My 5 Favorite Fiction Novels…So Far

This past week I got sidetracked from my book reviewing schedule.  For several weeks now, I had been simultaneously reading Wuthering Heights along with whatever book I was supposed to be reading for a review.  While I enjoy reading new authors’ books, I always like to be reading one of the classics.  TIME Magazine has a great list of the 100  Best Novels of All Time; there’s also a site called thegreatestbooks.org I reference when perusing for the next ‘essential’ book.

There’s no way I will get through all of TIME’s 100 novels in my lifetime, and I don’t mean to.  Wuthering Heights had always been on my British lit list of must-reads, and this past week the story pulled me in.  After finishing it last night, I became inspired to make a list of my 10 favorite books of all time.  Well, so far.  Keep in mind I’m 25 now, and if I’ve left out one of your favorites, it’s very possible I haven’t gotten to it yet!

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë6185

I can only say I can’t believe I hadn’t read this sooner.  I always believed Pride & Prejudice was the quintessential love story, and yes, I am very fond of Jane Austen.  Wuthering Heights however is about a love so maddening, so powerful, it’s stronger than death.  I do not comprehend the distasteful reviews of this book on Goodreads.  Yes, the character Heathcliff is at times unlikable but I’m assuming these readers didn’t really ‘get’ this story.

2.  A Secret History by Donna Tartt29044

This is a fascinating tale about a group of rich students at an New England college.  This elite group is not only unapproachable because of their over-priveleged snob status, but also because they are knowledgable worldly Greek scholars.  When a new student is invited into the group, he uncovers the real reason these five students tend to keep to themselves.  Ancient rituals, murder, and scandal ensues.

3.  The Razor’s Edge by William Somerset Maugham31196

The fact that The Razor’s Edge is number three here is irrelevant; this is still my all-time favorite story ever since I read it freshman year of high school.  I don’t know if it’s Maugham’s prose, or the enchanting characters, or the fact that setting himself in the story as the narrator, or if all three of these aspects of the novel together make it so endearing and uniquely diverting.  The Razor’s edge is an illustrious work of writing without needing to be action-packed; I think that’s why I love it so much.

4.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald4671

This is NOT on my list because the move is soon to be released (and I love the idea of Leo as Gatsby).  Typically, I am drawn to any book set in the 1920’s Jazz Age, because I think I would have loved to live in New York during that time.  And gone to one of Gatsby’s Long Island parties.  Fitgzerald is also one my favorites; This Side of Paradise, Franny & Zooey, etc.

5.  The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien34

I am a Tolkien-ite, and though I love everything he has written related to Lord of The Rings (even the Silmarillion, the Appendices) the first book in the trilogy is my favorite.  I’m not sure why — perhaps because it’s the beginning of Frodo’s journey, and the only book in which the Fellowship is unbroken.  Maybe I just want to live in the Shire.  (That’s probably true, but unrelated to my preference for this book over the other two).

If I had to make a top 10 list, these would be the other 5:

6.  Candide by Voltaire

7.  The Odyssey by Homer

8.  A Room with A View by E. M. Forster

9.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

10.  The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

Are any of these your favorites?  What other books should I include on my must-read list?

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Review: Seeing Red by Sidney Halston

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I couldn’t decide between three or four owl rating for this book, as you can see.  About 75% of the way through I was almost set on a four owl rating, but then the cliffhanger at the end threw me off a bit along with the words “Coming Soon — Book 2 of Seeing Red Series.”  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book.  It just didn’t expect this book to turn into a series, and I can’t conceive what the sequel would be about.  Still, this was without a doubt a page turner, filled with suspense, intrigue, and LOTS of sexual tension.

A Brief Synopsis:

Jillian Stone, Oliver and Alexander Jacobs are an unusual group of 22-year-olds.  They were raised on a deserted island under the guardianship of a woman named Helen.  After twelve years they’re rescued and go their separate ways, only to be reunited years later at the funeral of their beloved Helen.  A love triangle erupts between them.  Jillian struggles with the decision of which of the twins she should be with, all the while trying to comprehend her psychic abilities that resurfaced from her time living on the island.  At the same time, a mystery unravels through Helen’s old journals.  Jill begins to uncover why she ended up on the island in the first place and whether she’s in danger now back in the real world.

Now Let’s Break It Down

Despite its categorization under ‘paranormal romance’ on Amazon, I personally would define Seeing Red as a romance with a mystery twist.  Unlike most romance novels, there are two main story lines in this book:  a love triangle (and for a hot second a love square) plus an added level of mystery, distinguishing this book from your typical love story.  Each story line integrates a level of suspense into the novel.  The intense love triangle is one reason you want to keep reading — to find out who Jillian will choose.  The perpetual question going through my head was, is it going to be Oliver?  Alexander?  Halston sure knows how to build sexual tension well.  There are so many hot and cold moments between the characters, especially Jillian and Alexander.

There isn’t really one main character in this story, as it rotates between three points of view:  Jillian and the twins Oliver and Alexander.  Despite this, Jillian still feels like the protagonist as she is the target of every male character’s affections and the individual the mystery revolves around.  That said, I loved every character except for hers.  Especially next to her kind, generous, selfless, good-natured southern belle of a roommate Heather, Jillian comes across as very selfish woman.  She’s entirely too comfortable leading on three men at the same time, two of whom genuinely worship her.

This is when the love triangle starts to get on my nerves as much as it keeps me hooked.  At halfway through the book, Jill’s mind had gone back and forth between the guys so often she began to drive me mad.  Can anyone be more indecisive?  Or dissect a situation more?  Just pick a guy already and take everyone out of their misery!  But still I kept reading through Jill’s long-winded rants and rationalizations because in the end, she does pick a man.  The reader isn’t left hanging — in regards to the romantic story line.

My only other complaint aside from Jill’s frustrating character is how slow the book starts off.  The first few chapters feel more like a memoir simply because there’s a lot of telling over showing, a lot of listing “Then this, then that.”  This type of writing is almost unavoidable when catching the reader up on a character’s background, or to convey long periods of time passing.  Once the book gets going however, the pace picks up and the slow start is history.

Conclusion

I truly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good romance and occasional mystery.  Sure there are a few typos and the writing isn’t too eloquent at times but that’s not why you would read this book anyway. If that’s the reading experience you seek, I suggest you pick up a Brontë novel.

Review: Curse of the Beast (Curse of the Beast #1) by Ashley Lavering

13479898I am not giving this book a rating.  That’s not because I didn’t think it deserved even One Owl, but because I only made it 40% through the book.  It didn’t seem fair to give the book a bad rating since I did not reach the halfway mark — so I’m simply giving it none.

I’m a bit shocked by the abundance of 5 star reviews for this YA fantasy fiction.  That goes to show you how subjective writing is.  Remember:  We book bloggers give our opinions based on past reading experience but it’s also a matter of personal taste.  My unenthusiasm towards this book is not a matter of writing ability — on the contrary, I believe the author to be very talented in that regard.  What didn’t appeal to me is the author’s modern spin on the classic  tale of Beauty and the Beast.  Which is kind of funny, because according to Goodreads  and Amazon that’s exactly what other readers liked — no, loved about the book.

I still enjoyed parts of the book.  In the beginning, our 17-year-old protagonist Tayla is dealing with more pressures than your average teen.  What with the responsibility of taking care of her cousins and mentally unstable aunt along with dealing with the stresses of moving every few months I could appreciate Tayla’s teenage angst.  When Kyle, the hot, popular guy at her new school is suddenly fawning over her, I think I’m happy for her, and she deserves the attention she never had.

Perhaps because I just came off of reading a handsomely executed werewolf fantasy fiction (My Wolf’s Bane)  I wasn’t into this author’s portrayal of the all-empowering, controlling alpha male Kyle.   But not only that, I couldn’t understand why almost the first half of the book consists of Tayla crying and running away from Kyle who I believed to be the ‘Beast.’  But no, suddenly she meets the real Beast through a wacky, drawn out exchange in the woods during which he shoots a magic lightening bolt into her stomach.  The description of the wolf-man alone baffled me — I couldn’t picture this Beast at all.  Is it a wolf?  Is it an exceptionally hairy man?   This first interaction between them was just so strange and I couldn’t get into the book after that. Even knowing full well the story of Beauty in the Beast, I didn’t know where the story was going nor did I care.

All that said, I give The Curse of the Beast a non-rating because I did not finish the story and you never know when a book might redeem itself later on.  Perhaps I missed out on a great rising conflict.  All the same, life is short  and I’m moving on to the next one.

Review: My Wolf’s Bane (Shapes of Autumn Book 1) by Veronica Blade

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You know that feeling of disappointment when you’ve finished reading a really exceptional book?  That’s what happened to me with My Wolf’s Bane.  I read this book in about 2 1/2 days, and that says a lot since I am a slow reader and usually read 2-3 books simultaneously.  Within the YA paranormal romance genre, this book excels.  For me (and for many other Goodreads reviewers) it’s one of the best, and I’ll tell you why.

For one thing, the characters in My Wolf’s Bane aren’t annoying but actually well-developed and different from one another.  One thing that kills my attention span is when all the characters in a novel start melding together as the same person, not one of them distinct from the next.  Autumn is the sarcastic, attractive high-school aged protagonist who at first is preparing to unceremoniously dump her popular douche-bag of a boyfriend, Daniel.  As Daniel begins harassing Autumn, she becomes increasingly more attracted to Zach — the mysterious hot new guy at school.

When a change appears in Daniel that causes both Zach and Autumn to believe he’s off his meds (or worse), eventually a feud breaks out between the two boys.  Zach is suddenly at Autumn’s side night and day as her protector.  Zach proves himself a complex character by giving Autumn the cold shoulder despite his obsession over her safety and her obvious interest in him.  Unable to read the feelings of this gorgeous boy who she’s coming to realize is anything but human, Autumn struggles internally with facing the reality that she has acquired her own supernatural abilities.

Enough plot synopsis.  It should already be apparent that along with formulating interesting characters, Veronica Blade can weave details together into a seamless and captivating storyline.  This is no easy feat.  I find often times when reading any sub genre of fiction, I subconsciously delete sentences or phrases in my head that are unnecessary.  Those works of writing needed more editing.  My Wolf’s Bane was not one of those works.  The story flowed and was without the awkward, extra wording that  slows a story down, making the reader all too aware of the writer’s inability to edit their own work.

In regards to plot — again, I loved it.  There is a ton of YA paranormal romance about werewolves.  It feels overdone, and I’m always wary of any fantasy fiction I pick up these days involving vampires, werewolves, or shifters.  But I enjoyed this book so much that I didn’t mind it.  Veronica Blade has described a human world in which werewolves exist that is actually believable.  This is how I imagine werewolves to act and exist among us humans, with a hierarchy similar to the packs in the HBO show Trueblood.

My only complaint about this book is the very last paragraph.  It’s a pet peeve of mine when the author ends a book in a way that is almost a sale pitch for the sequel.  I just don’t think it’s needed.  If the reader liked the book, as I did, they’re likely to read the sequel.  There’s no need to set up the next book with a series of questions like, “What’s going to happen with ____?” or “Will so and so character do _____?”  If you really want that to be the last thing your reader sees, then put it on the next page as an afterthought but don’t make it part of the book.  It gives the impression the author is trying too hard and with a book this good, there’s really no need.

On that note, I truly hope I’ve convinced people to read this excellent book.  You’ll find it hard to put down, I assure you.

Review: Coexist (Keegan’s Chronicles #1) by Julia Crane

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The purpose of my blog is to seek out books with little to no reviews (based on Amazon and Goodreads) and determine if they deserve more attention.  However I did not apply this logic when choosing to download Coexist (Keegan’s Chronicles #1) by Julia Crane.  The book — the first of three in the series, which also inspired a few spin-off series — had plenty of reviews already on both websites.  Most were four and five star, though there were a significant amount of one and two star reviews.  I was intrigued by the split opinion, and by the premise of elves living in modern times.  To top it off the ebook was free, so I thought I’d see what the fuss was about.

Young adult paranormal romance is one of the most written genres, which creates a struggle for authors to create a unique plot and carry a distinct voice.  Unfortunately, this book reminded me of many others in its category.  What bothered me more than this was the central character of this series.  Keegan is the teenage elf protagonist living in a nondescript American suburb with her elvish family, all creatures of the ‘light.’  Her father is the leader of the good ‘light’ elves; throughout the book, he and Keegan’s genius younger brother along with the rest of her relatives train and prepare for the fast approaching Great Battle between the light and dark elves.

But Keegan couldn’t care less about preparing for the war between good and evil.  She’s too busy shopping with her friends, buying clothes and having fun in general.  To put it bluntly, Keegan is a spoiled brat with no concern for anyone but herself.  Oh–maybe for her ‘chosen,’ the male elf who is destined to be her significant other from the age of eighteen when they meet for the rest of their lives.  When Keegan isn’t whining to her parents (who are, mind you, still busy preparing for the Great Battle) about getting a custom made SUV for her birthday or about how she absolutely cannot wait to meet her ‘chosen,’ she’s busy going to Starbucks and the mall with her friends, all things she ‘loves.’  Oh–she also ‘loves’ the feel of the wind on her face.  Just FYI.

Aside from the lead character, the one major flaw in the book was the scene where Keegan and Rourke, her chosen, meet for the first time.  As much as I find the protagonist annoying, the key moment when the chosen pair meet could have been way better.  For preceding chapters, everything is built up so that you expect this suspenseful, intense initial interaction.  Instead the meeting lasts for barely a page.  One minute Keegan and Rourke are complete strangers and the next they’re spinning around stupidly in a field, falling down and laughing.  It comes off corny instead of romantic.  They were irritating and I as the reader was disappointed.

Recall this review has two owls, not one.  Why is that?  Because I enjoyed Rourke’s character, as much as he reminds me of Edward Cullen from Twilight.  As Keegan’s chosen and the love interest, Rourke is a brave, honest, caring, protective elf warrior — basically he has the polar opposite personality of Keegan.  He lives by his morals, and he’s just all around the ideal love interest in this type of YA fantasy fiction.   As much as I like Rourke’s character, I was equally frustrated with his scenes because he constantly is preoccupied with protecting oblivious Keegan who doesn’t deserve to be with such a good person.

Another reason I gave this book two owls is the battle sequence.  I thought these last few chapters were the most captivating.  Without giving too much away, the dramatic events that ensue in these scenes set up the sequel nicely.  Not that I’m going to read the rest of the trilogy.   But for everyone else I’ll say this:  if you don’t think the protagonist’s shallow, bratty, somewhat obnoxious character traits would annoy you then perhaps you would enjoy this book.  I’ll let you decide.  For me,  I know if I dislike the central character of a book, chances are I’m not going to love it.