September 2016 Wrap Up

In the beginning of the month, I had an insane To Be Read pile posted on my Instagram. I went a little crazy with putting books on hold at my local library—I never expected to check out almost 20 books in one month. I thought I could read at least 15. In the end, I only read 6 of the books I checked out.

Overall, I read a total of 9 books, which is average of what I read every month anyway; still a decent reading month for me.

 

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

5 stars

Another great book in a great series by a great author. I love the characters Cormoran Strike and Robin, his assistant. Both are flawed, but dedicated and moral. Career of Evil was definitely my favorite novel in the series so far. The mystery was dark, twisted, gruesome, and complex. I hated virtually every single one of the suspects Cormoran and Robin investigated when trying to find the person who sent Robin the severed leg. And I definitely did not like Robin’s fiancée, Matthew, for specific reasons you would know if you read this book.

I know there are people that aren’t a fan of the “will they, won’t they” aspect of Cormoran and Robin’s working relationship in Career of Evil, but I ship them. I think they could still manage a professional relationship while in a romantic one. I need the fourth book, like, now.

JK Rowling: please stop writing Harry Potter stories and give us more Cormoran Strike.

 

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

4 stars

A book I’ve had on my TBR list on Goodreads for a long time. I decided to check Rebecca out of the library after reading about it in another book. While it did not disappoint in the slightest, I still had some issues with it.

I loved the mystery and horror in this story, as well as enjoyed Daphne Du Maurier’s writing. Mrs. Danvers is definitely on the list of my favorite antagonists. The protagonist and narrator, “the new Mrs. De Winter” (we never learn her name), was likable; I could relate to her on certain things. However, I was not a fan of the romantic element in Rebecca. I did not like Maxim. I found him to be insensitive and unromantic. Then again, it would not be a gothic romance without that dark, brooding hero, would it?

 

Whitefern by VC Andrews

2 stars

Whitefern is, by far, the most disappointing book of 2016. Needless to say, I am so, so glad I got this out of the library instead of spending the $22 on Amazon for the hardcover.

Whitefern is supposed to be the sequel to VC Andrews’s novel My Sweet Audrina, which was published in 1982. This book was supposed to follow Audrina, now a grown married woman, still living in her family home of Whitefern with her husband, Arden Lowe, and her mentally handicapped younger sister, Sylvia. The book opens up with the death of Audrina’s father, Damien Adare, and the discovery he has left fifty-one percent of his successful business firm to Audrina, not his son-in-law, Arden. Arden tries to get Audrina to sign papers to give him full control over the company and she refuses. Whitefern takes off from there.

The supposed “sequel” to My Sweet Audrina lacked the creepiness and mystery of its predecessor. Instead of a smart, curious heroine, we get a grown woman who does nothing but shop, clean, cook, and obsess over everything. All the characters had either little development or were totally butchered from the previous book, like Arden. The writing was decent enough and made the book easy to read, but I found myself speed-reading through the last few chapters. Overall, I was seriously bored with Whitefern and deeply disappointed.

 

The Muse by Jessie Burton

5 stars

After reading two of her books this year, Jessie Burton is easily making it onto my list of favorite authors. I love her writing style and her storytelling in historical fiction is amazing. She writes complex, flawed characters, some of them you’re not entirely sure if you like or not.

The Muse is told in dual point of view of two young women in different time periods. One is Odelle, an immigrant in London during the 1960s and the other is Olive, an English aspiring artist in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Their lives become intertwined by a painting, supposedly created by a mysterious rebel artist, Isaac Robles. And the story takes off from there.

 

The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

2.5 stars

The Cresswell Plot is another book I’ve wanted to read for a long time and glad I didn’t spend the money on it. When I first heard of it, the story reminded me a lot of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes: a teenaged girl is trapped under the thumb of her fanatically religious father and must find a way to escape him before he forces the family to return to their home in heaven.

The writing was nothing special, but it moved the story along and made it easy to read. I liked the protagonist, Castley, for her thinking process and her determination. Other than that, I was not terribly impressed with The Cresswell Plot.

 

And I Darken by Kiersten White

4 stars

My first Kiersten White book and I was not disappointed. And I Darken is a historical fiction young adult novel that is a gender-swapped origin story of Vlad the Impaler. The writing was great and I could picture everything that was happening. The characters were complex but all likable in their own ways. The world-building was fascinating; it made me want to learn more about Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman Empire. I’m definitely excited to see where the series goes from here.

 

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

3.5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, although science fiction generally goes over my head. The format was interesting and added a certain element to the story, but I think I would have preferred it if it was told in prose. The characters were funny, yet I couldn’t really connect with any of them. The book definitely could have been at least 100 pages shorter than it was.

I plan on continuing with this series and I will likely check the sequel out of the library once it becomes available.

 

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

4.5 stars

The First Time She Drowned was my first book review up on this blog. It was a dark contemporary with great writing that saved me from a reading slump after finishing Illuminae. Overall, I loved it and it’s one of my favorite books of 2016. If you want to know my full thoughts, go read the review.

 

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

2 stars

When I started reading A Farewell to Arms, it was right before Banned Books Week started. I own two books by Ernest Hemingway that I hadn’t gotten around to reading and I wanted to read a Banned Book during the week like I always do. Unfortunately, reading A Farewell to Arms has reestablished my love/hate relationship with Hemingway. While I appreciate his realism and his depiction of what was a depressing time in history, his writing puts me to sleep.

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My Top 5 Favorite Banned Books

As the niece of a librarian, I was taught a love of books and reading. My parents were never terribly strict with what I read, likely because they aren’t readers themselves. I read what I wanted and what interested me. And I never felt people should be denied the right to read whatever they wanted.

In honor of Banned Books Week, here are my top 5 favorite banned books.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My all-time favorite banned book, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian society where a radically religious government has taken over and infertility has infected the majority of the population. The few fertile women that are left are called Handmaids, who are, essentially, unwilling surrogates. They serve the Commanders and their wives, high-ranking members of society, by bearing them children. These women don’t even have their own names. For example, the main character is called “Offred,” because the Commander she happens to be living with is named Fred.

The book’s central theme is feminism, but there are also elements of religion and government, primarily explaining why the two should never, ever mix. While there is the cringe-worthy “ceremony” the Handmaids have to go through every month with the Commanders and the Wives, The Handmaid’s Tale is worth the read.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I, unfortunately, did not read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings until after the great Maya Angelou passed away, and I wished I had read it when I was younger. A lot happens in this novel but I flew through it.

The story starts off when Maya is a little girl and she is sexually abused by a friend of her mother’s, and then ends when she is a teenaged mother. It covers her whole childhood in the South, during a time where African-Americans and women were no more than second-class citizens. Maya had a hard life, but her storytelling showed no signs of anger or self-pity. While it was not always perfect, there were still good people in her life, most notably her brother, Bailey. I thought I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to be an uplifting read.

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

Most of you are probably aware that Harry Potter was banned from several schools and libraries since its publication in the United States. A friend of mine a few years ago shared an article on Facebook about a man who rewrote the whole of Sorcerer’s Stone because he didn’t want kids to “turn into witches and wizards” by reading it.

I know certain religions are against the idea of witches, wizards, and magic because they are viewed as “sinful” or “devil worshipping” or whatever. You are entitled to your beliefs and if you don’t want to read Harry Potter, you don’t have to. But Harry Potter influenced a lot of kids’ lives—myself included—and encouraged many to read. The fact that people will go as far as to ban the book is not right at all.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Definitely one of my all-time favorites on this list. Even though I was a senior in college when I read this book, high school far gone behind me, I could still relate to the characters. And it is one kids should be reading in school, no matter how tough the subject matter is.

In a series of thirteen cassette tapes, Hannah, a girl who committed suicide that narrator Clay had a crush on, explains the events that led up to her death. While the acts themselves seemed meaningless to the perpetrators, they still hurt her emotionally and mentally. Thirteen Reasons Why teaches kids that something they might think is no big deal is a big deal to someone else.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I first read this in my high school book club, then introduced it to my own students when I was a teaching assistant in college. Of all the books on this list, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one I recommend the most.

The story centers on Junior, a fourteen-year-old budding cartoonist and Spokane Indian, who leaves his reservation to attend an all-white school in a neighboring town, in hopes of pursuing a better education. At his new school, he is the only Native American, aside from the mascot. Many on the reservation have turned against him, labeling him a traitor, including his best friend Rowdy. But with the support of his family, his new friends, and his own resilience, Junior pulls through.

While there is some swearing and references to masturbation (Junior is a fourteen-year-old boy, why is that such a big deal?), the book covers a variety of topics, racism and alcoholism being the major ones. It is also short, under 300 pages, and contains mostly drawings. Plus, Junior has a dry sense of humor that makes the story all the more entertaining.

 

Stand up for your right to read and pick up a banned book!

Review of The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter (Spoiler Free)

I had first heard of The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter on Goodreads a few months ago and then bought my own copy on Amazon once it became available. It sat on my bookshelves waiting for me for a few months until I was in need of a contemporary as I felt a reading slump slowly start to hit me. And I’m so glad I finally read it.

The First Time She Drowned centers on eighteen-year-old Cassie, who has spent the past two and a half years in a mental hospital. Her mentally unstable mother, who dominates everyone in the family, forcefully admitted her when she was fifteen. Once she turns eighteen, Cassie checks herself out of the institution and plans to start a new life at college. Only as she is reintroduced to the world and her mother suddenly comes back into her life, she realizes that there is more about her past as well as her family that she was aware of—including her mother.

When I first started reading this book, I expected Cassie to be an unreliable narrator. The novel is told from her first-person perspective and every few chapters are her reflecting on her childhood. Considering some of the memories are when she is as young as six years old, it seemed possible to me that her mental illness or some sort of trauma influenced those memories. Kletter does a good job at making you question Cassie’s sanity several times in the novel.

The writing itself was beautiful. I found myself reading passages several times over. Plus, the author wasn’t trying too hard; she let the words flow naturally. It was easily one of my favorite aspects of the novel and why I kept on reading. Kletter knew how to lure the audience in. She made me feel whatever Cassie was feeling and really get inside her head to understand her motives.

The central theme of The First Time She Drowned is mother/daughter relationships. Cassie and her mother have a severely unhealthy relationship. Her mother, who definitely has some sort of mental illness herself, controls the entire family. Cassie’s father and older brother are completely under her mother’s spell. She belittles Cassie every chance she gets and often says things like “if you love me, you will do this…” She outrights blames Cassie for her problems.

Cassie’s low feeling of self-worth at the hands of her mother reflect in her relationships with other people. At college, she meets three important people: Zoey, Chris, and Liz. Zoey becomes Cassie’s roommate and best friend. Friendly and outgoing, she pushes Cassie out of her comfort zone. Chris is a boy that shows romantic interest in Cassie, despite her repeated efforts to push him away. Liz is a counselor at the college Cassie is forced to go to after getting threatened to be kicked out of school who helps her like no other therapist or psychiatrist has.

Of all these characters, I felt that Cassie’s relationships with Zoey and Liz were more of a driving force than that with Chris. Chris, in my opinion, was used as more of a plot device later in the story. It is Zoey and Liz who help Cassie regain her self-image, as she begins to see herself through the eyes of someone not her mother.

My least favorite character, naturally, was Cassie’s mother. She was manipulative and cruel. She constantly had to be validated by her children and her husband, and made them miserable if she didn’t get what she wanted. She does some truly awful things to Cassie that put her in the top five of my “Fictional Characters I Would Punch in the Face if I Had the Chance” list.

Cassie is one of my favorite contemporary heroines. She was sassy; she had some funny one-liners throughout the book. She was realistic; I never felt as though her character was painted to be too strong or too weak or too exaggerated. She was sympathetic; you can’t help but feel for her and root for her. Lastly, she was resilient; even though she had a lot of help from others, she is the one who rescues herself in the end.

Overall, I give The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter 4.5 stars. If you prefer the darker side of contemporary YA novels or books about mental illness and families, I highly recommend this book.

 

15 Bookish Facts About Me

Hello all!

First off, my name is Jillian and I am a recent college graduate who has finally given in to her friends’ suggestions of starting my own book blog. I plan on doing the usual book reviews, monthly TBRs, and wrap-ups, as well as some other bookish posts. But I am also considering doing the occasional post about my own writing.

My first official post is the generic “get to know me” type: 15 bookish facts about me.

  1. I wrote my first “novel” when I was 8 years old after reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. It was ten pages long about a girl whose life changes after her older brother goes to college. To this day, I have no idea where I got that idea.
  2. I’m not picky about my book covers not matching. I own several series with mismatched copies of hardbacks, paperbacks, or even mass market paperbacks. Unless the cover is seriously ugly or the overall book is in poor condition, I don’t care.
  3. My current favorite auto-buy author is Sarah J. Maas.
  4. I have a problem of buying too many books at a time.
  5. The genre I read the most of is fantasy.
  6. The genres I read the least of are nonfiction and science fiction.
  7. I only drink water when I read. I’m really scared about getting my books dirty.
  8. Depending on what I have to get done or what plans I have, I can read a maximum of 2 books a week.
  9. I don’t own a Kindle, a Nook, or any other kind of digital e-reader, and I don’t have the urge to purchase one. Real books don’t need batteries.
  10. I read a total of 105 books in 2015.
  11. My book boyfriend of the moment is Tamlin from A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.
  12. I wrote an 84-page vampire romance/mystery novella titled Beautiful Danger when I was a freshman in college.
  13. The books that made me fall in love with reading were the Sweet Valley Twins book series.
  14. I can read between 2 to 5 books at a time without getting confused on plotlines.
  15. I own over 100 books, but who’s counting?