Down the TBR Hole #7

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.

Ghost Wall

#1 Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

[Goodreads Link]

Okay, I was on the fence about this, and I read a few pages of the preview and actually find the writing style very much up my alley as well as the pulling me into the story. It’s definitely not in my usual genre or within my usual tastes, but I often need a break from my usual choices, so I’ll be keeping this one for when I’m in need of a breath of fresh air.

VERDICT: KEEP

Gingerbread

#2 Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

[Goodreads Link]

Okay, full disclosure, I think this has the lowest average rating of anything on my Goodreads TBR right now. I know literary fiction tends to get rated lower on average, but this only has a 3.07. Most books I like are at least a 3.8, so that alone has me questioning whether this book is worth it. No one I’m following on Goodreads has read this, and normally that wouldn’t bother me, but the fact that this has such a low average rating makes me want to read a review from soemeone whose tastes I’m familiar enough with that I’d be able to tell whether this book is for me. However, because I have so many books on my TBR, this has such a low rating, and my overall hesitation about it… I’m just gonna go with my gut on this.

VERDICT: LET GO

My Lovely Wife

#3 My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

[Goodreads Link]

This is a thriller, and I tend to not be super picky in what thrillers I pick up even if I am harder to please than average, just because they’re such a quick read and so it’s generally a pretty low risk to take a chance on them. If I don’t enjoy them I only wasted a couple days of reading time as opposed to a week or two. That and the premise of a married couple that murders together make this a no brainer.

VERDICT: KEEP

Little Fires Everywhere

#4 Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

[Goodreads Link]

Celeste Ng’s novel Everything I Never Told You is one of my favorite books of 2019. I rated it 5 whole stars. I don’t even need to re-read the synopsis of Little Fires Everywhere to know I’ll be reading it at some point. I really don’t have much else to say about that.

VERDICT: KEEP

My Sister, the Serial Killer

#5 My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

[Goodreads Link]

Frankly this book sounds too good to pass up. It’s basically a mix of a thriller and a family drama? I also know someone IRL who has read this and really enjoyed it, and normally when my real life friends read books I have to give those a chance because I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to talk about books with my friends.

VERDICT: KEEP

In total I’m keeping 4 and letting go of 1. Slowly but surely my TBR is getting a refresh, if not as quickly as I’d like. There are so many books I just want to delete off my TBR, but I’m trying to be good and do it systematically and give each book a fair chance. However, with over 400 books to get through it feels like it’s moving at a glacial pace.

Let’s Talk Bookish: Reading Outside Your Target Age Group

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Eternity Books. This is my first time participating, and I’m looking forward to participating in more of these in the future.

This week’s prompt is: Should readers read books that aren’t for their target age?

Examples of this are adults reading YA books, teens reading adult books, or children reading YA/adult books.

I’m of the general opinion that people should read whatever they like reading, regardless of whether they’re a member of the target demographic or not.

The exception to this might be children reading certain adult books. That said, far be it from me to police a child’s reading choices; that’s up to the parents. I don’t have kids nor do I ever want them, so I’m not going to touch this except to say that as a kid I was allowed to read whatever the hell I wanted, but I mostly stuck to my own age group by choice because I figured adult books would bore me. I wanted to read stories about kids doing exciting things. And, you know, I think I would have turned out fine even if I hadn’t stuck to those books.

In general I don’t see a reason to stick to one particular type of book just because you fit the target demographic.

Now, I might be biased. I occasionally read YA still even though I’m technically not a part of the target demographic (that said, is it just me or does the target YA audience seem to be trending older and older?) Heck, there are even some middle grade books that have piqued my interest. And in that same vein, I remember being a teen and not wanting to read YA anymore because I felt it was too juvenile (I feel like most readers go through a phase like this at some point) but I also didn’t want to read adult books because I had this idea in my mind that they’d be boring. Now that I’ve matured, I know that there are some juvenile YA books, but that’s not the whole landscape of YA, and there are some boring adult books, but that’s not the whole landscape of adult.

I think that there are a few different dynamics working to keep people reading only in a certain age group.

First, is the stereotypes associated with each grouping.

Some teens and young adults might think adult books are boring. I blame school for this. I myself have avoided the Classics genre like the plague since I finished school because it just reminds me of high school and being terribly bored and reading the sparks notes instead of the actual books for assignments, or else feeling like certain books were torture. To this day, I’ll tell anyone who listens about how much I hated the book Jane Eyre, though I occasionally wonder whether I’d have hated it as much had I read it on my own. There are books I had to read for school that I liked, but none that I loved. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein comes to mind as a book I liked but might have loved had I read it in my own time and in my own way.

It’s only now, 5 years post-high school, that I’m starting to think about reading any classics on my own.

On the other hand, YA books have a certain stigma to them (probably because they’re mostly enjoyed by young women and teenage girls, but that’s a topic for its own post.) On threads in book-related subreddits, I still see people referring to YA as a “genre” (which, isn’t the correct term, it’s literally just a way to group books with specific themes like coming-of-age stories) filled with vampire or paranormal romances, which 1.) isn’t even true these days, and hasn’t been the case for probably almost 10 years, and 2.) even if it were true why do people feel the need to shit on paranormal books or romance books? The people perpetuating this stigma often do not read YA, because if they did they’d realize that just like with adult books, YA books offer something for all readers.

That brings me to the second point, of people putting themselves into boxes.

People who answer this question and say that people should only read inside their own target age groups are probably adults who only read adult books. They’re on par with the pseudo-intellectuals from the book-related subreddits who turn up their nose at the mere mention of “Young Adult.” Some of them probably make wild claims of having been reading adult books since they were 5 years old to sound impressive.

At the end of the day, if you choose to only read books aimed at your age group that’s totally your choice. In my opinion, you’re just holding yourself back from reading more and from reading outside your comfort zone and maybe even from finding a new favorite book.

But whatever you personally choose to read shouldn’t dictate what everyone else decides to read.

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

Date Published: June 5, 2012

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Shadow and Bone is the first book in the trilogy of the same title and of the larger Grisha-verse.

It’s basically a generic Chosen One fantasy book with vague Russian “inspiration.” That’s really all there is to say about this book; it literally is not deeper than that.

First of all, let’s talk about the Russian-esque setting and culture of the book. The title Grisha makes me raise my eyebrows a little because I recognized it as the name of the dad from Attack on Titan, and then after some very quick research (that apparently the author was too lazy to do herself) I found out the word is basically the Russian version of Greg. Then, I had to look up why Leigh Bardugo chose to call her magic-users Greg and I found out she fucking did it on purpose? She knew it was the diminutive name for Grigori, and she still thought, “Yes, that’s the perfect thing to call magic-users in this fantasy world that I’m writing.” Somehow that pisses me off more than just assuming she didn’t do her research. I can’t even take this whole Gregverse seriously now that I know this.

And that’s not all. For me, the other most noticeable error was the way that surnames are used completely incorrectly. The main character is Alina Starkov rather than Alina Starkova, and there’s another person named Ilya Morozova rather than Ilya Morozov (Ilya is a male first name, and Morozova is the feminine surname.) And this doesn’t seem to be an intended switch.

Honestly, I mean, I’m not even Russian, and all this stuff annoyed me. Like, come on. If you can’t put in at least minimal effort, how is anyone supposed to take this story seriously? I don’t doubt that she made even more mistakes than those if someone like me with a very loose grasp of Russian even could see those.

Mostly, though, the Russian setting meant random possibly Russian words being thrown around and italicized but none of it really added any depth to the world. It’s a generic fantasy world with some Russian language sprinkled on top to try to trick the reader into thinking the setting was unique even though it’s really not. It’s every other Western fantasy world just decorated with Russian-esque words and names.

That is just one of the ways in which the book remains superficial.

Let’s start with Alina. I liked her at first, and I really wanted to continue to like her, but then her character hit a wall. Full disclosure: I don’t generally like Chosen One main characters. I was pleasantly surprised that Alina had to put in a little effort to reach her potential as a Greg and the Sun Summoner. But other than that her character saw no development at all throughout the 350 pages of this book, and occasionally it was inconsistent, and it’s especially noticeable because it’s written in first-person. Sometimes she’s sarcastic and snarky, but in general she’s naive and makes a lot of stupid decisions. Can we pick one characterization and stick to it?

The Darkling has the potential to be interesting, but he falls short too. I found his evil-ness sort of contrived and unbelievable. His manipulative side is actually decently written, though. There just isn’t anything more than that. Again, the key word is potential.

Then there’s Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend and main love interest. There is nothing here. He’s a good tracker so he’s used as a plot device to this end a few times, but he has no actual depth and when he shows back up after Alina’s stint in the Little Palace I found myself bored to tears because there’s no actual chemistry here due to the lack of being developed characters in any meaningful way, so their interactions are about as interesting as watching paint dry.

The pacing is this book’s only saving grace. The majority of this book I read in the span of 2 days. And at no point did I think it was an amazing book, but it was fun. Well it was fun until I found myself bored during the last 20%. After that, even The Darkling’s catching Mal and Alina wasn’t enough to pique my interest in the story once again.

The plot is very formulaic. Plain girl is secretly Super Special and is the only hope to save the world. This is why I don’t generally like Chosen One stories, they all follow the same set of instructions and I don’t like reading the same thing over and over.

Despite all it’s flaws, I will be reading the next two books in the trilogy and hoping to see improvement. This was Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel so I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Admittedly, I’m only reading this trilogy to get to Six of Crows, because I want all the context of the world-building in these books before going into that duology. Though the near complete lack of world-building in this first book makes me wonder whether I’ve made a mistake in choosing to read these first.

Anyway, yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re stubborn like me and I guess want to read them to get to the later books in the world.

Review: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

A Nearly Normal Family

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Celadon Books

Date Published: June 25, 2019

My Rating: ★★★★

A Nearly Normal Family is a legal thriller that takes place after Stella Sandell is arrested for murder. It takes place in three parts, the first part of the book is from her father’s point-of-view, and then Stella’s, and in the end we get her mother’s. The book tries to explore whether members of the same family know each other as well as they think, and where the limits of loyalty lie.

I rated this five stars not because it’s flawless, because it’s not, but because it was the first book in a long time that had kept me captivated enough to finish it in one day, because it did everything it set out to do, and because I fell in love with the Swedish family at the center of it all.

This book is translated from Swedish, and so the writing is a tough thing to talk about. There are parts of the book where the language seems choppy and doesn’t flow perfectly, which would bug me a lot in a work that was originally written in English, but I don’t know the difficulties in translating Swedish to English and keeping all the nuances of the narrative intact, so I was willing to overlook it. Plus, it was a huge improvement from the last thriller and first-person narrative I read which was originally written in English and which I DNF’ed.

The plot itself is pretty typical for a legal thriller. There was a murder, a suspect is being tried, but did they do it? And if they did will they be found guilty?

Admittedly, one of the interesting parts of this book was reading about Swedish prisons and the legal system in place. I don’t think any country has found the magic formula for a fool-proof system, but it was interesting to read a story written by a Swedish man that touched on how things worked, what the general population in Sweden thinks about their own legal system, and how prisoners are treated. This is still a work of fiction though so everything I read was taken with a grain of salt.

The twists in the plot aren’t super unpredictable. They were fun, sure, but it wasn’t quite a roller-coaster. I didn’t mind that at all though, and I still enjoyed this immensely even if I did start to work it out for myself before the ending. Half the fun though is the anticipation of finally getting the confirmation of being right.

What really kept me reading, though, where the characters. The further you get into this the more you learn about the night of the murder and what happened leading up to it, but with each perspective you learn more and more about the family.

When you read from Adam’s perspective you think he’s just a protective father who loves his daughter, though some of his decisions were frustrating, part of me actually thought he was justified.

That being said, my favorite part of the book was the middle. Stella’s perspective because the most surprising part of the whole book was how much I liked her. I don’t want to give away too much, but, in my opinion she reads like a teenage girl, which isn’t a perspective I often find is done well by adult male authors.

I don’t want to say too much about what I liked about them because in a way, the twists are as much about the family and how we see each of its members as we find out more about what happened leading up to and in the aftermath of the murder as they are about the murder case itself.

I’m hoping that this author continues to write and that his works continue to be translated into English because I’d love to read more of his stuff. Maybe the translations will lose their choppiness as time goes on as well.

I’d highly recommend this book, it’s one of my favorites that I’ve read in 2019.

Books I DNF’ed that deserve another chance

So, I want to talk about some of the books I’ve DNF’ed in the past year that I want to give another chance. I DNF books for a variety of reasons, and it isn’t always that I dislike or am disappointed by a book (though it often is.)

Some other reasons I DNF books are: I’m not in the mood for that particular book right then, I’m not in the mood for reading in general, I was listening to the audiobook and either didn’t like the narrator or couldn’t pay attention, or I had the audiobook from Overdrive, and it got returned to the library before I could finish it.

Anyways, here some books I’ve DNF’ed for one of the above reasons that I’d eventually like to start over or pick up from where I left off.

A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara

I have to be in a very specific mindset to want to read a book like this. Literary fiction is very hit-or-miss for me, and while I don’t mind books with heavy topics or tragedies, but if that’s the main or only focus of the book sometimes it can be hard for me to see the appeal. I have seen mostly good reviews of this book, but the few negative reviews I’ve read have made me wonder whether I’ll love it as they talk about some things I have a hard time liking in books. Like I said, I don’t mind heavy topics or tragic books, but seeing people refer to this as torture porn has been a little off-putting for me and I think that’s why I had a hard time getting into it when I tried to read it. That said, I do remember liking the first 100-odd pages of this when I tried to read it, I just had a hard time finding the motivation to pick it back up which for an 800+ page book is a problem. I will try this again, though, when I’m in the mood for something more like that.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This is a case of audiobook narrator putting me to sleep. I don’t know what it is about certain voices, especially middle-aged male voices, but some of them just make me want to get under a blanket and put my head on a pillow, no matter how interesting the story itself is to me. This is a book I really wanted to read so when I saw it was available on Libby I had to check it out right away. I’m sure the wanting to fall asleep wasn’t helped by the fact that I had started this in the afternoon at work. Something about 1:30-3:30pm just naturally makes me sleepy when I’m at work, and the narrator’s voice was practically lulling me to sleep. I’ll probably try a physical copy of this sometime in the future, though, because I still am very interested in it.

Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This was an audiobook that had to be returned to the library. I feel like I’m the odd one out when it comes to how quickly I can get through audiobooks, it takes weeks and sometimes months for me to finish them, whereas I can sit down and read a physical book in just a few days. For me, I think it’s that I just really do better listening to music or podcasts. Podcasts are a little more dynamic than audiobooks, so they don’t put me to sleep while I’m driving or trying to get work done, and music always energizes me. I did enjoy the audiobook for this, so I do plan to finish it on audio, but I had to put myself back on a waitlist for it after it was returned to my library through Libby.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

This is yet another audiobook, and yet another book that had to be returned. I actually really enjoyed the audio for this book (which I’m beginning to learn is rare for me) but it’s been awhile since I was listening to this and I haven’t felt compelled to put myself back on the waiting list for it. I think it’s just another case of once I’m off the waiting list I might not be in the mood to listen to it, but I’ll feel obligated to do so, and it’ll ruin my enjoyment of the book to be listening to it if I’m not in the right mood for it and I’d truly rather be listening to a podcast on my commute.

Blindness

Blindness by Jose Saramago

This one suffered from the same thing Evelyn Hardcastle. The narrator was just putting me to sleep and, because I listen to audiobooks mostly while I’m driving, that’s not really a good thing. The book itself was an interesting premise and I was interested in seeing what happened to all the characters once they were quarantined for getting the Blindness disease. I haven’t found myself in the right mood to give the physical copy a try since quitting on the audiobook. But maybe I’ll eventually go back to it.

That’s it for this post!

This was supposed to be about DNF’s, but now in my head I’m starting to re-evaluate my relationship with audiobooks. I think I’m starting to realize that, a majority of the time, audiobooks just aren’t really my thing. There are some I really love, and that’s why I keep trying different ones, but I find it takes a really exceptionally talented narrator for that to be the case and for some reason a lot of them make me just want to lie down and take a nap.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Are there any books you’ve DNF’ed that you’re thinking of giving another chance?

Review: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

'Salem's Lot

Genre: Horror

Publisher: Anchor

Date Published: October 7, 1975

My Rating: ★★★★☆

When I read a book that a good chunk of people agree is one of the scariest they’ve ever read, I expect it to be scary. And ‘Salem’s Lot got a lot of people’s votes for being King’s scariest novel, with a good chunk of people admitting to it being one of the scariest books they’ve ever read.

Two notes: First, I admittedly cannot compare the scariness of this book to any of King’s other works because this is the first book of his I’ve ever read. Second, I read a lot of this during the day time, and everyone knows that horror is best read at night when everyone else is asleep, but what can I say? I’m a morning and day reader. Evening and night are for video games or Netflix.

‘Salem’s Lot is a book about vampires, and an old creepy house, but more than that it’s about a town. ‘Salem’s Lot or just The Lot is how the locals refer to Jersalem’s Lot, Maine.

Writer Ben Mears returns to The Lot as an adult, after having spent a short part of his childhood there, at the same time that the Marsten House, the site of a murder-suicide and known to the town for being creepy as hell, gets bought by two men who plan to open an antiques shop in the town. Shortly after his arrival, things start getting weird. Two boys disappear in the woods, and only one returns home. From there, the story takes off.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was a great read for the month of October, what with the main antagonist being a vampire. It did make me want to play the Sims and create some vampire sims or re-watch Castlevania.

There are a couple of scenes here that are creepy, and after reading the prologue you know only two of the main cast likely survives the goings-on in town, and I did feel a lot of anticipation for what would happen to all the characters. I felt particularly attached to Matt Burke and Father Callahan, despite knowing they probably wouldn’t make it to the end.

Otherwise, though, I didn’t feel as scared as I expected to after all the people who said this book was actually scary. It is scary, of course, but not in the way I was expecting, outside of a few dark scenes at the beginning of the book.

The way vampirism spreads through the town reminds one of a disease. It’s like reading a story set during the black plague, not knowing who’s going to catch it next, but knowing that not everyone will make it out alive.

It’s not scary in as gory of a way as others in the genre might be. Sure, there is some gore, but the bulk of that takes place in the last part of the book. I didn’t mind this, and the anticipation of what was going to happen to each of the characters kept me turning the pages- most days I read over 100 pages at a time.

The characters are what really shine. There wasn’t a single member of the main cast that I disliked. Mark Petrie was probably my favorite of them, but I liked Ben, Matt, Susan, and Father Callahan. I didn’t feel like I had enough time with Jimmy to care about what happened to him all that much- and when it did happen I felt worse for Mark.

As for the writing itself, there were scenes where the writing really shined- the scenes at the beginning that actually made me feel a little scared are the best example of this. But for most of the book the writing ranged from good to fine. There were some places that I ended up skimming because there was a little too much description of things that didn’t have anything to do with the plot.

I really enjoyed this book, and I may end up changing my rating up to 5-stars, depending on how I feel about this book after I’ve a week or so to digest it. I would highly recommend this, and it’s the perfect time of year to read it, so if you haven’t I suggest picking it up.

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.