Books of 2016 (and my lengthy reviews)

Okay!  This is it…one last recap post and then onto more Star Wars goodness.  I promise.

I really thought that after the birth of my daughter I wouldn’t have any time to read books.  While I definitely slowed down, I was able to squeeze in a lot more than I originally thought.  Especially while breastfeeding!  When she was very little, she would feed every hour to two hours and for at least 30 minutes so I had plenty of time to catch up on a book.

In 2016, I read 26 books and 9349 pages.  The oldest book I read was published in 1952 (The Glitter and the Gold…which I didn’t even finish) and the newest book was the Star Wars Bloodline from 2016.

 

These are listed in chronological order with the first book I read in January through to December of 2016.

 

  1. A Turn of Light by Julie Czerneda. Oh my gosh, horrible memories keep flying back to me of this book.  I couldn’t stand it.  So many people loved this book on Goodreads so I’m completely baffled as to why I really struggled with it.  The cover captivated me, as did the description.  I mean, there was a dragon in it, c’mon…  But, oh, so painful.  The book was “yuge” at 800+ pages and I thought at least 600 of those pages could have been cut out.  It follows a main character, Jenn, on her day to day life for two weeks in a remote village in a fantasy world.  There is magic of course, but it’s slightly confusing on how it works.  And a little creepy too.  I wish I could give a good plot summary but I think I’ve blocked most of it out of my head.  The book does get interesting at the end and I feel like it finally began to pick up and pieces fell into place.  I just wish that momentum could have carried us throughout the entire novel as opposed to consistently dragging on with oh-aren’t-these-homey-farm-folk-cute and oh-they-have-unexplained-magic-in-their-land-too-how-cute.  Enough already.  The characters were way too complacent for even homey farm folk and their actions were boring.  Books like this are why non-fantasy readers do not pick up fantasy novels.  If only they would read books like Elantris or Name of the Wind, they may have a different opinion of the megahuge novels.  2/5 stars.
  2. Burma Chronicles; Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China; Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea; A User’s Guide to shenzhen-guy-delisleNeglectful Parenting; Chroniques de Jerusalem by Guy Delisle. I stumbled upon Delisle’s Burma Chronicles by mistake when I was looking in the graphic novel section of our library.  And I fell in love.  I quickly read all of his travelogue’s, plus his Guide to Neglectful Parenting (not near as good as his travelogue’s).  Translated from French, Delisle recounts his experiences in remote places of the world through drawings and sarcastic humor.  It’s also very insightful and the way he conveys his thoughts on places like North Korea comes across clearly in his little pictures.  He first gets placed in places due to his job and later on accompanies his wife as she works with Doctors Without Borders.  The best part is when his child is born and he becomes a stay at home dad in a foreign country.  Out of all these books/graphic novels/travelogues, my favorite was the Burma Chronicles and Shenzhen5/5 stars for all, though some fall closer to 4.5/5 stars.
  3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This novel was a bestseller a few years ago.  It was on my list to read for a long time but it was always taken out at the library.  I finally got the chance this February when I was on vacation and I loved it!  Circuses have always interested me from when I was very young and saw the movie Toby Tyler.  What made this book gripping was the extra element of magic that was thrown into it, plus the two main characters who were forced against their wishes to compete against each other to the death with their magic within the circus…but they fell in love.  How do you circumnavigate that?  I appreciated the ending to this book.  I think Erin Morgenstern gave us a happy medium.   It was frustrating to read it and know from the very beginning that one of the main characters had to die.  You couldn’t see a way out.  Then when the characters learn that one has to die, you wonder who is going to make the sacrifice since at this point they are both madly in love.  Some reviews complained that the ending was a cop out, but I did not feel like that at all!  I thought it was deftly played and I did not see it coming.  I really enjoyed this book.  It was a good blend of realism, magic, romance, and historical fiction without going overboard in any of those categories.  I would like to give a larger review but then I’d go into even more spoilers than I already have, so I’ll leave it at that.  5/5 stars.
  4. Nobody’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when this book was over.    Talk about annoying!  I couldn’t stand the main character and felt like the entire storyline was taken too much out of historical and into the fiction realm.  Helen, based on the Princess of Sparta/Helen of Troy, was so unrealistic that I almost didn’t finish the book.  Thank goodness it was short.  Friesner obviously wanted to create this “strong” heroine who makes her own paths but it felt very forced. I see what the author was trying to do and the point of view she trying to bring to Helen but it felt immature.  The writing also felt unpolished and like a teenager had written it.  I would not recommend this book to any female young adult/teenager.  It’s just too unrealistic.  2/5 stars.
  5. Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn. This book was good.  A solid good.  Not great, not meh, but good.  I found that I enjoyed it a lot.  I loved the blend of a teenager in the modern world, but also the prevalence and acknowledgement that dragons were living breathing creatures right over the border.  It’s an easy read and perfect for just zooming through a book that has an urban fantasy feel to it.  The only thing that really bothered me was the focus on sex in this novel and losing her virginity.  In the end, Vaughn uses it as a plot point but I still felt like it was pounded into our head. Should she have sex?  Should she not?    I did love the main character however, despite her obsession with losing her virginity.  Other than that, she was relatable and a female heroine who wasn’t too obsessed with her boyfriend, could make decisions on her own, and level headed enough to make me understand her actions.  And dragons!  Real, talking dragons in the modern day world.  How fun is that??  3.5/5 stars.
  6. Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. Um, loved this book.  Absolutely loved it.  Having been raised by a European mother, I had a hunch that I would not be raising ARM (or any of my
    children) like other American mothers.  Reading this book after skimming through some boring “Baby’s 1st Year” books was a refreshing, and much needed, change.  It reminded me a bit of my childhood.  I always thought my parents were overly strict, and they were…compared to most of my American friends.  It wasn’t until I was in high school and college that I realized the difference was my mother is European and my father is Australian and they both brought a unique, non-American cultural view to raising children.  My favorite parts of reading this is how many moments I had of “Oh, I never realized that, but that is SO TRUE!”  For instance – how much American kids eat.  How impatient children in our society are.  How we don’t follow through with our “No”s occasionally.  How our kids our picky eaters (and how to prevent that).  There are definitely some parts that are overgeneralized about Americans and there are parts of French society that would not make me want to live there (the pressure on having your body back and looking fabulous months after giving birth!), but the parenting style is to be commended.  I liked this book so much that I bought it (big deal) and read it again after Ayla was born on some of those long sleepless nights and tiring days.  5/5 stars.
  7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. Em. Gee.  This book took forever!  I was simultaneously reading it alongside all the other books Silmarillionthat were previously listed here.  It took me 4 months.  I would get super into it, and then in typical Tolkien fashion he would blab on and on about something boring and I would drop it for a bit, etc.  I found that the book did not follow as quite of a linear pace as LotR does.  There’s also a lot of mythology to the novel, which lends well but at times can leave you confused.  The gods are there and then they disappear and leave everything to the elves…who have their own unique history.  I found that the elves read a little like a soap opera, but the problem was that we’d get a quick glance into one story line, and just when I found myself getting interested in the characters, they disappeared.  They *might* turn up again, or they might not.  This made it hard for me to read and remain interested.  I love LotR, but maybe I should read the rest of Tolkien’s work sparingly.  3.5/5 stars.
  8. The Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan. I picked this up because we live close to Newport, RI and I have visited the summer mansion of the Vanderbilt’s.  I thought the autobiography of one of the Vanderbilt children would be similar to a Downton Abbey season.    It was not.  Though I must say, her mother was an absolute bitch and therefore a delight to read!  But once she was old enough that her mother was no longer in the book, I got very bored and stopped reading it.  2/5 stars.
  9. Wild Within by Christine Hartmann. A romance novel written by my neighbor.  Enough said.
  10. Dealing with Dragons; Searching for Dragons; Calling on Dragons; Talking to Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. In which Kiri reads all 4 books in the series before giving birth.  (All chapters in these novels begin, “In which…”)  I love these books.  I used to dealing-with-dragonsread them all the time when I was younger and even with a 10+ year break since I’ve read them…they still are amazing.  The characters are great, the storyline is great, the world building is great.  It’s all great.  I also wanted to read them to see if they pass the independent-female-heroine YA novel I could give to ARM when she gets older and they still do.  It’s the story about a princess who does not want to do what normal princesses do (embroidery, curtseying, marrying prince’s)…so she runs away from her kingdom and becomes a princess to a dragon instead.  The dragon admires her sense and intelligence and they become fast friends.  Meanwhile, wizards are trying to “steal” magic from the dragons and this is a mystery, but of course ends in a climactic battle.  That’s the first book.  The next three continue to follow the princess’s life, but from different point of views.  Book two is from her future-husbands point of view, book three is from her good friend (a witch), and book four is from her son’s point of view.  If you love YA, and even if you don’t, but want an easy read full of magic and fun – definitely read these! 5/5 stars.
  11. The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher. This book has a weird place in my heart.  I got it because I was getting induced into labor.  I heard that it can sometimes take 24-48 hours to even give birth when you’re induced and you could be bored out of your mind for a long time…so I wanted a gripping book to sustain me.  I was lucky and was only 8 hours so the book didn’t help much, but I read it during the endless hours of breastfeeding that come with a newborn.  That said, the book wasn’t amazing.  I liked it but I don’t think I’ll be reading the second book.  It takes a lot to keep me enthralled enough to read another book in a series.  My main problem with the book were the characters.  I did not get connected to enough of them to care if they lived or died.  In fact, my favorite character was a cat, Rowl, but only because he was funny.  In order for me to love a book, I have to love the characters.  This book had plenty of swashbuckling fun but if I don’t care if a character lives or dies, then I’m not going to rate it any higher than 3 stars.  3/5 stars.
  12. Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein. This historical YA novel explored the lost Roanoke colony from a fictional character’s point of view, Cate.  Banished by Queen Elizabeth for falling in love with Raleigh, it goes into the people’s first years in America and what could have happened to the people.  The book makes the assumption that half leave after a disagreement in hopes of finding a better area and the other half assimilate into the Native American culture and tribes.  What I enjoyed about this novel was we received two different looks at life from Cate’s view: Elizabethan England and the first colonists in America.  4/5 stars.
  13. Bloodline by Claudia Gray. See my review here3/5 stars.
  14. Broken Skies by Theresa Kay.    Meh…  I liked that the main characters, Jax and Lir, did not spend the entire book fighting but instead fell into a groove early on.  There’s nothing worse than YA teen novels where the two main characters ignore their feelings for each other and bicker throughout the entirety.  I also think Kay did a great job with creating characters and societies that were fleshed out as much as possible for a YA novel.  It was fascinating to see a dystopian world where you weren’t quite sure of the motives of either side – it was a breath of fresh air from most other dystopian novels nowadays.  The main problem I had with this book was that though Ms. Kay was trying to present Jax as a “strong female character”, she still needed a male (first her brother and then Lir) to help her overcome her difficulties and a broken past.  That’s why I give this a “meh”.  My one main problem was actually a big problem for me because it frustrated me the entire way through reading.  I felt the book could be a lot stronger and more beneficial to young girls if we didn’t have Jax so reliant on different men.  3/5 stars.
  15. Clan of the Cave Bear; The Valley of Horses; The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel. Clan of the Cave Bear was amazing.  It was unbelievably good.  It had a slow start, but once it got going, I couldn’t put it down.  The book goes into the story of a young girl named Ayla, who loses her family to an earthquake.  She gets taken in by a prehistoric group who calls themselves a Clan.  Ayla is the “modern” human: completely upright, smart/inventive, pale with blond hair, and can talk easily with sounds.  The Clan is prehistoric: hunched over, broad foreheads, bowed legs.  The book follows her life trying to fit in with these prehistoric people who are the only family she knows, while being so different..and because of that difference, facing hatred from some other Clan members.  She has a baby with one of them that is deformed and at the end, she is forced out of the clan to be on her own.  The next novel follows her living by herself and looking for others like herself, and also following the story line of a man named Jondalar who is like her.  Predictably, they both meet up towards the end and fall in love.  Then it starts going downhill.     Ayla was an awesome character.  Then she met Jondalar and he sucked which made the book almost unbearable. The final novel, The Mammoth Hunters, introduce Ayla and Jondalar to a new group of people and Ayla learns how to live with others like her.  The book also sucked because Auel decided to create a love triangle between Jondalar and another man.  It was excruciatingly painful to read.  How did a series that start off SO WELL end up SO HORRIBLY?  Just read the first book of this series if you are going to read it.  It’s hard, because it leaves on such a cliffhanger, but the last two novels were so disappointing that you’ll get as frustrated as I did.  Book 1: 4/5 stars.  Book 2: 3/5 stars.  Book 3: 2/5 stars.
  16. The Lies of Locke Lamora; Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. I believe this is a trilogy but it didn’t hold my interestlies-of-locke-lamora enough to continue to book three. I learned my lesson with Clan of the Cave Bear.  I’m a little surprised only because the Goodreads reviews on this book are amazing and even my beloved Pat Rothfuss wrote a review on how good it is.  The book follows the life of a professional (and I mean really professional) pickpocket: Locke Lamora.  Think almost like Ocean’s Eleven heist-like novel.  The first novel jumped between flashbacks and current day which made it a little hard to follow but in the end, it was worth it.  The novel didn’t shy away from deaths of main characters, other characters getting screwed over, and nail-biting suspense.  It was long, though.  The novel had a lot of fluff that I think could have been cut out.  I remember debating if I should keep reading when I finished the first one, but I thought, why not?  I’ll try the next one.  It was not near as good and dragged a lot more.  But again, it did not shy away from deaths and I actually liked the main character, Locke, a lot more in the second novel than the first.  I would recommend these books to people who want something different while reading fantasy.  It had a tad of magic, but nothing was overdone and there was not a lot of romance either.  3/5 stars for both books.

 

My favorite book of this year would have been Bringing up Bébé and Clan of the Cave Bear.  I read Bringing up Bébé twice this year, so that definitely says something.  Clan of the Cave Bear was so thought provoking and took a subject that I thought would not be interesting at all and had me crying at the end of the novel.  It was so gripping that I was able to consistently read it, even while sleep deprived and having a newborn.  I definitely recommend it to anyone.  Even though it starts slow, it’s so worth it.

I read a lot of books in series this year, which is unusual.  I also noticed that I didn’t like a lot of the books I read, unfortunately.  Life is much too short to not read good books!  This means I’ll have to pick and choose better this year OR learn that it’s okay to put down a book in the middle of it, instead of wanting to finish because I think it’ll get better.

Mostly, I’m just happy to see that my reading didn’t slow down *too* much since having a baby.  Everyone said it would go out the window but I found that if I make time for reading, I can still enjoy it.

If you want to follow me on Goodreads, here’s my profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3910665-kiri I’d love to follow you back!

 

What was your favorite book(s) of 2016?  I’ll put it on my list!

Haiku Me Friday! Luke’s Solidarity

A single Jedi Alone for most of his life Will Rey bring a change?

A single Jedi
Alone for most of his life
Will Rey bring a change?

I had a strange realization last night.  Luke is alone as a Jedi for most of his life.  The fate of the Jedi rests on him as soon as Obi-Wan died.  It’s such a strong juxtaposition compared to the Prequels where we see the Jedi in numbers.  In TFA it’s worse than it ever was – he’s a hermit on Ahch-To with no other human beings around.  He retreats due to failures and it seems like he may not want to train Jedi again…perhaps it’s come full circle and he has the same feelings as Yoda?  Perhaps he will also tell Rey he’s too old to train another Jedi?  Too scared of failure?

From reading Bloodline, the book indicated that he spent time with Ben Solo and worked to train him but it didn’t seem to imply that he had ever gone off in search of other Jedi to build a Council or anything similar to what they had in the PT.

Will Rey change this?  I wonder if this next Sequel Trilogy will leave us with the feeling that the Jedi will eventually expand in numbers?  Or will it only be Luke and Rey taking on the world?

Book Review: Bloodline

If you are going to read Bloodline by Claudia Gray, read it to understand the politics of The Force Awakens.  Actually, make sure you even like politics, because this book has a lot of it.  It fools you with some action, but the action scenes are more like side plots and a cover up to give you a greater understanding of where the political scene is leading up to TFA.

The entire novel centers around Leia Organa who is not yet a General, but a Senator of the New Republic.  We rarely get any moments with Han, unfortunately.  Luke and Ben are off doing their own thing (Ben has not yet turned to the dark side) so we don’t hear from them at all.  The only other returning characters that we know are Threepio who is now Leia’s protocol droid and a brief appearance on the last page of Nien Nunb and Ackbar.

bloodline cover

***Spoilers Ahead***

 

We start off the novel with Leia being completely disenfranchised with the New Republic, being a senator, and the senate itself, which is divided into two camps: the Populists (which Leia is) and the Centrists.  She intends to quit and go travel around the galaxy with Han, whom she still seems to have a pseudo marriage with, though they live apart.

As a one last hurrah, Leia takes on a mission to investigate a cartel and is paired with a Centrist senator: Ransolm Casterfo.  In the beginning, we see him as a pompous young senator who is obsessed with the Empire.  Leia first meets him in his office where he has mementos from the Empire and he claims that he believes the Empire could have been a good thing, but the way Palpatine and Vader ran it was not smart.  Of course, this puts Leia and Casterfo’s relationship on the wrong foot right away.

Yet as Bloodline and their investigation continues, they manage to break past their opposing viewpoints and come to a mutual understanding that eventually leads to friendship.  Together, they discover the beginnings of the First Order and realize that the senate and government is in graver danger than they believed.

The senate decides to nominate a First Senator to create more order and the Populists naturally choose Princess Leia.  She has the name and the long standing goodwill of the people since many of her deeds helped in bringing down the Empire.  Leia, through her friendship with Ransolm, could unite the two opposing forces in the senate and bring it back to what it once was.  Though she realizes she can’t travel the galaxy with Han and can no longer quit, she feels that she must accept the nomination.

But (dun dun dun) then a conniving senator finds out that she is Darth Vader’s daughter and tells her new friend Casterfo, who then releases that news into the senate.  All hell breaks loose.  Leia loses her nomination, Ransolm turns against her, and she can’t continue her mission.  We find out that Ben did not know about this and Leia tells him via a recording (since apparently she can’t reach Luke and Ben because they are on some mission…that’s all very vague).

Being Princess Leia, she continues her investigation into the cartel without approval of the senate or her partner Ransolm and finds all the evidence she needs.  She is able to present the findings to the senate who seem to believe her, despite her tarnished reputation.  Ransolm backs her up, surprisingly, and she is able to hash out differences with him after the senate convenes.  They seem to come back to a neutral relationship of respect and understanding though Leia is still hurt by him outing her relationship to Vader in front of the entire senate without warning her first.

Unfortunately, that sneaky senator who found out that she was Vader’s daughter also doctors some of the footage from when Ransolm and Leia were investigating the cartel to make it look like Ransolm was behind an attack on the senate earlier in the novel – therefore committing treason.  At the end of the novel Ransolm is led off to be executed and Leia is heartbroken.  We have no idea what happens to him.  Leia, in the last pages of Bloodline, star-wars-bloodline-posterforms the very beginning of the Resistance without the knowledge of other senators.  She knows that it is only a matter of time until that glimpse they saw of the First Order threatens the New Republic on a larger scale and she wants to be ready.

 

Pros:

  • I finally understand the Resistance vs. New Republic vs. First Order.   Basically, the New Republic is the ruling government but has fallen to pieces with a lot of internal squabbling.  Amidst this, the First Order is forming on outer worlds and is filled with Empire loyalists and fanatics.  Leia created the Resistance to be ready for when the First Order decides to take on the Republic.  In the opening crawl of TFA, it says that Leia leads the Resistance with support of the Republic.  I’m not sure when that comes about since this is still in the early stages but at least I’m understanding this a bit better.
  • The galaxy finds out that Leia, and by default Luke, are Darth Vader’s children. I always assumed that no one knew about the familial relationship between Vader and his children, but I wondered when they let Ben/Kylo Ren know.  Even though we don’t see that happen here, we do see the beginning of how he found out.  By the time of The Force Awakens, everyone knows Luke and Leia are the children of Vader which puts an interesting new twist on viewing it.  That means Ben had only been on the dark side of the Force for a maximum of six years by TFA.  No wonder he still had some hesitations.
  • For a book that is almost entirely compromised of politics, Ms. Gray does a great job making the book engaging.
  • After the book got through introductions and settled into a good pace, it got a lot less predictable. Every time I thought it was getting predictable, I was thrown off course and what I thought would happen, didn’t.  I love that!
  • I thought she did a great job with Threepio. He still plays a minor role but she writes him so perfectly.
  • There were no real “bad guys” and I liked that. I’m so used to reading Star Wars novels where there is a clear delineation between good and bad that having this murky area was refreshing.  The leader of the cartel was obviously bad, but he wasn’t the main driving force behind this.  Then there was the terrorist in charge of the burgeoning First Order, but she wasn’t really the main bad guy either.  The main antagonist, if there was one, was the sneaky senator who goes around causing trouble.  But even then, it was almost a Professor Umbridge kind of bad.  She wasn’t Voldemort/Vader, just a normal person doing bad things.

General Leia

Cons:

  • I thought the first ¼-1/3 of the book was yawn worthy and played out like any Star Wars novel. It was a little predictable and I felt like skipping through many of the pages.
  • Where were Leia’s feelings for Han and Ben? She occasionally seemed to feel sad that Han wasn’t around but that was it. If I was separated from my husband almost permanently, I would not be as distracted as she was and I would definitely make more of an effort to see him.  She seemed way too resigned to rarely being physically together.  And I think Ben was mentioned only two to three times in the entire novel.  I’m only a new mom, but I can tell you that I’d be thinking of my child more than three times a day.
  • On that subject, I didn’t feel like Han was Han. He was in the novel sporadically but I’m not sure he was captured very well.  I also think Han Solo is one of the hardest characters to capture on paper so I understand the challenges but I thought he was lacking a bit when he did show up.  He was almost too goofy-like, even though his scenes were serious…it’s hard to explain but there was something missing.
  • The action scenes were not well written. I felt like Ms. Gray’s strength lies in writing character’s emotions and relationships – not action. You could figure out what was going to happen in the actions scenes and it felt like they were thrown in just so the book would feel like “Star Wars”.  Instead of trying to interweave action in it, the book should have been entirely about politics and stuck to that.
  • Leia was a little mopey. At some points it was believable…other times not so much. Leia is not a sit on her butt kind of person.  There were times when Ms. Gray remembered that and Leia seemed like the person we remember from the OT, but there are pages where she kind of falls off and I was left thinking she really took after her father in the sulking category.  I know she was trying to make Leia seem jaded, but instead I thought she was moping about.

 

I’d give Bloodline 3.8/5 stars.  It was better than A New Dawn, but it still isn’t Zahn worthy.  (The new Thrawn book coming out by Zahn is definitely going on my list!)  Many people had great reviews for this book and I wasn’t feeling it as much as everyone else, I guess.  I am happy to understand more of the politics of this time in Star Wars, but thought that a few things were too disjointed to make me appreciate this fully.