Monday, July 30, 2012

Sherlock, the Amish, cave diving, mysteries, old favorites, and some YA

So, um, I read a LOT of books in July (you may recall that I spent half the month all by myself) (and the other half spending time with extended family members who were often playing with my kids) (also, a few of these were audiobooks that I listened to while traveling, which I also did a lot of this month). Here goes.

A Study in SherlockA Study in Sherlock by Laurie R. King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very nice. I don't read a lot of mystery novels in general (Alan Bradley and Neil Gaiman were the only two authors in this compilation who I had heard of before) so I missed out on some of the inside jokes or previously established characters in a few of these short stories by famous mystery authors. Still, it was nice to sit down of an evening and read a Sherlock Holmes-ish story in one sitting like I used to do (with the real thing) when I was a kid.

Shatter Me (Shatter Me, #1)Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Audiobook.

Consider this a re-imagining of the X-Men construct, for a YA audience, and you'll enjoy it a lot more. I wasn't expecting the sharp turn toward Professor Xavier-ville near the end of the book and so I was surprised and disappointed by the seeming lack of originality. Really, though, this book is quite exciting and engrossing, even if the prose gets ever so slightly (ok, maybe a lot) purple at times. Weird cover, though. I think the person who designed the cover maybe didn't read the book.

And Only to Deceive (Lady Emily, #1)And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I LOVED the experience of reading this book, even if, as my friend Amanda already noted, in the end it isn't as exciting or complex as one would hope. I had the mystery all figured out by the 65%ish point (Kindle). In the meantime, however, there was plenty to hold my interest. I was intrigued by the premise of a wife falling in love with her dead husband. It got to me in The Painted Veil, too (though in that case the husband was still alive).

If Sorcery and Cecelia is Jane Austen + Harry Potter, then this book is Henry James + Hercule Poirot. I'll definitely read the next book in this series.

A Poisoned Season (Lady Emily, #2)A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not as intriguing as the first, but still a super fun read.

View all my reviews

Beyond the Deep: Deadly Descent into the World's Most Treacherous CaveBeyond the Deep: Deadly Descent into the World's Most Treacherous Cave by William Stone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would say I was so "meh" on this book because I'm not genuinely interested in the subject matter - cave diving - except that I am not at all interested in deep sea diving, either, and yet Shadow Divers was fascinating to me. So I have to believe that this story just wasn't told as well. Even with the diagrams and photos, it was difficult for me to really picture the events as they took place. Sometimes people were referred to by their first names, sometimes by their last names, and it was hard to keep track of the large cast of characters. There were several times in the book where a certain discovery would take place and I thought it was a good thing, but then the people were disappointed in it. So yeah, there was a fundamental disconnect between me and the subject matter, and the writing wasn't deft enough to surmount it.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, first of all: The copy I read had a different cover than this one. I swear.

More than any other dystopian fiction I've read lately, this book reminded me of those good old Ray Bradbury stories. The ones that were kind of awesome, but also kind of terrifying. I really liked the world that the author created for this book - it was past and present and future all at once. The book was kind of short, though, and more like an introduction to the main story rather than part of the main story. Still, a fun, different ride.

Beauty QueensBeauty Queens by Libba Bray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hardly know where to begin to review this book.

Well, for starters, I listened to the audiobook. It was my favorite audiobook performance EVER. It was read by the author and had lots of music and sound effects to set off the different parts of the book (footnotes, commercial scripts, TV show clips, official documents, etc.), not to mention the fact that she did all the different voices. I really liked knowing that I was hearing the book with all the inflections and accents and nuances that the author intended. I almost feel like this book is meant to be experienced as an audiobook - the experience of reading it on paper would be so different, and not as rich.

Another plus: this book was HILARIOUS. I tried listening to it while I was working out but I collapsed in laughter too many times. (Example: Right off the bat, the beauty queens who survived the plane crash on a deserted island split into two exploratory groups and name themselves "The Lost Girls" and "Sparkle Ponies.")

Another plus: this book was EPIC. Epic in scope, epic in length (for YA), epic in its cast of characters, epic in the issues it tackled, EPIC. You guys, this book features a character rip-off of Sarah Palin AND a character rip-off of some kind of Kim Jong-Il/Ghaddafi hybrid who carries around with him a life-size stuffed lemur named General Goodtimes. You can't make this stuff up! Except Libba Bray totally did, and it made me laugh and laugh. There are beauty queens in this book, too, but they're not all the stereotypes you'd expect. But some of them ARE the stereotypes, and actually, those were my favorite characters (long live Miss Texas, FOREVER!!!!). There are also pirates in this book. There are also evil people plotting world domination from a secret lair inside of a volcano. See what I mean? EPIC.

Now, for some of the not-so-good. Depending on your beliefs about sexuality, there might be a lot of things you disagree with in this book. Like, a LOT. For me, reading it as an adult, I didn't have trouble approaching the information and situations presented in the book critically, and seeing how they fit in with what I believe, religiously or morally or as a parent or whatever. However, I think I would have serious reservations about letting an actual teenaged girl in my care read this book (and to be fair, that is true of me for a lot of YA lit). It is all over the place, morality wise, and I don't think it allows enough leeway for girls to figure out their own conclusions about how they would deal with peer pressure to have sex, or same-sex attraction, or parental pressure to perform academically, or whatever. Pick a Very Special Episode topic: it's in here. The book brings up those issues...and then resolves them, pretty much completely, allowing for only one opinion: the author's, as shown through the actions of her characters. I wish there could have been a bit more ambiguity there. In every other way, the author really respects the reader's intelligence, so I'm not sure why she dumbed it down when it came to these important, sensitive issues. Furthermore, while she flirts with the idea of being respectful to teenaged girls who choose abstinence, in the end, she just can't allow for abstinence before marriage to stand as a noble principle. For example, early in the book, one character mocks another for wearing a purity ring, and the purity ring girl says something like, "Just because you don't agree with me, doesn't mean you have to make fun of me." I would have liked to hear more of that sentiment...rather than have the girl throw off the shackles of the purity ring by the end of the book.

That said, there is some very good guidance on many principles of teenaged girl-dom in this book, even if it is sometimes heavy-handed. I loved the passage about the awful treatment of women in horror movies - if I had access to a hard copy of the book, I would quote it here. There is also good stuff about the commercialization of female sex appeal, the way women sometimes change their behavior (for the dumber) when men are around, how to break free from the influence of poor role models, and how to deal with betrayal in relationships, etc. etc. etc. Remember? EPIC.

So do I recommend this book? Yes, with a lot of buts. Amid all the funny adventurous stuff is some pretty heavy content, and while it will make you think, it might also challenge your beliefs. If you're old enough to handle that, great. In the end, I felt good about reading this book, but it is definitely not for everyone.

A Fatal Waltz (Lady Emily, #3)A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meh. This one was ever so slightly silly.

View all my reviews

Tess of the D'Urbervilles Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second reading: July 2012.

Tess didn't stand up to a second reading as well as I thought it would. I feel like I didn't gain anything new from the story this time around. Still, this book is a treasure, at least as a one-time read.

Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

No one is more surprised than me that I didn't like this book. It took me FOREVER to get through, and that is so unusual for me. Tris doesn't know what she's doing or where she's going - and neither does Insurgent. What a shame. I felt like it didn't really hit its stride until it was almost over and then it was too late. Almost everything I said about Divergent, the opposite is true here. I didn't care about anyone, really - I couldn't even remember their names. I was often confused about what was going on and why certain stuff was happening. Tris was kind of a pain to hang out with and there weren't any delicious bad guys to root against. I missed the momentum and dark joy of the first book. The only reason I'll read the third book is to see if Roth can get her stuff back together and produce something that lives up to Divergent.

A Midwife's StoryA Midwife's Story by Penny Armstrong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lovely book with a very genuine and earnest voice. I'm not sure I would be entirely comfortable reading this book if I were a die-hard hospital birther, but on the other hand I think it has the potential to change some minds, or soften some viewpoints, and that's a good thing. This book's peek at the lives of both a midwife and the Amish is fascinating.

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second reading July 2012.

I was hesitant to revisit this book because I was afraid it might not stand up to a second reading. Fortunately, it turns out that I love TDHOFLB as much as ever, and probably even more than the first time I read it. This book is so dear to my heart. If someone ever gave me the magical chance to go back and have my teenage self read one book, just ONE, I think this would be it.

One thing I noticed about a second reading is that the depth and poignancy of the book was less obscured by the ha-ha funny stuff. I remember laughing a lot the first time around. This time...not so much. I was too busy re-reading passages and applying them to my own life.

1 comment:

Susanne said...

Thanks for all the reviews! My library has the audiobook of that one. Maybe I'll get it and listen while I drive.


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