Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Year-End Round-Up

Au revoir, 2014! What a strange year. It was an improvement over 2013 (not that that was much of a challenge), but at the same time I never would have predicted it would end with me in the place I'm in right now.

Not that there have been any MAJOR life changes for me this year, mind. I didn't get married or have a baby or anything. But I did take on three jobs. None of which were/are full time, so I do have time to sleep, but unfortunately not so much time to read! (Actually, it seems like the only time I *do* read now is when I'm having an attack of the insomnias... and if that happens, I better be reading a good book, because otherwise I'm going to be G R U M P Y.)

As a result of this scheduling insufficiency, I discovered something about myself: I really do need to read on a daily basis. Like if I don't read for a stretch of a day or more (it actually happened... unthinkable) I may legit take someone's head off.

Anyway! Here's the best of what I did manage to read this year. What about you?

the chocolate kiss laura florand
New Auto-Buy Author: Laura Florand
There aren't many authors who are on my auto-buy list these days, but Laura Florand definitely is one. Her novels are perfect tales of romantic escapism that revolve around three of my favorite F's: fairy tales, food, and France. Sexy French chefs FTW.

Favorite Mystery/Thriller: The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer
A smart, fast-paced, perfectly over-the-top book about books, with the feel of an old-timey movie. Loved it!

Favorite Forgotten Classic: I've Come to Stay by Mary Heaton Vorse
This short romantic comedy perfectly captures the avant-garde community of Greenwich Village in the 1910's. It's SO FUNNY and delightful and I loved all the quirky characters. The ending was absolutely perfect. Read it!

Favorite Non-Fiction Book: Craft Cocktails At Home by Kevin Liu
Two words: Science. Cocktails. Kevin Liu uses the scientific method to investigate all the burning questions of the home mixologist, such as: why is it so impossible to make clear ice cubes? How much exactly is dash? Why do we chill glasses before pouring cocktails in them? And so on. A super-must-read for cocktail geeks no matter if you're a newbie or a professional bartender.

Book That Pissed Me Off The Most: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins 
wtf book

Uhg. Just uhg.

And speaking of Mockingjay...

Subgenre That I Can't Believe I Keep Reading Right Now: Dystopian Young Adult
Working with teenagers this summer must have affected my brain, because during the second half of the year I was ALL ABOUT dystopian YA novels, a genre I've assiduously avoided for the past several years. It all started with, "Oh, I've been meaning to read Catching Fire," and pretty soon I'm staying up until 7 in the morning reading the ridiculousness that was Allegiant! Oh well, might as well run with it.

neanderthal seeks human penny reid
Subgenre That Probably No One is Surprised I'm Reading Right Now: Quirky Romances
Since most of the quirky romances I've read–and loved!–this year were recommendations from book blogging buddies, it probably won't come as a shock to anyone that many of them count among my favorite reads of the year, like Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and Still Life With Strings by LH Cosway.

Favorite Book Actually Published In 2014: Tie between The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand and Still Life with Strings by LH Cosway
I picked The Chocolate Temptation as my favorite on Book Riot, but actually it's more of a draw. I had a few issues with each book, which stopped me from completely adoring either one. Although I still really really like them!

As you can see, my list is pretty short this year. That's because I read a pathetically small number of books, for me anyway. I haven't even hit the 100 book mark yet; my goal was actually to read 200. Overly optimistic, I admit, but still. The other goals I had for this year–to catch up on the Walt Longmire and Gabriel Allon series–also didn't happen.

Sigh. Book blogger problems.

Anyway, it could definitely be worse. I read some really awesome books this year, my personal life doesn't suck, and hopefully 2015 will be even better! Thanks for sticking it out with me and for sharing your reads and book recs. Happy New Year!

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: INSURGENT by Veronica Roth

insurgent cover

After turning off and stealing the simulation that was forcing members of Dauntless to kill Abnegation, Four and Tris leave Chicago to escape the Erudite. But with Jeanine still alive and determined to control all the factions, they're quickly drawn back into the city, where Marcus wants to unveil the secret Jeanine was ready to kill for. Will he convince Tris she needs to risk everything to help him?

If that summary made a lick of sense to you, congratulations, you've likely read Divergent! (I know I should probably review these books in, like, order or something, but hey. It's my blog, I do what I want.) I immediately downloaded Insurgent after finishing Divergent, because hellloooooooo, I loved it. Divergent, that is. Insurgent was a bit of a letdown.

First of all, Four. In Divergent he was a total hottie, but in Insurgent there was no chemistry between him and Tris WHAT. SO. EVER. Their makeout sessions read like a microwave instruction manual. And I got sick of his constant whining pretty damn fast. Waaaah, you never tell me every single damn thing that's going on with you right away, waaaaaaahhhh. By the time the storming of the Erudite compound rolled around, I was rooting for them to break up.

the pity train has derailed at the corner of suck it up and move on

The ending in particular was SUPER annoying because there were several things that did not make sense:

  1. Why is Tris considered a traitor to Dauntless? It's not like she's siding with Erudite or helping Jeanine escape; she just wants to make sure the information in Erudite's computers doesn't disappear and innocent Erudites don't die. Where's the conflict with Dauntless here? She's working toward the same goal, just with different priorities.
  2. Why doesn't Tris tell Four about Marcus' plan? For that matter, why agree to help Marcus at all if she's so worried about Four's reaction, especially when Marcus never tells her exactly what he's doing or why it's so important, other than, "It's essential to the preservation of society"? As Tris herself pointed out, their society is already in ruins, so what exactly are they risking their lives and personal relationships to save? Seems unnecessary. And it's not as if Tris is THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who can help him. He can go pick on someone else.
  3. The big reveal at the end (which let me assure you was underwhelming) negates the messages and themes of Divergent, namely that people are more than the places they grow up in, or their families, or their jobs, or their major. You don't have to be just one thing. But the reveal shows exactly the opposite: they're breeding for divergence. In other words, the only reason Tris and the other divergents have different abilities is because their parents belonged to other factions. So that whole thing about people being more than the sum of their parts and free will? I felt like it went out the window.

Not to mention the fact that by the end, I wanted Four to throw himself off a cliff. Let's break down Worst Boyfriend of the Year's actions a bit, shall we?

  • Instead of supporting Tris when she gets into a fight with Peter, he tells her to calm down. AWESOME, WOMEN LOVE BEING TOLD TO CALM DOWN! Keep that up.
  • Instead of being understanding when he finds out Tris killed Will and that's why she's been freaking out lately, he tells her, "It's not easy being with you." Are you kidding me? Look in the mirror, buddy. LOOK IN A FREAKIN MIRROR.
  • Most hilarious (if by hilarious you mean awful) part: when Four breaks into Erudite and you THINK he's going to rescue Tris, but instead he tells her that he *could* break them out of Erudite at any time, except he needs to do yada yada some such to prepare for the Dauntless attack. So she should just hang in there with the mental torture for two more weeks, and then maybe probably he can get them out. Tris: "I don't think I can last that long, I really can't." Four: "You're a strong M├Ądchen, you can do it." [I may be projecting a bit here.] NO. Tris has to be rescued by fucking Peter. What is even the point of you, Four?
  • When Tris is caught as a "traitor," Four doesn't even attempt to talk to her or offer an explanation for her behavior that would, presumably, save her from being KILLED. To repeat: we're supposed to believe that Dauntless is ready to execute Tris, and because she was helping his dad, Four sees her dying as a completely reasonable outcome to not-exactly-being-a-traitor. For someone who keeps yelling at her to stop risking her life, he seems pretty copacetic with Tris getting executed and/or tortured.
  • Then, twenty minutes after Tris yells at him for being a jerk (finally), Four comes hop-skipping over and says, "You were right. I do know who you are. I just needed to be reminded." COOL STORY, BRA. At that point I would have been like, "I think we need to start seeing other people." BUT NO. Everything magically becomes happily every after ville again, and they kiss and make up. Literally.

i just threw up in my mouth a little bit

I want at least one scene of abject apologies and groveling. To the level that it's so pathetic, it's embarrassing.

Not to mention the fact that the writing style in Insurgent read VERY YA. Like Harriet the Spy. The number of conversations Tris eavesdropped on was ridic.

So yeah. I found this book to be EXTREMELY annoying. But I will say Veronica Roth can still spin a fast-moving story, even when it makes no sense.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

mockingjay cover

After I finished Catching Fire, I tried to read something that wasn't a YA dystopian novel... for about five seconds. Then I finally gave in to my obsession and started Mockingjay.

I knew going into Mockingjay that a lot people on the bookternet were disappointed by it, but I didn't know why or wheretofore. If only I could go back to that time of blissful ignorance. Now I understand completely, though there is no comfort in it. And I didn't even spend a year waiting for this book to come out, imagining way better scenarios than what actually happened!

Going into Mockingjay, here's what I was expecting would happen:

  • Katniss rescues Peeta from the Capitol.
  • She gets close enough to President Snow to kill him, but probably doesn't end up assassinating him. Maybe someone else (Peeta, the Unexpectedly Badass Baker?) does that for her.
  • Katniss and Peeta take on leadership roles in the new government, get married, and live more or less happily ever after.

Here's what actually happened: NONE OF THOSE THINGS.

Oh, and I guess I should say there's going to be spoilers out the wazoo in this review, although the book's been out four freaking years. If you haven't read it yet, and you were planning to read it, um... maybe you should get to doing that.

Okay kids, put on your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Mockingjay starts out okay. Katniss has been "rescued" (or more like recruited?) by District 13, which also took in Katniss' and Gale's families after the Capitol burned District 12 to the ground (OR DID THEY? It would have been more interesting if they hadn't). Peeta is being held hostage by the Capitol and is begging for peace, which 13 interprets as a Benedict Arnold-type betrayal. So, to save Peeta from execution, Katniss agrees to be 13's poster child as long as Peeta is given immunity by the rebellion.

Okay, fine. I enjoyed the James Bond atmosphere of Katniss and Gale receiving fancy new weaponry and outfits, and I liked how Collins set up District 13 as being just as bad as the Capitol, or possibly even worse.

It was when Peeta is rescued from the Capitol that I started feeling little niggles of discontent. Here's how it went down: about halfway through the book, Katniss realizes the Capitol is punishing her by torturing Peeta. It takes her that long to come to this realization? Anyway, she freaks the hell out and 13's like, "If we want to keep using her on TV it looks like we're going to have to rescue Peeta." So they drug her into a stupor and Gale and some other people traipse on over the Capitol to get Peeta and the other Hunger Games contestants who were left behind at the end of Catching Fire. Then they traipse on back and plop him down in the middle of 13.

reading huh?

So just to sum up: They could have rescued Peeta AT ANY TIME, if Katniss had demanded it. But she conveniently didn't, so now Peeta's been brainwashed to kill her. And the whole rescue happened completely off-page while Katniss was unconscious. HOW FREAKING EXCITING.

There is no happy reunion between Katniss and Peeta. She can't deal with him calling her "a piece of work," so after taking more drugs (13 is very free and happy with the benzodiazepines–I found it hard to believe either Katniss or her family would be hunky dory with this considering her mother's refusal to give Gale morphine after he'd been whipped in Catching Fire, but apparently they are. And hey, why expect consistency?) she's off to do more war/TV stuff with Gale.

Time and preachy scenes about "panem et circenses" pass. Finally the rebels are set to take over the Capitol, and Katniss is determined to be part of the fighting. So there's a long section about training and she finally gets put on a unit with Gale and Finnick and some other people. Peeta is also part of Katniss' unit, because that's a great idea. Naturally things take a turn for the FUBAR and Katniss decides to lead the team into the heart of the Capitol to kill Snow. Pretty much everyone dies or is captured along the way, but Katniss manages to make it just outside the Capitol building where, presumably, President Snow lives. That's when her sister and a bunch of kids are killed by IEDs.

LAME, so lame. First of all, the fighting scenes read like Collins was describing one of those single-shooter video games. There was no sense of reality. Secondly, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock's comments on his movie, Sabotage, DO NOT BLOW UP THE INNOCENT LITTLE KID. The audience will never forgive you because you've crossed the line from narrative suspense into base shock value. I feel like that's what Collins did in Mockingjay by killing Prim. IT WAS TOTALLY POINTLESS.

Katniss goes into major freak out mode again (side note: I am so sick to death of female protagonists who start off really awesome and then collapse into emo can't-deal-with-it mode as soon as shit starts affecting them personally. coughOliviaPopecough). Katniss never makes it into the Capitol building to kill Snow, and the rebellion is won completely off page. AGAIN. Meanwhile, she wanders around crying and drugged up. When Katniss does find an opportunity to see Snow, he's like, "Hey, 13 arranged that entire thing with the bombs that killed your sister to expedite the end of the war," and Katniss is like, OH YEAH I forgot I didn't trust that bitch with the perfect hair. So she kills the president of 13 instead of Snow.

Okay, fine (again). But here's where I started getting really pissed off: Katniss is tried for the murder of 13's president, but we never see a single second of the trial, nor do we ever receive an explanation as to how or why she wasn't convicted. Was the defense temporary insanity? Justifiable homicide? Did anyone mention the whole thing with the bombs that killed the kids? I don't know! After the trial, she's shipped back to 12 with a "There, there now, little lady," pat on the head–metaphorically speaking, of course–which she accepts with nary a whimper of protest. In 12, she lives in the Victor's Village all by herself, wallowing in depression, until Peeta shows up. They have a bunch of kids and never leave 12 again. The end.

wtf book?

Seriously, what the freaking fuck????

  1. So basically at the conclusion of this nonsense, everyone is in more or less the exact same place they were in at the start of Catching Fire, except for Prim (who's dead) and Gale (who was the architect of the bombing that killed Prim). That doesn't make me feel like I wasted my time at all!
  2. Congrats, Collins, you just completely removed any agency from the main character of your novel who's supposed to be a "kick-ass heroine." You know what would be great? A book where the main character actually does stuff instead of wallowing in drugs and self-pity, or acting out emotionally instead of using her intelligence, or following that up by just doing whatever other people tell her to do. What a great message, keep this shit up.
  3. There was no emotional closure whatsoever. Sorry, I don't consider pushing babies out of your vagina closure. Katniss never acts proactively for her own happiness or fights for justice for Prim, and her confrontation with Gale over the bombing was lame. He was just like, "Did I have something to do with that? IDK. *shrug* So... this is going to be an issue between us now, right?" YA THINK. She also never confronts either Gale or Peeta for the numerous hurtful things they said about her during the course of the novel, for instance, "Katniss will pick whoever she can't survive without." What in the name of beejesus is that supposed to mean? I would have thrown a crowbar at both their heads.
  4. And speaking of Katniss choosing between Peeta and Gale, she never actually does! Gale gets some fancy-ass job in District 2 and never visits–which admittedly is understandable, since he killed her sister with his bloodthirsty warmongering, the asshat–and Peeta just kinda shows up. So the conclusion to their story is essentially: Hey, you're here, I've given up on life, let's have babies together.

The ending of Mockingjay was THE ACTUAL WORST. I'm not even being hyperbolic. I was so upset when I first finished it I couldn't sleep, and I was depressed for DAYS afterward. I have no idea what the hell Collins was thinking with this novel, but I feel like it betrayed every fiber of trust and time I invested in the series. I want to burn the shit out of it. I want to forget I ever read it. I want to rewrite the whole book into something that's actually decent.

After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that reason I had such a strong negative reaction to the end of Mockingjay was that, despite the supposedly "happy" ending, the novel is actually a tragedy, and a cynical one at that. On the micro level, it's the story of a woman who is systematically beaten down, used until she's completely empty and has lost everything: her friends, family, home; but even worse than that, her sense of self-identity, strength, and authority. In the technical sense Katniss survives The Hunger Games: Game On with a Vengeance, but in terms of her personality I feel like Katniss was completely erased, and no one noticed or cared.

On the macro level, the people who act without conscience or morals during the course of the novel, like Gale and Plutarch, are rewarded, while those who try to save lives or demonstrate caring for other people either die or are rendered completely powerless and irrelevant.

I mean the world's hard enough as it is guys. It's fucking hard enough as it is.


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