What I read: October 2013

Wheeeee, I got through a lot of books this month! There’s something to be said for having the sniffles and staying on the sofa all day with a cup of tea and a stack of books. So without further ado, let’s get into the list of what I loved and hated on my reading list this month.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (hardcover, 395 pages). Five out of five stars. This has to be the most psychotic book I’ve ever read. Seriously. I know it’s aggravating when someone says they can’t summarize the plot without giving too much away, and I was aggravated when people said that at the beginning of the year, but it’s true. When Amy goes missing from her home, suspicion immediately falls on her husband Nick–but as it turns out, they both have lots of secrets to hide, from each other and the world, and the kidnapping/murder investigation goes through a harrowing series of twists and turns as it all unfolds on the page. Flynn is an amazing writer period, and I give her tons of credit for coming up with such a bizarre story, but I do think you should have a chaser (as it were) of something lighter on hand to read once you finish this, because it’s intense with a capital I.

Killing Orders, by Sara Paretsky (paperback, 368 pages). Three out of five stars. The third in the series about private eye V.I. Warshawski, this book was much better than the first two. I don’t know if Paretsky just finally hit her stride or what, but the writing was much smoother. In this episode V.I. is taking on old family skeletons, the Church and the Mafia. Whew! Luckily these novels don’t really have to be read in order, so you could skip the first two and go straight to this one.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver (paperback, 470 pages). Three out of five stars. I didn’t like this as much as the Delirium trilogy, but it was still good. Sam Kingston is a Mean Girl–pretty, popular, and on top of the world at her high school. That all changes when she dies in a car accident, but mysteriously, she wakes up the next morning to find she’s been given a second chance to live out her final day. Over the next week, as she relives her last hours again and again, she finds ways to right the wrongs of her past and makes some discoveries about herself that change her perspective on life. This could have spiraled into cheese, but I think it stays just far enough this side of melodrama to be palatable, as long as you keep in mind that it’s aimed at a YA audience and as such includes lots of references to lipgloss and Starbucks!

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie (paperback, 300 pages). Five out of five stars. “Queen of mystery”, indeed! I think this has to be one of Christie’s best mysteries ever. Ten people are given a mysterious summons to an island; once there, they begin to die off, one by one, apparently in retribution for past crimes. But if they are alone on the island, then who is the murderer, and how is he accomplishing his deeds? The reveal at the end is pretty darn clever, and it’s easy to see why this is considered one of the best mystery novels ever written by mystery/crime lovers.

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman (paperback, 370 pages). Four out of five stars. I never saw the BBC show, but the novelization is plenty interesting as is. Richard Mayhew is an average young man who’s pulled into the world of London Below after helping a strange young girl named Door who appears out of nowhere in the street, bloodied and in need of care. As it turns out, true to her name, Door can open a door to anything from anywhere, which makes her of particular interest to an unknown someone who will stop at nothing to capture her. When he helps her, Richard is pulled into London Below on a mission with life or death consequences. I think Gaiman did a good job of creating a blend of the real London (London Above) and a darker, unseen fantasy world (London Below) and going pretty far into the realm of fantasy without getting so strange that the story is hard to follow.

Just What Kind of Mother Are You?, by Paula Daly (paperback, 320 pages). Three out of five stars. What would happen if your best friend’s child disappeared, while you were supposed to be watching her? That’s what happens to the heroine of our story, who’s got too many balls up in the air and drops one when she forgets that her daughter’s pal is supposed to be spending the night for a sleepover. When it’s discovered that the girl has disappeared, the fear grows that she may have been taken by a serial kidnapper who has been snatching young girls. This book has been compared to Gone Girl, but it’s not as good; the writing isn’t as fluid, and I felt like the ending involved too much luck/coincidence and not enough sleuthing skill. But it’s decent enough, though like a lot of crime novels involving kids, it does leave a bad taste in your mouth. Just an FYI.

Wolfsangel, by Liza Perrat (Kindle edition, 395 pages). Five out of five stars. I posted a full review of this title here. This is the second book in a series but can be read as a stand-alone novel. If you like historical fiction (particularly the era of World War II), then I highly recommend this book.

Riddle in Stone, by Robert Evert (ebook, 382 pages). Four out of five stars. I posted a full review of this title here. Fantasy fiction has a lot of ups and downs, so I was pleasantly surprised to find such a strong debut from an indie author. The everyman hero, Edmund, sets off on a quest like the ones in his beloved books, only to stumble into a secret that has drawn thieves, assassins, and kings throughout the ages. I would put this title up in the ranks with similar books from authors like Brent Weeks, R.A. Salvatore, and Karen Miller.

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin (hardcover, 568 pages). Three out of five stars. I loved The Passage, but it was bizarre and intense and went in a lot of directions I didn’t expect, so I had no idea what was waiting for me in the sequel. If this were a standalone novel I might have given it four stars, because the writing and plot development are good; it’s just that the first book was so surprising and ambitious and amazing, so the follow-up feels kind of…flat. None of the plot twists really seemed like surprises. But again, understand: this was a good book. I liked it. I just didn’t like it as much as the first book in the trilogy, so that’s why I knocked off some points, but I think that if you’re looking for a good trilogy and don’t mind horror/huge leaps back and forth through time/tons of interconnecting plot threads that may or may not seem connected, then this trilogy is well worth your time and patience. The third book is due out next year, so hopefully it will wrap things up with a bang.

The Infernal Devices trilogy, by Cassandra Clare. Overall I would give this three out of five stars; it’s not the best YA fiction I’ve read but it isn’t the worst either. It’s just okay. Read on for more detailed breakdowns of the three books:

Clockwork Angel (hardcover, 479 pages). Two out of five stars. Tessa Gray thinks she’s an average girl, until she discovers that she possesses the power to Change into anyone she wants to just by holding an item that belonged to them. This brings her in contact with the Shadowhunters of London, sworn to protect humanity from demons, and the Downworlders–vampires, werewolves, and other inhuman creatures roaming the streets. Her power also makes her the target of a mysterious and powerful enemy of the Shadowhunters, who will stop at nothing to find her and to destroy the Shaowhunters who are shielding her. She also finds herself torn between two Shadowhunters who happen to also be blood brothers: the dark and sarcastic Will, and the tragic silver-haired Jem, both of whom have dangerous secrets of their own.

Be warned: other readers who’ve read this alongside the Harry Potter series say it has very strong influences (bordering on copying, depending on your viewpoint) from that series, which makes sense since Clare started out as a Potter fan fiction writer. It also feels like a carbon copy of the original Mortal Instruments as far as the characters go; Tessa is Clary’s Victorian counterpart, and the same goes for Jem/Jace and Will/Alec. The characters are slightly different in some ways and overall I think I like this set better than their modern counterparts, but I’ll get into that more when I review Instruments next month (currently reading that series now!). It definitely feels like deja vu as you go through the book; you can find threads of lots of other paranormal/fantasy novels running through here. It’s not that the story itself is terrible, it’s just feels like a patchwork quilt of standard Victorian characters and cliches sewn together with inspiration from other works; the writing is kind of clunky and the plot moves pretty slowly.

A bulleted list of other gripes:

  • It’s advertised as historical fiction, but Clare’s grasp of Victorian culture is not always up to par. Even accounting for their unusual circumstances, these sometimes kids act and talk more like modern teens at a costume party than real Victorian Londoners.
  • It’s advertised as steampunk, but there’s very little steampunk here.
  • It’s not advertised as horror, but there is a horror element here. I liked it, but other readers may or may not like it.
  • Tessa is kind of hard to warm up to; she alternates between bratty and boring an awful lot.
  • Will feels like such a cardboard character. You know: the love interest who’s sooooooooo beautiful but treats everyone around him poorly, but our heroine falls in love with him at first sight because he’s soooooooo beautiful. Now, Will is not nearly as bad as lots of other YA love interests, and he does show glimmers of goodness, so it’s not so much that I feel like Tessa shouldn’t crush on him. But honestly, he feels sort of wooden; you don’t wonder why he treats Tessa poorly, you just know he has a dark secret and you’re impatiently wondering what it is so you can move on. And also: why does he have to be sooooooo beautiful? Gag. I know, it’s YA, but c’mon. 
  • Oh, and if you’re going to have the mandatory YA love triangle? Balance it! Next to the lovely Jem, Will doesn’t seem to offer much competition beyond being soooooooo beautiful. I’m team Jem here.
  • There are 101 questions that pop up throughout the book, and you’re supposed to wait for the sequels to get the answers. Fine, save some of the good stuff for later, but don’t leave us hanging on everything.
  • Did I mention the plot moves slowly? And nothing–repeat, nothing–comes as a surprise.

So that would make this seem like something to toss aside and ignore, right? But it’s not terrible, it just feels like an early draft that needs a lot of refinement to be truly awesome. And all of the clunky issues aside, the last fifth or so of the book starts to really heat up, and it was sufficiently good enough to make me want to finish the trilogy. And I’m so glad I continued on, because…

Clockwork Prince (hardcover, 502 pages). Four out of five stars. Wow! I don’t know if Clare just finally hit her stride, or if she had better editors, or if she had more time to work on this installment. But the plot and the characters improve a lot in this sequel. Tessa becomes more likeable, the love triangle intensifies (though it’s still pretty PG, as it is a YA book), and the writing becomes much more fluid. We also finally start to get some real answers and backstory to different plot points, including why Will acts the way he does (it’s a sad story, and makes you like him much more). It’s still not a perfect book overall, but it was definitely much better than the first, and the ending left me very eager to move on to the third installment in the trilogy.

Clockwork Princess (paperback, 565 pages). Three out of five stars. Tessa and the Shadowhunters finally face their mutual enemy and the fate of the London Institute is decided. Tessa’s warring feelings for both Jem and Will also come to a head. I felt like Clare needed to wrap up the last threads of her storyline but didn’t have enough material to fully support a third novel, so she padded it out as best as she could; the result is that after a good start, things really start to drag. Tessa has turned into a brave heroine but she does something in this book that really made me dislike her, and I felt like the love triangle was wrapped up in a really awkward fashion. The last 100 pages of this book just draaaaaggggged by because I felt like the conclusion was inevitable. I’m torn between giving this two and three stars, but I guess I’ll give it three because at least the writing flowed a bit better than in book one, there were some really good characters to cheer for, and we did get satisfactory answers to a lot of the questions that were raised in the series.

Insurgent (Divergent #2), by Veronica Roth (hardcover, 525 pages). Two out of five stars. I really loved Divergent, even if it does seem like Roth is drawing lots of inspiration from The Hunger Games. And thank goodness for no love triangle. But this sequel fell flat for me; Tris spends most of it moping over the same three things–I feel guilty for shooting my friend, I miss my parents, I’m in love with Four–without really doing anything. The story just drags and drags. Things finally get good in the last, I don’t know, fifty or so pages of the book–but ugh, what a blah middle installment. I hope Allegiant will be better, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (hardcover, 241 pages). Three out of five stars. After all of the quickie mysteries and YA fiction, I thought I would pick up something a little more…adult? Challenging? Something on a higher literary standard? However you classify it, I really had no idea what the book would be like, other than I knew that McCarthy penned No Country For Old Men and I loved the movie version (haven’t read the book yet), so I had a vague idea that I might like this story too. I think it says something about an author’s way with words when they can make a depressing post-apocalyptic journey so poetic, but be warned: it is depressing, and it’s McCarthy, so it’s written in his trademark short sentences with a lack of punctuation. This might drive you crazy, but I got over it.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (paperback, 180 pages). Five out of five stars. Kindly sent my way by Amanda! I really liked Baz Luhrmann’s screen interpretation of this story; I think he did great justice to the decadence of the flapper era and to the lyricism of Fitzgerald’s story. I think this is one of those books that you choke down in high school and forget about until years later, when you re-read it and can really appreciate Fitzgerald’s prose. And hey, it’s super-short, so it’s not like it takes a lot of effort to revisit this classic!

So that’s it for my October book list! Don’t forget to hook up with me on Goodreads here and send me your suggestions for what I should read next!


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