Sunday, January 3, 2016

Persy -- 2015's Books

Hey guys. I'm alive. So is Arty (had a surprise encounter with her the other day actually), so that's good. But there's no denying that we both lead busy lives, so really this blog only gets updated when we have time and an itch to review a book.

But my review of the year's reading is one of my favorite things to do, so here it is!

My reading goal was only 110 books for 2015. I set it low since I'd had so much trouble the past years balancing leisure reading with college life, but for the most part I was pretty ahead of schedule. Until the fall semester anyway, when life fell apart. But you know, that's okay, it happens. I still managed to rope my total up to 110 books even, with 24,639 pages (plus quite a few unpaged graphic novels and childrens' books).

The first book I finished in 2015 was Sock Monkey Dreams by Whitney Shroyer and Letitia Walker, with pictures by Michael Traister. The final book of 2015 was the classic Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton.

I managed to narrow it down to 15 Fabulous Books of 2015! Please check them out, because they are truly fabulous.

Sock Monkey Dreams by Whitney Shroyer and Letitia Walker, photography by Michael Traister
This is an awesome little book about a huge collection of sock monkeys and their day to day lives. So many pictures of them doing their stuff and little side stories and information. Each sock monkey is unique, and it's just wonderful. Even if you're not a huge sock monkey fan like myself. Fantasy/Art.

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
The second book in the urban fantasy series Mercedes Thompson. I genuinely love these books because they're not only just well-written, they also don't revolve around sex. Mercy isn't constantly swamped by lovesick suitors of various supernatural races. She actually solves mysteries, fights monsters, and fixes cars. Urban fantasy.

Living Hell by Catherine Jinks
This is one intense, terrifying scifi ride. I don't really know what else to say about it, except that it's intense. And terrifying. And that you should read it. Science fiction.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
The great classics by the great author. Full of humor, truths, and adventure. And weirdness. Science fiction.

Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori
I read volumes 13-17 this year and only have ONE VOLUME left of the entire manga. It has gotten SO INTENSE and SO HEARTBREAKING. And still so much fun to read. Shoujo manga.

The End and others by Lemony Snicket
I've had the great pleasure of rereading the entire Series of Unfortunate Events this year. Not only is Lemony Snicket full of wit and honesty, the story itself is interesting all the way until the 13th book. It was really awesome to be able to read all the books all the way through. Mystery/adventure/tragedy.

Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart, illustrated by Briony Morrow-Cribbs
Anyone can tell you that I love bugs. I have a modest collection of entomology books. But this one was nice and specialized, with very cool and detailed artwork. A small volume of some of the deadliest bugs on earth, and not just the romanticized ones either. No, you get the honest truth here. Nonfiction.

Night Gate by Isobelle Carmody
Of course this is here. I reread this book every single July. Of course this book is here, guys. Fantasy.

Click by a whole bunch of people
I'm a big fan of this book because it has very little continuity. It's like reading ten short stories, and yet together they tell such a huge story that it's pretty impacting. With such diversity in authors, you can get a whole lot out of this novel. Fantasy/science fiction

There And Back Again by Pat Murphy
The Hobbit in space. Need I say more? Science fiction.

Beauty is the Beast series by Tomo Matsumoto
A short manga series that I had the pleasure of completing this year. I'm a sucker for shoujo, everyone knows this. But Eimi is the absolute weirdest main character ever. The series isn't the best (it's often real hard to tell who's talking), but the story and characters are really hard to not love. Shoujo manga.

Superman: Man of Tomorrow Archives Vol. 1 by Jerry Siegel and others
Superman is the best. Sorry, but he is. And fifties Superman? Even better. Graphic novel.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
No, it doesn't star Will Smith. It is, however, very awesome. It's an anthology of short stories involving Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist, and each story offers something different. Many, if not all, stories tell something important about humanity, while some also involve a technical mystery about robots. Either way, it's all very interesting. Science fiction.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
It's told out of order, which is one of the best parts. The story doesn't make a lot of sense at first. But then it starts to make a whole lot of sense. Plus, Vonnegut is a fantastic writer. Pretty much every single line I wanted to copy down and quote at opportune times. Science fiction.

Betsy B. Little by Anne McEvoy, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers
An absolutely adorable kids' book about following your dreams. Perfect for everyone, especially dancers of any age who tend to get discouraged. Childrens'.

**Honorable Mentions**

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson); Cut (Patricia McCormick); Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare); Graceling and Fire (Kristin Cashore); Poison Study (Maria V. Snyder); The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart); The Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling); Being Dead (Vivian Vande Velde); I Am Here series (Ema Toyama); Fruits Basket series (Natsuki Takaya).

The Few Foul Books of 2015

Warrior by Bryan Davis
His Starlighter series is just...bad. Badly-written, with unappealing characters and overcomplicated plots. Fantasy.

Corpse Party series by Kudouin Makoto
This manga series isn't necessarily bad, but let's just say it's mostly gore and panty shots. Horror manga.

Serpentine by Cindy Pon
Again, this isn't a terribly bad novel. It's interesting, with a half-demon protagonist and monks and demon invasions and plot twists and lesbians and all kind of stuff. But that's kind of the problem, there was a lot of stuff that disappeared halfway through. Also, the writing isn't much to get excited for. Fantasy.

The Immortal Highlander by Karen Marie Moning
AGAIN, not a terrible book. But it did cause me to go on a feminist tirade (which believe me, I NEVER go on) because I was sick of how every female and male romance protagonists are the same in every stupid romance novel. Romance/fantasy.

For 2016, my goal is to read 111, just one more than this year. Also, my only New Year's Resolution is to read Victor Hugo's Les Misérables before the end of the year (it's 1500 pages). So far I'm on page 7.

How was your 2015 reading?


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Scrolls -- June Review!!

I, Persy, am here to kick off the review of last month. Which was a while ago. But don't worry about it. Everyone knows Arty and I aren't so good with schedules.

In June, I read 15 books, 7 being manga or a graphic novel. 3,044 pages total. Not bad at all for my reading life these days.

Best June Book: Probably The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams. You really can't go wrong with him.

Honorable Mentions: Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud, Cut by Patricia McCormick, and Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann.

Worst June Book: Graphic Classics: Edgar Allan Poe, a collection of Poe stories and poems that are put to comics. It was a pretty big letdown.

Dishonorable Mention: Fantasy Lover by Sherrilyn Kenyon. A stereotypical guilty pleasure romance read, that didn't have a whole lot to it. Not awful, but not awesome (normally my girl Sherrilyn is better).

I'm really enjoying my RYFBM! Unfortunately haven't been able to just sit and read for hours like I used to for RYFBM, but I'm still getting to reread a lot of old favorites. I hope you are too!


Last month turned into "month before last," because apparently I, Arty, have issues with checking the drafts in our post list. But that's okay! Because in the month of June, I read 16 books, one of which was a graphic novel, which is a pretty fair month. Five of them were nonfiction, too, so go me!

Best June Book: I read so many good books in June! It's either Little Black Book of Stories by celebrated British author A.S. Byatt, or Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Both were anthologies of rather eerie stories, though Through the Woods was my mentioned graphic novel. Amazing!

Honorable Mention(s): The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris, while not quite as amazing as I had hoped, was still really good!

Worst June Book: Absolutely An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir. You can read my full, wrathful review here.

Dishonorable Mention(s): Don't get me wrong, the graphic novel portions of I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest, were fantastic. I just wish the whole book had been the graphic novel, because the surrounding story was... less than thrilling.

Coming up next, our RYFBM July Scrolls!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Arty -- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

We return after your abnormally scheduled hiatus! The Wednesday Scrolls roundup review will, hopefully, come next Wednesday - just in time for the July review, as well!

Anyway, onto the review.

I read The Raven Boys a little over two years ago, not right after it had come out but not long after, either. At that time, some of my favorite 1- and 2-star reviews were of Stiefvater's Shiver and sequels, so I wasn't happily inclined to it; still, I remember thinking that the beginning was intriguing and the writing wasn't terrible. After two hundred pages or so, though, I'd lost interest.

It took a lot less time to lose interest the second time around.

The basic premise(s) is this: Blue Sargent lives in a purely X-chromosomal household of psychics, including her mother and various aunts/friends. She has no powers herself, but everyone knows her fate: if she kisses her true love, he'll die. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of town (metaphorically speaking), obscenely wealthy 17-year-old Richard Gansey is searching for the lost Welsh king Glendower, while simultaneously holding court at obscenely wealthy Aglionby Academy boarding school. His friends - Sharkteeth Ooh Ha Ha hot-headed Ronan Lynch, the lowborn, timid Johnny Cade Adam Parrish, and the smudgy and otherwise un-nicknamable Noah - help him navigate both real life and the magical realm of ley lines and dreams and... um, magic stuff. Unfortunately, the two worlds are about to collide - because BLUE SEES GANSEY IN A CONTEXT WHICH MAKES IT PRETTY OBVIOUS THAT HE'LL DIE BECAUSE OF HER KISS! AND YET THEY DO NOT STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER AT ALL! NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT!

I will start out with the pluses. Stiefvater has no small control of the English language, technically speaking. She commits very few, if any, rookie gaffes that should have been caught by an unbiased editor. The whole book reeks of Pine Sol for writing - it's that polished. She has a good turn at atmosphere, too, and description that only makes you think she's telling you what to imagine. It's pretty cool, I'll admit that. If you ask me what anyone in this book looks like, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you; still, my brain still knows what it thinks they look like. Weird.

And, credit where credit's due, the whole concept is great! There are ravens and Virginia landscapes, Welsh kings and Latin trees, psychics and ghosts, and what can be technically classified as "banter." About 92% of this book's dialogue is made up of "banter." It's like a whole Avengers: Age of Ultron battle scene, toned down to slice-of-life and stretched out over 400 pages.

The problem is that the book is exactly as tedious as that sounds.

For all the talent she has at building technically pleasant sentences, Stiefvater has no meaning of the word 'subtlety.' Even her subtlety is unsubtle. As rife with opportunity for drama as the book is, every scene is depicted as Very Dramatic. As a result, nothing is dramatic. It's all so one-note and drenched in Gothic Undertones, the whole effect soon dries out. It becomes wearisome. When Stiefvater makes an event out of Gansey talking about his hornet allergy, I stopped caring. The drama had no place to go because she'd already hit the drama ceiling.

As exhausting as the constant drama was, Stiefvater's floral and self-conscious style is even more draining. It's the kind of style that feels pleased with itself, and how beautifully it uses words. We all know the old adage, thrown at as as soon as we picked up a pencil: "Show, don't tell." The only thing that Stiefvater shows is that she likes to tell. A line of dialogue might come after a paragraph or two of pretentious, self-absorbed navel-gazing by any one of the novel's four POV characters.

Speaking of characters! Stiefvater loves her characters. Which is good. Always love your characters, if you're writing fiction. But along with loving one's characters, a writer has to give the reader a reason to love those characters, too. This ties in with the show-don't-tell thing, too, because Stiefvater tells us about her children constantly. It often goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned navel-gazing, too, which makes the telling even more grating. I don't want to know what the author is saying about this character's thoughts about themselves or about someone else! I just want to know what the character is thinking! If I had to hear one more sentence about Blue's "strangeness," when all that showed of this eccentricity was that she embroidered Goodwill boots and didn't obey her mother, I would have screamed. I did roll my eyes a lot. The relationships between Blue and the "raven boys" happened in the blank space between Chapter X and Chapter Y; Stiefvater informs the reader that Blue/Boys are friends and bypasses any pesky relationship growth that might get in the way.

The Raven Boys is increasingly popular, and I can see why. The writing style is ornate and dripping with prosody and metaphor. There are hot boys in all flavors. It appeals to the crowd that likes labeling themselves "quirky" and "old soul" while thinking about how they're not like the others in their demographic - as well as other, more sane crowds, but most noticeably that one. (Hey, I'm still a big fan of the Inheritance Saga - I can't throw too much shade at tastes.) And, like I said, the concept is so good! Not to mention that cover art. Dang. The covert art is why I initially picked it up, despite having Stiefvater's name on it.

Unfortunately, The Raven Boys does not live up to the hype. It's a solid-enough premise that suffers from theauthorloveshearingherownwriting-itis. It's a sophomoric attempt at writing an upperclassman idea. Which is sad. Maybe after Stiefvater graduates with some sort of concentration in "finding your chill," her execution will be better.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Persy -- Cut by Patricia McCormick

Callie is in a residential treatment facility for young women called Sea Pines. Except they all just call it Sick Minds. Most of her fellow patients are there for eating disorders or drug addictions. But none of them know why Callie is there. Callie doesn't speak. Not to the other patients, not to the doctors, not to the nurses. These days, even when she tries to speak, she can't make anything come out.

But then one day there's a new patient: Amanda. Amanda cuts herself and is unashamed. She doesn't hide the scars -- she flaunts them. Not like Callie, who hides in her long sleeves and her silence.

In the outside world, Callie's little brother has terrible asthma and her mother worries about everything. Her dad's job doesn't go so well anymore. A lot of responsibility fell on Callie every day -- but not anymore. Now she's just at Sick Minds. To get better, to get treated. So much led up to her entry into Sick Minds -- but will she ever be able to speak?

Some reviewers have said that the characters are stereotypical and flat. This is true. But that doesn't mean they're not realistic as well. Take it from someone who knows.

You also have to keep in mind that this book is only 150 pages long. It's not going on an indepth psychological journey of each and every character. It's more of a statement. A statement about an issue that doesn't really get spoken about a lot. The book itself mentions that people with problems such as eating disorders or substance abuse are relatively "normal", but cutters and self abusers... those are just freaks. For an issue so big, it's remarkably ignored.

Anyway, back to the book. I finished it in one sitting, and not just because it's so short. I really got pulled in right off the bat. For starters, it's written a little like a letter. It's all addressed to Callie's psychiatrist, which is a really cool and effective way to do it.

Also, it's incredibly realistic for only 150 pages. Admittedly, I'm a bit biased. Serious talk here, please forgive me, but I have literally been in Callie's shoes. I've spent time in residential treatment for the exact same reason, and reading Callie's story was practically a walk down memory lane. I don't know how it reads to someone without my experience, but perhaps the guarantee that it IS realistic will change the way you read it.

It's honestly not as horrifying as I was expecting. There is a deep dark secret, but it wasn't as deep and dark as I thought it would be. But that doesn't really take away from what's there.

All in all it's a short little book about a big issue, and you certainly won't waste any time giving it a read. I would DEFINITELY love to know what people who haven't spent time in a loony bin think of this little book, because it has to change your perspective. Y'know, just a little.


You might like this if you: like short little books; like books about mental disorders; like books that address big issues; want to know more about cutting and cutters; or if you are or know someone who cuts

PS. DON'T FORGET ABOUT RYFBM!! Only a few more weeks!