Amazon TBR – July

Now that I am almost finished with all reading challenges, the urge to start chipping away at my Amazon TBR list kicked in. I have over 1000 books on it, so any progress made will be small. And I have to try to keep myself from adding new books; no easy task.

For July, I completed 16 books, and DNF’d four. With so many books waiting, I am not going to force myself to finish a book if it really annoys or bores me.

Note: Envy of Angels did double duty as both an Amazon TBR book and a PopSugar Ultimate Challenge book. My thoughts on it will be in the forthcoming PopSugar post.

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
A steampunk-magic retelling of Cinderella, Mechanica was surprisingly fresh in its interpretation. I enjoyed that Nicolette embraced herself and her own professional goals, instead of falling prey to other people’s idea of love and happiness. She had backbone. Jules was by far my favorite character. A steampunk horse with a spark of magic to give him, if not free will, then a good amount of intelligence. I don’t understand why Mechanica is being compared to Cinder because the two stories share nothing in common other than a basis in Cinderella and a heroine who is a mechanical genius.

 

Whatever by S. J. Goslee
I ended up liking this book more than I thought I would. Mike sounded like a normal teen who was trying to figure out who he was, stumbling a bit on the way, with the help of an ex-girlfriend who knows him better than he does. It was a feel-good romp of friendship and self-discovery.

 

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
Sleeping Giants introduced readers to the giant robot, Themis, and humans’ attempts to understand and manipulate her. Waking Gods drops readers in after 10 years have passed. Themis is normal sight, so when other, similar giant robots start to randomly appear across the globe, they aren’t taken seriously until said robots provide a display of their power and intent. The ending, oh the ending…a complete WTF cliffhanger. I need the third book now.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber
A darker fantasy whose tone and mood put me in mind of Cruel Beauty and A Court of Thorns and Roses. I liked the concept of Caraval as an week long game/performance involving the spectators. I liked the dreaminess and tension and the the fact that both Scarlett and the supporting characters fell on a spectrum of gray – no one was wholly good or evil. That being said, the story still fell a bit flat. Something was missing to give it the boost needed to compete with other dark, moody fantasies. I enjoyed it, to be sure, but it was not book that set my heart aflutter.

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis
A decent retelling of The Wild Swans, though it lacked in world building and character growth. The romance was also on the boring side. No romance is better than tepid romance.

 

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
My very short review of Annihilation is that I don’t know what I thought of it. It was very weird, and I didn’t really understand what was going on in the subtext.

 

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
I didn’t have high expectations for this book given many of my recent YA reads have been less than stellar.  After forcing myself to listen past the first few chapters, I found that I enjoyed the concept of the games and the political intrigue. However, the negatives are almost equally balanced with the positives: the world-building was total crap, most of the characters were boring, and Jessamy was a self-centered waffler.

People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
I am a mom, and I can relate to the craziness that comes with dealing with both children and other parents. I enjoyed Scary Mommy’s book (which was infinitely relateable), but did not have the same connection with PIWPT. It was alright, but the tone was less about the warty side of motherhood and more about all of the assholes the author deals with. This could have been funny, but Mann put herself above the assholes instead of wink-wink-nudge-nudging that all of us (including her) can act that way at times. It is extremely easy to be judgemental of other mothers, but key to keeping it on the fun side of snark is to poke fun of yourself as well.

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Eric Foner
When I listened to this book, I was hoping for more substance about the hidden history of the Underground Railroad. Instead, the book was mainly about the history and operation of the New York branch. It was interesting, but not what what I was expecting based upon the title. The plotting was also poorly structured, and I had hard time keeping track of the individuals mentioned, and their personal/professional timelines.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
This book could have been great, so great. The concept of smoke being the physical embodiment of sin (or whatever it actually was) was an awesome starting point. But after spending a good chunk of the book alluding to the fact that smoke only appeared within the previous few centuries, it never actually gave an explanation of why it appeared. So much build up for zero payoff. The story would have been better off staying confined to the boys boarding school, or at least tightening the plot up a bit. Vyleta also did a crap job with creating decent female characters. Even listening to it at double speed, the book dragged at times.

Rogue with a Brogue by Suzanne Enoch
I realize that in the name of being dialectically correct, a Scottish accent is required in the Highlander sub-genre of romance, but it can become a bit much at times and end up pulling one out of the story. Complaining out of the way, I definitely enjoyed this book – it was one of the more entertaining ones I read in July. I liked the plot device of the hero and heroine being from opposing clans. It created tension, but it never felt forced. Yes, it’s a trope, but Enoch handled it well. I also liked the chemistry between Mary and Arran and the fact that they admitted their attraction to each other.

 

DNF

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
I wanted to read this one because it is a book that helped usher in the genre of urban fantasy. Unfortunately, it didn’t hold my interest. I’m not really interested in bands (so that is part of it), but a lot of the references for pop culture and clothing were very pointedly of the 1980’s, and do not necessarily hold up 30 years later.

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer
It wanted to like this book, I really did. A high school plagued by students spontaneously combusting? Yes, please! But…I had a hard time with the narrator. Starmer did not do a good job writing from a female perspective. Mara sounded like a teenage boy, and I would get jarred out of the story when her actions, etc…were ones a girl would stereotypically do (i.e. looking in her purse). I ended up flipping around until I found out the cause of the combustions, but couldn’t force myself to actually finish reading it.

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge
Cruel Beauty is one of my favorite books, and because of this I had high hopes for Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it very far into this book, either in hardcopy or audio. The plot and details were too complex and convoluted. It felt like she took a bunch of differing elements – Romeo & Juliet, deadly plagues, magic, zombies – and mashed them all together. It was too much to keep track of.

Every Time With a Highlander by Gywn Cready
I’m trying to remember why I DNF’d this book, but am having a hard time with the specifics other than that it didn’t hold my interest.

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August Books

The quantity of my reading has started to slump off. Summer is ending, and I am going back to grad school to finish the degree that has been languishing for the past two years. I didn’t have the mental space for sitting down and actually reading a book. Almost every book I read was in audio format because it let me do other things at the same time. I also went on a cruise and didn’t pick up a book the entire time (too busy playing trivia games and winning luggage tags and key chains).

Audiobook Fiction (16) / Nonfiction (4)




 

Novel (1) / Novella (1)

 

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July Books

Audiobooks (20)

Most of these books are from my Amazon TBR list, and will have a separate post. Pears and Perils was a fun, fluffy book – win a vacation via a fast food company’s contest, end up on a tropical island and inadvertently get pulled into a god’s quest to regain his freedom and corporeal self. I finally got around to reading Magician’s Land, and it was a good ending for the trilogy. I must admit that I like these books better than Harry Potter. I’m aware that both series are for completely different demographics, but Magicians has no Hagrid, which is a blessing. Island of the Lost was a fascinating look at two separate groups of men who were shipwrecked on opposite ends of the same island at approximately the same time. It is amazing how different their experiences were, and a lot of that stemmed from how the ship captains reacted and their leadership styles.

Novels (10) / Novellas (1) / Nonfiction (1)

I finished the Court trilogy by Sarah J. Maas, and while ACOTAR and ACOMAF were amazing, ACOWAR was only alright and was by far the weakest of the three books. The story was dragged down by too much talking about doing things and not actually doing them. At the Edge of the Universe was a good read. I love how Hutchinson handles mental illness and the reality his narrators exist in. We live in their reality and have to try to figure out how much of it crosses over into the realities the other characters exist in. I Woke Up Dead at the Mall was another good read. For all that it’s about a girl trying to solve her own murder and save her father, it read fast and fluffy. The writing isn’t perfect, but it was enjoyable.

Graphic (2)

Two different graphic memoirs about the Vietnam War, both from differing perspectives. Such a Lovely Little War was from the viewpoint of a child whose father was diplomat for the Republic of Vietnam, and The Best We Could Do was from the viewpoint of a child whose family had to flee after the fall of the republic because her family came under suspicion by the new government.

Read Alouds (3)

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2017 Manga / Graphic Novels (First Half)

My manga and graphic novel consumption has been very low this year. And I hate to say it, but very few of them were amazing. Some were interesting, some were bland, but the only one (other than Tokyo Ghoul), that gave me OMG moments was Ms. Marvel, Vol 4.

Favorites

*Ms. Marvel, Vol 4: Last Days – Up until this volume, my feelings for Ms. Marvel have been on the meh side. I felt bad for feeling this way because G. Willow Wilson does a fabulous job. I kept reading the series because of various reading challenges, liking it well enough, but not being amazed by it. Volume 4, however, was the turning point. Wilson seems to have hit her writing stride, and this was where the the shit hit the fan in the plot. It was freaking awesome. Complex and dark, Kamala has to confront a crisis that has the very real possibility of not ending well, and in realizing that she has to learn that superheros can’t save everyone.  There were still plenty of clever details in the background, like the random pigs or the rat with a bowler hat or some of the storefront signs, which added some levity. Kamala also has some good scenes with both her mother and Bruno.

Graphic Novels
The Singing Bones
Ms. Marvel, Vol 4: Last Days
Out of Boneville (Bone, Vol 1)
Monstress, Vol 1: Awakening
Paper Girls, Vol 1 & 2
Giant Days, Vol 1-3
El Deafo
NextWave: Agents of HATE, Vol 1 & 2
Mighty Jack
Prez, Vol 1: Corndog in Chief
Plutona
We Stand on Guard
Lowriders in Space
Lowriders to the Center of the Earth
Hansel and Gretel
Princess Princess Ever After
Nightlights
Spill Zone

Graphic Nonfiction
Fatherland
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
Diary of a Tokyo Teen
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
March: Book Three
Tetris: The Games People Play

Manga
Orange: The Complete Collection, Vol 1 & 2
Tokyo Ghoul, Vol 1-12

Sophia’s Bookish Monthly TBR – Halfway!

This year I decided to add yet another reading challenge to my list, because there’s no such thing as too many challenges, right?!  Bookish.com created a list of monthly categories intended to help you clean out your TBR pile.  I’m officially at the halfway point, and so far it’s been a lot of fun!  I like the relaxed pace, and the tasks are just specific enough to get you thinking but not so much so that you feel the need to do any shoehorning.  Here are my books for the first 6 months:

27161156January – Read a book that supports your New Year’s resolution.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

J.D. Vance

After the horror of our last presidential election, I decided I wanted to make more of an effort to understand how we as a nation arrived at this point.  To that end, I’ve been building a list of books focusing on regions, cultures, and experiences within the United States that are different from my own.  Hillbilly Elegy was the first step.  It’s an interesting memoir – Mamaw is by far the star of the narrative and I’d love to know more about her – but Vance’s social analysis was not as well-formed.  He was very fortunate to find himself on a path where his hard work did actually pay off, allowing him to boost himself out of the poverty that plagued his ancestors.  As a result, he can’t seem to help repeating that tired trope: the only people stuck in poverty are those who refuse to help themselves.  Poverty is far more complicated than that, and he comes across as condescending and judgmental towards anyone who doesn’t finish school or ‘settles’ for a lifetime of blue collar work.

18584855February – Read a love story.

Heartless

Marissa Meyer

In this engaging prequel to Lewis Carroll’s classic stories, Meyer imagines how the decapitation-happy Queen of Hearts came to be the scourge of Wonderland.  This book swept me off my feet – I tore through all 453 pages in a single weekend.  Her vision of Wonderland expands on Carroll’s, including the use of familiar nursery rhymes.  It’s also shot through with references to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, adding a sense of unease and lurking horror.  I really felt for Cath and her struggle with first love and trying to do right by her family’s expectations without sacrificing her dreams.  Knowing she ends up a raging, tyrannical monarch only compelled me to read faster so I could find out how she got there.

589071March – Read a book published the decade you were born.

Ironweed

William Kennedy

I was originally planning on using this book to fulfill a task on a different challenge, but I found a replacement and decided to use it for the TBR instead.  This is not an easy book, and I’m not sure I liked it all that much.  But I do appreciate the literary merit and the tragic intensity of the story.  Francis Phelan is an interesting character, his difficult life and personality flaws make you want to judge him and sympathize with him in equal measure.   Kennedy also captures that hollowed-out feeling of inevitable doom during the Great Depression.  I came away from the book feeling heavy and sad.

16059322April – Read a National Book Award winner.

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

George Packer

The Unwinding is another on my list of books about the state of the U.S.  This one was a solid block of text – no charts, no graphs, no pictures.  The narrative is divided into sections by year, starting in the 1970s.  Packer follows three individuals from various backgrounds throughout the book, and features a notable public figure or event in each section.  Each year is introduced by a single page word collage, collecting headlines, song lyrics, and quotes from public figures and popular media into a hodgepodge of visual sound bites that set the tone for that moment in time.  This was a maddening, eye-opening, and fascinating read.  Packer masterfully weaves each thread together, creating a concerning and frustrating portrait of cultural upheaval.

30045683May – Read a book about mental health.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

Meik Wiking

I probably fudged the category a bit with this one, but it does pertain to mental health.  Hygge is the Danish concept of the sense of well-being you feel when you’re in a comfortable, cozy space, often with people you care for and/or delicious food.  I first saw the word on a friend’s Instagram post and upon finding several new books about it, I checked out the first one available at my library.  While I wasn’t necessarily expecting an analytical opus on the subject, this book was a little fluffier than I’d hoped.  It offered basic guidelines for what is essential to establishing hygge in your home, including recipes and lighting ideas.  Still, it’s a nice concept – I definitely feel at peace when snuggling under a blanket by a fire with a snowstorm billowing outside, or reading on a rainy afternoon while drinking a hot cup of tea.

21413846June – Read a book set outside of your home country.

Wolf Winter

Cecilia Eckback

I had high hopes for this book.  The summary on Goodreads hooked me right away – a brutal murder on a creepy mountain in 18th century Lapland?  Awesome.  It was intensely atmospheric, pulling the reader right into a sense of isolation and bitter winter weather.  There were some magical realism elements that added a surreal touch.  Ultimately though, there were too many threads, and by the end it felt like the author wanted to use all of these ideas but couldn’t decide which should take precedence.  As a result, the ending felt jumbled and confused.

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Bean’s Second Quarter Books 2017

Bean hit a reading slump this quarter. A combination of watching too many YouTube videos of a British buy playing minecraft, and playing outside took away from reading time. I have no issue with playing outside, but I don’t understand the attraction of zoning out on a guy narrating minecraft as he plays. However, I’m sure my parents felt the same way about TV shows I watched as a child. The ’80’s weren’t know for quality television.

Audiobooks (1)

School Reads (2)

Read Alouds (2)

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June Reads

I don’t have much to add to what I’ve written below – less books read in June than May, book burnout is subsiding, and summer is here with all the trips and projects and planning it entails.

Audiobooks (12)

*Homo Deus was interesting, but not as good as Sapiens. It spent too much time repeating the  concepts of Sapeins and not enough time on “the history of tomorrow”. I did like his discussion of human evolution, how technological advancements could potentially affect how we evolve, and how the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” will increase exponentially.
*I’ve had multiple people recommend Red Rising to me, but wasn’t that enamored of it. Maybe I’m burned out of dystopian storylines. The concept was well-done, but I just didn’t care.
*Frankenstein has been on my TBR list for decades. I think maybe I read it in high school, but can’t remember. It was a bit of a shocker to realize how drastically different the book was from the popular culture concept. The book also read like it was written by an overly emotional teenager – which it was. I appreciate Frankenstein’s place in literary history, but it’s too flowery and emo for my tastes.
*Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor was surprisingly fun and well suited for audio. I love time travel books, and liked how the potential to disrupt historical events was handled. The tone and humor is reminiscent of the Tuesday Next books, but not as tedious.
*The Fold reminded me of the Crestomanci universe all grown up with a dose of sci-fi. It’s more a book up my husband’s alley than mine, but I enjoy some sci-fi as well. The Fold is about scientists mucking about with reality while not understanding what they’re doing, or how they’re affecting it, and the ramifications of their actions once they learn what’s actually happening.
*Kiss of Steel, First Grave on the Right, and Kill the Boy Band were all rereads. KtBB has turned into one of my favorite books. The audio narrator is spot on with the slightly crazy, slightly unreliability of the main character. The humor is black, black, black, but oh so funny. You know you shouldn’t be laughing, but you can’t help it because the scenario is just so outlandish.

Novels (11) / Nonfiction (2)


 
 

Romance novels can be hit or miss, especially with the historical ones. I have a hard time suspending my knowledge of reality when it comes to a woman leaving the lower class to marry a duke. Earls Just Want to Have Fun was alright, but found Marlowe to be a bit annoying. I plan on attempting the sequel because I liked Susanna. I had to push myself to finish Ever After. I had absolutely no connection to Olivia and her activism. Royal Bastards would have been much better if it didn’t have so many anachronisms. Medieval setting/technology + modern teen sensibilities/slang = kept getting kicked out of the story because it was so incongruent. When Dimple Met Rishi was cute. It was a fairly straight forward love story, and both Dimple and Rishi were believable and enjoyable characters. Seanan McGuire is an author I’m somewhat ambivilent towards. I’ve read the first two InCryptid books and found both of them rather meh. I ended up DNFing her first October Daye book. That being said, I absolutely LOVE her Wayward Children series. Her fairy tale voice is amazing. The stories are dark, and a balanced mix of sparseness and lushness. And finally, Sarah J. Maas. Each book in her Throne of Glass series is better than the last. And A Court of Thorns and Roses is one of my favorite dark comfort reads, and I needed that escape after a crappy week at work (the biggest drama monger at my office is a man 10 years older than me, and he was in fine form).

Graphic (3) / Manga (2)

 

Princess Princess Ever After was cute, if too short and lacking in substance. It would have been so much better if it had been longer with more details. The illustrations of Nightlights were gorgeous. The story was a bit shaky at the end, but the illustrations more than made up for it. Tokyo Ghoul is Tokyo Ghoul, and there isn’t much more to say than it is an amazing manga series. Spill Zone was interesting, but somewhat vague. This is not a criticism because the vagueness was handled well. It made me want to learn what was going on. I am especially curious about the doll Vespertine. Orange: The Complete Collection, Vol 2 was meh. I wasn’t that impressed with the first volume, and the second one didn’t wow me either. The ending was completely unsatisfying and left so many questions unanswered. It felt like a cop out.

Read Alouds (5)

    

We finished up reading the Notebook of Doom series (based upon what our library has). It was popular with both of my littles. We started on Eerie Elementary after that, though Max is more interested in it than Bug. I don’t find it completely painful to read either, though I keep saying “San Antonio” instead of “Sam and Antonio”, when I read the boys’ names. George’s Marvelous Medicine is a beloved childhood book of mine, and I thought the kids would like it. Bean did when I read it to her several years ago. Bug loved it, but Max was ambivalent. Mainly because it took time away from Eerie Elementary.

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