March & April DNFs

Friday, April 29, 2016
Woohoo --- I've gone through a better spell of reading the last few weeks, as opposed to the rough stats in January and February. I've had a higher average rating for what I've read and fewer DNFs to process, which is why there are more than my usual amount of DNF'd reads in this post -- it's two months' worth!

This is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang

Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivien moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship—as long as no one finds out about it. But then Janie goes missing and everything Micah thought he knew about his best friend is colored with doubt.

Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance in a second novel.

The author's use of a jumbled and haphazard nonlinear style and interchangeable narrators with little voice and no personality  + juvenile execution = Jessie checking out mentally at page 100 and giving up completely by 120. This is not a long book, but I had no interest in pursuing Janie and Micah's plotlines.

Dreamology by Lucy Keating

For as long as Alice can remember, she has dreamed of Max. Together they have traveled the world and fallen deliriously, hopelessly in love. Max is the boy of her dreams—and only her dreams. Because he doesn’t exist.

But when Alice walks into class on her first day at a new school, there he is. It turns out, though, that Real Max is nothing like Dream Max, and getting to know each other in reality isn’t as perfect as Alice always hoped.

When their dreams start to bleed dangerously into their waking hours, the pair realize that they might have to put an end to a lifetime of dreaming about each other. But when you fall in love in your dreams, can reality ever be enough?

I was tempted by this because it vaguely reminded me of Lucid, another book about dreams and love and connections, and of the Lynburn Legacy novels, but this book  was not a fit for my particular reading preferences.  The constant yearning and drama and drama were not my preferred storyline, especially if the characters don't make me ship the ship. I did not, so I sailed on out of Dreamology at 115 pages in.

Empress of the Night by Eva Stachniak (Catherine the Great #2)

Catherine the Great, the Romanov monarch reflects on her astonishing ascension to the throne, her leadership over the world's greatest power, and the lives sacrificed to make her the most feared woman in the world--lives including her own...

Catherine the Great muses on her life, her relentless battle between love and power, the country she brought into the glorious new century, and the bodies left in her wake. By the end of her life, she had accomplished more than virtually any other woman in history. She built and grew the Romanov empire, amassed a vast fortune of art and land, and controlled an unruly and conniving court. 

Now, in a voice both indelible and intimate, she reflects on the decisions that gained her the world and brought her enemies to their knees. And before her last breath, shadowed by the bloody French Revolution, she sets up the end game for her last political maneuver, ensuring her successor and the greater glory of Russia.

A completely unremarkable sequel to The Winter Palace - which was itself not a a great read but a serviceable and readable historical novel.  This is just a dull and dreary, rotely rendered extenuation of Catherine's rule. The first book wasn't perfect but this sequel feels lifeless and unnecessary. I read for two hundred fifty pages, but fast lost patience and skimmed the remaining one fifty.

The Mirror King by Jodi Meadows (The Orphan Queen #2)

Wilhelmina has a hundred enemies.

HER FRIENDS HAVE TURNED. After her identity is revealed during the Inundation, Princess Wilhelmina is kept prisoner by the Indigo Kingdom, with the Ospreys lost somewhere in the devastated city. When the Ospreys’ leader emerges at the worst possible moment, leaving Wil’s biggest ally on his deathbed, she must become Black Knife to set things right.

HER MAGIC IS UNCONTROLLABLE. Wil’s power is to animate, not to give true life, but in the wraithland she commanded a cloud of wraith mist to save herself, and later ordered it solid. Now there is a living boy made of wraith—destructive and deadly, and willing to do anything for her.

HER HEART IS TORN. Though she’s ready for her crown, declaring herself queen means war. Caught between what she wants and what is right, Wilhelmina realizes the throne might not even matter. Everyone thought the wraith was years off, but already it’s destroying Indigo Kingdom villages. If she can’t protect both kingdoms, soon there won’t be a land to rule.

I can hear my friends that love this series readying their pitchforks already -- and that's before I admit how little I made it into The Mirror King before throwing in the towel. I was a tentative but mild fan of book one, but when I found myself with entirely bored or just unimpressed by the events here in book two, I was out by page 200. I just... don't care about Wil and all her badly named friends. I want to like these books more than I actually do and I don't feel the slightly bit sad missing out on how things fall out here.

The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen

A passionate summer love story about a girl, her childhood best friend recently released from juvie, and the small-town lies that have kept them apart. A teen romance debut with a dark edge.

Liz Grant is about to have the summer of her life. She and her friend MacKenzie are getting invited to all the best parties, and with any luck, Innis Taylor, the most gorgeous guy in Bonneville, will be her boyfriend before the Fourth of July.

Local teen convict released early.

Jason Sullivan wasn’t supposed to come back from juvie. A million years ago, he was her best friend, but that was before he ditched her for a different crowd. Before he attacked Innis’s older brother, leaving Skip’s face burned and their town in shock.

“Everything is not what you think.”

Liz always found it hard to believe what they said about Jason, but all of Bonneville thinks he’s dangerous. If word gets out she’s seeing him, she could lose everything. But what if there’s more to that horrible night than she knows? And how many more people will get hurt when the truth finally comes out?

“You’re the one person who believes in me.”

Leah Konen’s southern romance swelters with passion as it explores the devastating crush of lies, the delicate balance of power and perception, and one girl’s journey to find herself while uncovering the secrets of so many others.

I wasn't too sure this was a book to my liking from the start of the description -- Katie McGarry style drama rarely works for me -- and I was proved right early on. This book is a lot of drama based on a lot of my least favorite YA tropes: miscommunication, willful misunderstandings, and love triangles that exist for nothing more than pure melodrama. I had a feeling about how things would play out and I skimmed to the end to see I was indeed right. So not only is this book tedious, it's predictable, too.

The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearlsey

1205 - the town of Chinon is beseiged by enemies of King John, and his young Queen calls upon a trusted servant to conceal her treasured jewels.

Emily Braden is intrigued by the medieval story of Queen Isabelle, and cannot resist when her cousin Harry, a historian, suggests a trip to the white-walled town of Chinon, nestling in France's Loire Valley. But when Harry vanishes and Emily begins to search for him, she stumbles across another intriguing mystery -- a second Isabelle, a chambermaid during the Second World War, who had her own tragedy, and her own treasure to hide.

As Emily explores the ancient town of labyrinthine tunnels, old enmities, and new loves, she finds herself drawn ever closer to the mysterious Isabelles and their long-kept secrets.

I usually love Kearsley's brand of timeslip fiction -- she's detailed and writes fantastic chemistry between characters --  but found this to be a hard sell. I liked the main character of Emily enough, but I found myself setting the book down for days at a time with no motivation to dive back into her story.  I think the issue was with my reading mood so this is not a permanent DNF -- just a placeholder until I feel like this kind of a read.

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat's mother's oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah's doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat's skeptical father can't deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family's Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina's side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act -- with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.

American Dervish is a brilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life. Ayad Akhtar was raised in the Midwest himself, and through Hayat Shah he shows readers vividly the powerful forces at work on young men and women growing up Muslim in America. This is an intimate, personal first novel that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

I made a goal of reading my old galleys before the end of this year, and American Dervish was one of the ones I have had here for years untouched. It's a quick read and I was interested in Mina and Hayat and how their stories would continue but my interest began to falter once Mina beings dating and Hayat's actions start to spiral. There's not a lot of depth for the characters, or for their lives. I am not sure how accurate it will be in its representations of Islam's culture and nuances, but for me, it was a book that just work.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

 The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby's past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that's left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It's a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she's all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer... and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren't sure they needed in the first place: love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended. Can they find what they need before it's too late?

So this is a weird moment for me as a reader and as a reviewer. I apparently read this book as an ARC in 2014, but I have absolutely no memory of it or how I felt about it currently. So, I decided to "reread" it and... found myself in the curious position of wanting to DNF a book I've already read and forgotten.  There's nothing offensively wrong with Lost Lake -- it's a quiet, probably lovely adult general fiction read. But I was quite bored from the moment that Eby and Kate's stories inevitably met. It feels formulaic and very similar to what Sarah Jio does in her brand of writing, and I didn't care enough to read past 200 pages.

Queen Elizabeth's Daughter by Anne Clinard Barnhill

From the author of At the Mercy of the Queen comes the gripping tale of Mary Shelton, Elizabeth I’s young cousin and ward, set against the glittering backdrop of the Elizabethan court.

Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.

Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds.

I was admittedly far from fond of the author's debut historical novel when it came out a few years ago, but I thought to give her sophomore effort a try to see if there had been any improvement. It took only about seventy pages into Queen Elizabeth's Daughter before I could be totally sure that this author still stumbles when it comes to writing this genre. Her characterizations are broad, her dialogue clunky, and her plotting familiar and nothing special. This is a tedious read and fails to make use of its premise -- which has already been explored a myriad number of times. 

So that's it for me for unfinished reads of the last two months! I've been doing pretty good at DNFing books that just aren't working and I think bouncing between genres and age ranges keeps me from reading slumps. Other readers mileage will of course vary but I don't regret my DNFing ways at all. 

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