My Year in Books 2017

My Year in Books 2017

Overall, I wish I’d read more books and hit my goal of 50. I tended towards lengthy books this year and tackled several series, which definitely slowed me down. Audiobooks were a little over a third of my reading.

Goals for 2018: Decrease social media use. Set weekly reading goals. Read 3-4 books a month. I’m going to keep my overall goal at 50 books, despite not reaching it this year. I know it’s an achievable goal for me, especially now that I’m more savvy at checking out free audiobooks from the library via Hoopla and Libby (by Overdrive).

How was your 2017 in books? What are you pleased with? What do you want to change in 2018?

Series Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book 1)

ACOWARMinor spoilers in this review because I want to discuss some of the key topics in this series: relationships and abuse. Trigger warning, but I think this series does a nice job with the topic.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book One)
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Form: Hardback and Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Painting, Love, Relationships, Trauma, Abuse, Recovery

Summary from Goodreads (Book 1): Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

My thoughts:
This series has a huge following and the fans are intense. There is abundant fan art, candle scents in honor of characters, book-inspired jewelry, clothing, and more. I’d heard so much about the series–to the point where I even recognized the characters names without having read the books (Feyre, Tamlin, Rhysand).

However, I’d also heard that the second book in the series, not the first, is what really blew people away. But with book one being over 400 pages and book two being over 600 pages… this was a big investment of my time. Was the second book really going to have the payoff to make it all worth it? (And yes, it’s very much necessary to read ACOWAR first in order to appreciate book two.)

The first book is loosely based around the story of Beauty and the Beast. It was a slow read for me. I enjoyed the main character’s love of painting. The world and descriptions were vivid and interesting. And this author can write action really well! There were some really memorable fight scenes.

But the relationship/romance made me cringe, and the logic of some plot points left me confused. I couldn’t understand why Feyre felt forced into certain positions or made certain decisions.

But what the author is setting up in the first book is an unhealthy relationship. But you won’t necessarily know the relationship is unhealthy as you are reading it right away. Something about it just feels off–yet it’s so similar to a lot of relationships you read in novels (YA or adult). She creates a character who is strong and worthy of love, shows them falling in love, and then shows how the character changes–but changes in an unhealthy way as a result of her relationship. And yet, there were a lot of readers supporting this relationship when this book first came out. The author is forcing the reader to questions and think about how relationships are portrayed in novels.

What makes the second book in this series so excellent is how Sarah J. Maas is flipping expectations and stereotypes, and forcing readers to consider some very heavy issues.

Stay tuned for my next post where I tackle book two: A Court of Mist and Fury

Homeland by Cory Doctorow

HomelandHomeland
by Cory Doctorow

Published by: Tor Teen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Technology, Freedom, Elections, Protest, Corruption

Summary from Goodreads:
In Cory Doctorow’s wildly successful Little Brother, young Marcus Yallow was arbitrarily detained and brutalized by the government in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco―an experience that led him to become a leader of the whole movement of technologically clued-in teenagers, fighting back against the tyrannical security state.

A few years later, California’s economy collapses, but Marcus’s hacktivist past lands him a job as webmaster for a crusading politician who promises reform. Soon his former nemesis Masha emerges from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump of hard evidence of corporate and governmental perfidy. It’s incendiary stuff―and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world. Then Marcus sees Masha being kidnapped by the same government agents who detained and tortured Marcus years earlier.

Marcus can leak the archive Masha gave him―but he can’t admit to being the leaker, because that will cost his employer the election. He’s surrounded by friends who remember what he did a few years ago and regard him as a hacker hero. He can’t even attend a demonstration without being dragged onstage and handed a mike. He’s not at all sure that just dumping the archive onto the Internet, before he’s gone through its millions of words, is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, people are beginning to shadow him, people who look like they’re used to inflicting pain until they get the answers they want.

Review:
What I enjoy about Doctorow’s books is very much present in this one. I enjoy that the narratives take place in the near-future, and therefore, make you think about the current society and your own role in shaping the future. I also enjoy that Doctorow manages to teach you things in his books–whether it’s tech terminology or why cold-brew is superior. Sometimes these info-dump passages can interrupt the pacing of the narrative, but he does it with humor and within the voice of his protagonist–so I let it slide.

The audiobook is well-done and narrated by Wil Wheaton, who is a great reader and there’s some humor to it since he is an actual character within the narrative.

This book is incredibly relevant to what is going on in the world at present–all Doctorow’s books are–in truth. If you haven’t read any of his work, he’s worth paying attention to.

Overall: Four stars. Incredibly relevant to what we currently face in our country in terms of corruption and elections and protest. Story pacing can be interrupted by info dumps at times, but I also like how I learn something while reading Doctorow’s books.

Series Review: The Selection (Part Two)

Selection Series2

The Heir (#4)
The Crown (#5)
by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Falling in Love, Identity, Royalty, Competition, Reality TV

Summary from Goodreads (Book Four): Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn’t expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn’s heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she’s always thought.

Review:
Eadlyn is not as likable a character as her mother, America, was in books one through three. She is spoiled, self-centered, narrow-minded, and determined. Not all those traits are negative. But it’s the way she treats others that really made me dislike her. She does some callous things that will make you cringe during the Selection process. Eadlyn does grow and change over the course of both books, and makes some wonderful, redeeming choices in the end.

The book has some great positive messages for girls. Both books examine double standards of women in leadership positions. And I wonder whether part of Eadlyn being an unlikable character stems from her being not a traditional, submissive female figure.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy these two books as much as the first three, but I’m still glad I listened to them!

Overall:
The first three books in this series are more fun. Eadlyn’s story is tough to get through at times because of her unlikable nature, but there are great feminist messages for girls who want to be leaders someday. Three stars.

Series Review: The Selection (Part One)

Selection Series1

The Selection (#1)
The Elite (#2)
The One (#3)
by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Falling in Love, Poverty, Royalty, Competition, Rebellion, Reality TV

Summary from Goodreads (Book One): For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Review:
If you are a fan of The Bachelor, this is essentially that competition set in a future dystopian world. It was a fun series to listen to on audiobook as I drove or painted bookshelves. Go in expecting some drama between contestants, love triangles, lots of clothing and food descriptions, and some decent dystopian world building.

America (all the names are pretty ridiculous in this series) is a heroine you can root for with her rebellious spirit and musical talent. I was pleasantly surprised by the emphasis on female friendship in this series. And Prince Maxon was an interesting character with some feminist moments as the male lead.

I would be totally fine allowing teen girls to read this if they were looking for some romance because they also get a strong heroine, positive female friendships, and healthy messages about being your authentic self.

Overall:
I was pleasantly surprised by this series. A fun read with some positive messages and role models. Four stars!

Next Post: Part Two of the Selection series where the protagonist is America’s daughter, Princess Eadlyn.

Comic Review: Watchmen

Watchmen.png

Watchmen
by Alan Moore
Published by: DC Comics
Big Themes: Superheroes, Realism, Morality

Summary:
Earning a spot on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best books of all-time, Watchmen examines morality and humanity through the stories of deeply flawed superheroes.

My Thoughts:
If you haven’t read Watchmen and want to take on one of the genre’s foundational texts, you should be aware going in that this is not an easy read, for many reasons. This comic is DENSE. Every panel, every page, every section has so many layers and so much meaning that reading this comic is hard work. You won’t catch every layer of meaning on a first read, much less your tenth read. This comic is also deep and dark. It’s not a light read, though it has it’s moments of humor and hope.

You should approach Watchmen as you would a difficult piece of literary fiction. Be prepared for it to challenge you and make you think about life’s essential questions.

I embarked on Watchmen when my boyfriend mentioned it was one of his favorites. We’d only been dating a month, and I purchased it at a bookstore and toted it to the beach. It would be three years before I finished it. Three years.

It took me that long because I didn’t enjoy reading about such flawed and unlikable characters. This was a kind of story I did not usually read. While I can handle darkness, hence my love of Poe, I had a hard time pushing through such a dense text without any characters I wanted to root for.

What ultimately got me to finish it? Over time, I’ve become more fascinated with the idea of gray characters. Characters who move along the line of the morality spectrum. I want to write characters with more layers and who aren’t easily distinguished as good or evil.

And while I don’t think I’ll ever write something as dark as Watchmen, it was the kind of reading experience that, being outside my comfort zone, helped me to grow as a reader and writer.

My favorite part of Watchmen, was Dr. Manhattan’s realization on Mars for why mankind is worth saving. That moment really pulls the entire book together for me. That despite evil choices and evil people, good and miracles can grow even in the darkest circumstances.

Overall:
Ambitious and thought-provoking, Watchmen deserves its reputation as a landmark and literary work in the comic book genre.

Book Review: Gemina

GeminaGemina
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Space Travel, Invasion, Defense, Wormholes, Parallel Universes

Summary from Goodreads:
Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

What I loved:
Worthy sequel. Gemina picks up where Illuminae left off and offers fresh conflicts at the same page-turning pace as it’s predecessor. The new characters are just as interesting as Ezra and Kady with clear talents, goals, and personalities.
Hanna’s drawings. I wanted more of these! They were a nice touch to the otherwise tech-focused format.
Nik’s backstory. Very well-done and worth a mention.

Criticism:
Certain plot points felt a tad repetitive to the previous book, but there was enough fresh material that it didn’t bother me.

Overall:
Five stars. Can Obsidio come out like NOW? This series is so well-done. I love it!