Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (DNF)

I've seen The Nightingale everywhere and everywhere people rave about how good it is.  Thus, I was excited to read it.  My excitement didn't last, though.  I read it longer than I might have if I hadn't been trying hard to like it, but I have finally decided not to go on.  I gave the book a fair shake, reading about a third of it, thinking it might grow on me.  But, alas, it did not.

The Nightingale is about two sisters in Nazi occupied France during WWII.  I do like historical fiction, so that was a plus.  However, I disliked both sisters.  Vianne, the older sister, who is married and has a child, is ridiculously naive in her dependence on her husband, in her belief in the French government and in her dealings with the Germans.  Isabelle, the younger sister, is worse.  She is a hot-headed rebel and is also ridiculously naive in her rebellions.  Perhaps she evens out some as the book progresses.  I've seen some hints that might be the case, but, particularly at the start of the story, she is stupid in her small rebellions, inviting drastic consequences onto not only herself, but her sister and niece.  She's also seriously stubborn, won't help with simple things and is a really bad role model (seemingly purposefully) for her niece.

In addition to not liking the sisters, some of the consequences of war as described in the story come on way too fast to be believable.  For example, Vianne, just a few months in, is complaining about her dress shoes not being made for everyday wear.  So, what happened to whatever shoes she was wearing everyday before the war started?  It's only been a few months.  Also?  There is a weather situation.  A few months in, Isabelle is complaining about how they're already having to bundle up, even before Christmas.  Now, some of this may be explained by the houses not having heat, but these are people who are used to walking to work and stores and such.  If before Christmas it's cold enough to bundle up, that's probably normal, not an effect of war, as is implied.  At this same time, their usually well stocked cellar has no more food.  While that would be expected a year or so in, a couple of months is too fast to deplete a cellar as well stocked as Isabelle's usually is (as described in detail).

It seems to me that there are plenty of stories told about WWII that aren't about concentration camps or the soldiers (which seems to be many people's reason for liking this book - that it's unique in that way).  Coming to mind off the top of my head are:  The Book Thief, All the Light We Cannot See, Snow Treasure, and Code Name Verity.  I think any of these is a better read.

While this is one of those books that I seem to be very much in the minority on, I have now seen a couple of reviews on Goodreads that make me really glad I didn't go on.  The last quarter of the book sounds seriously depressing.  That may be worthwhile if the book is wonderful, but not liking it already and then hitting that...well.  Let this serve as a warning, then, in a way that most other reviews about this book will not.  Save yourself!  You don't have to like The Nightingale!

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

I finally finished a book!  It took me a while.  Extraordinary Means is the sort of book that, prior to Davan coming home for the summer, I'd have read in a day, two at the most.  It took me a few days.  What's odd is that while I feel like I've got a lot less time to read (which is fine - let's be honest, I've got a lot of reading time even as is), Davan seems to have a lot of time to read now that she's at home.  She did whip through Extraordinary Means in less than a day.  Having her home, though, does help me with deciding on books to read.  From my latest library haul, which I brought home on Saturday, Davan let me know in no uncertain terms that two of the haul were books I should not read.  Okay, then, that'll help with the did not finishes.

Back to Extraordinary Means.  This is the story of Lane and Sophie who are patients at a TB sanatorium.  This might make you think of the early 1900s, but this story takes place in modern times with a what could happen where a totally drug resistant strain of TB appears and, thus, sanatoriums arise.  Lane and Sophie are high schoolers.  Lane is newly arrived to Latham House, but Sophie has been there for years with an illness that neither progresses enough to go home nor deteriorates enough that she dies.  Speaking of death, people do in Extraordinary Means.  We actually start the novel with Lane considering how many people have died in his new room.  Lane settles in, makes friends, is drawn to Sophie.  It's almost a typical boarding school story, but people are sick.  And that matters.

I liked Extraordinary Means.  I wouldn't label it as an all time favorite, but it was readable and relatable.  I enjoyed Lane's journey.  Davan and I both say, "It was pretty good."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Soulless by Gail Carriger (DNF)

I'm sad to say that this was my fourth did not finish book in a row.  Before writing the review on it, I started another book.  I figured if I started another and I didn't get into it, as well, then I'd really know it was me.  At that point, I wasn't sure what I'd do, but it might have involved not posting about Soulless, at least.

Here's the thing about Soulless:  I should like it.  There's a clever, spunky, unconventional main female character.  There's an interesting werewolf for a romantic lead (at least, it was looking that way when I left off).  However, I just didn't really care.  I didn't like Alexia all that much (she was okay).  I didn't like how when they were together, the point of view switched between Alexia and Lord Maccon (the werewolf).  There was something about the style of writing I can't pinpoint, but that didn't work for me.  I felt like I could push through and find the book to be okay, but I really, really want to read something that doesn't involve pushing through.  The other book I picked up is enjoyable without pushing through and I'm thrilled.  So, I'm done with Soulless and, hopefully, with my sad streak of did not finshes.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Miss Mayhem by Rachel Hawkins

My audio book listening has slowed way down since Davan came home.  Often now, while I'm doing things I'd have listened to my book while doing before, Davan is around and we're listening to music together and interacting.  Also, we're taking a French class together this summer and I'm spending some of my audio time listening to French.  So, this latest audio book took me longer than normal to get through.

I loved Rebel Belle, the first book in the Rebel Belle series, so I was very excited when I got the notice that my hold was in on the Miss Mayhem audio book.  I had two other audio books queued up, but I started Miss Mayhem ahead of them.  Sadly, though, I was disappointed.

In this second book, I did not find nearly as much humor.  I did not like pretty much anyone's choices.  I thought the trials Harper had to go through to be kind of weak both plot-wise and in execution.  I considered not finishing it.  However, I did love the first book and maybe the third will be better?  So, I did power through.  Also, as I've said in my past couple of reviews, some of the problems I'm having with books may well be me.  Three print books and one audio book all together not going well may well be a sign.  (And I'm having a hard time getting into my latest try of print book.  Sigh.)  On the other hand, I've just done a quick look around and it seems I'm not the only one who thinks the second book did not live up to the first.  And the consensus seems to be that the third book is better than the third but not as good as the first still.  I may give it a try or I may let the Harper world go.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Unexpeted Everything by Morgan Matson (DNF)

Sadly, I'm on a run of did not finishes.  I had really high hopes for Unexpected Everything, having heard many good things, but it was not for me.  Andie's plan (and she's the sort of girl who has one) for her summer and, thus, possibly, her whole life falls apart at the beginning of summer.  She starts scrambling to figure out a new one and...that's as far as I got.  I didn't really like Andie all that much.  She was okay, but not overly likable.  And she was such a teenager.  I know she's a teen.  I get that.  It's a YA novel.  But, goodness, the worries she has, the drive to go to parties and drink, her perspective on boyfriends.  It was just all too much teenager for me.

I'm willing to admit, at this point, that I'm in a bit of a reading funk.  After all, it's been three books in a row.  At some point, you have to wonder: am I the problem?  Maybe.  I don't know.  I also don't like the audio book I'm listening to that much, so...yeah.  I'll keep trying, though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Treasure Map of Boys by e. lockhart (DNF)

I think I'm done with Ruby Oliver.  I enjoyed the first two, finding them quick, fun reads while also having some realism about teen life.  This one is...well, there's too much rehashing over things already covered.  Too much angst over the boys already.  Just too much of the same, not enough growth.  I didn't finish.  And I won't be picking up the fourth.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (DNF)

I'm actually a little hesitant to write this review.  You see, I didn't finish I'll Give You the Sun, but I felt like I was supposed to like it.  I've seen it everywhere and on people's lists of favorite LGBTQ books and the like.  It has a lot of elements I find appealing:  LGBTQ, twins, contemporary.  But, it just did not work for me.  I kind of want to know how the story turns out, but I just don't want to read it.

Noah and Jude are twins.  We get their story from when they are 13 and then 16.  Something happens in between.  At least as far as I read, Noah tells the story when they're 13 and Jude when they're 16.  I have a hard time reading them both.  Noah's narrative is flooded with imagery, which, as he's an artist, isn't odd, but his grasp on reality is.  So, we're going along with life happening and the narrative is peppered with things like, "I've waited on the roof, totally deranged, my head a few feet above my neck, for his garage to open so we can plunge into the woods again and become imaginary..."  This sort of writing simply doesn't appeal to me.  And it's all the time.

Jude's narration is a little bit better, but I still don't enjoy it.  She's clearly seriously depressed, which doesn't mean I can't appreciate the book on its own, but the tone of her narration is so down and avoidance oriented that I can't get into it.  She spends her time talking to her dead grandmother who talks back (which also isn't a deal killer for me, but isn't helping things here) and avoiding.  Her narrative is sprinkled with sayings from her "bible" which was written by her grandmother and her reactions to these sayings, which I found disruptive.

So, I'm setting aside I'll Give You the Sun and moving on.  I'm glad it's resonated with so many, but it's just not the book for me.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (DNF)

I picked up Firefly Lane because I saw it on a best books about female friendship list.  I didn't care for it.  I read maybe a third of it, but it was a push to even get that far.  It's not horrible.  However, it is pretty cliched.  I was ready to set it down almost right away when I first encountered Katie's mother telling her (paraphrasing here), "You think I don't know anything now, but you'll change your mind later, right about the time you're looking for a babysitter."  Katie answers, "What are you talking about?"  This is such a worn out trope.  And, frankly, the teen girls I know are aware it and wouldn't ask, "What are you talking about?"  Unfortunately, this sort of thing continues as we follow loved, mostly rule following but slightly chaffing at the restrictions, Kate and her best friend, repeatedly abandoned by her mother, wild Tully.  I was both a little bored and repeatedly annoyed by all the well worn groves this sort of story provides.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I've been hearing about Ready Player One everywhere.  I was worried it was over hyped and I would be disappointed, so I let it sit on my shelf until the due date started pressing in on me.  I finally picked it up on Thursday and, despite Davan's return from China on Friday, walks with friends, and family time, I finished it last night.  It was such a good read.

Ready Player One is set in the future in which real life sucks and most everyone does their living in OASIS, a virtual reality.  The creator of OASIS dies and leaves everything to the person who can find the hidden egg.  It takes years before anyone even finds the first of three keys, but when Wade (senior in a virtual high schooler) does, things take off.  The creator of OASIS is a child of the 80s and is obsessed with geek 80s culture, so all the egg hungers (gunters) are, as well.  This book is chock full of 80s references not all of which I got, even being a child of the 80s.  Everyone I've seen recommending Ready Player One has been roughly 20.  I imagine this was a much different read for them than for me and even different again for someone more into gaming culture in the 80s. 

Ready Player One is one of the few books I really want to have Anthony read, which makes me wish I'd picked it up earlier because it's due back too soon for him to get through.  I'll have to put another hold on it and then sit him down, hand him the book and see what happens. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I'm probably about the last reader of YA to read The Raven Boys.  I've seen it around, but have simply never picked it up.  Since watching booktubers, though, it's come to my attention in a new way.  Mostly, I've heard a lot about Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue that made me want to start the series, even though it's the third book.  So, as is my wont, I put a hold on it at the library, it came, and then sat on my shelf because, while I wanted to read it, it wasn't jumping off the shelf at me.  Now it's due.  With holds so I can't renew.  Okay, then, it's time to read it.

The Raven Boys follows four private school boys (where the school crest is a raven) and one townie girl who are searching for ley lines (roughly speaking on all this - it's a bit more complicated than that).  It starts with some supernatural and gets more involved in the supernatural.  I'll leave it at that.  Either you've read it and you know or that's plenty for getting started.

I thought the book was okay.  I found it very readable, but didn't get really swept away.  If I hadn't heard good things about Blue Lilly, Lilly Blue, I might not continue the series, but, as I have and found it okay, I probably will.  Now it's time to get that book back to the library!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Becoming Nicole is the non-fiction story of Nicole Maines and her family.  Nicole is born an identical twin and outwardly a boy.  She knows, though, that she is a girl.  This isn't a problem for her twin brother, who never mourns the loss of a brother because she is just always his sister.  It's only a problem for her mom in that she becomes Nicole's strongest advocate.  The family member who goes through the biggest change mentally is her father who goes from disassociation and difficulty coping to super supportive.

Outside their family, things move from fairly easy and accepting to many difficulties at school to more acceptance in high school.  The story follows the four of the Maineses as they grow and change, through struggles with bullying, bathrooms, living out and closeted years, as well as through evolving legislation and health struggles. 

I liked this book and I feel like it's a good introduction for anyone wanting to understand more about transgender persons and, particularly, transgender youth.  There is a combination of this family's story, legal issues and the science of gender that works well.  I listened to the audio book of Becoming Nicole, which is read by the author, and I would recommend that, as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

I saw Vengeance Road on a list of books with kick ass female protagonists and that was enough for me.  When I went looking for it, though, the cover seemed kind of familiar.  I believe I picked it up once before and didn't finish it.  This time, I got it in audio book form.  I think this saved it for me.  The story is told in a "western" voice, that is to say using were instead of was and other grammatical idiosyncrasies.  I think if I were reading this in print form, that would have been too much of a turn off for me and is probably what happened the first time.  Listening, though, made that easier for me and I'm glad, because I ended up really liking this book.

Vengeance Road is the story of 18 year old Kate living in the Arizona Territory in 1877.  When her father, who is her entire family, is hung by a gang, she sets off to find vengeance.  Along the way, she meets the Colton brothers who become traveling companions and a bit more.  Kate is unapologetic in her hunt for vengeance.  She does, on occasion, consider what her moral status is, but mostly she is completely bad ass and focused.  There is a bit of romance, but this is mostly Kate's story and her story is all about killing the Rose Gang and, particularly, its leader.  This is a true western with an excellent female lead.  There is plenty of violence and death.

I really liked Kate.  I enjoyed her story very much.  I was certainly cheering her on.  There was a time that I think we (the readers) were probably supposed to cry and I didn't.  I'm telling you this to say that I wasn't perfectly sucked in by the story, but I did still like it overall.  I was happy to turn it on and listen even though it was sort of a pain because I got this book through Hoopla (through my library account) and, for some reason, could only stream it.  That was annoying, as it would turn off whenever I went out of wifi.  I could get it through my data, but anytime I went by wifi, it'd get messed up again.  Eventually, I turned off my wifi and just steamed through cell phone data, but then I'd forget to turn wifi back on and was burning through my data.  In the end, I started a different audio book to listen to when I was going to be out and just listened to Vengeance Road at home with wifi on and consistent.  Because I liked the book so much, I carried on through all this, so that says something. 

If you like unabashed kick ass female leads, give Vengeance Road a go.  It's worth it.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I saw the movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, without having read the book or, even, to be truthful, having known it was a book first.  That's not so typical for me, so I say it with a small amount of embarrassment, but there it is.  I've had a bit of conflicted feelings about picking up the book for some reason I can't really identify, as I liked the movie alright.  I'd put a hold on it and gotten it from the library nearly three weeks ago and there's it's sat, waiting.  I can say with some precision that it was nearly three weeks ago because I just got a notice about it being due.  And it won't renew.  So, after finishing The Sudden Appearance of Hope last night, I dove right in.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, as the blurbs about it will tell you, a story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye.  Perhaps this is part of what turned me off of picking it up.  I'm not a Holden fan.  I found The Catcher in the Rye to be more depressing than anything else.  Anyway, our main character here is Charlie, although that may not be his real name, as the story is told in letters to a person who "seems nice" with, as Charlie says in the first letter, pseudonyms.  Likely you know the gist of the story having seen the movie, although I didn't realize (or maybe remember) that the story was told in letters from the movie.  So, as a quick overview, Charlie is an high school freshman who makes friends with a group of seniors and makes an effort to participate in high school.  He has many issues ranging from a friend who committed suicide to family issues.  This kid has a lot thrown at him and has some psychological issues on top of that.

It turns out that I liked the book.  I felt for Charlie and was very interested in his story in ways that never happened for me with Holden.  The book is laced with musical and literary references, which sometimes I like and other times makes me think the author is trying too hard.  I felt a little bit of both in this case.  While its certainly well known enough not to need my recommendation, I would recommend it for a variety of reasons - it is enough like The Catcher in the Rye that if you liked it, you might like this, as well.  There's a whole story line about getting caught up in a relationship where you aren't being yourself and aren't happy, but feel the need to keep pretending that made me want to give it to someone I know who would identify with that.  Also, I'd recommend it to others trying to understand that sort of relationship, as it gives insight into why Charlie ends up in that position.

If you've just been waiting for a push to read it, consider this the push.  It was not my favorite book by far, but it was a good and interesting read.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

I recently read and enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North so when I saw a blurb about The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I decided to pick it up.  It just got in at the library after I put a hold on it and, ignoring the impending due dates of other books on my shelf, I picked it up to read a couple days ago. 

Hope is unrememberable.  While a striking looking woman, she just doesn't stay in people's memory past the short term.  Every time you meet her is the first time.  This is true even for her parents when she reaches a certain age.  Leading a conventional life is difficult when people don't remember you.  Hope becomes a thief to survive.  And she's a very good one.  When she meets a woman that she actually likes when casing a mark and the woman commits suicide, Hope steals out of anger, starting a chain of events where her existence is threatened.  Central to the story is an app called Perfection where points are earned by eating right, exercising, buying certain things, and, generally, doing all you can to be your perfect self.

My feelings about this book are a little mixed.  On the one hand, I did want to know what was going to happen and never even considered not finishing.  On the other hand, I didn't really like Hope all that much and I have a bit of a tough time reading books when I don't like the main character.  Additionally, I really felt like the book had an agenda it was pushing about striving for perfection, relying on apps to make choices and many issues related to these concepts, including lack of privacy online.  It's not that I don't enjoy thinking about these things.  I do.  But that was part of the problem.  Nothing was really brought up that I don't already think about, but it was brought up with a certain amount of breathlessness associated with discovering these things for the first time that I found a little bit annoying.

That said, I still liked the book more than not and I'm going to set it aside to see if Davan's interested in reading it.  She comes home on Friday, so I can actually share books with her (unless the due date is too pressing, as with my next two reads).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Boy Book by e. lockhart

After giving up on The Crown's Game, I wanted to read something short and fun.  So, even though it was not, by far, the book that has been sitting on my self waiting to be read the longest, I picked up The Boy Book.  It certainly delivered.  I really get a kick out of Ruby Oliver. 

The Boy Book is the second in the Ruby Oliver series which starts with The Boyfriend List.  In The Boy Book, Roo is starting her junior year at Tate Prep, a private school for the elite kids in Seattle with some scholarship kids tossed in for good measure.  Roo struggles with anxiety.  She's had some complicated boy relationships, which, in part, causes her social outcast-ness.  In The Boyfriend List, which takes place in spring of her sophomore year, she's come to some sort of terms, but things are not perfect.  Her friendship group has changed, to the point where she really only has one and she's not what you'd call a perfect friend.  Her feelings about several of the boys in her life remain complicated.  She continues to work with her therapist about her issues.  Her parents are still wacky, but loving and they sure try. 

One of the things I like about these books is that things don't just tidy up all neatly (although sometimes I do really like that, too).  Ruby doesn't find the perfect boyfriend or the perfect set of friends.  She does, however, work on her stuff and things get better for her.  Also, Roo is funny in a sort of low key (for me, at least) way.  Thirdly, I like that she owns her sexual feelings.  No, she's not a slut, even if so labeled by some of the kids at school, but she enjoys a good make out session and, really, that's perfectly normal, or at least one aspect of normal.

The Ruby Oliver books are engagingly written and, thus, I found myself reading until 11:30 last night to finish up The Boy Book even though I usually turn my light out around 10:30.  (Yes, even on Saturdays.  I'm an old person.)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye (DNF)

I'm not going to warn you off of The Crown's Game.  Some people seem to like it.  I've seen it on pretty much every booktuber's (booktubers, for the uninitiated, as I was myself a short time ago, are people who blog about books on You Tube) shelf.  All that said, I couldn't get into it.  I found it to be superficial.  That's my main word for this book.  The characters are superficial.  The game is superficial.  The motivations of the characters are superficial.  I have no idea why any of them find any of the others romantically interesting, but apparently they do. The magic is kind of boring.  Okay, so that sounds like I'm warning you off.  That was the bad stuff.  I will say this book was fine.  I could have finished it without feeling like it was torture, but I simply didn't want to.  I wanted to move onto something I'd be enjoying instead of simply passing time with.

The story is that in Russia of 1825 there arises a situation where there are two enchanters coming into full power.  Usually, there can only be one as that one yields all of the country's magical power.  Having more than one would dilute the magic.  Thus, the tsar orders the beginning of The Crown's Game.  The game should leave only one contender alive (but I think it's clear from the start this will be overcome).  We learn that a contestant may directly kill the other but that, when the game ends, if both are alive, a winner is declared and the other dies magically.

I like to think I'm a fan of high stake games (okay, The Game of Love and Death didn't work out for me, either), but this one was just (you guessed it) superficial.  And a bit dull.

This book may strike a cord for you.  It does for some.  I'm not saying you shouldn't try it if it calls to you.  It did not, however, work for me and I only made it about half way through.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

I don't know how I missed Rebel Belle when it first came out two years ago, but I'm just glad I've found it now.  It was such a good, fun read.  If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you'll probably like Rebel Belle.  It's fun, supernatural, modern fiction.  No vampires, though.  It's not Buffy, just the same feel.  Kick ass teen girl, humor, that sort of thing.

Harper is a high achieving high school junior at a Southern private school.  She's top of her class, the class president, cheerleader, generally a super overachiever.  She's at her homecoming where she is a shoe in for homecoming queen (yeah, I know, I expected to hate her, too, but I did not) when she stumbles into a very strange situation in which (the front panel will tell you) she becomes a paladin (super protector) to...someone she hates, of course.

I did find many things to be predictable in the story, but it didn't bother me because I was having so much fun.  I listened to Rebel Belle, which I ended up liking, but the strong southern accent almost put me off at first.  I've got the next one on hold and am planning on listening to it, as well, so if you feel the same about southern accents but enjoy audio books, maybe try to push through.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

gena/finn by Hanna Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson

I read this book today.  Earlier today I wrote about not finishing Bellweather Rhapsody.  So, yeah, this has been my project today.  In between a few things like a run to the grocery store, doing laundry, making dinner, but mostly, I've been reading gena/finn on this rainy afternoon.  It is short and, from that perspective, totally doable in a day, but from an emotional point of view, it's made for a fairly intense day.  I had no idea this book was going to take such an emotional toll and I'm not even totally sure I should tell you that up front.  I guess it's a bit spoiler-y.  But, I sort of think you should be forewarned.  Or, you know, you might not care as much as I did.

I'm a little surprised that this book is classified as YA.  It's about two fangirls who connect online.  One is a recent college graduate and the other a high school senior/college freshman.  The two start with an online friendship, then in person meetings start happening.  There are changes along the way for each of them and...well, I don't really want to get into what happens too much, but some serious stuff happens.

I really liked both Gena and Finn and felt for them.  There were so many sweet, funny moments.  Their friendship is sweet and wonderful and then complicated, but true and meaningful.  That was two sweets in two sentences, which is nothing but bad writing.  Worse, "sweet" isn't a good way to describe this book.  It's not.  As a whole, it's rough.  But you won't know that at the start.

I loved this book at first.  At times I hated it.  It certainly had me engaged and wanting to finish.  I'm still tearing up off and on, though.  But, I still think I loved it.  So, great.  And awful.  You've been warned.

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (DNF)

I don't necessarily have a problem with dark humor.  In fact, I'm often a fan in real life.  I don't seem to agree with a lot of people about dark humor in books, TV or movies, though.  Anthony and I often turn to each other and say, "Where was the funny part?" when we've watched something that was described as dark and funny.  I'm willing to admit that this is a lack on my part, since it happens a lot.  And, thus, the statement on the flap which reads, in part, "her fearlessness about the loss and darkness that underline the truest humor" should have stood as a warning to me.  However, Bellweather Rhapsody has a large fan base, so I thought I'd give it a go.  I made it a little less than half way.

The basic premise is that a high school statewide music festival is taking place in the grand old (decaying and only ever busy for Statewide every year) Bellweather Hotel.  This year's Statewide falls on the 15th anniversary of a newlywed murder/suicide.  One of the high schoolers finds her roommate hanging in the same manner as the bride of 15 years ago (not that she knows the details are the same) but when she goes for help, the body is gone.  The story is told from many different points of view.  Most of the people providing these points of view I did not like.  At all.  There is only one person I cared about.  He was almost enough to make me want to finish the book.  In fact, I kept reading last night with the intention of finishing.  It's not that long.  I want to know what happens with Rabbit.  But, as I was thinking about picking up the book to read over breakfast this morning the feeling I had was dread.  So, I'm putting the book aside.

That said, I can see some of why people like this book.  I just don't.  One of the reasons I like YA is that I feel like many adult fiction books are trying too hard.  They have to be edgy.  This is one of those books for me.  Too edgy to be enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word is the other audio book I finished while reading Outlander.  Every Last Word is the story of popular high school junior, Sam, who is hiding something from her friends.  She has OCD of the purely obsessional variety.  Her every day is a difficult balancing act of pretending everything is fine while, underneath, it's really not.  This isn't a good situation for someone whose friends with the popular girls, complete with the stereotypical meanness.  She is taking medication, swimming helps and she has been seeing a therapist long term, but her social life doesn't lend itself to being able to cope.  Her therapist has been encouraging her to make new friends for a long time, but Sam just can't.  She has no where else to go.

Enter new friend Caroline and her entry into the secret poet's society at her school.  She meets AJ, with whom she has a history that she doesn't at first recall, and other poets who eventually welcome her into their circle.  This gives her the strength to stand up to her popular friends.  This all comes in stages, though, and takes a while.  Not wanting to give anything away, I will say there is also a WTF moment that was...interesting.

I liked this book, but here's the thing...it's the story of if everything went really well.  If you have the best therapist, the most understanding mom, the group of misfit poets just waiting for you to find them.  However, I'll be honest and say that I like it when things work out, so I liked this book.  I like finding your tribe.  I like therapists who are good at their jobs.  I like good parents.  I don't think one or two of these things are unrealistic, but having them all is a stroke of extraordinary good luck. 

Overall, I thought this was a decent handling of OCD and I think it's worth a read.

George by Alex Gino

Whew.  With Outlander safely returned to the library with 25 minutes to spare (usually I'm not so happy about the noon Wednesday and Thursday opening of my library branch), I've got some time to play catch up.  Between Saturday and now, I've finished two audio books.  I listen to audio books while doing things like walking, driving, bike riding, running, doing housework, and cooking.  So, sometimes, I burn through them faster than books I sit and read, depending on what's going on in my life at the time.  I'd already started George when Anthony and I drove to the beach on Friday.  So he wouldn't have to join in on an already started book, I started a new one with him (to be reviewed next), which isn't totally fair to him, either, as we didn't finish.  He usually prefers us to listen to podcasts for this reason, which is often what we do, but I'd really wanted to do a book, so...Anyway, this whole situation meant I had two audio books going by the time I started Outlander on Saturday.  I finished George on Sunday and the other on Monday.

So, George.  While I've been shying away from children's books, I wanted to read (or listen to) George because it was highly recommended to me by one of my very most important people, Davan.  She spoke super highly of George when she and I were at Powell's looking for a couple of books for her to take to China with her.  I actually ended up feeling a bit mixed about it.  (Sorry, Davan.)

George is the story of a girl whose body presents as a boy.  At the time of the story, she's in fourth grade, no one knows she identifies as a girl except herself, and her teacher has just read Charlotte's Web to the class.  The fourth grade will be performing Charlotte's Web as a play and George wants nothing more than to be Charlotte.  Through this desire, she gradually opens up about who she is to some of her key people. 

Here are some of the problems I had with the book:  One is not the book's fault.  It's written for kids and reads like it.  And, as I've mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of children's lit at this point in my life.  Other issues, though, remain.  One is that while I know that some fourth graders probably are into fashion mags, I don't actually know that many who are.  George is obsessed with them and keeps a secret stash.  I guess I just think that, at 10 years old, George might be more into, I don't know, American Girl or crafts or something and less into 17.  Also, again, this isn't true for all, but at 10, I think makeup is still mostly dress up/play make up, not something girls actually wear out and about.  In short, I kind of felt like while George read like a 10 year old at best, her interests were more of a 12-13 year old and that was a bit of a problem for me.

What I loved:  George stays strong about who she is, even in the face of strong opposition from her mom who says (paraphrasing), "It was cute when you were three, but it's not cute anymore!" referring to George's interest in girls' clothes and from her teacher who refuses to even consider casting her as Charlotte and is rather offensive about it.  (In fact, I was totally despairing for George's lack of support and wanted to kick some adult ass reading about it.)  George's best friend, who is taken aback at first and seems like she won't be there for George, comes around after time to think and is George's strongest support.  "If you think you're a girl, I think you're a girl!"  George's older brother is also a nice surprise when George tells him.  By the end, George's mom is making some progress and I could have kissed the principal for her support.

Ultimately, George (the book) is hopeful without glossing over the issues George will continue to face.  I rooted for George they entire way through and, although, yes, I know, she is fictional, I continue to hope things will improve for her. 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I have so many books from the library waiting to be read that I've taken to choosing the next book to be read not by what is jumping out at me but, rather, by what is due next and can't be renewed.  It was thus that I picked up Outlander on Saturday with three days left in the loan.  What is surprising to me is that I wasn't able to renew it.  After all, the book I have is the 20th anniversary edition.  This is not a new book.  Why, then, is there so much demand?  Well, there is a TV show out based on the books.  Perhaps that's drawing new attention to the book?  Maybe, but it's been out for a while, so maybe not.  As for me, how did it come to my attention?  I've mentioned before that I've recently started watching some You Tube book bloggers.  Two I like are Jesse the Reader and Peruse Project.  I don't remember exactly anymore, but I think Outlander made an appearance in one of the book challenge videos on Jesse's channel.  I was not previously familiar with the book nor with the TV show.

So, I picked up Outlander, my copy of which is 627 pages long in a good sized hardback, Saturday evening with three days in which to read it or decide not to.  Seeing as how I've been setting a good number of books aside lately, I figured I could at least start it to see if I wanted to read it at all.  If I did want to read it, well, I had some time.  Anthony had the Oregon Grand Fondo on Sunday and, thus, was away when I picked the book up and would be until Sunday evening.  Aside from a walk with a friend Sunday morning and, you know, sleeping, I could spend the whole time reading if I liked, making it possible to finish the book in three days should I choose to read it.  I didn't expect to get sidetracked by so many things over the course of the last few days, making this quite the herculean task, but I did manage to finally finish it this morning, a mere hour before the library is due to open, meaning that if I finish this review and get it back to the library in (now) 45 minutes, it won't even be late.  On with it, then!

Outlander was a good read.  It was very sexual and violent, sometimes combined, which makes it pretty rough in parts, but I was really invested in Claire; how she would fare, what choices she'd make along the way, how those choices would effect her.  Claire is a World War II era nurse on holiday in Scotland with her husband after the war when she winds up time traveling around 200 years previous where she is taken in by clan MacKenzie.  While she is, of course, fairly ignorant of the day to day life of 1743, she is feisty, strong, intelligent and has, likely, more medical knowledge than any of the contemporaries.  This book being an historical romance, there quickly appears a love interest.  I found Jamie to also be likable and interesting.

Outlander was compelling and interesting.  I'll likely pick up the next book and may even watch the TV show, but I'm not sure I want to see the violence onscreen.  Still, the book is worth a read if it hasn't yet come to your attention, as it hadn't to mine.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bread and Roses, Too by Kathrine Paterson

On Tuesdays and Thursdays this school year, I've been tutoring in an after school program at our local high school.  Last Thursday there were no tutorees (they come in voluntarily, so that happens sometimes) and one of the peer mentors (a student who tutors) was homeworked out, so we spent the whole time having an impromptu discussion about all things books.  We've talked about books before, but this time we talked about what we were reading, I introduced her to some book vloggers on You Tube and we wandered the isles at the library, where tutoring conveniently takes place, pointing out books to one another.  The one she highly recommended that seemed familiar to me, but I wasn't sure if I'd read or not was Bread and Roses, Too.  That evening, I checked it out in audio book format from the county library.

It turns out I have read Bread and Roses, Too before.  It was a long time ago - I'm going to go with at least 9 years ago.  It was long enough ago that I didn't really remember much, but there were a few scenes that I definitely remembered.  Davan and I read it for the homeschool book group we were a part of back then.  I remember thinking it was okay then.  That's about how I felt about it this time, too.  It was okay.  I'm finding I have less tolerance for kid's books than I used to.  When Davan I and were reading kid's books together when she was the right age for them, I think the joy of reading together and seeing her reactions to the books caused me to enjoy them.  Now, though, I find myself frustrated with the juvenility of the characters.  Yes, they are supposed to be kids, but sometimes I think adult authors write motivations into child characters that are too juvenile.    Between that and the kids actually being kids, I just feel kind of annoyed.  For me, YA novels are a different story (usually).

Anyway, Bread and Roses, Too, is told from two points of view.  One is 12(ish) year old Rosa who lives with her loving but very poor Italian family.  Rosa attends school and is the star pupil while her mom and couple of year older sister work in the mills.  Her baby brother is tended to by the grandmother of the Lithuanian family they took in as boarders to make ends meet after Rosa's father died.  The baby brother cries a lot because he is so very hungry.  They are lucky to have a small piece of bread for breakfast and a little cabbage soup for dinner.

The other point of view is Jake who is about the same age and is a mill worker.  Kids aren't supposed to start working until they're 14, but there is a fixer who will doctor the documents for a fee.  He lives, some of the time, with his alcoholic and abusive father who doesn't work, but takes all of Jake's wages.  When not with his father, Jake sleeps in trash piles.

This historical novel takes place in 1912 during the Lawrence Mill Strike.  Rosa's and Jake's stories only intersect a briefly a couple of times prior to the second half of the book when they both end up sent away to a safe place for the remainder of the strike.

Historically speaking, the book had some interest.  I didn't exactly like either child.  I did find Rosa more likable, but not as much as her mother, who I'd have liked to know more about.  I found Jake pretty unlikable and was often annoyed by his choices and thoughts.

I can see how my young, scholarly, peer mentor friend who lives with an extended family of 10 whose mom has done factory work and who has some extended relatives who are migrant workers would identify with this book and with Rosa in particular.  I read it for her and might recommend it to some kids/teens, but I don't think I'd recommend it to an adult.

The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast by Josh Kaufman

I was pretty excited about this book, so, despite the fact that it was by far not the book that's been sitting on my shelf the longest, I picked it up to read.  I don't have a particular skill I'm looking to acquire right now, but I love books like this anyway.  I enjoy reading about learning, skill acquisition, people learning to do cool things, pretty much everything this book had to offer.  And, at first, I was not disappointed.  Within a couple of chapters, I was brainstorming about what new skill I wanted to learn (this part I'm not always so great about following through on, just sayin').

In The First 20 Hours, Josh starts by talking about the dreaded 10,000 hours to become an expert that is floating out there, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell (I'm a fan of his books, too).  I've read some things that question the 10,000 hour thing.  One of the principles is that talent doesn't exist, for example, and there's quite a bit of backlash about that.  In fact, I'm a believer in some innate ability.  Some people really are more coordinated than others or have a better ear for music.  Anyway, Josh comes at it from a different direction.  He doesn't argue against the 10,000 hours to being an expert, but he argues that most of us aren't looking to be experts.  If you want to start skiing, learn to play an instrument or learn German, most people would be happy getting to the point where they enjoyed skiing, could play for a friend without embarrassing himself or have a conversation in German while traveling in Germany.  Josh says 20 hours of specific, concentrated practice will get you there.

Josh has a method that involves deconstructing the skill, learning about each subskill, removing barriers and then practicing for 20 hours.  There are a few chapters about skill acquisition in general - his method and other general overview things.  The rest of the book is a breakdown of him putting his method to work at several different skills including yoga, computer programming, go, and windsurfing among others. 

This is where the book lost its hold on me.  I thought I'd be more interested than I was, but each of these skill chapters was like a how to for each of those skills.  Josh says upfront that the reader may be more interested in some of these skills than others, but I found myself glazing on pretty much all of these chapters, even though I do yoga, have learned programming, love playing games and am a beginner windsurfer myself.  It was sort of like reading a paper written for school on each of these topics with a bit of how Josh learned them.  It mostly didn't work for me and I did a bunch of skimming.

One exception was I was surprisingly fairly fascinated by the learning to touch type chapter.  Josh decides to give a keyboard layout other than the QWERTY one a go and it made me want to, also.  I was pretty into how he decided on which one, Das Keyboard and the programs he used.  Go figure. 

So, in the end, I thought this book was okay.  The first few chapters were interesting.  Most of the skill ones were skim-able and one or more may call to you.  I do feel a little inspired to really work a skill rather than do it haphazardly.  That is enough to say this book is probably worth a look.  I'd definitely get it from the library, though, rather than buying it.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Davan really likes The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan.  She reads them in German and discuses them with her host sister, Sophie, who waits until Davan can get a German copy to read so they're reading them at the same time.  It's sweet.  Davan gets so excited about them coming out because of all this.  I, meanwhile, haven't read a single one.  I've read a few of the Percy Jackson books.  I kind of petered out with them after about the third.  Turns out I probably should have gone back to finish that series before starting The Heroes of Olympus, as they come chronologically after.  I have to say, though, that I don't think I will.

I read about a third of The Lost Hero before deciding to set it aside.  It's fine.  There's really nothing wrong with it.  I know many, many people like them.  I know that saying I don't feel the pull is akin to saying that about Harry Potter, which, really, I get.  I'm a big Harry Potter fan.  I own almost no books, but one that still sits on my shelf is a British version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  So, I really do understand adults enjoying "kids" books.  For whatever reasons (they're awesome), reading Harry Potter really worked for me.  I'm not drawn into these in the same way.  I get why they would appeal to kids, I just don't feel it for myself.

So, with plenty of respect for those of all ages who like the Rick Riordan books, I'm setting it aside knowing that while there is lots of fuss, it doesn't work for me.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

I listened to this book after hearing it was a great book for female friendships.  And I'll say....yes with a caveat.

The Girls from Corona del Mar told from the point of view of Mia whose best friend is Lorrie Ann.  The story starts when they are both 15 and follows mostly Mia, but also Lorrie Ann through Mia to their early 30s.  Mia thinks that Lorrie Ann is the more stable and kind of the two when they are teenagers, but, by the time the book ends, Mia has had a more...normal, I guess, life.  That isn't to say boring, but, generally, things work out for Mia.  For Lorrie Ann?  Not so much.  This in spite of the book opening with Mia having an abortion after a sexual encounter she has to "get it over with" with a boy she doesn't even like.  Then things go on.  Mia starts off really self absorbed.  Lorrie Ann becomes a mess. 

I was intrigued enough by this book to finish it.  To say I enjoyed it might not be accurate, though.  It was, at times, like not being able to look away from a train wreck.  I didn't like what was happening, but I didn't want to stop listening.  And this kept happening.  And there wasn't as much counterbalance of redemption as I usually want in a story that has such lows. 

As far as the friendship goes, this wasn't a healthy friendship.  This wasn't a friendship you want to have for yourself.  It was kind of messed up, but probably more accurate in some ways for being so.

So, would I recommend it?  Maybe.  Depends on the reader.  I certainly won't be rereading it, but I'm also not sorry I spent time with The Girls from Corona del Mar.

Books, Books, Books

I just got back from the library.  The library is very close.  By close, I mean across the street.  It is kitty-corner, so I have to cross two streets to get there, but yes, it's super close.  This particular branch of the library is small.  I do browse there some, but I do a lot of putting books on hold and then picking them up there.  The Multnomah County Library system is big and awesome.  Anyway.  I've actually been there twice today.  Once was to drop books off this morning, the other to pick some up after they opened.  The above five books were my haul.  That wouldn't be too bad.  After all, it's not super unusual for me to go through a book in one day, so this should last a week or so if I were to finish them all.  But, that's not all.  Here are the contents of a shelf in my closet:

And the overflow from that shelf:

And those don't even count the book I just started:

Seriously, I've got a problem.  I have all these books, but I keep putting more on hold.  This does tend to happen in waves with me.  Sometimes I'm scrounging for a book to read by searching books available now to download onto my Kindle.  Sometimes I go way overboard and have books to last for weeks.  This particular overstocking of books?  It might be one of my biggest yet.

To be fair to myself, I did just return four books today, so my overall increase is only one book.  Who am I kidding?  I'd better get reading.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I started off and got about half way through The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks really liking it.  I thought I'd be writing a glowing review when finished.  However, by the end, my feelings were fairly ambivalent.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is the story of a sophomore girl at a prestigious boarding school.  She's bloomed between her freshman and sophomore year, causing her to catch the eye of popular senior boys and start dating one.  She adores being part of that group of mostly senior boys and a girl or two.  The question is, can she really belong in that crowd?  It's not only the fact that they are all two years older and focused on college, but also that the boys belong to a secret society for boys only.  Where does that leave Frankie or any girl, really?

This book has a lot of elements I like in YA:  smart and clever female heroine, clever pranks, boarding school, a questioning of the social order.  And, as I say, I was super into it for about half of it.  At one point, I flipped to the back flap to see who'd written it.  I hadn't paid much attention when I put a hold on it to read, as it had come up on a list of books about boarding school.  Turns out, E. Lockhart.  And this fact will lead us to an aside.

I've read a few E. Lockhart's books.  Honestly, though, until reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, I hadn't put together that they were all written by her.  The books I've read are We Were Liars (maybe one of her most well known titles), The Boyfriend List and no more.  Opps, I guess I've only read the three now.  Okay, well.  I really liked The Boyfriend List, but I'm not totally sure I'd have picked it up knowing it was authored by the same person as We Were Liars.  That's not to say that I didn't think We Were Liars was a good book.  It was.  It was super compelling.  It was also, however, a difficult read emotionally.  That can be difficult to subject myself to over and over.  Plus, in some ways, it was difficult emotionally in a kind of cheese grater way rather than in a clear sharp knife way (like, I'd say The Fault in our Stars is).  By cheese grater, it's to say that you know something is wrong and you feel vaguely bad the whole time because things are so messed up without totally knowing why until it all becomes clear (whenever that happens for you, author reveal or earlier).  Thus, your rubbing your knuckles the whole time.  Anyway.

The Boyfriend List was both a bit painful and also light hearted and funny.  It was a good read.  It's also a really different book from We Were Liars, so yes, I didn't put them together as from the same author.  And, now, back to the book at hand.

So, what turned the tide and made me feel more ambivalent about The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks?  It would have to be Frankie's motivations for doing the things she does.  We know from the start that she masterminds a series of pranks (good stuff), so that's not a spoiler.  But why?  Well, it seems to be to impress the boys.  Yes, there is some social consciousness and some artistic motivation to the pranks, but it's mostly to get the attention of the two boys that she is drawn to (her boyfriend and another senior boy).  It's painful to me how much she wants their love and attention.  It's painful that she puts up all semester with being called "adorable" when she wants to be taken seriously.  It's painful that her reaction to this isn't, "I'll show you and sod off.  I can't make better romantic choices," but rather, "I'll show you and then you'll love me/want me/take me seriously."  Yes, this is probably realistic for some women, but I don't like it.  And, thus, it makes Frankie less likable for me.

Also, there is a big pushing of society having a separate standard and expectation for women/girls than for men/boys.  This is all the more reason Frankie should stick it to them with panache instead of trying to please them/win them over.  And another reason it's disappointing that she doesn't.

All that said, don't get me wrong.  Frankie is, indeed, smart, clever and exceedingly organized.  The pranks are interesting and fun.    So, what I'm left with is ambivalence.  The book is probably worth a read.  Perhaps you'll get something different about Frankie's motivations.  As for me, I'm looking at other E. Lockhart books.  I'll probably try a couple more.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough (DNF)

I didn't finish this book.  I read about a third of it, skimmed a bit, decided I didn't want to finish and didn't.

The Game of Love and Death is about Love and Death who each pick players in their game over and over.  Death always wins.  Think Romeo and Juliette, Helen of Troy and Paris, Antony and Cleopatra.  This is the story of a pair chosen to play the game, Henry and Flora.  It's set in mostly Seattle in 1937.  I guess I was thinking that Henry and Flora would be clever in overcoming the game and that would be fun.

I didn't actually find anything fun about the story.  It was mostly kind of ho-hum.  I didn't hate it, either, I just couldn't get worked up about it in any way.  I didn't develop a feel or love for the characters, who include Love and Death.  I found Death to be the most interesting, but I still felt like she didn't have as much characterization to her as I'd have liked.  Nobody else really mattered to me.  The story line felt a little slow and meandering.  Overall, I mostly felt bored.