Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves [review]

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St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Published by Vintage Books in 2005
246 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg: 
3.79 (as of 2018-05-09)

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

In these ten glittering short stories, debut author Karen Russell takes us to the ghostly and magical swamps of the Florida Everglades. Here, wolf-like girls are reformed by nuns; a family makes its living wrestling alligators in a theme park; and little girls sail away on crab shells. Filled with stunning inventiveness and heart, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves introduces a radiant new writer.

She used to have these intense bouts of homesickness in her own bedroom. When she was very small, she would wake up tearing at her bedspread and shrieking, “I wanna go home! I wanna go home!” Which was distressing to all of us, of course, because she was home.

Nobody is more bummed than me that I didn’t like this collection. My first introduction to Karen Russell was Vampires in the Lemon Grove, another collection of short stories that I picked up on a whim in 2015 and absolutely devoured. It became one of my favorite books and I recommended it to literally everyone who would listen. Ironically enough, while I chose it for the postal book club that my friend Rachel started, another group member (there are 12 of us) chose this one! I was stoked that I would finally get the chance to read more of Karen’s work.

Everybody wants to go home, and no one can agree on where that is anymore.

Unfortunately, the majority of the stories in this collection just didn’t vibe with me. They felt bizarre just for the sake of being bizarre and I found it impossible to connect with any of the characters (save for a couple). The stories felt like they stopped abruptly and I had difficulty understanding their purpose. There were some stories about girls having questionable relationships with grown men that made me unbelievably uncomfortable. Perhaps there were underlying messages that I truly just didn’t understand.

My rating for each story:

Ava Wrestles the Alligator ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (cw sexual assault??)
Haunting Olivia ⭐️⭐️ (cw familial death)
ZZ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers ⭐️⭐️ (cw r-word, animal death)
The Star-Gazer’s Log of Summer-Time Crime ⭐️⭐️ (cw ableism)
Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Lady Yeti and the Palace of Artificial Snows ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The City of Shells ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5
Out to Sea ⭐️⭐️ (cw underage drug abuse; pedophilia)
Accident Brief, Occurrence #00/422 ⭐️⭐️.5 (cw casual racism)
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

He is an obdurate man, a man of irritating, inveterate habits. He refuses to put down toilet seats, or quit sucking on pistachio shells, or die.

My average rating was 2.8 stars, rounded down to 2. I think the content warnings really speak for themselves as to why I didn’t love this collection. Many of the stories included problematic themes that I didn’t really find combated or justified in any way. I suppose the point of this collection is to make people uncomfortable, but aside from the two four-star stories, I just didn’t enjoy myself reading this. I was going to DNF after the fourth story, but I really wanted to finish this for the book club and was also looking forward to the title story (which was last, and which was worth reading).

This book may still be worth it for you if you’re interested. It definitely worked for other people, so I don’t want to turn anyone away, but this really wasn’t for me.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle [review]

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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Published by Raven Books on February 8, 2018
517 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.19 (as of 2018-04-18)
cw: off-page sexual assault, unchallenged fatphobia/fatshaming

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC Provided by the Publisher and Netgalley

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. 

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

This was fine. It’s honestly a struggle for me to write a review because I have next-to-nothing to say about it. It’s a shame because the beginning of the book had me pulled right in. I really wanted to know what was going on and who our main character was. The whole thing just gets pulled in so many different directions that there are almost too many mysteries to solve and I kind of stopped being invested in any of them. The reveal about why Aiden is at Blackheath was a bit out of left field and not expanded on enough, I was left feeling like I had been given a cop out explanation with no context. The biggest problem with this novel was that too much time was spent on things that I didn’t care about and too little time was spent on things I did care about.

I also didn’t really like the hosts who Aiden inhabited. He had only male hosts (I’m almost positive? I read it over such a long period of time.) and I think it becomes pretty obvious that this was written by a man. Aside from the general vibe of the writing, there was the way Aiden reacted to his hosts. In the body of an overweight man, Aiden became horribly disgusted and I was honestly horrified at his reaction. All he can think about is how awful this man is and how ashamed he is to be in this body. As Hannah points out in her review, this is then juxtaposed with a later host who is an actual rapist and who Aiden feels revulsion towards, but not nearly on the same level as he felt towards his fat host. This may be a controversial take, but only a man could think that being overweight is worse than sexually assaulting women on a regular basis.

I’ve honestly changed my rating several times already. Upon finishing, I figured 3 stars described how I felt about the book, but after a bit more thought, I decided that 2.5 would be closer. Writing this review, though, I need to bump it down to 2 stars. For me, 3 means “liked it” and 2 means “didn’t like it” and I just didn’t like this book. I didn’t feel satisfied with the answers I was given, I didn’t care much for the characters, and I immensely disliked the way Aiden’s different hosts were portrayed.

I may be alone on some of this and I think that if these items aren’t dealbreakers for you, you should give it a shot. Unfortunately, this book just didn’t work for me.

 

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(Blurb and cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Stardust [review]

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Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow & Company on December 31, 1999 (originally 1998)
238 
pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg:
4.08

** Spoilers Ahead ** 

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to beautiful Victoria Forester. But Victoria is cold and distant–as distant, in fact, as the star she and Tristran see fall from the sky on a crisp October evening. For the coveted prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristran vows to retrieve the fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the ancient wall dividing the village from the adjacent meadow, and propels him into a world that is strange beyond imagining. But Tristran is not the only one seeking the heavenly jewel. There are those for whom it promises youth and beauty, the key to a kingdom, and the rejuvenation of dark dormant magics. And a lad compelled by love will have to keep his wits about him to succeed and survive in this secret place where fallen stars come in many guises–and where quests have a way of branching off in unexpected directions, even turning back upon themselves in space and in time.

Two stars always feels like such a negative rating, but it really just means I “didn’t like it.” This book could hover around a 2.5 for me, but I think 2 is slightly more accurate. I know Neil Gaiman is a beloved author and I have enjoyed several of his works (although, don’t get me started on Anansi Boys), but Stardust just wasn’t for me.

I didn’t care about Tristran and I hated that he was just an unremarkable boy who got remarkably lucky and saved the day and got the girl even though his plan until almost the end of the book was to essentially enslave her and give her as an offering to another beautiful girl that he covets (I wouldn’t call what he feels love).

Besides the star (who doesn’t really count as human) and perhaps Tristran’s biological mother, every woman in the story is made out to be either unimportant or awful. Victoria is the whole reason for Tristran’s quest, but only because she snubbed him and didn’t tell him she was engaged. He literally forgets about and could not care less about his adoptive mother and sister. And there are plenty of evil witches, as well as a female merchant who had enslaved Tristran’s mother.

Whew, I didn’t mean to rant like that, but it all just really got to me. On top of that, I just wasn’t a fan of the writing style in this one. There are parts of the story that I found intriguing, so it wasn’t all bad. And it is a quick read, very easy to get through. So all-in-all, if this sounds like your jam: go for it. It just definitely wasn’t mine.

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(Cover and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Arrows of the Queen [review]


Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
Published by DAW Books, Inc. in March 1987 
First Edition, 320 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0-88677-378-6
Rating: ⭐️⭐️

I read Arrows of the Queen for the first time approximately 4 years ago and this was my second time with it. I wanted to reread it so I could continue with the series. Unfortunately, it ended up having the opposite effect. The writing needed a lot of polishing and I’m surprised I enjoyed it so much the first time around, but the plot had probably grabbed me too hard for me to notice it.

The main character, Talia, was kind of a Mary Sue (perfect in every way, essentially no faults), the other characters weren’t very well-developed, and the main romance felt really forced and completely random. I felt like it could have been done without completely and was kind of stuck in for no reason. The pacing of the story itself was jerky and weird with large swaths of time skipped over at random. There were far too many “but little did she know…” moments, which drove me nuts.

On the plus side, the world-building was good, the concept was really interesting, and there were several women loving women!!! I loved the way that the lgbtqia+ female characters were incorporated into the story. Their sexuality didn’t define them, but homophobia was still briefly discussed–it seemed similar to today, where some people had no issue with homosexuality, but others did.

Overall, the book wasn’t completely without its merits, but it just wasn’t really an enjoyable read for me.

Thanks for reading! Have you picked up any books by Mercedes Lackey? Let me know in the comments. You can also follow me on Twitter or Goodreads.

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [review]

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Published by Vintage Books in June 2009
Mass-Market Edition, 644 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0-307-47347-9
Rating: ⭐️⭐️

I have been plodding my way through this book for weeks, trying to figure out how I’m going to properly review it without tearing it apart. I dragged myself through the first 200 pages and then put out a call for help. After consulting with many people, all of whom had already read the book, I concluded that the book was to get better and I would not DNF it. I put it on pause to read Everything, Everything and then continued my way through it. And, well, here are my thoughts.

I think just about everyone has heard of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at this point. The whole series is famous and the first book has been made into a movie–twice. Somehow I hadn’t gotten around reading it until now. I had been intending to for years, but the opportunity just never presented itself. A couple years ago I ended up getting a copy and immediately forgot about it completely. Recently I rediscovered it and decided it was time.

I usually keep my reviews spoiler-free, but in the interest of discussing all my issues with the book, I’m going to warn you all that there will be rampant spoilers throughout this review. I also want to put out a content warning for this book for rape, assault, incest, and plenty more. It was quite the read.

I’ll start off with the problem that almost caused me to DNF this book: it is almost entirely exposition. The first 200 pages alone are exposition. The first half of the book was, in my opinion, dry and boring and unnecessary. It is a translation, so it’s possible that something was lost here. I understood, to some extent, why so much setup was needed, but in my opinion the payoff just wasn’t there.

None of the characters were compelling to me. I understand books with unlikeable characters, but here the main characters were boring and two-dimensional. Blomkvist was bland and I couldn’t fathom why women were throwing themselves at him left and right. Salander had so much potential as a Strong Female Character™, but just ended up being more like an unrealistic caricature. She didn’t feel like a real person and because of that, she just wasn’t interesting to me. All of the romantic and sexual relationships had no chemistry and felt entirely unnecessary.

Sexual assault was essentially just used for shock value throughout the entire novel. Salander is assaulted multiple times. A graphic assault scene is bookended by sex scenes, which is a huge pet peeve of mine as, in my opinion, it contributes to the sexualizing of rape and assault (a huge problem in media). I really didn’t think I got anything out of the repeated assault except for motive for Salander’s distrust of men (I mean same, amirite).

The plot was in and out. Like I said, it kind of dragged on for a while, but it got interesting once things finally picked up. If the story had been condensed, I think I would have liked it a lot more. After the main mystery was resolved, it slowed down again. I almost wish the entire Wennerström plotline had been left out. It provided motivation and background for Blomksvist’s character, but really took up too much time and space and could have been avoided.

Apologies if this was a little meandering, I’m struggling to get all my thoughts put together concisely. I feel badly for not having much good to say about this book, but I was deeply disappointed by it. I’m intrigued about the Swedish film and intend to watch it, but I do not plan to continue reading the series.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Thanks for reading! Please let me know your thoughts on this book, either version of the movie, and/or the Millenium series at large. You can also follow me on Twitter and Goodreads.

Book Reviews

The Circle

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The Circle by Dave Eggers
Published by Vintage Books in May 2014
First Vintage Books Edition, 497 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0-385-35140-9

I’ll get it out of the way now: I was really disappointed in this book.

I went into The Circle pretty cold. I honestly didn’t even know the basic premise until I happened to see the movie trailer, which is what prompted me to finally get my hands on the novel. I borrowed my roommate’s copy and dove in with only the cinematic preview and the written blurb from the paperback as my references. It really seemed to be my thing: contemporary fiction with some sci-fi and thriller vibes thrown in? I was so down.

If you’re like me and have apparently been living under a rock, here’s the general premise: A young woman, Mae, is hired at a successful tech company in California (basically Super Google) thanks to a powerful connection–her college friend Annie, who is a higher-up employee of some kind. This company, the Circle, seems to do everything. It controls essentially all social media and is responsible for a great deal of new technological growth.

At first this all seems great! Mae finally has a job that makes her feel important, technology has evolved in such a way that crime may soon be close to wiped out, and it is easier than ever before to connect to others. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that things are more complex than they first appear. The story gets a little predictable–technology gets out of hand and the reader is really forced to confront their morals. At what point does surveillance become too much? At what point is our right to privacy breached?

I really did enjoy the book at first. It sucked me right in and I was really intrigued to see how the culture of the Circle would be developed and what specific problems would arise. I really related to Mae–her willingness to please and to learn, her insecurities, her desperation to mean something to the world. I think we can all relate to this to an extent.

I would say referring to this story as a “heart-racing novel of suspense” (as the blurb on my copy does) is really a stretch. I hit a wall with it about halfway through and had to push myself to finish. Everything started to feel really mechanical and scripted to me. The characters felt two-dimensional, I didn’t really have any stake in whether or not they succeeded, and some of the ideas seemed incomplete to me. I felt like we were kind of speeding through everything and a lot of things got lost in the shuffle.

For instance, Mae’s relationship with Francis confounded me. After their initial speedbump, I didn’t really understand his purpose in reappearing. Her passion for kayaking was dropped without a backward glance, and I almost forgot about it entirely. She abruptly started talking about some “tear” inside her, which was never elaborated on or resolved.

Honestly, the more I think about this book, the less I like it. Sure, it had a great deal of potential and we really should consider the moral conundrums unique to the modern digital age. Had the story itself been more fleshed out, I would have absolutely liked it more. As is, it is more of a poorly concealed word of warning than a well-written piece of literature. This may be one of the only time the movie trumps the book for me–but I’ll have to go see it before I decide that.

My final say is: Read The Circle if you’re already interested, but if you’re on the fence don’t go out of your way to read it.

Rating: ⋆⋆