Title: Not So Pure and Simple
Author: Lamar Giles
Page Count: 400
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 21, 2020
Review: I was thoroughly impressed by this book. The great thing about participating in the Mock Printz Committee at my work is that sometimes I am given books that I enjoy immensely, but would probably not have read otherwise. This is one such book. It surprised me with it’s humor, depth, and important message. Oftentimes books that cover topics such as toxic masculinity and sexual agency come off as being too heavy-handed with character tropes and long inner monologues where the characters have “epiphanies”. The resulting effect is that it feels like it is trying too hard to make a statement. Giles masterfully avoided these pitfalls by giving us characters that are both lovable and realistic. He shows that even well-intentioned young men are susceptible to toxic ways of thinking and sometimes their words and actions have unintended negative effects on those around them. As a woman, I found I related to many of the female characters and their struggle to be “nice” even when they were not interested in the male pursuing them. As I have grown older, I find that sometimes it is necessary to be blunt, even if it comes off as rude, but as a younger woman, this felt like a tricky minefield to navigate. Reading this book made me realize how many behaviors are impressed upon us at an early age and really made me re-evaluate how I have simply accepted certain actions as “normal” when they really shouldn’t be.
I would consider this an important read for all teens and think it would be a great book for discussion.
Title: Cut Off
Author: Adrianne Finlay
Page Count: 384
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 11, 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Review: I was obsessed with the Lost series back when it was airing, so when this book was described as “Warcross meets Lost…” I knew I simply must read it. Unfortunately for me, it was just…meh. There were a couple scenes that creeped me out in the beginning, but overall it was not particularly exciting. The one thing it did have in common with Lost was that the final reveal was truly disappointing. I knew there was going to be a science fiction element to the story, but it was a bit more sci-fi-y than I was expecting. I also wanted to see more character complexity and development. The characters felt very formulaic to me: the brainiac, the deceiver, the loner, and the closed off beauty. Nobody really surprised me or made me question what I knew about them. I wasn’t really feeling the romantic angle either. In a story like this, I feel the romance should add more depth to the plot or characters, but it didn’t really serve to do so as much as I wanted. It was not a terrible read, but also not one I enjoyed enough to give a higher rating.
Title: Real Men Knit
Author: Kwana Jackson
Page Count: 320
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 19, 2020 by Berkley
Review: After reading some more “serious” books, I was in the mood for something light and fun. When I read the premise for this book, I was hooked. Hot men knitting? Yep. Sign me up. The book certainly followed through on it’s promise, starring four uniquely hot adopted brothers. Although this book focused more specifically on the youngest brother, Jesse, I find it hard to believe that Ms. Jackson will not be turning this into a series. There are, after all, three other strapping young men to find attachments for.
I could be off base, but I couldn’t help but think that the author was imagining none other than Jesse Williams when she penned the character description for Jesse Strong….
Aside from the locs, he pretty much matches his physical description exactly. I’m not complaining though, and I don’t think other readers will be either.
Naturally I had to investigate whether the hashtag #RealMenKnit exists and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it does. Feel free to look it up for some eye candy. Thank you, Ms. Jackson, for the share.
Title: Chosen Ones
Author: Veronica Roth
Page Count: 304
Series: The Chosen Ones, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 7, 2020
Review: This was a very original concept…what really happens to a hero after they have defeated evil? I think that Roth gives a really realistic depiction of how ordinary people would cope with extraordinary pressures and trauma. I have always thought that being famous would be incredibly stressful – always dealing with scrutiny, invasion of privacy, and false narratives. Each of the five heroes in this story deal with it differently, some withdrawing into anger or addiction, while others seemingly embrace it. When evil rears it’s ugly head again, the heroes must take a critical look at the past, and what they think they know about themselves and each other.
It’s difficult for me to put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. Roth does a decent job of fleshing out the characters, but I think her set up took just a little too long. I struggled to remain actively engaged and I could put this book down for days at a time without feeling compelled to pick it back up. Now that the characters and story have been established, I imagine I would enjoy a sequel far more, though this is difficult for me to say with any certainty. Considering this is accurate to how I felt when reading her Divergent series, I remain hopeful that the series will prove to be worth reading even though the way she ended it makes me uncertain. It ended with a bang, but then tapered off into different directions. If it wasn’t being advertised as the first in a series, I would have assumed it was a standalone.
Although this is Roth’s first “adult” fiction book, I still think it will mostly appeal to a younger demographic.
Title: City of Flickering Light
Author: Juliette Fay
Page Count: 400
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 16, 2019 by Gallery Books
Review: Interestingly, this book addresses very similar themes to another book I read recently, City of Girls. This book is, however, much better in my personal opinion. Though these characters are also flawed, I found them to be much more likeable than any of the characters in City of Girls. It is hard for me on a personal level to understand the allure of the film industry, but it was fascinating to get a historical view of the glitz, glamour, and seediness of early Hollywood. I also think this is a very timely novel, as it addresses the topic of sexual abuse and manipulation within the industry. Despite it’s heavier content, this book is ultimately a book about unconditional friendship and the transforming power of love. I especially enjoyed the character of steadfast Irene, and her relationship with naïve but charming Millie. Overall it was an uplifting read.
Title: City of Girls
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Page Count: 470
Publishing Date/Publisher: June 4, 2019 by Riverhead
Review: This was a firm 3 star read for me. In other words, I liked it, but I did not love it. This book is billed as a “love story,” however, I would hardly consider it a romance. In fact, I wouldn’t even tag it as romance. In a lot of ways this story reminded me of the TV series How I Met Your Mother. Vivian, our protagonist, is writing the story to Angela, the daughter of her deceased love. Angela has reached out to Vivian to ask about the nature of her relationship with her father and Vivian answers in a very prolonged and roundabout way. She includes many details that are of no relevance to how she met Angela’s father. For the most part, I found Vivian to be a rather unlikeable character, at least for about 60% of the book. Life circumstances make her grow as a character, but I never truly became endeared to her. The last 25% of the book was by far the most enjoyable part of the story, but after all the build up to meeting Vivian’s father, I was a bit disappointed with how little page time he actually got. So as I said, this wasn’t really a love story, but a story about Vivian. This is not to say that the book made no impression on me whatsoever. Gilbert is undeniably a gifted writer and there were enough things I liked about the book to keep reading it. For one thing, I was extremely envious of Vivian’s skill with a sewing machine, and I almost want to take a sewing class as a result. I was fascinated by the way she talked about fabric and clothing and design. This book also had a lot of really good one liners sprinkled throughout and some very memorable characters, such as Aunt Peg. It was enough to keep me moving through the book at a steady pace, and certainly enough to inspire me to finish it. This book certainly has it’s share of scandal, but it’s not particularly graphic, and it really tackles the double standard that men and women are held to when it comes to sexuality.
Title: Queen of Air and Darkness
Author: Cassandra Clare
Performer: James Marsters
Length: 30 hr, 40 min, 56 sec
Series: The Dark Artifices, Book 3
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Simon & Schuster Audio
Review: SO. MUCH. ANGST. I generally enjoy Clare’s books for the most part. They have intricate storylines and complex characters. There are usually clearly defined conflicts and the endings are almost always satisfying. This book checked all those boxes, but it was just so darn long and drawn out. Every. single. relationship. was FILLED with angst. Relationship building can do a lot to drive a story, however, there is a point where it starts to become tedious. Clare loves writing forbidden love stories, as well as love triangles, and this series has that in spades. I listened to this in audiobook format, and sometimes I would find myself tuning out during the more lengthy interactions between will-they-or-won’t-they couples/thruples. There are a lot of characters to follow in this trilogy (including returning characters from past series), and I quickly realized that I needed to read detailed recaps of the previous two installments to get back up to speed on what was going on before the start of this book. I did enjoy the story, but I think the book could have been significantly shorter without losing anything critical to the plot.
This is the first book of Clare’s that I consumed in audiobook format. James Marsters has a voice that is well-suited to storytelling, though his volume fluctuates quite a bit and I had to constantly adjust the sound in my vehicle. This was only a minor annoyance, however, and I found his performance to be appropriately dramatic for the content of the book.
Title: The Night Country
Author: Melissa Albert
Page Count: 331
Series: The Hazel Wood, Book 2
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 7, 2020 by Flatiron Books
Review: This book had a great start and then…stalled out. I ripped through the first few chapters, and then found myself losing steam as nothing really seemed to happen. The first book in this series, The Hazel Wood, was positively magical. I found myself wrapped up in the numerous fairytales and in the overarching storyline. I was hoping for much of the same in the follow up, and although there were some similarities, it wasn’t nearly as engaging as it’s predecessor. It was still dark and twisted, but there were less stories and it focused on a mystery that dragged on before ending abruptly. In the interim of time that has passed between Alice and Finch’s last meeting, Finch has been traveling between worlds. Sadly the reader sees almost none of that. Similarly, years have passed for Alice, but we still have no idea what she is doing aside from moping around. As with many sequels for books I loved, I just expected more than what I got. I am unclear if this is a duology or a series because the ending seemed to be rather definitive. I can’t imagine where the story would go from here, but maybe Albert will surprise me.
Title: Empire of Storms
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Page Count: 704
Series: Throne of Glass, Book 5
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 6, 2016 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Review: My opinion of this book is very similar to my opinion of the last few books in this series. The action throughout is thrilling and the ending is particularly strong. Although this book is still categorized as Young Adult fiction like it’s predecessors, I would argue that it would more accurately be categorized as New Adult fiction. Aelin is now 20 years old, and the romances depicted in this series have gotten increasingly steamy with each installment. There is a whole lot of sex in book 5, so young readers be prepared if you are not expecting it!
My biggest gripe with this series in general is that Aelin’s elaborate scheming always seems to pan out just the way she envisions. Of course there is a real wrench thrown in at the end to keep the series going, but overall, things just seem to always work out, no matter how great the odds are stacked against them. A lot of it is rather far-fetched…for example, Aelin calls in a favor with one particular ally without actually communicating what it is she needs. The ally just happens to glean exactly what Aelin wants by receiving cryptic reports from a spy. Ohhhkkayyy. Seems unlikely. But I am going to move past it because I made it this far and I am still enjoying the series enough to finish two more lengthy books.
Title: Queen of Shadows
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Page Count: 648
Series: Throne of Glass, Book 4
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 1, 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Review: I was so excited to start The Assassin’s Blade that I actually forgot to write a review for this book…oops. I suppose this is a compliment to Maas, who continues to impress me with her epic sagas.
At the conclusion of this book, it seemed like the series had reached it’s climax, only for Maas to throw another curveball that completely changes the game. I really appreciate this about Maas, because while some aspects of her story are predictable and formulaic, she somehow always manages to surprise me with the overall direction of the plot. I would say that reading this book, it was the first time that I really contemplated whether this series takes place in the same world as her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. For some reason I found this prospect to be thrilling, and I look forward to seeing new lands in the next three books.
As with the last book, Maas introduced new characters that I have grown very fond of, and I look forward to seeing how their storylines develop as well.
Also, revenge is sweet, and you get plenty of that in this particular installment.