December 2019 TBR

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I am reading this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt to read a book by an author whose first and last name start with the same letter.  I have wanted to read the Mortal Instruments series for a while now and I am finally taking the plunge.

The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith

This book fulfills the Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt of a book with a plant in the title or on the cover.  I got this book as an Amazon First Reads choice through Amazon Prime (if you are a Prime member, make sure you are taking advantage of this program.  You can get a free new release each month.).  In this book vine witches help wineries grow amazing grapes and produce fine wines.  I just love a book about a witch.

Scorch Trials by James Dashner

This is my choice for the Cli-Fi prompt in the Popsugar Reading Challenge.  I recently read The Maze Runner.  It ended with a serious twist, and I am excited to read the next book in the series.  I cannot wait to read what happens next to these characters.

Saturday by Ian McEwan

I will be reading this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt of a book that takes place in one day.  I am really not sure what to expect from this one.  I am guessing that it takes place on a Saturday.

Your Perfect Year by Charlotte Lucas

Another book I chose as part of the Amazon First Reads program.  I plan to read this one for the Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt of a book published in 2019.  The last book I tried to read for this prompt was a DNF.  I’m hoping this one will be the perfect way to end the year.

Have you read any of these books?

Did you participate in the Popsugar Reading Challenge this year?

Will you participate in 2020?

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple – A Review

What It’s About

In Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple   Bernadette is not like the other moms at her daughter’s school.  She doesn’t volunteer.  She avoids the PTA.  In fact, she rarely leaves her home, a sprawling, dilapidated house on an overgrown hill.  When Bernadette suddenly goes missing, her daughter starts an investigation to find her mom.

Epistolary Style

I read somewhere that this book is considered an epistolary novel, a book told through letters.  And while a good portion of the story is told through emails, I personally would not consider this an epistolary novel.  When epistolary novels are written well, they are some of my favorite books (for example, Daddy Long Legs and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society).  Unfortunately, while I enjoyed this book, I did not think that the epistolary part was done well.  Bernadette writes one letter in the book that is basically an info dump, allowing the author to share many years of backstory in one clump.  It is the one part of the book that feels wrong to me.

Unbelievable Characters

Some of the characters in this book have very exaggerated personalities, especially the other moms, or “the gnats” as Bernadette calls them.  They are over the top with everything but especially when it comes to their hatred of Bernadette.  It seems to consume their lives.  I can’t imagine hating someone that much.  Another character who deeply bothers me is the therapist who diagnoses Bernadette and decides treatment without ever meeting her or talking to her.  The therapist’s behavior is nowhere near professional, and I am dismayed to even imagine that people like her exist.  Or that people like Bernadette’s husband exist, for that matter.

Writing Style

While I was not a fan of the epistolary writing in this book, I did like the author’s writing style overall.  Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“The sky in Seattle is so low, it felt like God had lowered a silk parachute over us.  Every feeling I ever knew was up in that sky.  Twinkling joyous sunlight; airy, giggling cloud wisps; blinding columns of sun.  Orbs of gold, pink, flesh, utterly cheesy in their luminosity.  Gigantic puffy clouds, welcoming, forgiving, repeating infinitely across the horizon as if between mirrors; and slices of rain, pounding wet misery in the distance now, but soon upon us, and in another part of the sky, a black stain, rainless.”

What I Thought

I give this book three out of five stars.  Overall I enjoyed the book; it had some great writing and the story is engaging.  Unfortunately, some of the letters and the characters in the book are completely unbelievable.

Have you read this book?

What did you think?

Have you seen the movie and do you recommend it?

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – A Review

What It’s About

In A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas we meet Feyre, a girl who fights every day to keep her family alive.  While out hunting in the woods one day, she kills a wolf and her life is forever changed.  Her suspicions, that the wolf was actually a fairy, are proven to be true when another fairy comes to her home demanding payback.  She must leave her family home and spend the remainder of her life in the land of the fairies.

Fairy Tale Retelling

I have always loved fairy tales, not  the Disney versions, but the original, gruesome fairy tales.  Now I love books that retell those original fairy tales or that use elements from the stories to create a new tale.  This book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  There is no dancing candelabra or singing teapot, but there is a similarly cursed household led by a gruff, lonely man.  Feyre’s sisters are selfish and vain as they are in the original story, and her father hands her over to the beast without much argument.  This book does not follow the Disney version of the fairy tale exactly but it is very close to the original in many ways.

World-building

Sarah J. Maas builds such beautiful, detailed worlds; it is easy to lose yourself in them.  In this world, humans and fairies have a history of warfare.  They now live in the same world, but separated from each other.  Each side grows up learning and internalizing myths about each other.  The land that the fairies occupy is divided into courts and houses everything from shape-shifters to evil fairy queens.  It is a land that Feyre must learn about and navigate carefully as she follows through with her punishment.

Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas has quickly become one of my new favorite authors.  Everything I have read by her in the last couple of years has blown my mind.  I am swept up by her worlds and characters.  When I read her books, I feel transported.  Thankfully she writes series because that means lots of books.  I devoured her Throne of Glass series and now have started another series.  I want to keep reading, yet I fear completing all the books and having no more to read.  Hopefully she writes some more books soon.

Have you read any Sarah J. Maas books?

What did you think?

Currently – December 2, 2019

Reading – City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I have been reading a lot of books with faeries this year.  I don’t think they will play a big role in this book but I have barely started reading and already the little folk have been mentioned a few times.  It’s definitely a theme in my reading.  So far I am enjoying this book and I am hoping I will like it enough to continue with the series.

Watching – NOS4A2

I read the bookthat this show is based on a while ago and loved it.  I am happy to see that the show is well-made and interesting.  So far I really like how they have adapted the story to the screen.

Crocheting – Pikachu hats

They will be a Christmas gift for my nephews.  I sent them Pikachu plushies for their birthday and I am making the matching hats for Christmas.  Hopefully they will like them.  New hats seems like a new tradition for our family.

Drawing – on the IPad

I bought a stylus and have been using IBIS Pro Paint X as an entry into digital art.  So far I am just learning the different settings and what I can accomplish with the program.  I have been practicing using the stylus and hopefully I will be able to create some artwork I am proud of.

What are you up to this month?

You by Caroline Kepnes – A Review

What It’s About

You by Caroline Kepnes is a story about Joe Goldberg, a clerk in a bookstore who also happens to be a stalker.  When a beautiful woman enters the bookstore and makes what he considers to be intelligent conversation about books, he immediately searches for her online and finds a way to insert himself into her life.  The book follows Joe as his obsession grows and becomes dangerous.

Point of View

First person pov was such a perfect choice for this book.  Telling the story through the eyes of the stalker was genius.  It added to the creepiness in a big way.  I was amazed at how he managed to insinuate his way into his victim’s life.  It made me reconsider all the saved passwords on phone and laptop.  It made me think about all the ways someone could break into my house.  It make me realize how easily someone could use my social media to create a closeness, a relationship, that doesn’t really exist.  It must have been a difficult book for the author to write..

Writing Style

Caroline Kepnes is a skilled author.  I cannot imagine what it was like to step inside the mind of the narrator, a stalker.  Her writing style is engaging and sounds natural.  I have read some reviews of this book where readers are upset by the vulgar language that appears throughout.  Personally I thought the vulgarity  made the character and the story more authentic and believable.  I had a hard time putting this book down and I was sad when it was over.

Characters

There are so many unlikable characters in this book.  The victim seems to attract toxic people.  I mean the stalker is definitely the worst person in her life, but her ex-boyfriend is no catch, her best friend is selfish; in short she is surrounded by people who want more than they deserve.  More than anything I wanted to rescue her from her own life.

What I Thought

I loved this book!  It was so creepy.  Terrifying.  I give it four out of five stars.

Have you read this book?

What did you think?

Graceling by Kristin Cashore – A Review

What It’s About

Kristin Cashore’s Graceling takes place in a world where some people, Gracelings, have special skills.  Katsa is graced with the ability to kill.  Her uncle, the king, forces her to discipline his subjects for him until she meets another Graceling, Po, and the adventure begins.  Katsa and Po begin to work together to rid the kingdoms of evil and along the way they learn more about themselves and their own graces.

**Warning:  This review contains spoilers**

World-Building

Overall I liked the idea of the world that the author created.  Gracelings have special skills and can be identified by their eyes which are two different colors.  Gracelings are born with eyes of the same color until their graces makes itself known.  Most people fear Gracelings, and the kings of this world get to control any of their subjects who happen to be graced.  Out two main characters are Gracelings, and their special skills help them to navigate the challenges they encounter throughout the book.  My only problem with the world is that the graces are too general.  One person might be graced with amazing swimming ability, while another is graced with the ability to kill or to read minds.  Being a Graceling does not actually mean an advantage in life.

Power

This book deals extensively with power and how it can corrupt humans.  The kings of this world are not nice people.  You do not want to get on their bad sides or have a valuable grace that they may want to exploit.  In fact the antagonist in this story is one of the kings and a Graceling; whenever he speaks, everyone who hears the words he said believes them.  He has absolute power, and it corrupts him absolutely.  I have to say that I got annoyed with how long it took out protagonists to figure out his grace.  It seemed pretty obvious to me.

Ending

I also got very annoyed with the ending of this book.  Beware.  This is where we get really spoilery.  Our main character knows that the king is searching for his daughter, Bitterblue.  She knows that the king is aware of her affiliation with Po and that he is actively searching for both of them.  She knows that the king can control her thoughts and actions just by speaking.  Yet she walks right through the front door of Po’s house with Bitterblue, she walks right into a trap.  If she is really the Graceling she is supposed to be, she would never have done that.  She would have had Bitterblue hide somewhere without her knowledge, so that she could never reveal the location to the king, so she could check the house first.  So. Frustrating.  And, frankly, disappointing after such great character development throughout the book.

What I Thought

I enjoyed the book overall.  It was easy to read, and I enjoyed the two main characters and their relationship.  I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.  The rating would have been higher if the ending had gone differently.

Have you ever read this book?

What did you think?

Firefly Summer by Maeve Binchy

What It’s About:

In Firefly Summer, a rich American, Patrick O’Neill, buys a property in Mountfern, Ireland, with plans to open a luxury hotel.  He brings with him two beautiful children and an interior decorator who is rumored to be his mistress.  Their arrival in Mountfern turns the whole town on its head, but no one is affected more by the changes than Kate Davis and her family.  Will their small pub and way of lie survive the arrival of the Americans?

Authenticity

Anytime I read something that takes place in Ireland, I worry about the authenticity of the story.  There is a tendency to romanticize the Irish and their way of life, a tendency to dream, like the main character in this book, of idyllic villages filled all the usual jovial Irish fold.  Maeve Binchy has a knack for showing what’s lurking underneath that country village facade.  She shows a more authentic side of all the Irish village tropes and it lends a feeling of reality to her stories.

Bad Things Happen

I have heard it said that in order to create and maintain conflict in a plot, the author should allow bad things to happen to her characters.  It’s something I am learning to do in my own writing.  Maeve Binchy is highly skilled at this part of the writing process.  Just when everything looks like it is going well, bad things happen.  So many awful, life-changing events occur during the plot of Firefly Summer.  By the end of the book, every character’s life is completely altered, yet Binchy never goes beyond the realm of believability. Each event is completely plausible within the context of the story.

Dialogue

Maeve Binchy is a master at writing dialogue.  She captures the cadence of an Irish accent without resorting to attempting to write the unique pronunciation.  As I read the book, in my mind I heard an Irish accent.  I felt the pronunciation of my own words softening  and changing.  I hate to sound like a broken record but the word authentic comes to  mind.

What I Thought

I loved this book.  It kept me guessing, what will happen next?  Maeve Binchy is a skilled author who writes compelling stories.  If you have never read one of her books, I recommend you pick one up and give it a try.  5 out of 5 stars.

Have you ever read this book or anything by Maeve Binchy?

What did you think?

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe – A Review

What It’s About

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe follows the story of the disappearance of Jean McConville, widow and mother of ten, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Troubles spanned decades of Northern Ireland’s history and were defined by violence between the IRA and Loyalist groups. In the midst of the violence, Jean McConville was torn from her family and home by a group of young people and was never seen again. Everyone knew that the IRA was involved with her disappearance but no one said or did anything. This book tells parallel stories, the story of the Mcconville family and the story of some prominent members of the IRA, connecting them at the end when the truth finally emerges. In the words of the author, this book is “a story about how people become radicalized in their uncompromising devotion to a cause, and about how individuals — and a whole society — make sense of political violence once they have passed through the crucible and finally have time to reflect.” It is also a book about the truth and its consequences.

Truth

The impact of the truth is such an important theme in this book. Obviously the author spent a lot of time researching and trying to uncover the truth of what happened to Jean McConville, but the truth doesn’t seem to help anyone in this story. In fact much of the research for the book came from a project collecting oral histories of the Troubles at Boston College. The records were an attempt at uncovering the truth behind the operations of the IRA and Loyalist groups but when they were discovered the police in Northern Ireland used the records to try to prosecute former IRA members. “How will the truth of what really happened during the Troubles ever come out,” [one of the interviewers asked], “if the authorities file murder charges against anyone who has the nerve to ask about it? I would describe the PSNI stance as one of prosecuting truth rather than procuring truth.” The Troubles is still a sensitive subject in Ireland and most people from the Republic have no idea what life was like in the North during this time. This book is a first step in breaking down that barrier and revealing some of the truth.  Many of the people in this book are well-known and learning the truth about their involvement in this incident was eye-opening.

Trauma

I grew up in the Republic of Ireland and I can honestly say that I had no idea of what life was like in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. I had a friend whose grandparents lived in the North, in a town that was bombed. I remember her family panicking and trying to contact their relatives to make sure they had survived. That was the closest I ever came to experiencing the reality of the Troubles. Imagine living in constant fear, never knowing when the next bomb would explode, never knowing when the next police raid would happen, never knowing when your mother might get kidnapped, never knowing where your missing relative went.  Radden Keefe’s book opened my eyes to the trauma that people in Northern Ireland experienced and live with still.

Telling

Say Nothing is a beautifully written book.  I never felt like I was reading a history book; the writing is interesting and the story is compelling.  The author artfully weaves the two parallel plots together.  This story is so important and needed.  It gives a fascinating view of what life was like both in the IRA and in a family that was directly affected by the IRA.  I am sure that the McConville family experience is not unique and I am glad that Radden Keefe chose to write their story for the world to read.  Thank  you for shedding more light on such an important time in the history of Ireland.

What I Thought

This book is the best book that I have read so far this year.  I loved everything about it.  The story held my interest, the author is a skilled writer, and the information revealed about the Troubles is enlightening.  I highly recommend this book, especially if you like true crime or books about Irish history.  Five out of five stars!