My Book Problem

Book reviews straight from the bedroom of a girl with a serious book problem.

Divergent

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Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

5 stars out of 5

Beatrice Prior at the age of sixteen just like every other sixteen-year-old living in her dystopian future Chicago, must choose a faction. Each of the five factions seeks to eliminate what they believe is humanities worst failure, by becoming the opposite of that trait. Each person is seen to be fit to cultivate one of these virtues: honesty (Candor), bravery (Dauntless), selflessness (Abnegation), kindness (Amity), or intelligence (Erudite). Beatrice’s decision seems impossible and building a new life in the wake of her decision is so much harder, especially since life in the city is not all that it seems. 

I had several reasons for wanting to read this book, it was highly recommended in the bookstores and by several other sources I trusted. Also despite being kind of over dystopian teen fiction as a genre I like reading whats popular in YA-fic. 

In a lot of ways Beatrice (Tris) Prior is the same female protagonist we seem to keep getting over and over again. She is clumsy, physically weak, and and sees herself as unattractive. Despite this she is special, excels at parts of her training, and people are drawn to her making her a almost natural leader. For me this is almost a more general complaint about the genre then the actual book. Tris is complex and mostly likable and we can understand why she is liked by her friends and she likes them back. Even as the whole story is told from her perspective she is much less important then events around her. You root for her to win and mostly that’s enough. 

The supporting cast including the male lead all shine in this book. They are complex and invoke a wide range of responses and emotions from the reader just as they need to. No character suffers for being one sided and the motivations of the villains are just as relatable as those of the heroes. This is a major strength of the book and contributes to its ability to hook you and play with your emotions. 

This book is very engaging and I blasted though it. While it did not make me cry this book was able to run me though the emotional ringer. Aside from her ability to manipulate your emotions, Veronica Roth’s real strength seems to be her ability to world build. Unlike others writing dystopian or fantasy novels world building doesn’t slow her down and she is able to quickly set the ground work for the society without it feeling like work. Some complain that too many questions about the world are left unanswered in Divergent but they are the kinds of questions people within a society wouldn’t ask and get answered later on in the series. I believe this works in favor of the narration and feel of the book. 

I would and have highly recommended this book. If you are a fan of dystopian fiction, young adult or are interested in it based on the movie I recommend you give it a go. Maybe give the other two a skip though…

Sex with the Queen

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Sex with the Queen by Eleanor Herman

4 out of 5 stars

Note: As a follow up (not sequel) to Sex with Kings (click for my review) it is not necessary to read on to enjoy the other.  

Sex with the Queen as Eleanor Herman’s second book after Sex with Kings flips the story and focus’ on the long history of queens, who like their male counterparts, looked for love, sex, and companionship outside of their marriages. This book separates its chapters thematically on a historical time period, with each section within being the tale of a specific queen from her youth all the way until her death. Focusing entirely on European and Russian history, Herman tells the tales of queens and princesses from Medieval times all the way through to the 1990’s. With a focus not only on physical lust Herman shows us how adulterous queens used there affairs to gain political power, provide heirs, or as an attempt to escape miserable lives of isolation, mistrust, and powerlessness.

After thoroughly enjoying Sex with Kings I sought out more of Herman’s work and was not disappointed in this follow up. 

Herman’s talent for spinning a seemingly complete and entertaining tale out of multiple historical sources is in fine form in this book. Because the condition of queens having affairs when compared to kings is much less common Herman does not have the struggle of trying to cover an immense amount of material in one book the way she did in Sex with Kings. This made the choppy strange format of Sex with Kings thankfully unnecessary in this book. That change with leads to descriptions of individual historical figures stories from beginning to end solves almost every problem that I had with Herman’s first book. 

This book is an very good read. It flows well and while each individual story is very gripping its format allows for it to be easily put down and picked up again at a later date. I have also found that It is still enjoyable upon re-read. The only issue I had with the book was the same question of historical accuracy I had with Sex with Kings, several times especially in the more modern sections the book came across as a little bit gossipy so I would caution readers to take the book not as a work of academia but of pop-history. 

Overall I would highly recommend this book to fans of history, historical fiction, and royal gossip and if forced to choose between Sex with the Queen and Sex with Kings I would choose the Queen. 

Sex with Kings

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Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman

4 out of 5 stars.

Sex with Kings tells some of the many tales of 500 year of royal mistresses from all over Europe. This book organizes this massive and varied history not by individual or country but seeks to paints a broad picture of the role and life of royal mistress’. Herman uses individuals and highly researched anecdotes from the lives of Kings and royal mistresses well known and obscure to illustrate the many different aspects of this unique and (often) prestigious position. This very clever history discusses: the establishment of a royal mistress, the many types of relationships between mistress and wife, the financial and political benefits of being royal mistress, child bearing, and even how death affected these relationships. 

This book was one that came across my desk at the book store and I just couldn’t leave it behind.

Eleanor Herman has a great talent for taking historical documents and multiple account from a variety of sources and creating not only a single narrative but a compelling and interesting one. However because of the massive scope of her undertaking, the way that she formats her stories in to sections based on theme not historical figure of time period and the massive number of long complex (and often similar) names the book can be a bit confusing at times. I several times found my self flipping back and fourth in the book trying to connect names to one of the series of portraits provided as well as stories of the same figures from earlier chapters. This took me out of the flow of the book and was rather annoying. 

Even with the issues of confusion and pacing this book was a very quick read for me and a very enjoyable one. I often found myself laughing aloud and reading enjoyable passages to who ever had the luck to be in the room with me. Herman writes about a variety of historical figures with familiarity that makes the book read like gossip in a way that feeds the curious little gossip in all of us. This penchant for a gossipy and sometimes a flat out judgmental telling of history leads to a concern for the accuracy of the work. Not having a very deep understanding of many of the figures featured in the book there was no particular point where I felt the information I was provided with was definitively wrong. However the detail that she delivers about far gone historical periods and the great depth of emotion and intentions that she gives to more contemporary figures (mainly when discussing Charles/Diana/Camilla) makes this book read a lot less like serious history and more like historical gossip. 

While this may not be a book I would cite in an academic paper when taken with a grain of salt this book was wildly entertaining and I would recommend it to fans of history, historical fiction (for context) and royal gossip. 

I’m back!

Sorry for my long absence from this blog. My life exploded, but with the start of a new school year I am making a new commitment to regular updates to this blog. I have a large number of books I have read and not reviewed but if you have any recommendations let me know I would love to read them!

-Jade

Rasputins Daughter

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Rasputin’s Daughter by Robert Alexander 

4 out of 5 stars.

Rasputin’s Daughter tells the story of the last days of Rasputin’s life from the point of view of his oldest daughter Maria. Interrogated by the provisional government on the details of her father’s death, Maria vividly recounts a politically tumultuous Russia, where Rasputin’s powerful influence over the throne is unsettling to all levels of society and the threats to his life are no secret. With vast conspiracies mounting against her father, Maria must struggle with the discovery of Rasputin’s true nature (his unbridled carnal appetites, mysterious relationship with the empress, rumors of involvement in secret religious cults) to save her father from his murderers. Swept away in a plot much larger than the death of one man, Maria finds herself on the cusp of the Russian Revolution itself. (Summary taken from goodreads.com)

Last summer I worked at a used bookstore and when this book crossed my desk, even though I had never heard of it, I took it, because it looked interesting. 

Maria as a main character was a little bit all over the place for me but in a lot of ways I feel that was purposeful. She is very young and during this rather short period of time she experiences a great deal and she is very confused emotionally. There are several other central characters, Rasputin, Maria’s younger sister, and a mysterious young man named Sasha and all of these seem well rounded and complex as people. Even the government official who is interviewing Maria becomes sympathetic at moments. The most interesting character is easily Rasputin and his complexity of actions and motivations are clearly illustrated through Maria’s eyes. 

I wouldn’t exactly call this book a fast read. While I found it a relatively easy read some of the very strange events in the plot and Maria’s somewhat overblown reactions to them make it a book that you feel the need to walk away from and interact with normal people for a bit before returning to the story. The believe that the romantic subplot was a little underdeveloped for how important it seems like it is supposed to be, and the male romantic lead (Sasha) a little too mysterious. Also I found some of the details a little unbelievable even for historical fiction and that took me out of the story in an unpleasant way a few times.

Overall despite its flaws I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction without strong emphasis on romance and to those who are interested in Russian history. 

Friday Night Knitting Club

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Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

5 out of 5 stars.

Warning this book made me sob hysterically in a way that totally freaked out my roommate.  

Friday Night Knitting Club is the story of Georgina Walkers tiny yarn shop in New York city. It is a story about knitting and adult friendship, love, parenthood, forgiveness and a group of incredibly different women who get together every friday for very different reasons to knit, eat Dakota(Georgina’s teenage daughter)’s new baking experiments and try to figure out all the rest as they go. 

I am an avid knitter and so being a fan of knitting and Chick-lit I thought I would give it a try. 

All of the characters of this book are amazing. They are fantastically written in such a way that even those you don’t like very much you care for deeply. Georgina is a woman who you get to know on the most basic human level very quickly. She is smart and independent but not hard. The other main women are so different but such real people in a way that you can’t help but celebrate and mourn right along with them every moment. This book has a larger cast, about ten characters who you really care for, and it is truly imposable for me to say who is my favoriate they are all so beautiful and complete in there personhood. 

This book was not one that I got in to right away but as soon as I did I could not put it down. Having read other reviews of this book I can agree that the writing style especially just starting out can be a little hard to take. One of my favoriate things however and the thing I think worked the best in the book was the way in which it would switch perspective between characters. Since there are so many characters it helps us get to know them all and understand who they are. 

I really loved this book. I thought it would be one I would read once and then happily pass along, however I have not been able to let it go yet. I don’t know if I will ever read it again or seek out its sequel I would recommend it to fans of chick-lit and those who aren’t afraid of a good cathartic book cry. 

Bookends

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Bookends by Jane Green

3.5 out of 5 stars

Bookends is the story of college friends all grown up. Cath (Catherine Warner) and Si (Simon Nelson) are total opposites and best friends, as Cath remains closed off after her last heartbreak Si believes every man might be The One. Together with perfect married friends Jake and Lucy life is good. Just as Cath opens her self to a huge change in cureer, a new man and an old friend walk in to her life. Portia was a driving personality in Cath, Si and Jakes lives back in college and left there lives after exposing her self as a heartbreaker. With the scary prospects of opening a bookstore with Lucy, Portia’s possible other motives, and the idea of opening her self back up to love Caths life is far from borring.

Jane Green’s Mr. Maybe was my first ever romance novel and gave me a view of just how amazing things in the genre could be. I have read it multiple times since those days at summer camp when I was eleven-years-old, and have also indulged in multiple readings of Jane Green’s Jamia J (which is also fantastic). So when I found this copy of Bookends I was more then exited to take it home with me and give it a try.

While in the past Jane Greens main characters have been one of the best parts of her books but Cath never really did it for me. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t dislike her I just have no special affection for her. She is very much a real person just not some one I think I would really want to be very good friends with. She doesn’t take enough care of herself and has some major self-confidence issues that even after she realizes doesn’t really do enough to adress. She works for the story however and fits very well in to the cast of the book.

Cath’s group of friends/love interest are all fantastic characters, and with the exception of one I left the book with real appreciation for. They are complex, honest, and even if they are the kind of people I want as my best friends they have the kind of adult friendship that I want mine to look like in ten years or so.

This book does the great thing that Jane Green romances do where it is not all about the boy meet girl. The boy does meet girl and large parts of the book are about them learning each other and how they fit together but I would never say that it is the central plot of the book. This book is more about how life constantly changes and how our expectations and preconceptions have to change with it. I am trying to not give away any of the twists or major plot points but the thing I of course have to mention is that Cath and Lucy open the bookstore/cafe of every book nerds dreams. (Or is it just me who dreams of owning my own bookstore?)

As you may have guessed by how I have been gushing about her I am absolutely in love with the writing of Jade Green but I have to be honest compared to the others I have read by her this was not her strongest and not my favorite. In the weeks that have passed between reading this book and now reviewing it I find that I like it a lot less now then I did then. I think the reason behind that is that when I read this book it invoked a great number of strong emotions in me but once it was over that emotional experience left me. It was cathartic but not worth a second read. I would recommend this book to fans of chick lit and intelligent funny romance that isn’t all romance. Beware however that this is not an emotion neutral reading experience I almost cried reading this book. And if I didn’t make it clear I would recommend Jamia J or Mr Maybe (both by Jane Green) first.

The Looking Glass Wars

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The Looking Glass Wars (The Looking Glass Wars 1) By Frank Beddor

4 out of 5 stars.

This book is a re-telling of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of Alice in Wonderland. Alyss Heart was six-years-old when the card solders of her aunt Redd invaded the Heart Castle forcing her to flee with her bodyguard Hatter Madigan through the pool of tears in to our world. Separated from Hatter alone in the streets of London, Alyss finds her self alone, not believed and unable to find her way back to Wonderland to reclaim her mothers throne from the murderous Redd. After young Alyss is adopted and renamed Alice Liddell, constantly being told that the world of her childhood, and her power of imagination, is just a fantasy she tries one last time to connect to the world of her past. Telling the kind Reverend Dodgson her whole life story he then gets it all wrong and publishes the non-sensical Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. All while the tyrannical rule of Redd ravages Wonderland and the resistance grows weaker and weaker. 

This book came to me as a recommendation from one of this blogs readers Machi38. If you have any recommendations please send them to me.

While this book would seem to be all about Alyss and her life in and outside of Wonderland I think it is very important to establish that this book has many main characters. It is the story of Redd Queen of Wonderland, her top assassin the Cat, the royal historian Bibwit Hare, royal bodyguard Hatter Madigan traveling the world looking for his lost princess, and of Alyss’ childhood best friend Dodge Anderson leader of the resistance movement. All of these characters serve very important functions in the story and we get to know each one very closely through there narration, and all of them are complex and interesting characters. 

As you may guess from this above summary of just a few of the books memorable characters a lot goes on in this book. For the most part this book jumps not only large gaps of time but also geographical location and between our world and wonderland very well. My only real complaint about this book would be the sheer number of number of fantastical beasts and inventions Frank Beddor introduces. These things serve to make the story both a complete and fascinating world but also immensely confusing. The characters of this story therefore become the grounding force of reality that every fantasy tale needs.

There were some times I found the writing choppy, and a bit rushed, this was however  mostly in the last half of the story and is only a minor complaint. The imagination necessary to take the well established story of Alice in Wonderland and make it new and exiting is were Frank Beddor really shines. As well the background of the connections between our world and that of wonderland and the illustrations in the book are amazing additions to the story.

This book was a very fast read and a thrilling one. This book finds itself very action packed at times (something I am not usually a fan of) and at others has amazing emotional impact. Once I got in to it I honestly couldn’t put it down. I would recommend it to fans of bloody exiting fantasy. 

Trashy Romance Commuting! (#1)

I recently had to start taking a train comute three times a week and just a few days ago discovered that my local train station has a shelf of free paperbacks (thank you lake forest public library!) and so I have decided that the perfect thing is to take this opportunity to read really trashy romance novels and tell you all about them. 

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Just Little Bit Pregnant By Eileen Wilks 

3.5 out of 5 trashy romance stars

This book is the story of Jacy, a successful orphan reporter who discovers she is pregnant as the result of a heart breaking one night stand two months earlier. Tom was her friend but the widower police detective left her right after they made love and never called!! Now he is back in her life and wants to marry her! Will Jacy ever get over her trust issues to take Tom really in to her heart?!?! Will she solve the mystery of the parents who abandoned her in a basket on the steps of the orphanage?!?! …Yes. 

This book really is that ridiculous and over dramatic. I usually really like the absurdity of  Harlequin and Silhouette romance novels and tend to look for the worst title and then fall a little bit in love with its predictability.

This book however just fell too flat. It is ridiculous, it is over dramatic, but its not fun. The whole orphan thing was just really weird and the ending made me feel kind of uncomfortable instead of making me say awwww. Its only stars come from its truly horrendous premise, to bad it didn’t live up to how funny it could have been. 

Lola and the Boy Next Door

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Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

4 out of 5 stars.

Lola and the Boy Next Door serves as a continuation of Stephanie Perkins first book Anna and the French kiss. Our new protagonist Lola lives in San Francisco works at a movie theater with now first year college student Anna. Lola believes in making her own costumes instead of wearing clothes with the life goal of being a clothing designer and is dating a dirty rocker boy much older and cooler then her. Life would therefor be pretty awesome if not for the sharp disapproval of both of her dads, the return of her psychic birthmother, as well as the return of the family next door. Twins Calliope and Cricket Bell moved away two years ago so that Calliope could peruse her ice skating career leaving an ugly mark in Lola and Cricket’s relationship. Lola must now figure out how to survive mandatory Saturday breakfast with her boyfriend and parents, the physics of making a full hoop skirt and her confusing feelings for Cricket.

I wanted to read this book as soon as I finished Anna and the French Kiss (reviewed here). Anna was such a sweet, smart, novel that I wanted to follow up with more of Stephanie Perkins’ work. The desire to read it was increased when I discovered its shared characters.

Lola or Delores to her parents is not the perfect girl. She is a reasonably good friend and daughter. She is that girl you knew in high school who makes her own clothes and never wears the same thing twice. My personal experience with that girl was that she was a little bit fake, trying just a little bit too hard. When it comes to Lola however she seems to feel most honestly like herself in “costume” instead of “clothing.” She does however try too hard in other ways, mainly her relationship with the significantly older Max. I like Lola as a character but I’m not sure that I would want to be her friend.

The other title character is Cricket Bell, the boy next door. Cricket is kind of ordinary for my tastes. He is lucky to not fulfill all of my stereotypes of a male love interest in YA fiction, but he is not the kind of male lead you fall in love with either. I found a lot of the characters like this. They are complex completely realized people, who you don’t really like.

I did not read this book with the devouring abandon that I did Anna and the French Kiss. It didn’t need that much of my attention and I didn’t feel the need to put anything else off to read it. That said I did really enjoy it. Stephanie Perkins once again shone as a writer in this book. This book could have simply been one with characters I didn’t like and a low action plot structure (culminating in a big school dance *yawn*), Perkins’ skill still made it a very enjoyable reading experience.

While there were things in this book I didn’t enjoy over all I found it good fun, and a very decent way to pass a few days of reading time. Anyone who enjoyed Anna and the French Kiss and would like to see their old friends again would probably enjoy this book. As for me, I don’t see myself reading it again until it is time to brush up for Isla and the Happily Ever After (which is scheduled to be published 2013).