Down the TBR Hole #4

My Goodreads TBR needs desperately to be cleaned out, so I’m doing these posts until I feel it’s manageable, or until I’m back at the beginning of the list.

The Rules

  • 1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  •  2. Order on ascending date added.
  •  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  •  4. Read the synopsis of the books.
  •  5. Time to Decide: keep it or should it go

I’m adding my own twist on this and adding a 6th piece: if I’m on the fence about a book after reading the synopsis, I’ll read the preview of a book and make that part of my decision.

Now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s just get started.

The Test

#1 The Test by Sylvain Neuvel

[Goodreads Link]

I’m definitely still intrigued by the sound of this, but I don’t feel particularly pulled to it. This is one of those ones where I’ll let it stay for now, but if I end up with it on a future Down the TBR Hole post (if I ever manage to get through my current TBR as is), it’s got to go.

Verdict: KEEP

For Better and Worse

#2 For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt

[Goodreads Link]

I got this in a Book of the Month box as an add-on awhile ago and still haven’t read it. I definitely do want to get around to it, and it might be something I read next month; it’s definitely not fitting onto my current plans for October anyway.

Verdict: KEEP

Heroine

#3 Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

[Goodreads Link]

I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary, so I’m hesitant as to how this book might handle the topic of drug addiction (which is probably an unfair generalization of YA contemporary on my part.) However, given the issues like the opioid overdose crisis affecting people close to me, this is a book that I’m interested in reading. It is something that needs to be talked about and discussed more, and I really do hope to read something that does the issue justice. One day I’ll get around to this.

Verdict: KEEP

Miracle Creek

#4 Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

[Goodreads Link]

This was another Book of the Month box for me. I honestly just haven’t been reading very many thrillers lately but this one I already own so hopefully I’ll get around to it sooner rather than later. I remember being very interested when I first picked it up I just… haven’t been reading this genre, unfortunately. Hopefully I’ll read more of them soon because I certainly have a lot of them to get to.

Verdict: KEEP

Once Upon a River

#5 Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

[Goodreads Link]

After re-reading the synopsis for this, I remember why I added this to my Goodreads TBR in the first place and that’s because it sounds exactly like something I’d love. I’ll have to read it this winter sometime, because it sounds like a great wintertime story.

Verdict: KEEP

So this was a rather boring rendition of Down the TBR hole because I’ve kept 5 books and gotten rid of 0. I swear there’s definitely books on my Goodreads TBR that need to be culled, I guess they’re just… futher down the list than I expected. So far all these posts have done are make me wish that there were more hours in the day to read so I could get to every single book.

Fall Time Book Tag

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a book tag, and I love all things fall, so I figured why not do a book tag that’s dedicated to my (and many others’) favorite season?

The original tag was created by Sam’s Nonsense on Youtube, and you can find it here.

Crunching Leaves: The world is full of color – choose a book that has reds/ oranges and yellows on the cover.

I’m going with Windwitch because I just really like the composition of reds and oranges on this cover. Also as a reminder to myself to finally read Bloodwitch. I liked this one more than book one, so hopefully this series just keeps getting better?

Cozy Sweater: It’s finally coll enough to don warm cozy clothing – what book gives you the warm fuzzies?

The Dream Thieves. Wow, and just like that, this post already has more YA in it than any other post I think on my entire blog. Anyway, I read the books in the series that were out at the time right after my freshman year in undergrad and The Dream Thieves still sticks out to me. This book also has some tangentially related memories it brings up for me, plus Ronan is one of my favorite characters in the series. I love the whole series, even though I do have a lot of criticisms of it, but if I could only pick one book to read it would be this one. I do want to re-read them before Call Down the Hawk comes out.

Fall Storm: The wind is howling & the rain is pounding – choose your favorite book OR genre that you like to read on a stormy day

I don’t know why, but the word stormy just makes me want to read thrillers. It’s been way too long since I picked up a thriller (I think the last one I read was in March?) but I am hoping to pick up a couple once I finish the book I’m currently reading. Horror might be a good choice too on a stormy day, particularly in fall as we’re getting closer to Halloween. In fact it was raining today and I got a good chunk of the way through ‘Salem’s Lot so yeah. Thriller or horror would be my genre of choice for that weather.

Cool Crisp Air: What’s the coolest character you’d want to trade places with?

I would not want to trade places with most characters I read about, considering that in a lot of the books I’ve read recently my favorite characters have either died or witnessed their closest loved ones die. Still, I’ll say Nona from the Book of the Ancestor series (Red Witch) because, fuck yes, I’d love to be trained by assassin nuns to become an assassin nun. What could be cooler than that?

Hot Apple Cider: What under hyped book do you want to see become the next biggest, hottest thing?

I feel like by nature of this question I have to pick a new release? This year I’ve only read 4 recent releases< Of those, 2 were way over-hyped and not very good at all. 1 was good enough, and the last one I haven’t seen talked about much so I’m going with Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It’s certainly not a new favorite of mine but I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable I found it, plus I’m all for own-voices stories, and stories about criminally ignored myths or folklore (in this case, the Mayan gods.)

Coat, Scarves, and Mittens: The weather has turned cold & it’s time to cover up – What’s the most embarrassing book cover you own that you like to keep hidden in public? 

None of them. TBH if I think a cover is embarrassing I either won’t touch the book, or I’ll get it from the library. I know this is a very superficial thing to be worried about, but I also don’t care. This was months and months ago, but the most recent example I can come up with is that I got Red, White, & Royal Blue from the library because the pink was just too much. I feel like embarrassing covers would be more of a problem if I read more romance (or, I guess, erotica) just by its nature, but I rarely pick that genre up so.

Warm, Cozy BonfireSpread the cozy warmth – Who do you tag? 

Anyone reading this! And let me know in the comments if you do it after you read mine, so I can read yours too.

Q3 DNFs Wrap Up

This is just a list of some of the books I tried in Q3 that I ended up DNF’ing. If you don’t know, DNF stands for “did not finish.” There’s a variety of reasons I’ll DNF a book and I’ll get into some of them when I talk about why I DNF’ed these books in particular.

Side note: I was planning on making this a yearly thing, but I’ve DNF’ed a lot of books this year so I thought doing it quarterly might make more sense.

Without further ado, here are the books I DNF’ed in Q3 2019, in order of when I picked them up.

A Little Life

#1 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

[Goodreads Link]

Yup, this is it: the book that caused a month-long reading slump. I really wanted to be someone who liked this book, but it was just… not pulling me in at all. I only ever read like 80-ish pages of it and then every time I thought to myself “I should read” after that, I had exactly 0 desire to pick this book up. I think I would have liked this more if I had read it around the same time as when I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I rated 5 stars at the time I read it, but which I’m hesitant to revisit as I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much now. Something about “literary” fiction just hasn’t been working for me lately, and I’m not going to force myself. I do hope to eventually get back to this one though!

Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1)

#2 Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

[Goodreads Link]

Some books, I leave the rating blank when I DNF them. Other times, I’ll give them one or two stars. It entirely depends on my reason for DNF’ing the book. I didn’t, for example, give a rating to A Little Life. I did, however, give a rating to Wicked Saints, because it was genuinely bad, and I wanted my thoughts about that to be reflected. I went into detail about why I DNF’ed this book here. If you just want the TL;DR version it’s that the writing was atrocious, nothing was explained, and in the 100+ pages that I managed to read, the author gave me no reason to care about the plot or the characters. Let’s just say I’m glad I got this book from the library because it would have been a waste of money.

Binti (Binti, #1)

#3 Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

[Goodreads Link]

I honestly just wasn’t connecting with this one. Conceptually, I liked the plot and the world and the characters, but I wasn’t feeling much about any of it. I also felt like things were moving too fast and not explained well enough. This book only has 90 or so pages but I just had a hard time getting past the fact that the MC sees a whole ship of people who have become her friends get murdered and then she’s all buddy-buddy with said murderers without question because they didn’t kill her and they actually like her for some reason. I don’t know. I felt like it didn’t make any sense, so I just stopped listening to the audiobook after that. I think, maybe, it was trying to do everything that a full novel would do, but in novella length.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

#4 Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

[Goodreads Link]

Technically I DNF’ed this at the beginning of this month, so it’s not a Q3 DNF, but… semantics. Who cares? Not me. This one is another one that I went into depth about my reasons for DNF’ing over on my Goodreads. If you want the whole list of grievances, you can read about it here. Unfortunately this book was just boring. How can horror be boring? Out of all the genres that shouldn’t be boring, I’d say horror is probably at the top of the list. I’m in the minority about this one, for sure, but it’s convinced me to just not bother with YA horror from now on. The Diviners series is scarier than this book, and I wouldn’t even call that series ‘horror.’ I’m going to stick to adult horror for the foreseeable future, and we can all thank this book for that.

Let me know if there’s any books you’ve DNF’ed recently.

Rant Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor Books

Date Published: July 3, 2018

My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Normally, I don’t like having to defend my opinions on books. After all, there’s no accounting for personal taste. But, I do feel like I have to defend my position here a little bit. First, there’s a couple things you should know about me before reading my review of this book. First, I’m a feminist. Second, I have a degree in physics. Also, Hidden Figures is one of my favorite movies of all time.

So I’m fairly sure that this book was written for someone like me. I was convinced before starting this book that it was going to be a 5-star read, maybe 4-stars if there was some flaws or it didn’t emotionally connect because how could a book about women in a space program eventually living in space possibly disappoint me that badly?

Well, it managed to disappoint me that badly. And I’ll tell you how.

Per usual I’ll start with writing style. The writing of this book isn’t bad per se, but I also wouldn’t call it good. It’s fairly mediocre. On top of that it’s written in first person which generally isn’t my cup of tea to begin with. I do understand why the first person choice was made though, so I’m not going to dock points for that. Anyway, the writing style never really shines anywhere, but it really flounders during the sex scenes between the main character and her husband. Like, those were so bad I had to pretty much skip over them because I wouldn’t have been able to keep going… luckily they were mostly short and fade to black.

Overall, it’s readable as a writing style, but in my opinion it borders on too simplistic. And that’s coming from someone who generally likes more straightforward styles over poetic and flowery ones.

I also had trouble connecting to the characters, including the main character which shouldn’t at all be an issue in a first person narrative. Writing in first person can often be a crutch for novice writers who don’t know how to portray a character’s thoughts or experiences without using the word ‘I’ but that wasn’t the issue here. The issue was that I straight-up didn’t like Elma. I couldn’t find her relatable- which, as a woman with a physics degree is probably the last thing the author was aiming for- and in fact I found her selfish, annoying, and too fucking perfect.

The least relatable thing about Elma is that she’s so smart that no one else can match her. She went to college at 14. She does math in her head. Oh, you have to solve differential equations with a piece of paper and a pencil? You’re actually a dumbass in comparison. This annoyed me to no end because even the smartest people I knew in my own physics program worked through the math on paper. Maybe there are people out there who can do linear algebra no problem in their head, but they’re few and far between, and they’re far from the average woman in physics, I’ll tell you that.

In fairness, I generally hate stories about exceptional main characters. I have this problem with fantasy novels, too, where the MC has to put in essentially no work to master things others have put years and years into practicing. I just find it really hard to root for characters who have it easy. Which, when we’re talking about a woman physicist in the 1950s, even a genius like Elma shouldn’t have it easy, right? I think Hidden Figures did a much better job of portraying this, and I actually liked all the main characters in that movie. This book, though, had me rolling my eyes.

The biggest obstacle that Elma faces throughout this novel has nothing to do with her gender at all. It’s her anxiety. Honestly the amount of time spent talking about how she has such bad anxiety in front of reporters and cameras and how it makes her throw up really came at the expense of the actual plot of the novel and the feminist narrative. Elma is a woman physicist in the 1950s and this is the biggest obstacle we could come up with for her to face?

Then there’s her husband Nathaniel. I was hoping we’d get a realistic look at marriage in the 1950s, but instead Nathaniel’s traits boil down to he’s an engineer and he’s Jewish. Other than that he has no personality, no motivations outside of supporting everything his wife does including when she forgets to pay the electric bill, and he has absolutely no agency. Their relationship is so unrealistic. Even the most supportive of couples will argue once in a while. Even the healthiest of couples don’t agree on everything. Yet, Elma forgets to pay the electric bill (which she always does because she can do math in her head and Nathaniel can’t) and Nathaniel barely bats an eyelash about it.

The other supporting characters honestly aren’t even worth mentioning, except for Parker. I found him genuinely interesting, but we’re supposed to hate him because he’s trying to keep Elma on the ground and out of outer-space. The only male character in the whole book with agency is, of course, the antagonist.

Writing a feminist book doesn’t mean that the only male characters with agency should be antagonists and that male significant others or romantic interests should be some robot-like unquestioning domestic servant following you around like a puppy-dog.

This is the second book I’ve picked up in less than a month where the feminism part of the story was something I was excited about and then disappointed me greatly. I am a feminist. This does not mean I think only female characters should have any type of agency, or that the only male characters with agency should be on the side of the patriarchy. Ideally, men and women characters should be equally well-developed. In my own experiences, sure men were the causes of some of my biggest problems in my undergrad career in physics. But there were other men who were some of my best friends, some of my biggest allies, and even one I considered to be a mentor. This lack of nuance in “feminist” stories is starting to get on my nerves. Granted, if you can’t develop your main female character, expecting a well-developed cast of supporting characters male and female is probably expecting too much.

Additionally, there’s such a heavy-handed attempt to show Elma off as super woke. This would be fine if it felt natural, but it doesn’t. It’s forced and it’s a weird insertion of our current climate of progressive social values being projected onto a character living in the 1950s. Either way, it should have certainly been executed in a way that didn’t just amount to Dr. Martin Luther King’s name being dropped every other page. It was just as heavy-handed and lacking in nuance as the attempt at feminism.

Frankly, the author’s mediocre writing ability was just not good enough to pull off taking on these important topics.

Now there’s the plot. The plot, in this case, comes as less important than the heavy-handed feminism and Elma’s severe anxiety. Which is interesting, seeing as the plot is that’s it the end of the world and they have a limited amount of time to colonize other planets before the ocean starts to literally boil.

After the first section of the book when the meteorite strikes, which is high-action and actually intriguing, there’s a time-skip. After the time-skip it’s back to business as usual. There’s no sense of urgency, really, and that made it really hard for me to continue turning the pages. The pacing was so uncomfortably slow, but by the time I realized just how bad it was I only had 100 pages left in the damn book so I pushed through it.

We spend so much time on Elma’s anxiety and her problems with Stetson Parker that it’s almost like the fact that the habitable world is literally ending has been all but forgotten by the author. Which is unfortunate, because that’s the book I signed up to read, not a book about a woman with crippling stage-fright (but who also happens to be a natural on camera?)

I’ll save you some time. We don’t get to space until the last line of the book. What was the point of the 300-ish pages between that and the beginning of the time-skip? We don’t even spend a lot of time focusing on preparing for colonization of space in those pages.

I was going to give this book a generous 2 stars. But after writing all this I just realize that I’m so disappointed that I can’t bring myself to do it. This is a one-star read for me, and I wish it were the 5-stars I was expecting. If you’re looking for a story that empowers women in STEM and has important themes of equality, just watch Hidden Figures. If you’re looking for a story about going to space or the end of the world, find some other sci-fi novel.

This ain’t it.

Down The TBR Hole #3

My Goodreads TBR needs desperately to be cleaned out, so I’m doing these posts until I feel it’s manageable, or until I’m back at the beginning of the list.

The Rules

  • 1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  •  2. Order on ascending date added.
  •  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  •  4. Read the synopsis of the books.
  •  5. Time to Decide: keep it or should it go

I’m adding my own twist on this and adding a 6th piece: if I’m on the fence about a book after reading the synopsis, I’ll read the preview of a book and make that part of my decision.

Now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s just get started.

The Library at Mount Char

#1 The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

[Goodreads Link]

This actually seems like a book that would be perfect for this time of year. I’m trying to read some horror this month so maybe I’ll pick it up from my library once I finish the books I’ve currently got from them. There are some other horror books I’m more excited about, but the premise of this still sounds super intriguing to me so I may not get to it by this Halloween, but it’s definitely something I’m still interested in picking up eventually.

Verdict: KEEP

Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga, #4)

#2 Iron Gold (Red Rising 4) by Pierce Brown

[Goodreads Link]

Yeah, I don’t even have to read the description of this. The original Red Rising trilogy was one of those rare cases where I just had to binge-read all the books. I’ve been putting this off until this part of the series is completed because I suspect I’ll want to binge read again, and I tend to be impatient and lose interest in incomplete series.

Verdict: KEEP

The Snow Child

#3 The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

[Goodreads Link]

So, this definitely sounds intriguing, but not nearly intriguing enough for me to prioritize it anytime in the near future. I don’t necessarily dislike the sound of the premise, but it’s a little too vague for me to make a decision, and it makes me feel just… lukewarm. So.

Verdict: GO

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #1)

#4 The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

[Goodreads Link]

This is a book I’m actively interested in reading. I probably won’t get to it in October, as I have other things I’m prioritizing right now (stuff I planned to read in September that I didn’t finish, as well as those horror books I mentioned above,) but I could potentitally get to this one in November or December. It sounds pretty original, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s all about.

Verdict: KEEP

The Priory of the Orange Tree

#5 The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

[Goodreads Link]

I definitely want to read this one. It’ll be a hot minute because it’s such a long book and it’s definitely going to take me probably a whole month to read. It is, at least, a standalone, and I’m always excited to read high fantasy written by women. I’ve heard only good things about this book. But… just thinking about reading it is too much of a commitment at this moment in time. Someday, though.

Verdict: KEEP

In total I am keeping 4 books and letting go of` 1.  I’ve let go of 2 books so far in doing these posts, but we’re only one the third one. I expect by the next one, or maybe the one after that, this will be more exciting (and more productive.)