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May & June Reading Recap

Phew, these last two months have been busy. Between graduating, packing, hosting my family, and then moving home, unpacking, and getting settled in our new home, I missed out on last month’s reading recap post and I hadn’t read as much last month. So I’m going to recap both months here.

Over May and June, I read 8 books. In total, I’ve read 28 books this year, which puts me past halfway done with my goal of reading 52 books this year and 3 books ahead of schedule! Yay! The 8 books I read were mainly from two series – one I finished and one I’m still working on. So I’m going to divide this review up by the series, instead of by the individual book. I’ve included the individual books underneath for clarification.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – 4.5/5 stars
(Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter)

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)This series was such a lovely surprise. It takes a classic fairy tale story and characters and transforms it into something fresh and unique. The series focuses on Cinder, a cyborg mechanic living in a world ravaged by a plague called Letumosis. The Lunars – the population living on the moon – are ruled by an evil queen who is just biding her time to intervene on earth. The fate of both worlds lie in Cinder’s hands…. *dun dun dun*

Meyer did a wonderful job creating and developing the characters in this novel. I also loved how each book introduced a new fairy tale and the subsequent characters. And all of the plot points fit the fairy tale theme, if you will, without seeming like stretching the story to fit. It was effortless.

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)Scarlet introduces Scarlet, who mimics Little Red Riding Hood, as well as the grandmother and Big Bad Wolf, who isn’t so bad after all. Cress introduces Rapunzel,  and finally Winter introduces Snow White and her story. But while each book introduces new characters, the story still focuses around Cinder, with each of the characters playing vital roles.

The ending was very fitting as well; it wrapped things up while still giving some room for the reader’s speculation. It was such a creative series, giving a fun spin on the fairy tale stories we’ve all grown up with. Yet, the series really stands alone and I would recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy and young adult novels. There’s plenty of action and romance, and of course a strong female lead. :)

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – 2/5 stars

The AlchemistI received this book as a Christmas gift last year and just got around to reading it. It was a short book – only 200 pages – but it still took me over a week to finish because I just couldn’t get into it. It reads like a parable, comparable perhaps to a book like Le Petit Prince or The Time Keeper. But unlike these novels, I was very underwhelmed by The Alchemist.

The story follows a simple shepherd boy who has a dream about treasures near the pyramids in Egypt. So he begins his quest, leaving everything behind to find this treasure, meeting different characters along the way.

While I suppose the author never intended this novel to carry suspense like a mystery novel, or action like an adventure novel, I feel like it didn’t have anything to go for it except for platitudes and other overgeneralized life lessons like:

Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you´ll find your treasure

As another reviewer put, “I feel like this book was trying to be deep but failed,” and I completely agree. This book is critically acclaimed and loved by many, many readers (including my brother who gave it 5 stars); however, I just didn’t get it. I felt generous giving it two stars.

Brotherband Chronicles (#1 – 3) by John Flanagan – 4/5 stars
The Outcasts, The Invaders, and The Hunters

The Outcasts (Brotherband Chronicles, #1)In middle school and high school – and still to this day – one of my favorite series of books is Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice. I was really disappointed when he finally concluded the series, but equally excited when I found out he would be writing a companion series that focuses on a different country and it’s people, called the Skandians, set in the same world. I was a bit skeptical of first, however, because while I liked Skandia – a land loosely based on present day Scandinavia, who present similar traits and qualities as vikings – I wasn’t enraptured. So, I went in with some low expectations and was, again, pleasantly surprised.

The Outcasts introduces us to our three main characters: Hal, Stig, and Thorn, the first two of which are young boys entering the brotherband training – the warrior and seafairing training that all boys enter in Skandia. It follows their training, which has Flanagan’s same trademark style from the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The Invaders and The Hunters follow Hal and his crew after they graduate from their Brotherband training and hunt down thieves who stole Skandia’s most prized treasure.

The Invaders (Brotherband Chronicles, #2)I really enjoy all of the characters. Each of them have distinct strengths as well as flaws, and Flanagan does a nice job developing them throughout each book. The plot remains interesting enough and Flanagan does a wonderful job developing the world and the different cultures and countries.

As children’s and teen books do, it does have some silly boy humor and some of the lines seem a bit contrived. There’s a fair amount of eye rolling and an unusually large amount of the phrase “pretty much” being used. But even so, I really enjoy the series and can’t seem to keep the books down for long. I don’t like them quite as much as the Ranger’s Apprentice books and they won’t hit my “favorite” shelf, but I still really enjoy them. I describe them as my “pre-teen boy” guilty pleasure, haha. ;)

Overall a pretty good couple months. Happy reading! :D

March & April 2016 Reading Recap

You may have noticed I didn’t include a March Reading Recap last month, but March was a bit of a slow month for me since we were on vacation (and you would think that I would read more on vacation but I don’t!). So I decided to combine March and April and include some of my favorites and more popular reads.

I read 8 books in the last two months, which brings me to a total of 20 books this year! My goal is 52 books, so that puts me three books ahead of schedule. I would have liked to read a little bit more so  I don’t fall behind during finals and the move back home, but I’ve still got a bit of wiggle room!

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – 3/5 stars
Eleanor & ParkThis young adult novel follows Eleanor and Park, two teenagers who meet at school and slowly fall in love. Everyone thinks Eleanor is weird and she comes from a troubled home, but Park seems to see right through her differences to who she actually is. I really wanted to love this story, truly. Everyone I heard raved and raved about this book, but I should know by now to not set my expectations based on other people’s opinions because I’m often disappointed.

Let’s start with the good. This story took place in the 80s, so this was really refreshing for a young adult romance novel. I love all the quirky tidbits and the lingo that they used, and I feel that Rowell really captured the thoughts and the reactions of teenagers in high school three decades ago. There were thoughts that characters would have that I couldn’t help but giggle or relate to. But there were just so many little things that constantly bothered me in the back of my mind. I tried to push them away until I finished the book, but here we are.

I understand teenage infatuation – I’m only four years out of high school (crazy, yeah!) and I remember the feeling of being swept away by someone (who I am now married to! :heart: ). But their relationship escalated in such a weird way for me. At first they hate each other, and then two days later they are professing their undying love. C’mon. Second, I understand Eleanor’s home life was sucky, but my goodness I felt like she was whining and being so self-deprecating all of the time, and getting mad for absolutely no reason at the one person that made her life better. Third, there were little situations throughout the book that just didn’t make sense to me. For example, near the end of the novel (I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers), Park has to sneak out to help Eleanor and his father catches him. But instead of doing the responsible thing that most parents would do, like accompanying Park and Eleanor to make sure everyone is safe and a dangerous situation, he says, “Sure! Go have fun!” I don’t get it.

Overall, if I didn’t think about it, I enjoyed the book. But the more I stew over it the more it bothers me, so let’s end this long review here. :)

The Martian by Andy Weir – 5/5 stars
The MartianI would like to start out with the fact that I’m really not that interested in science. It was my least favorite subject in school, and while I admit that it’s kind cool, I just don’t really enjoy it. I bought this book for my mother-in-law last Christmas and she has been wanting to talk to me about it but I hadn’t read it yet! I also wanted to see the movie, so I thought a bit reluctantly that it was time to read it.

Mark Whatney is stranded on Mars after he and his crew are hit by a storm and they presume him dead. He has no way to communicate to earth and has to fight to survive in a harsh and unwelcoming Martian environment.

I just, oh my goodness. I don’t know where to begin. I loved everything about this novel, and I’m not even that interested in science. I couldn’t put it down. Mark’s humor was absolutely perfect. It wasn’t a “laugh out loud” kind of humor; it was dry and subtle, but it kept me smirking as I flipped the pages. For example, he takes his laptop out into the Mars atmosphere and when it stops working, says,

Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”

Smirk, smirk. Another gem:

I’m traveling 90 kilometers per day as usual, but I only get 37 kilometers closer to Schiaparelli because Pythagoras is a dick.

Also:

They’re not much different than kitchen trash bags, though I’m sure they cost $50,000 because NASA.

I could do this all day, but let’s move on. Weir put so much detail and research into this novel, you would think he was an actual astronaut stranded on Mars and lived through what Mark did. He used such specific numbers and calculations that a lot of the time went right over my head, but were still understandable to an average person without a degree in rocket science. How he managed that perfect balance, I’ve no idea. And through all of the problems and crazy situations that Mark got into, his science-y answers weren’t far fetched. It made sense in a crazy, oh my gosh he’s really going to do that? way.

Hands-down the best book I’ve read all year. I don’t want to see the movie now (though I’ve heard it’s quite good) because I don’t want to be disappointed. D:

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – 4/5 stars
Kitchens of the Great MidwestI love food; I love to eat, I love to cook, I love Food Network, so when I saw had a Goodreads Choice Award and it was about food, it was a no-brainer. The novel follows our food-loving protagonist, Eva, from birth to the height of her culinary career.

The narration of this novel was very unique. The POV changed every chapter to someone that Eva knew – from her father to an ex-boyfriend she dated for a couple months in high school. Every chapter also highlighted a dish that is either important to Eva or to the character currently narrating the story. This was such a fresh and unique way to get to know the different characters but to also see Eva and how she was perceived in the eyes of others.

This was a charming, quick read that I would recommend to any foodie. It will make you hungry while simultaneously warming your heart. Also, I thought it was a wonderful depiction of the absolutely fabulous and kind people that live in the Midwest.;)

Ptolemy’s Gate (Bartimaeus Trilogy #3) by Jonathan Stroud – 5/5 stars
Ptolemy's Gate (Bartimaeus, #3)The first two books in this series that I previously reviewed were good, but not absolutely riveting. The second was actually a bit hard to get through. However, this book was very unlike the others which was such a relief because this series had so much potential, and Stroud was finally capitalizing on it! As the book progressed, I was absolutely glued to the pages. Nathaniel became a likeable protagonist again, Kitty become a likeable character for the first time in the whole series, and their stories were finally intertwining like they should.

And then all of the pieces started to fall into place. Just like Rowling artfully pulled every last detail together in the final Harry Potter book, Stroud pulled all of the pieces together so that as I neared the conclusion, I could only go, “Oooohhhh.” I finally understood why certain things happened in the earlier books and saw how Stroud had been planting little seeds throughout the series to finally draw them all together at the end. The ending was bittersweet, but very fitting and realistic. Stroud put all that he had into this last novel and it really changed the whole series for me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such a perfect ending to an intricate series, so I would definitely recommend! Just be patient with the first two novels. :)

Okay wow! This Reading Recap went a lot longer than I thought. Happy reading!