Even though my focus in January was Read Harder, I still managed a decent showing for PopSugar. Both the books themselves and my thoughts on them crossed the spectrum, though I did lean towards sci-fi and fantasy.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
#1 – Made into a movie you’ve already seen
I saw Coraline the movie years ago, and remember it being incredibly weird and like a scary fun house. The eye buttons were the creepiest part of it, and are the first things that come to mind when I think of Coraline. It is a fairy tale with all the dark bits left in. I like that Gaiman doesn’t condescend to children when he writes, and acknowledges that children accept the macabre (and often live in it as well).
Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones
#3 – Next book in a series you’ve already started
Charlie is in full Charlie mode throughout this book. I found myself snorting multiple times because of her snarky humor. And STUFF HAPPENED! Unlike some of the previous books in this series, Twelfth Grave, moved the overarching plot forward instead of getting bogged down with weak novel-length plot lines. I like those smaller plots, but not when they feel half-assed. The ending didn’t happen quite the way I was expecting it to, but it was still a good foundation for the final book.
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton
#4 – Involving a heist
Even though this is a fictionalized account of the first train robbery in Great Britain, there is a lot of infodumped history included, with the narrative weaving between the two. It works in this case, helped along by the fact that is reads (or listens) like a deadpan British nature documentary. I enjoyed the story much more than one would expect given the various elements of fiction, infodumps, and deadpan delivery. I would listen to it again.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
#9 – About a villain/anti-hero
I absolutely loved The Cruel Prince. Black’s writing was on point and her world-/magical rule-building was amazing. The story was a good mix of adventure, tension, and nastiness. Black’s darker, and quite frankly more realistic (as such) characterizations of fairies was a joy to read – there is always a consequence or loophole or interesting interpretation when humans make deals with immortals. The story gets you from the opening scene and steadily ramps up from there, kicking into high gear during the coronation scene. The characters are also well-written – not a single good or bad guy; all of them are vaguely unlikable shades of gray. I cannot wait until the next book comes out. I recommend reading this as opposed to listening to it. The narrator wasn’t bad by any means, but given the tone of this book, I’d rather read the words and hear them in my head.
Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin
#10 – About death
I attempted to read this book several years ago, but failed to finish because it didn’t hold my attention. As it works for a PS category, I decided to give it another go, this time on audio. I liked the idea of a world where everyone knows the date of their death, though not the reason or cause. It had potential to be interesting, especially given the ending. However, the characters and plot were bland and uninteresting. The only two things that kept me listening were the fact that it would fulfill a challenge requirement and that I wanted to know why Denton and company were turning purple. Things I did like: Paolo (my favorite character), and that Denton made an effort to tell his classmates at least one positive thing about themselves.
Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks
#11 – Favorite color in title
Lotus Blue got off to a bit of a rocky start, mainly because Sparks kept switching between eight-ish points of view. The only good thing was that even as POVs switched, the plot kept moving forward and each POV brought something to the table. The story would be tighter if some of the bit player POVs were done away with. The dynamics of characters and their world were fascinating, and I loved the idea of semi-sentient technology. I hope Sparks writes a sequel because I want to learn more about this world and its history, and the other Lotus generals.
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
#12 – Alliteration in the title
This was quick read. I liked the story, and there were no major character flaws in either the hero or heroine (this can be hit or miss in with romances). As a whole, the story was fairly breezy with no real conflict or drama, only minor blips on the road to the main characters’ acknowledging their love for each other.
Sandstorm by James Rollins
#14 – Weather element in the title
I ended up enjoying Sandstorm more than I thought I would. It is not a genre I read at all – I think the closest thing was The Da Vinci Code when it came out in 2003. Sandstorm was a fairly straight forward adventure/espionage story with enough magic to make the plot work. I was somewhat surprised by the inclusion of magic because it didn’t seem to fit with the basic elements of adventure/espionage stories that use (slightly beyond) cutting edge technology. But I guess if the characters are tracking ancient relics and secrets, some suspension of reality is required to make it work.
The Lifeboat Clique by Kathy Parks
#15 – Set at sea
The best reaction I can come up with is “eh”. The Lifeboat Clique was marginal at best. The tone of the writing felt judgemental and not tongue in cheek. Consequently, I did not particularly care for Denver, the main character, as it was written from her perspective. All of the characters felt stereotyped/clichéd, and I didn’t like any of them. Abigail’s accent was overly affected and annoying, and I don’t think I have ever heard any of the Texans I know use the slang she employed. Plot-wise, I would have liked more of it to have been spent on the teens’ survival and less on the drama-filled backstory between Denver and Abigail. I could have also done without the moralizing at the end. The closing pages of the book started pushing it into hackneyed territory.
Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean by Morton Strøksnes
#16 – An animal in the title
Shark Drunk is not a cohesive narrative, but rather multiple threads of related anecdotes, social and physical history, and science centered around the author’s attempt to catch a Greenland shark. I’ve read many books where this style of writing fails miserably, but in this case, it works well. The threads play off of each other and make sense within the context. All of this is done with a toned down Bill Bryson-eseque sense of humor.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
#20 – Characters who are twins
This book was a chore to get through. It was not a fandom book as the title suggests. It would have been better if it had been billed a coming of age story/grappling with mental illness, using fandom as a tool to help Cath overcome and/or accept. I didn’t mind the Simon Snow interludes, but they didn’t necessarily mesh with the main narrative of Cath trying to overcome her social anxiety. If the interludes had mirrored or shed some insight into Cath and her situation, they would have been more relevant and less of a distraction. I also didn’t like that Cath’s social anxiety and ineptitude was blamed on her fangirlness, when it really stemmed from issues with her mother’s abandonment and her father’s mental illness. Rowell gave only superficial lip service to this, and in doing so did both the story and the characters a huge disservice.
The Time Traders by Andre Norton
#21 – Female author / male pseudonym
Espionage, time travel, and aliens. I didn’t have high expectations because of some of the reviews, but was pleasantly surprised to find the story was interesting. It’s not without its flaws for sure – the plot was a bit messy, acting as a set up for the sequels. I don’t have any interest in reading the sequels because they are about the aliens and less about the time travel. It’s almost like the history and time travel in The Time Traders was a one-off. Norton isn’t an author I would seek out again unless one of her books fit into a reading challenge requirement.
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
#22 – LGBTQ+ protagonist
I was somewhat confused at the beginning of this book because it felt like too much world building and character introduction was going on with not enough context. This went on periodically throughout the novel where something would happen, and I had absolutely no clue how we got there. There was a lot of good stuff in Amberlough, but it didn’t come together as well as it could have. I didn’t really care about the characters because we never really learn anything about them. I know I’ve yet to say anything really positive, but even with the hot mess this novel kind of was, once I figured out what was going on, I found it interesting and enjoyed the use of language.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
#31 – Mentioned in another book (A Brave New World)
The Tempest is not one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare. The story was too short, weak and somewhat muddled, and at times a bit confusing. I’m sure part of this was because I audiobooked it, and there wasn’t an easy way to determine when a scene/characters had shifted.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
#33 – Childhood classic you’ve never read
I grew up watching the Megan Follows television version of Anne of Green Gables, and absolutely loved it; watching whenever it aired on PBS. However, I never had an interest in reading the books, especially when I read descriptions of later books and found they didn’t focus on Anne and seemed to have extraneous characters (bear in mind I was a child). As with the show, I loved the audiobook, and Rachel McAdams did a good job as narrator. There were definitely some differences between show and book, and as a parent, there were times that Anne drove me bonkers, but I still love the magic of it.
Beneath a Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
#34 – Published in 2018
Of the three Wayward Children books, Beneath a Sugar Sky is the weakest. I still enjoyed McGuire’s writing style, her world building, and her descriptions, but the plot suffered from the question of who was the main character? Cora or Rini? The story opened with Cora, but she felt like she was only a vehicle for Rini’s appearance and Rini’s quest. It would have been better if either Cora didn’t exist and the focus was solely on Rini and her quest, or if Rini didn’t exist, and the story focused on Cora, her self-acceptance, and her desire to return to her portal world.