I generally like reading challenges, either ones where I challenge myself to read a certain number of books per year or per month or ones like the PopSugar reading challenge where you’re given prompts like “read a book that was written the year you were born.” These challenges can be fun. In fact, the first PopSugar challenge I did a few years back was the only reason I even picked up a graphic novel and, since then, I’ve found quite a few that I love to read! And though some of the challenge prompts are just plain silly others are more meaningful, getting people to read books outside of their comfort zone. And that’s a great thing.
But…sometimes a challenge can be too challenging. I read primarily for enjoyment and partially for my job and other hobby. I want to publish a book someday and I figure the more I read, the better prepared I’ll be for writing the right book. Also, as a librarian, I like to know what’s popular and have personal knowledge of lots of books so I can give suggestions for readers that may not know as much about what’s out there as I do. Which is why, last year, I first joined the Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky (SWON) Teen Reading Challenge. It promotes the reading and knowledge of teen material in a fun, competition amongst librarians and their friends/patrons way. And it was both fun and super frustrating.
I already read lots of teen fiction. I’d say that’s actually where I go to get most of my reading material and not just because I’m a Teen Librarian. I just find most teen fiction to have something that a lot of adult books just don’t have. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is and why I feel that way but it’s there. So I loved the idea of a challenge where the challenge is to read teen books! But it was a double edged sword.
By the end of the two month challenge I was so burnt out on teen books and was getting very negative in regards to their reviews even though, if I’d read them at a different time of the year, I probably wouldn’t have judged them so harshly. I think I’d just read so much, so fast that things were starting to blend together and one book would remind me of another and it just wasn’t the best. So I’m taking a different approach this year. I’m still going to try to read as many teen books as I can but if I need a break I’m going to give myself one. Instead of feeling guilty if I step out of the teen section I’m going to do just that. Maybe grab a book of smutty short stories or an adult graphic novel and delve into that when the teens are just too much.
Honestly, I may end up reading more than last year just because I do that. Because yes, a challenge should be challenging but it shouldn’t make you want to pull out your hair. Right?
Note: I received a free ARC of Hanna Who Fell From the Sky from NetGalley early last year and just got around to starting to read it last week. Oops. I need to be more on top of these things. Hopefully I will be this year!
Now onto the kind of, almost a review.
I absolutely hate it when this happens. I see a book description that sounds pleasing on NetGalley, I request said book, and then I finally get around to reading it and I don’t enjoy it at all. And then I struggle with what to do. I feel obligated to finish the damn thing since I got a free copy after all (especially when I do the thing where they give me the free copy and then I take a year to finally get to reading it.) But I’ve also promised myself in recent years that I shouldn’t force myself to finish things I don’t like. With the hundreds of books on my “to be read” list I don’t have time for bad books.
I tried. I really did. I’ve been working on reading this book for nearly a week, I’m only halfway through, and I’m finding it a chore to read and I have since the beginning.
The plot line isn’t all that interesting even though I feel as though it should be. A “cult” like existence where the men have multiple wives and the religious leader seems shady as hell? Should have been interesting enough to hold my attention. But it’s just not. Halfway through the book there are hints of dark secrets but it’s not enough. There should be wariness, more edge.
I’m also not really feeling anything for any of the characters. Hanna’s mind goes back and forth so much and there’s almost a touch of magical realism that doesn’t really feel like it fits? I don’t know and I honestly don’t even feel the need to skim through the rest of the book to find out how it’s going to end.
And another sure sign that I’m not that into it. Usually I have two, maybe three books of various genres going on at one time. At one point while I was reading Hanna I had five books that I was reading. I keep grabbing other things to read and finding other things to do instead of reading Hanna Who Fell From the Sky.
As much as I’d like to finish it and write a more proper review I just can’t put myself through it anymore. Sorry NetGalley and sorry Mr Meades. I’m just not into it.
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy is a story of what happens when two families go on a cruise and then, on an excursion to the shores of Central America, the kids in the family go missing. (And there should be a trigger warning because there is some sexual assault that takes place about midway through.)
The novel is told from the points of view of a handful of the characters, switching perspectives from the panicked adults to the kids who, based on their ages, all have different feelings about what is happening. It’s good because, instead of waiting until the very end to find out what’s actual happening, we get to see it in real time, all the while knowing what the parents are going through in the background.
Now there were some issues. The writing was a bit clunky in places and some of the character’s reactions seemed out of place. I know different people react to situations differently but the way certain character’s were represented it didn’t jive between their thought processes and how they actually reacted. The adults acted more like children than the children did and the children acted more like adults. It was kind of jarring, especially during some of the more violent scenes.
Overall, Do Not Become Alarmed kept my attention and kept me reading but it wasn’t the greatest mystery/thriller I’ve ever read.
Now that a new year has started I thought it might be a good idea to document some of my favorite and least favorite books from 2017. This list will include books I loved, books I hated, and books that just didn’t turn out how I expected them to.
Onto the list which will be in no particular order because the holidays were good but also stressful and my brain hurts too much to organize more thoroughly.
- Hunted by Meagan Spooner
- Hunted is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Beauty and the Beast is my absolute favorite Disney fairy tale princess story and the author of Hunted has written some books that I absolutely love so I was expecting an amazing book. And it was good and interesting and well-written but it wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. I think I just didn’t connect with the Beauty character, Yeva, as much as I’ve done with other heroines in fairy tale retellings. Super disappointing.
- Caraval by Stephanie Garver
- A tale of two sisters, magic, and adventure. There were twists and turns and, as many other reviewers mentioned, some very purple prose in regards to the writing but I remember absolutely loving reading this book. I’ve read lots of books in the past few years but this was one of the only ones in 2017 that I literally stayed up hours past when I should have went to bed just to finish. Back in the day, staying up to read all night was a common practice but now that I’m working full time and what not it’s just not a thing that I let happen often.
- The Illuminae Files Books One and Two by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
- I was hesitant to pick up the first book in the series because I knew it was written in a very different style than I’m used to. The Illuminae Files is a trilogy set in space and in the future with mega-corporations battling it out and with regular people getting caught in the cross fire. There was space travel and plagues and creatures getting loose and all sorts of craziness and the book was told through emails, interviews, medical reports, etc. It was an interesting format and very visual and I ended up getting through both massive tomes in very short spans of time. Amazing.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Everyone I know loves The Book Thief, a book about a little German girl growing up during the Holocaust. And I should have loved it too because I typically love young adult books set during that time period. But I didn’t connect to any of the characters at all and didn’t like how the book was set up (it was narrated by Death) and it was an all around fail for me.
- Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
- A tale of two teens, a webcomic designer and a boy who writes fanfiction for her webcomic. Only, at the start he doesn’t know it’s the girl’s webcomic. There’s main characters with anxiety and who are very much introverts. There’s secrets and emotional upheaval and it was all brilliantly done.
Sharing your love of a certain fandom is an excellent thing. It’s always nice to actually have other people who are interested in the same thing you. I know I’ve latched onto TV shows or books before and was disappointed to find that very few other people in the world had enjoyed what I had and so there was no fan art or fanfiction to be found. And, at least in my case, it kind of messes with how much I’m into it just because the original source material is the only way I can really get into said fictional world.
But then there’s also a problem when it comes to being part of a fandom that millions of other people enjoy.
Case in point: Star Wars.
Last week I went out with a group of friends to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi on opening night and it was awesome. It also left me with a lot of questions and ideas for fanfiction and for the drive to see what other people were writing in their fanfiction. And I did end up finding a lot of stories that enjoyed reading but, from a writerly perspective I didn’t like at all. Because, less than twenty-four hours after the movie premiered, there were already dozens of other fanfiction writers who’d written a story very similar to the one that I had gotten an idea for while watching The Last Jedi.
I mean, it’s great to know that other people are into the same idea but at the same time it’s kind of depressing to know that I wasn’t the first to come up with an idea. I still think I’m going to write up my own version of the story, it’s just going to be one of those things where I’ll have to be even more creative to try and put my own spin on the idea.
So that’s why it’s both great and kind of awful to be part of such a large fandom when it comes to fanfiction. I love it when I have tons of options of stories to read, yet it means it’s harder and harder to come up with a concept that hasn’t been done dozens of times before.
But, I guess that’s what every author has to deal with regardless of what they’re writing. *shrug*
I’ve went on occasional Star Wars kicks off and on all year where all I want to do is rewatch the movies, read Star Wars fanfiction, and also delve into the books that are officially associated with the series.
Unfortunately, most of those books haven’t met my expectations.
If Goodreads did half stars I’d probably give Leia, Princess of Alderaan a 3.5. This is the third Star Wars novel I’ve read by Claudia Gray and I don’t know if it’s just her writing style or what but I didn’t really love any of them. I just find that they don’t really seem true to the characters that have already been established (in this case, Leia) or, in the case of some of Gray’s other Star Wars novel called Lost Stars she had two narrators, both of which were just downright annoying. It’s just been very disappointing considering that these novels are sanctioned by Lucasfilm Press as being in the Star Wars canon.
Leia, Princess of Alderaan is about a sixteen year old Princess Leia who spends the novel trying to prove herself as the heir to the throne. She also learns about the rebellion and about love. I’ve always wanted to know more about Leia’s backstory but, as I said earlier, this didn’t feel like the Leia I knew from the movie series. I mean, I get that people change as they got older and experience more things but this really wasn’t set that far in advance of A New Hope and yet Leia is far more whiny teenager than she’s ever depicted in the movies. It cheapens her character I think.
(Additional update: I read this book before seeing The Last Jedi and now I almost wish I had waited or at least that I’d realized that a few of the characters we see in this book are in The Last Jedi because I just know realized that, typing this review up over a week after finishing the book. It’s weird though because the Amilyn Holdo we see in this novel and the one in the movie only match up thanks to fun hair colors and no way in personality. Kind of sad because Amilyn was one of my favorite characters in the Leia book. She kind of reminded me of Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. The Holdo in the movie definitely does not.)
So overall, I didn’t love Leia, Princess of Alderaan as much as I’d figured I would given that I do like Leia’s character. But I think it may be a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” given that I’ve only read one other non Star Wars book by Claudia Gray and didn’t really give it that high of a rating either so it might just be that it’s her writing style in general that I don’t like and has nothing to do with her Star Wars depictions. Not sure though.
One of the first holiday themed books that I picked up for the 2017 season was My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories which is an anthology of holiday themed short stories written by Young Adult authors. This collection had been on my “to be read” list for quite some time, especially since some of the authors were ones I’m very familiar with and I’ve enjoyed their works in the past. Other authors were new to me.
Overall I really liked the collection but, as always, with a collection there were some hits and misses. So here’s the breakdown. And be aware, since there are so many short stories this is going to be a long review.
- Midnights by Rainbow Rowell: A beautiful sweet little story about a boy and a girl who have had some pretty interesting New Year’s Eve countdowns over the years. We see the main characters grow up and their feelings change and it was cute and nostalgic in regards to graduation and returning to ones hometown and all that jazz.
- The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link: This one had an odd ghostly little quality and was contemporary but felt like it was set more in Victorian times almost. I struggled with placing the time period. And then the ending was just weird. Not my favorite of the bunch.
- Angels in the Snow by Matt De La Pena: This one had a distinct Hallmark quality to it but not one of the better Hallmark cheesy Christmas movies. A guy house sits for his boss who has literally no food in the house (what kind of house doesn’t have cans of stuff stored away?) and the house sitter can’t afford to buy anything so he’s starving. Fortunately the pretty girl in the apartment upstairs finds him before he wastes away. This one was full of weird coincidences and even weirder characters.
- Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han: Apparently, once upon a time, Santa accidentally adopted a baby that crawled into his bag of presents. That baby grows up as the only human in the North Pole and so, of course, falls in love with an elf. This leads to awkwardness but then there’s also this subplot about this human guy she met once and she kissed him and it’s all very odd. And while the previous stories were kind of tied up this one didn’t really have an ending which could have made it so much better.
- Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan: I loved that a male/male couple had a story but this one, about a guy asking his boyfriend to dress up as Santa for his younger sibling, was kind of awkward. The Santa boyfriend was just constantly second guessing himself and then there weird goings on with the family and it didn’t really feel right?
- It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins: A cute little story about a girl who just wants a favor from a guy who works in a Christmas tree lot and she ends up with so much more.
- Krampuslauf by Holly Black: City celebrates the krampus, a horned goat demon thing that punishes children that misbehave. Girl meets krampus, girl thinks he’s in costume, girl invites krampus to holiday party, krampus actually shows up, punishes a kid and grants her a wish. It was weird but written well.
- What the Hell have You Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman: A Jewish girl feels very out of place at her very Christmas oriented college during the winter break. At a little caroling event she runs into a black student who first catches her attention because he understands her sense of humor (most other students don’t) and then they bond because he also feels out of place. It’s a little cheesy but it was a good read.
- Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Kiersten White: Bad boy gets in trouble and is forced to help the local pastor put on the Christmas pageant. And of course the pastor has a cute, teen daughter that the bad boy knows and likes. It was cute and kind of funny but not the best story of the bunch.
- Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter: Two teens happen to meet at the airport and end up exchanging tickets because neither want to go where they want to. This leads to secrets and lies and Christmas Eve revelations. It was super cheesy and very confusing at times with not enough information.
- Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White: A teen who lives in a town named Christmas and just wants to get out. Thanks to a new chef at the diner where she works, a chef that cooks what people need instead of just what they want, helps her to realize that maybe life in Christmas isn’t that bad after all. This was cute and magical and I really liked it.
- The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: A fantasy world where one girl dares to evoke an ancient power and it leads her into a life she never imagined. It was magical and lovely but so weird compared to the rest of the stories which were more or less contemporary.