Sunday, January 22, 2017

ARC Review: The Girl Before

28016509Title: The Girl Before
Author:  J.P. Delaney
Genre: Psychological thriller, mystery

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.
The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.
EmmaReeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass, and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant—and it does.
JaneAfter a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space—and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people, and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

I really enjoy psychological thrillers, especially when they're told from the point of view of a not-necessarily-reliable narrator. This book is told from the perspective of two women with eerily similar lives. They both are tenants in a futuristic, austere flat belonging to an eccentric (or insane, depending on who you ask) architect, and rumors abound about some unsavory events that happened on the premises.

I thought the idea of the futuristic house was really cool. The engineer in me was geeking out about how much technology can impact our daily lives and improve everything from our mood to our health. At the same time, I also wondered why someone would automate every single aspect of a house without any manual overrides, because one of the biggest reasons the Internet of Things isn't widespread already is that it's easy to hack. At least that doubt was addressed eventually.

I thought the parallels among both Emma and Jane's lives were drawn well, and I liked how you got to know each of them a lot better as the novel progressed. Neither of them are who they seem to be at first, and they both have a lot of secrets and trauma to deal with. Emma in particular is almost self-destructive, which makes watching her trainwreck of a life that much more horrifyingly fascinating. What I didn't like was how both women ignored all warning signs of an abusive relationship/gaslighting; it's not like they were stupid or oblivious, they both chose to ignore the signs and continue their relationships. There were a lot of questionable situations that were just too reminiscent of the whole it's-okay-if-I-have-a-creepy-stalker-as-long-as-he's-hot rape culture thing that plagued YA fiction after Twilight.

The funny thing about this book is that it's so transparent at first that you think you know exactly how it's going to go. But as the book continues and you uncover more clues, it becomes obvious that your initial assessment of every character was wrong. This isn't the most shocking book, even the "twists" weren't that unexpected, but I did like how it played with the reader's expectations.

Overall a pretty good psychological thriller. There were some issues I had with it, but overall I did enjoy it.

A free e-ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Obama book list

The sun is setting on the Obama presidency, quite literally. I'm holding onto the last few hours of feeling free because I know the Trump presidency is going to weigh down on me and my communities, as a woman, a child of immigrants, and a person of color. I know it's going to be a tough few years for many of us, but I will continue to do my best to support people whose voices aren't being heard.

To get through the next few years, to honor an incredible president and human being, and to check out the recommendations of a fellow bookworm, I'm going to attempt to get through this list of books that Obama has recommended throughout his presidency:

This is going to be a long-haul project, for sure. I'm thinking 5 years, reading one book every 2 months with a friend. I'm hoping that's infrequent enough that this won't feel like forced reading for school but frequent enough that I get through a sizable portion of the list. It helps that I've already read quite a few of the books on the list, or at least already had some on my giant TBR pile.

If anyone else wants to join in, I'll post which book I'm planning to read within the next two months and then post a review/discussion when I'm done with the book. It's going to be very low-key, it's more of a personal goal than a challenge to motivate other people

The book for January-February 2017 is: The Quiet American by Graham Greene. It's supposedly one of Obama's "forever influential favorites" so we'll see how this goes!

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bullet Reviews: The Trespasser, The Accident, The Revanant

Okay, here's round 2 of the bullet reviews. In case you missed the first set, I'm doing a couple of quick bullet point reviews of books I read last fall/winter so I can catch up by the end of the month (fingers crossed).

This week's books are The Trespasser, The Revanant, and The Accident. My loose theme for them is that they are all mystery/suspense novels, and I read them all in October. They're actually very different; Trespasser is a character-focused and psychological mystery, The Revanant is not a mystery but it is very suspenseful and intense historical fiction, and The Accident is more of a fluffy, fun mystery.

29430013The Trespasser by Tana French

Genre: Mystery, psychological thriller
Rating: 5/5 stars

What I liked:
  • this is yet another winner from Tana French! She's my favorite mystery author because of her books are character-centric instead of plot-twisty (but there are still awesome revelations!)
  • I loved getting to see the other perspective of the Conway-Moran duo that we got to know in Secret Place
  • Stephen is so adorable <3
  • Tana French takes on sexism in the workplace, and she keeps it real. She isn't shy about portraying harassment and the double standard for men and women doing the same job. At the same time, we also see how Conway interprets her colleague's actions in a certain light, and sometimes she's mistaken

What I didn't like:
  • honestly, I can't remember anything I didn't like! The mystery and its resolution were compelling, as were the detectives and their character arcs
Recommended for... 
anyone who loves character-focused mysteries. I can't say this enough, Tana French writes them so well.

22926521The Accident by Chris Pavone

Genre: Mystery, suspense, contemporary
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator is awesome! Honestly the narrator was the only reason I decided to read this in the first place :)
  • It was cool seeing cameos of characters from The Expats and seeing what they're up to now
  • The humor was pretty good, it wasn't too over-the-top-cheesy and it got me to crack a smile every so often
What I didn't like:
  • This book was kind of a mess! It tries to combine the publishing industry with espionage/government agencies and politics. At times it was just hard to believe a manuscript could have such damaging information that people were being killed if they read it (sorry if that's too spoilery, but that's the basic premise of the book and is revealed early on).
  • The ending was really abrupt and didn't really seem to fit
  • I think the previous book, The Expats, did a better job of balancing suspense, humor, and believability; this one was just too much
Recommended for: people looking for a suspenseful story with a large cast of characters and globe-trotting. I would actually recommend The Expats over this book though!

28492027The Revenant by Michael Punke

Genre: Historical fiction, suspense
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • The book was very well-researched and you could tell that the author really cared about staying true to history as much as possible
  • This story is intense and not for the faint of heart! Revenge is the main motivating factor for the main characters, but most of the suspense comes from whether a character will be able to survive what mother nature decides to throw at them
What I didn't like:
  • This is a rare case where I liked the movie better than the book. I watched it the night before I started reading, and the gorgeous cinematography made the visceral, brutal pain even more emotional for me. The contrast of the beautiful landscape and a bloodbath was so unsettling and made me more invested in the story. I just had a hard time getting invested in the book because it was written in a more dry style
Recommended for... fans of historical fiction and man vs wild survival stories

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

ARC review: The Bear and the Nightingale

25489134Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Historical fiction, fantasy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. If more of the book had been like the last quarter or so, I probably would have liked it more. I think I just wasn't expecting the right sort of book. If I had expected historical fiction with a little dust of magic and folklore, I probably would have enjoyed it more. I was expecting a book with a lot more magic, especially because the title is so mysterious and reminiscent of fairy tales.

Most of the book was a young girl growing up in Russia in a time period where women were expected to be humble and domestic. Vasya is instead headstrong and wild, and does what her heart tells her. She follows the old traditions and feels a deep connection to the creatures and spirits of Russian folklore, even as her family members try to assimilate and become good Christians. I really liked Vasya, especially because of the contrast between Vasya and her step-mother. I also loved the portrayal of the Lord of Winter/Death. He isn't actually in much of the book but the few moments where he is present are magical.

I have really mixed feelings about the writing style. On one hand, it was very lyrical and beautiful, and quite fitting for a story about the richness of folklore and magic in every day life. On the other hand, I felt like the prose was a little...for lack of a better word...cold. I didn't feel very connected to the characters throughout the book, and it was mostly because the writing style told story as if you were a neighbor passing by and looking into people's lives instead of engaging with people and really understanding them.

Another thing that kept me from really getting into the book is how slow it was. The prologue was beautiful and got me hooked, but then nothing much happened for the rest of the book. The last quarter of the book was really intense and I thought the book had a fantastic and fitting ending, but it was just hard to stay focused in the middle. Thankfully the book isn't that long so it wasn't too bad even with the slow middle.

I did like this book, but it wasn't as magical as I was hoping it would be. I would definitely recommend it, but with the caveat that it's a very slow book and more historical fiction than fantasy.

A free eARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge: Pages of Starlight SFF challenge

I was looking online for a reading challenge to do this year, and I found an awesome one at Pages of Starlight! You can check it out by clicking on the link.

I love that this challenge is mostly sci-fi/fantasy and speculative fiction, because that's what I usually read. Still, it has enough unique criteria that it's going to be challenging to read them all. I really like how a lot of the challenge focuses on diverse books, because that's something I care a lot about. I keep saying I'm going to do more DiverSFFy posts, and even though I read a lot of books featuring POC and LGBTQ authors/main characters, I don't feature them enough. I'm hoping this challenge will help motivate me to expand my horizons and actually feature some awesome diverse books.

Here's the challenge grid:

I have a few ideas for books I want to read that fulfill the challenge, so I'm going to list them here:

2) Historical Fantasy: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
9) A classic: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K Dick
18) Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire
19) POC author: The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin
22) Published last year: A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab

I'm really excited for this challenge!

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Bullet reviews: Blood Song, Hammered, Throne of Jade

I'm about 3 months behind on reviews, what a way to start the year! In an effort to catch up, I'm going to do bullet point reviews so that I can get my thoughts out quickly and catch up by the end of the month! Some books I read in the last 3 months need full reviews because I have so much to say about them, so there will be a few of those too!

My first 3 books are Blood Song by Anthony Ryan, Hammered (Iron Druid chronicles) by Kevin Hearne, and Throne of Jade (Temeraire) by Naomi Novik. Funnily enough, Blood song is book 1 in its series, Throne of Jade is book 2, and Hammered is book 3!

I put them all together because they're all fantasy books, I read them all in October, and they all got 3 stars. 3 stars from me usually means I was kind of bored with the book, it was annoying enough for 2 stars but it wasn't enjoyable enough for 4. Perfect for bullet reviews, because I never have much to say about 3 star books!

13569581Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • The warrior monk situation was really cool, and I liked seeing the different orders of monks and their different perspectives on life
  • I liked that the MC was telling his own story from the "present" (a la Name of the Wind)

What I didn't like:
  • Al Sorna is kind of boring. And a total Gary Stu, he literally is the best at everything and everyone loves him
  • For almost every aspect of this book, I kept comparing it to other books I've read that did it better: It had the monks and political turmoil of Emperor's Blades but without the mind-blowing world and awesome character development. It had the political manipulations of The Traitor Baru Cormorant without the same level of intelligence and brutality. It had the friendship and complex family relationships of Robin Hobb's books, but without three dimensional characters I could love (and love to hate).
Recommended for... 
People who haven't read too much fantasy before, fans of Name of the Wind (it has a similar tone/mood/protagonist, but not as well written)

9595620Hammered by Kevin Hearne

Genre: Urban fantasy
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • I will never stop loving Oberon. He's one of my favorite bookish dogs :)
  • I read this at an airport so it was nice not having to think too hard to keep up with the story despite constant interruptions/announcements
  • loved the diversity of mythological cultures incorporated in this book, and the Norse pantheon was a pretty cool idea

What I didn't like:
  • The Norse gods weren't as awesome as I'd hoped. Most of the Norse gods seemed like 2D bullies and idiots, and while I don't mind the farcical and tongue-in-cheek portrayal of mythological figures, I would appreciate a little more effort to make the "villains" as interesting as the heroes.
  • There was a huge section in the middle where each character got a whole chapter to explain why they hated Thor. It was literally 100 pages of infodump in the middle of the book. There had to have been a better way to incorporate those backstories!
  • This book just seemed like a placeholder. It ties up loose ends from Atticus's previous promises in books 1 and 2, and sets up for more shenanigans with Atticus, Granuaile, and the Greek pantheon. There isn't actually that much plot in this book
  • A bit annoyed that there were hardly any women with significant roles in this book, especially now that Granuaile is supposed to be taking on a greater role as Atticus's apprentice. She didn't get to do much.
Recommended for: If you're looking for a fun, sassy urban fantasy and aren't afraid of committing to a series, this is for you! The first two book were their own contained story but this one is mostly setup for later books

14069Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Genre: Fantasy, Historical fiction
Rating: 3/5 stars

What I liked:
  • Temeraire and Laurence's friendship is incredible, and they continue to grow together and individually
  • It was cool to see how different life is for Chinese dragons compared to European ones. It was kind of cute that Laurence was so jealous of Temeraire enjoying the company of his fellow Imperials!

What I didn't like:
  • The plot was incredibly slow. Half the book is just on a boat getting to China, and almost nothing happens on the way. As cool as Laurence and Temeraire are, these books are really hard to pay attention to because so little is happening. 

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AZ Challenge: 2016 recap

I actually managed to finish my 2016 A-Z challenge! It did take some effort towards the end to find books that started with letters like Z and V that I hadn't read before, but for a lot of letters I was able to cross them off just by reading books I was already planning on reading!

Here's my complete list of books for the A-Z challenge:

A: And I Darken by Kiersten White (2/26)
B: The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (2/8)
C: Court of Thieves by Kate Elliott (1/12)
D: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (4/3)
E: The Expats by Christopher Pavone (10/6)
F: Fall of Giants (8/30)
G: A Great Hunt by Robert Jordan (1/22)
H: His Majesty's Dragon (3/30)
I: The Immortal Heights (1/5)
J: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (8/26)
K: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (8/23)
L: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (9/4)
M: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (3/21)
N: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (6/18)
O: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine (3/12)
P: Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov (6/15)
Q: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that cannot stop talking by Susan Cain (3/27)
R: Rook by Sharon Cameron (3/7)
S: Shadows of Self (1/3)
T: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights (1/31)
U:  UnBound by Neal Shusterman (9/8)
V: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (11/6)
W: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (5/12)
X: Bird Box by Josh Malerman (10/13)
Y: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (8/19)
Z: Z: A novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (12/14)

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