Saturday, December 17, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - December 2016 Edition

It's no secret that I've been seriously slacking when it comes to blogging. Clearly. I mean, I'm several days late to the link-up party with Steph and Jana. This is also the only thing I've posted since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up. Whomp whomp.

At this point I'm planning to just take it easy and hopefully get back into the swing of things at the start of the new year. Everything seems to die down a bit at that point, and I think I'll have more time and energy to focus not only on my own blog, but also on reading and commenting on other blogs. I hope so, anyway.

For now, though, I'll just stick with a subject you all know I love: books. I feel like I've been reading like crazy lately, so this is going to be kind of a long post. (#sorrynotsorry) I've actually read a couple more that I was planning to review here as well, but I wanted to just go ahead and get this posted now. I'll talk about the other books in a future post.

I'll admit that I wasn't great about writing reviews right after I finished these books, though, so a lot of these reviews will probably be a little shorter than what I'd normally write. (Though that's probably not a bad thing since I had quite a few to discuss!)

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The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly - 353 pages - 4 stars

Completed on 11/10/2016

The Bullet was a very strange book. It was one of those stories that, for me, raised more questions than it answered. The plot is a little odd to begin with (I mean, can you imagine going to the doctor and discovering that there's a bullet lodged in your neck? I can't.), but the story took a lot of unusual twists and turns.

While twists and turns are generally appreciated in a suspense/thriller/mystery novel, they were both a good and bad thing in The Bullet. Obviously a book that keeps me intrigued has to be, at the very least, a pretty good book. (I read most of this while I was on vacation, and I kept making time to squeeze a couple of chapters in before Eric and I left our hotel to explore.). It kept me guessing, and I really liked the very end of the book.

As for the bad ... Unfortunately, the last portion of this book was just completely over-the-top. As I said, I liked the very end ... But a lot of the stuff leading up to it? Not so much. Here's the thing: I don't mind being asked to suspend my disbelief when I'm reading a book or watching a movie. I do, however, get annoyed when a book or movie seems at least somewhat realistic and then suddenly it takes on a completely different tone. I don't mean that things should be predictable (they shouldn't), but they should make sense.

Despite the fact that some parts of the book annoyed the shit out of me, I still gave it 4 stars. I liked that the plot wasn't something I'd seen a hundred times before, and I liked that I wanted to know what happened so much that I hated to put it down. I'd say that makes it worthy of a 4 star rating.

Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt - 337 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 11/13/2016

I absolutely loved this book when I first started reading it, flying through much of it in a single day. (I read most of it on the plane home from Rhode Island.) The story of a new mother struggling with severe postpartum depression/postpartum psychosis was both disturbing and heartbreaking. And once her baby goes missing and she can't remember many of the events surrounding the disappearance, I was glued to the book, searching for clues and answers.

Although the book started off strong, it really fell apart for me as it went on. There were plenty of WTF moments (and not the good kind), and, honestly, some parts were so boring that I found myself wondering if I was reading the same book.

And the ending? Come on. I like closure as much as the next person, but I get so pissed off when an author decides to tie everything in a neat little package. Life isn't always like that. And, yes, I realize that we all read to escape life, but this kind of goes along with my review for The Bullet ... Don't set me up with something at least somewhat realistic and then make everything batshit crazy by the end.

I debated giving Remember Mia a 2 star rating because I was so disappointed with the direction the book took, but settled on a 3 star rating because I couldn't ignore how much I enjoyed the beginning. Estelle's wild, chilling train of thought cut to my core ... I just wish the author had kept that page turning momentum throughout the book and avoided the whole "everything will conveniently fall into place" thing. (Especially when some of those things didn't really make a lot of sense or seem remotely believable when considering the story as a whole.)

Among Others by Jo Walton - 302 pages - 1 star

Completed on 11/18/2016

I had so many conflicting feelings about this book. First of all, the main character is obsessed with books and reading (something I'm sure most of us can relate to!), and there are a lot of lovely book-related quotes throughout the novel. That alone made me feel like I should probably love this book.

If you couldn't tell from my 1 star rating, I didn't. It's safe to say that I actually hated this book and almost quit it several times. (And I never quit books!)

At first I thought that maybe I just didn't like it because it was out of my comfort zone. I really don't read or enjoy many fantasy novels, but the plot summary intrigued me ... So I decided to give it a try. The thing is, I'm not really sure this was a fantasy novel. Yes, it had a few magical elements (including fairies), but I think classifying it as "fantasy" is a little misleading.

Among Others is basically just a teenage girl's diary. That's it. Apparently some life altering event occurs that kills her twin sister, leaves her crippled, and forces her to run away from her mother's house, but other than several mostly vague mentions, this doesn't really play much of a role in the story even though it's the main part of the book summary.

No, this book is mostly really boring ramblings about what books she's reading, her obsession with magic and fairies, her grades and life at boarding school (which is, quite honestly, not at all interesting), and a detailed family history that really has almost nothing to do with the rest of the story. Seriously.

There were also some really bizarre things that made absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever. She becomes convinced that her aunts are witches that want to control her mind because they offer to get her ears pierced as a Christmas gift. Apparently it's common knowledge that piercings allow others to control you. I wish I'd known that before I got my piercings!

If that's not bad enough, there's also a quick mention of her drunken father attempting to climb in bed with her. She stops anything from happening, but then later regrets not having sex with him. Her father, people! And, to make matters worse, this incident is treated as "no big deal" and never mentioned again. Seriously, what the fuck?

The ending was probably one of the most anticlimactic endings ever. I just sat there thinking, "Really? I read this entire fucking book for this?" I was actually pissed because I felt like I'd just completely wasted my time. If it didn't belong to the library, it would have gone in the trash.

Swerve by Vicki Pettersson - 335 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 11/23/2016

If I'm being completely honest, I didn't have very high hopes for this book. Yes, it was on my "To Read" list, but I mostly just picked it up because it happened to be on the shelves at my library. It's one of those "been there/read that" kind of books about a crazy killer abducting one half of a couple at a deserted rest stop. The only difference here was that the guy was kidnapped, while the girl was left to follow the killer's bizarre clues in order to find her fiance.

Overall, I thought this book was a decent read. There were many things I didn't like, including the killer's motives (lame) and the fact that I had figured out the "twist" long before the main character. If I'm reading a suspenseful thriller, I want to be shocked by the twist. In this case, I clearly wasn't.

I was also a little disappointed in Kristine's weird backstory. When she first starts thinking back to her past, I imagined a completely different story than what I was later given. It made sense to share this part of her life, but it was just so fucking weird.

I did, however, like the fact that Kristine was a strong female character. She isn't perfect (not by a long shot), but she's pretty badass.

But, as I said, this book was an okay way to pass the time. (And, hey, I liked it enough to give it a 3 star rating!) The action really propels the story, so it's a pretty quick read. (I probably would have finished it in a day or two if I'd had the time.) It's definitely gory and violent, though, so if horror books and movies aren't your thing, I'd suggest skipping this one.

Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel - 292 pages - 4 stars

Completed on 11/27/2016

This book easily could have fallen into after school special territory, but thankfully it didn't. It's a story about the delicate friendships that exist between young girls, and it's also a story about bullying.

While a part of me feels far removed from the drama that often exists among teenage girls, another part of me remembers very clearly what it felt like to be a young teen: the insecurity, the need to discover yourself, the feeling of "in between" (not a child but definitely not an adult). Hyacinth Girls touches on all of these things (and more), and it does so in an effective way.

I liked that the story is told from two points of view: the parent (well, in this case, a guardian standing in for the deceased parents) and the teen. It did, however, get a little tedious at the end when the point of view shifted back to Rebecca (the guardian) and then back again to Callie (the teen). I honestly wished the story would have ended at the end of Callie's first section ... It would have been, in my opinion, much more powerful.

This book sheds light on the cruelties that kids (especially girls) are capable of. Unfortunately, some things near the end were overly dramatic and reminiscent of a Lifetime Original movie. The author eventually reeled it in a bit, but the ending still really couldn't be saved for me. It was disappointing, especially since the first two sections were so strong. (And these are the main reasons I gave it 4 stars instead of 5.)

Cam Girl by Leah Raeder - 415 pages - 5 stars

Completed on 12/04/2016

I surprised myself with the 5 star rating on this one. It was solid throughout, but I didn't think I'd end up loving it as much as I did.

As you can probably guess by the title, this book talks a lot about sex (and in graphic detail). Cam Girl very easily could have been just another "dirty" book, but it wasn't. Yes, sex plays a major role in the story, but it went so much deeper than that. This book raises some important questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, and how these things influence relationships with others and the way we see ourselves.

There are a couple of mystery elements in this book, but I wouldn't really classify it as "mystery." Those things kept me guessing, though! I did sort of figure out some of it, but not entirely. (And that's a win in my book!) The clues were there, but some things were harder to see. This quote from the book says it all: "You looked right at me. Through me."

The narrator, Vada, felt very real. She was flawed, she was confused, she was angry. She was, in some ways, a lot like me in my early 20s. There was a point in the book where I literally gasped because her words were my words: I had, no joke, said the exact same thing to someone I loved very deeply in my early 20s. It was one of those weird moments when you feel like an author somehow knew that you would read this book, so they added something they knew would pierce your heart and stir up memories.

I absolutely fell in love with Leah Raeder's writing while reading Cam Girl. It's lyrical and beautiful, but also raw and gritty. She created a story that brought up some very real emotions, and characters I truly cared about. I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future!