In an attempt to write a little something on every book I read this year, I'm lumping six books together in one group review so I can knock out 2017. Yes, I'm being lazy. Yes, I should've done these separate. Yes, it's been a couple months since I read these. That's the main reason for the lumping - I've forgotten specifics and don't want to spend days agonizing over six blogs.
Some very minor spoilers may be below. Now, in the order I read them:
The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas
The Assassin’s Blade is a collection of short stories that take place prior to the first book in Sarah Maas’ Throne of Glass series. TOG fans should definitely read these at some point, but if you’ve already read the first one don’t panic. I would just recommend reading them before you start Heir of Fire (book 3) at least.
While reading these, I got the feeling Maas was just trying to clarify on a few points she failed to cover in the regular books. There were so many hints about Sam and Celaena’s relationship in TOG that I just did not care about because I knew nothing about Sam, but thankfully The Assassin’s Blade made me like him a lot. (Can we just keep him instead of Dorian?) Celaena had many, many flaws throughout the series (Mary Sue and not a believable assassin, to start) and these novellas added necessary depth and badass-ery to her.
My two favorite novellas were The Assassin and the Healer and The Assassin and the Desert. I enjoyed seeing Celaena somewhere other than Rifthold and both of those showed a more vulnerable side to her character while establishing that she was actually good at her job.
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Recently widowed AJ Fikry is having a hard time in life - his bookstore is struggling and one of his rare pieces was stolen. When a package of sorts is left at his store one night, Fikry realizes he has the chance to start over and have a meaningful life.
This is, to put it simply, a happy book. It’s basically a Lifetime/Hallmark movie in book format. Normally, I don’t really care for this genre, but in The Storied Life of AJ Fikry all the characters were bookworms and so of course I loved it. It’s heartwarming and easy to get through if you’re needing something to put a smile on your face. Several of the plot points were a bit predictable, which is my only critique, but I didn't really care all that much. The happy ending was too cute for me to get worked up about a few cliches.
One big plus was all the literary references that the characters made. Many of them I knew but others I had to look up, so it was like a little treasure hunt!
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Two young girls love to dance; one has talent and the other has no rhythm, leaving Smith's unnamed narrator in the shadow of her friend Tracey's skills. Though this friendship ends, the two girls keep finding themselves interconnected in the strangest stages of life.
Swing Time was neither amazing nor awful for me, though I did end up liking Smith’s writing style quite a bit. My main problem with Swing Time was that it didn’t feel very cohesive; it had so many different themes like celebrity culture, colonialism, broken childhood friendships, etc. I never knew what to focus on. I kept wanting more know more about Aimee. And then Tracey. And then I found myself wishing I was reading more about two girls trying to make it as dancers, which is what I originally thought this book was about.
I definitely plan to read more of Smith's work as she's very skilled; hopefully, the next one will click with me a bit more.
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Armageddon Rag by George RR Martin
In The Armageddon Rag, journalist Sandy Blair is following a story that takes him back to his radical youth in the 1960’s. When he reconnects with one of the world's most popular bands, the Nazgul, he realizes his story is taking him deep into a sinister plot he may not be able to escape.
It pains me to say this because GRRM is one of my all-time favorite authors, but...I didn’t care for this. At all. By the time I got to the last third of the novel I was just trying to hurry up and finish it. I think maybe someone who came of age in the 60’s would really enjoy it, or at least appreciate all the references. (I did get some of the musical references but much of it was over my head.) I got the impression from this that Martin missed his youth and the feeling of the 60’s. Blair was also the most one-dimensional character Martin has ever written, which was straight up weird because he's generally amazing with all his characters.
The story itself is fairly entertaining so if the 60’s is something you deeply love, give it a chance. Be prepared for a lot of redundant descriptions of feeling the music.
Rating: 2 of 5 stars
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns spans thirty years in the life of a family living in Afghanistan. Mariam and Laila, two women from different generations brought together by chance, develop a relationship that alters their course of their lives.
This was one of my favorite reads of the year, thanks to the female characters. I cried reading about Mariam's childhood. I cried when tragedy struck Laila. I cried when, against all odds, the two grew an unbreakable bond. I cried even more at the ending. If nothing else, this is a beautiful story about strong women.
I’ve seen a couple reviews that criticize Hosseini for his portrayal of Afghan culture but I’m not here to add to that. Obviously, I don’t know from personal experience how accurate it is. I thought he was respectful, specifically toward religion. For example, the women felt positively about their burqas and didn't feel oppressed by wearing them. I can see how the husband was a stereotype, but it just made me angry about abusive men in general.
Hosseini's writing was lovely, as well. I'm excited to read his other books. A couple quotes I marked as I was reading:
“...Children that they had not bled away with soapy water and the bodily filth of strangers down some bathhouse drain.”
“Only at dusk did the winds die down. And then if a night breeze blew, it did so timidly, as if to atone for the excesses of its daytime sibling.”
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows high school freshman Charlie as he learns how to grow up with his new, loyal friends.
Perks contained many different mature themes - rape, homophobia, sexual abuse, substance abuse, physical abuse, first sexual experiences, just to name a few. In spite of all that, the powerful moments were glossed over because of the narrator, Charlie. Charlie was supposed to be ridiculously smart and observant, but I felt like I was reading about high school through the mind of a child. I had to remind myself constantly that he wasn't 10, but 15/16. (I've seen people say that Charlie had a learning disability, but that wasn't confirmed anywhere in the book so I'm going to assume he didn't. If he did, that should've been made clear.)
The ending felt very rushed, like I was expected to suddenly feel sorry for Charlie because of the last second revelation. Sure, it was horrific and anyone who experiences what he did in real life has my deepest sympathy. The book just wasn't well written.
I think you have to be in high school to appreciate this one. Adult me was just glad it was short.
Rating: 2 of 5 stars