Alex ➸ Reads to Live

Alex ➸ Reads to Live

Challenge Participant

My name is Alex. Reviewer of weird books, hater of romance, knitter of yarn, eater of pizza.

URL
In case you're wondering where I've been - I'm on wordpress!

Booklikes is still too laggy and cumbersome and makes blogging difficult. I didn't want to make the move, but wordpress makes blogging and connecting with other blogs outside its own ecosystem much easier.

 

If you'd like to follow me there, I would be delighted to interact with you! I'll be following back all the bookish blogs, so if you have one feel free to leave a link so I can check it out as well.

 

readstolive.wordpress.com

Review
5 Stars
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden - ARC review
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

Disclaimer: I received an ARC review copy from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

I devoured this book like I haven't devoured a novel in months. It feels like my soul was starved for this story, and now I just feel hollow. I miss it. I want to reread it already.

If you have been following me for a time, you may know my struggle with Russian literature (I tried to read Anna Karenina for three entire years). This is not Russian Lit™ but it feels like it. I can't exactly put my finger on it but this felt like every piece of Russian lit I've tried to read (but been completely unable to get more than halfway through). In contrast to literally every experience I've had with Russian lit, The Bear and the Nightingale was gripping. It held me in its teeth from page 1 and would not let go.

This was my last read of the year, finished an hour or two before midnight, and the perfect way to end the dumpster fire that was 2016. The Bear and the Nightingale was a good mix of honest, humorous, frightening, and fantastical. Vasya kicks ass and I love her and - drum roll please - she talks to horses. As soon as a girl talks to horses you have me. I'm sold.

Some parts are a little slow, which I know some people don't like and prefer to be whisked along from page to page on a whirlwind, but it fits the cadence of the story. It's beautifully written and flows really well. In closing, I'll share a couple of my favorite quotes, but keep in mind I'm reviewing from an ARC copy and this may change in the final version!

We do not speak to many, and the spirit of horses does not reveal himself to anyone. There is magic in your bones. You must reckon with it.

---

"All my life," [Vasya] said, "I have been told 'go' and 'come.' I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man's servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent got. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. [...]"
Review
5 Stars
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd - Review
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill - Megan Shepherd
This is my favorite middle grade read of the year - of the last three years, actually. It's a magical realism story set during WWII, where a girl in a hospital sees winged horses in the mirrors. Here's a confession: I'm a horse girl. You've got horses, you've got me. I've read a load of horsey stories in my life, more in my youth than I have in the last few years. I think I have the pedigree required to call myself an expert on horse books, and this is an excellent horse book. It doesn't share many of the more childish cliches of horse books, save one: girl finds injured horse, does everything to save it. And it does it so darn well. There's such depth to this that, after the past few middle grade novels I've read, I honestly wasn't expecting. It's beautifully written. The children behave like children and don't speak like overly wise adults. It's heartwarming and heartbreaking while being neither saccharine nor melodramatic. Something about the writing and the story combined to give me such a nostalgia trip that I cried once or twice. If you know a Horse Girl™ of any gender, send this book their way.
!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
0 Stars
DNF Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Wrath and the Dawn - Renee Ahdieh

WARNING: Angry. Spoilery. Beware.

DNF at 55%. After the mass hype surrounding this, I was expecting to be disappointed by this but for completely separate reasons than I am.I listened to the audiobook while knitting and have thrown my phone across the room twice.

 

I must be missing something here. This is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights (haven't read it) which immediately intrigued me. The main character volunteers herself to marry this horrible murderous Caliph so she can kill him, as he married and murdered her friend. That's his thing - marry a girl, fuck her, kill her the next morning. Kill him. Good.

 

So Shazi keeps herself alive by telling stories, plots his death, he has sex with her without her consent. This is horrible, but expected. And then he kisses her and suddenly this person she has referred to as a monster, who has raped her and treated her like an object, this is the person she has sudden conflicting feelings about. Then it is night, and the next scene is written in such a way that I think I'm expected to swoon that Khalid has actually asked for Shazi's consent.

 

And here we are. Book returned to the e-library. Me ranting on here like the good old days. What on earth am I missing here? I have read the other reviews (to see if she poisons him at the end) and this is apparently a swoon-worthy romance and

they end up together. ??????? I don't get it. No stars given due to my own rule about not starring DNFs but this may change in future. :|

 

For your amusement, here are my reading status updates of this book. I can almost see my eyes rolling into the back of my head and starting on fire.

Review
3 Stars
Review: Human Acts by Han Kang
Human Acts - Han Kang

Human Acts was something I did not expect, and I think that says a lot about the media we're presented on a daily basis. From the synopsis alone, one might be expecting something sensationalized and indulgently violent - like the news. If I get across nothing else in this review, Human Acts is not that.

 

It is beautiful. Painful. Purposeful.

There are no souls here. There are only silenced corpses, and the horrific putrid stink.

I think, in fact, that the lack of dramatics for the sake of fearmongering is part of why I felt a disconnect with it. Despite the beautiful prose and harrowing subject matter, it may have been the frank tale of such a gruesome event as the Gwangju Uprising (yes that is Wikipedia, and as good a place to start as any, if only to find more sources) that left me a little hollow. I have become so used to sensationalized feelings, to melodrama, that it was difficult for me to feel anything but numb while turning these pages. Despite everything that has happened in the world this past year, something with this book did not click for me. This is not a criticism of the book, but myself - Han Kang is a master storyteller, just not what I am used to. That does not make this book any less important.

 

For the rating system I use for books, this is three stars - a solid good. As for me, I'm going to do some more research into the Gwangju Uprising and Han Kang herself. Maybe a bit of soul-searching and pulling back from scanning headlines. I have already reserved a copy of The Vegetarian at my local library, because I need more of Han Kang's works in my life.

 

I received a proof from the publisher via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. This has in no way affected my review.

You know how people write letters to people they're upset with and then burn them as a sort of catharsis? I'm going to do that for Adobe Digital Editions. I'm so annoyed my hair is on fire.

Reading progress update: I've read 23%.
The Wrath and the Dawn - Renee Ahdieh

So far the main character has stared into the mirror and described herself (while describing generally attractive features and simultaneously moaning about how plain she is), describes her outfits each time she has a wardrobe change. Eyes have also been referred to as "topaz orbs".

 

However... shoot me if this isn't a really entertaining story. I'm so hooked! This serves as a reminder to me that YA can be a bit cringey and fun at the same time. Normally I blame myself for being picky.

Review
4 Stars
Room by Emma Donoghue
Room - Emma Donoghue

I put this off for nine months because after reading Slammerkin (I was on hiatus during my read of Slammerkin, so you missed my meltdown, but suffice to say I would sacrifice a toe to be able to read it again for the first time), I thought that surely anything else by Emma Donoghue would be a disappointment.

 

Oh, how wrong I was.

 

It wasn't as good as Slammerkin (this is my new measuring stick for book deliciousness), but it was capital-G-O-O-D Good. It ticked all my boxes. Beautifully written, check. Tragic, check. Short but meaty, check. Weird and/or horrific? Big check. It was missing a good atmosphere, but given the narrator that was near impossible.

 

Unlike Slammerkin, Room doesn't punch you in the face from cover to cover, but the subject matter is just as rough and the first two thirds are very grim. If you don't want to be emotionally distressed, or have a lifelong fear of kidnapping (like me), maybe don't touch this. Or, don't be stupid like I was and start this at 11pm while home alone and force yourself to finish it to stop the nightmares.

 

If, like me, you apparently missed the massive hype train of Room, and you happen to like being kicked in the chest by books like I do, go get this novel. Borrow it from the library right now - I'll be here waiting. I'll say this like I do for nearly every book: Go in blind. Don't read the synopsis. It's incredible, like the time I managed to watch the entirety of The Revenant with no subtitles and thought it was a magical art piece.

 

I would love to hear what everyone else's thoughts were on Room if you've read it! I seem to have missed the hype train as it crashed right past my face - 500k ratings on GR and counting, my word.

Well, hello there.
Hi bookish friends! I am back (I think) after... nearly a year away. Yikes. That means you've missed me bitch about Truthwitch's disappointment, gush over Slammerkin, struggle with Sabriel and Lirael and fall in love with them every time. More on that soon.

I'm not particularly well still. There are rough days and calmer ones, though everything is still run through with an electric current of mid-level anxiety no matter what. I don't like talking about my illnesses, to be perfectly frank, but since they have affected my life so deeply as to shut down my one major hobby (this blog) I think it's fair. I'm well enough now that I can open my email without having a major spike in anxiety, and I thank Twitter for that. Most days I still can't leave the house, and certainly not alone, so that leaves quite a lot of time for knitting and reading.

Anyhow, enough of that. For now I'm back, and hopefully it's for good, though I have been experiencing the most horrific lag on BL these last couple of hours. Is that normal now or am I mad?

To any author expecting a reply to the 82 emails I have received in this year of absence: I'm truly sorry. I've purged my inbox as to not give myself a heart attack (in any case, I opened exactly three before deleting them all and found a Christian romance, erotica, and one mass request sent to "dear reviewer, I love your blog, here is my contemporary teen romance"). If you'd like to shoot me another, I'm all ears - eyes - whatever. Pinky promise!

This blog is on hold until further notice. I have to take care of my mental health at the moment. I will still be reviewing on Goodreads, and will crosspost here when I have the energy to read much more than childrens novels.

 

As noted on my review policy page since the beginning of the month, I will not be responding to snide author emails during this time.

Year Wrap-Up: 2015 in Books

Happy New Year everyone!

 

According to Goodreads I read 80 books this year. Not counting my DNFs, I read 76 books this year. So, the estimate of 20,198 pages is likely off anyways! Regardless, this is the highest number I've achieved so far, not counting my re-reads of Animorphs on a roughly yearly basis.

 

Now for some juicy stats, pulled from GR because BookLikes has such a user-unfriendly, piss-me-off interface. These are adjusted as I went and knocked some plain unmemorable books down a star or two. If I have forgotten that I read a book in under a year, it's probably not even worth three stars.

 

Books read: 76

Average rating for the year: 3.4 stars

5 star ratings: 13

4 star ratings: 24

3 star ratings: 20

2 star ratings: 13

1 star ratings: 5

No rating: 1

DNF: 4

 

Most mainstream: If I Stay by Gayle Forman  (421,986 ratings)

Most obscure: Shadow on the Eclipse by J. A. Self (2 ratings)

Longest: The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort (528 pages)

Shortest: The Body-Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson (22 pages)

Worst: Come now, it's hardly past Christmas. I couldn't.

 

Best read of 2015:

The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk

 

Only because calling The Call of Cthulhu my best read would be cheating. Both of them continue to creep around my nightmares.

 

Honorable mentions:

Pickles and Ponies by Laura May

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

 

---

 

This is the year that I finally started officially DNFing books and it has been a revolution! I have two shelves for this on Goodreads: DNF for good, and DNF for now. One for books I cannot bother to finish, and one for books I am too lazy/disinterested in at the moment to finish but intend to pick up again at a later date. It's often I pick up a good book, get 20 pages in and go "No, I'm not ready for this right now. Maybe later."

 

At some point this year I passed the year mark for starting to review on this blog, though since I tend not to spoil or post a synopsis, there are some that would say that I don't review at all. I have in fact come across some snide comments on my feed to this effect, though I'm not quite enough of a narcissist to assume they're about my shit reviews. I don't like to spell out what happens (which is often just rewording the synopsis from the book jacket anyways) particularly on GR because it is quite literally right there for you to read if you wish to. Whatever you want to think of it, I like sharing how books make me feel. In my opinion that is the most important part of a book.

 

In closing, Anna Karenina still glares at me from my desk. It has been over a year with her looming over me like a great Russian cinderblock. I pray 2016 is the year I finally knock her out for good. I tire of her.

 

I wish you all a blessed new year!

Psst!

The novella I reviewed today, Magic of the Gargoyles, is apparently free on Amazon today. I don't know how long it's free for, but it's cute and totally worth a read. So if you happened to be intrigued, it's free!

Review
3 Stars
Magic of the Gargoyles by Rebecca Chastain
Magic of the Gargoyles: An Elemental Fantasy Novella - Rebecca Chastain

I liked this alright. It's quite short (being a novella), ringing in at just under 80 pages. It's quite well-written, though the constant, heavy descriptions of magic use were exhausting at times. Every time Mika - whose name it took me half the novella to learn because this is first person - uses her magic it is described in excruciating detail of threads and weaving and whatnot. There are books like Harry Potter, which basically say "magic happened and it was quite difficult," and there are books like Eragon which wax poetic about how the magic happened. Note that the use of Eragon here is not at all related to the plot of this novella, which is not Star Wars in Middle Earth.

The plot is quite good, though it seems to be middle grade. Or at least, it had that feeling to me, as there weren't any real consequences for the protagonist. In fact, I think this storyline would work really well with some neat illustrations for the MG crowd! It is dark at times, but no more dark than Legend of Korra, which was allegedly a show for children.

Unfortunately, fantasy worlds with guns are not something I can get behind without suspending literally all belief. It's like walking into a Michael Bay film - you go for the explosions, and try your hardest to pretend there is a plot (again, do not confuse this with criticism of the novella's plot). This goes double due to the amount of focus Mika has to put into using magic at all. If magic seemed to be instinctual and reactive, then guns wouldn't seem out of the question. As it stands, the danger doesn't seem real, because there are no consequences for anything. The Joker dangles Batman off a cliff but doesn't drop him because without Batman he has nothing else to do. You know the protagonist won't get shot because the story isn't over yet. Guns, in my opinion, work far better as a tension device in films, and even then it's iffy when nobody ever gets shot. They feel more like set dressing than what they are, which is a hair trigger death.

Double marks for not ending on a cliffhanger. It's gotten to the point where a cliffhanger will make me set a series aside nine times out of ten. It's cheap.

In all, I did like this, though I do strongly feel that this would work better for a middle grade audience due to the utter lack of consequence. Then again, I like my characters amoral and my plots bleak. If you are one for a happy ending, this novella will delight you to no end, and don't let me Grinch all over your happiness.

Solid 3/5.

Thank you to the author, who provided a review e-copy to me in exchange for an honest review.

On separating the art from the artist.

My social anxiety demon has been squished temporarily, so I have a question to pose to y'all! My New Year's resolution is to not be so terrified of comments. So, here goes.

 

Are there any authors that you really enjoy as a person even though you hate their books?

 

I don't think this is something I've ever heard my friends express about books in particular, or really anyone else. Maybe that's because the era of the super-present author is a pretty new thing? You know, Twitter and all that.

 

For me, it would be Emery Lord and Maggie Stiefvater. Offending books were Open Road Summer and Shiver, respectively. Both of them are super witty and hilarious on Twitter (and I totally stalk Maggie's tumblr because damn the woman can really draw) but I just about tore my hair out reading their novels. I feel so bad about it but I just cannot do romance. At all. I try, I hate it, I feel bad about hating it, and hide from YA for a month or two while I cleanse my brain-palate.

 

But! To be fair, I did read the paranormal romance book in high school on the word of a Twihard friend who is no longer allowed to rec me books. I have The Scorpio Races on my Kindle and will give it a go once I have some time!

 

I also couldn't stand Malala Yousafzai's memoir, but I solely place the blame on the translator. Malala is a gift to this earth but oh my god, no.

 

Please do share yours so I don't feel so alone. D:

Review
1.5 Stars
The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
The Wolf of Wall Street - Jordan Belfort

This could've been cut in half and still retained its masturbatory air. It's Jordan Belfort wanking about how many drugs he's done, women he's cheated on his (now ex) wife with, how many times he's fucked his (now ex) wife and the feelings she gave his TOTALLY BIG PENIS GUYS, IT'S HUGE I JUST HAD TO SHOW PEOPLE BECAUSE MY PENIS IS BIG EVEN THOUGH I AM SHORT JUST LOOK!!! He also likes to reiterate every few chapters about how he's totally not a bigot, okay, it just slips out and then a moment later the slurs go flying.

He could've at least paid for a ghost writer, and then some. At least DiCaprio was almost charming. Oh yeah, DiCaprio's Belfort was toned down. Jesus. If this was written as though Belfort felt even a shred of real remorse, I wouldn't be so annoyed and bored. There was little of the actual Stratton Oakmont years, far less than even the film, which is the entire reason I picked up this book in the first place. It's just a midlife crisis in book form. This memoir is Belfort having a five hundred page-long wank about how great he was at stocks and women and drugs, because Jordan Belfort is absolutely the sort of man to think of women as a prize to be won.  He was, and continues to be, gross. Look no further for proof that Wall Street is evil, or at the very least shot through with it.

 

Was it worth the twenty hours I spent listening to it?

 

Review
4 Stars
After Dad by Ralph Cohen (or: ow my heart, and how dare you)
After Dad - Ralph Cohen

This was an unexpected love for me. As someone who doesn't have a father (and doesn't miss him), I wasn't expecting to relate to this as much as I did. It's as much a coming of age tale as it is a novel about loss. The story is told by his children (Margot, Jenny, and Toby) and their mother, Ruth. It's funny one moment, then it'll turn on a dime and punch you in the heart without warning. It's set in the 1960's and it feels like it... or at least what I've come to see as the '60s through the lens of the media, and Mad Men.

 

I didn't care about much about Toby and Ruth at all. Both of them were unseen for most of the novel, which made it difficult for me to connect with their story. Toby in particular had a disconnect from reality that made his chapters difficult to read, though objectively they should be the saddest. I wouldn't say their stories were uninteresting, far from it actually, but seeing them so infrequently made it hard for me to care about them. In POV novels there are characters whose chapters I will skip, and I was sorely tempted to skip these two, though I'm glad I didn't.

 

Margot and Jenny's stories both struck a chord with me. Being a young woman as I am, there are things that we grow through when we're growing up that seem to be almost universal experiences. There are things that happen that change you, and both Jenny and Margot experience their share of horrible things and horrible people. (See: my reading status updates that consist entirely of "fuck Gerald")

 

I won't spoil it. You know the dad dies, but I'm not giving away anything more than that. If you've read my reviews before, you know that I am firmly against spoilers of any variety. I'll say this, though: This is the sort of novel that is going to hang around with me for a while. A couple of times I had to set it down for a day or two to gather myself. It's been haunting me when I've been too busy to read it, and this is a sad ghost I'd like to shake.

 

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Parajunkee Design