Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Stef's "So Good You Can't Put It Down" Book Reviews: Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge

LOL! Finally!

2016 was my first year participating in a Goodreads Challenge. Determined, I originally planned on reading 12 books this year, one for each month. However, seeing that I probably wouldn't accomplish this amount, I shortened it to eight books this year. Baby steps.

I did manage to read some whole books, but at the end of the year I was still behind. However, I also dabbled and started some other books, so to me, as long as a still read something, it still counts regardless if I completed them or not. I'll probably consider them my 2017 books too when I actually finish some of them. :P

For a lot of the books I read, I use My Bibliofile: A Reading Journal for Book Lovers to record my thoughts along the process. My father gave me this for Christmas one year and it is one of the best gifts I have ever received! Some books I do not include in this because I want to save pages in it and want to dedicate my entries to books I know I am into and want to finish. I think I might use some of the notes I took in this so I can remember what I thought of these books better. :P

So here are the books I read in 2016! :D

Immortal by Gillian Shields

If you are a Twihard, I recommend this book. It reminds me so much of Twilight. The lead girl, Evie Johnson, is a sad girl sent away to boarding school who falls in love with a supernatural immortal being named Sebastian. Magic and witchcraft are huge themes.

Sound familiar????????

One thing I must commend Shields on is setting. She describes the morbidity of the moors well, which is actually reminiscent of classic literature settings written by the Bronte sisters, some of my favorite classic authors. The story kept my interest to finish it in such a short time and is the first of four books in a series, so I am interested in reading the rest of it. I'm not really keen on the whole "teenage girl falls madly in love with guy who is disguised as a hopeless romantic but is really a psychopath obsessed with her" story arc, but the mystery behind the school and the characters drive the plot along.

It's Hard Not to Hate You by Valerie Frankel

My favorite out of this list, which is amazing because I almost donated this book because I wasn't leaning towards reading it at first. This is the book that got me into memoirs and wanting to write my own. :)

Some of the book is set in New Jersey, which is the reason why I was drawn into it. She is also a fellow struggling writer, so that hooked me in. She discusses how throughout her life she has kept her inner anger bottled up, so in the interest of health, her doctor recommends that she finds a positive way to release it. The book hilariously details her journey of doing just that. I can relate to a lot of her experiences with writing as well.

I love how each chapter is a component of her struggles in the "hate" department. My favorite chapter is "Yes, Really" where she talks about dealing with one of her bitchy neighbors. She literally refers to her as "The Biggest Bitch of All." Everyone has dealt with a person like this is his or her lifetime, and Frankel tells it and the rest of her story with sarcastic laugh out loud humor.

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
*Winner of Goodreads Choice Awards 2016 for Best Nonfiction (You're WELCOME!)

If you know me well enough you'd know that I've been on a Hamilton kick for awhile since the Tony Awards of 2016. This book was included in Sprague Library's collection and I was the first person to ever check it out during the summer. I kept renewing it, but then realized that I had to share it. I always noticed all of these copies stacked at Barnes and Noble and planned to purchase one of my very own one day. Well, my parents were nice enough to give me my very own copy for my birthday. :)

In fact, my 26th birthday was very "Hamilton" themed. Not only did my parents get me this book, my friends Kim, Abby, Janis, Breon, and I spent the rest of my celebration screening PBS Great Performance's Hamilton's America: A Documentary Film.

If any of the books on this list deserves an award for best photos, it's this one. The shots of the production are so crisp and most of them take up entire pages. Each chapter focuses on a certain aspect of the show, usually a performer, which correlates with certain songs in the show's score. The chapter then proceeds to share the lyrics.

The best part of the book for me are the footnotes Miranda provides with the lyrics. As a writer, it's so interesting to read the background stories behind certain lines.

I just love how the book feels in my hands. The hardcover is so perfectly square and solid and smooth and the tale resembles some old-fashioned binding. My favorite of its physicality is how the pages take on the deckled edge trend.

Reconstructing Aphra by Angeline Goreau

I first discovered Aphra Behn back in school when we studied her play The Rover or The Banish'd Cavaliers for actually two separate classes I took in different school years from what I remember. I looked into her more and discovered that she was the first woman to make a living from her writing, at least in England. As a woman and professional writer, I feel that she has paved the way for me and many others, so she is one of my idols now. I got reinterested in her recently, so I decided to check out biographies about her, this one standing out.

I am still in the process of reading this book, but she had an interesting life. In fact, the whole first chapter is dedicated to the debates of whether or not she even existed considering that an outspoken woman writer was so taboo at the time.

Once again, thank you, Aphra!!

I found this book at Sprague Library, and when I like a book enough, I search Amazon to obtain a copy of my very own. This way I wouldn't have to keep renewing and could keep reading it at my own leisure and refer back to it as a source in my possession. I ordered it and when it arrived at my house I was SO PLEASED to discover that it was the exact same version!!!

The Bookseller's Daughter by Pam Rosenthal

There is something very sexy about a man and a woman bonding over their mutual love of literature. I tend to do this with my own characters, probably because they are secretly my own relationship goals.

Anyway, this is what we have here. Rich boy Viscount Joseph d'Auvers-Raimond and poor girl Marie-Laure Vernet, who have met prior before the events of the book but told in flashback, fall in love through books. Marie-Laure, because of circumstances, now works for Joseph's family and the pair run into each other once again. Their scenarios somewhat remind me of characters from a play I wrote when I was 16, believe it or not. lol

One minor theme that is turning me off about this book is rape. It's not very graphic, more so suggested, but it's clear that it's a common occurrence for the men in Joseph's family to take advantage of their female servants. The female servants aren't pleased with this, but are accepting of it because that's just how things are. The story is set around the French Revolution, which maybe explains how nonchalantly rape is taken.

I really appreciate the leading lady. I see myself in her to an extent given how she handles her interests in books and men. Marie-Laure is a sharp tongued heroine who doesn't let Joseph get away with being arrogant and rude. Also, the tale is told through both Marie-Laure and Joseph's point of view, each of them taking alternate chapters, which is an interesting and welcome storytelling technique.

However, I stopped reading this one for awhile in favor of the next book on this list, but I plan on returning to it to see what happens to their romance. :)

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

I was sick in October so for some reason I decided to bring this book along with me to read at the doctor's office. It's a small thin book and, as I soon discovered, a quick read, so that was attractive to me.

My experience with this book actually brings into question the controversial idea of reading a book series out of order because this is a sequel and I *GASP* didn't read the first one yet. I asked people for their opinions about this and they all unanimously recommended that I read the prequel first, with some opinions sprinkled in that reading was just reading regardless of the order. I continued reading the second book because I was already in too deeply a la my doctor's visit and I didn't want to stop. My review of this book is partially based on whether or not reading in order would have been more beneficial for me.

It actually is possible to read this book without getting lost because Johnson and her main character Ginny do a decent job of describing what happened in the previous to bring readers up to speed. In the first book, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, teenager Ginny Blackstone is sent on a summer backpacking trip through Europe with instructions her artist late Aunt Peg has given her in 13 little blue envelopes, to be opened one by one. Before she is able to open the final envelope in Greece, her backpack containing the envelope is stolen and so she is left with the accepting that she will never know how the adventure ends...or will she? Fast forward to Christmas time when a guy from London contacts a now high school senior Ginny about possessing the 13th blue envelope, kicking off the sequel's adventures.

A criticism I have about this book is the lack of adult supervision. They make the case in the sequel that Ginny is 18, so therefore she doesn't need it. However, regardless, a young girl is traveling Europe with strangers and her guardians, like her parents or her uncle, don't seem to have any concern about this whatsoever. In fact, in one scene she tells her uncle that she is going to Paris and the uncle asks her "With who?" and she answers "A friend." The uncle proceeds to ask her who the friend is, assuming it's her friend and love interest Keith from the first book, but then she tells him that no, it is someone else. The uncle then DROPS the questions because, hey, she IS 18!

This is absurd! No, uncle! You look into this more! This other guy could be a killer! I don't care how old the kid is! It's like Johnson sweeps this all under the rug because she wants to move the story forward so therefore doesn't bother with these details.

Some positives about this book is that it did make me want to visit Europe. (I'm 26, significantly older than Ginny, and even so, I guarantee you my parents would take my traveling companions more into consideration.) I love they way Johnson describes the cultural differences among the countries.

So, was it totally awful that I read this book out of order? Well, not necessarily, because it made me want to read the first one considering all of the references to it. However, I do know now how the whole series in its entirety ultimately ends, so that makes me less apt to read it... I actually would love to read a third installment to see Ginny in college, but the sequel does conclude quite satisfactorily, much so that I don't really need to read a continuation.

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

I didn't bother reading past the prologue with this one. I'm not sure why. I picked it up because I wanted to read more memoirs and the shiny colors on the cover attracted me, but I'm thinking it's because I'm not familiar with Felicia Day and her work. She actually address this very notion in the book. But then again, I wasn't familiar with Frankel prior either.

This is a book that just didn't grab me. I enjoy her sense of humor, but she does say something that turned me off. She talks about how at some point while at the mall she wanted to teach some kid about gender roles. I think it had something to do with boys wearing dresses or something like that? Mind you, she describes the mother and son as strangers to her.

I don't care how she feels about gender roles or transgenderism, but I don't take too kindly to adults who feel the need to lecture someone else's kid, especially if she doesn't even know them. She doesn't actually do it because someone interrupts her and leads her narration to something else, but I would be so angry if I was the mom and some strange woman tried to teach my kid a lesson about life. That's the parents' job, not hers. I didn't really care to read much more after that.

That being said, I found out recently through a Facebook trend that she is expecting her first child, so congratulations to her!

The Jersey Devil by James F. McCloy and Ray Miller, Jr.

I'm a proud Jersey girl, and with that honor I am happy to say that my home state has our very own folklore beast: the Jersey Devil. I'm also pleased that our hockey team the New Jersey Devils, the only team New Jersey claims as our own, is attributed to this history.

Because I want to include the Jersey Devil into my creative writing, I decided to do some research. I found this book at Sprague Library and my dad has read this and likes it himself. He would often ask me about it.

It's a short quick simple read detailing the many histories behind the Jersey Devil, complete with photos and pictures. I didn't read it in its entirety, but what I read was a page turner.

This is another book I hope to order from Amazon to keep in my personal inventory.

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again by Donald Trump

Given that Donald Trump was becoming president and everyone on my Facebook timeline feared his regime, I was interested in reading a book of his to ease my own concerns of him becoming our new leader. I wanted to read up on his policies through his own voice and not manipulated mainstream media. I saw the book sitting on the shelf at Sprague Library and figured that it was exactly what I was looking for.

Now, whether he did write this himself or he (more likely) hired a ghostwriter to write this in his voice, this book sounds EXACTLY like Trump. It sounds just like his speeches. Now whether that is a positive or negative thing is up to you. lol

I appreciate his passion in the book. He's a businessman who knows what he is talking about and seems to really care about the state of our country. Of course, whether or not you agree with that is up to you. lol

I didn't fully read the book. I just jumped here and there to read his thoughts on certain subjects in my interest and liked what I read. His beliefs are interesting and clear, but yet the book grows tiresome because it's basically 193 pages of him ranting.

If you want to read about President Trump's stances without any outside distraction, I recommend you pick up this book.

I just realized that I list nine books here, such means I actually kinda surpassed my 8 book challenge! Yay! :P

And now, I am going to try to complete the 2017 Reading Challenge to the right. I read a little bit, but haven't really focused on any book in particular due to my on again off again illness in January. That and the fact that I am also writing my own fiction now and find my own stuff more entertaining. ;)

It's the end of February and I'm already behind with my reading, so we'll see what happens. :P

And since this is a book themed blog post, I will include my first book themed vlog! This is my first "Chatting with Stef" video in awhile!

Perhaps I will include these books into my 2017 reading challenge! :D

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