Literary Musings · To Read or Not to Read?

Inflammatory Reviews

I read book reviews for a lot of different reasons. Of course there are the reasons you’d expect…to get an idea from other readers as to whether or not I should actually bother buying or checking out a particular book from the library. I usually start by checking Goodreads to see whether any of my “friends” on their have the title and have a few reviewers that seem to have pretty similar tastes to mine and so I usually end up trusting their judgement. I also utilize reviews in regards to my job because I know I need to buy books for the library that will be universally appealing and may not be necessarily up my alley taste wise.

Then, after I read the reviews of my trusted sources, I generally check the most negative reviews even though that occasionally leads to my being spoiled about some plot point (though most Goodreads reviewers are actually good about tagging spoilers so I can avoid them) . Sometimes people point out things that I know would irk me and other times a person’s gripe makes me laugh out loud and immediately go to pick up said book.

And then there’s the aftermath of my reading a book that I either particularly liked or didn’t like. After I finish a book I feel strongly about I start looking through reviews of readers who thought the complete opposite and, sometimes, I end up seething in anger. Now, I never give into that anger. I never reply and start a heated debate with someone who has differing views than I do but boy do I compose retorts in my head. And there’s mental name calling because, usually when someone gives a negative review to something I love, I can tell that they just don’t “get it” like I did.

Yeah I know it’s silly but here’s the thing…I may let it get me riled up for awhile but, in the end, I’m just glad that people are reading things and are obviously willing to get riled up as well. Plus, when it comes to reviewers that I know in real life I don’t let our differing book opinions get into the way of our friendships.

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To Read or Not to Read?

The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood

The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood was a bit of a hard one for me to rate because it was an odd combination of haunted house horror and typical teen angst. If I had to give it a comparison I’d call it a Breakfast Club meets Stephen King’s Rose Red.

So the main setting is the infamous Boulder House in Wisconsin, a house that is said to have been cursed during it’s construction by owner Maxwell Cartwright Jr. He created the House and filled it with his collection of oddities: lots of dolls, odd sculptures, and instruments that play on their own. And, in little clips from a history book of Maxwell, it becomes clear that unusual “things” aren’t the only type of items Maxwell collects. He also collects people that don’t quite fit into society either.

And it just so happens that it’s time for the annual River Red High School field trip to Boulder House and five very different seniors with secrets of their own end up on the trip. We have:

Violet: The good girl who on the first couple of pages shows that her secret has to do with a mysterious male on the other end of her text messages. She also has a crush on fellow student Paul and wants to get out from under her clingy boyfriend.

Paul: He’s new to Wisconsin and is popular, partially due to his athletic prowess and the fact that he’s one of the few black kids in the school. He has a secret crush on Violet and also is seen keeping a firm hold on a hidden Shakespeare text that he seems ashamed of carrying.

Gretchen: The outcast with all the attitude. Even though her mother tries, sometimes Gretchen is the one that has to take care of her.

Dylan: All into his girlfriend Gretchen. Likes to wear black eyeliner and black nail polish but has to take it off before he can go home after school.

Ashley: The mean girl with a father in politics. She spews her father’s beliefs and is judgmental of everyone, especially Gretchen.

Once the group of five get into the house they are forced to participate in Maxwell’s games with one goal, to get out of the house alive or be forced to join the collection. Only the house isn’t going to make it easy for them. Everything from the dolls to the puppets to the carousel creatures to the taxidermy animals on the wall comes to life and chases after them, brandishing weapons. Not only that, Maxwell reveals each of their secrets and tries to turn the five protagonists against each other. And once the secrets are revealed we learn that the five main characters are even more diverse than they might appear at first glance.

Spoilers for the secrets below!

Violet: Her clingy boyfriend isn’t another students, it’s a married teacher.

Paul: After school he spends his time dressing up and sword fighting in Shakespearean garb with his mother and he loves it.

Gretchen: She’s on food stamps and most of her clothes come from Goodwill.

Dylan: His real name is John Luke and he’s the son of an Evangelical Christian family.

Ashley: She’s a lesbian who has been meeting and hooking up with girls via a phone app but she’s actually in love with Gretchen.

So of course the secrets being revealed changes the group dynamic but it’s what they take from it, and how they get through the House, that’s the real point of the story.

And then…the ending was one of those almost but not quite resolutions. Like when the killer is killed off but then the last scene shows his hand twitching and you have a sneaking suspicion it’s not over.

Basically the book was a little angsty, a little cheesy but the characters and their secrets and how they interacted made it all worthwhile.

To Read or Not to Read?

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian Vaughan

I’ve been hearing great things about the Saga graphic novel series for years and even though it’s been on my radar and I think I even had it on my “to be read” list on Goodreads I didn’t actually know what it was about. So I opened up the first volume with no idea what I was getting myself into.

It was violent and dark and disturbing and just plain weird and yet the story was also lovely and heartwarming and interesting.

Saga starts out with a birthing scene and we find out that the couple has that star crossed thing going on. Literally. They are from different planets who are at war with one another and pretty much everyone thinks that their relationship, and their child, is an aberration. But it’s obvious that the pair love another and the new baby. So begins a game of cat and mouse between the couple, some bounty hunters, a royal family of robot/alien creature things. Oh, and there’s some mutilated ghosts with manipulative mind powers floating around. Like I said, weird.

But it’s also awesome. The characters really come alive and the illustrations are colorful and interesting. Yes there’s nudity and sex and it can be all sorts of naughty and violent but then you get some really beautiful panels.

Honestly, it was kind of confusing because we were more or less thrown into the middle of the conflict but the characters pull it all together. I can’t wait to catch up on the series!

To Read or Not to Read?

Hanna Who Fell From the Sky by Christopher Meades

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.

To Read or Not to Read?

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy

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.

Literary Musings · To Read or Not to Read?

Best and Worst Books of 2017

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.
To Read or Not to Read?

Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

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.