Good morning! So, since closing my Goodreads account, the major comment I received is that my reviews would be missed. In response, I promised more reviews on the blog. Let’s start out with a bang, shall we?: My biggest reads of this year, whether it was because of hype, personal anticipation, or something I learned about myself as a reader.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This was a diversity title that I picked up purely because I’d seen it advertised on Goodreads. Normally, the hype alone meant I wouldn’t even consider it; hyped books and I do not have the best of relationships.
But, yes, I caved. Children of Blood and Bone held the promise of being distinct. Its focus is an African empire, a fantasy realm based on tribal history, and there were no overt modern political soapboxes. Did it deliver? In that regard, yes.
There is plenty of action and excitement and plot. The characters don’t feel like cardboard cut-outs (even though they are all archetypes), most of their decisions and motivations ring true, and the world-building is intense.
Now, here’s where it fell flat: IT IS TOO DANG LONG. What is the trend with making YA novels 550 pages?!?! While holding up this tome of a book, I was afraid my wrists would snap. I had to read the majority of it sitting with it propped next to me on the armchair or at the kitchen table. And it started getting into too many subplots that felt like they were there mostly to increase page numbers, and the overall story wouldn’t have suffered without them.
This further affirmed to me that I am not ready to give up on diversity titles…but I also am not changing my mind about really long books anytime soon.
My rating: 3 out of 5 shiny moths
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I first heard about this book, and considered it a vital part of the cultural conversation, but I would skip it.
What changed? Peer pressure. It was everywhere, and there were weeks when you couldn’t even log onto Goodreads or Twitter without seeing something about it. Now, after having tried it, I can concretely say: No.
My opinion has nothing one whit to do with race. This is a book that did come along at a time when we need to be discussing things like police discrimination against minorities, based solely on preconceptions and stereotypes instead of cold, hard facts.
Here’s where my frustration lies with The Hate U Give: Its entire premise is faulty. Starr is the most unreliable witness ever, as she did not see what happened. She cannot confirm nor dispute the police officer’s account. That makes the whole plot absolutely nothing but an extremely biased social commentary, and in my view, that makes for a lousy piece of fiction.
My rating: No numbers, but the moths are drooping and sad
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
This was also a selection due to social pressure — but kind of the opposite, as people have been saying it’s so awful, I sort of wanted to prove them wrong. Did it?
Well, yes, and no. This novel was actually the one Harper Lee originally submitted to her publisher, not the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman is about an adult Scout — just Jean Louise, in this case — and most of the material that became Mockingbird is definitely in its infancy. Watchman could easily be considered a sequel (and I think the publisher was guaranteeing sales based on that theory), though that’s rather unfair to Ms Lee, who never intended to write a sequel, and in fact thought this manuscript had been long forgotten or even lost.
The story is very 1960s American South, and it captures a pivotal moment in that culture that we’d do well not to ignore or pass over. Lee’s talent for storytelling is evident, but her particular flourish really wasn’t yet crafted. So Mockingbird remains the classic we all should promote, and Watchman should be a cautionary tale about the dangers of signing away all your rights to a big city publisher.
My rating: 2 quietly perching on a magnolia tree moths
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
I picked this up on a whim with a birthday gift card. It was pretty good, but I don’t know that I’d read anything else by this author. The premise was a combination of a poor guy on Long Island whose house is literally falling into the sea, and flashbacks of a traveling circus that eventually connected with the narrator in the present day. This sort of style doesn’t quite work for me, and sure enough, I found myself skimming or even skipping the majority of the flashbacks. It took me too long to figure out how they connected to the narrator, and those chapters were too lengthy for in-between parts. Also, I’ve never had much interest in circuses, so that made me squirm with impatience to move on.
My rating: 3 crystal ball gazing moths
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
This book and the next taught me more about myself as a reader in recent history than any of the others. In the spring, I joined an adult-book book club at my local library, which I normally wouldn’t do — and this selection just nailed it home to me why. A Piece of the World begins as a love letter to the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World, then devolves into unbased assumption, and then full-out fabrication on the lives of what were real people. The surviving descendants of the Olsen family should sue the living daylights out of this author.
And yet, this was a book club favorite. The other members seemed to have absolutely no realization that this wasn’t just a portrait of a certain moment in history, it was slander and libel. I was among the few who saw this un-novel for what it really was.
My rating: 1 very agitated moth
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Again, usually I don’t read thrillers or unreliable narrators — and now The Woman in Cabin 10 has secured my never trying furthermore.
It was also a book club selection, and I got very disenchanted after the first 100 pages. The building action sharply dropped off, the secondary characters who had been developing literally vanished from the page for several consecutive chapters, and the ending was rather anti-climatic, bordering on nonsensical. But here’s what got my goat the most: The narrator wasn’t actually unreliable, she had depression and anxiety. When an author takes an unstable woman and puts her in a situation where murder may or may not have been committed, then makes it out to be she’s “unreliable” because of pre-existing mental illness, that is NOT COOL.
And once more, most of the book club thought this was a great story. To me, it was just painful, and pointless, to read.
My rating: 1 beating its wings against a brick wall moth
Fawkes by Nadine Brandes
Color me disappointed. You mix a well-liked author with alternate history, fantasy, and Bonfire Night (one of my favorite holidays), and how could that not be a win?
Well, maybe the story is too busy, but trying to weave political and religious overtones into a novel that threw in a bit of a vague magic system, and plenty of family and personal drama, all together, made me merely struggle to get engaged. And the alternate history kept tripping me up (for example, there’s nothing on record of Guy Fawkes even having a son who participated in the Gunpowder Plot). Maybe this type of genre just isn’t for me.
No numbers: The moths were too confused to even be present
The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer
This middle-grade fantasy is wonderful. The plot moves right along, the characters are lovable (or hateable where necessary), the emotions are real, and the whole story just draws you in from the start. I can’t recommend this enough to fans of animal fantasy. Normally I don’t commit to reading an entire series before the next book is even announced, but I will be keeping my eyes peeled for whatever comes after Mez’s Magic, 110%! (Finally, a winner!)
My rating: 4 exuberant and dancing moths
The Word Collector by Peter H Reynolds
How can a picture book make you cry? This one totally does, and will. This author is a new favorite of mine. Check out all his other titles as well; you’ll cry over every single one, and thank Mr Reynolds for turning you into a puddle of disconsolate mess. The prose and messages are spot-on and incredibly beautiful.
My rating: 5 collapsed, joyously weeping moths