Recently Read Books!

This is a list of the books I've read in 2014, with a few of my thoughts on each.

Go here for last year's list!
Go here for the jump-off point of all the years I've been recording my reading list, separated by year!

12/26/14 Lemony Snicket
Who Could That Be at This Hour?
First in All the Wrong Questions, the next series by Lemony Snicket. It's about a young Lemony before all the Baudelaire stuff happened, with similarly incompetent adults, similarly gothic settings, and similarly absurd wordplay. It wasn't as charming or interesting as the previous series though--I don't like that I really don't connect to the characters, and the distant storytelling doesn't work as well with a first-person protagonist telling his own story.
12/11/14 J.C. Fann
The Queenschair
This book is by one of my critique partners, and now it's published! I really enjoyed CPing it and then seeing its finished form. It's the story of reluctant King Ebreyon Marin as he tries to choose a wife when he doesn't even want to, and I LOVED how personal the author managed to make what was in essence a political drama with fantastical elements. The characters are just so compelling and unusual. I'm team Chanyn. :)
12/10/14 Andrew Smith
100 Sideways Miles
Incredible book with another quirky protagonist that was similar to everything I loved about Grasshopper Jungle. Finn's observations on sexual attraction, distance and time, sticky atoms, and the unique descriptions of his seizure experiences were really captivating and intriguing. It was sort of a plotless book for the most part, and Finn annoyed me by being so passive, but that was kind of his big problem in the book--trying to get away from a destiny other people had put upon him. And his obnoxious best friend Cade was fun to read about too. I really love how Smith nails the teenage boy vibe.
12/4/14 Carl Hiaasen
Tourist Season
I love how Hiaasen gets the quirkiness of Florida nailed down just right, but this book was kind of a miss for me. I'm glad I read others of his first because if I'd read this as my first I think I wouldn't have become a fan. It was just okay, with no real connection to the characters and a sort of lack-of-protagonist feeling even though there was sort of a central character, and there was too much telling. Still, I liked some of the turns of phrase and the way the author didn't talk down to the audience.
11/20/14 Francesca Lia Block
Open Letter to Quiet Light
This book of poetry detailing one of the author's relationships was full of longing, regret, and hope. A little too much sexual imagery, desperation, and insecurity for my taste--was kind of exhausting to read--but when she gets it right, she really gets it right, which is why I read her.
11/13/14 Louis Sachar
The Cardturner
This incredible book is about a teenager who helps his blind uncle continue his passion for the game of bridge. Acting as his "cardturner," Alton assists his uncle as he prepares to play the game of his life, but he learns more than a few things about bridge in the process and develops a secret passion for the game--despite that his uncle thinks he's just a video game fanatic with no actual interest in cards. Alton also explores some family secrets, some sordid history, and some romance. I loved the concept and the execution of this book.
11/5/14 John Sandford
Rules of Prey
Police procedural novel about Lucas Davenport as he tries to catch a serial killer who likes killing dark-haired women. I don't usually like cop stories, but even though I didn't get attached to anyone in this book, I thought it was well told and exciting.
10/22/14 John Guare
Six Degrees of Separation
Odd little play about a guy who uses people's trust against them and scams them into helping him, believing him, and letting him get away with various lies. It was often absurd but occasionally got oddly serious. Intriguing.
10/16/14 Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park
Perfect and quirky book about a high school romance. Told in two perspectives, we follow the story of two high school kids--Eleanor, a girl from an abusive household who is bullied at school for being overweight and poor; and Park, a boy whose dad questions his masculinity. When Eleanor gets trapped sitting next to Park on the bus, they build a slow friendship, then a romance, and they save each other from what they were. One of the only books focusing on a teen romance that was never, not even for a second, sappy or unbelievable. I loved it.
10/9/14 Jennifer Estep
Spider's Bite
I expected to like this because it was about modern-day elemental magic users, but the narration was really, really repetitive and the exposition was painful. On top of that, the plot was predictable and bad guys and good guys alike had conversations in full context so other listeners could gather information through them. It was a really uneven and boring book that did not make me want to read the next one.
10/4/14 Bill Bryson
The Mother Tongue
This was a fun nerdy book about English, with all kinds of anecdotes and discussions of how the language evolved and spread as well as some of its peculiarities and associations with other languages. I liked the chapter about pedants and how dictionaries were constructed, some of the attempts to reform or purify English, and how mistranslations are sometimes hilarious when English is used in other countries. I also liked the swearing chapter, predictably.
9/20/14 Michelle L. Johnson
I found out about this book because my agent is also an author, and I hadn't read any of her books, but this one sounded the closest to "my" kind of writing, so I read it. There were some things about it that hit my pet peeve buttons occasionally--most notably that the protagonist must have cried a solitary tear two dozen times in the book, haha--and I hate when suffering is deemed necessary to make people strong and that for female characters it's almost always a sexual assault of some kind in their past that gives them this sorrowful depth, but I have to say it was a relief that the book didn't suck. Would be awkward if my own agent wrote stuff I thought wasn't very good, right? Anyway, the thing I loved about it the most was that the protagonist honestly, truly grieved when something terrible happened to her, and it wasn't fake; I mean, I know I cry easily so maybe this doesn't mean much, but I cried a lot while reading this book. The ending felt sort of rushed and a few plot threads trickled into I'm not sure what, but others (like the protagonist's relationship with her true father) were really satisfying by the time they came full circle.
9/10/14 Dahlia Adler
Behind the Scenes
I liked this book a lot more than I usually like books of this nature (you know, the "teens-have-awkward-relationship-and-misunderstand/miscommunicate-a-lot-until-they-get-their-happy-ending" books). I generally don't read books that are primarily focused on the romance, and to be honest yes, this book was primarily focused on the romance. But there were many other elements too, which I GREATLY appreciated; the protagonist was dealing with a serious family illness, a related financial strain on her family, her relationship with her best friend, her relationship with her sister, her relationship with a guy at school who wants her famous best friend and also makes overtures toward her, and, you know, being a high school student. On top of that, trying to wrangle a romantic relationship--let alone with a rising celebrity--makes for plenty of conflict and satisfactory drama, and it was easy to get invested even though I usually wouldn't, say, watch a television show with these elements. Having access to the protagonist's thoughts was helpful in that regard.

One thing I really appreciated was that the author spent time developing the characters' relationships--she gave us conversations and reflections and authentic interaction that felt like it could be between real people. The romantic couple, Ally and Liam, actually had legitimate reasons to like each other, given that they had common interests and similar values. In the beginning I felt like some of the conversations between Ally and her family members and also between Ally and her best friend Vanessa were a bit too expository at times--they included information the characters were stating aloud in complex sentences when it was stuff both of them knew--but other than a little too much of that in the beginning, the dialogue largely felt natural, and on top of that the INTERNAL dialogue felt natural. I love Ally's running commentary on what she's admiring about Liam and sort of mentally abusing herself over it.

Besides the expository dialogue toward the beginning, the only things that kind of put me off were the occasional unnecessary dialogue tags (stuff like ["Sorry," I apologized]) and the portrayal of Ally's ditzy friends (where one did nothing really except repeat what the other one said--that kind of made her seem like a caricature). Overall I was honestly kind of surprised that I got so caught up in a romance plot (though it was more about the overall blending of all the elements that made it work for me). It's got some lovely little bits about racist Hollywood as well (Ally's famous best friend Vanessa is Korean-American), and some really nice best-friend camaraderie going on. I would definitely recommend this to romance readers and even folks who aren't particularly into romance.

9/5/14 Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata
Eyeshield 21 Volume 22
Yeahhhh it's the war of the best catcher: Monta vs. Ikkyu, and they settle it on the field. But they're still fighting the scariest, best team in the Kanto region, and Agon wants to kick everyone's ass by effortlessly stealing everyone's best moves. I love the secret love diagram thrown in as an interlude--who thinks who's cute and who can't stand each other. Had no idea Sanzo had a crush on so many guys. Hiruma is ridiculously awesome in this one, tricking everyone into thinking he's sending Sena into the game injured to block Agon (and even taking a punch for realism's sake!) only to completely not cover the most important member of the other team. That REALLY pissed Agon off. Hahaha. I love Hiruma and his wily time-control ways. Great how he stopped the clock after every play because he's a strategy master, and how Monta never underestimated his competition.
8/24/14 Philip Pullman
This was three somewhat separate stories that all had a bit that helped spin another one--by design, because the stories themselves were both about clockwork and worked like it. (I liked that setup very much.) And on top of that, the stories were actually connected to a writer whose story had gotten away from him. There was also so much sorrow in this story--a woman whose son died and whose husband had a clockwork child created to replace him; the plight of the clockwork child who needed a heart to live; the horrible clockwork knight that kills if you say the wrong word; the father who gave his heart for a child, literally; the little girl whose love was strong enough to give life.
8/22/14 Francesca Lia Block
Fairy Tales in Electri-City
Ms. Block gives us autobiographical poems about her lovers, her relationships, her children, her father, her sexual frustration, and her comfort with herself. The book is sometimes described as being "erotic poems" but there's nothing particularly sexual or sensual about them; they sometimes do mention desire and explicit sexual acts or parts, but there's no clear attempt to arouse anyone going on. Mostly they seem to be about pain and frustrating at not having the right guy or waiting for him. The poems frequently incorporate references to her Wood Nymph Seeks Centaur mythological dating guide, so I'm glad I read that first because it gave some pretty clear context for the types of people she was throwing in this shorthand for. My favorite two poems, unsurprisingly, were "The Island" and "Love's Arms"--because they are about a woman's dependence on herself for her growth. I'm afraid I wasn't particularly moved by the imagery or longing in these poems, but I did find these two inspiring.
8/15/14 Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers
I liked but didn't love this one--it was funny and silly as usual, but I actually didn't have any laugh-out-loud moments, which is weird for me. There was plenty of fun absurdity, though--Tippy Tinkletrousers creating three of himself (of all different sizes); time continuum paradoxes allowing Harold and George to meet older versions of themselves (and scream in horror); and maniacal behavior by various incarnations of Tippy causing the dinosaurs' extinction, the Ice Age, and the Big Bang itself. My favorite two things: The long comic in which Harold and George use pictures to entertain and recruit the cavemen to fight Tippy, and the sheet music included in the book that teaches you how to sing "I'm Smarter Than You (Eat a Bowl of Poo-Poo)."
8/8/14 Denise Mina
Field of Blood
I read this thriller for book club and didn't really care for it--the plot twists were transparent and the protagonist was too incompetent to see them, which annoyed me because she seemed to think she was really shrewd. I did like some of the really human touches the author put on her guilt-ridden, shaming Catholic protagonist.
8/1/14 Robert Hamburger
Real Ultimate Power
This shouldn't have been as funny as it was, but it was. All about how ninjas are truly sweet and spend all their time flipping out and killing people. It's the weird dark underside of the extremely messed up author that makes it funny, as he's supposed to be a ten-year-old whose parents, teachers, and friends kind of abuse him all the time and his babysitter talks to him in footnotes while validating him and talking about how it's cool to wear a diaper. The randomness and utter disturbingness is beyond description.
7/25/14 Jaclyn Moriarty
The Ghosts of Ashbury High
Phenomenal epistolary novel featuring mysterious scholarship kids arriving at Ashbury and bamboozling everyone with their intriguing presence. No one can put their finger on why Amelia and Riley are so compelling, but everybody is enchanted by them. Meanwhile, Emily thinks there's a ghost in the Art Rooms. Amazing book--full review here.
7/11/14 Dean Koontz
Odd Thomas
A big surprise from a book club book! I adored the storytelling style, the premise, and the characters, even though I'm usually not big on mysteries or gory ways to die. Odd Thomas himself was a charming character, and I enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. Full review here.
7/15/14 E.L. Konigsburg
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth
Two girls become friends and one trains the other to be a witch. It's an odd little book that just kind of tells you a bunch of stuff that happens and doesn't build up to much, and I had little connection to the characters, but the storytelling was sort of charming.
7/11/14 Dean Koontz
Odd Thomas
A big surprise from a book club book! I adored the storytelling style, the premise, and the characters, even though I'm usually not big on mysteries or gory ways to die. Odd Thomas himself was a charming character, and I enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. Full review here.
7/4/14 Neil Gaiman
Smoke and Mirrors
It was a pleasant surprise to travel with this book on an airplane; the stories' variety made it easy to keep paying attention to every story without feeling like I was going to spend a very long time invested in a single plot. It was ideal reading for my trip out of the country for the first time in a decade! Full review here.
6/24/14 Francesca Lia Block
Wood Nymph Seeks Centaur
Francesca Lia Block's nonfiction dating guide frames people in terms of mythical creatures that sum up their personality type. The language is kind of heterocentrist and unnecessarily gender-binary-enforcing, and the focus on fashion, image, fitness, and spirituality was alienating to me--enough that I didn't feel like even the closest type I could find actually fit me, and none of the other types sounded like my friends. The stories the author told about her past conflicts in order to display the types' weak points came off as petty to me. I also found the types difficult to differentiate at times. I didn't think it would actually make a practical dating system at all, even if I was interested in dating, and though I didn't really expect it to be anything but fun, it wasn't really that either. It was just okay, and I felt like I spent the whole time reading it disagreeing with or being annoyed by stuff I was reading.
6/20/14 Dav Pilkey
Captain Underpants #9
More of the usual hilarity with a surprisingly subversive message for the older crowd sometimes. Pilkey uses a fair number of large words in this volume--refreshing that he doesn't talk down to kids, you know?--and I love how he repeatedly compares life in prison to everyday life in school. The book also contains great lines like the following: "He proudly bragged about his great humility, confessed his intense hatred of intolerant people, and spoke for hours about his legendary brevity." And the illustrations do their own part in moving our heroes along, and they're similarly full of goofy messages. (At one point the text points out that a store is having its Annual Lazy Storytelling Sale as a quick way to get a cape onto the superhero.)

I also love that the time-traveling hijinks allowed us to "go back in time" and see how George and Harold met! I especially love precocious George, who wears a tie and rescues Harold from bullies. I also have to say it's wonderful that an adult writer remembers how the world seems to children--big people have all the power, and they use it unfairly, and seem to delight in kids' sorrow even though most mainstream narratives insist that all adults want what's best for kids unless they're monsters. There are a lot of everyday monsters out there, and it's perfectly common for those to be adult bullies in kids' lives--their teachers, their trusted adults who believe nasty people's "side" over theirs, the random grown-ups who don't stop injustices because they think kids are "learning their lesson" or taking deserved hard knocks. But kids often have a strong sense of justice, and all this teaches them is that adults can be jerks too. And he even threw in a joke about how the 1980s were basically long enough ago to be considered prehistoric. Haw haw haw.

The only thing I didn't like is that the good guys decided to get the bad guy back by getting his buddies to think he liked "girly" things in order to shame him, and suggested this was a sign of losing his mind. They make the bully's friends think he's into friendship bracelets, princess parties, dresses, and dolls, which seemed kind of cheap. On the one hand, this kind of guy WOULD be enraged by anyone "accusing" him of liking those things and trying to "frame" him. On the other hand, it's kinda crappy to make it self-evident that this would be embarrassing for a boy, to be associated with "girl things." What about the boys who do like dolls, etc.? We don't really need more narratives that teach boys that the worst thing that could happen to you is to get compared to a girl. Not to mention that our heroes steal the bully's cell phone to text embarrassing things to his friends when everyone knows he's at wrestling practice; he could have used the time stamp on the texts to make it really clear he's being framed, so everyone not believing him is kinda silly (even for a silly book). Wasn't too thrilled about the inclusion of a g*psy curse, either, though it is the kind of thing little boys probably would write a comic about if they were ignorant of why that's not cool.

Ultimately, though, this next-to-last book in a very silly series does a decent job holding the attention of its core audience, and the plot--while convoluted--is lots of fun.

6/13/14 William Golding
Lord of the Flies
I believe this book was meant to say something about savagery and order, anarchy and "proper" leadership, and human nature, but I wasn't really feeling it. The book spent very little time on characterizing anyone, so that left me unable to connect the way I usually do to books I like, and the people the narration spent the most time on were either thoroughly unlikable or painted unflatteringly by the storytelling voice. I wanted to like Piggy the most, so I was a little irritated that I never found out his name, never found out what he was about beyond fear that he would lose his glasses, never saw his supposed intellectual gifts being used to the benefit of the group under Ralph's leadership, never got a chance to see him get back at the people who shamed him. (The narration was not nice to Piggy; it out-and-out called him ridiculous for being fat, stereotyped him--he's a fat nerd with glasses AND he has asthma--and he is never physically described without the narration harping on his weight or how he eats. Pet peeve.)

The other thing that really bugged me was the setting. Way too much description for me--I guess that's just my taste, but then on top of all the scene-setting I still couldn't properly see it because the choices were very weird. I was also put off by how tribal imagery--including war paint--was used to make the characters who wore it less than human, out of control, savage, and scary. Not cool. I could deal with the grossness of a dead guy hanging from a parachute and a rotting, bleeding pig's head and horrifying descriptions of dead kids, but those things so often seemed to happen in a very weird vacuum. I didn't connect to the storytelling at all.

One thing I did like was how the children were afraid of an imaginary beast, and how they devolved into not really knowing what was important anymore or whom to follow. I also liked the way the conch was used--how the boys passed it between them to bestow the right to speak. It was inventive, and I did wonder if the children would get rescued at the end, but I wasn't drawn in or intrigued by the book and I didn't feel I took any lessons away from it.

6/6/14 Sam Kieth
The Maxx #1
I wanted to like this because it's incredibly weird, but "weird" doesn't do it for me as much as it used to. I like weird AND connectedness to the characters, and I couldn't really feel what anyone was about. I liked the concept, kind of, but I'm not big on stories that don't try very hard to make sure you form any investment in characters AND there just seem to be odd battles popping up everywhere. I did like the occasional pocket of relatability--a guy who feels nothing ever happens to him and complains about the boringness of everything while weird things are happening, or a teen girl who doesn't want to be part of the world because she sees adults don't have their acts together either--but I spent most of my reading just kind of waiting for certain things to connect and make sense and I think maybe this comic is for people more patient than I am about that sort of thing.
5/28/14 Aya Nakahara
Lovely Complex #2
I love these characters. Otani is incredibly cute to me, the way he's so sulky about being short, and poor Risa just thinks she's a clunky oaf because she's so tall, so the two of them act like it's totally ridiculous for them to hook up. And there's a lot of pressure not to--because they've put so much into not getting paired even though they love the same music and seem to get each other. I think their goofy "I care about you, you jerk!" conversations are incredibly well handled, and I also think it's interesting that in this volume BOTH of them make a mess of getting out of the way (while making a scene) because they think the other wants to get together with someone from their past. I LOVE Otani coming to meet up with Risa at Christmas because he'd promised to go see a show with her, and I LOVE that they snipe at each other but are intensely protective of each other too. The only thing I didn't care for about this issue was how transparent it was that Otani's ex-girlfriend was not in fact trying to get back together with him--it felt manipulated--and I think Haruka is obsessive in an unrealistic way, digging at Otani over his short stature so mercilessly. I'm surprised Risa isn't more irritated by that, though I guess she does it to him too (but she's allowed!). Also I really love the little margin notes by the artist. :)
5/23/14 Gregory Maguire
Out of Oz
This absolute work of art was a treasure to read, though I found myself admiring Maguire's writing more than I found myself taken with the story or characters themselves. I like the central character, Rain, and found her relatable despite her lack of relatability, and enjoyed how interconnected these people's lives were. Quite satisfying to see how the war ends and how its willing and unwilling participants fared. I have a full review with a fair amount of detail here.
5/16/14 Julie Murphy
Side Effecs May Vary
This book, which involves a teenage girl with cancer, succeeded where John Green's failed, in my opinion. I disliked the female main character, Alice, for most of the book, and was impressed by the author's ability to make the character who would usually be the inspirational one actually be the character who needed to learn the most. I loved the other protagonist, Harvey, and really wanted Alice to stop jerking him around and being so cruel to him. I cried a few times reading the book, even over things that I thought Alice deserved. The book does a great job highlighting the cruelness of some teenagers and really made me root for the characters' resolutions. I have a full review here.
5/4/14 Andrew Smith
Grasshopper Jungle
While reading this story, I was surprised by the dual sense that I was both in good hands and reading a completely un-self-conscious story that didn't care what I thought of it. Sometimes when a story is well crafted, you can feel the craftsmanship at the edges, but I felt the well-craftedness without feeling that it was constructed that way. It was just there. It was what it was. It wasn't trying to do anything. It was just talking. I appreciate books like that so much after dealing with books by authors who are trying so hard to cram a message into their art. Smith entertained me easily partly because he wasn't trying to entertain me.

Honestly the only thing I didn't really like about the book was the repetition. People who have read it will know what I mean--there was some charm in the repeated invoking of phrases like "real dynamo" and "you know what I mean" and even "Uh," but I felt it was a little too often--it would occasionally start to feel like a non sequitur when suddenly mid-stream the narration would skip to something about the protagonist's great-grandfather, using "It was not a good idea" as a springboard. If you know what I mean. (Crap, it's catching.)

Story-wise, it was definitely a bizarre read--some kids, in a string of coincidental events, accidentally set off the end of the world, and have to retreat into a buried compound created decades before their time--but it remained personal as well, with tons of focus on personal meaning, sexual confusion, parental relationships, self contemplation, and the importance of communicating and writing down our stories. I related to the narrator, Austin, because I've always been a documenting type myself, and my stack of "here was my day, you know what I mean" journals are at least as high as his.

Character-wise, while I of course cannot relate to Austin's perpetual horniness, I found him to be a kindred spirit because of his propensity to connect things together and his passion for documentation. I thought it was very interesting that the ravenous, horny bugs that only want to do two things were sometimes so similar to the humans--especially when Austin would think about being horny and then he'd think about donuts, and especially when one bug ate a person who'd been high and got confused and "experimented" with a male bug. I also really liked Robby as a character, and I liked the complexity that followed Austin's relationship with him and with Shann, and I liked that the word "bisexual" was used exactly once. Austin's attraction to and love for both Robby and Shann was defined so well before the word "bisexual" was even mentioned, and though it confused Austin, he seemed to be a lot more worried about "but these are my two best friends and my inability to 'choose' is hurting them" than he was about "am I queer?" And I loved that while narrating the story, Austin would tell us things he could not possibly know--as if he's an omniscient narrator--but although he mentions his after-the-fact information gathering that helped him piece things together, he also hints that narrators fill in the blanks sometimes, even though they try not to lie.

I did feel very much like this was a novel that could get younger people into appreciating literary fiction, as it wasn't as prohibitively full of obscurity that you get a "school reading" vibe from it, but it did have that odd Vonnegut-esque quality of bizarreness made personal. I enjoyed this book very much.

4/28/14 Konietzko and DiMartino
The Promise: Part Two
Toph struggles with her metalbending students (and a possible hostile takeover), and Sokka pitches in to help them out. Meanwhile, Aang and Katara go to see the Earth King to talk about the uneasy alliance between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation, hoping to come to a resolution. And, of course, Zuko struggles with the increased pressures of being the Fire Lord, continuing to consult his imprisoned father for advice on how to cope.

First, I of course love Toph--how she sometimes seems like such a stubborn jerk but has all these layers underneath, and how she has a real calling for teaching (and yelling at people), and how she comes to realize she may be trying to groom her metalbending students into something they really aren't . . . just like her parents did to her. And I liked that she asked Sokka to evaluate her ability to roll her eyes properly so she could roll her eyes at him. And her students were kind of hilarious, even though they were each pretty one-dimensional--the fearful doomsayer, the shoe-obsessed spoiled brat, and the goth-type kid who hates everything because someone gave him a terrible name. It was cool that they wanted to be more, but they . . . kind of weren't, at least not in the story.

Katara and Aang make a very cute couple, and I liked that Katara got so jealous of the Avatar fangirls. (I didn't love how they were stereotyped, though--as vacuous, predatory girls who threaten Katara's relationship.) I did like that Aang was pretty oblivious to the whole thing, enamored instead with the feeling that someone tried to recreate his home by modeling the fanclub headquarters after the Air Temple he'd grown up in.

And the complexity of Zuko continues to impress me. His father insists that a Fire Lord doesn't choose what's right; he MAKES things become right THROUGH the act of his choosing. (Wow, we've got some theory of knowledge philosophy lessons going on here! They were talking about that back in Ancient Greece!) Zuko rejects this idea of goodness being defined by HIS choices; he believes that good is bigger than everyone, and that Aang can help him find it. But the Earth King--determined to force peace, even if it means war--is about to ruin the tentatively forged balance that the Avatar worked so hard to establish.

4/26/14 Shannon Hale
Wow. Pretty awesome story about a group of kids who have to save the world after being given superpowers from space. I think we need more heroines like Maisie Danger Brown. Full review here.

4/18/14 Dar Williams
I got this book because I enjoy Dar Williams's music, but I'm not really much of a fan of the writing it turns out. I did enjoy that the story focused on a child in an unusual family arrangement--living with her single dad, and her dad has a support system of lifelong friends who are not romantically involved with each other. Refreshing! But I found the storytelling too disconnected to get really invested, and too many of the plot points were tied up neatly enough to make it feel written.

4/12/14 Eoin Colfer
And Another Thing...
Decent fanfiction, Mr. Colfer. This was the continuation of the unfortunately deceased Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's series, which Colfer got the honor of continuing based on notes from Adams and support from his family. In my opinion it was a distinct work that still incorporated elements we Hitchhiker's fans loved, but the Guide references were a little much for me and it didn't tickle the funny bones I was accustomed to from reading Adams's work. I have a full review on Goodreads.

4/4/14 L.A. Meyer
Mississippi Jack
I've liked all of the Bloody Jack books so far and found Jacky fun to read about; I love that she isn't perfect, does sometimes deserve the punishments she encounters, and has certain charms about her that work on the reader just as well as they work on the characters around her. However, this book was a bit of a low point for me.

The primary reason I was not as caught up in the storytelling as I usually have been with past books was that you could always smell the conflict coming, and the coincidences that keep Jaimy and Jacky apart are starting to seem contrived. Sometimes dramatic tension is fun for the reader, but considering we've been watching Jacky yearn for her love for several books now and then she's denied this because of accidents, misunderstandings, silly chance happenings that you can see being set up ("gee, which fork will I take? The right of course!" "Gee, which fork would she have taken? The left of course!"), it starts to get tiresome, and you start to feel like the author is jerking the characters (and the reader) around for the fun of it. That was the sense I got throughout this book, which lowered my enjoyment.

There were also at least six incidents of Jacky doing something just for fun or without thinking anything would come of it, but then OOPS suddenly she's captured, attacked, or forced to make a lifelong enemy. In ONE book, she's tracked and captured by slavers, confronted by THREE different men at the same time who all have different reasons for wanting to kill her, stolen from a Shawnee settlement by British soldiers, attacked by Indians, ambushed while bathing by a man who wants to get amorous with her, and snapped up and tossed away BY A TORNADO. Several times her crew has to come to her rescue as she gets herself into trouble over and over. I started to feel a bit like I was reading Pippi Longstocking's whimsical fantasy adventures instead of the grittier, more realistic Bloody Jack tales, and I didn't care for that aspect of it.

I am not sure about how Indians are presented in this book, but I don't think I have the background to be able to say what might have been wrong with it. It's also a bit suspicious how quickly Jacky learns new skills; when the series first started she could read and that was a big deal, but she's gone on from there to teach herself to sew, be an art prodigy, play music on the mouth harp, guitar, fiddle, and more, all her sailing abilities and leadership abilities, learn several languages, and play cards (with enough expertise to cheat people). Adding all that to the fact that she's hot enough that random people are always wanting to sleep with her, and she starts to be difficult to read about . . . though at least a lot of the people she meets don't even believe her about some of the stuff she claims, and at least she does need to be rescued or taught a lesson sometimes.

One thing I DID like was that both Jaimy and Jacky give their affections to others in this book and they admit that that's the case (though they're also kind of angry at each other about it). And of course as always I like Jacky herself and how she behaves, what she's learning, and how she forms relationships. Another cool thing is that some of the characters you think are going to be bad news turn out to be good people despite the stereotypes, and that Jacky does occasionally meet a person who doesn't fall for her tricks.

3/27/14 John Green
The Fault in Our Stars
This very popular book was something I kind of expected to enjoy, but the characters' dialogue was so wildly improbable and fake-seeming that I had trouble connecting to their situations or feeling them as realistic people. There was a frustrating disconnection between the narrative and the characters that prevented me from ever getting attached to anyone despite the poignantly presented lives of these characters. I did appreciate that it was realistic with regard to the everyday aspects of living with cancer and that the characters were treated as whole people who were neither entirely defined by their cancer nor presented as "rising above" their cancer--it's integrated in who they are. I think the book focused a little too much on how Not Like Other Cancer Books it was--sort of lampshading its own subject matter--and overall I got a feeling of inauthenticity from it. I wish I had enjoyed it more. Full review here.

3/16/14 Allie Brosh
Hyperbole and a Half
Along with just about everyone else who's read this book, I was already a fan of Allie's blog before reading the book, so about half the content was not new to me. This is a good thing because it was a nice mix of getting to own something I already knew I liked AND getting to see something I couldn't otherwise. The comic content was, as usual, brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny while sometimes also still being really disturbing. My favorites usually involve Allie's dogs and how expressively she draws them, and how she manages to invoke truths about self, identity, depression, and human interaction without avoiding their terrible side AND still making it hilarious.

I loved the "identity" pieces where Allie discusses how she is a horrible person because of wanting to throw sand at children--and so much more--and I love her jaunts into childhood wherein she consumes a forbidden cake and gets lost in the woods with her mother who denies that they're lost. And of course, her journey through depression is touching, and despite ending with a rainbow, it realistically addresses the bleakness. Allie manages to get right up inside her own psyche and expresses things many of us recognize without having realized these things are part of us too.

I LOVE the art style, and how expertly she nails some of those expressions, both dog and human.

3/14/14 Shannon Hale
There's no such thing as Mr. Darcy in the real world, but frustrated Jane has been looking for him ever since she fell in love with the idea of such a man. And worse yet, her obsession with Austen's gentlemen has made it difficult for her to go the distance with any real-life guy . . . how can they possibly compare? But Jane isn't completely out of touch with reality. She knows her unrealistic expectations are wrecking her chances at finding her forever man. She just doesn't know what to do about it.

An oddly perceptive relative bequeaths Jane a trip to the mysterious Pembrook Park, which turns out to be a sort of theme park for Austen-obsessed women. Jane has no idea what to expect, but when she arrives, she is given Regency clothing and a false name, and is expected to follow certain rules to maintain the charade that she and everyone at the estate lives in the 1800s. Jane finds herself flopping back and forth on several matters: Whether she enjoys pretending to be Miss Erstwhile or whether she is disgusted at herself; whether she respects or feels sorry for the other women who are searching for their own experience at Pembrook; and whether she feels real or manufactured attraction for the gentlemen who display their own odd mix of Austen hero traits. Jane struggles with what her experience is supposed to teach her--is she there to get this Austen craze out of her system, or is she there to embrace something about it and make it her own?

I enjoyed how Shannon Hale kept me guessing about what was real affection and what Jane was going to learn, and I thought it was extremely realistic that Jane was inconsistent throughout because she herself didn't know what she wanted. What I didn't care for particularly was the spilling out of true intentions at the end--from four different characters, including two "suitor" actors, one female client, and the woman who was running the show. I also felt that, while the Austen references definitely would enhance the reading experience for fans of Austen's work, it did cross the line several times into losing context completely for those who don't have that background. (I think references are fine as long as enough context remains for people to fully grasp the meaning, but Jane's wondering which Austen gentleman a man might be "playing" at this point without surrounding context meant I only got the message when she named characters from the one Austen novel I've read.) I liked Jane as I've tended to like all of Hale's heroines, but I didn't personally relate to much of what she experienced, so this was not one one of my favorites by this author, even though I enjoyed it.

2/14/14 Sue Monk Kidd
Dance of the Dissident Daughter
This book about Sue's journey from her patriarchal Christian roots into a supportive, authentic, feminine-friendly Goddess spirituality was inspiring. What was most interesting for me was seeing how she got to where she was going despite where she came from, because her background is foreign to me. I was not raised in the church, and though our society upholds some of the same values her church did, patriarchy-wise, I don't think it was quite as damaging or as easily ingrained for me as it was for her. I didn't really find much in the book that was new to me as far as spiritual insights go, but at times it was a very emotional book for me to read because the depth of Sue's original wound and the lengths she went to to heal herself were very touching. The only thing I didn't really dig about it was how often she would describe a dream, a symbolic experience, or happening to see a television show or work of art, and then miraculously that symbol or message would turn out to have been "showing her something," so to speak. I see symbolic messages in everyday life and internalize them, but I tend to turn off a bit when someone describes the messages they receive as intentionally sent guideposts (though the book wasn't particularly heavy on that). I made notes of some of the really interesting points Sue made as I went along, and many of them were quite relatable to me as a woman living in a society that both operates under patriarchal perspectives and is in denial that it does so.

See the list of books I read last year!

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