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.

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Homecoming and Dicey’s Song

Reading The Rainbow: Book 32 and 33
Title: Homecomming and Dicey’s Song (Tillerman Cycle books 1 and 2)
Author: Cynthia Voight
Medium: Audiobooks

Since I listened to these books in quick succession I figured I should probably review them in one entry. After being abandoned by their mother in a mall parking lot siblings Dicey, James, Sammy and Maybeth travel to their Aunts house by foot. Dicey, the oldest is thirteen and believes that they can make the journey easily but she learns very quickly that she might be in over her head. From under estimating how long it would take them to walk to Bridgeport, Connecticut to trying to feed and shelter her younger siblings, Dicey quickly beings to understand how overwhelmed her mother felt.

A lot of the first book is about the children traveling, meeting interesting people on the road and Dicey trying to enforce a sense of morality on Sammy, who fights and steals. The children do not acclimate well living with the Cousin they find in Bridgeport, so the children run away to find their grandmother who lives on a farm in Maryland.

Dicey’s Song isn’t much different, the theme of finding a place where you belong still exists it’s just more stationary. Knowing they have no real place to go Dicey and her siblings delay moving on from their Grandmother’s home (who doesn’t want them there and makes that very clear) by doing tasks around the farm that they feel they need to complete before moving on. Eventually their Grandmother says they can stay but an interesting power struggle occurs between Dicey and their Grandmother.

Dicey’s Song is actually pretty interesting because it’s kind of like reading a coming of age novel, in reverse. Dicey has to learn how to give up control and allow her Grandmother to be the parent while still dealing with the very real issues of growing up after being abandoned.

Overall Ratings: 3/5, this book is not a fine wine, it didn’t age so well but still readable.

Then They Came For Me

Reading The Rainbow: Book 9
Title: Then They Came For Me
Author: Maziar Bahari
Medium: Audiobook

Readers, I’m a terrible blogger, I did not mean to abandon you for almost three months! A lot has been going on in my life. But rest assured, I’ve actually been reading quite a bit.

When Maziar Bahari left for Iran in 2009 to cover the elections he didn’t expect to be arrested, jailed, tortured and accused of being a spy for the CIA and Newsweek. Bahari was just an Iranian born journalist trying to cover what he felt would be an important time for his country.

Honestly, I read this book way back in February and hadn’t wanted to post about it because while I feel horrible for Mr. Bahari and what he went through, this book really just didn’t do it for me. I understand that in a stressful situation you’d think a lot about your pregnant wife and your future baby and if you’ll see them or not, but the book could have been a lot shorter if he hadn’t gone on about it so much.

It gets bonus points for having a lot of good Iranian history about the Ayatollah and Western influence.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Flight

Reading The Rainbow: Book 4
Title: Flight
Author: Sherman Alexie
Medium: Audiobook

It was only a matter of time before I picked up another Sherman Alexie. Between last years and reading Reservation Blues for an English class in college I consider myself to be fond of Alexie’s work.

Flight follows fifteen-year-old Zits as he wakes up in yet another foster home. Zits is half-Native American Indian and half Irish and 100% miserable. His mother died when he was six of cancer and his father took off the day he was born. Zits, looking for acceptance teams up with Justice, a white troublemaker who he meets in jail.

Under Justice’s pressure, Zits takes two guns, one paintball and one real to rob a bank. Somehow Zits finds himself transported through space and time, again and again, learning the value of life and death. Zits finds himself in the bodies of several people, including an FBI Agent, a mute Native American boy during General Custer’s Last Stand, and a pilot who is cheating on his wife named Jimmy. All of these events change Zits and makes you hope that he gets a second chance.

Overall Rating: 3/5
Classifications: Native American
Young Adult

Zombie

Reading the Rainbow: Book 3
Title: Zombie
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Medium: Book

I grabbed this book off the shelf of my local library for two reasons, the first is that I’ve read Joyce Carol Oates in the past and I tend to enjoy her books, and secondly, with a title like Zombie I thought she might have been drabbling in horror, and since my boyfriend is a huge horror buff I thought it might be a book we both might enjoy.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about the type of Zombie Oates mean. Zombie follows Quentin P (no last name given) who works as a caretaker at his family’s boarding house that is mostly occupied by foreign exchange students that attend the local university. Quentin took the job because he had previously been convicted of molesting a young, mentally disabled African American boy. He takes the caretaker position as a way to keep a low profile.

Quentin also has a large number of disguises, he uses them frequently as he drives around Michigan picking up young men, usually homeless men of color, who in his mind “don’t matter” to have sex with. These encounters are no longer giving Quentin what he wants or desires so he resolves to create a zombie. To prepare, Quentin reads up on performing lobotomies and even picks up the needed tools from various stores in Michigan wearing different disguises.

This book was creepy but in all of the best ways. Because it is from Quentin’s perspective there isn’t an in-text reminder that he’s crazy. Everything Quentin is said as thought it’s a perfectly rational and reasonable thing to say. With each attempt he makes at creating his zombie you feel Quentin’s hopes rise. You can feel his obsessions and the highs and lows of his emotions. Creepy. It was great but it gets the “WTF did I just read” tag for the subject matter.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Classifications: Female Authors
Horror?

Island of Lost Girls

Reading the Rainbow: Book 2
Title: Island of Lost Girls
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Medium: Audiobook

If Island of Lost Girls were to be made into a movie, it would have to star Kristen Stewart as Rhonda. Why Kristen Stewart? Well, once a long time ago I decided it would be a good idea to watch Twilight. Kristen Stewart is such a boring, blank slate of an actress I can only envision someone who brought “life” to Bella Swan, being Rhonda and I think Kristen Stewart would at least make Rhonda more tolerable.

The back of the book would like you to believe that this book is about how Rhonda stood by and did nothing as six-year-old Ernestine Florucci is kidnapped by someone in a rabbit suit, and how all signs point to it being Peter, a lifetime friend. The back of the book lies. This book is about the fact that Rhonda is in love with Peter. No seriously, this book is 272 pages long, and about 200 of them are about how Rhonda is in love with Peter, but Peter fell in love with Tock. There’s also a really excruciatingly awkward portion of the book where Rhonda is in the hot tub with Tock and Peter and how it’s extremely disturbing how she just kind of inserts herself into their relationship.

The thing is Rhonda is so obsessed with Peter that she is a flat, boring, lifeless character in every other way. She doesn’t have (or apparently particularly want) a career, a life, or a relationship with anyone but Peter. It’s like that scene in Practical Magic where Nicole Kidman says “Jimmy Angelov” over and over again, in fact this book could have just been 272 pages of Rhonda spinning in a circle and saying Peter over and over again.

Rhonda was insufferable as a character; not only is she obsessive, she’s not even the good “Single White Female”, “Basic Instinct” kind of obsessive; she’s a bleak, sad character that I could barely muster interest in.

Overall Rating: 1/5, I read you for bookclub
Classifications: Women
Mystery

Reading The Rainbow and a few words on Black History Month

Today is February 1st, which means that it’s officially Black History Month. Every February for as far back as I can remember there has always been one person (almost exclusively white) to say something along the lines of “well, why isn’t there a white history month”. The standard response to this among almost everyone I know is “every month is white history month”. This argument is almost always sandwiched with the “Why isn’t there a WET” (a White Entertainment Television to compete with BET). While they started being said by kids in elementary school, recently I’ve noticed and increase in frequency in these sort of comments and a large diversity of the people who have said them.

The thing is, I could argue with someone until we’re both blue in the face, they’re unlikely to be willing to admit the disparity in representation of minorities in history, let alone on television, in film and as this blog is trying to point out, in books. So instead of talking about the validity and need for representation of minorities (because really, that’s the whole point of this blog isn’t it) I’m going to talk about U.S. History class. Every American child experiences it, the same topics, repeated year after year, starting with Columbus and ending, if you were lucky, the 1980’s Equal Rights Amendment, and if you weren’t, you ended up ending the year with Vietnam.

Christopher Columbus discovers America. This one isn’t even true, what actually happens is Christopher Columbus discovers Hispanola (the Island that makes up Haiti and the Dominican Republic), they force the Natives to mine for gold, when that fails and the native population starts to die, they begin importing slaves from Africa to harvest sugar cane and tobacco.

Next we usually got a bit of the Puritans, who fled England in search of Religious freedom. They brought with them diseases (syphilis and small pox among others – which I can’t really blame them for, they had no way of knowing), took land away from the Native Americans and forced many into slavery.

Slavery, this is usually talked about as quickly as possible and usually in the same breath as the emancipation proclamation. As a kid, I never realized that the first slaves were brought to North America in 1619 (Yes, that is 1619) and slavery lasted until 1864/5. Over two hundred years, and it’s barely a chapter in history books. Not to mention, they didn’t have email and text messaging back then, I’ve read some sources that said that many slaves didn’t know they were free until up to ten years later. In middle school and high school if you had a good teacher, you’d get some Reconstruction era discussions and even some Great Migration, but usually not.

After that you get Western expansion, the Louisiana Purchase, Railroads etc. There is always some mention of Chinese immigrants, but it’s always vague. If you were lucky and had a good professor you’d get some information on immigration restriction, but usually not.

Then you get into the wars, World War I, World War II. There’s little to know mention of the fact that there was still a segregated armed forces. Let me say that again, my Grandfather couldn’t serve in the same military as other World War II officers, simply because of the color of his skin. You’d have a teacher wax nostalgically (or in some cases with contempt) about Franklin D. Roosevelt and how it either 1) changed America for the better or 2) started America on its downward spiral. World War II always involved Pearl Harbor and Kamikaze soldiers, but very brief mentions of Japanese Internment camps such as Manzanar and it wasn’t until an English class my sophomore year did I know that the United States government forced lots of Japanese-American citizens to fight during World War II while there families were forced to live in horse stalls.

There is always a section on The Holocaust, but very little on the after effects of it, and it wasn’t until a ninth grade history book did I see the first mention of the Balfour Declaration.

Then, if the teacher timed it just right, just as February was approaching you got your dose of Black History. It was never in the proper historical sequence though, you’d get George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington in the same chapter as Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. The language used in these chapters always bothered me, very rarely did they actually discuss the racist vitriol that was being used. They never talked about the fact that people were spit on simply for daring to go to white school, or the deplorable conditions that “colored” facilities were often in. That was what people were taught in black history month, not about the Tuskegee Airmen, or all black firefighter units, or even about highly decorated African American military battalions (that were often given inadequate equipment and clothing). Don’t get me wrong, the Civil Rights Movement is one of the most important features in black history, but as a woman of color growing up being taught that African Americans were slaves, and then had the civil rights movement, and that was it.

I’m an adult now, I am able to go to my local library and check out any type of history book that exists, but because black history is relegated to one month out of the year I have to wonder how much of this history has been lost.

Happy Black History Month. Oh and I picked out a name for this project, Reading the Rainbow, thanks to one of my LJ friends.