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.

Book Reviews: August 2015

daughter of smoke & bone series review, eight hundred grapes review, where they found her review, the vacationers review, 2 am at the cat's pajamas review

Harry-Potter-7 At the beginning of August, I finally finished my read-through of the Harry Potter series. I started this project last summer and it felt great to finish this month. The final book in the series did not disappoint me and I couldn’t put it down for the last two hundred pages. Now that I’m done, I’m ready for all of the Harry Potter references in pop culture- I’ll finally know what they mean! I’ve been watching the movies as I finish each book and the only one I have left is Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

I put off reading the series for so long because I thought I’d missed my window. People have been in love with Harry Potter for decades and I thought it was too late for me to join the club. You know what? That kind of thinking was so off base. It’s never too late to pick up a good book. I completely understand why Harry Potter is special to so many people around the world and now it’s special for me too. This was the first time I’ve read through the series, but it won’t be the last.



Dreams-of This series. It’s been out for a few years now, but I recently picked it up because one of my booktube friends had mentioned it. I ended up getting totally sucked in and I thoroughly enjoyed this YA fantasy series. The main character, Karou, is an art student in Prague. She has a strange and mysterious background that she doesn’t fully understand. She’s torn between two lives- being a normal teenager and being a part of her family of “monsters.” As Karou begins to learn the truth of who she is, she gets caught up in a war between two species.

That’s a very general outline, but with this series it’s better to discover the secrets as you’re reading along. My favorite part of this series is definitely the world that the author created. She’s reinterpreted the story of angels versus devils and explores interesting themes, including how war affects people.

There is some romance throughout the series and sometimes it’s a bit heavy-handed, but it didn’t bother me too much. Karou is an awesome character, from her appearance (she has blue hair!) to her sarcastic quips. She’s used to taking care of herself and she’s fiercely protective of the people she loves.

The first book is very much a set-up book and introduces us to some important characters, including Karou and Akiva, the person who reveals the past to Karou. The second book is all war and heartbreak, but I thought the conflicts and internal struggles made this book even better than the first one. I felt that the final book brought the trilogy to a fairly satisfying conclusion, and honestly, I could read many more books set in this world. The author really paid attention to detail when dreaming up this world and I think there’s more left to uncover. These books were fun to read, hard to put down, and the perfect thing to allow me to journey to another universe for a bit.

The-Vacationers I’ve wanted to read this book since I first heard about it last summer, and I decided I was going to make it happen this summer. It follows a family from NYC as they take a two-week vacation in Mallorca, Spain. It turns out that everyone in this family has secrets and as the days progress, the secrets slowly come to light. It’s about a family that’s a bit broken at the moment and is trying to mend itself back together.

This book was ok. For a book that mainly about the characters, I didn’t find many of them compelling. The few characters that were more interesting weren’t really explored. The writing was at least good, which is what kept me reading. Yep, not too much to say on this one. It’s a perfectly fine beach read.

Where-They I read Reconstructing Amelia by McCreight last year and enjoyed it, so I thought I’d pick up her next book. Molly is a developing journalist who recently lost a child. By accident she’s assigned to cover the story of a murder, the murder of a baby girl. No one knows who killed this baby girl, or why. As Molly investigates, she realizes that this story is a lot more tangled than anyone had previously suspected.

This was another solid thriller from McCreight. She definitely kept me guessing throughout the novel and when the conclusion came, I definitely hadn’t pieced together the full story. This book is set in a small town in New Jersey and I feel like small towns make an interesting setting for stories like this. Everyone knows everyone and everyone is quick to pass judgment. This novel jumps around in perspective and incorporates a few different mediums, including journal entries, therapy transcripts, and articles written by Molly. I can imagine that might be confusing if you were listening to the audiobook, but I found that I was able to follow along.

There is a lot going on in this book and the author mostly pulls it off. I feel like she wanted to include a lot of characters and details in there to throw people of the real scent. You do have to pay attention a bit because everything is connected.

2-am Madeleine is not quite ten years old and all she wants she wants to do is sing at The Cat’s Pajamas, a jazz club. The entire book takes place over the span of one day and follows Madeleine as she does her best to achieve her goal.

This book wasn’t what I expected. It was kooky, but I liked it! The writing was a bit experimental and playful and Madeline is not your typical little girl. She’s plucky, she curses, and she won’t let adults stand in the way of what she wants. I felt for Madeline because she’s having a difficult childhood. Her mother passed away recently and she lives with her father, but he’s not really there. This novel surprised me with its quirkiness, and that was a good thing.

Eight-Hundred I was 100% influenced by the cover to pick this one up. One week before her wedding, Georgia gets in her car, leaves everyone behind, and drives to her family’s vineyard. She’s reeling from a secret about her fiancé she’s just discovered and she goes home hoping to find some comfort in the familiar. Well, home is not quite the safe haven that she hoped it would be because everyone in her family is dealing with their own issues.

This book is set in wine country, which is fun. It definitely made me want to go on some wine tastings. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the writing bothered me. Also, the book was totally predictable. I thought the family dynamics were a bit strange and I would have liked further development of all of the characters. This book is about the different paths in life that we take, but that theme is only lightly explored. It was a quick and light beach read, but I wouldn’t go into it looking for much more than that.

Book Reviews: July 2015

book reviews, what i read, to kill a mockingbird review, go set a watchman review, i capture the castle review

First of all, I have to say thank you for all of your amazing comments on my last post. All of your heartfelt condolences and kind thoughts are truly helping me. As I mentioned, reading continues to be a much-needed escape for me, so I wanted to go through the books that I finished in July.

I-Capture I’d wanted to read this book for a while because I’ve heard so many people say good things about it. Cassandra is a young teenager living in a run-down castle in the countryside. Her family is rather eccentric and Cassandra wants to be a writer, so this novel is her “capturing” her daily life in her journal. I really enjoyed Cassandra as a character and narrator. She has excellent observational skills and her witty commentary made me chuckle more than once. I didn’t love the book as much as other people do, but I think it’s a good read and I’m glad I finally picked it up.

To-Kill Once I heard about Go Set a Watchman, I knew that I wanted to reread To Kill a Mockingbird. I hadn’t read it since 8th grade, so I was definitely due for a reread before picking up the new book. This was just as good as I remembered. Scout is a young girl growing up in the South in the 1930s. It’s a coming-of-tale and throughout the novel Scout begins to learn important lessons about race and humanity. Scout as a narrator is A+. I love how she refuses to conform into the mold of a typical young Southern lady. With rereads I often wonder if the book will hold up to my previous memories and this one definitely did.

Harry-Potter-6 I continued my quest to read the entire Harry Potter series from beginning to end. I finished book 6 last month and I also started book 7 (but didn’t finish until August). There’s not too much I can say about the plot, in case that there are people like me who haven’t read the series yet. I will say that I knew about the thing that happens at the end, but I was a bit surprised because I thought it happened in the final book (can I be any more cryptic?).

Go-Set Go Set a Watchman is only the second book I’ve ever preordered (the first was Yes Please). I was very curious about this one. It was written before TKAM, but takes place afterward. Scout is about 26 in this novel and goes back to visit her family in Maycomb, Alabama. Not much has changed in the town, but the characters aren’t entirely as we remember them. My feelings are pretty meh about this book. For me, it just wasn’t up to par with TKAM (granted, that’s a pretty high bar to reach). The writing wasn’t nearly as good and you could see that this was a draft. The story is rather jumbled and I wasn’t too pleased with the direction she took the characters in. Still, I’m glad I read this because I wanted to form my own opinion. It also doesn’t change my feelings about TKAM and perhaps if I hadn’t reread it right before picking up GSAM, there wouldn’t have been such a stark contrast.

If you ever want to know what I’m reading at the moment, I’m pretty good about updating my Goodreads. Do you use Goodreads too? What’s been your favorite read so far this summer?