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Books & Chocolate

I love to read just about anything, as long as it's fiction. I read for me - that means I read what I want, when I want. My reviews tend to mostly be based on how I'm able to personally connect with the story/characters. They are not intended to influence someone to read, or not read, a particular book. I always encourage people to take a chance and make up your own mind.

 

Oh, and I love chocolate.

A Rule Against Murder

A Rule Against Murder - Louise Penny

I've had a lot of audiobook time the last few months, so I was able to cruise through another book in the Chief Inspector Armond Gamache series. This one took us, Inspector Gamache, and a few of the other primary characters outside of Three Pines. The new setting was a refreshing change. It was also interesting to see Peter and Clara outside of Three Pines. In previous books you could see a bit of Peter's hidden personality, but it really came through when he was around his family. And what a family! It makes me second guess any complaints I have about my own. 

 

One of the things I've come to appreciate about this series is the diversity of the characters. There's diversity in race, gender, age, sexuality, etc. - but there's also diversity in the make-up of the characters. They don't all have the same flaws, and there are a few that I don't typically see in some books. Also, there are some characters who are just plain assholes and they don't change and there's no apology for them. I think this one fact helps to make this series extremely relatable. In life there are assholes who are that way their entire life. It seems that most times in books these characters are forced to grow or at the very least face their flaws. It's refreshing to see some unlikeable characters without the need for justification or apology. 

 

As usual, there were a few plot holes for me that I just couldn't overlook. The method of murder in this book is unique, but so over the top. I could never really buy into it. 

Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon

There was a lot I loved about Everything, Everything. While I guessed part of the twist, I didn't have it all and once I got there it put the rest of the book into a new perspective for me. At its core, this is a love story. It's about how love can make people stronger and braver than they were before. Yes, it can also make you stupid, but that's often a necessary part of what love can teach us. Is it the same basic premise of many other YA love stories out there today? Yes, yes it is. But I was OK with that. I expected it going in, so I didn't have my expectations shattered on that front. There were some aspects that were a bit loose and messy that I wish the author had strengthened. In a way, it felt as though the ending was expected to be enough to forgive all the rest. That's sloppy for me. I did like it enough to check out Yoon's other book. We'll see how that one goes...

The Cruelest Month

The Cruelest Month - Louise Penny

This is the third book in the series, and Inspector Gamache is back in Three Pines for another murder. I don't read many series where the community is just as much a key part of the overall story as the basic plot. Usually, it's too many people for me to keep track of and I prefer more streamlined stories. However, they are growing on me more and more after each book.

 

The ending of this one annoyed me a bit. It felt like a TV cop drama where the suspect just blurts out their guilt at the end based on lose evidence and a gut feeling from the inspector. 

 

The other issue I had with this one was the secondary plot going on in Gamashe's personal life. On one hand I'm glad that finally got resolved as it was starting to drag out a bit too much for me. However, it took away from the murder mystery. Many times I felt like the secondary plot was the primary and vice versa. It made me lose some interest in the 'who-done-it' for the murder mystery.

 

Hidden Bodies

Hidden Bodies - Caroline Kepnes

Well, I really enjoyed the first book, You, so I had high hopes for Hidden Bodies. Happily, Joe was just as twisted in this book as he was in the first. I will say that he didn't creep me out as much as he did in You, but maybe that's because I'm familiar with him now. He wasn't as much of a surprise. I did feel the book might have been a bit drawn out in some parts, but it still read quickly so I won't complain much. 

 

I was happy that Joe continued to be a complex character for me. I still pulled for him at times and wanted things to work out for him, yet I didn't want to like him at all. There's this part where he says something to the effect that he would never hit/hurt a woman -- yet he was where he was at that moment because he intended to kill a woman... The odd part is that I totally bought it. To put this into perspective - I cried when my husband killed a mole in our yard a few years ago. I cried when I hit a opossum with my car. I don't like killing of any kind. And yet, I found myself rooting for Joe at times... that's some great writing and characterization. 

 

It was a great sequel.

Don't Get Caught

Don't Get Caught - Kurt Dinan

This book was a lot of fun. Full of pranks and jokes, there's a lot of light-hearted entertainment packed into the pages. Some of the pranks were a bit unbelievable at times, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment. 

The 5th Wave Series

The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey

This review is for all three books in the 5th Wave series. I liked the first book marginally better than the other two. I'm actually torn on this series and wonder if my enjoyment would have been a bit less if I hadn't just bailed on another series that was driving me nuts. Cassie was quite refreshing after the disappointment I was feeling from the other series! She was sarcastic in a way I enjoyed and she was strong for most of the series.

 

I didn't mind the Cassie and Even romance that developed in the series. Could it have worked without the romance? Probably. But what I took from it was that even in the darkest of times, when you couldn't really trust anyone, we still want to believe in love. We want to believe that it's possible for love to defy the odds. 

 

The romance I didn't get was the one between Zombie and Ringer. I just didn't get it. At all.

 

My biggest struggle throughout the entire series was that I just didn't really get it... I still don't fully understand why the aliens thought their approach was the best way to achieve their goal. And the actual goal is a bit sketchy too. There were parts that felt they were in there just for the shock factor or dramatic effect.

One example is the part where they turned the kids into bombs. It seemed the message the aliens were trying to send was that the humans couldn't trust anyone - yet no one survived the blast, so how would anyone else know what the aliens were doing to the children?

(show spoiler)

 

As a whole, the series was just OK for me. I'm glad I read it, but I had hoped to enjoy it much more than I did. 

 

Glass Sword

Glass Sword (Red Queen) - Victoria Aveyard

Ugh. I was hoping this book would get better for me than the first. Based on some reviews, I knew there was a risk it wouldn't, but a girl can hope, right?

 

Mare started out in the first book as kind of a badass. Then by the end of book one, she turned a bit whiny. Now, at the end of book two, she's basically just a cold-hearted bitch. I'm struggling to find any sort of redeeming quality for her. Yeah, she's young and been through a lot - I get that she might snap a few times and say something insensitive. But we're in her head, so it's her thoughts too. She turns on everyone - all because Julian, who she knew for only a short period of time, once told her that 'anyone can betray anyone' (and we hear that statement ALL THE FREAKING TIME). She apparently trusts what this Julian says more so than her family or Kilorn who she's known her whole life and continues to stand by her even though she shits on him all the time. Julian must have been right because Maven, the guy she didn't really know and was betrothed to out of force, betrayed her. Sure, that makes perfect sense for why she wouldn't trust the people who have been by her side from the beginning. What??

 

And I'm seriously missing why Mare is treated as the most important person in existence, by both sides. I could understand why Maven would be obsessed with getting her back under her control -- except for the fact that he tried to kill her. So if he wanted to control her why wouldn't he have done that from the start? 

 

And it was way too long. By like 200 pages. Maybe more. Just a lot of nonaction and thoughts from Mare which were the same thoughts on every other page. 

 

Ugh. I'm taking a break from this series. There's one more out right now, and I think there's a 4th coming. I hope that will be the last one. I don't know yet if I'll finish out the series. I sort of don't really care at this point.

Gracefully Grayson

Gracefully Grayson - Ami Polonsky

This is the first book I've read with a transgender character, so I don't have much to compare to. That said, I thought the book was very well done. Grayson is a 6th-grade boy who identifies as a girl on the inside. It's intended for younger readers, however, I think adults can also gain from reading it. 

 

One of the things that struck me throughout the story was how much this was on Grayson's mind. It was in every thought - from what clothes to wear, to what pen to use, to what bathroom to use, and ultimately to what role to audition for in the school play. It consumed Grayson's mind, and that's no way for anyone to live, especially a child. 

 

This book covered what I'm guessing are the high points of a child trying to emerge through a different gender - from bullying to lack of understanding in his family to support from some unexpected people. I loved the way Grayson's teacher Finn handled the situation, as well as the mother of one of the other children who befriends Grayson.

 

There is one thing that struck me about this book that I struggle with -- it seemed as though Grayson's primary way of identifying as a girl was based on liking princesses, wanting to dress in skirts/sparkly clothes, liking pink, wanting braided hair, etc. I don't personally know anyone who is transgender, and as I said above this is my first book on the subject, so maybe these things are the primary identifiers. If that's the case, then I wish our society could get to place to just let all that go. I mean, the only reasons dresses and princesses and sparkly things are associated with girls is because our society has decided that's the way it should be. I guess I feel that if we accept it's OK for girls to wear pants and play football and 'do anything a boy can do', then why don't we have the same expectations for boys? Why does someone have to feel incomplete or defective just because they like something that society has told them they shouldn't like? As Grayson's little cousin said, "Why does it matter?" If only we could all be as accepting as young children.

 

I feel as though people who identify with the opposite sex they were born to experience more conflict than just these things, but that's what this book focused on so that's what I had a reaction to. To me, boy and girl should simply refer to the physical body of a person. If you have certain parts, you're a girl. If you have the others, you're a boy. What you like and what you want to wear should not be defined by those labels.

 

This is a book I intend to have my 11-year-old read -- and discuss with her afterward. 

A Fatal Grace

A Fatal Grace - Louise Penny

I liked this book marginally better than the first. I was used to the style of the audiobook narration, so maybe that had something to do with it. I also felt the characters were a bit more developed this time around. 

 

I was able to figure out who had killed CC - I had a few working theories, but my top one turned out to be correct. While I'm not loving the series, I'll continue to follow along with my book club as long as I can get the audio version from my library. 

By Your Side

By Your Side - Kasie West

While this wasn't my favorite Kasie West book to date, it was still an enjoyable read. I appreciate that she tried to tackle an anxiety disorder in this book with the main character, Autumn. I also liked how Autumn eventually realized she was often making choices to please other people, rather than because it was what she really wanted. 

 

I just didn't feel these characters had as much depth as some of those in her other books. I also had to reach pretty far to accept how Jeff ends up reacting to the whole situation. 

 

Regardless, Kasie West is still an author I intend to read and follow - especially when I need a light, feel-good story.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman

I can see how The Ocean at the End of the Lane would be a thing of magic to many readers. It's certainly well written and imaginative. And I didn't feel as though it was incomplete despite the short length. This was my first book by Gaiman, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

 

While I did enjoy the story, I couldn't really connect with it and I'm not sure why. I think there are layers upon layers here that I just wasn't able to uncover. I listened to it on audiobook and I'm wondering if that was part of the issue. Gaiman does a fabulous job of the narration, but I don't always fully engage in audiobooks so I might have missed a few of the hidden gems as a result.


I think I may try to read this one again (and read next time rather than listen) at a later date to see if I come away with a different perception. 

Still Life

Still Life - Louise Penny

I'm in an online book group that started this series, and I decided to follow along since my library has the audiobooks available for loan. I have too many books on my list to read these, but listening to the audiobooks don't put me out at all. I hadn't heard about this series prior to my club selecting it, but the descriptions sounded interesting so I jumped on board. 

 

Well, I was in danger of dropping the first book, Still Life, after less than an hour of listening. It's very rare for me to chuck a book to the DNF bucket, especially so soon after starting, so I slugged forward to finish it. It wasn't a long audiobook, so I figured I should be able to get through it quickly even if I wasn't enjoying it. 

 

The biggest issue was the narrator's style. I enjoyed his voice and cadence, but there are no pauses or breaks between shifts of PoV. I was so lost before I got used to it! I listen to my audiobooks while doing something else (driving, gardening, laundry, etc.) so my attention isn't always 100% on the book. Add the two together and this book started off as a hot mess for me. I did have to go back a few times to catch something or figure out if I missed a PoV shift, but it wasn't as annoying as I thought it would be. 

 

The characters were enjoyable. While I liked the variety we were given, it did feel a bit as though the author used a checklist of sorts to make sure all the bases were covered - one black, two gays, one mean old bat, a couple quirky artists, unruly teens, annoying bitch, etc., etc., etc. Some readers have commented that the characters become more developed in the future books, and I'm hoping that's the case. Many felt defined by typical stereotypical behaviors, and if that continues I'll just get annoyed. 

 

I liked the focus on art and bow hunting/archery. Those are areas I personally don't come across often in books so it was a refreshing plot path. I'm also not sure I've read any books set in the Quebec area, so I really enjoyed being somewhere new to me.

 

I felt the mystery was fairly well done. While I did guess correctly early on who killed Jane, and how they would figure out who did it, I didn't have the why part figured out. It did feel a bit rushed/convenient, but I'm willing to give a bit of fictional leeway there. 

 

I'll stick with the series for now. I'm hoping that I don't feel frustrated or lost so early on now that I'm used the narrator's style.

Red Queen

Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard

I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about Red Queen. I had high hopes based on many of the reviews, and I'm wondering if that's what left me a bit ambivalent. On some level, I expected more than what I felt. 

 

One of the primary reasons I didn't connect more with this book was the main character, Mare. She started off strong for me. While she had the expected 'I don't give a shit' attitude found in many similar YA books, I liked how she strove to be independent. I liked the way Mare found her way into the royal circle and how she discovered her abilities. We did see one hint of her ability prior to this (which was good) but I do wish there had been more hints prior. The way it is makes it seem as though it was just dumb luck that her abilities showed up at the right time. But as the story progressed, she became somewhat inconsistent for me. I like when a character grows throughout a book or series, but that's not what happened here. For example, she hated Cal for his role in the death of so many Reds and how he could torture Reds with only the slightest hint of guilt, yet she didn't show much remorse for the deaths she had a hand in or the people she used along the way. It was a classic double-standard -- it's not OK for it to happen to the Reds because they are the oppressed society, but it's totally fine for it to happen to the Silvers because they must all be the same and take from the Reds and abuse them along the way. 

 

I also didn't like how Mare was the girl all the guys fell in love with. That YA trope is starting to get old for me. It just makes the character unrealistic. Someone has to dislike her (other than the jealous girls and the evil mother) so that leaves me as the reader to dislike her. And not for good reasons that make me still enjoy the book.

 

I have to admit that I looked ahead at the book description for the second and third books of the series. I wish I hadn't done that because it spoiled the twist at the end. Had I not looked ahead, I think I would have been surprised by the twist. So I have to give credit for that being well done. 

 

I liked the book well enough to continue with the series -- hopefully they get better for me or at least stay on the same track as the first book.

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

Going into the book, I knew Thirteen Reasons Why was a controversial book. I have personally battled depression in the past, but have never been near suicidal. So while I can't comment on the authenticity of how this story represents the mindset of someone who is suicidal, I can certainly believe that it rings true to at least some people. I watched the Netflix series as well, and there were differences. There were parts I thought played out better in the book and others I thought were more impactful in the series. I'll focus on the book here.

 

Hannah isn't a particularly likable character. In some ways, I'm glad for that though. The reader has to work a bit harder to maintain empathy with the narrator, and working harder for it makes you think a bit more about the circumstances. 

 

I don't think this book had anything that was a profoundly new concept. As I read through each of the 13 reasons, I had a memory flash of when something similar happened to me growing up. Things for teens may be more pronounced these days with the inclusion of social media, but it's not new stuff. Kids are cruel - always have been and always will be. Those cruel words and actions will have an impact on others. Some will get over it and some won't. Some will even be able to use it to make them stronger. I do think it might be more difficult to escape these days from cruel behavior because of how easily rumors and bullying can spread through social media, and I know that can be a real challenge. So even though not a profound new look at the struggles of teens, it's a unique way to bring forth the reminders that if we could all just be a bit kinder then we might actually make a huge impact in someone else's life. 

 

I do wish the book would have gone more into Hannah's mental health. Many kids go through similar experiences, yet they don't commit or even attempt suicide. Someone who is willing to carry it through has much deeper needs - and unfortunately the book didn't touch on that at all. 

 

I'd also like to point out that this is the kind of book that parents should read with their child. Some have slammed this book for the danger it causes because it glamorizes suicide and somewhat gives a pass as to why it's OK. Some will see it that way. Others won't. That's why it's important to read it with your teen and talk about it. 

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors - B.A. Paris

I'm not exactly sure of the reason, but I could not connect to Behind Closed Doors at all. I didn't feel a thing for any of the characters or what happened to them. It wasn't a thriller for me. The plot isn't very plausible, but I was willing to look past it so my lack of connection wasn't from that. I wish I could put my finger on it, but I'm now even having a difficult time remembering details - that's how little I connected with this book. At least it was a quick read and a free loan from the library - so not much lost in the way of time and money. I'm sure there are those out there who will really enjoy this book. I just wasn't one of them.

Winter

Winter - Marissa Meyer

Winter is the final installment of the Lunar Chronicles series. I'm so happy this final book didn't let me down. While I did feel it was a bit longer than it needed to be (lots of filler with repetitive information), I thought it was a satisfying ending to the story that remained true to the series as a whole. This book did get a bit more into the romances of the characters, but that was a bit expected. And it didn't really overshadow the 'defeat Lavana' plot -- but I think that also contributed to the extra length.

 

Overall I highly recommend this series if you're looking for a fun, feel-good story with strong female leads.