Three Reading Challenges Down!

You knew it was coming: the breakdown of my final reading challenge, hosted by ReadsTheBooks!

  1. Read a book from the library: Where She Went
  2. Read a dystopian novel: The Road
  3. Read a science-fiction bestseller: Stranger in a Strange Land
  4. Read a book I saw on Tumblr: Captive Prince
  5. Read the book then watch the movie: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  6. Read a recommendation from a librarian: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
  7. Read a graphic novel: Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas
  8. Read a book with a yellow cover: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
  9. Read a book I saw on Instagram: These Broken Stars
  10. Reread a favorite book: A Wrinkle in Time
  11. Read a romance novel: The Dom Who Loved Me
  12. Read a book with a terrible cover: The Student Conductor
  13. Read a book with magicians: The Night Circus
  14. Read a book about thieves: Six of Crows
  15. Read a bestseller: The Blind Assassin
  16. Read a nonfiction book: This Is Your Brain On Music
  17. Read a book with a red cover: Grave Mercy
  18. Read a book about sisters: Royal Airs
  19. Read a memoir: Ghost in the Wires
  20. Read an ebook: Voyager
  21. Read a manga: Kare Kano, Vol. 1: His and Her Circumstances
  22. Read a book by a first-time author: The Sunlit Night
  23. Read #13 in my Goodreads TBR: Inferno
  24. Read a picture book: Goodnight Brew
  25. Read a book about a road trip: Naamah’s Blessing
  26. Read a book that was in a TV show: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
  27. Read a book by a PoC author: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  28. Read an erotica: Beyond Shame
  29. Read a book about an LGBTA character: The Last Chronomancer
  30. Read a book about a cult: Troublemaker

So, this challenge did well for me for five-star reads, with 6 out of 30, but brownie points for having the super-favorites of my favorites: Six of Crows, The Blind Assassin, The Night Circus, and Aristotle and Dante. Because those were all FREAKING FANTASTIC. (I’m first in the queue for Crooked Kingdom, which is “on order” in my county’s library system. I don’t know when it’s getting in, but damn if I’m not going to drop whatever I’m in the middle of to read it when it gets here.)

This challenge also ended up including THE WORST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. I waffled about that in the review, but upon further reflection, I’m confident it takes the cake.

With all the challenge reading behind me, what do I think…?

I think I don’t want to do three challenges again! In the early stages, it was easy to find tasks that applied to books I wanted to read anyway, but later on, when I just wanted to read a squishy romance, I felt guilty about not reading for the challenge. (Yes, I admit, I did some off-the-books reading here and there. Har har. I’ll reread them all and review them too, for penance.)

Now, I know I was my own worst enemy in that–no one was forcing me to do these challenges in the first place, let alone not read non-challenge books until I was done. Which I failed at anyway! But as time went on, reading books for these challenges became more of a chore, and less of a challenge.

So my plans for next year? Take a look at the available challenges and pick one, based on whatever I think looks most interesting. And can fit the most genre-fiction choices, because these last nine months of challenge reading has taught me that I hate so-called “literary” fiction. Give me my romances and sci-fi and fantasy. And if I’m going to read non-fiction, I should probably veer towards the more historical or scientific, rather than the personal: I ended up reading a lot of memoirs, and two stand out in my memory as good, while the other handful ranged from meh to awful.

My other, secret, tentative plan is to make up my own reading challenge…but that’s still just an idea, for now. We’ll see about that closer to the end of the year!

 

This Week, I Read… (#38)

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#91 – Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Okay, it’s not entirely red, but I had it out from the library thinking I’d be done with the challenges already, and I wasn’t. I shoehorned it in.

Too bad I shouldn’t have bothered! DNF around 200 pages in. I’m surprised I held on that long, but it took me a while to put my finger on what it was I disliked about it: Ismae vacillates between being arrogantly world-wise in her observations/assumptions about other people, and internally existing in a constant state of anxiety about how out of place she feels because of her lowly upbringing. I’m not convinced by the narrative that her three years of training have done her any good in that regard, because we’re only told it happens, we don’t see it–those years are skipped right over in a chapter break.

I could understand projecting outward confidence to overcompensate for her feelings of inadequacy, and that’s how it started, but eventually the narrative seems to forget that should be her motivation and we’re just presented with a wunderkind assassin who knows everything instantly about people she just met. I got tired of it.

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#92 – Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

  • Read: 9/1/16 – 9/11/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016
  • Task: Read a book set in my home state
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I’ll give this one full credit for an engaging narrator…when the story is actually about him. Because it’s not, for most of the book, and for a story purporting to examine the challenges of life for an intersex individual, well, shouldn’t the story spend more time on him?

I apparently have a strong distaste for the family saga. I’ve seen this narrative structure once already this year in The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, and I hated it then, too. Why have your readers imprint on a potentially fascinating narrator (because that’s what we do, we become the main character) and then spend half the book detailing everything that’s ever happened in his family’s past, instead of talking about him? At least here in Middlesex, the backstory introduces characters and themes that will later be important in the present, whereas in Ava I still don’t know what the point of the backstory was, or the story-story, for that matter.

Once I got to the part of the book that was actually about Callie’s childhood and Cal’s adult life, I was interested, but with the nagging sense in the back of my mind that the first half of the book had been a waste of my time–I found myself longing for the predictability of a flashback structure, where the present-day story is well, present throughout the narrative, and only the most important bits of history are given, as needed, through flashbacks.

Structure aside, my other quibble is that this book didn’t feel like anything new. In a college history seminar, I actually studied one of the books referenced in the course of the story, about Herculine Barbin, whose memoirs (according to Wikipedia) were a source of inspiration to Eugenides to write Middlesex in the first place. But the story didn’t delve very deep into Cal’s life, being much more concerned about how he came to be than how he lived, so by the end I felt shortchanged.

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#93 – My Life in France, by Julia Child

  • Read: 9/11/16 – 9/15/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016
  • Task: Read a book written by a celebrity
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I’ve never actually seen an episode of any of Julia Child’s television shows, nor have I ever owned a copy of one of her cookbooks. But I am a huge fan everything she made possible–cooking shows and celebrity chefs might very well not exist without her, and if they did, it wouldn’t be the same.

I grew up on Yan Can Cook, The Frugal Gourmet, and Death by Chocolate, all watched when I was home from school for the summer and wasn’t a fan of soap operas; I watched cooking shows instead, and the occasional show on furniture refinishing? I can picture the hosts, but I can’t remember their names, nor what the program was titled. Someday I’ll remember enough to have a chance at Googling it correctly.

(ETA: It’s Furniture on the Mend, I found it.)

Today, I’m an enormous fan of Top Chef, so I recognize the debt I owe to Julia Child, and I’m glad to have read her account of the years she developed her passion for cooking. Her writing style is as warm and vivacious as everyone tells me her television presence was, which made this book a pleasant and easy read, though it had a tendency to get bogged down in endless details. The food details, I enjoyed, since the combination of my own amateur passion for cooking, plus my passable memory for the French I learned in my school days, meant I could follow that. The minutiae about Paris or wartime history, on the other hand, mostly passed over my head.

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#94 – Last Words, by George Carlin with Tony Hendra

I didn’t mean to save this appropriately-titled book for the last one in my reading challenge (I know I said it was 93 books, but I forgot to count the audiobook in my total, so it’s really 94), but here we are.

I love George Carlin as a comedian in the entirely shallow way of having seen his most famous bits on Comedy Central, back in the years where they devoted whole chunks of the afternoon to running bits. (I don’t have cable anymore, do they still do that? It strikes me as something they wouldn’t, the same way neither MTV nor VH1 play music videos like they used to.)

I knew almost nothing about him, but I was still sad when he passed, in the way I’m always sad when someone famous, funny and/or awesome passes away. So when his sortabiography, as it’s called in Hendra’s introduction, showed up secondhand, I snatched it up.

It was funny, and informative, but at the same time it felt disjointed and unsatisfying. Some of that is me–I’ve never immersed myself in the history of comedy clubs in the ’60s, so a lot of the names Carlin threw around were simply blank spaces in my mind.

And the rest, of course, is that this book was assembled posthumously from years-old drafts Carlin was working on, plus extensive recorded conversations. Am I glad this book made it out to the public? Absolutely. But you can see the rough edges.


So, that’s all my reading challenge books read! I’ll be back on Wednesday with a breakdown of the PopSugar Challenge, then on Friday I’ll move my book reviews back to their regular spot, after being bumped last week by my book release!

This Week, I Read… (#37)

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#90 – Beyond Shame, by Kit Rocha

This book’s been on my TBR since reading this article back in March. I was sold on the idea right away–consent is sexy, and while I don’t read too much stuff that skirts (or crosses) the line, I definitely wanted to support authors who make that a priority in their erotic fiction.

Oh, and it’s dystopian. Kinda my thing.

As soon as I finished this, I went back to Goodreads and added the other eight books in the series to my TBR, plus the three novellas. This world is interesting. The characters are real and compelling, and the steamy bits are just upfront about enthusiastic consent, but creative and sometimes shockingly hot.

The structure is good, too–I’m used to reading romance series that follow a large group of characters in sequence (siblings, friends, bandmates, and so on) but none of the series I’ve read so far have put much effort into overarching plot, and this clearly has. For many series, of course, that’s not the goal, to make each novel a reasonable standalone work; but here, it’s obvious there’s going to be a continuous narrative beyond just the romances, that spans the entire series.

And damn if I don’t want to find out where it’s going!


It’s a light week on reviews this time, I started Middlesex but knew I wasn’t going to finish it, because I’m gearing up for the book release next week. Expect to hear about that, and my last few reading-challenge books, very soon!

This Week, I Read… (#36)

86 - These Broken Stars

#86 – These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

  • Read: 8/25/16 – 8/27/16
  • Provenance: Library (ebook)
  • Challenge: ReadsTheBooks 2016 Reading Challenge; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: Read a book I saw on Instagram
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

The companion to another task, Follow a bookish Instragram. Of course I followed readsthebooks herself, creator of the challenge, but I browsed a few pages of the #bookstagram tag to see what a) caught my eye, and b) was also available on Hoopla.

(In case anyone’s wondering, I don’t intend to actually use my IG account for anything; I don’t have a smartphone, research into the not-free Kindle app suggests that it bites, and while I can view content through my browser, I can’t post it. Which is too bad, because I’m really getting into book photography on Tumblr, and it would be nice to post to IG as well, but not if I have to use a crap-app instead of my nice digital camera.)

So the major contenders were this and The Selection, but I felt like some space opera, and TBS was on my to-read list anyway.

For a YA romance, I’d give it five stars: Tarver and Lilac were both well-developed on their own, the conflicts between them were compelling instead of flimsy, and yeah, throwing two people together in a survival situation produces a lot of tension, romantic and otherwise. I did break into tears when I was supposed to (no spoilers in this case, I would have hated if someone had spoiled that part for me,) but I was happy again by the end.

As a sci-fi work, on the other hand, it left me disappointed. What worldbuilding there is, is deftly done; I never stared at the page wondering what the hell was that about? But I wanted more. I wanted more political background to this society, I wanted to know more about their tech, I wanted more explanation of the military system, and more references to history, so that I could place the story in context with our Earth.

I’m not even sure, now, after reading, if this was supposed to be set in our universe, or an entirely fictional one. I assumed it was our (semi-)distant future, because a character uses the colloquialism “what on earth.” I may have missed other clues, I did read it fast because the personal drama was so compelling–but isn’t that something that should be clear? I’m not asking for extensive references to Old Earth every five pages, but a solid grounding would have been helpful.

I did like it enough that I intend to continue the series, and I would recommend it to fans of space opera, as long as its understood that this is a lighter flavor of sci-fi.

87 - Stranger in a Strange Land

#87 – Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

How about the science-fiction bestseller, the first one to achieve that distinction? Good choice, right?

Wrong.

I’m glad I read this, because what Heinlein did well, he did extraordinarily. I have read a lot of science fiction over the years, but Valentine Michael Smith is by far the most interesting, original, and utterly alien character I have ever read. The parts of the story that focused on how he thought, his reactions to Earth and its people, the misunderstandings and the fumbling attempts to communicate–they were brilliant. And combined, they’d form an excellent treatise for aspiring writers on the importance of verb choice: “grok” alone is worth articles by itself, but what I found even more gripping were the words familiar to me, used in odd manner–corporate and discorporate, wait, even drink. It was tantalizing to almost understand how Mike thought, but never quite.

Too bad that was less than a quarter of the story. Everything else was crap. Unimaginative “future” tech. Rampant misogyny–this is definitely a work that reflects its era. Entire chapters of talking-heads expository dialogue.

It was exhausting, but I’d been warned this was a slog of a read, so I felt prepared.

Mike gets five stars for being a precious cinnamon roll long before that was a meme, and the rest of the book gets one for being a verbose wreck more concerned with big, existential ideas than with anything resembling plot or character development about anyone not-Mike.

I’m glad I read it once, but I’m never, ever going to read it again.

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#88 – Haiku: The Poetry of Zen, by Munuela Dun Mascetti

  • Read: 8/31/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: Read a book out loud to someone else
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Lacking a small child handy to read to, I picked a short book of poetry (64 pages) from the collection and read out loud to my dinosaur plant and a few stuffed animals.

Can I say that without sounding lunatic? “It’s for a reading challenge, I swear!”

I’ve long been a fan of haiku. When I was introduced to the form in seventh-grade English class, I fell in love with it instantly. Our assignment for the week was to write three haiku–I wrote over thirty. And I picked up one of the blank blank-books from my stash and kept writing. I still have it, though I never filled it completely; I numbered them in lieu of titles, and the last entry is #264.

So reading haiku aloud? No great chore for me.

The first section of this book is a history of the form, the second section an anthology of poems ranging from the original masters to contemporary poets. I like that the anthology is divided by seasonal themes, as traditional haiku are focused on nature.

Reading the autumn section made me crave its arrival even more–I’m so tired of this heat and humidity!–but it was a pleasant way to pass part of the afternoon nonetheless.

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#89 – Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 1, by Masami Tsuda

When I was standing at the shelves of the manga section of my library, I honestly didn’t know what to choose. I didn’t want to get anything related to an anime I’d already seen, no matter which came first, so there went half the section: Vision of Escaflowne, Death Note, Attack on Titan, even Oh! My Goddess, which I haven’t seen since college. Not that there was much of it.

I also didn’t want to get anything related to animes I didn’t want to see–so there went half of what was left: Yu-Gi-Oh, Fushigi Yugi, Naruto, and so on.

Titles kept jumping out at me that seemed familiar, but most of those were graphic novels I’ve seen praised on Tumblr. I may go back for some of them, but for this, I needed a manga, and I wanted one I was totally unfamiliar with.

Enter Kare Kano. Sometimes when you take a chance on something, you’re rewarded, and then there’s Kare Kano. I wasn’t expecting literary greatness, but I also wasn’t expecting a melodramatic high school whine-fest with incredibly annoying and unlikable characters, cloying dialogue, and a moral lesson I felt hammered over the head with.

On top of that, I wasn’t fazed by the right-to-left style–I’ve read manga before, in Japanese, even, back when I was studying it–but the art style in this particular story had speech balloons so minimalistic the tail leading to the speaker was nearly invisible in some panels–which made sorting out who said what dialogue difficult. The visual equivalent of bad tagging. And sometimes I couldn’t tell what was supposed to be speech and what was internal monologue, which led to even more confusion.

Maybe I should have picked up Attack on Titan after all. Can we have the next season of that show, please? I’m impatient.

This Week, I Read… (#35)

82 - A Wrinkle in Time

#82 – A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

I have always, always loved this book. It’s one of the many I had copies of as a kid that got given away, sold at a garage sale, or donated to the library when I whittled down my book collection pre-college; recently I came to regret that decision, so the Time Quintet box set made it onto my Christmas wishlist, and Santa (that is to say, my mother) was kind.

Coming back to it as an adult, I was pleasantly surprised how well it held up for me. I still see the same themes I identified with as a pre-teen when I first read it–the importance of individuality and love of family–but now, I’m even more struck by the accuracy of Meg’s portrayal as an angry, uncertain young woman, echoing the feelings most of us experience when we’re going through our growing pains. The contrast to Charles Wallace’s precociousness and almost preternatural (though ultimately overconfident) maturity is sharp and  shocking, as is Meg’s painful realization that her father isn’t perfect, that he can’t solve everything for her. That moment is a loss of innocence of a type I’ve rarely seen in any book, let alone a work for children.

Also, I’m reminded of why Calvin O’Keefe was my first book boyfriend–he embodies the feeling of finally finding the place where you belong, and the people worthy of belonging to. Who doesn’t want that? As a kid, I only read the first three of the Time Quintet (I actually didn’t know there were more!) and now, thanks to Goodreads, I’ve discovered there are O’Keefe family books as well, so when I continue reading the series, I’m going to do my best to get my hands on those, as well. I need more Calvin in my life, thank you very much.

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#83 – A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah

I hadn’t chosen a political memoir to read ahead of time, and when I looked at Goodreads for recommendations, most of the books mentioned where by currently prominent figures in American politics. With all the hubbub around the election this year, I simply couldn’t face exposing myself voluntarily to more of my own country’s political turmoil, so I opted for a war in a different country altogether.

I have vague memories of seeing Ishmael Beah on The Daily Show and thinking the book sounded interesting–this was in 2007, so vague is all I had to go on, but this was one of the few books in the forum thread that caught my eye, and my library had it, so I picked it up.

I want to make it clear my judgment of the book is not a reflection of the author or any of his struggles: I’m aware of the controversy surrounding the truthfulness of his account, but that’s not what concerns me about this book.

Honestly, it was unevenly written, poorly paced, focused on insignificant details at odd times, and on occasion, downright boring.

Have I read too much dystopian fiction, am I jaded or even immune to the horrors of war? I hope not, but even the most lurid descriptions of the atrocities Beah witnessed or committed didn’t move me much–he repeatedly mentions the systemic drug use he and his fellow soldiers engaged in, and he describes those events under a sort of written equivalent of that drugged haze, where it was easy for me as the reader to distance myself from the page.

Even though it’s not a work of fiction, the job of the writing is still to keep my attention focused and the narrative moving (whether it’s true or not.) I plowed my way through to the end in a spirit of determination, not honest interest, and the ending of the book leaves off in a terribly odd spot, a low point with no internal resolution. It takes the meta-knowledge from the author’s biography (he’s adopted and comes to the States to finish high school) to resolve the tale.

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#84 – Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See

  • Read: 8/20/16 – 8/23/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I thought I’d be getting a slice-of-life/culture story set in 1930’s Shanghai, which certainly qualifies for the task for me. And that is where the story starts.

What I did not realize was that the narrator and her sister end up in America, so what I got for most of the book was another chapter in the history of incredible racism of the United States.

It’s not that I didn’t know immigrants were subject to unfair practices, like inability to find work or housing outside of their community. And pretty much every immigrant group since the beginning has undergone institutionalized racism at some point, in some place.

But that pervasive racism is built into every fiber of this story, to the point where reading it made me uncomfortable. Alienation is the theme: the whole family from China, which they left behind, and America, which doesn’t accept them; husband from wife, son from father, brother from brother; and finally, sister from sister and daughter from mother, as terrible truths come to light in the end.

I was not aware until after reading that there is a sequel, so I wasn’t prepared for the relative lack of resolution at the end–but I don’t think I’ll be reading Dreams of Joy and finding out how it all turns out. There were moments of true beauty in Shanghai Girls, but they were strung out between endless exposition about what clothing the women were wearing and which newspapers they were reading and what streets they walked down in Shanghai or in Hollywood. I realize part of the appeal of good historical fiction is the accuracy of the details, but despite the relatively trim size of the novel (not even 400 pages, which is short compared to a lot of other hist-fic I’ve read,) it still felt bloated to me. Maybe not enough story happened for the length because the full tale is told over two books? I wanted it to be more tightly crafted than it was.

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#85 – Of Love and Other Demons, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I do not get this book. I’m totally down for the idea of magical realism, and I’ve read a few other works that fall under that umbrella, so I was looking forward to reading something by one of the genre’s most prominent authors.

But I don’t get it. The language is beautiful (props to the translator, Edith Grossman) and there are moments of profound emotion–but where’s the plot? It’s so thin it can’t even sustain a mere 147 pages. Where is the depth of character? There are so many of them, and each is introduced with a few paragraphs of some hyperbolic backstory that is either eloquent, ridiculous, or in one memorable case, grossly sexual. But there’s little dialogue between any of them to develop their characters further, and the actions most of the characters take seem random and flailing. Okay, sure, the girl is either rabid or possessed, depending on the timeline and who’s speaking about her, so her actions don’t have to follow any logic or motivation–but what excuse does everyone else have?

I understand what the theme, the take-home message, is supposed to be, (solitude, and love-as-madness) but everything about the book is trying to distance me from engaging with the characters, so why do I care? And how am I supposed to care about the relationship between a priest-librarian-exorcist in his mid-thirties, and a twelve-year-old girl? I honestly didn’t realize going into this I was signing on for something with strong overtones of pedophilia, and maybe I should be even more unsettled than I am by it–but again, I couldn’t engage at all with the characters, so I guess I don’t care as much as I should about poor little not-rabid Sierva Maria.

This Week, I Read… (#34)

79 - Preacher Gone to Texas

#79 – Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Preacher was on my to-read list even before the AMC show happened–having just finished watching the first season, this seemed like the right time to finally tackle it. My husband, who has read the entire comic run, let me know that the show so far essentially amounted to a prequel: I’d see some of the show material covered in the very first issues, then speed right on past it.

Now, unless the quality varies wildly from book to show (or book to movie), generally people tend to like most what they experience first: that version becomes the “true” one, and deviations from it, even if it isn’t the original, seem nonstandard.

But I think the show and the comic (so far, this is the first of nine volumes) are equally excellent. Where I can spot the differences, 90% of them I can attribute to altering the structure of the storytelling to suit television, and the other 10% are questionable, but don’t bother me excessively.

Most of the detractors of Preacher the comic seem to object to its lewdness, calling it gratuitous or juvenile or both, but honestly, I was laughing my ass off at pretty much everything. The tone of the humor is definitely irreverent, but I’m down for that, and I’m excited to read the rest of the series once I chug on through these final challenge tasks!

80 - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

#80 – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

  • Read: 8/12/16 – 8/15/16
  • Provenance: Library (hardcover)
  • Challenge: ReadsTheBooks 2016 Reading Challenge; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: Read a book that was in a TV show
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

OITNB-Books-Red-We-Are-All-Completely-Beside-Ourselves

Where else would I turn for a book from a show than Orange is the New Black? Red’s reading list, especially, is eclectic and entertaining. I loved the title of this one, and added it to my TBR as soon as I’d seen the episode (3.11,) months before my reading challenges started.

Overall, I was disappointed by this book–I would have given it 2.5 stars if I did half-star ratings, but I let it keep its 3 in the end because I liked the plot twist so much. I did go into this book blind, so I had no idea what I was in for, and that was a treat.

However, after that, the book fell apart for me. I’ve always felt that I fall into that uncanny valley trap Fowler describes with primates–I’m mentally incapable of thinking them cute or appealing as I do basically every other animal ever. Primates look weird to me. Creepy weird.

That isn’t to say they don’t deserve happy, healthy, and cruelty-free lives, like everyone human and otherwise–but I simply can’t accept the idea of raising a chimp and a human baby side-by-side, and instead of feeling “what it really means to be a human animal” as one back-cover review exhorts me to, I instead felt disgust and horror, directed at the parents for choosing to subject their children to a years-long experiment. I couldn’t relate to Rosemary–I could only pity her. And that doesn’t make for good reading.

81 - The Road

#81 – The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

This is the worst book I’ve read all year, and certainly one of the worst I’ve ever read.

No, that’s not hyperbole.

I have so many issues with this work that it’s difficult to unravel them enough to find a starting point.

So let’s start with style, or the severe lack thereof.

I understand the school of thought that writing has no rules, do whatever you want and if it’s good, people will read it anyway. In this case, apparently they’ll also heap you with praise and shower you with rewards.

But why? Why eschew commas? Why mash together perfectly normal phrases into compound words? Why not mark dialogue, especially when entire pages are devoted to back-and-forth between the two major characters, and after a few lines it gets hard to track who’s speaking? Why not capitalize “spanish” when it’s clearly referring to the language and is thus never not capitalized? Why?

Any stylistic deviations that a) don’t serve the story, and b) make the story harder for the reader to follow or understand–those are nothing more than literary masturbation.

Okay, the story. Nothing happens.

Yeah, the characters go places, and they do things, but it reads like a stream-of-consciousness work at best (no help from the grossly affected style, there) and a fever dream at worst. If the central tenet of the story, the motivation for everything “the man” does, is love for his son, then why did I come away at the end feeling like they didn’t even like each other? They have the same conversation half a hundred times–the boy is scared, the man tries ineptly to reassure him by telling him he’s wrong and that everything is okay EVEN THOUGH EVERYTHING IS PATENTLY NOT OKAY AND YES EVEN A YOUNG CHILD CAN SEE THAT–and it’s all a dull, repetitive cycle of nearly starving to death followed by some completely unexpected cache of goods (the bunker, the ship) that saves their bacon for another few days.

I knew all along that “the man” was going to die because of that persistent cough, but I was hoping by the end I would care. Obvious foreshadowing is obvious.

And the ending was utterly pointless. Okay, so “the boy” finds other people who take him in, people who seem to be better prepared than his father was to look after him–or at least that’s the read I got, based on the gentleman saying they’ve got two kids with them already. But “the boy” finding those people wasn’t a direct result of any action of “the man” so it’s just another lucky coincidence, and narratively speaking, his father’s death carries no weight.

Can we talk about “the boy” for a second, too? Because kids are scared easily, sure, but he’s terrified of everything, which makes no sense, because this horrible world is the only one he’s ever known–the world he was born into. I tried to rationalize that away by accepting his fear as a learned response from his father–monkey see, monkey scared–but at all points, Papa was trying (badly, sure, but trying) to teach him not to be scared. So that argument doesn’t hold water. I’m not saying the boy wouldn’t be scared of anything, but he sure wouldn’t be terrified of going inside every single building they encounter in the entire book.

This Week, I Read… (#32)

75 - Dune

#75 – Dune, by Frank Herbert

  • Read: 7/27/16 – 7/30/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016
  • Task: A book I haven’t read since high school
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Since I’m certain I got my copy for my 13th birthday, and I know I reread it a few times in high school but never after I left for college, I last read Dune somewhere between 18 and 20 years ago. (I’ve seen both the ’80s movie adaptation and the more recent miniseries several times each, with the miniseries viewings about fifteen years ago.) All this is to say, I am infinitely familiar with what happens, but it’s been a long time since I really looked at why.

I chose Dune as my reread for this task, out of several possible candidates, because I recently saw it suggested that Jessica, not Paul, is truly the protagonist (or makes a better one than he does, at any rate.)

I kept that in mind as I read, and there’s definitely evidence in that direction. The very nature of Paul’s prescient abilities means, as a character, he’s choosing between known options; Jessica makes her decisions, both in backstory and during the course of the tale, more out of defiance of the behavior expected from her than from the sort of “wisdom” Paul is supposed to have. From that angle, he’s a weak protagonist at best, because all his actions read as reactions, though they’re often to a future that he’s trying to prevent.

In my younger years I was carried away by the worldbuilding, but now that I’m so familiar with it, it actually annoyed me for taking up so much time. The political machinations that seemed so complex to me as a teenager now seem pedestrian when stacked against more recent, more sophisticated works.

And I’d honestly forgotten how downright weird and unrelatable Paul becomes after he and his mother flee into the desert and join the Fremen. (Though the Fremen themselves might still be the coolest sci-fi tribe I’ve ever read. Serious badasses, all.)

After this, I’m questioning whether I’m ever going to feel the need to read it again, and whether it deserves continued space on my shelves. But the nostalgia I have for it, and knowing how it helped to revolutionize the genre, earn it back some love. I’m undecided.

76 - Naamah's Blessing

#76 – Naamah’s Blessing, by Jacqueline Carey

More accurately, a book about several sea voyages of various durations, and two serious treks through the Amazonian jungle. Travel is a major component of all of Carey’s works in this series, so I’m actually shocked I hadn’t considered it for the road-trip task until I went hunting through Goodreads lists for ideas, and there it was, on a list and already on my TBR shelf.

As the final book in Moirin’s trilogy, I was favorably impressed. Since my three most recent reads were two DNFs and a re-read I was less than impressed by, diving back into Carey’s unique writing style was like slipping into a warm bath, and the pages flew by. I’d given both of the previous books in the trilogy two-star ratings: Imriel’s trilogy is BY FAR my favorite of the three, and Moirin simply doesn’t stack up to Imriel as a protagonist, either in complexity or likeability. I tried to like her, and she has her moments, but I put off reading the final part of her story a long time simply because I didn’t think it would be that good.

But how can I read eight books in a series and not the ninth (and presumably final) one?

As the final book in the whole series, though, the ending (while satisfying on its own) felt weak. I suppose thematically, there’s a progression–Phedre and Joscelin becoming consorts at the end of their story, Imriel and Sidonie marrying at the end of theirs, then Moirin and Bao setting out to start a family–but Imriel got to be FREAKING KING OF TERRE D’ANGE and Moirin is just…living in a really nice cave? Sure, she’s still taking on a position of religious authority for her people, but she’s not a queen, so it’s less spectacular, more anticlimactic.

New readers to this series, by all means read the first six books–they’re fantastic, and you can’t read my favorites (Imriel’s) without having read the first ones (Phedre’s) or they won’t be nearly as good. But once you get that far, well, I’d recommend stopping there. Sad to say, I enjoyed this work, but overall, Moirin’s trilogy disappoints.


So that’s it for this week, and I’m wondering if I’ll even have a finished review next week, because, in a fit of temporary insanity, I chose a 1074-page brick of a novel to read for my next task, and I might have it done by next Friday, but I might very well not.