READ or DON'T Read -- 2017 Mini Book Reviews, Part 1! Something for every reader!

What to READ and What NOT Read -- 2017 Book Reviews in Miniature, Part 1!  Big Magic, The Giver Quartet, Hallelujah Anyway, Hollow City, and More!

Read or Don't Read, Book Reviews in Miniature -- mini reading recommendations -- something for every reader! Big Magic, Hallelujah Anyway, Hollow City, The Giver, the Practice House, and more!  Memoir, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, YA, etc. via Devastate Boredom

Hello friends!  Why yes, it is ME in your inbox / on your computer screen!  At long last!  

Hmmmmm three exclamation points in a row... I'm pretty sleep-deprived.  But at least my 4 month old reason for sleep deprivation is awfully stinkin' cute!  She also has a magical ability to sense whenever I leave the room where she is napping.  I leave NOISELESSLY, I swear!  And the white noise machine is BLASTING!  Yet somehow she knows if I leave, and wakes up 15 minutes later like clockwork.  So for at least some of her naps lately, I end up staying in the room with her, reading or writing.  And sometimes sleeping too, but I'm honestly not a great napper (sound familiar?) so more often reading or writing.  So, I have a TON of books to review for you, and I'm not even counting the parenting / baby books I'll save for another post.  As always, I'll do my best to give you a pithy review-in-miniature, with a READ / DON'T Read verdict for each.  You can check out past reviews here as well!

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 Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Memoir, Self-Help
READ -- if you think of yourself as a creative person... or even a creative person wannabe!  

I would put Big Magic in the same category of book with Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott -- part memoir, honestly sharing the difficulties and inspirations of a creative lifestyle, and part instructional-guide, offering tips for living out your creative aspirations and not just daydreaming about them. (read my review of Bird by Bird here!)  

I WILL say that Big Magic freaked me out by suggesting that if you don't "listen" when the muse whispers a good idea to you, the idea will leave and find someone else who will appreciate it and act on it... what a horrible, time-pressure-filled idea! Don't leave me, Good Ideas!  I've just been so busy lately... babies are so distracting! 



  The Giver by Lois Lawry 
Fantasy, YA Fiction

Most people know the story of The Giver, right?  If not from the book, than from the recent movie?  I'll just give a super brief summary for anybody who's not -- in a sterile, mechanical, dystopian future world, people live regimented, choice-less lives without knowledge of emotion, war, or love.  One person is chosen in each generation to bear the weight of these memories, while keeping the rest of the world completely unaware of what has been taken from them.  It's a wonderful book, and the movie is great too. 


Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Fantasy, YA Fiction
Read, if you enjoyed the first one.  
This is the second book in The Giver series, but seems entirely disconnected from the world of the first volume.  A young woman mourns the death of her mother, while fighting to maintain her place in her primitive, violent village (a stark contrast to the orderly, coldly modern setting of The Giver), which wants to expel her because her lame foot keeps her from being useful.  Her talent for dying colorful fabrics and sewing them into something magical is the key to not only her own destiny, but also to unlocking a happier future for the rest of her village as well. 


Messenger by Lois Lowry 
Fantasy, YA Fiction
READ if you don't mind a story so moving it makes you cry!  

Set in the world of Gathering Blue but with clearer connections to The Giver, Messenger is a powerful story of a young man searching for his purpose and risking everything for his friends.  It's beautiful.  I cried. 


Son by Lois Lowry
Fantasy, YA Fiction
Read, if you loved the other three. 

Son goes back to the world of The Giver as well as the moment in time when that book begins, showing us the path of the young birthmother who brought the infant Gabriel into the world.  Claire follows Jonas and baby Gabriel as they flee the city, setting off on a journey to reclaim the son who was taken from her.  This was my least favorite of the quartet, although it too has some beautifully moving moments.  There's a long meandering journey in it, and maybe I was a bit burnt out on that whole schtick, given I had just read Winter and Hollow City.  See below, and you'll understand. 😜 


Science Fiction, YA Fiction
Read, if you enjoy fairy-tales retold

Cress is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles (read my review of the first two here!) and in my opinion the best of the series.  I say that despite the heroine's constant blushing and clumsiness, which always gets old in a heroine.  It's like authors go, "aw man I forgot to give the heroine a flaw to make her human and lovable.  Ummmmm clumsiness?"  *rolls eyes*  But yea, Cress is a science-fiction retelling of Rapunzel, only instead of a princess kept prisoner in a tower by a witch, Cress is a hacker kept prisoner in a satellite by a mind-controling Lunar.  Very fun!

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott 
Memoir, Essays, Christian Thought

Lamott's newest book is a perfect read for just this moment in time, mulling over recent cultural events and considering how to find joy even in the midst of pain and struggle.  I heard Anne Lamott speak in person discussing the material in the book, and she was AMAZING... funny and wise and full of grace.  However, while the book is all three of those things too, it also feels more disjointed than I remember her other books -- it often has a "stream of consciousness" vibe, and I remember her other writing as being more carefully organized and precise in its craft.  At times this "stream of consciousness" read like unpolished prose, which grated on me, but at other times it was enjoyable and almost like reading poetry.  However, even given the unevenness of Lamott's writing style in this one, it is still an uplifting read for anyone who has been oppressed or overwhelmed by events in our nation over the last couple of years. 


 The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams  
Suspense, Mystery, Psychological Thriller
Read, if you don't have anything better available at the moment.

I accidentally read the sequel to this book first, a year or two ago.  I loved it (read my review of Black Tower here), so I kept requesting this one from the library and then forgetting about it.  Not kidding, I probably requested it at least 6 times... maybe more.  Oops!  The library staff probably just thought I was messing with them by the end, ha!  This one was enjoyable, but not quite as good as its sequel.  Black Tower was filled with all these sophisticated nuances -- references to modern art and the world of art dealers, references to theories of psychology -- and the plot felt pretty seamless.  House on the Cliff was more contrived, hinging on a number of unlikely and unprofessional decisions made by the main character.  Well-written, however, and a fun read. 


Winter by Marissa Meyer
Fantasy, YA Fiction
Don't read -- unless you LOVED the others in the series and the synopsis you're about to read doesn't manage to satisfy your craving to discover the characters' fates. 

This is book four in the Lunar Chronicles (read my review of the first two here!), and I had been looking forward to reading it for a while.  Tragically, however, it suffered from a very common YA literature "syndrome" that I call the "Holy Crap, What Should Happen Now?" Syndrome.  The title is taken, obviously, from what the author mutters compulsively, waking and dreaming, while trying to create an impossibly-exciting-climax for a multi-volume series, each book of which already had a plenty-exciting-climax in its own right.  You can see this phenomenon most clearly in the last book of the Hunger Games, but shades of it can even be seen in the final Harry Potter book, where the characters spend a good chunk of time wandering around, aimlessly camping, and tacitly postponing the inevitable final battle between Harry and Voldemort.  You can almost HEAR J.K. Rowlings muttering "holy crap, he is just a teenage boy, how is he supposed to defeat this guy?" while Harry, Hermione, and Ron build angsty fires and pitch insecure tents.  In the Hunger Games, it is the "How Does a Teenager Turn Into a Warrior / General / Leader?" conundrum that results in Katniss being a sort of figurehead leader who stages a whole elaborate march into the capital (I remember it as being chapters and chapters long, but maybe my recollection exaggerates), only to have it be a complete waste of time once they finally arrive.  Ugh. 

Which is all to say, there was a lot of "can I really do this?" angst and wandering around Luna trying to find people, items, and destinations, in Winter too. 

And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT because holy craaaaaaaaap this book was SO LONG.  I was reading it in ebook format so I didn't realize the length at first... but then it didn't end.  And it didn't end.  And it DID NOT END.  Finally I went and checked and it is 800+ pages long!!  Since I had enjoyed the series up until this point, I took the time to skim the last third of the book, doing a lot of involuntary eye-rolling the whole while, all for the sake of finding out what happened to my two favorite characters, Scarlet and Cres.  I recommend doing the same if you're similarly dedicated, but if you weren't really into the other books then just take a hard pass on this one.  They win.  Nobody super important dies.  That's basically all you need to know. 


Hollow City by Ransom Riggs 
Fantasy, YA Fiction
Don't read. *sniff sniff*  

If you read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and were looking forward to picking up Hollow City when you had a chance, you're going to be frowning at your screen right now.  I know, I know!  I too LOVED Miss Peregrine and her time-traveling, shape-shifting world, and the storyline woven around vintage found-photos (read my review here)!  But Hollow City was a huge let-down.  The first issue with this book was that the author was trying TOO HARD to add cool photos -- there were photos ever couple of pages in this one, rather than just periodically when it fit with the story -- and the weird encounters and plot twists he had to include to make that happen completely detracted from a coherent storyline.  Yes, the photos are cool, but they should support the plot, not create it. 

Another problem was that this book also suffered from the "Oh Crap, What Do I Do Now?" Syndrome described above, and LITERALLY the whole book is a journey spent trying to figure out what to do next.  So hilariously obnoxious!  In a world filled with amazing books, this one is just not worth your time.


The Practice House by Laura McNeal
Historial Fiction, Romance?
Don't read, unless aimless novels really float your boat.   

The Practice House hooked me in initially with a clear, engaging writing style and authentic period details.  It tells the story of a young Scottish girl who goes to teach school in Minnesota during the Great Depression and falls in love with the father of the family in whose home she stays.  I liked pretty much all of the characters, including the Scottish girl and the father, but I did NOT like the Scottish girl and the father together.  Their love story felt awkward and forced -- a dumb misunderstanding / contrivance brings them together, and when the story develops in a tragic direction it felt exasperating and overly-dramatic rather than emotionally compelling.  From the moment the two of them "hook up" the story starts to falter, meandering and losing purpose, and from there until the last page I kept going, "wait, what's the point here?"  

I think the title is symptomatic of the author's own confusion about what's going on in this novel, because it too does not seem to have a point... "the Practice House" is the building in which one of the secondary characters works, basically teaching Home Economics, during the last 80 or so pages of the book.  The building is not even described in detail or particularly interesting, and if the phrase is meant as a metaphor I have no idea what it is supposed to evoke.  Overall, this was a disappointing novel despite strong writing and historical research. 


At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales by L.M. Montgomery
YA Fiction, Short Stories, Romance
Don't Read, since there are lots of better collections by this author!

This is a book that has sat on my shelf for the past fifteen years *coughBookHoardercough*, so at one point or another I obviously really enjoyed it.  And I still do love L.M. Montgomery!  But as I read this short story collection again a couple of months ago, I kept noticing squirm-worthy little lines here and there, about how a girl didn't have to be clever if she was pretty... or how it was a man's job "to think," and a woman's job to be "petted and taken care of."  There were even one or two instances of classism and racism towards the servants and the indigenous Canadians in a couple of the stories.  I had to keep reminding myself that these were Lucy Maud's "bread and butter" writings -- stories written and sold to magazines to pay the rent and therefore written with those audiences (and editors) in mind -- but still.  Disappointing, and definitely not her best work.  Read Blue Castle or one of the Anne books instead, or even one of her other story collections... I have Among the Shadows and Across the Miles also sitting on my shelves and I don't think they include stories with these kind of problems.  Although now I will have to go re-read them to check... stay tuned and I'll report back.
Adding this to my library list! - Read or Don't Read, Book Reviews in Miniature -- mini reading recommendations, Big Magic, Hallelujah Anyway, Hollow City, The Giver, the Practice House, and more!  Memoir, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, YA, etc. via Devastate Boredom
Has anybody read anything good lately to recommend to me??  I am TEARING through books, as I said above... I basically just stopped this post here because it has been so long since I've posted at all.  I already have 5 more books to review next time!  So... stay posted for another book post soon.  ğŸ˜ƒ

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  1. I just finished a book that I read on the Nook and had no clue how long it was and it went on FOOOOOOORRRREEEEEVVVVEEERR!

  2. The Giver and The Messenger. Oh, those books got me dumbfounded after reading.

  3. I’ve been reading a lot of good books lately. Though warning, some of them are a little bleak. First of all I read the silo trilogy by Hugh Howey. It’s a sci-fi fantasy set in a post apocalyptic future. Book one is called “Wool”. You should totally check it out! And then I read the three books in the Patrick Rothfuss series starting with “The Name Of The Wind”. I loved his series so much! Though we’re all still waiting on the final book. O.o


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