Book Reviews: December 2015 – June 2016

I think you should get cozy, because this post is going to be massive! Get some snacks, and your beverage of choice, then come back to read this post. I haven’t posted about books at all this year (my last book review post was in November), so we have some catching up to do. I hope you get at least one new book idea from this post. Let’s dive in!

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

THE-BODY I love how Christie plays with the stereotype of the library in mystery novels. In the beginning, the body of a young girl is found in the library and the surprise expressed when this fact is revealed to the owners of the house is quite amusing (basically along the lines of, “But,how did the body end up in my library?”). In fact, Christie pokes fun at various figures throughout the novel, including men who underestimate women like Miss Marple. This was another solid mystery from Agatha Christie and I enjoyed it.

THE-GROWNUP It’d been a while since I read anything by Flynn (I read all of her novels a few years ago), it this was a nice reminder of how much I enjoy her writing. It was so short though! Still, Flynn managed to tell a lot in a few pages, and I found this both entertaining and creepy. I can’t wait for her next full-length novel to come out.

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

FINNIKIN

FROI

QUINTANA Since I read all three books in this trilogy last month, let’s talk about the series as a whole. It was excellent. I didn’t really have any expectations when I started it, so I was blown away by how much I enjoyed it. First, of all the characters were fantastic. I just want to hug the author for giving us such interesting, well-developed characters. I fell in love with the characters in the first book and became heavily invested in their lives. To see them suffer and grow and fight and survive over the course of the series was really rewarding. Also, the author has created such a fascinating world. I find that I’m more interested in politics when it’s fictional. I was able to follow the relationships between the different kingdoms and enjoyed how each kingdom was distinctly described and was it’s own separate world.

This is fantasy, so there were some mystical elements in play here. In particular, there are prophecies and curses, and it’s interesting to see how they are connected and ultimately explained. This is a strange statement, but one thing I love about a crisis is the way it brings people together. In these novels, unlikely alliances are made and people are willing to risk everything for a better world. I love that! These books also deal with difficult topics so that they are carefully handled, without shying away from the reality of these tragedies.

I think these books are long (I’m not entirely sure how long exactly since I read the eBooks), but I found them relatively fast-paced and entertaining. I was so engrossed while reading this over the holiday break and my family quickly learned to ignore the little sounds of surprise or amusement that I made as I was reading.

I found this series by stalking Max’s YA shelves, but I haven’t heard anybody speak about them before (although I’ve been told that Reagan from Peruse Project has mentioned them on her channel). The characters are excellent, the world-building is excellent, and the story is excellent. I’ll second Max and say that more people should read this series!

CINDER

SCARLET

CRESS I knew this series is popular and I was on a real YA kick in December, so I decided to pick it up. Also, fairytale retellings are my jam, so I had a feeling I’d get along with this series. About halfway through Cinder, I was enjoying it, but not sure what all the hype was about. Then a lot started to happen in the book and I was finally sucked in. I liked a lot of the twists that Meyer made to the traditional story. Cinder is more of a tomboy in this version and it’s awesome to see the way she develops over the series. In fact, I think she is my favorite character of all of them, possibly because she demonstrates the most growth.

I wasn’t in love with the setting in the first book. I’m not sure why exactly, but it was lacking something for me. Over the course of the series, I think it’s gotten better, I think because we move out of New Beijing and explore other locations.

Meyer’s writing is really easy to read and engaging. I think she’s also done a really great job of weaving together these different stories. By the end of book 1, I was excited by Cinder’s story line and I was afraid that it would be put on the backburner in book 2. Instead, we alternate between a new character (Scarlet) and Cinder and I’m really happy that Meyer chose to structure the novel that way. I also like the new characters we were introduced to and the overall story of Scarlet, although I do agree with a couple comments that it didn’t do much to move the main plot forward. It was still nice to explore the backstory a bit more though.

Now on to Cress. Can we talk about how great Thorne is as a character?! He’s sarcastic and rakish and charming, but behind all of the razzle dazzle, he has a heart. I love characters like that. I have to say though that I did not like Cress for most of the novel. Not that I actively disliked her, but she just felt so meh, compared to some of the other characters. Cinder and Scarlet can take care of themselves, but Cress is so helpless most of the time. By the end, she’d grown on me though.

My favorite pairing so far is Cinder and Kai. I really like that they see the best in each other and that understand each other better more than several other people in their lives. I’m looking forward to reading book 4 and finding out how the series wraps up!

GRAVE-MERCY You had me at nun assassins (or is it assassin nuns?). Seriously, the premise of this book is so intrigued. I’d say the actual delivery on such an intriguing premise was only somewhat there. I would have liked to spend a little more time with Ismae at the convent as she learned the skills she needed to become a great assassin. Still, the plot moved along at a good pace and I found the politics surrounded Ismae’s main mission pretty interesting. I was not entirely mad at the romance aspect either, except the way that Ismae was portrayed as clueless when it came to men. Another thing I felt iffy about was that it seems that they were thought to either seduce or kill their targets in order to diffuse or get out of a situation. Is there really no other way but seduction or death?

Besides a few misgivings, I liked the book overall. I found the story pretty interesting and I liked Ismae as a character. I wanted her to succeed. I also liked the writing style, which had an old-world feel to it. I might continue the series because the next two books follow two of the other characters mentioned in this book, and I remember thinking that I wish I knew more about them as I was reading.

INTERVIEW I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie and then a friend recommended the book to me, so I decided to pick it up. I’m definitely interested in vampire stories so I was curious about this popular series. I didn’t expect it to be so philosophical though. Louis is basically miserable the entire time and grapples with his code of ethics and his purpose in life. Also, the relationship between Louis and Claudia made me uncomfortable, although I suppose it was meant to. They turned down the creepiness in the movie (which I watched in full after finishing the book), although it’s still creepy because now you have a mental image. The idea of a child vampire is both titillating/terrifying. When it describes how Claudia would lure in her victims, I thought “Ackk!” but also, that’s entertaining stuff. I didn’t love this, but it considers some interesting questions and for pop culture reasons, I feel like it’s one of the important vampire books to read.

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

EVERYTHING Ok, people, you were right. This book was amazing; just as good as people say it is.

Everything I Never Told You is a novel about grief, family, and so much more. The Lees are a Chinese-American family living in Ohio in the 1970s. When the eldest daughter and favorite child, Lydia, dies, the delicate family balance is broken and each member of the family must come to terms with their loss. We begin with Lydia’s death, and then shift back and forth in time to before and after the incident.

It is incredible to me that this was a debut novel. Ng writes with an experienced quality, creating characters that are fully-formed and completely believable. In particular, Ng beautifully captures a wide variety of human emotions.

Ng deftly explores several themes in this short novel, including otherness. She describes how the Lees spend their entire lives feeling different because of their race, and how they are reminded of their differences every day. She also examines family dynamics and how sibling relationships shift when one child is favored above the rest. There are generational questions too, as the parents strive for a better life for their children, for their children not to experience the regrets that haunt their own lives.

I felt that this book was beautifully and truthfully written. I felt connected to it on several different levels, able to identify with a lot of the struggles that the characters faced. I have no idea why it took me so long to pick this up, but I’m so glad I did. I’d recommend it to anyone and I’ve already named it my favorite read of 2016 thus far.

THE-EXPATS I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live abroad and this latest novel from Janice Y. K. Lee gave me a peek into the expat life. The story centers around three women: Mercy, a twenty-something struggling to find her purpose in life, Margaret, a mother of three who has a handsome husband and an envy-inducing life, and Hilary, who is desperate to become a mother herself. Lee weaves these lives together as each woman explores her own identity.

I found the setting and descriptions of expat culture fascinating. Lee focuses on American expats who are stationed in Hong Kong for a year, or three, or ten. The expatriates stay within their own community, and interaction with locals is often characterized by a clash of cultures. Within the expat community, there are different cliques based on wealth, or common interests.

This is a quiet, beautiful written novel. Through her choice of words, Lee is able to convey so much about a character’s personality. Each of the three women is a distinct entity, with their own quirks, insecurities, mannerisms and principles.

Each woman also has a significant hurdle to overcome: Margaret must deal with a terrible loss, Mercy tries to recover from a traumatic event, and Hilary constantly feels a lack- the absence of a child. As these three women try to reform their lives, Lee takes the reader along for the journey. If you have an interest in experience other cultures and enjoy character studies of women, I’d highly recommend The Expatriates.

THE-FISHERMEN The Fishermen is a story about fate and destiny and about the childhood of four brothers living in the small town of Akure, Nigeria. When their father moves to a different city for work, they take advantage of his absence to venture down to the forbidden river and fish. On one of these adventures, they encounter the local madman who tells them a prophecy that will forever change the course of their lives.

Obioma weaves in elements of fable, fairytales, and African proverbs as he chronicles the lives of these four boys. His descriptions are vivid and conjure up images that are both weird and wonderful. He demonstrates how one incident can have a ripple effect on many lives. In addition to the lives of this particular family, Obioma paints a picture of the political and cultural landscape of Nigeria at that time.

Although I thought this was beautifully written, I did feel a certain distance from the characters that prevented me from fully immersing myself in the story. I can’t pinpoint if something was lacking for me, or if my expectations when I started the novel were too high. Regardless, Obioma has delivered a very strong debut novel and I’ll be looking out for his next work.

THE-PICTURE This was a reread for me, and as I often find with rereads, I rediscovered how great this book is. I was particularly fascinated by how Dorian’s life is changed and influenced by the development of a friendship with Lord Henry. Was he already on the path of self-destruction when he met Lord Henry, or was he placed there? I think many of Wilde’s comments and observations on beauty, youth, and society, and the entanglement of these three topics, still hold true today. Also, I tabbed so many of Wilde’s aphorisms throughout the book, that I probably should have just started underlining them. I was happy to revisit The Picture of Dorian Gray and check off my classic for the month.

EENY-MEEN Two people are kidnapped and trapped in an abandoned building. They are left with only a gun and a message from their kidnapper: the only way out is if one of them dies, otherwise, they’ll both starve to death. Eeny Meeny is the first novel in a series featuring Detective Helen Grace. Helen’s objective is to track down this criminal and uncover their motive.

This book is a real page-turner thanks to the straightforward sentences and short chapters. Arlidge gets straight to the point and drops the reader right into this twisted tale. For pure entertainment purposes, I’d rate this thriller higher, even though the plot does begin to feel repetitive after a point. However, the mediocre writing quality began to grate my nerves several chapters in. The dialogue felt stilted, and in some instances, conversations were confusingly described, when I felt dialogue or better descriptions would have suited the passages more.

In addition, the characters receded far into the background, while the plot was the main focus. Although there are several police officers mentioned throughout the book, I could only tell you a little bit about a three or four of them (including our main character, Helen) because the rest are there in name only.

Despite its flaws, I found this entertaining enough to keep reading until the killer was uncovered. While I can’t really recommend this first installment, I will probably continue the series at some point to see if some of my criticisms are resolved in future novels.

SUDDEN About 30 pages into this book, I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but I decided to accept that feeling and buckle up for the ride. And what a ride it was! Sudden Death describes a fictional tennis match between the Italian painter, Caravaggio, and the Spanish poet, Francisco Quevedo. Interspersed between the games are snippets from historical texts, emails with his editor, and storylines featuring other prominent historical figures, such as Hernán Cortés and Vasco de Quiroga. Like the tennis ball in the match, the reader bounces around wildly from story to story and the result is disorienting and mind-bending (in a good way!).

First of all, this was a lot of fun and I certainly haven’t read anything like it before. Enrigue loves to play with reality, so that it’s difficult to distinguish between fact, speculation, and pure imagination. The novel is full of violence- beheadings, religious movements, and war. Enrigue breaks up these brutal tales with bits of humor so that one minute you’re wincing at a death and the next you’re chuckling at the ridiculousness of some of the characters (sometimes the wincing and the chuckling is happening at the same time).

Enrigue explores so many themes in Sudden Death, from language, translation, and the power of words, to art and the responsibility of the artist. The chapters are generally short and move quickly, but I found myself constantly pausing to look up a historical figure, or a movement, or one of Caravaggio’s paintings. My history knowledge is rather rusty at the moment, so it would be interesting to reread this at a later point with a better understanding of the historical context.

I was able to attend an event with the author and he said that “the novel is a proposal.” It’s up to the reader to bring their own interpretations to the table. The author was able to say so much in such a short novel. My review is just scratching the surface- I want more people to read this so that we can discuss!

THE-BLUEST-EYE I finally (finally!) read my first Toni Morrison novel and it did not disappoint. The Bluest Eye is the story of Pecola, who wishes desperately for blue eyes, which she equates with beauty, belonging, and all that is good in the world. Pecola does not have a good childhood (her father is a drunk and her mother barely cares for her children) and sadly we witness Pecola’s life devolve from bad to much worse.

It pretty much goes without saying that Morrison’s writing was beautiful, but it was also more accessible than I thought it would be. I was intrigued by the structure as we jumped back in time to understand the history of the characters and how this history leads to the terrible events in Pecola’s life. The story is narrated from the perspective of a young black girl who is friends with Pecola and we never hear from Pecola herself. I understand this was a conscious choice on Morrison’s part, but it still left me wishing to hear Pecola’s perspective at least once.

Morrison explores society’s obsession with beauty, but particularly a certain kind of beauty- standards and ideals that have been perpetuated throughout time. Of course the author writes about race and the divides created between white people and black people and between black people who despise their own blackness and other black people.

The overwhelming feeling when I finished this book was sadness. Pecola is mistreated and downtrodden her entire life and she deserves none of it. I can’t wait to pick up another book by Morrison, although not right away because I’ll need some time to recover from this one.

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

BETWEEN When Toni Morrison says a book is required reading, you read it. Written as a letter to his son, Coates explores the concept of “race” in America. He discusses his childhood and growing up on the streets, and his period of discovery when he attended Howard, the Mecca.

Coates describes race as an idea constructed by society and how black bodies have been affected by this construct for years. He writes about learning to question everything, rather than accepting ideas or “norms” as they are. He discusses the moment that his son realized the world is not a fair place, and his own realization of the gulf that exists between the world and him.

This was certainly a powerful and thought-provoking read. There were ideas that I’d never considered before and I think it’s difficult not to feel some despair while reading about some of the things that Coates has experienced. There are no quick or easy solutions. Acknowledging and accepting that there are problems is important, as is continuing to seek answers. It is a fairly short book, but if you plan to read it, I’d encourage you to take it slowly to really absorb his words.

THE-COUNT The sense of accomplishment that I feel after finishing this book is real, guys. Over the course of two months, I read this as a buddy read with Ameriie. I’d previously read an abridged version and I’ve seen the movie several times, so I had a pretty good idea of the story (or at least I thought I did!).

In terms of language and writing style, I think this classic is very accessible. Normally it takes me some pages to settle into the different style, but I was engaged from the very beginning. It doesn’t hurt that this novel is quite fast-paced (even more so if you’re reading the abridged version, from what I’ve been told).

There’s revenge and romance, duels and disguises; basically everything I could want in one novel. There are so many characters to love in this book and it is truly a great adventure to follow the course of the Count’s life for a period of about 25 years (my math might be off there- feel free to correct me).

Let’s talk about the size of this book. I will admit that seeing a page count of 1462 pages is very daunting, but don’t let it stop you. I read this book in short spurts over a long period of time, until the last 330 pages, which I read in a day. I’m sure that if you set your mind to it, you could easily finish this book in a much shorter time frame than I did. And the story is so worth it! Except for a few chapters here and there, I was intrigued by the plot the entire time.

Long story short, The Count of Monte Cristo was excellent and I’d read it again (although not anytime soon ;)

book reviews, what I read, books, books I read, reading wrap-up

PERSUASION Before today, I would have called myself a Jane Austen fan, but really I was a Pride and Prejudice fan because that was the only Austen novel I’d read up until this month. I wasn’t sure which Austen to pick up next, but a few people recommended that I turn to Persuasion.

Persuasion was a slow burn for me. Of course, in the beginning, I was comparing it to Pride and Prejudice, which is a book that I fell in love with right away. Persuasion follows Anne Elliot, one of three sisters in a well-respected family in the English countryside. When Anne is a teenager, she falls in love with a sailor named Wentworth, but is persuaded not to marry him due to his lower rank in society.

It wasn’t until I was about 80 pages in that I began to identify with Anne and connect to the story. Anne is often overlooked and taken for granted, but she has a quite strength and grace that is very compelling. I could see some of myself in Anne with her sensitive and analytical nature, and her desire to please others. I also appreciated Anne’s patience in dealing with her family, who all seem like a bunch of nincompoops. I can’t imagine it being easy to put up with them!

Austen’s  writing slowly draws the reader into Anne’s world and even from an early stage, I was rooting for Anne. It doesn’t matter that it was written hundreds of years ago- Austen’s characters and their desires and struggles still feel very relevant today. There was one moment in particular that just filled me with delight, to the point that I actually squealed and gasped when I read it (it’s pretty well known, I’m sure you could guess if you’ve read the book). I can’t wait to watch the adaptations of Persuasion and I’m looking forward to my next Austen.

DRAGONFLY Oh how I missed you, Claire and Jaime. This second novel in the Outlander series picks up where the first left off, beginning in the modern age and then moving to the past. Claire and Jaime have traveled to a new country and have to find ways to adjust to their new life. There’s court intrigue, political plots, lavish parties, and more. I won’t say more about the plot other than that, since this is the second book in a series.

My first feeling when I started this book was delight at being back in this world. I missed the setting, the characters, and being wrapped up in their lives. I loved the first half of the book and reading descriptions of the new setting. If you’ve read the book, I’ll just say that I’m fascinated by that time and that country, so the first half of the book ticked all of my boxes.

In the second half, the political plot line takes prominence, which I don’t find as interesting as other themes in the novel. For that reason, the second half dragged a bit for me, although I was still interested enough to keep reading. I’m still impressed, however, by how throughly Gabaldon researched the time period and how accurate the setting feels. I mean, I haven’t fact-checked her work, but I think the readers can sense when the author has thoroughly and carefully constructed their world.

Dragonfly in Amber didn’t grab me the same way that Outlander did, with the novelty of discovering a new, rich world filled with compelling characters. Despite that and despite the somewhat uneven reading experience, I enjoyed this second installment and would like to continue the series at some point.

NO-ONE-KNOWS Five years ago, Aubrey Hamilton’s husband vanished into thin air. No one knows what happened to him and for a while, Aubrey was a prime suspect in the case of his disappearance. The book begins in the present, with the State of Tennessee declaring Josh Hamilton legally dead. Although Aubrey hasn’t found the answers or closure that she wanted, she decides to try and move on with her life, until strange events cause her to question everything she thought she knew about her life before.

I’m still a bit mad about this book, which had an ending that left me feeling duped, and not in a good way. I mean, I like a good plot twist as much as the next person, but it has to make sense and fall into place with the rest of the story. I want a plot twist to be exciting because I didn’t see it coming, not because the author pulled it out of a rabbit hole, just for the sake of having a plot twist.

My overall conclusion is that while this was an entertaining read, it wasn’t compelling enough for me to recommend it to others.

Book Reviews: November 2015

November Book Reviews, fates and furies review, heidi review

fates-and-furies-review This was my favorite read of the month. My library hold finally came in last month, but I wasn’t able to finish it before it expired, so I ended up purchasing the book. In this novel, we get to see both sides of a story. Lotto and Mathilde are the golden couple. They are happily married and together they can face any obstacle. The question is though, can you ever truly know someone? The first half of the book is told from Lotto’s perspective, and then we read Mathilde’s perspective.

With a buzzy book, there’s always the risk that the book is not actually worth the hype, but I really enjoyed this one. Groff’s writing style is so interesting and expertly done. She often addresses the reader in brackets and I liked these asides because it made it seem a bit like an oral history. It also recalled instructions and insights that you might see in a play, which is a clever nod to one of the character’s profession.

It’s hard to choose which part I preferred. Lotto’s section sets the stage nicely, but by the end I was desperate to learn more about Mathilde because she’s so enigmatic in the first half. Her section surprised me- it was not what I was expecting.

Fates and Furies is an amazing character study. The author explores the life of an artist; the need to create and be recognized for your creation. We also read about the walls that people build and the outward personas that they present. I think that Mathilde was my favorite character because she was the most complicated. Through Mathilde, Groff shows us that sometimes we only see what we want to see. I’d definitely be curious to hear what you thought if you’ve read this one!

heidi-review This year, for my birthday, I treated myself to a few more Puffin in Bloom editions in order to complete my set. I’ve seen the Shirley Temple movie adaptation of Heidi, but this was my first time reading the book. Heidi is orphaned at a young age and is cared for by her aunt. When her aunt receives an opportunity to work in Frankfurt, she decides to leave Heidi with her grandfather. Due to circumstances in the past, Heidi’s grandfather has become something of a hermit and the villagers are worried that he won’t be a suitable guardian for Heidi. However, Heidi is just the right person to show her grandfather that life is worth living and people aren’t so bad after all.

This book was very sweet. The story is somewhat as I remember, although I think the movie adaptation that I’ve seen varies a bit. Heidi has such a positive attitude. She faces several difficult situations as a child, but in each case, she tries to make the best of it and be a positive influence on the lives around her. In one section of the book, Heidi is very homesick and she just wants to return home; I think we’ve all felt that at some point. There some religious overtones, which I don’t mind, I just prefer that they be more subtle (although this is a children’s novel, so I suppose the author wanted to make sure she got her point across). This was a feel-good read and it’s just what I was in mood for at the time.

Weird-Things-Customers-Say-in-Bookstores-Review I follow Jen Campbell’s youtube channel and the videos that she makes about books are just fantastic. I picked up my copy of this book earlier this year at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Jen has worked in a bookstore for several years and during that time has had many interesting interactions with customers. She started to document the weird things that people say on her blog, and that later evolved into this book. The book features quotes from Jen, and also other booksellers around the world (including one from my local bookstore in CA!). This is a super fast read and I thought it was hilarious. I can’t believe people actually said some of these things. This book was delightful and would make a great gift for any book lover.

Blue-Lily,-Lily-Blue-Review Towards the end of the month, I wanted to read something fast and engaging and then I remembered that I hadn’t yet read the third book in the Raven Cycle series (there’s one more book, which comes out next year). I was a bit disappointed after I finished the second book. I really liked the first book and felt that the second one was a bit of a deviation from that. Happily, my complaints about the second book are fixed in the third book. We’re back to following the characters as they continue their quest together. We also get more of Blue and her family, who I missed in book 2. I think the magical elements of this story have become even more interesting because we’ve seen the characters develop and learn more about themselves throughout the previous two novels. Also, I have to mention again that I enjoy the author’s writing. She’s really able to capture certain feelings; in particular, there was a description of grief that I just felt was spot on. I’m really glad the third book was more like the first one and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

Book Reviews: October 2015

book reviews, the clasp review, bad feminist review, early one morning review

bad-feminist This book has been on my TBR list for over a year and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. It’s a collection of essays that Gay wrote about pop culture, politics, race, gender, and feminism, among other topics. The first few essays are more personal, so that you can get to know the author a little bit, and the rest are divided by subject matter.

I love Roxane Gay’s writing style. She’s open, honest, and not afraid to be vulnerable. She shines a spotlight on things that are problematic in ways that I hadn’t really considered before. Gay has labeled herself as a “bad feminist,” meaning that she doesn’t fall into the stereotype of what a feminist is and she isn’t a perfect feminist all the time (and really, who is?).

Similarly to how I felt about We Should All Be Feminists, I don’t think there’s anything revolutionary here, but I think she makes her points in a manner that’s easy to understand and that may cause you to rethink your position on certain topics. In a few cases, I thought that some of the essays felt a bit short, and I wanted her to keep exploring the topic she was discussing.

Some of my favorites were “Not Here to Make Friends,” about likability, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” about how people talk about rape, and “Beyond the Measures of Men,” about the importance of women in publishing. I’d definitely recommend this book. I really dig Roxane Gay’s particular style of real talk and I want to read all of her work.

the-clasp Kezia, Nathaniel and Victor were really good friends in college, but then they graduated, moved to different cities and started to drift apart. Many years later, they’re reunited at the wedding of another college friend. At this wedding, Victor accidentally falls asleep in the groom’s mother’s bedroom. When he comes to, the groom’s mother has discovered him; the two of them start conversing and she reveals a family secret, telling him a story about a long-lost necklace. Victor decides to try and find this necklace and the story takes off from there.

There’s another interesting layer to this novel, and that’s the author’s inclusion of the short story “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant. This story served as inspiration for this book and is also incorporated into the plot. I really enjoyed this blend of history with the present and it made me want to sit down and read the short story (which I still need to do!).

I liked Crosley’s writing- it’s clever in a subtle and cheeky way. I also think she did a great job developing the characters. They felt like fully-formed people to me. Crosley explores the theme of friendship in a set of characters that are still on the path to “adulthood.” With older friends, it’s interesting to consider if you would befriend the person they are today (if you weren’t already friends with them). Naturally, people change, for better or worse, and the person you first became friends with may not really exist years later.

Although the plot did become rather outlandish, I enjoyed this novel and the questions it raised. I’m curious if I’d enjoy her nonfiction works (I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number?) more or less than her first novel.

Frankenstein It was my first time reading this classic gothic novel. What I loved about the book versus the pop culture portrayal of Frankenstein were the various layers. The creature recounts his story to Victor Frankenstein, who’s telling it to the captain of the ship, who’s relaying it all to his sister via letter. There’s just so much more depth in the book. It raises interesting questions about man vs. other and how man is automatically distrustful of anything that is different. It’s a struggle between two deeply flawed characters: Victor Frankenstein (who thinks he’s done nothing wrong, ha!) and the creature (who is so desperate for human connection that he commits terrible crimes). The writing is excellent, particularly with the descriptions of the setting. I felt like I was truly in Switzerland. It was deliciously dark and the perfect book to read around Halloween.

early-one-morning This novel explores how a split-second decision can impact the rest of your life. It’s set in Italy during World War II. The year is 1943 and the main character, Chiara, decides to flee Rome for safer territory. On the morning that she plans to leave, she’s passing through the Jewish ghetto and sees some people being rounded up. She makes eye contact with one of the women in line, who has a young son. In an instant, the woman pushes her son towards Chiara and Chiara pretends that the boy is her nephew. In doing so, she saves the boy from being taken to a camp with the rest of his family.

The story takes place in both the present and the past, in the moments following Chiara’s decision to save the boy, and years later when she’s much older. The first two chapters are clearly labeled to let you know what year it is, but the remaining chapters aren’t. I don’t mind a nonlinear plot, but I found this one a bit confusing at points.

Another element I wanted was more of Daniele, the little boy in the story. The book is written from Chiara’s perspective, and also Maria’s perspective, a young woman we’re introduced to a little ways into the story. Daniele plays such a huge role in Chiara’s life, but I felt that I didn’t really know much about him as a person. As a young boy, he’s quiet, stubborn, and understandably devastated by the loss of his family. As he grows up, he continues to have problems, but all the details we know about him are one-sided. I think it would have been great to have even a couple chapters from Daniele’s perspective, or allow the reader to get to know him better in some other way.

I would have also liked further insight into why Chiara decided to take the boy in the that moment. Chiara has a younger sister with epilepsy that she’s taken care of since she was diagnosed, so perhaps the reason is that Chiara likes to take care of people? I don’t know. It wasn’t clear to me and it kept pestering my thoughts as I was reading.

I loved the setting and thought the author did a great job evoking daily life in Rome. It made me want to hop on a plane to Italy ASAP. When I visited Rome briefly several years ago, I remember thinking there’s so much history and a rich culture, and I had a similar feeling while reading this book. There were some points that I’d like to change about the novel, but in the end I did like it and was interested enough to keep reading.

Disclaimer: Early One Morning was sent to me by the publisher for review purposes, but these are my honest thoughts and opinions. 

Book Reviews: September 2015

you review, the raven boys review, sorcerer to the crown review, a window opens review

A-Window-Opens I think this was my favorite book of the month. It struck just the right balance of charm and good storytelling. The main character, Alice, lives in NJ with her husband and kids, and works as the books editor of a women’s magazine. When her husband decides to open his own law firm and her family’s financial situation changes, she pursues a new job at a cool literary start-up called Scroll. In addition to trying to succeed at a new job, Alice is dealing with her father’s failing health.

This book is about work/life balance and the struggle to “have it all.” Between her husband, her kids, her job, and her family, Alice is pulled in many different directions and is just trying to do her best. Alice is a book lover, so she automatically gets brownie points from me, and the way she was written felt very real and normal. I sympathized with the challenges she faced and I thought we could be friends in real life. Alice begins to realize she can only stretch herself so far and decides to focus on the things that matter the most to her. The author makes a great point that your version of “having it all” might not be the same as somebody else’s, so it’s better to let go of that notion and focus on your own personal, attainable goals. This book was light, but not empty, and definitely fun to read. I’d recommend it!

The-Raven-Boys Last month I picked up this book based on a recommendation from a booktube friend. The Raven Boys are rich, privileged young men who attend a private boy’s school and Blue wants nothing to do with them. Blue’s family is rather special. They’re all clairvoyant…well, all of them except Blue. She has no powers of her own, but she does enhance other people’s abilities if she’s nearby. Thanks to a series of events, Blue crosses paths with four particular Raven Boys- Gansey, Adam, Noah and Ronan. A quest for a long-lost king draws this unlikely group of friends together and leads them to make some interesting discoveries.

I really liked this book. It has adventure, a bit of romance, class struggles, magic- all very interesting elements. The best part of this book was definitely the characters and I enjoyed learning more about each one. I also love the idea that on paper, these five wouldn’t be friends, but when they are brought together they find they have a lot more in common than they think. It’s also set in a rural town in Virgina, which I think works very well as a setting. What is it about small towns in Virginia being full of strange magical occurrences (I’m thinking of Mystic Falls from The Vampire Diaries)?

The-Dream-Thieves I enjoyed The Raven Boys, so I was looking forward to reading the second book in the series. There’s not too much I can say about the plot without spoilers, but I will say that the main plot of the first novel takes a backseat here and it’s much more focused on one character- Ronan.

I did not know that when I started the book; I assumed it would pick up right where the first one left off. This left me a bit disappointed and I really missed the interactions of the group as a whole. We are introduced to a few new characters, but really I would have liked more focus on the original characters. Don’t get me wrong- this was still a good read. I just had certain expectations and the focus of this book wasn’t really what drew me in to the story in the first place.

Sorcerer-to-the-Crown Here’s another book that was good, but also slightly disappointing. I first heard about it on Book Riot a few weeks before it was published and I immediately placed a hold at my local library. In this book, Zacharias is the Sorcerer Royal, the highest level of sorcerer in all of England. Although he has great magical abilities, he is frequently disrespected because of the color of his skin (he’s black). There’s a lack of magic throughout England, which of course is a problem. Zacharias travels to the border of Fairyland, the source of magic, to investigate the magical deficiency, and along the way he stops at a school for girls to give a speech. In this society, practicing magic is for males only; females are considered too weak to handle magic (grrrrrrrrrrrrr). When Zacharias visits the school and observes how the girls are taught to suppress their magical abilities, which can cause them great harm, he is horrified. He decides to campaign to completely reform restrictions on females and practicing magic.

Ok, there are a lot of great themes going on in this book. First of all, there’s a main character who’s a person of color and a powerful magician. Awesome! There’s another main character, Prunella, who’s a female person of color and also a powerful magicienne. Super awesome! There’s a lot of discussion of race and class in this novel, which is very interesting. Even though Zacharias has achieved the highest level of sorcery through skill alone, there are people who constantly doubt him and seek his downfall. Prunella also has to deal with assumptions about her character, simply because she’s of mixed heritage. Another theme that’s explored is feminism- in this case it’s the idea that females should have the same magical rights as males. It’s thought that females are not strong enough to practice magic, or if they are, that they’ll only use it for frivolous domestic tasks. The magical society in England refuses to recognize that there are females with great abilities too.

I thought the world the author created was well done and that she tackled some very interesting themes. There was still something holding me back from loving this book though. Perhaps it was the writing style, which was old-fashioned and put some distance between myself and the characters. Perhaps it was a bit too long, and some less interesting sections could have been cut. Overall, I liked it and I would read the next book in the series.

You I’d heard a lot of interesting things about this book and it was on my TBR for a while. One booktube friend in particular told me that I had to listen to the audiobook version. You guys know that I don’t generally listen to a lot of audiobooks, but I trusted her opinion and decided to borrow it from the library.

Right away I was uncomfortable and a little embarrassed. I thought, “I hope no one can overhear this right now!” You is your classic boy-meets-girl story, except the boy is a crazy-obsessed stalker. Beck walks into the bookstore where Joe works and it’s love obsession at first sight. He googles her, finds her Twitter, figures out where she goes to school, figures out where she lives, and basically begins to full-on stalk her.

The novel is written from Joe’s point of view and it’s unsettling to be in the mind of someone so twisted. He sees nothing wrong with his actions and he takes the smallest interaction with Beck and blows it far out of proportion. This book contains a lot of graphic and explicit language, so I’d give this a pass if that’s not your jam. I do have to say that the audiobook of this was very well done. The narrator did an amazing job of capturing Joe’s different moods. One minute he’s ecstatic because Beck has agreed to go on a date with him, the next he’s enraged because she’s still talking to her ex-boyfriend. It’s shockingly easy for Joe to find personal information about Beck on the internet and it makes you think twice about what you put out there.

Joe does all kinds of terrible things, and honestly, Beck isn’t a really great person either. She’s self-absorbed and makes a habit of using people. This book gets points for being a page-turner, although towards the end, I was ready for it to be over. If you like thrillers with completely twisted narrators and don’t mind the explicit content, you might like this.