A couple weeks ago I started a list of popular books that didn’t live up to my expectations, and now I’d like to even it out with another list: popular books that impressed me more than I expected. I believe this will be an ongoing series; I’ll add to both lists as the titles stack up.
A lot of these are YA books, and I could say the same thing about almost all of them: I expected a light, standard YA story, be it romance, supernatural, etc. I was expecting quick, easy reads with the usual tropes and story arcs that I could check off a list and then forget about– but none of these are forgettable reads. Instead of sharing a long synopsis of each, I’m going to stick to explaining why they surpassed my expectations. If you want to learn more about any of these books, follow the links to my full reviews of each title. Without further ado, here are five popular books I wasn’t expecting to appreciate as much as I did:
- The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. There’s a bit of an exaggerated focus on rape in this book, but it’s put to good use. The Female of the Species is empowering, it’s positively moralizing, it has bark and bite and grit. It’s a story about standing up against all kinds of wrongs. But it’s also about forgiveness, about finding healthy relationships and giving chances to unlikely friends. There are some great parents in this book, a cop who knows how to talk to teens, and aid for abused and abandoned animals. McGinnis doesn’t just look at the big picture, she gets all the little details right, too.
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. This is a book for readers of adventures. For readers who aren’t afraid to suspend their disbelief. It’s a story of gods in which even the gods are fallible. This is a collection of ancient stories brought to new life. They’re stories that test limits: the limits of immortality, of invincibility, of impossibilities and other absolutes. The characters aren’t particularly lovable, but the end of their world is as heart-breaking as it is exciting. In this realm of gods and magic, anything is possible and the reader can never know what to expect. The lessons don’t often apply directly to life as the reader knows it, but there are valuable lessons nonetheless, and there’s something so satisfying in learning about the traditions and beliefs of long-lost times and peoples.
- A Million Junes by Emily Henry. This book was described to me as a romance– a retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story, to be exact. And there is that, but it’s only one small part of this masterpiece. A Million Junes is a romance, but it’s also magical realism, it’s a family history piece, it’s a testament to grief, it’s a father-daughter relationship at its best. June is reconciling her family’s past with its future, she’s finding her place in school, she’s enjoying her senior year with her good friends. And she’s seeing ghosts, and ghosts’ memories, and traveling to an in-between place where love and life collide. This is a book for anyone who’s ever lost something, or doesn’t quite know who they are.
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. This book seems like it should be a romance. It starts with a girl and a curse– the boy she loves will die when she kisses him. Seems like a pretty standard forbidden-love-romance-story, right? Wrong. Blue (the girl) finds the boy she’s going to try hard not to love and kiss and ultimately kill. But then she decides to try a relationship with a different boy, same rules, just in case. Except none of the four boys she’s freshly befriended are anything close to ordinary, and for that matter neither is Blue. She comes from a family of psychics, and her new friends are on a quest to find a lost king who may or may not be dead and buried. This is more a story of friendship and adventure than romance. The quality of the magic is strange and compelling– not quite serious but not quite a joke. Here are five teens being teens, and then stumbling upon secrets larger than life. The writing is gorgeous, and the plot unfolds like nothing I’ve ever seen.
- City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Good is always battling evil. Angels vs. demons seems like no exception, but this book is not so black and white. The Shadowhunters are no angels, and demons come in all shapes and sizes: full-blooded horrors and creatures much closer to human. But this is good vs. evil in a whole new way, in the midst of a war for equality between the earthen races, five teens are struggling not only with literal demons, but with the complications of their mortal lives. It’s about the bond between parents and children, the cost of secrets, the difficulties of loving the wrong person, the responsibilities on the shoulders of almost-adults who didn’t ask to be heroes. It’s a story about growing up, about judging right from wrong, about treating other groups of people fairly. It’s a world hidden inside our own, but the same lessons apply.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Have you read other popular books that surpassed your expectations? Let me know in the comments below.
The Literary Elephant
When I write my regular book reviews, I try to be objective about the contents and the layout of the book, to talk about things the books do well or poorly instead of listing my likes and dislikes more specifically. Since you can find all sorts of synopses on the internet already, I do let my opinions show through the review instead of discussing at length the facts you could easily find elsewhere. But at heart, my reviews are always meant to promote the books I’ve read, because even if I didn’t like them, other people probably will and I’m a promoter of reading. Yet sometimes it’s fun to compare what other reviewers have liked or disliked without reading through dozens of individual reviews, so I’m starting a list.
I’ll probably post more lists like this periodically, alternating between popular books that didn’t live up to expectations for me and popular (or even not-quite-so-popular) books that I didn’t expect much from but they surprised me with their greatness.
A disclaimer: these are just my opinions. You might agree or disagree, and that’s valid. I’ll link each of the titles to my reviews, and you might be surprised to find that I haven’t rated many of these lowly. I rate on a 5 star scale based on the merit of the writing, and I base my personal likes and dislikes on my emotions about the book after some time has passed since reading it. I still recommend these books to readers who like similar books even though I personally didn’t enjoy them. So the fact that I don’t like them does not necessarily mean they’re bad books.
And now, as the straightforward title of this post announced, here are some popular books I didn’t like:
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer, and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series. I liked the plot enough to read the whole series, but most of the characters seemed very similar and predictable to me, and I could not stand the slow, repetitive pace of the writing. There is a lot of internalized worry about what could happen instead of a lot actually happening. And as the books continued, all of the main characters, the females especially, felt like the same person inside who’d just been born into different circumstances. This is one series that I loved in concept but not in execution. My opinion of these novels might have improved, because I did enjoy the fourth volume the most, except I also read the accompanying novella, Fairest, which sealed my dislike of all things Lunar Chronicles when it failed to show how the villain of the series became villainous–instead, we had a look at the same villainy earlier in the evil queen’s life, the explanation seeming to be more or less that she was born with it. And yet it took 200 pages to make that clear. I don’t think I’ll be reading anything further from Meyer.
- All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. This is a magical realism novel, and when I read it I thought maybe the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d expected had to do with a dislike for the genre, but that wasn’t it. I liked the main characters at the beginning of this novel, when they were young and first discovering magic and science, but when magic and science and nature all crossed in the end, things got too weird for my taste. There was just too much going on, too many threads crossing at once into something so big it just seemed ridiculous and no longer plausible with any amount of suspended disbelief.
- Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. Similar to Cinder, this book is a retelling of a familiar story: in this case, the Wizard of Oz. But the main character was so slow to understand things and asked so many obvious questions that even the other characters were annoyed with her inability to put two and two together. Beyond that, the main character doesn’t do much of anything on her own–she’s always following someone’s instructions instead of making her own path. Many of the characters, especially the evil ones, seemed so stereotypical and cruel for the sake of being cruel, which is the least entertaining sort of villain, in my opinion.
- A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I actually like the other two books in this series a lot, but there was not much in the first novel to redeem it. First, the part of the plot in which someone under extremely odd and unlikely circumstances must fall in love with someone in particular and then somehow they orchestrate it to happen exactly that way was too far-fetched for me. It’s the 11th hour, and in comes Feyre the savoir playing *coincidentally* right into the only loophole of a weirdly specific curse. She’s given three tasks to break it, the riddle is so obvious that it’s insulting and it was painful to see Feyre fail to answer it immediately, and oh, even if she wins, no one seems to believe the villain will even honor her word and end the curse. It just feels so fictional, and even the foreshadowing with Rhysand was obvious, though that might be the only part of this book I would ever be interested in reading again.
- Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. I’ve been a Cassandra Clare fan since 2010, and I do like a lot of her other books and even some of the characters that appear in this one. But I reread this one this year and was shocked at the cruelty of the characters to one another. Some of the rudeness plays into the plot, but it felt like it went way beyond that. Jessamine seemed like an entirely unnecessary character whose presence felt like a plot device, Charlotte and Henry fall pray to that bad plot confusion where they could settle all their problems if they’d only have an honest conversation for five minutes, and the main character’s introduction to London is so dreary and unpleasant that the entire book felt dreary and unpleasant to me.
These are five books that I’ve read in the last year that I no longer like to think about much. I’ll be following these up soon with five books that surpassed my expectations.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?
The Literary Elephant
As usual, I’m going to wrap up my monthly reading by listing the books I finished reading in April, and mentioning briefly how I felt about them. I’ll give extra time to the classics, because I don’t post full reviews of them elsewhere… but I’m happy to talk more about them in the comments if you have any particular questions about them! Otherwise, each of the titles should be linked to its corresponding review if it’s already been posted, and if it hasn’t been, I’ll come back to link it as soon as the remaining reviews from the end of the month are up. And without further ado, here’s what I read in April 2017:
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. 5 out of 5 stars. This was my March classic of the month, but I didn’t leave myself enough time at the end of the month to finish it and thus it carried over here. My thoughts: I loved it! This is definitely one of my favorite classics now. Some specifics: the second of the three sections is by far my favorite. The first one is interesting, but I started flying through the book once I hit part two with Mr. Rochester, who is a supremely interesting male lead. The fact that both of the main characters are frequently described as plain or distinctly less than beautiful made me appreciate their interest in each other all the more. I love that Jane holds on to her principles, even though the third part of the book, when she’s holding to them so firmly that happiness seems lost, is my least favorite part of the book. I felt then that the reader was being introduced to a whole new cast of characters that didn’t matter as much so close to the end. Even without any spoilers, I knew Mr. Rochester had to come back into the story at some point for better or for worse, and his absence in section three was really quite frustrating. It seemed like someone had hit pause on the plot. But, in the end, I think the third part shows another side to Jane’s character that makes the ending that much more rewarding. The end pleased me most of all–there was collateral damage, which I like to see (it feels more realistic than a tidy happy ending), but the story was strong enough that when Jane got what she wanted she could be happy with it instead of greedy for more or sulky about what was lost. I also particularly enjoyed the little direct addresses to the reader woven into the text. This is a book that acknowledges its existence as a book, which I found to be pretty cool.
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. 5 out of 5 stars. All I knew about this one going in was that it revolved around Norse myths and was divided into bite-sized pieces. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. I learned a lot about Norse mythology here, and I had a good time doing it. This book reignited my interest in Gaiman’s stories and writing. I’m looking forward to reading more of his books in the future.
- Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. 4 out of 5 stars. I read this contemporary YA book because I enjoyed Yoon’s other book, and I knew this one was going to be released as a movie sometime coming up (later this month, maybe?). While I would say that I liked this one better than The Sun is Also a Star (Yoon’s other book), I would also say that I’m oddly less excited about the movie now that I’ve read Everything, Everything. Maybe it’ll surprise me. I had a good reading experience with this one, and I loved the illustrations integrated into the story, but it didn’t strike me as the kind of story I wanted to experience over and over again.
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. 4 out of 5 stars. Here’s another YA contemporary; this one was far down my TBR, but a friend’s recommendation boosted my interest. Again, I had some mixed thoughts. The overall experience of reading this one was good, and I liked the writing style and the messages the story had to share, but I could barely stand one of the two main characters. I think I want to give another of Nelson’s books a try, because I liked some things about this book as much as I disliked others, but I could use a break from the genre.
- The Magician King by Lev Grossman. 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot wait to read the final book of this trilogy. The setbacks of the first book? Absolutely gone here. I remember the first one taking me a while to read even though I was enjoying the story, but this one took practically no time at all because I was so completely immersed. The story of this one was better, the jumps between characters and chronologies were apt, the plot twists were exciting and heart-breaking and left me with so many guesses about where the series is going next. I will be picking up book three in May for sure, probably within the week. This volume has been one of my favorite books of the year so far, and I will definitely be recommending this trilogy heavily. Be prepared. 😉
- Marlena by Julie Buntin. 5 out of 5 stars. This was my Book of the Month Club pick from March, but I forgot to leave a space for it in my TBR. It was a rather tragic choice to be reading around my birthday, but I loved this beautiful, painful story and I’m so glad I read it, even if I was a month late about it. The only thing that would have tipped this book past a 5-star rating to a 5-star rating plus an addition to my favorite books of the year list would have been a plot as deep and impressive as the emotion running through the book.
- City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. 4 out of 5 stars. I put this one off in March because I had a surprisingly disheartening experience with the previous book in publication order, Clockwork Angel. However, after a short recess from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter world, I jumped back into this one at long last and remembered all the things I appreciate about her world and characters. While I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first three Mortal Instruments books (City of Fallen Angels is book 4 in that series), I did like it better than Clockwork Angel (book one of the Infernal Devices trilogy), and it made me excited to continue on with the Shadowhunter books again. I will be reading the next book in May.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens). 3 out of 5 stars. This was my classic of the month for April. I liked… parts of it. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a couple years ago, and Huck was one of my favorite characters again here. I did like much of the last half of the book, but the first part felt like each chapter was its own separate episode that could more or less have stood alone–that made it hard for me to get into the flow of the story for a long time. I also had some difficulty really envisioning the children in the story because something seemed odd to me about their ages. I think Tom is supposed to be 11 or 12, which is the age of my brother, and yet he never quite seemed to do what I expected for his age. I had difficulty matching his clear intelligence in his adventures with the fact that he could not do well in school. For someone so very inventive, he also made obvious mistakes–like neglecting to mark his path while exploring the cave, even after he started out doing so. But I did appreciate the glimpse into bygone days, and the atmosphere of the tale fit right in with what I remember of visiting Mark Twain’s childhood home several years ago. I’m glad to have finally read both Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer now. Plus, this one really put me in the mood for To Kill a Mockingbird, which is my classic for May.
- The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda. 4 out of 5 stars. I picked up this one as soon as it was published because I found Megan Miranda’s other adult thriller, All the Missing Girls, so intriguing. Although I still prefer that first book to The Perfect Stranger, and was disappointed that the two didn’t have more in common, this one hooked me and I had to stay up late into the night with a pressing need to find out how it would turn out. It interested me enough that I would read another Megan Miranda thriller if there’s ever another one in the works.
- Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo. 5 out of 5 stars. After Siege and Storm (book two of the Grisha trilogy) disappointed me a bit, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one (book three). Luckily, although I did predict a couple of the main plot twists here, there were also some great surprises and just enough tragedy at the end to turn my opinion back around. I would still say the first book in this series, Shadow and Bone, was my favorite of the three, but mostly I’m looking forward to reading Leigh Bardugo’s other books that are set in the same world, because I suspect those will be even better.
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. 4 out of 5 stars. I was especially eager to read this book because naval catastrophes fascinate me. I don’t know if I died in a shipwreck in a previous life or what, but thinking about people who’ve died when a boat sinks in the ocean tears me apart in a way that nothing else does. There’s also something particularly hard-hitting for me about fiction based in reality, so now that I’ve read one historical fiction book I’ll probably have to pick up another. I’ll definitely be reading Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray soon.
And that’s a wrap.
I’m proud of this list. March’s wrap-up left me a little disheartened, but in April I caught up with the books I didn’t finish from March, and I completed the TBR I set for April, and I read an extra book that I had originally planned to add to my May TBR. I’m hoping this is a sign of more good reading days to come, because my May TBR looks intense. All in all, I really liked the books I read this month; there are some high ratings in this list, and even the lower ones weren’t exactly dislikes. I hope that’s a trend, and that my May wrap-up will look a lot like this one.
What did you read in April?
The Literary Elephant
This is not a tag or a review. I’m lining up more of my regular posts for the rest of this week and next, but I wanted to take a break from the regular and try something different.
Here I’ve compiled a list–a list of book-related pet peeves, little things that annoy me, although they’re not deal-breakers. Is anything really a deal breaker? I’ll read just about anything, but I do occasionally have some issues with the books I’m reading. So here are ten structural components (not content related, as that’s a whole different category) that irk me when it comes to books:
- Deckled edges. You know, the ones where pages are designed to look rough and uneven. I think I might like the aesthetic of it more if the pages were cut more randomly, but they usually have these uniform zigzags (I’m talking about looking at the book from the bottom or top, not at each ragged page individually) that make even this attempt at disorder look orderly. And they’re harder to turn, at least for me. I prefer being able to thumb through evenly cut pages while I’m reading.
- Covers with people on them. Sometimes they’re abstract enough that I don’t mind as much, but I hate when my creative process is thwarted by having a character’s appearance thrust upon me that way before I’ve even opened the book. Sometimes, the person on the cover doesn’t even match the description given inside the book for the character he/she is supposed to represent. Generally, I just don’t like covers that try to tell me how to visualize any part of the story.
- On a related note, cover art that doesn’t match the content of the book. For example, a book about a one-story haunted house with a cover dominated by a creepy-looking two-story house. If a visual is going to be forced upon me, I would at least like one that’s plausibly accurate to the story. Generally I prefer cover art that’s sparse and/or abstract, or features a symbol from the story rather than a photographic image, because the photograph often seems to have been taken in the wrong place.
- Titles in a series that are too similar. I’m talking City of… City of… City of… in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, or Percy Jackson and the… Percy Jackson and the… Percy Jackson and the… in Rick Riordan’s (obviously) Percy Jackson series, or even A court of… A court of… A court of… in Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series. When I’m reading them, and when there’s only a couple of books published so far, I can keep track of the order. But when they’re farther back on my radar, when I’ve got the whole story in my memory and I’m not anticipating the next title, how am I supposed to keep track of which one’s which? I don’t mind a nice long series, but in fantasy especially I have to keep a list of the order because some of those fantasy series are more about the bigger picture than the individual book and it gets hard to tell pieces of the story apart. Even Harry Potter could’ve been titled simply “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Chamber of Secrets,” etc.
- Books published in all different sizes. I can’t exactly complain about buying different editions of books in a series that leave me with differently sized books in a set, but wouldn’t the world be so much simpler for book lovers if all books were printed at a uniform size? Or even a couple of uniform sizes, to give paperbacks and the smaller YA books their usual form. Instead, it seems that many publishers adopt their own sense of book-size norms, and thus it is such a challenge to arrange my shelves properly because my lack of space means I have to organize by size instead of something more obvious, like the alphabet or genre.
- Built-in bookmarks. These look nice, sometimes, and they feel like getting a bonus with a book purchase, but when I’m not actually reading the book, what do I do with that bookmark? I hate leaving it in the middle of the book because I leave bookmarks in the middles of books when I’ve started them and then put them back on the shelf for whatever reason to wait for a rainy day. I’ll probably come across that book in three years and wonder why I never finished the book and try to pick it up there where the bookmark is at. Or, even if the bookmark is left at the front or back of the story, it still has its tail dangling out of the edge, which will probably develop a permanent crease from being stuck under the book on the shelf for however many years it takes me to pick it back up, and it’s just so disappointing to have marred that bonus part of the book. Besides, what kind of reader doesn’t already have their own bookmarks? Or, if not actual bookmarks, little pieces of paper or small objects that easily substitute for one?
- Incomplete boxed sets. I know this is a marketing trick to convince more people to buy more books early on, but why can’t we wait for boxed sets until the series is actually complete? And if it is, why in the world would I want only part of the series in the box? I adore boxed sets, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with my excitement as a child for all those books and stories wrapped up in one gift package when I’d done well in school or something. But now I have a Harry Potter boxed set of books 1-5. I appreciated that at the time, because it meant I was able to read all five books at once. But now I love those copies because they’re the ones I read over and over, so I’ll always have a mismatched set. I could buy another set, but I still wouldn’t be able to part with my first copies.
- Redundant headers on book pages. You know how sometimes there’s that header or footer on every right or left page (usually near the page numbers) with the chapter title on it? I don’t mind those. I mind when the header is on every page with information that’s on the book’s cover, like the title of the book or the author’s name. I suppose maybe if I were an author I would like seeing my name on every page I’d written, but the title? Which reader forgets on every other page which book he or she is reading? That’s just unnecessary labeling. If it’s a detail I can check in half a second by flipping back to the cover of the book, I don’t need it on all the pages inside the book. Sometimes having a chapter title there, if it’s aptly named can be fun to look back on throughout the chapter to see how it ties in to the story, but I’m not likely to need reminders on the title or author all through the book. It’s overkill.
- Dog-eared pages in books that have been borrowed. I don’t mind bending down the corner of the page on principle. I don’t usually do that, but I have done it. In your own book, you have every right to do whatever you want to the pages. But when a book I check out from the library, or worse, a book I lent to a friend, comes to me with the corners still turned down, that bothers me. If it’s used as a bookmark, then when the page is passed the corner should be smoothed out again. If it’s used to mark a page with a quote the reader wanted to jot down, then the reader should jot down his or her quote and smooth out the corner. This is not as bad as someone writing in a borrowed book. I would consider that a worse transgression than a “pet peeve” would indicate. But dog ears in borrowed books grate on my nerves.
- Words written vertically on spines or covers, with the letters standing on top of one another. This is not necessarily always bad, if the words are particularly short or there is some necessary meaning to their being arranged this way. In English, we read from left to right in rows; that’s the standard. Unusual fonts are fun. I don’t mind if the letters overlap, or are written at a slant, or even if I have to turn the book to read them. But there’s something about reading English letters up and down that takes extra unnecessary effort. I don’t usually have to read many words, I just look once and move on to the next one because I know the shape of the word on sight without having to decipher the order and sounds of each of the letters. Think about it. As you’re reading this, your eyes jump from one word to the next, right? You don’t look at every letter, you see the word as a whole, recognize it, and move on. That doesn’t happen with vertical words. I’m not opposed to difficult reading. But I do mind having to put extra work into puzzling out the title. The title should pull a reader in, not antagonize him or her.
These are a few of my bookish pet peeves. Recognize any of yours on this list? Have any others you’d like to share? Keep in mind these are all a matter of opinion, and that my disliking any of these elements does not mean that I think they are “bad.” I just do not understand the appeal to using them this way. Is there anything in my list that surprises you? Feel free to comment below!
The Literary Elephant
In case you missed my post about it in January, I’m participating in a reading challenge hosted by my local library for 2017. Well, participating is a loose term. I’m participating alone, since the library doesn’t have any sort of organizational system in place to unite the people who picked up the challenge. But that’s how I wanted it: an easy lead-in just for my own personal reference that I could fill with books from my TBR just to help motivate me to keep pushing through the books on my shelves and practice crossing books off a list so I’m prepared for a more adventurous challenge next year. For now, I’m doing my best to fill all 50 slots with books I already know I want to read. We’re a few months into the year now, though, so I’ve made some changes to my list as I’ve actually been reading through my TBR instead of just planning my year, so I wanted to check in with my progress and fill in some of the blanks that I left open last time around.
Some of the books have changed within the categories from what I originally planned because I fit in the books that I had actually read if they fit in somewhere, although I still plan to eventually read all the books I included in January’s tentative plan, even if they don’t end up fitting into this challenge. There are still a few holes, but here’s how I’m doing and what I’m still planning to read (unread books will be listed in parentheses):
- A book with more than 500 pages: City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
- A classic romance: (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
- A book that became a movie: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
- A book published this year: (A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas)
- A book with a number in the title: (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo)
- A book written by someone under thirty: (Unsure at the moment. I was going to use Iron Gold as my book for this category, but its release has been pushed back to January 2018, so I’ll have to find something else to fill this slot.)
- A book with nonhuman characters: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
- A funny book: (My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows)
- A book by a female author: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
- A mystery or thriller: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
- A book with a one-word title: (Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman)
- A book of short stories: (Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell)
- A book set in a different country: (The Wrath and the Dawn by Rene Ahdieh)
- A nonfiction book: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- A popular author’s first book: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
- A book you haven’t read before from an author you already love: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
- A book a friend recommended: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
- A Pulitzer Prize-winning book: (All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)
- A book based on a true story: (Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie)
- A book at the bottom of your to-read list: (The Color Purple by Alice Walker)
- A book your mom loves: Vows by LaVyrle Spencer
- A book that scares you: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
- A book more than 100 years old: Persuasion by Jane Austen
- A book you picked up because of its cover: Faithful by Alice Hoffman
- A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t: (The Lover by Marguerite Duras)
- A memoir: (Talking as fast as I Can by Lauren Graham)
- A book you finish in a day: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
- A book with antonyms in the title: (Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott)
- A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit: (The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney)
- A book that came out the year you were born: (Still not sure about this one. There are currently no books on my TBR that fulfill this category, so I’m not sure if later in the year I’ll pick up something anyway or if I’ll decide to skip this one.)
- A book with bad reviews: Lucky You by Erika Carter
- A trilogy: (The Grisha trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo. Progress = 2 of 3 books read so far)
- A book from your childhood: (The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen)
- A book with a love triangle: (Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare)
- A book set in the future: (Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman)
- A book set in high school: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
- A book with a color in the title: (The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons)
- A book that makes you cry: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
- A book with magic: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
- A graphic novel: (Orange by Ichigo Takano)
- A book by an author you’ve never read before: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
- A book you own but have never read: (I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson)
- A book that takes place in your hometown: (Still not sure about this one. There are no books that take place in my hometown. I’m still considering adjusting this prompt, but if I can’t come up with a nice compromise, I’ll skip this one.)
- A book that was originally written in a different language: (The Iliad by Homer)
- A book set during Christmas: (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
- A book written by an author with your same initials: (Still not sure about this one. I haven’t extensively combed my TBR for this one yet, but I haven’t read anything by an E. A. D. and nothing jumps to mind. I’m still keeping an eye out, but I might skip this one if I can’t find anything. Do you know of any books by an E. A. or E. D. or even an A. D.?)
- A play: (Macbeth by Shakespeare)
- A banned book: (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
- A book based on or turned into a TV Show: City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
- A book you started but never finished: (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)–currently reading
Finished categories = 20/50
Categories in progress = 2/50
Undecided categories = 4/50
I’m pretty happy with my progress so far. Several of these books are in my current monthly TBR (not to mention the fact that I’m currently reading one of them at the moment, probably literally) so I’m still making forward motion on this list. I’ve read a ton of books already this year that have been piling up in my master TBR, but I’m discovering that no matter how many books I cross off there are always more to replace them. My master TBR hovers around 280 books all the time, so I don’t feel like I’m making much of a dent, but I am glad I’ve finally read lots of these books that I’ve been meaning to get around to. And in the end, what fun is an empty TBR shelf, anyway? I’ll keep reading, I’ll keep wanting to read more, and hopefully I’ll have some fun finishing some challenges in the meantime. I’ll check back in with you on this in a couple more months.
How are your reading challenges going this year? Are any of these books on your lists?
The Literary Elephant
March has been a mixed bag of a reading month. I had big plans, and I didn’t quite meet them. I’m a little disappointed in myself because this is the first month of 2017 so far that I haven’t met my TBR goal. Not only did I not read the number of books I was planning for, but some of the books I did read were not in the plan at all. I wish I would have read more, and there’s a surprising number of 3 star books on this list, which is also unfortunate (2 is the lowest I’ve ever rated a book so far, and that’s rare. 3 star books are generally books I didn’t like much beyond the fact that they were books and I like reading books better than I like not reading books). But hey, some months are like that. I’m still above my reading quantity from last year at this time, so even though I didn’t quite meet my goal this month I’m still doing all right. Here’s what I did manage to read in March:
- Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. 3 out of 5 stars. I got off to a bad start this month by beginning with a book I meant to finish in February that not only took much longer than I wanted but was much less fun to read this year than I remember it being in the past. With as much as I’ve been enjoying Clare’s books this year and as much as I recall enjoying this particular series when I read it the first time, I was disappointed to have so many issues with Clockwork Angel this time around. I am still interested in reading the rest of Clare’s books in my 2017 Shadowhunter marathon, though, and I’m eager to check out the rest of this series in particular because I have high hopes for its improvement as the plot continues.
- Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. 3 out of 5 stars. I thought this one would be more thrilling, but in actuality it wasn’t even especially mysterious. This novel about a private plane crashing into the Atlantic is more a study of human nature and the lives affected by tragedy than a search for answers that’ll boggle the mind. Although beautifully written, the focus of the story felt oddly out of place.
- Caraval by Stephanie Garber. 3 out of 5 stars. The YA community has been absolutely raving about this book lately, but again I was a little let down. The dark and glittering atmosphere was fun and mysterious, but really it only helped hide some flaws in plot and character that detracted from the overall story for me. I’m interested enough in a few of the characters to see where the sequel will take this story, but it’ll have to do a few things a lot better to receive a better rating than this first one managed from me.
- The Magicians by Lev Grossman. 4 out of 5 stars. This one was nearly a 5 star book for me, but there were a few slow parts in the middle that pulled me out of the story a bit. Even so, I loved the way everything in this book connected and the unique world of magic weaved into the story, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next book in this series early this upcoming month. I’m hooked on these characters and so curious about how everything will play out. I immediately watched the first season of the corresponding TV show after finishing the book, and I loved that too.
- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. 5 out of 5 stars. Here’s one I really loved. This one will probably even make it onto my favorite reads of the year list because of its powerful and impactful messages. It’s one of those YA books that people of all ages should read because its about so much more than entertainment and its scope is much larger than confusing teenage years. Even though the end of the story was incredibly sad, I do not regret a single minute I spent reading this book and highly recommend it, to everyone. Enter with caution, though; this one deals closely with suicide and other deaths, and will prey on your emotions.
- Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. 3 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately, even though I love the Grishaverse so far, I did not enjoy this sequel as much as the first book in this trilogy. This one did not seem nearly as daring and surprising as Shadow and Bone, although I am glad I read it anyway and am still excited to be finishing this trilogy next month with Ruin and Rising. I can’t wait to see where this story will end, especially after the epilogue of this second volume which was really my favorite part of the entire book.
- History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. 4 out of 5 stars. This book is a beautiful portrait both of a unique place–northern Minnesota–and of the dangers and responsibilities of growing up before one is ready. Although I’m more familiar with southern Minnesota where the atmosphere is a bit different than what’s described in this book, I loved reading about one of the states that’s so often overlooked in American literature, especially one so close to home. The voice of this story is beautiful and absolutely does both the location and the tragic story matter justice.
Honorary Mention: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This was my classic of the month for March, but I underestimated its size. I’m really enjoying it and will be finishing it soon, but I was only about halfway through at the end of March. My review for this book will go up in my April reading wrap-up, but I wanted to mention it here since I have finished a good portion and I was supposed to finish it in March. I’ve been marking some great quotes and making note of several interesting writing techniques, so I might end up doing some sort of post on this book soon even though I don’t normally post full reviews of classics. In any case, more of my thoughts on Jane Eyre will be forthcoming.
March is really just a blah month for me in general, usually. I’m tired of winter but spring hasn’t quite arrived, and it’s a long month without anything really notable going on. It’s just a lot of empty days in between more exciting things. It might have been a better reading month if I hadn’t picked so many long and underimpressive books to read during it, but I made it through and I didn’t really do so horribly. And now it’s time to move on. April is my birthday month, and the weather should start improving, and I’m excited about my new TBR, so I’m confident that things will start looking up.
How do you go about turning things around after a reading slump, or just a bad month in general?
The Literary Elephant
Not a bad reading month. Not a bad reading month at all. I hit a tiny 3-day reading slump in February, but I conquered it and persevered. These are the books I read in February:
(For more of more in-depth thoughts and info on what each book is about, click the title and it’ll take you to a full review if I’ve written one.)
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 4 out of 5 stars. I really liked this essay, but nothing about it really surprised me. Nevertheless, it was fantastic to see feminism described not as a movement for empowering women, but as an effort to make all humans equal with an emphasis on the fact that gender discrimination is an obstacle in that regard. With a definition like that, we should all be feminists.
- The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. 4 out of 5 stars. I wanted to read Yoon’s Everything, Everything early this year, and somehow ended up checking her newer release out of the library instead. This one takes place mainly over the course of one eventful day for two teens in New York City, and certainly makes an impact. This is a great YA book that promotes equality and diversity, but it’s also a warm love story. It wasn’t my favorite YA book of all time, but it did encourage me to resume my quest for Yoon’s other book.
- Landline by Rainbow Rowell. 4 out of 5 stars. My introduction to Rowell’s books was relatively recent, but I’m steadily making my way through them. This has been my third Rowell novel now, and although it wasn’t what I expected (I didn’t know the phone was going to be magical when I set out to read this one), I did love the characters and their story. This will not be my last Rowell read, that’s for certain.
- I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. 4 out of 5 stars. Speaking of books that did not turn out as expected, this one takes the cake. For over 100 pages I was in doubt over whether this book was actually truly supposed to be a thriller, and then once everything was laid out the plot twists just kept on coming until I could hardly believe I’d ever doubted. This is the kind of book that you want to start over again as soon as you reach the end, and I’ll definitely be picking up Mackintosh’s newest release soon.
- City of Glass by Cassandra Clare. 5 out of 5 stars. I think I had even more fun rereading the first three books of the Mortal Instruments series with half-memories of events than I did the first time as a young teen. These books are absolutely addicting, though I’m not sure I’ll be rating as high as I move on into the series with the books I haven’t read previously. I’m a little nervous about those three books that were added on to the original trilogy, but I had so much fun reliving these first books that I’ll definitely be continuing on next month. I hope Clary undergoes some character development moving forward, but I like everyone else enough that I’m excited to see where the series will go.
- Persuasion by Jane Austen. 5 out of 5 stars. This book was my designated classic of the month, and I absolutely loved it. I started reading a couple of chapters last year around this same time, but I just wasn’t in the mood for it then and put it off. This month, though, I started over and made it all the way through without any difficulty because an Austen romance was exactly the sort I wanted to be reading this February. I’m surprisingly unfamiliar with Austen’s plots, having only read one other of her books so far (Northanger Abbey) and seen one of the movies (Sense and Sebsibility), but I have a couple others on my shelf (Pride and Prejudice and Emma) and I’m looking forward to delving into them. I knew this one would be a romance, but it was written so well that I did have some doubts about which of the characters were going to end up falling in love at a couple of points, which I appreciated. There were certainly a few events in here I did not see coming, and the tension toward the end was wonderfully handled. Some of the characters are (intentionally) insufferable, but that only added to the real-feel of the novel and the attraction of the other characters. I’ll absolutely be reading more Austen within the year, though I’ve got a few other classics to fill my months before she comes back up on the roster. Anyway, don’t be surprised if this one turns up on a favorites list of mine later this year…
- Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. 4 out 5 stars. A Sarah Dessen romance was also exactly what I was in the mood for this February, and though this one got off to a rocky start for me, I ended up having a hard time putting it down a couple of chapters later. I like the way Dessen addresses teen problems and emotions–in this one, the dangers of an uncommunicative family, and the repercussions one person’s actions can have on everyone around them. There’s also so much good food in this one that it leaves the mouth watering.
- Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke. 3 out of 5 stars. I wanted to love this one. I thought it would be short and quirky and fun, but ultimately I thought it strange. I did appreciate the message, though it was given more through atmosphere and emotion than plot, and I don’t regret reading it, but it wasn’t exactly the book for me. Still, it was a quick and easy read that I thoroughly enjoyed at some points, so if you’re the type of reader who likes books that arent’ too plotty, give this one a chance. And if you don’t read it, at least check out it’s beautiful cover.
- Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. 5 out of 5 stars. I could have read another Cassandra Clare book this month, since reading her 10 (soon to be 11) shadowhunter books was a big 2017 goal of mine. Picking up the next shadowhunter book might have been the wiser choice. But The Grishaverse is another 2017 goal of mine, and I was just too excited about getting started on Bardugo’s books to make the smart choice and finish one big series at a time. I’m glad I picked Shadow and Bone up this month, because I’m already hooked and looking forward to my next Grisha read. Similar to my issues with Clary in Cassandra Clare’s books, though, Alina of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy has her flaws. I’m hoping the next two books in this series will help improve her character, but even if not I’m enough in love with the world and everyone else in it that I’ll definitely be continuing. This was a highlight of the month for me.
- Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. 5 out of 5 stars. Not only did I want to read this book within the month because I’m trying to keep up with my monthly Book of the Month Club selections, but I Let You Go gave me a massive need to read more thrillers. Once I’d finished reading my planned TBR for the month, I jumped immediately to this BOTM thriller for February because I’d heard it was supposed to have an amazing ending that no one would ever see coming. I hit a mini reading slump just as I was getting into this one (it had nothing to do with this book, though), but I did find the characters and the layout of this story intriguing. It took a few chapters to get into the hang of things, but this book seemed particularly thriller-esque right from the start.
- I’m currently reading Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel. The only reason I’m mentioning this book here rather than just waiting for my March wrap-up is that I’m reading Cassandra Clare’s books in publication order. I meant to finish this one in February, but it didn’t quite happen. However, I only included the book after this one in my March TBR, and I didn’t want Clockwork Angel to go without recognition, so here it is.
All in all, it was a decent reading month. I had way too many extras in mind, so I feel like I failed for getting to so few of them, but I shouldn’t feel that way. 10 books in a short month is a great reading achievement for me, even if it is a little behind where I was at in January. Last year at this time I was only averaging about 4-5 books per month, so having doubled that (and crossed everything off my official TBR for the month) is an accomplishment. I didn’t love everything I read this month, but there was nothing I regret spending my reading time on either, so also a decent reading month in terms of content. I’m crossing my fingers hoping to be as successful with my goals in March, as well!
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?
The Literary Elephant