Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lesser Expectations

When Dicken’s wrote Great Expectations, he created one of the most intriguing literary characters I’ve ever come across. The ghastly specter that was Miss Havisham is the most visual memorable character, although she’s not the lead in the story. Ronald Frame has taken her intrigue and attempts to tell the story of what came before. What happened in this woman’s past to make her so….let’s go with crazy.

When I saw that Gillian Anderson and Helena Bonham Carter had been cast to play Miss Havisham in BBC and film versions respectively, I was appalled. Miss Havisham had to be old! But if you look at the dates, it runs true that should would be in her late 30s at the start of the novel – when Estella and Pip are young. For a woman in her 30s to be so ravaged by the past, it must have been quite a story, so I can see why Frame chose her to base his story around. Unfortunately, that’s about where Havisham stops being interesting.
Rather than being a story about a woman’s decent into madness, it was a tale of a rich middle-class teenage girl who went to parties. It didn’t tie into the story of Great Expectations until maybe the last third of the book and even then, the connections were flimsy at best. This could have been the story of any random woman, not Miss Havisham. But at the same time, I don’t think that would have been enough to save it. The only character that was well fleshed out was that of Catherine Havisham. None of her relationships were explored in any real depth and when her best friend moves away, it was a mystery why they were friends at all, other than Frame calling them best friends. I think maybe he just doesn’t how women work: their friendships, their relationships, their teenage years as a whole. Some male authors can write women well, but less than 30 pages into this book I knew without looking at the back cover that it was definitely written by a man. 

What could have been a great, in-depth character study turned out to be poorly painted façade. What a letdown.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Raven Boys: a taste of psychics, birds, and the kiss of death

Well, it has been quite a while since I've read a book that wasn't part way through a series. I would say that Raven Boys was a good way to start again.

Like all good places to begin, let's start with that cover. I mean, look at it. I wanted to read this just because of that cover. I don't like the cover for Dream Thieves quite as much, but my expectations were clearly high after book 1. Now, onto what is actually between the covers.
Blue, our main character, is funny and independent. I liked that the kiss prophecy reminded me a bit of fairy tales. "Kiss your true love and he dies" a bit backwards from the kiss that solves all the world's problems, but more realistic. Relationships are messy and dating sucks. Anyone that tells you dating is great lies. Run the other way now. I liked that there wasn't this ridiculous love at first sight passion, but there were so many feelings! You could imagine the kinds of kissing that could go on if people weren't going to literally die from it. I'm sure Ronan knows all about that since he is totally a loose cannon.

I sort of got this weird Donna Tart Secret History group feeling while I read this book. I couldn't quite figure it out until I sat down to write this review, but I think that may be why I loved this so much. A group of weird kids, someone new tossed in the mix, murder, plots, magic. I can dig it.

Gansey. Yes. I loved him. I loved everyone in this book. Adam is wonderful. I simultaneously feel bad for him, want to punch him, then hug him, and Noah is great. Even Ronan that totally freaked me out and I worried he was going to go flying off the handle and kill everyone. In fact, maybe that is why I liked Ronan. YA books are usually straight forward and I take what they say at face value, so if they can trick me I instantly love them for it. This could have been that kind of book.

Like all good things the end of the book came and it left me feeling a bit dejected. Not because the ending wasn't good, but because there wasn't enough ending! I want the whole story and I want it now!! Ok, fine, I will just wait and read the other books. I look forward to it and I hope I love book 2 just as much.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Women after the War

Wake tells the story of three women living in the aftermath of World War I.
  • Ada is a mother grieving over the loss of her son Michael, and thinks of little else – pushing her husband away in the process.
  • Evelyn works in the army pension office keeping to herself after losing her fiancé. Her brother came home from the war changed in some way she can’t understand, nor can she understand why their relationship has grown so distant. 
  • Hettie is a taxi dancer at a dance hall in London, where she meets many men with missing limbs. She longs for a different life and just might get the chance when she meets a mysterious stranger.
While it’s not normally a book I would have picked up in the bookstore, the cover and description intrigued me and I was excited to give it a read, but I had an incredibly hard time getting into the story. I was reading it as a break from homework and for the life of me couldn’t keep the girls straight in my head. Running through the novel is the story of the Unknown Soldier, who I think was supposed to relate to each of the women in their own way, but just fell flat. The writing was uneven, but I so wanted to like it; it had such a great premise! I wish Hope would have chosen one story to focus on. I think that would have cemented the emotional impact she was going for.

If you would have asked me 75 pages before the end I would’ve said that it was starting to look like a really good book, but then it just sort of ends before anything actually resolves. These women who have danced around each other are finally going to interact! Oh wait, no. They keep going on with their lives, which may or may not have changed over the course of the novel. Overall, this was an enjoyable book, but I was left wanting more. If Anna Hope writes another book someday, I’ll definitely give it a shot – this book was so close to brilliant!

I received my free review copy from Random House and will be available February 11, 2014.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Year in Reading - 2013

We're back from a bit of a holiday-season hiatus with Madeleine, who's taking a look at what exactly she read in 2013.

Madeleine's Top Five Favorite Books of 2013

In alphabetical order by author's last name, because having to rank them further would be torture!

The Best Reread 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which won by a narrow margin after a rather fierce battle with Jane Eyre and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).

Breaking Down the Numbers

  • I read 70 books in 2013, just shy of my goal of 75 books. This number was a lot lower than last year, when I read a personal record of 107 books.
graph of number of books read, ranging from 26 is 2008, peaking at 107 in 2012, and ending at 70 in 2013
  • I read a lot more fiction than non-fiction (83% fiction). Most books were new to me, but I did reread 7 books.
  • My 56 distinct authors came from 12 countries around the world. 26 were from the US, 19 were from the UK, 2 were from Australia, and 1 came from each of the countries marked on the map below.
    Map showing all the country of origin of all authors read in 2013. 12 countries, with most authors from USA or UK

  • As you can see, my reading was highly Eurocentric (something to work on!), with only 2 authors from the Middle East, 1 from South America and none from Africa or Asia.
  • The oldest book(s) I read were originally published in 1847 (Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre) and the newest hasn't been published yet (The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches).
  • Most of my books come from the library! This year, 71% of books I read were library books.
    pie graph of book origin (A.R.C, owned, borrowed, or library copy)
  • My biggest genres were fantasy, mystery/thriller, and (unexpectedly) historical fiction this year.
chart of number of books read from different genres.

My reading goal for 2014 is a more modest 50 books (slightly less than one a week). What about you? What were your favorite books of 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014?