Have I Read That? The 20 Most Reviewed Books on Amazon

In a recent newsletter, Book Riot sent an article listing the twenty most-reviewed books on Amazon, ever. I don’t read every article, and I don’t click on every list, but I was curious about this one, because “most reviewed” doesn’t necessarily correlate directly with “most popular”–popular books are read more, so could be reviewed more, but they also have to provoke a strong reaction, good or bad.

So I scanned the list and was surprised by how many of the books I’d actually never heard of! I thought I’d take a few minutes to run through the listed works and see a) if I’ve read the book, b) what I thought of it if I did, and c) if I haven’t read it, do I want to?

1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins: Unread, uninterested. I did watch the first movie when it showed up on Netflix, and it wasn’t terrible, but if I were to read this series, it would only be to understand the deeper references to it in popular culture that I haven’t already figured out through osmosis, and with the state of my TBR, that’s just not a good enough reason to invest the time right now.

2. Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline: Never heard of it before, going on my TBR. It’s well-received on Goodreads, and I see it was published in 2013, so it could very well have been one of those “big” books, but before I was paying much attention to popular works. (I didn’t start this blog until 2015 or any reading challenges until 2016.) The story sounds interesting enough, my library has it, and I do enjoy historical fiction when it’s done well, so I’ll give it a try.

3. Divergent, by Veronica Roth: Unread, deeply uninterested. This big YA series started back in 2011, again before my time paying attention to current reading trends, so I didn’t hear about it until it was optioned as a movie and the marketing was EVERYWHERE. It didn’t sound appealing to me then, it still doesn’t now.

4. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr: Already in my TBR. I picked this up at a used book sale–twice, to be honest, because the second time I’d forgotten I bought it several months before and hadn’t read it yet. If I like it, I intend to give the second copy to a family member, and if I don’t, I’ll re-donate it.

5. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: Read, five stars. Finally, one I’ve read!

6. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan: Never heard of it, not really interested. “Based on a true story” war fiction is not generally my thing, and I’ve read so much about WWII over the years that I’m very choosy about books set during it, it’s just so overdone.

7. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green: Unread, possibly interested. I have yet to read any John Green, but I have two other books by him (Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines) waiting for me on my unread shelves. If I like those, I’d definitely consider reading Fault as well.

8. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown: Unread, going on my TBR. I remember my mother reading this and loving it, but despite her recommendation somehow it didn’t make it onto my TBR. I’m fixing that right now.

9. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James: Unread, nope nope nope. I will never. I read enough of it through Jenny Trout’s brilliant deconstruction/criticism/outrage blog series, and that’s all I need to read.

10. The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty: Unread, uninterested. I checked on the reviews and ratings from my Goodreads friends who’ve read it, and they’re pretty dismal. The blurb sounds interesting and alarming, but I trust these people, so I’ll give it a pass.

11. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand: Unread, uninterested. Again with the WWII, just not going to happen.

12. The Martian, by Andy Weir: Read, five stars. Two out of twelve! I’m not completely out of touch!

13. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon: Read, four stars. Though the books definitely decline in quality and readability as the series goes on, I gave up partway through book eight and I kind of wish I’d given up sooner.

14. Sycamore Row, by John Grisham: Never heard of this particular book but I certainly know the author, not interested. I think I read The Client way back when as a teenager, and I haven’t felt the need to pick up any Grisham works since, so why start now?

15. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt: Read, two stars. Such a disappointment after how much I loved The Secret History.

16. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah: Read, five stars. Loved it to pieces.

17. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak: Read, four stars. This puts me at six of seventeen, that’s getting better.

18. Inferno, by Dan Brown: Unread, uninterested. Though I could probably build a house out of all of the used copies of Dan Brown books I’ve seen available over the years, I have never felt the slightest inclination to give him a try.

19. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins: Read, three stars. I think this was my first “popular” book I read after I started my reading challenges, and it wasn’t terrible, but I definitely didn’t see why it was a runaway hit like it was.

20. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins: Unread, still uninterested. I suppose it says something that the series was so popular (and contentious) that it’s got two of the top twenty spots, but that doesn’t change my mind. I can survive just fine without knowing more than I do.


The Book Blogger Confessions Tag

I was wondering what to post next–I’m trying to get ahead on the blog while #spookyromancenovel is in beta–and I saw this bookish meme on Adele is Reading! Please give her a visit and check out her answers as well!

Which book, most recently, did you not finish?

There’s going to be a review on Friday for my most recent DNF, but I don’t want to spoil that, so the prior one would be Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d heard great things about it, and I’d already read a bit of her nonfiction–We Should All Be Feminists. And I tried and tried and got almost halfway through but I just couldn’t make myself keep going. There was a lot I liked about it, in terms of cultural detail and setting and some of the characters, but the plot wandered without much direction.

Which book is your guilty pleasure?

I’m trying not to think of things in that frame of mind any more, to let of the “it’s bad but I love it anyway” mind set. But my current guilty pleasure, not in the way you think, is Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Not because it’s bad–it’s amazing!–but because when I’m not super into the book I’m “supposed” to be reading for whatever challenge or book review, I’ll go back and reread my favorite sections of RWRB instead. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover more than once, but there are definitely scenes I go back to (not just the sex scenes, either, get your mind out of the gutter) when I can’t face whatever I don’t feel like reading. It’s quickly becoming a comfort book.

Which book do you love to hate? & Which book would you throw into the sea?

I have to reach pretty far back for this one, but the worst book I’ve ever read was Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, and I feel no shame hating it with a flaming passion for all its faux-literary pretentiousness, wandering pointless plot, complete lack of meaning or satisfying conclusion, and fundamental inability to help the reader understand literally anything about what’s going on in the story by neglecting the basic tenets of common dialogue and punctuation. In reading it I felt like McCarthy himself was standing over me, reveling in how much I couldn’t keep track of who was speaking, what was happening, and what any of it meant, while sneering and saying, “But look how many awards I’ve won!”

I would happily throw my copy into the sea if I hadn’t already thrown it away long ago. With it, I’ll toss in anything “classic” that is horribly outdated in terms of social justice, sexism, and racism but continues to be taught in school because that’s the book that’s always been taught and Old White Male Authors are the only literary tradition worth perpetuating. You can all go into the sea, for all I care.

Which book have you read the most?

I can’t pinpoint for sure, because before I started frequenting used book sales in the last five years, my collection was actually quite small and I reread books frequently. Most likely, it’s a Sharon Shinn book, possibly Archangel or Angelica, but if it’s not one of hers, then the next most likely culprit is Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. Now, I hardly reread things at all, because I have too many new-to-me books to plow through.

Which book would you hate to receive as a present?

I got my husband a nice leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of Moby Dick & Billy Budd, because I knew MD was one of his favorite classics. I tried to read it, finally, and I hated it. So don’t anybody give me another copy of my own, a) I don’t need it and b) I wouldn’t want it anyway, it’s terrible.

Which book could you not live without?

Tough choice, but I think this is going to go to another one of my favorite authors, heavily featured in my personal collection: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Every time I reread it I get more out of it, and it’s strange and fascinating and beautiful, and I recommend it to everyone I think might have even the slightest chance of appreciating it. I would never willingly get rid of my copy, ever.

Which book made you the angriest?

If we ignore The Road because I’ve already ranted about that, the book that made me angriest was The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth, by Gerald Schroeder. Many years ago, when my devoutly Southern Lutheran grandmother found out I had given up on church and was on the road to becoming atheist (which I am now) she was not disappointed or judgmental, she didn’t cut me off. (She was really the best grandma ever, I miss her so much.) What she did was send me this book, hoping that it would convince me science and religion weren’t oil and water, that there could be room for both in my life, that they could be reconciled.

Honestly, just looking at the book made me mad, so I didn’t read it. For several years, actually, and then my grandmother passed away and still it sat there, staring at me from the shelf and making me feel guilty that I neglected that avenue of connecting to her.

Eventually, I did try reading it, and gave up 10% in. It was a terrible mishmash of flawed reasoning, rampant logical fallacy, and at times seemingly willful misunderstanding of “science” in order to twist in into something that gelled with Christianity. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for, some insight into my grandmother’s faith that I’d never understood, but it just made me angry that drek like that can get published and continue to mislead people about what science even is.

Which book made you cry the most?

Recently, that’s definitely Feed by Mira Grant. I was in occasional tears throughout the first half of the book and near-constant weeping at the end. I was a soggy, exhausted, emotional mess. And it was amazing.

Which book cover do you hate the most?

I haven’t read it yet, so I have no idea if this is going to be a good-book, terrible-cover situation. But I’ve got a copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, and that cover is just a nightmare waiting to happen:


I picked it up from a used book sale not on the strength of its cover, just on the author’s fame. I did one of those “put your writing in the box and we’ll tell you who you write like!” and I got him. (From the entire first chapter of What We Need to Survive, if you’re curious.) But I hadn’t read any of his work, and a few months later this turned up, so it went into my basket and came home with me. Maybe I’ll try to get to it soon.

I hope you enjoyed my answers to this tag! Feel free to keep it going on your own blog, and if you do, please link back to me so I get notified and can check out your post!

This Week, I Read… (2019 #28)

89 - The Songbird's Refrain

#89 –  The Songbird’s Refrain, by Jillian Maria

  • Read: 7/5/19 – 7/7/19
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I was provided a free copy of the book by the author for review purposes. This consideration does not affect my review in any way.

A debut novel that showcases a lot of potential but is hampered by a few amateurish flaws.

At first, I liked the story. A wee baby lesbian with an interesting way of talking herself out of self-centeredness (or even, occasionally, paranoia) doesn’t run away to join the circus, but is instead kidnapped by one. (Not exactly a circus, but it’s the best shorthand to use without spoiling all sorts of things.) There were some pacing problems in the first half, it dragged some, mostly because of vague “you’re you but also someone else” dreams.

Right around the halfway point, when I figured out what the dreams meant just before that information was revealed, I got hooked hard. I finished the rest of the book in basically one long sitting. By the end, I loved the story, bumping my “probably will be three stars” rating to a definite four.

Why not five? This really, really needed one more editing pass for word repetition. There are some darlings that still need killing–how many times does Elizabeth rub at the scar on her shoulder? Some chapters it doesn’t feel like she does anything else. Certain descriptive phrases–“peachy skin,” “black-draped,” “lumpy [and/or] misshapen”–come up so. many. times. Even a lot of the description that isn’t repetitive doesn’t quite land with me, I felt like I could see what the author intended, but not without thinking to myself, that’s not really a great way to put it.

Still, despite a slightly rocky start, I was on board with this story once it got going, and I cried a little at the end. It was satisfying in a way I can’t describe without inflicting dire spoilers, but given that so much of the plot is tragic (in the true sense, not the melodramatic one) I was happy that the ending managed to provide a sense of catharsis to some of the horror the characters experienced along the way.

90 - Saga Volume 3

#90 – Saga, Vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

  • Read: 7/7/19 – 7/8/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (27/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I have this feeling, now that I’m three volumes in, that the entire run of the series is going to be five stars for me.

I’ve talked before about how much I love the story, and that hasn’t changed here. But as I’m getting more accustomed to the art style, and as I’m also reminding myself to read these volumes a little slower, I’m noticing so much more detail. Visual and environmental storytelling is a subject I’m familiar with in video game design (because I’m a geek who loves to watch YouTube videos about it with my equally geeky husband, we’re totally fascinated) but how have I not been applying those lessons to the graphic novels I read?

I blame the fact that I never read comic books growing up. I didn’t learn to read visually as a child in the same way a comic reader would, and I’ve been reading adult-level novels, absolute bricks of novels, since I was ten. My skill set never needed visual reading skills the same way.

Some of my favorite details from this volume: Marko’s new beard as a sign of both time passing, and of grief. Heist’s piss-stained underwear, because of course the drunken-author figure can’t be bothered to put clothes on and not be a total slob. All the changes in Isabel’s face to make her more frightening when she’s threatening Honest Cat. And, honestly, the level of detail in the single-panel “vision” of Prince Robot’s hallucinatory orgy, there’s just a lot going on there and if your brain just glances at it and says “yeah, people having sex, whatever” then you miss so much, because he’s apparently a pretty kinky dude inside that television skull of his.

And there’s more, of course, but those are the highlights. I’m wondering, now, just how much information of this sort I missed in the first two volumes, which I already loved, so how much better will they be when I reread them?

91 - Butterfly Swords

#91 – Butterfly Swords, by Jeannie Lin

  • Read: 7/8/19 – 7/9/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (60/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Run Away with the Circus” Read-a-thon
  • Task: A book with an animal in the title
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I was primarily interested in this because it was a historical romance set outside of England/Europe, and it was, yet I was disappointed by its setting. Sometimes when I read more typical historical romance (especially Regency stuff) I’m inundated with detail about what life was like then, the styles of dress, the manners, the routines of daily life.

I got none of that here. I think the story is assuming I’ve ever seen a martials arts film set in the past (doesn’t really matter when, peasants are peasants) and asking me to fill in everything I know about Tang Dynasty China from that.

So that covers my first disappointment. The second is the romance itself. I see how Ryam and Ai Li are in lust with each other quite convincingly. (Side note: I don’t understand why her name is spelled as “Ailey” the way Ryam pronounces it, even when in the sections the narrative is clearly from her viewpoint. Bothered me through the whole book, it should have been reserved for his dialogue.) What I don’t see is them ever making any sort of emotional connection. Ryam saves and then follows her out of a sense of duty to her for her brief kindness, fantastic opening. But then he obsesses about how sexy she is while reminding himself how inappropriate making a move on her would be, and I never get the sense he moves on from that attitude. Ai Li’s thought process is basically “big barbarian = actually handsome, I can take care of myself, oh no wait I can’t, let’s keep him around.”

And the sex scenes were only okay. I’m glad there weren’t more of them, actually. So yeah, all the reasons I read this romance weren’t delivered on.

92 - Maybe in Another Life.jpg

#92 – Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  • Read: 7/9/19 – 7/10/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (28/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I came to this after discovering Reid with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and wanting to dive into her back catalog. Sadly, I wasn’t nearly as impressed by this, even allowing for how she’s obviously grown as a writer.

It’s not all bad, fortunately. No matter how often the characters talk about soul mates or fate, it’s clear that this story is about refuting the idea of soul mates, because both of the parallel story tracks have happy endings that match Hannah with a different person. Which I think is lovely, because in other Sliding Doors-style books I’ve read, it’s clear there’s a right romantic choice, and even though the paths are different in the two story tracks, they both wind up in the same place in the end, or at least with the potential to get there. I really like that this doesn’t. This book says, no, there’s more than one “right” person out there for you, if you’re open to the possibilities. And I think that’s a good message.

The weaknesses lie in the details.

Hannah reads as incredibly immature for her age, though to some extent I know she’s supposed to, since she starts the story not having her life in order and needs to get it that way; but I honestly question why these two dudes are falling for her, because she’s a mess, and at least in Ethan’s case, he knows she’s a mess and we’re just supposed to accept on faith that he’s been pining for her this whole time. In Henry’s story, on the other hand, Hannah’s a mess because she was the victim of a car accident and he’s got a great reason to be seeing her at her worst.

But that leads me to another weakness. I don’t feel like Ethan and Henry are fundamentally any different. The surface differences are there: Ethan’s a second-chance romance while Henry’s a new man in Hannah’s life. Henry’s a nurse and I honestly don’t even remember what Ethan does for a living because it’s not at all important to the story, especially because he takes a bunch of vacation time to hang out (and repeatedly bang) Hannah when they reunite. But in all the ways that they interact with Hannah, they’re basically the same guy. They’re both sweet and caring. They’re both super-indulgent of Hannah’s cinnamon roll fetish. They both act consistently more mature than Hannah does. When you strip them down to personality, there’s not that much to mark them as different.

Which leads to the root weakness, a weakness that pretty much all stories with this fundamental split tend to suffer–lack of development space for any character that’s only present in one of the timelines. I can’t know more about Ethan or Henry because there isn’t time, from having to deal with both of them.

That’s a lot of negativity, but there were some good things. To contrast Hannah’s dual stories, her best friend Gabby gets them, too, only hers end up with the same happy ending via drastically different paths. That’s a solid subplot that was handled with a great deal of grace and care. (It did result in the worst case of repetition in the entire story, at the end, when her new flame makes the same half-page long speech in both story lines and it’s honestly excessive. I get that he’s the same dude in both stories because nothing about Hannah’s choices ever affected him, but that was just SPEECH –> a few pages –> EXACT SAME SPEECH.)

Despite all of this, I did enjoy it. It wasn’t amazing, it didn’t blow me away like Evelyn did, but it also hasn’t turned me off reading Reid’s other pre-Evelyn work. I still want to explore it, I’ve just tempered my expectations a little.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #26)

81 - The Secret Keeper

#81 – The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

  • Read: 6/19 – 6/21/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (25/48)
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

Too long for the story it told, which I found needlessly complicated. Even the inciting incident, the memory of an unknown man’s murder by the main character’s mother, was so drenched in nostalgic, atmospheric prose that it didn’t have any urgency.

I’ve been giving up on a lot of books lately, though, and enough of me did want to find out the “why” of it that I kept reading. At times, I questioned my decision, because with every new reveal, the story changed, and my theory about who the man was (before that was discovered) and/or why he was killed was supposed to change with it, I guess, and keep me hooked.

Problem was, the information we start with is so vague, and the first section of the book includes so many characters being deliberately vague, even to themselves in internal monologue, that I had no real idea what was going on, and the later theories I developed, I wasn’t particularly attached to. “It couldn’t be that easy,” I told myself. And ultimately, it wasn’t.

Granted, I was skimming by the end, because I just could not deal with entire chapters of journal entries and letters that conveniently contained precisely what the character reading them, years later, need to know. But if I’d been paying closer attention, would I have figured out the final plot twist that sets everything on its head at the bitter, bitter end? Honestly, probably not. It recontextualized everything, yet I don’t remember clues leading up to it, and I can see a different ending to the book where it didn’t happen quite easily. It’s just out of left field.

I’m not impressed.

82 - After We Fall

#82 – After We Fall, by Melanie Harlow

  • Read: 6/21/19 – 6/22/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (54/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: Two books that share the same title (2)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

A solid opposites-attract romance in terms of the leads’ personalities, but where I felt like this fell flat was in the narrative style. The book is written in dual-POV structure, common to romances, but in first person perspective, and I thought Margot and Jack simply sounded too much the same.

Especially when they both express their anger the same way! With lots of short sentences! Punctuated by many exclamation points! And they get pissed at each other often! So I had to read these passages quite frequently!

That sort of deliberate stylistic quirk feels to me like the sort of thing one character should do while the other doesn’t, rather than just the way the author writes.

Overall, I was entertained, but I’m not itching to read it again or particularly inclined to check out the author’s other work.

83 - The Sister

#83 – The Sister, by Abigail Barnette

  • Read: 6/22/19 – 6/23/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (55/100)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

After a hiatus of more than three years, I’ve returned to The Boss series. I bought this (and #7, The Boyfriend) when they were released, but somehow didn’t get to them. Early on, it was because I was still reeling from the events of The Baby and wasn’t ready for more potential heart-rending. Later, buried other under books. But because I’m making it a priority to wrap up partial series in my queue, here I am.

And I’m vaguely disappointed by my mixed reaction.

If I were judging this on the can-we-make-a-thruple-work storyline with El-Mudad, I loved it, but that came out of left field for me. One of my major issues with The Baby was that by the end of the book, after all El-Mudad had done for Sophie in her times of trouble, he felt forgotten about–he had declared his intention to be exclusive with them, if they were on board, but then other things happened (the entire plot!) and he got put on hold. I was thrown when there was no sort of closure for him.

Jump to this book, where they’re talking about how the last year has brought them all closer together, and I just don’t see it, he was barely a presence in the last book and now he’s a central figure in their lives. Which I’d like, polyamory isn’t something you see explored seriously in romance or erotica, it’s often a setup for sexy hijinks but the emotions involved are relegated to the background or ignored entirely. And this book is full of emotion on that score.

The other major plot thread, the titular sister(s) that come into Sophie’s life, I liked less. It felt rushed and kind of shallow, how awkward and antagonistic everyone but Molly was, while Molly was the super adorable teenage charmer for Sophie to instantly fall in love with. That isn’t to say Sophie didn’t experience character growth from it–she realized she didn’t have to justify her anger about her father’s abandonment, that she didn’t need anyone’s permission to feel how she felt, and that’s definitely something I can empathize with (as I’m sure many other women can.) But getting there felt trite.

On the other hand, in Sophie’s professional life, Deja’s blow-up at her was long overdue, with the story well-paved with hints that it was coming. Sophie’s sudden decision to give up her position felt both like something she would absolutely do (she’s been known to make impulsive decisions, even if she was deliberately taking her time pondering the kidney donation elsewhere in this book) and the culmination of her internal struggle with finding herself filthy rich, an issue threaded throughout this series.

So I liked it, except when I didn’t. Because I’m such a sucker for El-Mudad, he’s the biggest softie and I love him, I’m excited to finally get to The Boyfriend next, but also wary of how messy Sophie’s life has become and what that means for the plot moving forward. Because I don’t think this book was as good as previous entries in the series, and I’m hoping that downward trend won’t continue.

84 - Making Handmade Books

#84 – Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures, & Forms, by Alisa Golden

If you missed it on Wednesday, this review got its own post, check it out here.

85 - White Oleander

#85 – White Oleander, by Janet Fitch

  • Read: 6/23/19 – 6/26/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (57/100)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Strongly mixed feelings that are going to take a lot of unpacking, so bear with me, this is going to be long.

Pro: a “literary” novel by a woman, concerned solely and entirely about women’s lives, especially re: mother-daughter relationships. Even twenty years later, we still need more of these and less of Old White Men writing Old White Men stories.

Con: filled with ambiguous stances on problematic issues. The presence or absence of racism in the book is so complex I can’t parse it, as a white person–some characters are unabashedly racist, and Astrid doesn’t think she’s one by comparison. Yet one of her mother figures is black, and also a prostitute…but her white mother figures aren’t depicted as morally superior because of that, they’re all flawed in their own ways, so maybe it’s a wash? And then the dual symbolism imposed on the color white, on whiteness itself–beauty and death–carries its own racist underpinnings. I’m aware that I’m no scholar of racism in literature, so I’m not best qualified to really unravel this, but I couldn’t help but be both aware of it and made uncomfortable by it.

Then, there’s the sex. On the one hand, this novel acknowledges the desires of teenage girls to explore their sexuality, to even have sexuality in the first place and not be pure precious snowflakes, which I’d argue is good; but it’s debatable whether or not Fitch does enough to really portray pedophilia as immoral. Astrid’s relationship with Ray is one of her best memories for a time, something she longs for, even though they both knew it it was wrong; Ray is depicted in an incredibly sad, sympathetic light as a kindly man who knows his attraction isn’t healthy but is so unappreciated by his actual, adult girlfriend that it’s okay he’s screwing a fourteen-year-old girl. And then a slightly older Astrid goes down the same path with Sergei, though it’s not an innocent or idolized fairy tale of love this time, sleeping with a) an adult man who is also b) her foster mother’s boyfriend. I can’t make the argument here which causes me to abandon so many other works (usually by male authors, often “classics,”) that the pedophilia is normalized or even glorified. It’s not. But I don’t know that it’s condemned, either, as it should be. I don’t think Fitch is wrong to write Astrid as a troubled girl with a complex relationship with sex, but I do think it could have been clearer than Ray and Sergei were in the wrong and taking advantage of her.

Pro: Ingrid is unabashedly evil, and that’s just fun. How often do female characters get to be this narcissistic, this arrogant, this villainous, without restraint? And while I haven’t seen the movie, I enjoyed picturing Michelle Pfeiffer as Ingrid, hearing her voice delivering those acid-etched words.

Con: By contrast, Astrid spends most of the book coming off as insipid or downright bland. I understand this, to an extent–this is her journey, and she needs to find herself, so she can’t be fully formed to begin with. If her mother weren’t such a blazing light, I don’t think Astrid would be in as much shadow, but I do think it’s an issue when the protagonist isn’t nearly as captivating as the villain.

Pro: Some of the language was beautiful and memorable.

Con: Some of the language was overdone and ridiculous. (I know the appreciation of linguistic style is a matter of personal taste, but I experienced both the good and bad extremes over the course of this novel. I cringed at a line nearly as often as I stopped to be transported by one.)

Final pro: I always enjoy books that display appreciation for art. Ingrid is a poet, and while her style isn’t precisely to my taste, I didn’t hate her poetry, either. A major thread in Astrid’s journey is finding herself through her art, and while the ending fell a little flat for me in most respects, I was enthralled by the depiction of her salvaged-goods, mixed media pieces. That’s my jam, I cut things up and slap them back together differently, I made things out of other things, I get that. I knew Astrid better then, than I did for the entire rest of the book.

86 - The Boyfriend

86 – The Boyfriend, by Abigail Barnette

  • Read: 6/26/19 – 6/27/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (58/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

What a way to bounce back!

This time around, the story focused almost entirely on the difficulties of maintaining a stable polyamorous relationship while also hiding it from a society, and especially the family members, who won’t necessarily understand or approve of it.

I felt this book. Seriously. These emotions are strong and believable.

And I want to say this is realistic, too, though I’ve got to stick the caveat on there that Sophie is in love with two billionaires and money solves a few of the problems they might have otherwise. Not all of them, and not the big ones, but it’s a little easier to vacation as a thruple when you own your own yacht.

If the story started here, rather than having six books behind it to show how Sophie got to this relatively charmed place in life, I wouldn’t say it’s believable at all, but that’s the strength of following one character through so much of her life.

More minor bits of plot involve Sophie struggling to find direction in life (again) while adjusting her attitude towards the wealth she now has at her fingertips. I like where this is headed, but it’s not explored in depth yet–I imagine it’s going to be part of the next book.

And El-Mudad continues to be way more to my personal taste than Neil ever was, so yay for more of him.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #25)

78 - Stories of Romance

#78 – Stories of Romance from the Age of Chivalry, by Frederick J.H. Darton

  • Read: 6/12/19 – 6/15/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (52/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

The only thing that got me through this was a determination to read medieval and Arthurian tales I wasn’t already familiar with. I honestly didn’t gain much by doing so. Maybe there’s a reason I’ve never heard of the ones I had never heard of? They weren’t that interesting.

Part of the problem I had with them might be the way the prose “translations” of the original poems read in the flat tone of many fairy tales, but these stories lacked the internal logic and visceral satisfaction I expect from a good fairy tale. Plot holes abounded, characters did things for nonsensical reasons or no obvious reason at all, and if I could detect any morals or messages, which I often couldn’t, they were usually directly at odds with my worldview. (Not that I expect tales from this time period, repackaged for “modern” consumption in the early 1900’s, to be feminist or anything like that. I don’t. But I also can’t agree with a world where chivalric honor is the highest ideal, especially when the idiot knights can’t even uphold it themselves.)

There’s value in these, I’m sure, to anyone more interested in the period, or in studying them for some scholarly purposes. I found no real value in reading them for fun, though.

79 - The Unbound

#79 – The Unbound, by Victoria Schwab

  • Read: 6/15/19 – 6/16/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (53/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I loved The Archived far more than I expected to, so I had both high hopes and concrete worries when diving in to the sequel, especially as I already knew a third book is planned, but won’t be released for some time. (At the time of this review, Schwab has stated on Goodreads that she will likely to wait until the rights for the first two to revert to her, then publish all three. So it might be a while yet.)

For most of this book, I was enjoying myself, but still worried. I liked it, but I didn’t see how it could possibly end on anything but a cliffhanger, and while I’m not heavily opposed to those, with no third book in sight, it was going to be frustrating.

And yet! Here I am! Giving it five stars! That ending! So satisfying! Totally didn’t see how it was all going to come together, yet it made perfect sense when it did.

Also, I adore Wesley even more now than I did in the first book. Give me a teenage boy who’s not afraid to show he cares, who’s irreverent but respectful, who’s fun but thoughtful. He’s all-around awesome.

And Mackenzie! No, I don’t always agree with her decision to keep her issues to herself, to lie, to try to solve (most of) her problems without help. But I can see why she does. She’s been through so much, she’s had her trust betrayed, she’s been duped, she’s been traumatized. But she keeps going, and when push comes to shove, she does get help with some things, while maintaining as much secrecy as she can to protect herself and others. I was so proud of her, and occasionally so heart-broken for her.

I really, really, really want the next book. I’m going to set these two on my shelf and wait to reread them until book #3 is (hopefully)(eventually) announced, so that I can get myself hyped.

80 - Saga, Vol. 2

#80 – Saga, Vol. 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

  • Read: 6/17/19 – 6/18/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (24/48)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

The second arc of the story did not disappoint, after how amazing I thought the opening was. Hazel’s grandparents. Marko and Alana’s meeting as captive and jailer, but bonding over a (terrible) romance novel. Marko dropping everything to rescue Isabel. It was fun, it was weird, and most of all, it was full of real emotion underneath the snark and sass and action.

If it’s all this good, I think I’m in for a wild ride.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #22)

68 - Assassin's Quest

#68 – Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 5/22/19 – 5/28/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (47/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

A bad ending can absolutely ruin a book (or an entire trilogy, if it’s awful) but a great ending can save it.

When I was halfway through this book, I did not think it would be a five-star read. I complained all through book #2 that Fitz was just being stupid and treading water and nothing was happening, and at the start of this, that seemed true as well.

Should it have taken so long to get moving? Probably not.

But once he was? Once he was on the road, on his Quest, reluctantly or even unwillingly, but finally headed towards his King and the end of the story? From there, it was all brilliant. I loved Fitz and his deepening relationships with the Fool, with Nighteyes, even the complicated and distant relationship he tried to maintain with Kettricken. Kettle and Starling were interesting new characters.

I loved the exploration of an ancient and mostly forgotten land. I loved what they found. I loved the beauty and the tragedy of how everything came together–and I definitely think I should have been paying more attention to the Fool in the first two books? Because he surprised me. Because he’s even more interesting now, and because I know we haven’t seen the last of him.

I’m a sucker for bittersweet endings, and this one might not be to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. It was always clear by the tone of Fitz’s memoir excerpts that head each chapter, that he wasn’t going to get a “happy” ending. But the trilogy does end on a satisfying note, and after all, he’s not done yet either. Several things prophesied of him haven’t come to pass, and since I’m reading this now, instead of when it was first published, I have the benefit of knowing he shows up again in the future, which I look forward to with great anticipation.

69 - First a Dream

#69 – First a Dream, by Emma Nichols

  • Read: 5/28/19 – 5/29/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (48/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 30% for the first book, did not bother with the second and third.

Sloppy sentence construction that often matches a pronoun with the wrong noun or person–at one point it sounded like someone was going to have to drive through lemonade instead of snow, for example.

Inconsistency in character details: In the prologue, Isabella is specifically stated to be marrying at nineteen. In Chapter 1 we move forward five years, which makes her twenty-four, right? However, she loses her father at twelve, but then “even now, fourteen years later” Isabella is still hiding her sadness. 12 + 14 = 26. So how old is she?

Glaring grammatical errors: “Go salt [the sidewalks], then I’ll fixing your face.” Nobody caught that?

Overuse of stock phrases: “that fateful day,” “knock me over with a feather,” “the/his/her idea had merit,” (that one showed up several times.)

Extremely shallow relationships that aren’t explored, just stated. Isabella pouring her heart out over her impending divorce to her best friend, that I believe, sure. But to her professor that we, the readers, have only just met and barely heard mentioned? Who does that? Does the professor have some sort of mind manipulation powers, because when Gabriel has a meeting with her, instead of acting at all sensible, he’s raving about his chance encounter with a mystery woman in the hallway (Isabella) rather than trying to convince the professor to let him into the class?

Also, speaking of shallow, what’s the point of Gabriel having his own POV if all his sections are incredibly short and usually pointless? He gets far less time spent on developing his character than Isabella does, and it doesn’t do him any favors that we know so much more about her than him. He’s so “charming” that without depth he comes off as smarmy, and of course, since this is a fairy tale retelling (barely, though, nothing about this really said “Cinderella” to me) he has to be Prince Charming perfect. His last name is even Charmant.

Ultimately, I feel like I just read a first draft instead of a published work.

This Week, I Read… (2019 #19)

58 - Prince of Thorns

#58 – Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

  • Read: 5/2/19 – 5/3/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (40/100)
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I had to make myself finish this book, just to be sure I could criticize it properly. And unlike my usual write-it-blind method, where I don’t read other reviews first, I did some digging, so I could react to them and really let what I did and did not like about this book crystallize in my mind.

Jorg is a reprehensible person, I have no argument with that. Everyone using the “worse than Joffrey” image isn’t wrong (except I think if Joffrey had been around longer, we would have seen him sink far lower, but that’s a comment on ASoIaF, not this book.) Jorg can’t go five pages without raping a girl (tastefully [ahem] off-page,) knifing a “brother” because the dude pissed him off, pushing someone off a cliff, using a weapon of mass destruction, and so on. If he’s not actively committing a crime or a sin, he’s strongly considering his next one.

Was this off-putting? Oh, absolutely, at first. And there’s my problem. Even if it’s not the author’s intention to condone any of this behavior in writing about an obvious psychopath doing these things, by putting the narrative in first person, we’re living inside Jorg’s head and seeing his reasoning and eventually, maybe, sympathizing with him. By the end of the book, I wasn’t cheering for Jorg exactly, but I did get swept up in the action and read the second half of the book in one long sitting, whereas at the beginning I had to take frequent breaks to deal with my disgust.

I won’t criticize anyone, ever, for indulging in escapist fantasies, and yes, that includes reading/daydreaming about committing atrocities. I’ve thought about killing someone before, especially back in my angry teenage years. It’s an outlet for anger that doesn’t harm anyone, as long as you understand that’s all it is. But I didn’t do it, and Jorg does. And the book makes it seem cool and edgy, and oh look, what a terrible life this kid’s had and here’s how awesome it feels to get revenge.

That, I have a serious problem with.

Moving on from the fundamental issue with “murder, yay!” messaging, there’s still a lot I don’t like.

The frequent pre-chapter character notes about Jorg’s “brothers” were a lazy way to (attempt to) give them depth, usually right before they were killed. One in particular towards the end of the book mentions a name I honestly don’t think had ever been included before, a brother the reader hadn’t been introduced to. (I may be wrong about this, because there are many brothers and they die off like flies. If Young Sim actually was mentioned earlier, he wasn’t significant enough for me to remember.) I can rationalize in my mind that making Jorg’s band of brothers interchangeable and disposable fits his psychopathy, and it does, but it doesn’t make for interesting reading. I wanted the secondary characters to have more personality. Even Makin–I mean, the dude was the head of the royal guard, and he becomes a brigand in order to stay by Jorg’s side. Why is that not given more page time? That’s a great hook! Write a book from his POV while he watches his charge devolve into a monster–how does he deal with that? What would break his loyalty?

Next up: when is this? At first, I thought it was separate-world fantasy. Then classic authors start getting thrown around–Plutarch jumped out and grabbed my neck and smashed my face in the idea that, no, actually, this is our world. Okay, alternate history then? Except eventually we get clues that this is actually a far-future world, post-apocalyptic, and the “castles” the kings occupy are skyscrapers or other modern-world structures. As far as that goes, I’m on board, except that there are very few answers given, the descriptions of those structures are so vague I can’t picture most of them (I had no idea what kind of facility the Great Stair was a part of, though some of its bits were clearly reinforced concrete fitted with a high-security steel door,) and there’s so little done with this concept that I’m afraid it’s just supposed to be cool flavor instead of real world-building.

The revelation near the end, and the ending: oh, so someone messed with Jorg’s mind, setting him up to be able to be like, all that crap I did may or may not have really been me, I was being guided, now I’m not necessarily so horrible going forward. I call bullshit on that. BULL. SHIT. If the protagonist is a psychopath, own it, don’t erase it so he can be less awful in the next book.

And finally: this is 110% male fantasy. The women are beloved but dead (Jorg’s mother,) evil (the crone, Jorg’s step-mother,) objects of desire (Katherine,) or victims (everyone else who is raped, killed, or both.) So whether or not you might be okay with the other problematic content of the book, there’s no way around its inherent sexism.

I can’t recommend this to anyone, because even as a piece of escapist fantasy where it’s okay to want to kill people, it’s just not any good.

59 - The Opposite of Wild

#59 – The Opposite of Wild, by Kylie Gilmore

  • Read: 5/4/19 – 5/5/19
  • Challenge: Challenge: Mount TBR (41/100); The Reading Frenzy’s “Try a Chapter” Mini Challenge
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

This only gets a second star because of Maggie. I know the “grab life by the balls” old lady character is a stereotype, but she is by far the best thing about this book.

Our heroine here I couldn’t stand pretty much from page one. She’s obsessed by her own childhood mistakes (The Humiliation was embarrassing, sure, but does it still deserve capitalization more than ten years later? Grow up, maybe?) The second anything goes wrong in anyone’s life around her, she tries to steamroll over them with solutions, especially her pregnant older sister. I mean, help your sis and the baby, sure, but planning the rest of your life in five minutes around being the kid’s second (and implied, better) mom? This woman is not at all reasonable. Especially later in the book when she acts like her life is ruined because her sister decided not to go along with that plan. Co-parenting in a non-standard family situation is a difficult and thorny topic, and it’s not handled with any realism or delicacy here.

Then there’s our hero. He’s actually not that bad, compared to her. I didn’t like that he uses the recently divorced women of his acquaintance through his job as a source of easy sex, because I think that’s sleazy, but it does fall under consenting adults, and all that. And I don’t think his “falling in love” arc with the heroine is convincing at all–they’re basically falling in lust. And she treats him badly, and he puts up with it for a long time before he does anything about it.

So he’s an idiot and kind of spineless, but he’s still far more mature than she is. Also, his B-plot about reconciling with his alcoholic dad felt completely pointless and tacked on.

I also don’t like the tone of fat-phobia in this. Half of The Humiliation centers on how heavy the heroine was as a teen. Her internal monologues as an adult mostly show that she’s convinced she needs to be thin to be happy, and the hero’s observations of her as an adult the first time they reconnect directly correlate her hotness to her weight, or lack thereof. It’s minor, and there are far worse problems with the plot than this, but it’s worth noting that in Clover Park you apparently can’t be overweight and happy at the same time.

60 - Split Second.JPG

#60 – Split Second, by Kasie West

  • Read: 5/4/19 – 5/6/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (19/48)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

My expectations were reasonably high for this, and it didn’t disappoint, but it wasn’t better than Pivot Point, either. One of my complaints about the first book was that I didn’t get as much of the Para world as I wanted, and this certainly solved that issue, as Para intrigue is most of the book.

What I’m less thrilled about is splitting the book between Addie and Laila, rather than Addie and other!Addie. I know the latter wouldn’t be possible now, and I like Laila, but her romance with Connor lacked the spark that I got from Addie and Trevor.

Who I’m quite pleased with now that the story’s finished, don’t get me wrong. Trevor continues to be the A+ stand-up guy he was before, and I only like him better now that he’d pitched into the deep end of Para weirdness and swims through it like a champ.

I’m glad I got the ending, but it wasn’t as strong as the opening.