20 Books This Summer Update: Adding a Plus Sign

Last week I set myself a goal:  read twenty books this summer, basically in nine and a half weeks.

I didn’t realize this, but yesterday’s review of We Were Liars was #20.

Yay! Mission accomplished, even if that book wasn’t so great.

But summer’s not over. I have a week and two weekends left.

I don’t think I can make it to 25. It’s just not practical with the number of things that need to happen next week. But I don’t like goals that aren’t round numbers, say 23. So I’m adding a plus sign and seeing what happens.

New goal:

I will read 20+ books this summer.

There, doesn’t that look nice?

I’ll post a complete list of all 20+ when school starts. I’m reading Belle Epoque right now.

The Conqueror Worm–(My Own) Short Story

Guys! I wrote something! Writers block, temporarily conquered. Finally.

It would be fair to say I am obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe. I did a report on him for sixth grade that ended with me building a two story shrine alluding to his famous stories and poems and me wearing my mom’s old prom dress and giving a speech as the dead Lenore. Admittedly, I haven’t read many of his short stories (not really sure why), but I am IN LOVE with his poetry. And I don’t usually like reading poetry.

Last week, when I curled up with my mom’s lovingly annotated copy of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, I stumbled upon a poem I hadn’t read before, The Conqueror Worm. And I fell in love.

Then I got a weird idea: what if I told the same tale, but as a short story?

And then I did just that.

I took a few creative liberties, though I don’t think they affect the overall story much. This is my interpretation of the poem, God knows I’ve probably missed parts of it, please feel free to kindly tell me I’m wrong in the comments. I tried to mimic Poe’s voice, but also keep my own. The careful eye can catch lines from the poem, as well as lines from other poems. Again with the “I’ve read his poems a lot.”

You can find the actual poem here. My sister recommends you read it after, but I really don’t care. I’m curious to hear what you guys think.

Hope you enjoy!

The Conqueror Worm:

It is a gala night.

I was in the front of the throng entering the theater, so I must fold myself into my chair and twist my knees to the side as the rest of my brethren flood in. A glittering hem catches my knee, tugs once, then gently releases, swept along with the current as it’s owner sweeps past me. Hands jut out, gestures that don’t mind my face. Purses swing from elbows as a convict from a noose. It’s a sea, and my cursed punctuality has condemned me to be trampled, helpless kelp as the rest of my peers flood in late, sharp-toothed sharks that will cut through me without pause unless I bend myself carefully out of their way.

The theater is our tide pool, or perhaps an oceanic cave, secluded from the rest of our city, it’s own thriving, throbbing mass. But if this is the sea, the waters are tinted gold.

Everyone shines here—men in golden suits drawn in sharp lines and iridescent gowns of swaying, feminine curves. No one wears black, except of fabrics made to catch the light and sparkle, alluding to the stars. Gorgeous is the status quo; we know not of diamonds in the rough, but to sneer at the roughest of our diamonds. Beauty shouldn’t be a competition, but it is tonight—it is always. We can humor ourselves by ranking us above the greedy, jealous monsters of below, but the observant eye knows this is nothing but a joke.

The theater is a sunset halted, perversely captured, inverted, and transformed to build four walls and a roof for our pleasure. Blood-colored seats—dark enough in the dimmed light to be black—highlight our finery, acting as the velvet cases in a jewelry store. We are pride and wealth tonight, playing at being blessed. Behind me, gold appears as the walls meet the ceiling, then snakes along in the trim, blossoming into dramatic swirls and patterns as the gilded serpent approaches the stage. The shuttered curtains are dark, contrasting and framed by opulent designs, carved gold taking over for glistening paint, emphasizing the luxury of the creator’s art.

For sure, it is a gala night tonight.

The orchestra breathes its first breath, haunting, foreign music urging the last figures to their seats. I strain to recognize the tune, but it is of the sphere below, not from our clouds. Curtains twitch, then shuddering, surrender their vigil, revealing the first scene.

The sets do not glitter. They are artfully rendered, but too solemn to be attractive. Tragedy lurks in shadows, creeping up on the actors, who stand oblivious, playing at love and wars. Panic leans over my shoulder and cackles in my ear. My shoulders clench, I tighten my grip on my arm rests, white knuckles like strands of pearls. I want to shout, to warn the actors, but they would not hear me even if it were written into the script.

That is the point, I realize.

The play rushes forward, dragging gasps from my lungs, banishing the blood from my face, whipping my heart into a gallop. These actors are my brethren, but not entirely, not tonight, not as they ape the rulers of the world below. They are victims, at the mercy of storms of weather and human cruelty alike. Blood stains the stage, and I’m too caught up in the drama to remind myself it is a clever fake. Actors fall off the cliff of life, some jumping, more pushed, from that kingdom by the tumultuous sea.

My hands jerk to my face, but I pry my fingers open, for I want to see that tragedy which I have never seen before. I curse the veil I must wear, wanting to see completely, to honor the horrors in front of me. But I wear the black lace always; the veil is the only piece of apparel we all wear but that does not shine. It is built into our culture to protect us from ourselves, from the pain of always looking but never allowed to touch, never able to bandage the wounds of the world below.

It is too much, the horror, the helplessness, the frailty of those creatures below us against the omnipotence of fate. And it is torture itself to see my own depicted in these scenes with cursed honesty: for the play writes have named us mimes, revealing our impotence as they blunder around the edges, removed from the tragedy, unable to stall the hand of the universe’s rage.

The plot is a dance of the fateful trio: Madness, Sin, and Horror. The creatures of below are both at their mercy and are their mercenaries, in the flesh.

Drums beat with heavy, quickening hearts. Armies clash, emperors fall, mothers turn from sons and sons stab brothers in the back, dooming each other to Plutonian shores.

The stage stills. The last actor falls, like a stubborn drop of dew—and we would think it was the end. I’ve drowned in tears and I want to be alone.

But there is more to the story. The rulers have fallen, their kingdoms have crumbled to time and powers they couldn’t imagine. We, the mimes, mere puppets, have failed. They died calling us saviors, trusting us with their last breaths, but don’t they understand we are powerless to stop their suffering? We are divinity incarnate, but the world below does not trouble itself with following our suggestions. We are all kelp, truly, watching the ocean swarm around us blushed with blood, doomed to watch from our scenic solitude, forevermore.

A new empire rises from the ground, thriving in the blackness of Death, devouring the corpses of those who ruled and fell before with venom fangs. They are crawling shapes, blood-red, wriggling, lacking the elegance and poise of their predecessors—but also born without their predecessors’ tremendous ability to destroy themselves. They take the reins of the broken world, writhing but winning that mortal battle, that spiked fever that is life. The orchestra strikes its last, lasting note, that almost is a paean.

The lights go out and the gold is washed from the theater in a crashing wave of blackness.

The closing curtains ride the wave, a stormy funeral pall.

The play is over, but the story is alive, in the shadow between heartbeats, in the pause between inhalations and exhalations, where my own death slumbers—it shall not ever be forgot. I sob at the injustice—that those below would die, that the filthy, writhing creatures would be champions, that we would have to watch. Beside me, in front of me, throughout the chamber, faces glisten with tears, the way we played at wearing jewels. True to the mimicry of the play, we are struck dumb by the horrors we have seen tonight. How could we brutally enslave words and put them to the task of describing the devastating, motley drama of deaths we just were witness to?

No one moves as the curtains wrinkle to expel the play writes. Solemnly, the two angels stand before their stunned heavenly audience, and remove their veils. Understanding slinks between the seats: that was real, that was Earth. The pair do not cower before our rage, rage that they showed us the truth we have taught ourselves to avoid. We seraphs asked for a play of hopes and fears, and they showed us humanity of the world below, below our damnèd heaven. They have unveiled us with their show of life, and we angels sit, stunned, blinking at the sudden light.

How was this a gala night?

They affirm that the play is the tragedy “Man,” and its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

 

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I really wanted this book to be good.

It wasn’t.

2/5 stars

Genre: YA contemporary w/ some romance and a main character with mental issues…I don’t know what that is called

correction: Amazon calls it a “modern, sophisticated suspense novel”

cover we were liars

 

Amazon description:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

That doesn’t do a good job of describing the book. Here’s my description:

Cady spends every summer on her family’s private island. She has a group of four friends, other family members who are her age, who call themselves the Liars. When she was fifteen, she fell in love, and had an accident. The accident wiped most of her memory of summer fifteen, and leaves her with crippling migraines and a drug addiction for pain killers. After spending a summer away to heal, she decides to come back for summer seventeen to piece together what really happened, and to deal with the failed romance of that year as well.

It’s not much of a description, but it plus the first page was enough to get me to buy the book. I’ve seen a ton of review for this book, ranging from my opinion (it wasn’t that good) to raving reviews that call it a new favorite. I was curious, and my sister really wanted to read it.

Anyway, I read it.

The writing style that drew me in on the first pages soon became annoying. You spend the entire book very much stuck inside the main character’s (screwed up) head. She thinks very melodramatically, with an overdose of nostalgia and metaphors delivered so literally that I couldn’t tell what was real and what was fake for portions of the book. As Cady tries to solve the mystery of her accident two years before, she starts repeating the same things over and over. Sometimes I like this writing style, but for this book it just didn’t work.

When I say the book is stuck inside the main character’s head, I mean that you only ever see things through the lens of her brain. This isn’t unique–we call it first person–but her brain is seriously messed up from the accident, and most of the book is her remembering scenes, not actually doing things. Even the scenes that actually take place in the present are told so much from her point of view that it is hard to tell what is going on and what is just in her imagination. She thinks in metaphors so often that I stopped being able to tell what was real. There is a recurring mention of Gat seeing Cady’s wrists bleed and wrapping her wounds in gauze–I’m still not sure if that literally happened or is a metaphor for other things.

Since the book is told so completely from the main character’s point of view, none of the other characters get any characterization. You get one distinct impression for each of the dozens of characters. These descriptions are vivid and real, but they leave every character with only one facet of their personality. The other members of the family and the dynamic between them is fascinating, but you only get a tiny glimpse of it because she is so caught up in her own issues. (I guess that’s the point of the book, but once I learned about the present issues the family was going through, that was the book I wanted to read.) The main character is so screwed up psychologically after her accident (which wiped away most of her memory of the summer) that I couldn’t get a grip on her character either, beyond her illness. Also, she has a drug addiction, and talks about being high, but her character never reads differently, whether she is high or not. She never really displays addiction-like urges to take her medicine; she only ever takes it after migraines. Maybe she was high the entire time and the migraines were withdrawal symptoms, but if so, that was never said and could have been made clearer to make the book make more sense. I haven’t read many books with a drug addicted main character, and I wish Lockhart had told that part of her story better, so I could experience what should have been a unique and compelling part of the novel.

The message that the book delivered on dealing with tragedy and trauma was good. It just took forever to get to the point.

One thing that really bugs me: you never find out why the group of four friends is called the Liars. She says that they weren’t Liars until Gat shows up, and then details the story of Gat arriving, but never gets back to the reason they nicknamed themselves Liars. They don’t blatantly lie; none of the stories about previous summers are about lies. The name makes no sense. It’s in the title for crying out loud–why did Lockhart not include a reason for it?

*Spoilers ahead* I’m going to rant about the ending. If you want to read this book, because I trust that this book would actually be enjoyed by a large number of people, please stop reading.

I hated the ending. I was good, actually enjoying the reveal, until it got to the fact that the other three Liars had been dead for the entire book. One of my pet peeves is when a book pretends to be contemporary romance and then at the end becomes paranormal. Lockhart could have thrown in other paranormal elements throughout the book–it would have made sense with how messed up her brain was–but he didn’t until his big surprise end. Why do authors do this to me? I don’t like it. Continuity, please.

The ending was already surprising enough. The truth about the fire, the dogs dying, the reason behind the new house–that was all good. It redeemed the book for me, actually, until the last part of the unveil. That secured this book a low ranking.

Book Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood surprised me. It was a recomendation, and I try to read most books people tell me about, but I’ll admit I was dubious of this one. I was wrong to doubt it.

4/5 stars

Genre: witchy paranormal YA with some romance and an alternate historical setting

cover born wicked

 

Amazon description:

Everybody thinks Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship–or an early grave. Then Cate finds her mother’s diary, and uncovers a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra. But if what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe–not even from each other.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s a quick read–it took me a day. The plot is enticing and fast-paced.

I love the world building Spotswood employed. The story is set in New England at the turn of the 20th century, but it is an alternate world. Witches ruled for hundreds of years, until the Brotherhood massacred them and took over. Today, the Brotherhood rules with an iron fist, preaching that “womanly frailty” is the cause of sin and that witchcraft is the ultimate transgression. Girls are carted off to prison camps for invisible infractions.

It took me a little while to figure out the setting of the book, but even without knowing exactly the time/place of the story, the Brotherhood’s rule and its effects on the Cahill sisters’ lives is powerful. The bigotry and subjugation of women had me clenching my fists. I liked that Spotswood didn’t do what many authors do and create a world where only the tyrant exists; she allows that the Brothers only rule over part of America and England. The citizens of the Brotherhood’s lands know that there are other empires out there that treat women and witches fairly. That provided an interesting juxtaposition that drove parts of the story along.

The dynamic between the three Cahill sisters was fascinating. The main character, Cate, is the oldest sister, charged with protecting her two younger siblings by their mother on her death bed. However, she is not the most skilled sister at working magic; in fact, she shuns it for fear of the Brotherhood. Her need to keep her sisters safe and make good on her promise to their late mother sparks resentment from the other two sisters. When the governess is introduced, the dynamic shifts again, as a different authority figure appears. As you learn the details of the prophecy, the rifts between the three become even more dire. Spotswood handled the balancing of three powerful, individual characters well, and her protagonist’s reactions to her siblings’ rebellions.

The romance was sweet. Though there is a love triangle, it was obvious to me which one she would go for. Even with that, the way it unfolded was fun to read.

The ending of the book was heart-wrenching and I can’t wait to read the next book, Star Cursed. Unfortunately, I have to wait until the end of this week, because I’m on vacation and I can’t get the book until I’m home.

Comic Con–Land of the Geeks, AKA My New Home

I went to Comic Con in San Diego for the first time yesterday.

It was sooooooo freaking awesome!!!! There aren’t words.

So many people. So many cosplays. So much amazing art. So many geeky t-shirts. My life is complete.

(I didn’t get to see any panels, which was the only downside. I’m crossing my fingers for next year.)

I don’t like posting stuff just about my life…but I can tie this into this blog!

Remember the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson I finished last week?

I bought stuff.

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Okay, so it’s really only funny if you’ve read the series. But now my sister and I have our own metal vials, of Copper and Atium. So, yay!

Also, check out the warning in the middle of the label. In the series, the characters have to swallow the metals to use them, so the package has not one, but two warnings not to ingest them. The guy who sold it to me also warned me about it.

Thanks guys. Because I was really going to down some copper dust in my spare time, just to see if I was a Misting. Right.

I also found a really cool Edgar Allan Poe t-shirt. He’s one of my favorite authors ever, and this design is just awesome.

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The designer is

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Of course, I bought way more than those two things. But those are the only two items that tie in to the literary theme of this blog.

What about you guys? Did any of you go to Comic Con this year? Have you gone a year in the past? Do you want to go in the future?

 

 

Book Review: Blonde Ops by Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman

Blonde Ops was a fun read. It’s ridiculous and romantic.

4/5 stars!

Genre: YA contemporary romance, I guess

cover blonde ops

 

Amazon description:

Expelled from yet another boarding school for hacking, sixteen-year-old Rebecca “Bec” Jackson is shipped off to Rome to intern for Parker Phillips, the editor-in-chief of one of the world’s top fashion magazines. But when a mysterious accident lands Parker in a coma, former supermodel and notorious drama queen Candace Worthington takes the reins of the magazine. The First Lady is in Rome for a cover shoot, and all hands are on deck to make sure her visit goes smoothly.

Bec quickly realizes that Parker’s “accident” may not have been quite so accidental, and when the First Lady’s life is threatened, Bec is determined to uncover the truth. On top of that, Bec must contend with bitchy models, her new boss, Candace, who is just as difficult as the tabloids say, and two guys, a hunky Italian bike messenger with a thousand-watt smile and a fashion blogger with a razor-sharp wit, who are both vying for her heart.

Can Bec catch the person who’s after the First Lady, solve the mystery of Parker’s accident, and juggle two cute boys at the same time?

I read the book quickly, in the drive up to San Diego, with breaks for activities and recovering from car sickness (I know I shouldn’t read in the car, but the book was so good).

Everything, from the plot to the characters, are ridiculous. This book is definitely not for the people who get mad at movies when a gun never runs out of ammo or a random passerby becomes an MI-5 agent (I’m looking at you Hulu). If you can get past that–which I can–the story is great.

The characters are lovable. There’s no deep characterization to speak of, but it works with the light-hearted tone of the book. The romance is sweet, complicated without being bogged down in drama.

All throughout the novel, the identity of who is behind the car crash and possibly after the First Lady remains a mystery. I wasn’t trying particularly hard to figure out who it was (not like I would with an Agatha Christie, per se), but there were enough characters and enough intrigue to keep the plot going and the ending murky.

I’m excited for the sequel, though I don’t think there is a release date or title posted yet.

A word on the title: The main character has pink hair until the end of the novel. It just bugs me that the title implies she’s blonde.

Book Review: Sweet Evil series by Wendy Higgins

Ijust finished reading the Sweet Evil trilogy by Wendy Higgins: Sweet Evil, Sweet Peril, Sweet Reckoning.

They were okay. 3/5 stars, but more like a 3-minus?

I read the entire series in the space of three days. They read quickly, and their plots are addicting. I enjoyed the series, I really did. Something about the books makes them hard to put down. The story is good; it’s a fun read as long as you aren’t looking for a work of literary genius.

I was rereading books one and two, and then finishing the trilogy with book three. I read them quickly and they’re all blurring together, so this review will handle all three together. I’ll avoid spoilers. Promise.

The amazon description of book one, Sweet Evil

What if there were teens whose lives literally depended on being bad influences?
This is the reality for sons and daughters of fallen angels.
Tenderhearted Southern girl Anna Whitt was born with the sixth sense to see and feel emotions of other people. She’s aware of a struggle within herself, an inexplicable pull toward danger, but it isn’t until she turns sixteen and meets the alluring Kaidan Rowe that she discovers her terrifying heritage and her willpower is put to the test. He’s the boy your daddy warned you about. If only someone had warned Anna.
Forced to face her destiny, will Anna embrace her halo or her horns?

It’s an interesting premise. I’m actually a fan of paranormal romance, so I was open to the idea of this one.

The story isn’t classic paranormal however. In spite of how many authors use angels/demons/heaven/hell in their plots while shucking off most actual religious meaning, Higgins’s story has strong Christian themes. The main character, Anna, is deeply religious, something that separates her from the rest of the characters and is crucial to her successes. Religious values hold major influences over the plot.

It’s an interesting development in the world of paranormal romance. Wendy Higgins did her job well; she crafted a religious character who primarily uses her faith to persevere through life’s and hell’s challenges. It got annoying at times, sure, but that can happen with any character who is so deeply motivated by an ideal–whether it is the goal of saving her eternal soul or her best friend’s life or planting the seeds of democracy. Characters who answer every question with the same answer can be tedious, but powerful.

The piety of the book is countered by Anna’s romance with Kyle. Their relationship is intense from the first moment. Definitely some of the most sexual scenes I’ve read–nothing totally graphic, but it pushes the boundary at points. They’re done pretty well. It’s just weird to have Christianity and lust both so prominent in one series. I’m not sure exactly what point Higgins was trying to make, besides some passive aggressive wait-until-marriage advice. And since I’m not in school for another two weeks, you can’t make me examine the author’s intended message any deeper than that.

The characterization is weak. The characters are fun but not unique. Worse than being one-dimensional, they are that badly done combination of “everyone thinks they are x” but really “x is covering up a deep secret: he is the opposite of x.” That’s a bit harsh, but it’s frustrating how much better the story could have been with more of an effort placed on characterization.

Plot wise, there isn’t much. A few big scenes, where the good vs. evil conflict plays out. Otherwise, the story is driven by the romance. That’s okay by me. When I first bought the book, I didn’t have any belief it would be heavy on the plot. Even knowing the third book would bring the brewing conflicts to a head, I knew romance was the point of the series, and would dominate the finale.

If you want to read romance, this is a good series to pick up. A hot guy, goody-two-shoes girl, make-out scenes, drama, love, moral and paranormal complications, etc. After reading the Mistborn series, I wanted something that wouldn’t be of the heart-wrenching plot variety. This series did not disappoint. The books are worth reading if you’re in the mood for that. Go for it.

Oooh! One last thing. I hate the covers. Seriously? You have angels and demons on earth and you go for a pretty girl (whose hair DOES NOT MATCH the main character’s) on the cover with a hot brunette? That’s it?

Do you know how dramatic the covers could have been? Do you know how many halo/devil horns puns they could have depicted? I’m frustrated!

You know why I didn’t expect more than romance from the series? The stupid covers.

So there.