Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review: Heart of Iron

Title: Heart of Iron
Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: Space Opera
Release Date: February 27, 2018

Ana was raised by outlaws, who found her as a child, adrift in space with a sentient android (or Metal), D09. D09 is an illegal android, still in possession of freewill, and, when he begins to malfunction, Ana will stop at nothing to help him. When the coordinates to the lost ship that is her last hope are snatched from under her nosed by Rob, a privileged Ironblood boy, she chases after him. After infiltrating an Ironblood party, everything goes wrong and they wind up fugitives on the run, both desperate to reach the coordinates for their own reasons. As they uncover secrets about the Metals, Ana's heritage, and a threat to the Empire itself; Ana finds herself torn between saving D09 and protecting a kingdom whose rulers want her dead. 

Out of Ten: 6/10

Review at a Glance: An entertaining if not entirely engaging space opera retelling of Anastasia.

Review: I never watched Anastasia as a child. I didn't watch really many children's movies as a child as a result of a long story involving Frosty the Snowman. I learned the history of the Romanovs and the Russian revolution well before seeing Anastasia, the widely acclaimed animated feature film. (I was a somewhat unusual child.) I only got around to seeing it a few years ago so I don't have the same sort of nostalgia attached to it that a lot of people probably went into this Space Opera Anastasia retelling with. So it is possible that I just wasn't the target audience.

This was my kick-off read for the Bout of Books read-a-thon and I... didn't hate it? The thing was that I wasn't really that impressed by it either. I realise that this is a space opera so there's a certain amount of leeway. It's more fantasy than science fiction. But the fact remains that it didn't really set up the parameters of the world. I guess it's just a magical thing that only royalty can hold the crown without it rusting? (With the exception of androids who, as one of the main characters points out, literally within the first 100 pages, which is one heck a legal loophole, and also seemed one heck of a Chekov's gun set-up, so I just kept expecting the android gambit throughout the book. Just. Kept waiting for it). The biggest difficulty for me was that the world wasn't really built up, on either a level of history or scale.

It was alright once I got used to it and let go of any expectations I'd gone in with. I didn't love the characters but they were at least consistent within their motivations. They overall just felt very simple? I think things that were supposed to come off as tragic didn't really because I just wasn't that engaged, and I felt like their relationships formed... strangely and for some of them quite fast as well. Rob just... wasn't a very interesting character and also for some reason his name bothered me (I think it was just the spelling), and Ana wasn't much better. It just didn't feel like there was much to them. I didn't dislike them but I didn't get... super attached either. I liked Ana's pirate moms though, they were cool and I hope we get to learn more about them.

 The story itself was pretty simple, the classic "girl is secretly PRINCESS," story, and, while there were other plot twists I didn't find them all that... surprising. I just kind of kept on going through the story going "ah yes that makes sense" I just didn't find myself having any really strong emotional response to the story.

All that said, I did still find the story interesting enough to finish and I'll probably pick up the second book when it comes out, I'm curious about what the author plans to do with some components of the story. Despite my not being super-invested in the characters, I still found following their story entertaining enough, for all it's cliches.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 22 Wrap-Up

Okay so in a lot of ways I spectacularly failed! Things got busy I missed doing all of the challenges because I forgot they existed for the first half of the week and then business happened during the second. It did give me a push to read a little more than I was planning to do this week. Now to review this week's reads. Onward and upward! (Was that a joke based on the fact that I have only read space operas for the past week? You decide.)

Total Page Count: 1585

Books Read

Page Read: 467/467 (COMPLETE)
This one was... fine. It wasn't terrible, and I'll probably carry on with the series.

Page Read: 350/350 (COMPLETE)
Okay so I finished this two days ago and then things in life got busy and then posts didn't happen. But I finished it! There are components of this story that still confused me... Once I got my head wrapped around the concept of space as something much closer to the sea than, well, space, I was able to follow the plot and the world,but sometimes the character relationships and whatnot didn't entirely follow for me.

Page Read: 404/404 (COMPLETE)
This has been on my TBR for quite a while, and I finally got my hands on a copy and read it! I wasn't as TOTALLY PSYCHED about as I was hoping I would be, but I still really enjoyed it. It's think it's the first time I've read a book that uses xe/xyr pronouns implied as being the default for someone whose gender is unknown, so that was pretty awesome.

Page Read: 364/364 (COMPLETE)
Okay so I think reading this one I really got into the read-a-thon mood, like I just sat down and powered through it. I'm still not totally floored by these books but, but they maneuver with certain ideas that I find totally fascinating and important, and they're IN SPACE so I still enjoyed both The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit quite a lot. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 22: Day 3

Books Read So Far

Page Read: 467/467 (COMPLETE)
This one was... fine. It wasn't terrible, and I'll probably carry on with the series.

Page Read: 194/350
I know I know I didn't read very much. Blame it on a bit of reading fatigue, I guess?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 22: Day 2

Books Read So Far

Page Read: 467/467 (COMPLETE)
This one was... fine. It wasn't terrible, and I'll probably carry on with the series.

Page Read: 32/350

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 22: Day 1

Books Read So Far

Page Read: 230/467
I'm unintentionally pretty space-themed with my TBR this time around. (Not that I've published my TBR... it's subject to change.) I'm enjoying this so far though the I'm questioning some of the character development calls... I'm hoping that those won't throw me too much and I'll get more into the flow in the second half of this one. 

Top Eight Books I Didn't Necessarily Enjoy but Am Glad I Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I'm going to sort these and there's probably not going to be ten... because I tend not to read that many books that I out-and-out hate. It's also going to be a little more wordy that I usually make my Top Ten Tuesdays because... I feel like I need to provide SOME explanation as to why.

The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

I had a roommate once who ate bran muffins for breakfast every morning, despite the fact that she hated bran muffins, because she felt that that was what adults ate for breakfast ("interesting," I said, as I broke my fast with leftover pizza or goldfish crackers). But I get it now, because I kind of think Throne of Glass might be my very own bran muffins. I'm invested in maybe 4 characters and none of them get much in terms of screen time but I keep reading these books despite not really enjoying most of my reading experience. 

I found the first book... mediocre, I guess. It was fine but it was nothing to write home about. As I continued on with the series, mostly because it was one of those hyped series that made me wonder what I was missing and, surely, this book, I would see what everyone loved about this series. Instead I just found that it was more and more defined by tropes that I really didn't like. It's a fantasy story that doesn't do any of the things I like my fantasy stories to do with some stuff that just makes me cringe. 

I remember how angry reading this one made me, and I think it was mostly that I was, at this point, becoming aware of how often consent- not just the nuances thereof but just, basic consent was ignored in some YA books. I wound up writing a blog post about it because it made me (and still makes me) incredibly uncomfortable, when reading a book where a primary target audience is young women, to have a female character say "no" and to have that be ignored- and for the ignoring of  her refusal of intimacy somehow be portrayed as romantic. I don't even think this book was the worst offender, I've definitely read worse since (and thank goodness, so much better) but this was one of the first times, I think that it really hit me that. Wow. This was a trope I hated.

The Glittering Court (The Glittering Court, #1)
The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

Mostly this one just allowed me to put the final nail the the Richelle Mead coffin. I've read multiple books from her now and I can confidently say that her work just isn't for me. The way she crafts characters just doesn't work for me. I like angst and dramatic self-pity as much as the next person but this pushes it, even for me. 

I PROMISE I'll be done with the S. J. Maas commentary after this. For this post at least. (If only because there aren't any other series out by her). One day I might make a longer post discussing my kind of difficult relationship with her books but... not this one.

*breathes in* *breathes out* Reading this book (and also the sequel and also kind of browsed book 3 before finally just giving up). Part of it is that romance-heavy books aren't really my thing. I mostly found myself going "wait was that supposed to be sexy? That was just... uncomfortable and borderline creepy" and it turns out that's just off-putting.

Outside of that I felt that this series didn't do a great job of carrying it's story or building it's world without resorting to dumping information on the reader.

After reading this and Throne of Glass I feel like I'm pretty attuned to a few tropes that I don't like. I find mating-bond stuff cringe-y at best, and that features heavily, so now I know I'll be steering clear of media that falls back on that particular trope...

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Okay so to say I've "read" this is kind of an exaggeration... I'll admit I've yet to finish it.  I sit upon a throne of lies, etc. etc. 

I did get most of the way though the audiobook before deciding I'd rather read the book and then just... didn't pick up the book. I don't read a lot of classics for the simple reason of: I've found I don't enjoy a lot of classics. 

I'm glad I picked this one up mostly because now I get to make a million jokes at Mr. Rochester's expense regarding things like "never being fully convinced your new governance isn't a fairy" and "not liking a child because she's not a great conversationalist" oh and also "lying to your new governance/girlfriend about the wife whom you keep locked in the attic except for those times when she gets out and sets fires" honestly it's a pretty wild story and I like to make jokes. Rochester, you're lucky Jane is into people think she's a possibly-malevolent magical creature, insult her, lie to her, and now have no house because the aforementioned attic wife finally managed to burn it down. Romance.  

This one's stretching the prompt almost to breaking. I think this is a really excellent book but it is also one of the saddest books I've ever read. Reading it was both a meaningful experience and once that I don't think I'll ever repeat. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is nuanced and thought-provoking and has definitely stuck with me (more even than I was expecting when I wrote the review) but it was also somewhat staggering in how melancholy aspects of it were. I'm glad I read it, essentially, but I wouldn't do it again (and I say that as a chronic re-reader). I think I'm a bit clearer on why in my review, which you can find here, if you want clarification.

The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Okay so I'm actually still not really glad I read this, except that when someone says "wow you sure do have a lot of anger about high school English, what did it ever do to you?" I can just point to this book. 

I'm still not really sure if this was a good or a bad book overall (I personally didn't find the characters, story, or prose that compelling) but it's more that... look. It was just a book with subject matter that I think I would find difficult to handle now, reading more only my own mental enrichment, much less with my grade on the line as a 16 year-old. So yeah. Still not totally over that.

So I guess what I'm saying is that being made to read this book really drove home an idea? Something about what kind of literature many people teaching English think teens should read and the wide, wide chasm between that and what I personally enjoy and/or find meaningful in a story.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

I'm glad I read this one and I think I might like to give it another try with the perspective I have now, but I didn't particularly enjoy it when I read it in high school. Mostly, I think, because I wasn't familiar with the cultural context in which it was written (which I'm more aware of now), which is fairly essential to grasping the nuances of this story (or being able to make sense of most of it in any form at all). To high-school me it seemed like vaguely symbolic surrealist confusion but my understanding of the history of Latin America as a place and magical realism as a genre has improved quite a bit since then and I think I'd be able to get more out of the reading experience.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Bout of Books Read-a-thon 22 Sign-Up Post

Diving back into the book-blogging fray headfirst, it's time for a read-a-thon!

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 14th and runs through Sunday, May 20th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 22 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

So that's what's happening. Come. Join. Read things (you know you're going to anyway...).

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Top Ten Books With Green Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This is actually not as easy as you'd think... green isn't that common a choice for covers. I'm not sure if there's a marketing reason for it (I know red implies urgency and green is opposite on the colour wheel so maybe it's that?) So I'm always kind of drawn to green covers when I can get them. (I do own quite a few non-fiction books with green covers...) Anyway here's some books with green covers that have been on my mind for whatever reason, lately.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: okay so overall the covers of these books are just stunning. The packaging of these stories is superb (to say nothing of the contents which I really enjoyed). The painterly style, the lovely blues and greens... it's just a really nice cover.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: Okay it isn't my favourite cover but it works well for the story, and WHAT A STORY IT IS.

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini: I find it a little sad that they never printed a paperback with this cover... they repackaged it for the paperback release and it's glossy and zoomed in and just... not as nice to look at. Also this book is a monster and I'm still not fully on board with the ending (not the conclusion just... the way the wrapping up of loose ends was handled). I have a lot of Thoughts about these books and I'm always looking for someone to go on and on about them to so if you ever want to talk about this series drop me a line!

Nation by Terry Pratchett: I actually replaced my pocket-sized paperback with a hardcover partly because of how much better I like the cover. This is actually the only Terry Pratchett book I've ever read...

Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer: *deep breath in* *deep breath out* Of all the re-packagings of this series, this is definitely the cover I find the least frustrating. I really like it, though I do wish that they'd maintained a consistent font on the spines at least but c'est la vie. This book holds a special place in my soul and also devastated me. I've been going on an intense nostalgia kick about the entire series lately so it's possible that a reread will is on the horizon (though I do find the first 5 books to be overall stronger than the latter ones it's overall quite enjoyable... AND IT'S GETTING A SPINOFF and a movie but from how that seems to be shaping up I'm trying not to think about it)

The Enchantress (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #6) by Michael Scott: THESE COVERS. Just.. they're beautiful and embossed and shiny and this one has leaves on it and I just think they're really beautiful and, again, great packaging for the story inside.

Paper and Fire (Th Great Library #2) by Rachel Caine: Okay I know I'm pushing it a little with the green here because it's mostly orange but I really wanted to show off these really pretty covers. (Ash and Quill is even nicer in my opinion). I'm really enjoying this series, it's got magic and evil libraries and you should definitely check it out if you haven't already!

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud: these books are really excellent reads. I listened to the audiobooks, actually, and the narrator is quite good.

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle: On this list partly becuase the cover was what made me pick up the book (look at it) and because it's fresh in my mind.

The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1) by D. J. MacHale: I really like the original covers for these books so I'm going to be trawling used bookstores and other secondhand shops to try to get the rest of the series. The new covers aren't bad it's just that... I like these ones.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Audiobook Reviews: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Narrators: Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan, Robin Miles
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: June 13, 2017

Evelyn Hugo, aging Hollywood icon, is finally ready to tell all about her life- her origins, her tempestuous career, and even more tempestuous personal life. The only catch: the only person she'll tell her story to is Monique Grant- a report whose life has rather stalled- marriage crumbling, career at a standstill. Monique has no idea why Evelyn would choose her, but Evelyn is insistent: she will tell her story to Monique, or take the secrets of her life to the grave. As Evelyn unfolds her story of ambition, forbidden love, friendship, and family; her story winds it's way to to the present- revealing a startling and tragic connection to Monique's own life.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: Like the character in its title, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo offers no simple conclusions, instead presenting a complex picture with themes of ambition, love, intimacy, and identity.

Review: To say that I enjoyed experiencing this book would be the wrong word, although I do think it's a pretty excellent novel. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is, I think, one of the saddest books I've ever read (or listened to, as the case may be). It isn't that nothing but incredibly tragic things happen (although sad things do happen, quite often, in the course of Evelyn's life). There was just a sense of subtle sadness that seemed to permeate most every moment of the story, even as Evelyn recounted the happy memories. This review is going to wind up being heavily focused on Evelyn because- fittingly, I suppose, she was by far the most interesting part of the novel. Monique was more kind of... framing? Not an uninteresting character, but not terribly compelling when compared to the 300-page long study we get on Evelyn.

That was the overall sense that I took away from it. I really admired the deconstruction of Evelyn Hugo, the slow revelation of this larger-than-life person as someone all too human. While Evelyn isn't really a character that I found myself liking (nor was Monique, for that matter, nor were many of the people we met in Evelyn's memories), I still found myself sympathizing with and respecting her. In many ways the way Evelyn's mind works is utterly foreign to me- her goals, decisions, and approach were all so incredibly opposite what mine that this was something of a feat of writing. In this Taylor Jenkins Reid succeeded, because I remained intrigued and sympathetic toward Evelyn, without really becoming fond of her.

As Evelyn recounts how she fought her way to the glamourous and scandal-filled life she was known for, and how that life led her to be living alone in an Upper East Side apartment with an assistant and her iconic gowns for company (gowns that were being auctioned off for charity), we are introduced to a cast of the incredibly flawed people that played a role in Evelyn's life. The vibrancy and true-ness of so many of the characters in Evelyn's life was impressive, and I found it clashing with our visits to Monique's life, which sometimes lacked that same sense of authenticity (somewhat ironically, given the amount of faking involved in Evelyn's life). I usually try to avoid spoilers, and I'm not entirely sure this is one, but I want to quickly talk about something that isn't revealed until 1/3 of the way into the book. I don't think knowing going in takes away from the reading experience, but for anyone who prefers not to know anything going in, skip past the text in the grey box... I played with not including it, but the review just didn't feel complete without it.

I debated talking about this in the review, given how late it's introduced, it could, I suppose, be seen as a plot twist. I knew going into this story that Evelyn was a queer woman- it was the reason that I picked up the book. To me, it wasn't so much a plot point as an essential component of who the very complicated Evelyn was, and integral to the themes of the novel. I appreciated the exploration of the facets of Evelyn's sexuality, especially over the decades as terminology evolved and she came to know herself better. It serves to shape Evelyn as a character, as well as revealing and highlighting parts of her character. While I didn't agree with a lot of the choices Evelyn made (regarding her relationships, her relationship with her own sexuality, or a lot of other aspects of her life) they were believable and I could see why she made them.

It's worth noting that, as I've mentioned, this book is in some ways profoundly sad, and some of the sadness and difficulty in Evelyn's life did come the fact that the great love of her life was a woman in a time and place where she couldn't safely be open about it. But it is equally clear that many of the greatest joys in Evelyn's life came from loving Celia. From the somewhat unconventional family she built with Celia, and Harry (a gay man) and his partner, and from being able to be open with at very least some of the people she loved. Evelyn's bisexuality- like her gender, like her ethnicity, like her upbringing; all act as essential components of her character, both shaping and driving home the main themes of the story. 

Evelyn is an incredibly complicated character, and overall struck me as someone alternately stifled by, taking advantage of, and struggling against society She doesn't always make the best choices. She's ruthless and ambitious and selfish at times, but also brave and subversive. We see her use her femininity to get what she wants, while struggling not to let herself be purely defined by it (in both her own eyes and those of others). She alternately- or sometimes simultaneously- takes advantage of and rails against her own objectification. She keeps secret large parts of her identity, wishing not to, but not willing to give up what having those parts of herself out in the open would take from her. Depending on the situation, she throws herself against the bars of her cage and decorates the walls. Neither of those things ever really feel like freedom, which contributed to the slightly-to-very (depending on the part) sad tone of much of the story. Even the happiest, freest moments of the book were shaded with sadness, with Evelyn's grief and guilt.

I really liked the complexity of the relationships in this book- Evelyn and Celia, Evelyn and Harry, Evelyn and her husbands (and the different reasons she took them), Evelyn and her daughter, Evelyn and Monique, Monique and her mother and father. Reid plays with dichotomies and competing concepts and overlapping concepts in this book: love and hate, sex and intimacy, being looked at and being seen,the idea of belonging with someone and the idea of belonging to someone, past and present, truth and falsehood, right and wrong; playing all of these ideas with and against each other against the backdrop of Evelyn and Monique's lives. Relationships and situations are mirrored with each other throughout the book.

As I mentioned, Evelyn and her story rang more true and felt more developed that Monique's did. Monique served more as framing and felt somewhat flat when compared to the vivid characterization seen with Evelyn- either because she just didn't get as much time to be seen, or because Evelyn already had so much story to her. The narrators were excellent, reasonably distinct and yet blending together well, not interrupting the listening experience with each switch. I can't say I'll be thinking about this book forever, but I've definitely been thinking about it for the past two days.

Ultimately is a well-written and complex and meaningful story that explores identity, ambition, choice, and what is really worth taking risks for. I really appreciate that I was able to experience this story- I'm just not sure I'll ever want to do so again.