What I Read in December + Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge ✔️

Sunday, December 31, 2017

What I Read in December

It's December, somehow. When did this happen?

For my final What I Read In of the year, I wanted to go out with a bang by reading as many books as I could - which I now realise was a silly mistake. It was the run up to Christmas and I was busy af. But, I gave it a shot and these are the books I finished this month...

What I Read in December

In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent rather than pay to speak, and her defiant and unexpected silence threatens to unravel the very fabric of society - Goodreads

Speth is a 15 year old who witnesses the suicide of a friend, at the party that marks the day she begins to pay for speech and gestures, and vows never to speak again in a world where even burps of a certain volume are trademarked. It's a pretty dark premise and I honestly couldn't see where it was going. The world building is gradual and subtle, but slowly we learn about Speth's reality. In All Rights Reserved, lawyers really are ambulance chasers and freedom of speech is something that does not exist.  Ultimately, it's not too far-fetched, especially for places like America. The litigation capital of the world.

After her impromptu rebellion, Speth's sister's reputation is tarnished by her silence and the small family begins to break apart. In an effort to repair the damage done and drag them out of debt, Speth joins forces with the Placers, a group of people whose job involves sneaking into the homes of the Affluent to provide them with products they don't know they want. 

Ever watched a Youtube PR unboxing?

Katsoulis writes a societal norm so inherently wrong and corrupt that it made me furious simply reading it. I can't remember the exact quote, but someone once said that they (being corporations) will bottle water and you'll buy it. That stuck with me for years (and its one of the reason I won't buy bottled water). So why not words? There was so much effort into describing this Fahrenheit 451-esque world that I was disappointed in the back story. There is some explanation to how things ended up the way they did, but not enough to truly understand it. I like to know the ins and outs, so that is probably my issue, but it's vague - there's no getting around that.

Despite the premise and the tone, the author doesn't let you forget this is a young adult novel. The main character, whilst resolute and strong, is still a fifteen year old girl. The language is basic, despite the multifaceted words tossed in for criminal effect (and it does have the desired effect). I enjoyed the writing style, I can't lie.

The biggest thing for me was that Speth was a bore. But I didn't really care about any of the characters. None of them gave me much of a reason to. They aren't really delved into beyond the surface and they simply didn't interest me. I feel like they could have been further developed and it would have added only a few more pages, yet would've made me more invested in them.

I also didn't love the ending. It felt preachy and way too over the top to be a realistic, conclusive climax to the story, which up until this point had been a bit of a slow burner - in a good way. I don't know, I wasn't impressed. The lack of melodramatic love story, however, was a major plus. I hate the vast majority of those whiny, love triangle, dystopia novels. There's a little baby bit of a hint of a love story to come in the eventual sequel (isn't there always a sequel), but it never really develops. It's a breath of fresh air to have a female lead who isn't at all boy obsessed and cares more about her family. 

All Rights Reserved is by no means a masterpiece, but its worth a read. If you enjoyed Sarah Crossan's Breathe, you will most likely enjoy this too.

Rating: 3/5

What I Read in December

Makani Young thought she'd left her dark past behind her in Hawaii, settling in with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska. She's found new friends and has even started to fall for mysterious outsider Ollie Larsson. But her past isn't far behind. Then, one by one, the students of Osborne Hugh begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasingly grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and her feelings for Ollie intensify, Makani is forced to confront her own dark secrets - Goodreads

Ngl, the only reason I picked this up was because the title reminded me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I'm not sure why. Coupled with the admittedly very pretty cover, I had moderate hopes, despite not bothering to read the synopsis or any of the reviews.

It's evident from the first chapter that this would have been classed in the "horror" section. As it's a slasher type book, you can usually always tell what's coming. So based on that, I decided I wasn't going to make any predictions about the ending. I was going to ignore the voice in the back of my head that said "THEY DID IT" or "WTF AM I READING?" and go for it with an open mind. But the only books that have ever actually scared me (or at least gave me the creeps) were Pet Sematary and IT, so I knew this wasn't going to rival the effect of the Master of Horror himself.

After reading 25% my immediate reaction was:
What I Read in December
Sounds familiar, right?

Our protagonist Makani is half-African American, half Native Hawaiian. One of her friends is Asian (so sorry, can't remember if a heritage is specified, there's also an entire paragraph devoted to the "So where are you really from" question so it might have been purposefully missed) and the other is trans, female to male. This is a massive leap forward for young adult fiction diversity and I'm here for it. Not every book needs to be about white cisgender heteronormative people.

Makani also has a dark secret that she is constantly worried about getting out, despite the fact she changed her name and moved across the country. Her parents sent her to the backyard of nowhere to "take care" of her grandmother after her grandfather's death, which really means they didn't know how to deal with what happened and couldn't be bothered to try. And thus, they shipped her off so that they didn't have to face their own glaring inadequacies. Which become more apparent throughout the book.

There's Someone Inside Your House gets a lot of flack and I can see why. They author is known for her teen romance novels and that is very apparent in the relationship between Makani and Ollie. And a lot of people thought that the horror story and love story didn't seem to mesh well because of her inexperience in the former. However, I thought this worked to her advantage. It made things more realistic. You don't have one singular thing happening in your life at one time. But that's just my opinion.

The development of the story follows the typical horror arc, but switches it up slightly about half way through. I liked the way Perkins threw the readers a bone but still left a lot undisclosed for them to figure out. However, the reasons behind the entire thing were a bit blah - a bit 90s. If it had been written 20 years earlier, it would not have been out of place with the slasher revival and such gems as:

"It's the millennium, motives are incidental" - Randy, Scream (1996)
Which is an absolute classic.

However, its a modern day story and unfortunately the suspense fell as flat as Scream the TV series.

The one thing that really bugged me was the constant references to pop culture. TV shows or books that use very specific references do not often stand the test of time. It actually made me roll my eyes in annoyance. It's simply not necessary to do this to relate to your audience, if your work is good enough. If anything it's pandering; which undermines the whole thing.

I can't say I didn't enjoy this book, because I did. I actually thought it was a fun, well written read - it kept me hooked until the last page, and it ended on a high note instead of being wrapped up with a big red ribbon, like the sad gift of rubbish endings. It reminded me heavily of that 90s slasher horror movie theme and I love it. If you go into this expecting something other than a campy teen scream style story, you will be disappointed and also, seriously?

Rating: 3.5/5

What I Read in December & Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

Sam James has spent years carefully crafting her reputation as the best psychologist at Typhlos, Manhattan's most challenging psychiatric institution. She boasts the highest success rates with the most disturbed patients, believing if she can't save herself, she'll save someone else. It's this saviour complex that serves her well in helping patients battle their inner demons, though it leads Sam down some dark paths and opens her eyes to her own mental turmoil.

When Richard, a mysterious patient no other therapist wants to treat, is admitted to Typhlos, Sam is determined to unlock his secrets and his psyche. What she can't figure out is why does Richard appear to be so completely normal in a hospital filled with madness? And what, really, is he doing at the institution? As Sam gets pulled into Richard's twisted past, she can't help but analyse her own life, and what she discovers terrifies her. And so the mind games begin. But who is the saviour and who is the saved? - Goodreads

After reading Final Girls, I wanted something that would pack a similar punch. A psychological thriller that wasn't action heavy. Like M. Night Shyamalan before Signs. I wanted The Sixth Sense of books. And what did I get, you ask? Hmm. We'll get to that later.

Samantha "just call me Sam" Jones is a functioning alcoholic who holds down a challenging job at an acclaimed institution. She is the star psychologist, adored by her boss, colleagues and patients alike. Coupled with her messiah complex, her abusive boyfriend Luke and secret affair with the mysterious AJ, she is a disaster waiting to happen.

Enter the elusive Richard. He's a criminal who has spent most of his life behind bars and is transferred to Typhlos for some unknown reason. He refuses to answer their questions. For all intents and purposes, he seems like a regular guy who has given up caring and just wants an easy breeze through his time in the institution. But it doesn't take long before he worms his way into Sam's life.

The Blind was written by an actual psychologist. A.F. Brady has probably seen elements of all the characters before and as the most common aspect is for writers to draw from their own experiences, she most likely knew a few people like Sam. Which is sad. Sam is a big ol' mess and she knows it, but feels powerless to change things. When her world starts to unravel around her, her psyche follows suit and she becomes involved in a strange dependency on Richard.

It's very depressing. To the point where I wondered why was reading it. It also predominantly deals with mental illness, which can be a difficult topic for many people. The subject is dealt with quite harshly, in some respects. Brady doesn't shield the reader from the darker aspects, but it doesn't ever get too much. Which is a nice alternative to things like Girl Interrupted. I love A.F. Brady's style and I think this was a very well written book.

Was this an interesting way of looking at social stigma in the professional setting? Yes. Was this book interesting? No. Was it a thriller? No. Was it predictable? Hell yes. I saw the finale coming from the halfway mark and it was a disappointing conclusion.

For me, this was too anti-climactic and I couldn't really enjoy it because I knew exactly what was going to happen at every turn. It was also a chore to read because it was so incredibly bleak.

Rating: 2.5/5

What I Read in December
Rosa - an eighteen year old from London - is quadriplegic. Her doting (if a bit stifling) parents and charming older brother are her entire world. But Rosa yearns for more; so when a doctor from Boston chooses her to be a candidate for a risky experimental surgery, she and her family move to Massachusetts in search of a miracle.

Sylvia - a girl from a small town in New England - is brain dead. Her parents have donated Sylvia's body to Rosa's cause. Rosa wakes up from surgery as the first successful brain transplant survivor - by all accounts, a medical anomaly. She should be ecstatic, but she can't help wondering with increasing obsession, who Sylvia was and what her life was life.

Rosa's fascination with her new body and her desire to understand Sylvia prompt a road trip based on discovery and a surprising new romance. But will Rosa be able to solve the dilemma of her identity. Who is she, in another girl's body? - Goodreads

I was going to limit myself to only two young adult books this month, but oh well. I don't know when they started to get so good, but the genre has stepped up over the last few years.

After reading about the head transplant in the news last month, this book piqued by interest. It's an intriguing idea. I don't often read many stories like this - devoid of dystopia, horror or science fiction - and I thought it would be a light read after The Blind. The premise did sound a little bit ridiculous, but on the back of said transplant, is it that far-fetched?

Firstly, have I mentioned how much I dislike pop culture references in books? In She, Myself and I, it's done to establish Rosa's personality but it's incredibly annoying. She consistently talks about Top Gear and literally no one cares. I ended up rolling my eyes and skimming every paragraph that dealt with any reference to anything to do with TV, music or food. Other than that, I liked this book. 

The characters are complex and interesting - they are well written and each one was unique. Obviously some are more prominent than others. Rosa's transition from a girl recovering from verge of death, to one who acquires a life she doesn't know what to do with with is strangely relatable and realistic. Emma Young doesn't bring any typical teen tropes to the party (other than the very relevant "who am I?") and I am very grateful for that. It's also nice to read British characters that aren't caricatures of themselves. They were actual British people and not tea sipping, crumpet eating, buck-toothed pastiche. Joe was also a nice take on the "tortured soul" and I enjoyed his and Rosa's interactions.

Nothing crazy happened, but the plot skipped along at an average pace, without feeling rushed or dragging on. Which can happen with many books. I enjoyed Young's writing style, it was nothing spectacular though.

I would have liked to have known more about the disease afflicting Rosa, how she ended up the way she did and how it affected her family. It's skimmed over completely. As is the actual surgery, the recovery and her reaction to being able to walk again. It feels like in order to advance the story, Young left out a massive chunk of the transition and in doing so, Rosa's character, and her family, loses a lot of credibility. On the flip side, the inner turmoil is realistically depicted. In her new body, Rosa cannot see her old self through her new eyes and it makes her wonder if she is still the person she was, or if she is - at least in part - this new girl. I can completely imagine that feeling of being lost inside yourself and how it would possibly make you lose your mind.

I finished the book in a couple of hours and it wasn't the best thing I've ever read, but it had me hooked and that's what counts. At the end of it, I didn't really care too much about the characters or the story, but it was a welcome break from reality for a while. If you like a New-Adult/Young-Adult drama then this is worth a read.

Rating: 3/5

Trouble began in 1963. I'm not blaming it on President Kennedy's assassination or its being the beginning of the sixties or the Vietnam War or The Beatles. The trouble I'm talking about was my first real trouble, the age-old trouble. The getting in trouble as in Is She In Trouble? trouble. As in pregnant. As in the girl who got pregnant in high school. Beverly Ann Donofrio wasn't bad because she hung out with the hoods - she was bad because she was a hood - Goodreads

I'd been meaning to read this book for years. I love the film and anticipated loving this as well. And I did like it, but it felt like book Bev and film Bev were completely different people and thus two different stories that run parallel with occasional similarities.

Riding in Cars With Boys was well written, compelling and I enjoyed the format of story-telling whilst on a car journey to college with her son. Beverly Donofrio is a very talented author and her life story is interesting, dramatic and honest to a fault.

The problem began with the introduction to Beverly. She isn't the geeky, impulsive scholar of the film. She isn't the kind, independent teenager that Drew Barrymore portrays. She is a typically stupid 17 year old who is blinded by her own stubbornness, makes terrible decisions and is an all-round horrible person. She talks about wanting her boyfriend (and later husband) Ray to die, working out the best age for him to pass when she's "still young and pretty", which literally made me furious. Bearing in mind, she made the choice to marry him knowing about his drinking, drug use and lack of education, because she thought she could "fix him". No one forced her hand, unlike the film version suggests. She also solely blames herself for his poor decisions. Her son Jason is constantly an afterthought, she has no interest him from the moment she finds out she's pregnant, and constantly internally blames him for not going to college, coupled with the fact that her family were poor.

Ray is another matter all together. He's a drunk, a drug addict and generally not the best person to have around your child. It made me angry how quickly he gave up on himself and eschewed a relationship with his own son at a mere suggestion. He never fights for anything unless it's drugs.

Bev's parents are strict Italian Catholics who are just trying to do right by their children, despite her protests that they are unfair and ruining her life. It's a strange day when you've aged enough to identify with parents instead of the teenagers. They aren't perfect, but whose parents are? She constantly belittles her mother, and her life choices, deeming her worthless and uneducated because she chose to be a housewife - whilst preaching feminism which is completely hypocritical. Her parents definitely do not get the credit they deserve for the way they tried to handle what was such a controversial and socially unacceptable lifestyle choice for their daughter in the 60s. It annoyed me that she couldn't see how much they wanted to help her (and did help her!) and how much she resented them for not being what she wanted. No families are without their flaws.

The more I read of this memoir, the more annoyed I became with Beverly. I completely get that she had to give up on her dreams to be a mother, but she plays the martyr, forgetting that the problems in her life are all of her own making. She chose everything that happened to get, but to hear her version its as if her son was the root cause. Which is so sad and I completely get (for the first time) film Jason's almost hatred of his mother. Who wants to have their mother write a whole book about their birth ruining her life?

Towards the end of the book, the very last few pages, she does have some redeeming moments. Mostly because she actually begins to act her age and no longer has to deal with a small child (by this point, Jason is 18). I liked end of the book Beverly.

I'm not trying to say that life is as easy as you make it (because that's a complete lie) and that she was a terrible mother who hated her son etc. etc. Because I can't imagine first hand what that's like to be a divorced teenage mother in the late 60s/early 70s when the world is against you. I don't know what its like to be so utterly trapped in your own private hell. So, who am I to say she didn't do the best she could? Other than she didn't have to spend all her time doing drugs and crying about how miserable her life was when everything that happened was her own doing.

Rating: 3/5

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2017 ✔️

After two years of not bothering, I took part in the Goodreads Challenge again. Basically, you set yourself a goal for the number of books you'd like to read in a year, and if you hit the goal you get a nice little badge for your profile. It's pointless and somewhat life-affirming. 

I started my challenge in late April/early May, very late, and decided to set the modest target of 12 books. Because I knew it was achievable and I didn't anticipate having too much spare time. Turns out I actually read over 30 books. So yay me.

Disclaimer: I have previously reviewed books I gave up on, but this list contains only those that I actually finished. If you would like to read in depth reviews of all the books below, click here and follow the links.

My 2017 Reading List:
From highest to lowest rated












As you can, I read a lot of mediocre books in 2017. I'm hoping I'll make better literary choices next year. The stand outs of the year were The Lunar Chronicles, How I Live Now and When She Woke - I couldn't put any of these down.

What have you read this year?

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