Reviews: July to October, with quite a bit of YA (and some “classics”)

Hihihihiii from Belfast! I know it’s been aaaaaages since I’ve posted, but things have been rather hectic with the move from Sydney back to the UK. In addition, I had quite a few writing projects going on during August (hence no books were read then!), and I’m now back to my PhD, which comes with its own set of eyeball-killing books… Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading over the last few months–some amazing titles, and some awful ones (unfortunately).

39. Lauren Oliver – Delirium (2 July)
40. Elizabeth Harrower – In Certain Circles (17 July)
41. Alice Munro – Dear Life (31 July)
42. Kim Harrison — Dead Witch Walking (12 September)
43. Natsume Soseki – Kokoro (trans. Meredith McKinney) (14 September)
44. Lois Lowry – Gathering Blue (20 September)
45. Lauren Willig – The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (28 September)
46. Classical Literary Criticism (3 Oct)
47. Cath Crowley – Graffiti Moon (4 Oct)
48. Anne Bishop – Written in Red (10 Oct)
49. Claudia Carroll – A Very Accidental Love Story (25 Oct)

July

39. Lauren Oliver – Delirium (2 July)

39 - DeliriumBlurb: Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t. (From Goodreads.)

Plot: I found nothing extraordinary about the plot, but nothing too tedious, either. There were enough events and actions to keep me interested, but there was nothing mind-blowingly amazing, so it was just okay, really.

Characters: Okay, so I really didn’t like the protagonist—I found her whiny and annoying and generally not a nice human being, and I didn’t want to know her and I didn’t really care about her or what happened to her. I know she has her struggles what with her mother’s past and all that, but after a while, I really couldn’t stand how self-centred and entitled and melodramatic she (and everything) was, and…yeah. The characters just didn’t cut it for me.

Themes: I know what they’re supposed to be (oppression and so on), but I just…stopped caring.

Language: Apparently Oliver’s language has been described as being beautiful and poetic and so on, but I just didn’t see it. I had no particular fondness of the writing, and actually found the “dramatic” moments a little annoying at times.

Overall: All in all, I was rather disappointed with this novel, and although I’m somewhat interested in seeing how the plot will be resolved, I could just as well do without. I felt the premise held such promise—I mean, love as a disease that requires a cure? Yes, please!—but the execution left a lot to be desired. It was still a pretty enjoyable read (I think I finished it in a day?), but the book didn’t really leave me with…well, anything, really.

For those who like numbers: 3/5


40. Elizabeth Harrower – In Certain Circles (17 July)

40 - In Certain CirclesBlurb: In Certain Circles is an intense psychological drama about family and love, tyranny, and freedom. Set amid the lush gardens and grand stone houses that line the north side of Sydney Harbour, it follows the lives of four unforgettable characters whose fates are intertwined. (From Goodreads, cause I left my book in Sydney…)

Plot: Although not much “happens” in this book, there’s quite a bit of psychological development that is a little reminiscent of Henry James’s novels. The novel skips through several years at a time, which really facilitated the character development.

Characters: I neither loved nor hated any of the characters, but I did enjoy watching them tackle their individual issues and eventually grow. For the most part, I thought their journeys were quite believable, and rather than the characters themselves, it was that sense of “realness” that I loved.

Themes: The novel primarily deals with one’s self-identity in a world with shifting values, particularly in a burgeoning place such as post-WWII Sydney. In this, I think the novel succeeds quite well.

Language: I really enjoyed Harrower’s writing style—there’s something both pared back and old-fashioned about her narrative voice that really speaks to me. I was particularly fond of her dialogue, which I found quietly revealing.

Overall: Writing this “review” two months after I’d finished the book, it becomes quite evident that the book hasn’t really stayed with me, and didn’t really make any lasting impressions. Although I did enjoy it while reading it, I can’t remember many details. Funnily enough, that in itself correlates with my thoughts about the book: quite lovely, a little hazy, and rather transient.

For those who like numbers: 3.9/5


41. Alice Munro – Dear Life (31 July)

41 - Dear LifeBlurb: In story after story in this brilliant new collection, Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken, or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: their stories draw us in with t heir quiet depth and surprise us with unexpected turns. And while most are set in her signature territory around Lake Huron, some strike even closer to home: an astonishing suite of four autobiographical tales offers an unprecedented glimpse into Munro’s own childhood. Exalted by her clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, Dear Life shows how strange, perilous, and extraordinary ordinary can be.

Overall: I’ve never read any Munro before, but thought I’d give her a go. Really enjoyed these short stories—thought some of them were quite superb—and was actually itching to write some of my own (which I subsequently did). I think the highlight of this collection was supposed to be the set of four autobiographical stories found at the end, but those didn’t call to me so much. Goes to show that some works can succeed in providing psychological insight on a writer/creator/artist, but are lacklustre as works of art. I wouldn’t rank Munro as one of my favourite short story writers, and I’m not sure if I’ll read any more of her works, but I was definitely glad to have experienced this collection.

For those who like numbers: 3.7/5


September

42. Kim Harrison — Dead Witch Walking (12 September)

This was a plane book that I’d read on my crazy long travel from Sydney to Belfast, and it was indeed good company!

42 - Dead WitchBlurb: All the creatures of the night gather in “the Hollows” of Cincinnati, to hide, to prowl, to party…and to feed.

Vampires rule the darkness in a predator-eat-predator world rife with dangers beyond imagining—and it’s Rachel Morgan’s job to keep that world civilised.

A bounty hunter and witch with serious sex appeal and an attitude, she’ll bring ’em back alive, dead…or undead.

Plot: Admittedly, it took a while for me to get into the story and the world, but once I was in, I was in for good. Some aspects were quite predictable, but I thought there were just enough twists and turns to keep me interested. The ending was also quite satisfactory—it resolved the first book’s concerns, but also set into motion a whole bunch of interesting things that will inevitably take place in the rest of the series.

Characters: I think the characters were what made this book so enjoyable for me. I felt everyone had so much personality, and were quite believable (and likeable, too, which is always helpful). I was particularly fond of Jenks—what a marvellous creation! Am really looking forward to finding out more about these characters in the upcoming books.

Themes: Uh, I didn’t think too hard about this book, and treated it as a bit of fun, which it certainly was!

Language: Again, I don’t have much to say about the language. I thought the book was very readable, but that was about it, really.

Overall: I’m certainly no expert on urban fantasy, but I did very much enjoy this Dead Witch Walking, which, according to my friend Maria, is the weakest of the series. I wouldn’t say I’m absolutely hooked and need need need to read on, but I’m certainly putting the rest of the series on my to-read list!

For those who like numbers: 3.7/5


43. Natsume Soseki – Kokoro (trans. Meredith McKinney) (14 September)

43 - KokoroBlurb: No collection of Japanese literature is complete without Kokoro, the last novel Natsume Souseki completed before his death in 1916. Published here in the first new English translation in more than fifty years, Kokoro—meaning “heart”—is the story of a subtle and poignant friendship between two unnamed characters, a young man and an enigmatic elder whom he calls “Sensei”.

Haunted by traffic secrets that have cast a long shadow over his life, Sensei slowly opens up to his young disciple, confessing indiscretions from his own student days that have left him reeling with guilt, and revealing, in the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between his moral anguish and his student’s struggle to understand it, the profound cultural shift from one generation to the next that characterised Japan in the early twentieth century.

Plot: I really enjoyed the pace of the novel—so laid-back and leisurely, but with an underlying momentum that could not be ignored. But I suppose this is a book in which “not much happens”, where the revelations were more about character than plot. I did think there was a little too much foreshadowing for my liking, and I wasn’t sure if the suspense/tension was justified, but apart from that, I enjoyed the overall narrative trajectory of the novel.

Characters: Oh, I loved the way Souseki portrayed all the characters in this book. There was just so much humanity, and so many flaws. There’s something so deliciously quiet about Souseki’s treatment of the two main characters, and by the end of the book, I felt that I knew the quite well indeed—and not at all. That kind of paradox is just so true to the people we meet in our everyday lives, and I applaud Souseki for his fine achievement.

Themes: Admittedly, I don’t know much about Japan in the early twentieth century, Kokoro definitely gave me a sense of a transition period carrying clashes of tradition vs. modernity. It was particularly interesting seeing the characters’ rather blasé approach to tertiary education, and how they generally hold the idea that such institutions don’t have much to offer.

Language: I read this in translation, so there’s not much I can say about the language. Maybe if I brush up on my Japanese, I might be able to handle this in the original language? (That might be wishful thinking right there…)

Overall: A solid, quiet novel, which offered me several moments of reflection about Japanese culture, history, identity, and memory.

For those who like numbers: 4/5


44. Lois Lowry – Gathering Blue (20 September)

44 - Gathering BlueBlurb: Left orphaned and physically flawed in a civilisation that shuns and discards the weak, Kira faces a frighteningly uncertain future. Her neighbours are hostile and no one but a small boy offers to help.

When she is summoned to judgement by the Council of Guardians, Kira prepares to fight for her life. But the Council, to her surprise, has plans for her. Blessed with an almost magical talent that keeps her alive, the young girl faces new responsibilities and a set of mysteries deep within the only world she has ever known. On her quest for truth, Kira discovers things that will change her life and world forever.

Plot: Firstly, this novel has a different setting from Jonas’s world in The Giver, though I suspect there’s an overarching “main setting” that is yet to be revealed. There was nothing wrong with the plot per se, but for some reason, this story just didn’t resonate with me as deeply as The Giver (perhaps because I went into Gathering Blue with a certain set of unconscious expectations?). When I got to the end of the book, I did want to read on and know more, but that desire wasn’t as strong as for The Giver.

Characters: I thought these characters were well developed and quite believable, and I liked most of them. It made sense to me that a lot of the adults didn’t question the system, and I enjoyed seeing Kira challenging these assumptions.

Themes: Individuality, creativity, personal expression, and the tensions that occur when a certain society tries to shape those into something else. I thought a lot of the themes were quite pertinent, and I really enjoyed reading about them in a book that was primarily written for children—it certainly introduces the importance of art and creativity without being all over the top and all-encompassing, and I loved how Lowry contrasts the nature of artistic expression with the equally important need to be practical and survive.

Language: Very simple and pared back, but in a way that makes the story accessible to children and adults alike.

Overall: I was a little disappointed with this book because I had enjoyed The Giver so much, and had been really looking forward to the “sequel”. I can see that Lowry has set up a few things for the remaining two books of her “loose quartet”, but I still wanted a lot more than what she gave us in Gathering Blue. I definitely want to read the next two books, but I think that has less to do with this book than with its predecessor.

For those who like numbers: 3.9/5


45. Lauren Willig – The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (28 September)

45 - Pink CarnationBlurb: Nothing goes right for Eloise. The one day she wears her new suede boots, it rains cats and dogs. When the subway stops short, she’s always the one thrown into some stranger’s lap. Plus, she’s had more than her share of misfortune in the way of love. In fact, after she realises romantic heroes are a thing of the past, she decides it’s time for a fresh start.

Setting off for England, Eloise is determined to finish her dissertation on that dashing pair of spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But what she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation—the most elusive spy of all time. As she works to unmask this obscure spy, Eloise stumbles across answers to all kinds of questions. How did the Pink Carnation save England from Napoleon? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly escape her bad luck and find a living, breathing hero all her own?

Plot: Okay, so this was a super light and fluffy read, and it certainly served its purposes well as such. The plot was very predictable, but I didn’t really care because it was brainless and fluffy and fantastic, and Willig delivers a solid piece of entertainment.

Characters: I really enjoyed all the characters here, from the figures who set in the “historical past” down to all the modern folks, including Eloise. As a scholar myself, I completely understand her obsession with reading the manuscripts, just as I can appreciate the romantic fantasy Willig has created about the existence of such “academic evidence”. Lots of good fun!

Themes: Uh… Regency gentlemen in disguises? XD

Language: Very easy to read, which complements the fluffiness quite well!

Overall: Well, this was certainly a nice bit of light reading that occupied me over a few days!

For those who like numbers: 3.9/5


October

46. Classical Literary Criticism (3 Oct)

46 - Classical Lit CritBlurb: The works collected in this volume have profoundly shaped the history of criticism in the Western world: they created much of the terminology still in use today and formulated enduring questions about the nature and function of literature. In Ion, Plato examines the god-like power of poets to evoke feelings such as pleasure of fear, yet he went on to attack this manipulation of emotions and banished poets from his ideal state in his Republic. Aristotle defends the value of art in his Poetics, and his analysis of tragedy has influenced generations of critics from the Renaissance onwards. In the Art of Poetry, Horace promotes a style of poetic craftsmanship rooted in wisdom, ethical insight and decorum, while Longinus’ On the Sublime explores the nature of inspiration in poetry and prose.

Overall: Amazing. I really don’t have much more to add to this, except that I absolutely loved going through this book and encountering the many extracts within. The introduction is also very, very good, and gives an excellent, well, introduction, to the history of classical literary criticism, and how it fits within the framework of what we now understand as literary criticism. After finishing this, I was very much keen on delving into some further reading—there’s so much Plato and Aristotle I’ve yet to encounter!

For those who like numbers: 4.8/5


47. Cath Crowley – Graffiti Moon (4 Oct)

47 - Graffiti MoonBlurb: Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight she’s going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. Somewhere in the glassy darkness, he’s out there, spraying colour, spraying birds and blue sky on the night. And Lucy knows that a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for—really fall for.

The last person Lucy wants to spend this night with is Ed, the guy she’s managed to avoid since punching him in the nose on the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells Lucy he knows where to find Shadow, the two of them are suddenly on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s pieces of heartbreak and escape echo off the city walls. And what Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

Plot: The story was relatively good, but the events just didn’t really excite me or draw me in… I suppose the plot did have enough to keep me reading, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, and I didn’t really react much to certain revelations.

Characters: Unfortunately, none of the characters resonated with me at all, and I just don’t have anything to add to that…

Themes: Growing up and finding one’s place in the world, I guess. But I just didn’t think too much on it (or perhaps, the novel didn’t inspire me to do much thinking?).

Language: It bothered me a little that a novel that is so clearly set in Australia—and contains quite a bit of Australian lingo, mind you—has made such an attempt at “Americanisation”. If you’re writing about Australian school-kids, then stick to the Aussie-isms, please!

Overall: I read this book on recommendation, and after completing it, I have to say that I’m probably just not cut out for most YA… I can definitely see the appeal of such a novel, but it just doesn’t do it for me. The language is okay, but not spectacular; the themes brush the surface of my interests, but don’t delve deep enough. As much as I did enjoy reading the novel (and it’s great that I’ve turned reading into such a leisurely activity!), I just won’t be singing its praises or going on a treasure hunt to read the rest of Crowley’s writing.

For those who like numbers: 3.5/5


48. Anne Bishop – Written in Red (10 Oct)

48 - Written in RedBlurb: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business distract operates by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide whether she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

Plot: More so than the plot, what I enjoyed most was the world-building that occurs in this (and in all Bishop novels). I didn’t find anything mind-boggling or spectacular about the plot, but I thought the pacing was very well done, and the story itself was enjoyable. I think the book sets us up for a few revelations and so on in the rest of the series, and I’m actually really excited about those because so many wonderful things are bound to happen!

Characters: Unfortunately, these characters are typical of Anne Bishop novels: a massive wallop of Mary Sue, who’s surrounded by a massive group of big, dangerous males who only soften for said Mary Sue. Fortunately for me, I’m used to this kind of Anne Bishop formula, so I can more or less overlook this horrendous flaw in characterisation and just allow myself to enjoy the characters’ adventures.

Themes: Uh, I don’t really think about themes when it comes to these super fun books… (Maybe I should just remove the category when “reviewing” some books?)

Language: Typical Anne Bishop style, which is a mixture of fun, lush, and melodramatic. And I absolutely love all of it.

Overall: This might not be everyone’s cup of tea (and I’m always a little anxious whenever I recommend Anne Bishop), but if you’re a fan of urban fantasy, then you might want to check this out. I certainly really enjoyed it, and would go and buy book 2 right now if not for the fact that it’ll probably end on a cliffhanger, and I don’t want to wait forever for book 3. In any case, I had a great time reading this!

For those who like numbers: 4.3/5


49. Claudia Carroll – A Very Accidental Love Story (25 Oct)

I experienced this as an audiobook (read by the author, actually), and it was actually the first full audiobook I’ve listened to! Although the concept of listening to a book had quite an appeal, I think I might stay away from it for a while, because this book just turned out to be so…ugh. Apparently, this falls under the genre of “chick lit”, and, uh, now I’ve kinda been put off chick lit for…a fair while. I chose it for the title (I needed a “V” for the alphabet soup challenge), but I suspect chick lit just doesn’t agree with me…

49 - Very AccidentalBlurb: Eloise Elliot is one of the youngest newspaper editors in the country. She’s at the top of her game but on the eve of her thirtieth birthday she’s hit with a sharp pang of loneliness.

With dazzling clarity, she realises what she wants – someone to share her life with.

Fast forward three years later and she is the adoring mother of a gorgeous little girl, Lily.

Juggling a high-powered job with single motherhood is not easy and when Lily starts asking about her ‘daddy’ Eloise begins to panic. What will she tell her?

So Eloise goes on a mission find Lily’s father. After all, she chose the perfect donor so surely there won’t be any surprises… (From the author’s website.)

Plot: Um. It was unbelievable and predictable and corny and awful and uuuuggghhhh. Apparently Eloise is some high-powered editor who continuously complains about not having had any time off since forever, and how her colleagues have always thought of her as a machine who’s never taken a day off work, but, uh, what do you think happens when you have a baby?

Yeah. (And that’s just the beginning…)

Characters: I totally get wanting to have a “strong” female character and making her really cold-hearted in the beginning and then allowing her to go through a transformation, but… Nope. Just…nope.

Also, apparently she was a genius as a child and wrote violin sonatas or whatnot, but now she’s…not doing something genius-y with her genius. That’s not how geniuses work!

Themes: I guess this was the only thing that I could kinda stomach: the difficulties of single-parenting. But of course, the protagonist would complain about it and blah blah blah and then a man comes in and saves the day and uuuugghhhhh.

Language: The dialogue, descriptions, general prose… Ugh. I’m just glad I didn’t have to read it, and could listen to it while doing other things (like while jogging or cooking).

Overall: I have to say that the novel had a promising beginning, but about a fifth of the way in, things just started to get ridiculous and awful (plausibility, characterisation, consistency, etc), and I just gave up caring and didn’t see it as more than something to put on (and make me angry) while jogging/walking/cooking.

For those who like numbers: 1/5


I’ll be spending a week this month to catch up on my funfunfun reading, so hopefully I’ll have some more book “reviews” up by the end of November. Until then!

3 thoughts on “Reviews: July to October, with quite a bit of YA (and some “classics”)

  1. Pingback: 2014 Reading Extravaganza and Challenges | Samantha Lin

  2. I love how diverse this book review list is!

    (Am skipping the Gathering Blue review, just to be sure I don’t get influenced)

    It makes me a little sad that you weren’t fond of Graffiti Moon, but I am glad that you enjoyed it (and my recommendation wasn’t completely off!). I’m going to feel really guilty if you end up hating one of the books I recommend… :D

    Our thoughts about Delirium align! I wanted to love that book so much, but I just couldn’t.

    “I was particularly fond of Jenks” Heh, who isn’t? :D I’m so glad you thought the book was good company!

    “In Certain Circles” sounds like something I might like (though not enough to put it on my maybe-buy-list). Not surprisingly, our library doesn’t have it, but who knows whether I might come across is someday!

  3. I’ve heard some great things about Delirium but I’ve been hesitant to pick it up. YA, particularly anything that popular always makes me reconsider. I’m so over passable writing and the special snowflake trope. I’ll be giving this one a pass.

    In Certain Circles looks interesting but I have to admit that could just be because AUSTRALIA. I’m trying to get my hands on more books set/written in Australia since it’s the most underrepresented locale in my reading list and I think that’s ridiculous.

    Gathering Blue is my least favorite in the series. The last book though, oh man, it all pays off in the end when it all ties together.

    Audiobooks are so hard. I know I’m really picky, but it shouldn’t be so hard to find good books. Generally I end up finding a narrator I like and listening to everything they’ve ever read, which ends with me listening to some really odd stuff. Either that or I pick a book I know I’ll love and potentially suffer through a bad reading (why do people speak so slow/awkwardly uuuugh?)

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