Book Reviews: June 2018

I read six things in June: three books and three plays! I had fun getting back into Shakespeare but the books were kinda meh. As usual, the reviews below contain some (very) mild spoilers. 

  • All's Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare
  • As You Like It by William Shakespeare
  • The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan


 

Shakespeare Plays

I know this sounds pretentious, but I love Shakespeare. There’s nothing like a good Shakespearean insult to make me appreciate the English language. Reading each of his plays has always been a reading goal of mine since I only read seven or eight in college. (Maybe one in high school? I don’t really remember.) So I’ve decided to go back through his work (alphabetically because that’s easiest) and read them all.

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My ratings for Shakespeare are a little different. When I rate them “3 of 5,” I’m not trying to say Shakespeare could’ve made it better. Think of it more as a ranking of my personal favorite plays by the Bard. Of the three below, As You Like It was my favorite, although Parolles from All’s Well That Ends Well was by far the best character.

All’s Well That Ends Well: 3 of 5 stars

As You Like It: 3 of 5 stars

The Comedy of Errors: 3 of 5 stars


 

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Melody, a young girl with cerebral palsy, is extremely intelligent and has begun to attend new classes at school. Using technology to speak with her family and peers, she aims to show everyone that she is more than a disability. 

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This was a book club read for me and I didn’t realize it was middle grade before I started it. As an adult reader, I saw pretty much every plot point coming a mile away. The ending did get a rise out of me though - if I was Melody's mom, I'd have reported that teacher at least eight times. What a jerk. Draper, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy, did a great job of describing Melody's physical reactions. She would often get excited and make a lot of noise; it was portrayed very realistically. 

I don't really recommend this for adults to read on their own, but for parents and teachers of kids in the target age range (4th through 8th-ish grades) this would be a great discussion starter. Use it to talk about empathy, how disabilities affect people, and the different forms that bullying can take. 

Rating: 3 of 5 stars


 

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is an Antari, a magician, serving the King and Queen in Red London. Kell acts as the ambassador between all four Londons and often smuggles artifacts to entertain himself. When he accidentally smuggles a dark object, Kell must hurry to destroy it. 

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Listen. I am always DTF (Down To Fangirl). I have a soft spot for YA Fantasy and I love when something makes me ship all the ships. I expected A Darker Shade of Magic to be good because I see this book posted everywhere, but it was SO BORING. Soooo. BORING. The entire plot is just "Kell gets an evil rock and has to take it back to the place it came from." Somehow Schwab managed to fill 400 pages with...nothing.

The concept of "four parallel dimension Londons interconnected by magic" sounded good as I read the cover, but there was exactly zero worldbuilding done beyond that. There were super fancy magicians called Antari, people who wanted to be magicians, and people who had no idea magicians existed. And at no point did I ever get a solid grasp of how magic worked for any of these people. Somehow elements and blood were involved? (If you compare this to the amazing Brandon Sanderson, just know I want to punch you in the face.)

Kell was boring (how many times have I used that word?) but Lila's character irritated me the most. Look at our heroine! So tough! She's independent and feisty! She sometimes uses a knife! *gags* How many times do we have to see this same female character in YA Fantasy? I was intrigued by that other Antari for a few pages, but then he turned boring too and now I can't even remember his name.

One-dimensional characters, nothing to define the Londons beyond "evil" or "red" or "no magic," and average writing all mean I cannot recommend this to anyone. The most interesting aspect is Kell's coat.

I rounded this up to 2 stars because the cover is pretty. *shrugs* Come at me, teenage fangirls.

Rating: 1.5 of 5 stars (2 on Goodreads)


 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rachel's boyfriend, Nick, has invited her to Singapore for the summer to go to a wedding and meet his family. When Rachel arrives, she is shocked to find out her boyfriend is part of the Singaporean 1% and is crazy, filthy rich.

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I wanted to read this one because Constance Wu will be playing Rachel in the movie. I love Wu; she's pretty much the main reason I would go see the movie. (Plus an all Asian cast, yay!) So I figured I'd read this one as some light chick lit and fun escapism about rich people. Makes sense, right? But reading this reminded me of why I generally avoid chick lit and contemporary romance.

I might have enjoyed this more if Nick wasn't such a total ass and the writing was better. The first three hundred and fifty pages were basically just descriptions of rich people things. Food, houses, clothes, airplanes, cars, blah blah blah. You can't hide lack of a plot or characterization behind a fancy stuffed tiger in the corner. Obviously I expected some of this, but it came to the point of me skimming paragraphs because I was tired of words like "lush." The last fifty or so pages finally had some action, but by then it just felt rushed.

Back to Nick being an ass. He was also an idiot. "This isn't a palace. It's just a big house." Then the first time poor Rachel ever met the owner of that palace, his grandmother, he left her alone. Right after he started getting lectured about becoming too Westernized, he got uncomfortable and left her there!!!! To "meet the family" alone!!!! He gave her ZERO warning about his family and failed to recognize when everyone was treating her like shit. Astrid and Oliver were nice to her at least, and they were my favorite characters by far. Nick's mother was the type of mother-in-law that sends couples into therapy. Run away, Rachel! (Their romantic dialogue was super cliche, too.)

Final rant point - it is unbelievable that the Young family lived in secret. How exactly could a girl recognize Nick in New York and start a rumor about Rachel that got all the way back to Nick’s mother in Singapore, while the other fairly rich families in Singapore who constantly gossip had never heard of this huge, extended family right down the road???!!?!?!? It's just not possible. 

To be fair, I did enjoy the cultural tidbits about life in Singapore and it was entertaining enough that I got through it quickly. I'll probably still go see the movie, the trailers make it look like the fun escapism I was looking for when I picked up the book.

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars (3 on Goodreads)