Book review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

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A Conjuring of Light was one of my most anticipated books of 2017. I adored both A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, so to say that my expectations were high for A Conjuring of Light would be an understatement. I love this world. I love these characters. This book, though? Don’t shoot me, but I didn’t love it.

I mean, obviously. I’m the kind of person that can power through a 600-page book in a couple nights. This book, at 624 pages, took me nearly two months. And yes, I suppose a big part of that was my library copy expiring while I was moving and then having to wait for eight people to read it before I could have it back, but still. Had I really wanted to finish it that badly, I would have either a) driven to the library to pick up a paper copy, b) driven to Barnes & Noble to buy my own paper copy, or c) just bought the ebook for myself from Amazon. And since I did none of those three things, it’s pretty clear that I didn’t really care that much about waiting.

It’s not that the writing’s bad. Because it’s not. But the book is too long. A hundred pages of fighting and bleeding could have been cut out without really affecting the plot. Like, I get it. Antari bleed. It’s their thing. But how many times can I read about these characters being tortured before I just start rolling my eyes? And how many times can I read about someone pulling out their dagger to kill someone else before I start skimming? The body count in this book is insane.

Plotwise, the first half of this book is pretty slow. That’s the part that I really slogged through. I read the last 50% over a couple hours on Memorial Weekend, but getting there was sure a hassle. There are some things that were kind of confusing, like Maxim’s whole plan to stop Osaron, but I think that Schwab meant for them to be that way. (I hope?) But, speaking of Maxim and his plan, why couldn’t all of these characters talk to each other like grown-ups and share their plans? Maybe fewer people could have died.

Spoilers ahead, because I don’t think I can fully articulate my feelings about this book in a spoiler-free review.

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Book review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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Can I tell you how much I loved E. Lockhart when I was younger?  I remember eagerly anticipating her next release.   I checked out every book of hers that my library had, and then inter-library loaned the rest.  As I got older and she released more books, they were always on my wishlists.  I just moved, but somewhere in a box, you’ll find a whole lot of hardcovers of her books.

What I’m getting at is that Lockhart was a big part of my childhood, and when I heard that she’d released a new book, I had to read it as an adult to see if the magic was still there.

It was.

Now, We Were Liars is a different sort of story than her Ruby Oliver or Frankie Landau-Banks books.  Whereas those were light young adult books, WWL is a mystery that messes with your head. Cadence Sinclair is a deeply troubled young woman. She’s got some obvious problems going into the story (unexplained illness, amnesia), and as you get further into the book, her various issues become more pronounced.

This book is still young adult, I guess, but it’s totally different from anything of Lockhart’s that I’d previously read.  It seems that people either liked that or hated it.  Scrolling through my friends’ reviews, I see lots of five-star and lots of one-star ratings. There’s not a whole lot in between. And I can understand that. I think that you have to be in the right mood for this book, and, in general, you need to like this kind of story.

Personally, I loved it.  I cried.  Like, tears streaming down my face, unable-to-think-straight-because-of-what-just-happened crying. I’m not going to tell you about the plot. This is the kind of book that’s better to go into blind.  Had I known anything about the plot, I can’t imagine that I would have enjoyed it as much.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

#mmdreading: a book with an unreliable narrator or ambiguous ending

Book rant: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Theodore Finch spends his days thinking up ways to die.  He reads about successful suicides and memorizes statistics.  He has memorized famous suicide notes.  He knows poems about suicide by heart. He is a walking fountain of knowledge when it comes to death.  Nobody knows exactly what’s going on in Finch’s head, but everybody knows he’s a freak.

Violet Markey’s older sister Eleanor recently died in a car accident, leaving Violet herself unsure why she’s still here.  As she’s contemplating her life on the school’s bell tower, Finch talks her down.  The two strike up a wary friendship, quickly followed by an intense romance. But as their feelings for each other deepen and Violet begins to come out of her self-imposed exile, Finch starts to disappear.

Please note that there are a whole lot of spoilers below.

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Book review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

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I’ve been hearing about Bad Feminist for years now. I remember when it was a Goodreads Choice nominee way back in 2014.  I thought, hey, I need to get my hands on that asap.  Well, it’s 2017 and I’ve finally gotten my hands on it.  This book was supposed to be groundbreaking. It was advertised as “sharp” and “funny.”

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this.

Quite honestly, reading this book was a chore. And that’s saying something, really, because I am actually interested in the topics of (most of) Gay’s essays. We seem to have a lot of the same views. I think that we’d probably get along if we met in real life. But, unfortunately, when it comes to connecting with a book, there are things more important than a shared worldview.

There’s actually very little about feminism in this book. There are a number of essays about race and multiple open and honest discussions of sexual violence.  Gay writes in-depth critiques of a plethora of books that I’ve never read and movies that I’ve never seen, including one “think piece” about 50 Shades in which she laments the number of “think pieces” that have already been written about it.  She discusses controversial news stories and comments on various celebrities. She mentions Paula Deen in no less than three separate essays.  There is an oddly detailed account of her time playing competitive Scrabble. Some of these topics are related, at least tangentially, to feminism.  But many are not.  This is much more of a memoir than a cohesive collection of essays on feminism.

I was not at all surprised to find that these essays were not written for this book.  They’ve appeared on Gay’s blog and in various online and print media. Some are well-written. Others are sloppy and rushed.  I don’t think an editor ran through the essays to try to tie them together or to make sure there were no glaring errors before this book went to publication.  It may be because I (briefly) worked as an editor, but the inconsistency in Gay’s writing really grated on me. For instance, there’s one sentence where she decides to use the word “whom” and then finishes with a dangling preposition. Yes, I’m nit-picking, and no, it’s not the end of the world, but while errors like that are fine on your personal blog, they don’t belong in a published book.

I remember once, maybe five or so years ago, one of my female acquaintances told me that I couldn’t call myself a feminist if I worked for a male boss in a typically female-driven field. (At the time, I was working as a receptionist for a male physician.) Setting aside any discussion of the sheer level of privilege that her job criteria might require, her overall attitude reminded me of Gay’s. Without a doubt, she has good intentions. But for all of her reading about feminism and her railing against the rigid ideas of feminism that society instills in us, she too has come up with some odd ideas about what exactly a feminist should be.

She seems almost contrite as she admits that she prefers the color pink, that she likes pretty dresses and dreams of a large closet of shoes, that she happily reads Vogue and listens to rap music and devours mindless chick lit.  This, apparently, makes her a bad feminist. I can’t say that I agree.

I’ve read better and more coherent essays on feminism for free on Tumblr.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

#mmdreading: a book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection

Book review: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: GoodreadsAmazon
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Source: Borrowed

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun.

With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.

Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a bestselling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

First, I would implore you to read this book, because it’s less than fifty pages and will, in all likelihood, take you less than an hour to read.

Second, I would ask that you go into it with an open mind. I know, I know, feminism is a dirty word. It’s all man-haters and bra-burners. It’s what women who can’t find a man identify with, right? Set those thoughts aside for a second. I am a feminist, and I like to think that I’m relatively normal.

Now that you’re into the book, just sit back and enjoy the writing. It’s so accessible. So simple and moving. “We should all be feminists.” I’m sure if everyone read this book, we would be.