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Book Reviews December 2014

It turns out that I can get a lot of reading done when I don’t have go to my day job! With all that time off, December was a really great reading month for me. We’ve got 11 books to get through, so let’s jump right into my mini reviews (click the titles for links).

JANE Last year I made a list of the top 10 classics I’d like to read or reread and Jane Eyre was on my list. I think I read it when I was much younger, so I remembered very little of the story. I see it as a coming-of-age novel about a young woman trying to find her place in the world. Jane is an orphan and she doesn’t have the happiest childhood. The story follows her as she grows up, goes to school, and eventually ventures out into the real world for a position as a governess.

I feel wary commenting on classics, but I’m really glad I reread this one. Jane is a wonderful character and I admire her spirit. She handles tough situations with grace. She has strong opinions and she’s not afraid to voice them. Also, she doesn’t let her lower economic status hold her back. She dreams of doing bigger and better things with her life.

Classics can sometimes be intimidating because of the language and size, but they are classic for a reason. This book is quite long, but once I adjusted to the writing style, I really enjoyed it. I even giggled out loud at a few bits. Jane is sassy! If you’ve been thinking about reading this book, I say go for it.

AUNT I won this book from a twitter giveaway, which was awesome. Who doesn’t like winning things? This slim little volume is a collection of stories written by P.L. Travers, the same author who wrote the Mary Poppins stories. They’re labeled as Christmas stories because she wrote them for particular friends of hers and gave the stories to them for Christmas.

This was a quick and enjoyable read. There are three stories about three different people and it was interesting to see how these people had an impact on her life. My favorite story was the titular one about Aunt Sass, who was the real-life inspiration for Mary Poppins. Aunt Sass is strict and prickly on the outside, but underneath she has a heart of gold. She’s the kind of aunt who’s done all sorts of interesting things with her life and has an anecdote for every situation. This was the first thing I’ve read by P.L. Travers, so now I’d like to check out some of her other work.

FEVER In a small, rural town, a teenage girl suddenly falls ill with a mysterious disease. Soon another girl is affected, and then another. Paranoia and panic sets in as the townspeople wonder what’s causing this illness and why only teenage girls are affected.

The premise sounds great, right? There was a lot of buzz when this book came out earlier last year and I really wanted to read it, but I didn’t get around to it until last month. I thought this was good. I was intrigued by the story throughout and I enjoyed the author’s writing style. I was a bit disappointed by the way it all came together in the end, but not so much that it ruined my reading experience.

DASH This book is a perfect read for the holidays. It’s set in December in NYC, which is a magical time of year. Also, it involves the Strand, my favorite bookstore in the city, so I already knew I was going to enjoy this book.

Dash, one of the main characters, is browsing the books at the Strand when he discovers a little red notebook full of clues. He decides to play along and follow the clues . They lead him to the other main character, Lily, and the two of them start to exchange stories and dares through this notebook.

It’s a pretty cute story with a dash of adventure and romance. I’m glad I read this last month because my sappiness threshold was a bit lower than normal (y’all know I’m nutty about Christmas). It is a young adult novel and it is cutesy, which, you know, I’m not always in the mood for. I thought Dash as a character was a bit pretentious and annoying (I feel like he’d grow up to be a wannabe writer in Brooklyn. No disrespect to wannabe writers who currently live in Brooklyn and #nodisrespectoBenAffleck). Overall, I enjoyed this though.

DEAR I don’t think I realized I liked thrillers until I read Gone Girl. Or maybe I did know that, but I’d just forgotten. Anyways, ever since Gone Girl became such a huge hit, every thriller that came out afterwards has been compared to that book. And in my mind, I’m measuring all the thrillers I read against that book. Dear Daughter is no Gone Girl, but I did think it was pretty good.

Janie Jenkins is charged with the murder of her mother and goes to jail. Ten years later, she gets out on a technicality and makes it her mission to figure out exactly what happened the night of her mother’s death. She can’t exactly remember the events of that night and she didn’t have the best relationship with her mother, so she’s afraid that she may actually have killed her.

I’d call Janie an unlikable character: she’s shallow, sarcastic, selfish, and mean, but she’s smarter than she looks and makes witty observations about her life. An important part of thrillers is the way the story unfolds and I thought the author did a pretty good job with the pacing of this book. While I could guess at some things, I didn’t predict all of the events that take place. The most interesting part to me was the relationship between Janie and her mother and the secrets that Janie uncovers. I don’t want to say much more than that. If the plot sounds interesting to you and you like fast-paced books, read this and let me know what you think.

PERFUME This book definitely wins the award for the most bizarre book that I read last month, but it’s bizarre in a good way. It’s about a young orphan who’s unloved and unwanted from birth. There’s something unusual about him though- he has an amazing sense of smell. As in, he could smell your food and tell you exactly what ingredients went into it. As he grows up he uses this talent to become a perfumer and one day discovers a scent that he finds completely irresistible- the scent of a young virgin. He becomes obsessed with turning this scent into a perfume and he’ll do anything to get what he wants.

Like I said, this book was strange, but also so interesting. On one hand, you sympathize a bit with this character because he’s basically downtrodden from birth (If I remember correctly, his mother wants nothing to do with him, gives birth in the middle of the street, and promptly dies). On the other hand, his moral compass is set to zero and he does some pretty reprehensible things. A few people told me that that this book was adapted into a movie, so I’m excited to watch that at some point.

WINTER I guess I was in the mood for all of the dark and wintry reads last month. This was another one that had been sitting on my to-read list for a while. When I was heading home, I only wanted to take my iPad with me. I saw that this book was available as an eBook at the library, so I checked it out.

This one is part ghost story and part mystery. It’s set in a small town in Vermont, where there are strange disappearances and mysterious deaths. There are also creatures called sleepers- people who died and have been brought back to life. The story is told from a few different perspectives, one in the past and a few in the present. Eventually these storylines overlap and you see how all of the characters are connected.

The Winter People was good, but it didn’t blow me away. I was most interested in one of the main characters and didn’t feel that strongly about the rest of them. Still, it was interesting to see the way the story developed and I would read another book by this author.

SELECTION ELITE ONE The Selection series consists of The Selection, The Elite, and The One. I read all three last month and feel like I need to review them all at once. A coworker recommended the first one to me if I was in the mood for a light, easy read.

Let me get this out of the way: these books are total fluff and aren’t all that good. In fact, they’re pretty bad. Yet, somehow, I still read the entire trilogy. So I guess they can’t be entirely bad because for some reason, I kept reading. It’s described as a mix of The Bachelor and The Hunger Games. In this fictional kingdom, when the prince is of marrying age, eligible bachelorettes apply for a process called The Selection. Out of the many entries, 35 are selected. Once they’ve been chosen, they move to the palace and compete for the prince’s affections until only one is left.

I’m not sure why this was compared to The Hunger Games because it’s nowhere near as brutal or vicious as some of the events that take place in those books, but I could definitely see elements of The Bachelor in these books. The main character, America is a whiny brat. Yeah, that’s kind of harsh, but I think it’s true. She cries and complains constantly, she’s weak, and her entire existence seems to revolve around boys, boys, boys. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find love, but it seems that she’s so wrapped up in the boys in her life that her own identity is barely there.

I’m going to limit myself to just three more complaints because I could rant about these books for a while: a love triangle that goes on for way. too. long, characters that are one-dimensional, and dialogue that’s so bad in some places that it’s laughable. By the last book I was rolling my eyes so hard and intermittently yelling, “Whyyyyyy?” and “What?!?” I’m sure my family wondered if I’d been struck with some kind of book madness. If you’ve read these books and liked them, please tell me what you liked about them. If you’ve read them and didn’t like them, please commiserate with me in the comments. If you haven’t read them yet, I’d give these a pass.

I feel a little sorry that I’ve given these books a bad review, but I had major issues with them. However, as I said, I did read all three of them, so there must be some redeeming qualities, otherwise I would have stopped reading and thrown the book across the room (just kidding. I find it really hard to stop reading books once I’ve started. Also, I wouldn’t have thrown it because I was reading these on my iPad and I really like my iPad).

ONE PLUS In the summer of 2013, I read my first Jojo Moyes book, Me Before You, and became a big fan of her work. Since then I’ve read The Last Letter From Your Lover and The Girl You Left Behind and really enjoyed both of them. When I heard she had a new book coming out earlier this year I was pretty excited. Based on my track record with her books, I was pretty sure that I’d love it.

I went into this book blind, meaning that I had no idea what it was about. I could not let the final book in the Selection series be my last book of the year, so I wanted to squeeze in one more book in the last couple days of December. I think when I tried to borrow this from the library earlier in the year there was a huge queue, but luckily it was available when I went to check it out last month.

Unsurprisingly, I really liked this book; maybe even more so because I didn’t know what to expect. Jess is a single mom in the UK and barely making enough to get by. She has two kids: a step-kid from her ex-husband and her natural daughter. When her daughter has the opportunity to attend a very prestigious private school on a scholarship, Jess tries to do everything in her power to make her daughter’s dream a reality.

That’s only part of the story, but since I didn’t know anything about the plot before I started, I feel like that’s all I want to reveal. I will say that there are shenanigans revolving around getting her daughter into this school that lead Jess to cross paths with a unlikely hero named Ed, who’s going through his own major problems.

The reason why I enjoy books by Jojo Moyes so much is that she’s a gifted storyteller. She really has a talent for bringing her characters to life. I have no trouble connecting to them; I feel like they’re real people. Also, she’s not afraid to touch on difficult topics, such as bullying, in a way that feels authentic. If you haven’t checked out any of her books yet, I think you should.

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Phew. If you made it all the way to the end of this lengthy post. I salute you! You’ll see that I switched up the format of my reviews a bit. Let me know what you think and if you prefer the old way. Also, if you have questions about any of these books, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m happy to discuss any of them in more detail down below. If you’re a book nerd like me, you might be interested in my youtube channel where I post all sorts of bookish content that’s different from what’s here on the blog (for example, my 10 favorite books of 2014).

Tell me: What was the best book you read in 2014?

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

What I Read November 2014

YES PLEASE

About- Amy Poehler’s (of Parks and Recreation, SNL, and The Upright Citizen’s Brigade fame) memoir.

Why I picked it- Hello? Amy Poehler’s book? That’s all you had to say!

Grade A I listened to the audiobook version and it was fantastic. I’m not normally an audiobook person, but it’s narrated by Amy herself and that convinced me. The whole book felt very honest and relatable. Amy’s writing just makes you feel like the two of you are old pals. If you like Amy Poehler, I’d say you should definitely pick up this book. If you liked Bossypants or Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, I’d say you should buy this book. Basically, anyone with a sense of humor should buy this book! I’m glad I listened to the audiobook, but I also ordered the physical copy because I want to own it and flip through all of the pictures.

THE MAZE RUNNER

About- A teenager named Thomas wakes up in a strange location with no memory of his past and must fight to make his way back home.

Why I picked it- I know this book is pretty popular and the movie adaptation came out earlier this year.

Grade C- I was rather disappointed by this one. This is one of those books that did not live up to the hype for me. I thought it was pretty repetitive in the beginning and I didn’t find the main character compelling. I never really felt a connection with the characters, so I wasn’t invested in the story. Maybe I’m getting a little tired of dystopian YA fiction?

A LITTLE PRINCESS

About- A rich, young girl whose father dies and leaves her penniless.

Why I picked it- Last month was Children’s Literature Month and I wanted to fit at least one kids book in.

Grade B+ I absolutely loved this movie as a kid and the book is just as charming. I really like the message of making the most out of a bad situation. I also enjoyed the main character’s big imagination. Those were my favorite scenes in the movie- when the things she imagined came to life. If you’ve seen the movie and liked it, I think you would also enjoy the book as well.

Tell me: Have you read anything good lately?

(as always, click the titles for links!)

What I Read October 2014

BOY, SNOW, BIRD

About- A retelling of Snow White that explores the themes of race, beauty, and identity.

Why I picked it- I heard that this one was interesting and I’ll admit that the cover also captured my attention.

Grade B This book was kind of strange, but I kind of liked it. I liked the writing style, which was somewhat conversational. I felt a bit like I was sitting down with a friend and they decided to tell me this wild and crazy version of their life story. There were a few twists in the plot that I didn’t anticipate and I thought the narrator was an interesting character. This book won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a bit of an experimental read, then this might hit the spot.

THE BELL JAR

About- A young woman struggling with depression; a realistic portrayal of someone dealing with a mental illness.

Why I picked it- I’ve been meaning to read this for over a year now. It’s a classic and I’m glad I finally got to it.

Grade A Our main character, Esther, battles depression and the entire time I was reading this, I really felt for her. At the beginning of the book, she’s living the dream and doing a summer internship in NYC. After the internship ends though, her plans for the rest of the summer don’t quite work out and the depression starts to take a hold of her. Esther feels so alone and although she seems fine on the outside, she’s really hurting on the inside. Plath’s writing is beautiful and I thought this book was really good for anyone who wants to understand mental illness better. This is one of those books that I think will stick with me for a long time (if you want to hear more of my thoughts on this book, check out the video that I made).

HALF BAD

About- A young witch who is Half-White (good witch) and Half-Black (bad witch).

Why I picked it- I’m pretty sure Eva Chen instagrammed a picture of this book a few months before it came out, so I mentally added it to my list.

Grade B- The good: interesting premise, fast pacing, interesting details in this world of witches. The not-so-good: underdeveloped characters, the romance was not really believable, and the ending felt a bit rushed. Overall, I thought this book was entertaining, although I had some problems with it. It’s the first book in trilogy and I’ll be checking out the next book to find out what happens and see if it addresses any of the issues I had with the first one.

REBECCA

About- A young woman gets married to a widower, but feels that she is constantly in the shadow of his first wife.

Why I picked it- This is another book that was on my list of top 10 classics I want to read or reread.

Grade A This book was excellent. I almost want to tell you nothing about this book except for, go read it. I didn’t know too much going into this book and I think that’s the best way to approach it. I wanted to read some spooky/creepy books this month in keeping with the theme of Halloween and this one fit the bill. The characters are fascinating and the plot is a slow burn, which I thought worked perfectly in this case. That’s all I’m saying about this one- let me know if any of you have read it!

If you want to hear more of my book talk, I have a YouTube channel where I upload book-related videos weekly!

Tell me: Have you read any of these books? What are you reading at the moment?

(as always, click the titles for links!)

On October 29, 2014 · 13 Comments · In Books
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What I Read September 2014

The Silkworm

About- A famous author disappears and detective Cormoran Strike is hired to investigate his disappearance.

Why I picked it- It’s the second novel in this series.

Grade B+ I enjoyed this book. I liked The Cuckoo’s Calling and I was looking forward to further character development in this novel. In particular, I wanted to learn more about Robin, Cormoran’s assistant, and I felt that that did happen in this second novel. This mystery involves certain aspects of the publishing industry and since publishing is my day job, I had an extra connection with those bits.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

About- Harry’s 5th year at school and his continuous battle to defeat Lord Voldemort.

Why I picked it- I’m reading the series from start to finish.

Grade B It took a little while for me to get into this one, which hasn’t happened for any of the other books in the series. I thought that the first half or so was a bit slow and Harry is just so whiny for most of this book. However, it definitely picks up and the action in the last chunk of the book did not disappoint. I’m glad I decided to slow down on my pace of reading through the series, but now I’ve only got two books left!

Go Ask Alice

About- The “diary” of a teenage girl who becomes a drug addict.

Why I picked it- I was working on a video project for Banned Books Week.

Grade D The main word I’d use to describe this book is bizarre. It claims to be the diary of a young girl, but it later came to light that it was a completely fictionalized account written by a woman named Beatrice Sparks. It appears that it was written to scare kids off drugs, but I can’t imagine that it was very effective. The whole time I was reading it I felt that something was off, and as soon as I finished it, I had to look up some background information. I did not think it was well-written (which I may have been able to excuse if it was actually a diary).

A Paris Apartment

About- An apartment full of antique furniture is discovered in Paris and a Sotheby’s auctioneer named April is sent to evaluate their worth.

Why I picked it- The cover definitely had something to do with it. Plus, after Go Ask Alice I really wanted something light and more straightforward.

Grade C+ The narrative in this book is split between April in the present day and a character named Marthe who lived in Paris during the Belle Epoque. Marthe is the woman who owned the apartment and all of the furniture in it and April discovers Marthe’s journals as she’s sorting through the antiques. I enjoyed Marthe’s story, but I didn’t find April to be a very compelling character. I almost wish the entire book had been about Marthe. Overall, I thought this book was ok, but the fact that it’s set in Paris is definitely a plus.

And Then There Were None

About- Ten people are invited to vacation on an island and then they all start dying one by one…

Why I picked it- This book is on my list of top 10 classics I want to read or reread.

Grade A I read this book back in junior high and it started me on a huge Agatha Christie kick. I wanted to reread it because I couldn’t quite remember the story, but I do remember that I loved it. I thought maybe it would come back to me as I was reading it and that I’d remember who the murderer is, but nope- it felt like a totally new reading experience. This was a quick read and it was fun to try to figure out the mystery. I think I’ll be reading more Agatha Christie next month because mysteries are very Halloween-appropriate.

Tell me: What’s the best book that you’ve read recently?

(as always, click the titles for links!)