Guest Post: Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books on Camey's Summer TBR List

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish. Since I posted My Top Ten Books In My Backpack a couple of weeks ago, I asked my good friend, Camey, to write a guest post about her summer reading list.


I’m just going to start out by being vulnerable. (I’ve been working on that lately.)  Coming up with 10 books to read was a stretch. I’m currently working on my masters and could come up with a separate post called “Top 10 Leadership and Curriculum Books for the Summer”. Unfortunately, those will trump the below list, but I can dream, can’t I?

Great list, Camey! Thanks for posting!

"Speech is sliver, but silence is golden." Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

  I picked these books because of their length. It is a sad fact I have to pad my reading stats with short books with my 100 books read goal for 2013. The good news is one of these books is also part of my 1001 Books/The Classics Club Challenge and the other is by an author I've heard of but have never read.  The bad news is, I didn't care for either book.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparkbrodie

Synopsis: Jean Brodie is a teacher with advanced and unconventional ideas that put her at odds with the other members of staff at the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh, as she endeavours to shape the lives of the select group of girls who form her "set".

What saved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (★★★) from a two star rating was the writing. Spark has a unique style, omniscient narrator, jumping back and forth in time  between paragraphs. She so casually drops into the story who "betrayed" Miss Brodie I had to go back and read it a few times to make sure I read it right. I liked her writing style enough I will read more of her work, but the characters in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie were less than appealing. Thank God it was a short book.

 

 

Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolano

bolanoSynopsis -Paris, 1938. The Peruvian poet César Vallejo is in the hospital, afflicted with an undiagnosed illness, and unable to stop hiccuping. His wife calls on an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud: the Mesmerist Pierre Pain. Pain, a timid bachelor, is in love with the widow Reynaud, and agrees to help. But two mysterious Spanish men follow Pain and bribe him not to treat Vallejo, and Pain takes the money. Ravaged by guilt and anxiety, however, he does not intend to abandon his new patient, but then Pain's access to the hospital is barred and Madame Reynaud leaves Paris.... Another practioner of the occult sciences enters the story (working for Franco, using his Mesmeric expertise to interrogate prisoners)-as do Mme. Curie, tarot cards, an assassination, and nightmares. Meanwhile, Monsieur Pain, haunted and guilty, wanders the crepuscular, rainy streets of Paris...

On the other hand, there wasn't much of anything I enjoyed about Monsieur Pain (★★), except the Paris setting and recognizing streets I visited on my trip there last year. There was no plot to speak of (the above summary is technically accurate, but it makes the plot sound more interesting and cohesive than it was); it seemed to be mostly about Pain walking around Paris, getting drunk and having hallucinations and nightmares. I found it a rather difficult read, as if Bolano worked so hard to write deeply he ended up with a story without a point. At the very least, the point or theme was so camouflaged I didn't get it. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind for Monsieur Pain, or maybe I'm just not bright enough to "get" Bolano. It definitely didn't make me want to read his 1000 page posthumous novel, 2666.

Book Review - The Prisoner of Heaven (Cemetery of Forgotten Books #3) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

heavenSynopsis: Barcelona,1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife Bea have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julian, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city's dark past. His appearance plunges Fermín and Daniel into a dangerous adventure that will take them back to the 1940's and the dark early days of Franco's dictatorship. The terrifying events of that time launch them on a journey fraught with jealousy, suspicion, vengeance, and lies, a search for the truth that will put into peril everything they love and ultimately transform their lives.

I immediately fell in love with Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind when I read it way back in 2005. I loved the language, the mood, the main character, Daniel, and the plot. It is a book I never tire of reading over and over. I wasn't as enamored with its sequel, The Angel's Game, only giving it three out of five stars. Unfortunately, I can't remember specifically why I only thought it was okay and I didn't write a review for it. Probably because it didn't move me one way or the other, like its predecessor did. Which explains why it has taken me over a year to pick up the third book in the series, The Prisoner of Heaven.

What I'm about to say is probably something I need to remember as I continue on my writing journey. Ready? Here it goes.

Not every book needs a sequel.

Yes, publishers love series. Readers love series. Some writers do, too. And, series are wonderful, if the world and characters are constantly growing and enriched. While The Prisoner of Heaven (★★) does add depth to one character's back story, the flashback structure of the book was clunky as were the attempts to connect what happened in the past with what was happening in the book's present. There was no flow to the story; it read like a forced attempt to get in back story to set up the next book.

What I loved most about Shadow of the Wind was the language and the mood. Ruiz Zafon painted a vivid picture of Barcelona, so much so it is high on the list of places I want to visit. That lyrical language was missing from The Prisoner of Heaven, as was the clear point of view. There were many times I felt an author intrusion in the narrative, which was shocking from a writer I had previously esteemed. Needless to say, I won't be reading future installments of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series and I can't recommend either The Angel's Game or The Prisoner of Heaven. Read The Shadow of the Wind, enjoy it, and pretend Ruiz Zafon's attempts at making this wonderful, standalone book into a series didn't happen.

 

June Reading Round Up: Young Adult Fiction

Sometimes, I confuse myself. I do. For the whole month of June, I was meh on reading. None of the books I read were so wonderful I couldn't put it down. But, six of the eight books I read this month received four or five stars. That is by far the best monthly rating average for the year. Maybe I graded the YA books on a curve, though that doesn't sound like me at all. I'm not nearly that nice.

An aside here: I'm sitting on my deck writing this post. It's 84 degrees in Texas at 5 pm on July 1. That makes me ridiculously happy.

Update: Here is is, July 3 and I haven't finished this post. That pretty much sums up my whole month of reading YA. Start and stop. Kinda dread going back to it but when I do, I enjoy it.

It's official: I'm a mess.

Top Pick of the Month

eleanor
eleanor

Eleanor and Park (★★★★★) by Rainbow Rowell - this was recommended by an agent I met at DFW Con and has been frequently included on Summer Reading lists.  It deserves the praise. I'm not sure what this would be categorized as - teen romance, maybe? But, it is a far cry from Sweet Valley High. The alternating POV and voices of the characters are well done and the setting (mid-80s) brought back teenage memories of my own. I don't even resent the author for that.

You Can't Go Wrong With...

Stargirl (★★★★★) by Jerry Spinelli

The Rules for Disappearing (★★★★) - a nice little thriller that probably shouldn't be a series, but whatever.

You want issues? I've got your issues.

Twisted (★★★★) by Laurie Halse Anderson - the ending, especially the resolution between the father and son, might be a little too pat, but overall a well-intentioned book with a good message.

Abandoned...

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel - I am a huge fan of Oppel's Airborn series (if you haven't heard of it or read it, you really should; action adventure with airships, a little teen romance, shipwrecks, a desert island and pirates!) and I thought the premise of this series (the teen years of Viktor Frankenstein) was a cool hook. It just didn't keep me interested.

Divergent by Veronica Roth - tries a little too hard to fill The Hunger Games void.

A list about failing and not having the will to try. Awesome!

Top Ten Tuesday is an online meme created by The Broke and the Bookish – check out their blog for some great book reviews and recommendations! Today’s list is Top Ten Most Intimidating Books (might be intimidated by size, content, that everyone else loves it but you are sure you won’t etc).

1. Moby Dick - I've tried to read Moby Dick and failed. I tried to listen to Moby Dick and failed. If I thought there was a decent screen adaptation of it I would watch it, but I'm afraid there isn't. The truth of the matter is, I only want to read it because I feel like I should.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas - If I didn't know the ending, I might be more apt to pick it up.

3. Le Miserables by Victor Hugo - another book I started and stopped.

4. Blindness - Stream of conscious. Need I say more?

5. Cloud Atlas - Moves back and forth in time.

6. Love in the Time of Cholera - I'm not sure why this is intimidating, but it's been on my bookshelf for a few years and I keep passing it by.

6. Blood Meridian - I've heard how difficult McCarthy is to read too many times to not be intimidated.

7. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - long and about a legal case. I'm falling asleep typing that. Plus, the British mini-series from a few years back was awesome.

8. Vanity Fair - again, length.

9. Anything else by Faulkner - it was a struggle enough to get through The Sound and the Fury.

10. Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote - I really, really want to read this but geez. It's almost 3000 pages long. I probably should have started it when the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War started back in 2011. Now I'm mad I didn't think of that sooner.

YA Book Review - Golden by Jessi Kirby

goldenWhy is it whenever there is a there is a  choice between stability and freedom, the traditional and the unexpected, it is always the arty, let's do the crazy option that is always chosen? How many romances have you read where the choice of future mate comes down to stable, buttoned down businessman/woman and the long-haired free spirit artist/carpenter/bartender? Who is chosen every time? The free-spirit. Why is it when the choice is between responsibility and irresponsibility, the latter always wins out and is, as a result, trumpeted as the way to true happiness? If I had to posit a theory, I'd guess the authors of these books are people who chose the responsible path and have regretted it. Who think their life is boring and OMG wouldn't it be so much better to be an struggling artist living above a shop with few possessions and even fewer expectations from others? Or, maybe they were pushed into a path they didn't really want to take and resented it. Whatever the case, contemporary fiction is littered with these stories and they all end the same. (If you know of one that ends with the main character choosing responsibility, please let me know.)

We can thank Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games for the current trend of adults devouring YA and New Adult novels. But, not all YA/NA crosses over well. Golden (★★) is firmly targeted to teens, with hardly a parent or adult being represented. The one parent that is given a few pages is overbearing and controlling. Of course. I can't imagine any adult, let alone a parent, even less a parent of a teenager who are constantly trying to teach our teens about responsibility and taking charge of their future would like Golden very much. But, teens will eat the message up with a spoon. The message being, as far as I can tell, that 1) a parent that wants the best for you is wrong and 2) making spur of the moment decisions that will negatively impact your future is okay as long as you have a hot snowboarder boyfriend you can fall back on.

Hey, I get it. I'm definitely not the target audience for this book. And, I don't think all YA, New Adult or whatever you want to call it, should have a message that is "parental approved." But, to have a "message" book that so clearly disregards both perspectives - the adult responsible one and the YA impulsive one - does a disservice to the target audience. In Golden, the author didn't do a good enough job of showing why the MC's decision was the right one. As a result, Golden will be one of those books that teens love but, when they revisit it as adults, they will wonder what the hell they were thinking.

 

Book Review - Fall into You by Roni Loren

fall

At the DFW Wfallriter's Conference last weekend, I attended a class titled "How to Write a Love Scene" taught by BDSM romance writer Roni Loren. It was an interesting class, though I'm not sure I learned anything I didn't know already, which was a common reaction to the craft centric classes I attended. I admit, that sounds a little arrogant coming from an unpublished writer. But, by this point, much of the information I heard is information I've heard before. But, it doesn't hurt to be reminded, or to hear it in a different way. Before I get into this review, you need to know two things. One, I didn't read Fifty Shades of Gray. I wasn't interested in reading a poorly written novel about a subject I had no interest in (BDSM). Two, I know nothing whatsoever about BDSM. So, why did I decide to read Fall into You? Curiosity about how Loren wrote the sex scenes, pure and simple. I've written my fair share of sex scenes (though no BDSM because, see above) though none make it into my novels, at least not the detailed ones. I'm more of a pan to the fluttering curtain or crashing waves kind of love scene writer. There are only so many ways you can describe the emotional and physical reactions of desire. Most of the time, it comes across as either cheesy or stilted. Plus, the reader's imagination is usually much better. Writing a good sex scene takes a great amount of skill which thankfully, Loren has. The scenes in Fall into You were well written and, besides a few repetitive descriptions of darkening eyes and Charli's private parts,  unique. They were equal parts titillating and cringe inducing.

I suppose complaining about lack of plot in a BDSM novel is like complaining about the lack of plot in a porn movie. You aren't reading for deep characterization or complex plot. What plot there is in Fall into You is there to service the sex scenes. At least 2/3 of the book is sex, and 1/3 is plot. And, the plot is lame. Okay, it's beyond lame. Loren's characterization of Charli was good, but she left a pretty gaping hole in Grant's back story, namely how did he get into BDSM and where did he get all of his money? This is the third book in the series, but I gather from other reviews Grant has been a secondary character in the previous two. This is his spotlight, how he got into the lifestyle should have been mentioned.

I do have to knock Loren for some of her dialogue. Most of it was good, then there would be a clunker of a line dropped in. No, I don't mean the dialogue during the sex scenes. I don't think there is any way for those lines to not be cheesy and cringe inducing. Is it even possible to be eloquent during sex? I don't think so. The best example that comes to mind is when Charli says Grant was 'scrambling her gray matter' or something of the sort, meaning her mind. No one says that in dialogue. "Blowing my mind," yes.  The worst was when Charli called Grant 'cowboy.' I mean, just no. Every time Grant called Charli 'freckles' I thought of Lost. Unnatural dialogue like that jolts the reader out of the scene.

Will I read another of Loren's novels? If someone hands me one I will, but I won't seek it out. Will I read another BDSM novel? Sure, if it had more story outside of the sex and deeper characterization.  I have decided to read Fifty Shades of Gray to compare the two, but not for a couple of weeks. It's time to see if exposure to this genre has ruined me for fluffy, vanilla romance.

Side Note: This is the first novel I've ever read that had a "Mature Audience" warning on the back. Is this common for the BDSM genre?