin tries to return to a normal life, but without Ingrid, nothing is normal. When she finds Ingrid’s journal hidden under her bed, Caitlin is forced to realize that Ingrid’s death is hard to everyone to deal with.

Rating 4/5

29. The Stoning of Soraya M. by Freidoune Sahebjam

The film version of this book was recommended to me by Netflix, after watching it I decided that 1) I need to watch more happy movies so that Netflix doesn’t give me categories like “Emotional Foreign Dramas” and “Tearjerking Political Films” and 2) that I needed to read the book. Granted it took me almost a year to get around to it, I’m glad I finally got around to it. Written in the formal of a novel, Sahebjam takes some literary license into his inferences into certain characters thoughts that he couldn’t have known, but it gives the book a more well-rounded feeling. It fills in the gaps that otherwise would be unanswerable questions, like why.

Rating: 3/5 it’s a book about a stoning, it’s tragic, gross and really happened.

30. Keesha’s House by Helen Frost

I managed to get a copy of this book from last year’s Indiana Author’s Awards, Frost was a finalist.  It’ll remind readers of Ellen Hopkins  (Identical, Crank, Tricks) with its poetry/prose mash up. Frost made me to a time warp back to my AP English Literature classes where we learned about sestinas, sonnets and about a dozen other poetic forms that Frost uses. This still manages to not take away from the actual story too much, but I do think that Frost’s book might have too many characters.

Rating: 3/5

Okay, wow, that took me a while to finish up. Here’s a summary:

Fiction Books Read: 28

Non Fiction books read: 2

Books that don’t count towards total read: 9

And for kicks, here’s what else I’ve read.

  1. Remember Me2: The Return by Christopher Pike
  2. Under the Dome by Stephen King
  3. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
  4. Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick
  5. The Minority Report and Other Stories by Phillip K. Dick
  6. Habibi by Craig Thompson
  7. Uglies: Shay’s Story by Scott Westerfield
  8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (read it last year)
  9. Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler (read it last year)

My original goal was to read 75 books, so we’ll see how it do. Wish me luck!

P.S. This post gets ALL of the tags

Island Beneath the Sea

50 Books By Authors of Color: Book 7
Title: Island Beneath the Sea
Author: Isabel Allende
Medium: Audiobook

Island Beneath the Sea

I know I promised that my next reviewed book would be Joe Wesley Cooper’s Don’t Erase Your Dreams but I’m still digesting that book and trying to figure out how to put into words the emotional response that I had. I promise I’ll have it posted by next week.

What happens when you cross an Edgwidge Danticat book with a V.C. Andrews book? You get Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende. Don’t take that as a dig against Allende (or Danticat or even Andrews), I honestly mean both comparisons in the best of ways. Island Beneath the Sea starts out following Toulouse Valmorain, a young man from France who has come to visit his father and his family plantation on the island of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) several years before the Haitian revolution. Shortly after his arrival Toulouse’s father dies and he takes over the family plantation. Valmorain’s desire to obtain wealth and to produce an heir leads us to our main character: Zarite. Zarite, also known as Tété is not Valmorain’s wife; no she is the personal slave of his sick wife Eugenia. Zarite is a “mulatta” the daughter of a slave woman from Guinea and one of the whites from aboard the slave ship. Her mother commits suicide shortly after her child’s birth (after several attempts to kill Zarite in order to keep the child from entering a life of bondage) and her white father is never revealed.

Zarite is filled with the desire for freedom, running away several times as a child. It is the one thing that remains a constant desire in her life. At the age of eleven, Valmorain rapes Zarite for the first time, and continues to force himself on her for years. After Eugenia falls ill from a combination of opium use, laudanum and mental illness after the birth of Eugenia and Valmorain’s son Maurice, Zarite feels obligated to stay to care for the child. Though she treats Maurice as though he were her own son, Valmorain continues to force himself upon Zarite, fathering a child, Rosette, who she raises alongside Maurice.

Even though Zarite has a chance at love and passion with another slave, Zarite chooses again and again to sacrifice herself for Maurice and Rosette, knowing that Valmorain is her only real chance at safety. Valmorain’s cruelty knows no bounds, after Zarite saves his life, the life of the children as well as her own he writes a paper giving her freedom, but fails to have it certified by a judge and continues to use it to keep Zarite near him. Forcing her to leave the Island during the slave rebellion and following revolution, and relocate first to Cuba and later to Louisiana and continue her bondage there. Valmorain’s abuses of Zarite grows until with the help of a priest, Eugenia’s brother Santos, as well as a doctor that she knew back in Saint Domingue she manages to force his hand and get freedom not only for herself, but for Rosette as well. Not before the most unfortunate thing happens. Rosette and Maurice fall in love. Knowing full well that they are siblings (though Valmorain refuses to acknowledge Rosette) and that marriage between the two of them is illegal because she is a quadroon (one fourth black, three fourths white) and he is white. Valmorain objects to the union, more so because Rosette is a woman of color than because Rosette is his biological sibling. Gross. Valmorain ends up disowning Maurice because of his love for Rosette and the story continues from there, but I don’t want to spoil how it ends.

Like Danticat Allende paints both a depressing and beautiful view of Haiti/Saint Domingue. Her characters are able to find peace and love in others regardless of their hard burdens. Like Andrews, there’s just enough of a creepy power dichotomy and incest that it makes you feel uncomfortable (though admittedly, tame comparatively speaking). I wanted to like this book, I love Allende as an author (one of my favorite books is The House of Spirits, but this book to me came across as her needing to prove that she did her research. Historically accurate (from what I know of the Haitian revolution and the United States purchase of the Louisiana territory) but while the story was compelling I found myself picking up other books while reading this and not feeling the need to transfer it to my iPod.

Narration Review: Flawless! It was read by S. Epathra Merkerson, of Law & Order fame, who I think did an excellent job narrating the book which contained a lot of French and Creole words. Merkerson did an amazing job of capturing the emotions of Zarite and others as well as vocally relating the complexity of characters.

S. Epatha Merkerson
Honestly I just posted this because she’s so damn fierce.

Overall rating: 2/5 – I get it, you did your research, but I feel like an excellent plot was unnecessarily lengthened for this.