Tuesday, February 9, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - February 2016 Edition

The best time of the month is when the Show Us Your Books! link-up with Steph and Jana rolls around and I can share my thoughts about the books I've read recently (and add a bunch of books to my neverending "To Read" list, of course!).

I have a lot of books to talk about today, so I'll just get right to it.

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Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History by Paul Begg - 302 pages - 2 stars

Last month I talked about an awful book I read for the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge called Mayhem. After I finished it, I immediately began the nonfiction accompaniment because I wanted to make sure I actually completed this category and got my 30 points. If I had to suffer through Mayhem, I was going to make sure it was worth it!

Nonfiction isn't my favorite thing to read, but I do occasionally pick up a true crime book or a memoir. Since I've read a fair amount of true crime, I expected Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History to be at least somewhat similar to the other books I've read. I mean, obviously there wouldn't be sections devoted to the discovery, arrest, and trial, but I still thought it might have some of the same qualities.

I was wrong.

It's not that I expected it to be written like a story ... I didn't. Although some true crime writers choose to share their material in this way, I expected this book to be written a little more like an extensive magazine or newspaper article. Instead, there were chapters that made me feel like I was reading a history textbook: it was just a barrage of dates and times and locations and names. It felt like it took forever to get through it.

That being said, it wasn't an awful book. It was pretty well researched and I felt like I learned a lot. Begg not only discussed the murders and possible suspects, but also the political and social climate in London at that time and exactly why the story of Jack the Ripper is so famous to this day. And, while it wasn't the best thing I've read lately, it was (thankfully!) much better than the fiction I chose for this challenge category.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott - 170 pages - 3 stars

When she was 10 years old, "Alice" (as she is now called) was kidnapped. Now, five years later, Alice still lives with her captor, Ray, in an apartment complex just a few hours from her childhood home. Forced to endure unimaginable abuse, she finds herself wishing for death more and more often. But Ray has something even more horrifying in mind for her.

Living Dead Girl is a dark, fucked up book. If that's not your thing, you won't like this at all. If, however, you're like me and enjoy disturbing books, it may be worth checking out. (And at only 170 pages, it's a quick read!)

My biggest issue with this book was that it was written as though it was for very young readers. Yes, it is a YA novel, but the subject matter clearly isn't for those on the younger side of the intended YA audience ... So I thought it was kind of strange that it was written in such basic, simple language. And, while the book wasn't bad, it felt like it was lacking in some ways.

This book had been on my "To Read" list for years, so I was happy I was able to use it for the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge. The simplistic writing didn't really work for me, but I thought the story was good overall and I really appreciated the ending.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - 371 pages - 5 stars

I'll Give You the Sun follows Jude and her twin brother, Noah, at two very different points in their lives.

At 13, the twins are nearly inseparable. This part of the story is told from Noah's point of view, and we're introduced to an awkward young teen desperately trying to figure himself out. He finds escape in both his artwork and in Brian, the intriguing boy next door who sparks feelings inside Noah that he didn't know existed.

By the time they're 16, everything has changed. This part of the story is seen through Jude's eyes, and we learn that the once beautiful and confident girl we met at 13 is now completely closed off and awkward. She and Noah are barely speaking, and she's filled with so much misery and regret that she's become a shell of her former self.

This book made me feel the way The Sea of Tranquility (a book that made it onto my Best Books of 2015 list) made me feel. Although the stories were different in so many ways, they both have some similar themes (most notably broken characters attempting to find a way back to themselves). They also both made me cry, though that may not be saying much since I'm super sensitive/emotional and tend to cry over a lot of books, music, movies, etc.

I loved so many things about this book, and I was so happy that I finally read a book worthy of 5 stars this year! One of my favorite things about it was the fact that it wasn't a book filled with a bunch of fluffy, feel good stuff ... Yet still managed to warm my heart and make me feel a ton of very intense emotions.

This should definitely be added to your "To Read" list (if it's not there already)! I have a feeling I won't be forgetting this story anytime soon.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill - 376 pages - 2 stars

Judas (Jude) Coyne is an aging rock star known not only for his heavy metal hits but also for his extensive collection of macabre oddities. When he finds a ghost for sale in an online auction, he decides he has to have it.

When a black heart-shaped box arrives in the mail, it contains a dead man's suit ... And his vengeful spirit. Convinced that Jude is responsible for his stepdaughter's suicide, the ghost will stop at nothing to kill Jude and anyone who tries to help him.

I had high hopes for this book, and it had been on my "To Read" list for years. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations.

The good: numerous references to musicians I like (Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana in particular). The bad: pretty much everything else.

I'll admit that I listened to the audiobook, and this may have influenced my review. This was my first audiobook, and it's likely going to be my last. I just don't think they're for me. The only good thing about it was that I was able to get through the book very quickly. (I started it on a Saturday and finished it the next day ... Ah, the perks of having a weekend free of any plans!)

That being said, I don't think listening (as opposed to reading) was the only reason I didn't enjoy this book. I'll discuss my reasons further in my more in-depth review (that post will go up on Sunday), but here's a general summary:

I didn't care about the characters or what happened to them. I didn't think the book was scary at all, and the way the plot unfolded wasn't enough to keep me entertained. I also felt like the story was littered with too many cliches, and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot (like when they used a Ouija board to contact the dead, for example).

It wasn't the worst book I've ever read, but I was really hoping for something better.

The Martian by Andy Weir - 369 pages - 4 stars

I'm pretty sure everyone knows what The Martian is about, but just in case here's a quick summary:

Mark Watney's crew was forced to evacuate Mars after a major dust storm. The only problem? They left him behind. Injured and unconscious, Mark eventually wakes to the reality that he's literally the only person on the planet. Left without any way to contact his crew (or anyone else, for that matter) and a limited supply of food and water, Mark is forced to get creative in order to survive.

Before I even started this book, I assumed I'd probably enjoy it. While I'm not a huge science fiction fan, a ton of my favorite bloggers also raved about it (including many others who wouldn't classify science fiction as one of their favorite genres). And, since I've enjoyed a lot of their recommendations in the past, I knew I'd probably like this one as well.

The Martian mostly lived up to the hype for me, but I did have a couple of issues with it.

The biggest problem for me was the fact that almost every chapter seemed just like the chapter before it with a few slight differences. Yes, there were a few sections that showed what was happening back on Earth or what was happening with Watney's crew, but, for the most part, it was Watney finding himself in bad situations and trying to figure a way to get out of trouble. Given the circumstances, I'm sure that's pretty realistic (well, as realistic as a science fiction book can be), but it just got old after a while.

Although it wasn't a perfect book, I liked it overall. The story was compelling, and I really liked the character of Mark Watney. It's not a great work of literature that people will discuss in classrooms for years to come, but it's not trying to be. It's the kind of book you pick up because you simply want to be entertained.

Heart-Shaped Box by April Henry - 261 pages - 3 stars

When she checks into a hotel for her 20th high school reunion, Claire Montrose receives a mysterious package containing a small wooden heart-shaped box. Inside the box she discovers a picture of herself from her high school yearbook.

She doesn't think much of it until an identical box is found in the hand of one of her classmates ... A classmate who has been strangled to death in the parking lot.

The murdered woman had a lot of enemies, but Claire can't shake the thought that the box may be some sort of clue to the killer's identity. When several other women admit they also received heart-shaped boxes, she has to wonder: is the killer marking his victims? And will she be next?

This was the final book I finished for the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge. To be perfectly honest, I would never have picked it up otherwise. I love mysteries/thrillers, but based on the reviews on Goodreads, I didn't get the impression that this book was very good.

Since I initially thought I wouldn't like it much at all, I may have been a little generous with my rating. It didn't have the types of twists and turns I like in a mystery, and I knew who the killer would be very early on. But, while I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, it wasn't so awful that I feel like I completely wasted my time reading it.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards - 401 pages - 4 stars

When his wife goes into labor during a blizzard in 1964, Dr. David Henry has no choice but to deliver the baby. He's surprised to learn that she's pregnant with twins (a boy and a girl), and even more surprised to learn that while his son appears to be perfectly healthy, his daughter has Down syndrome.

Believing she will likely suffer from heart complications and die at an early age, David asks his nurse, Caroline Gill, to take the baby to an institution. After seeing what a terrible place this would be for a child, she decides to leave town, keep the baby, and raise her as her own.

What follows is a story that spans 25 years in the lives of two families, forever linked by a secret.

This isn't the type of book I normally go for (and, in fact, I only read it because I chose it for Erin's book challenge), so I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it so much. Although the author spent a bit too much time on frivolous details and descriptions, she managed to create an intriguing story with very flawed, realistic characters.

I loved the idea of a family haunted by secrets and heartache, and the complex ways in which a single decision can affect the lives of several people (particularly when the lines of communication are practically nonexistent). These types of stories always interest me, and this was no exception.

I didn't love everything about The Memory Keeper's Daughter (there will be more on that in my detailed review, which will be posted this Sunday), but I thought it was a good book overall.


  1. I have The Memory Keeper's Daughter on my list, so I am interested in your detailed review :) Glad you mostly enjoyed The Martian. I loved Sea of Tranquility so I'll have to check out I'll give you the Sun, even if it's different :)

  2. i am so glad you enjoyed the martian, even if it wasn't perfect. i agree. it's for entertainment, not classrooms lol. living dead girl sounds interesting, and kind of messed up haha. i'll give you the sun is on my list, has been for ages, but i just bumped it up after you compared the feelings to sea of tranquility. loved that book. also, i'm glad you liked the memory keepers daughter. i don't remember any of the details, just the overall story and the feelings it gave me years ago lol.

  3. Living Dead Girl and The Memory Keeper's Daughter sounds really interesting!

  4. I liked The Martian a lot, but in my honest opinion there was WAYYYY to much science in it that was boring and didn't add to the story for me. I found myself skimming over the sciencey parts.

  5. I read The Memory Keeper's Daughter years ago; I remember it being a great book. Sad, but great.

    I like a good, dark, fucked up book (as is pretty evident with my reads from this past month) but The Martian, which is not like that at all, was one of my favorite reads of last year.

  6. I loved The Memory Keeper's Daughter. That totally hit me when I read it a few years back.

    I think Mark Watney is a great character. He made The Martian for me.

  7. Congratulations on finishing the SCWBC15! I really liked I'll Give You the Sun as well! I enjoyed reading all your thoughts!

  8. the martian was, hands down, the best book i read in 2015. i gave it to my SVP to read it and he was totally blown away which gave me more work cred in his eyes LOL

  9. I LOVED I'll Give You the Sun SO SO much and I think you're the first person who has liked it a lot that I've seen! The Sea of Tranquility has been on my list forever - I'm going to go check now to see if my library has it as an ebook yet!

  10. I've seen The Memory Keeper's Daughter floating around for a few years, but your review has convinced me that I want to read it. I've been on the library wait list for I'll Give You the Sun for months! Finally, with Christmas gift cards, I ordered it. I'm looking forward to that one.

  11. The Memory Keepers Daughter has been on my shelf for years now! I really need to read it! I'll Give You the Sun seems to be popping up a lot lately and I can't wait to read it.

  12. I enjoyed The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Martian. I loved The Sea of Tranquility and while I already had I'll Give You the Sun on my to read list, I'm going to move it up to read as sooner than later!

  13. I thought the Memory Keeper's Daughter was beautifully written... My stomach turns at such secrets being kept, but I thought it was a good read. I'll be interested to see your longer review!!

  14. I really need to read The Martian soon! So many people have recommended it. :)

  15. I didnt love the martian like everyone else. Im thinking to give it a re-read though!

  16. Oh! I read an excerpt of I'll Give You the Sun in one of those Buzz Books collections of previews of upcoming books and thought it looked great, but then I forgot about it! Thanks for the reminder to pick it up!

  17. I'll Give You has been on my list since it came out. It looks so good. We've talked about The Martian but I just watched the movie this weekend and I thought it was well done. Obviously it cut out alot of the science and his journey to the rover but thought it stayed pretty true. Errol thought it was kind of boring and I don't think Watney's humor transferred to the movie as well as it did in the book.
    I read Heart Shaped Box by Hill when it first came out. Now that I'm reading your review, I remember not liking it that much but NOS4A2 is worth checking out. It was creepy