August Reading Wrap-Up

I had an extremely productive reading month in August to round out my reading-heavy summer. I managed to pick up 2 of the books on my Top 10 2021 TBR list (hopefully this way I won’t be scrambling at the end of the year to finish it), read several contemporary romances (those always feel like very summery reads to me) and kept up fairly well with ARCs and review copies sent to me. Let’s get into some stats and reviews!

Total books read: 11

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

ARCs/review copies: 3

The Vanishing Half by Brit BennettAll the Feels by Olivia DadeWhat We Lose by Zinzi ClemmonsThe Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila HarrisThe UnhoneymoonersFortuna Sworn by K.J. SuttonHow the Blessed Live by Susannah M. SmithBattle Royal by Lucy ParkerA Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersSo We Meet Again by Suzanne ParkPeople We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (5 stars) – I absolutely understand the hype surrounding this book; it’s one of those that I kick myself for not having picked up sooner. It’s a character-driven, nuanced historical fiction book following twins whose paths in life vastly diverge after fleeing their small town when one of them disappears to pass as white; we then move ahead to follow the next generation of their family. It talks a lot about racism and gender roles, and the way its chapters skipped across time kept me hooked. Definitely recommend to all types of readers; I’m not normally a historical fiction fan, but it really doesn’t matter when a book is this good.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons (4.5 stars) – Another book that I highly, highly recommend to pretty much anyone. It’s a short character study of a novel that proceeds nonlinearly in the life of a young woman whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s incredibly well-written and authentic, also heavily dealing with themes of identity and not feeling like you belong.

How the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith (4 stars) – Despite the fact that I rated this one 4 stars, I can’t deny that it was a bit of a disappointment for me. It’s set in Canada, with hints of myth, focusing on twins raised in isolation by their father and who split apart to opposite ends of the country as adults. I’m generally a huge fan of short fabulist novels, which this definitely is, and I did feel that the writing was lyrical and poetic, but I didn’t really feel that any of its themes were explored fully enough for it to feel like a complete work.

Fortuna Sworn by K.J. Sutton (4 stars) – I took a chance on this one after seeing it recommended on Tiktok for ACOTAR fans, and the comparison is very apt–there’s fae, a tricky bargain, court intrigue, action, and romance. Protagonist Fortuna is a Nightmare, a being with the power to identify and manipulate fear, and her determination to save her brother against all odds drives the book. 100% going to continue with this series; already started the next book!

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker (4 stars) – I’ve been on a Lucy Parker reading spree ever since The Austen Project helped get me through a rough time last winter, and she’s actually my most-read author of 2021 so far. So I was highly anticipating her newest release, Battle Royal, because not only is it a new Lucy Parker book, but it’s inspired by the Great British Baking Show (which I love!) and is enemies to lovers (my favorite romance trope!). Luckily, this one definitely lived up to my expectations. It’s a cute, well-written romance with great chemistry, well-drawn side characters, and a hero and heroine you can’t help but root for. At times I did think that there were a few too many things going on in the plot, but I overall thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I was sent a free copy of Battle Royal from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (4 stars) – I think that Emily Henry is a great writer who excels at creating lovable characters you can’t help but root for. Although her newest contemporary romance is friends-to-lovers, which isn’t my favorite trope, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and how it was told simultaneously in flashbacks and present day, focused around the vacations that her protagonists formed a tradition of taking together each year. I liked this one slightly less (but only slightly!) compared to her previous book Beach Read, which was one of my favorite romances of 2020, and would highly recommend it to romance readers.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – An optimistic, hopepunk novella set in a far future where humans and robots live completely separately, robots having gained consciousness and choosing to live in nature away from humankind, and humans learning from their mistakes and coming to live in harmony with the environment. A tea monk and a robot become unexpected friends when the robot ventures to learn more about humanity, and the two quickly begin to learn from one another. While definitely not as strong as some of Chambers’s other work, I very much enjoyed the read.

All the Feels by Olivia Dade (4 stars) – The follow-up to Dade’s Spoiler Alert, All the Feels focuses on two of the prominent side characters of book 1: Alex, a charismatic actor in the Game of Thrones-esque show that the series centers around, and Lauren, a therapist who unexpectedly finds herself assigned to Alex as his minder after he’s involved in a scandal and the showrunner wants to keep him out of further trouble. Despite very different personalities–Alex is chatty, silly, and impulsive, whereas Lauren is pragmatic and measured–the two build a strong friendship and eventual romance while helping each other work through various emotional issues.

What I liked: I love the grumpy/sunshine dynamic in romance, as well as forced proximity, so the tropes in this one were definitely right up my alley. Like Spoiler Alert, both protagonists are in their 30s and established in their respective career paths, which I also appreciate as a 30-something myself, and I do continue to like the emphasis on emotional growth present in Dade’s romances. I found Alex in particular a fun and dynamic character, while Lauren was a great balance to his energy. This series also has a fantastic level of nerdiness to it that’s definitely not lacking in this installment.

What didn’t work for me: I had one significant issue with this book, and that’s how Lauren’s physical appearance was continually and negatively focused on. I’m all for romance heroes and heroines who don’t look like the stereotypical supermodel–I think that’s great, and I prefer it that way. But I really disliked how the author described her (over and over and over again) as looking like a bird. (Like, think of how Dee in It’s Always Sunny is referred to as a bird, but dial that up to 1000.) It seemed very unnecessary and a strange thing for the text to fixate on, and because it was so incessant, it was something that continually bothered me throughout the book (particularly as Lauren states it’s a descriptor that does bother her). I don’t think this is a big enough issue to avoid the book altogether, but it’s worth mentioning.

I received an eARC of All the Feels from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park (3.5 stars) – My first read from Suzanne Park, So We Meet Again felt more like a contemporary fiction read than a contemporary romance (which isn’t a bad thing, I just went in expecting more of a romance-focused book). We’re following Jessie, a career-focused 28-year-old who’s unexpectedly laid off from her prestigious Wall Street job and has to move back in with her parents in her hometown in Tennessee. She has a bit of a quarter-life crisis that manifests in her starting her own business and reviving her old YouTube channel, both of which are focused on Korean cooking hacks and specifically geared towards enhancing meal kits and/or making fast, tasty meals for career-focused millennials. While back in her hometown, she also runs into her childhood nemesis Daniel and has to deal with the new chemistry that seems to be developing between them while her new career takes off.

I enjoyed this book; as a fellow driven millennial, I found Jessie to be a very relatable main character and I actually enjoyed the more business-focused trajectory of the book despite the fact that I assumed it would be more of a romance. I normally like the trope of childhood enemies-to-lovers romances, but I found Jessie and Daniel’s chemistry to be a bit lacking, possibly because it wasn’t really given enough time to develop during the book. I did also find that Jessie’s business trajectory seems to progress much more quickly than felt realistic, although as I’m not an entrepreneur, I could be wrong about that! I’d recommend this to fiction readers wanting to dip their toes into romance, or to romance readers looking for a more plot-focused read.

I was sent a free copy of So We Meet Again by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (3 stars) – I’ve been really struggling to find mystery/thriller/suspense reads that work for me lately, and although I’d hoped this would be the exception, it unfortunately wasn’t. I found the premise and the publishing world setting really drew me in, but the plot meandered and the reveal at the end was not as strong for me as it could have been.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (3 stars) – This book was just OK for me. To be fair, it did help me out with some pretty bad insomnia I’ve been having, because being unable to fall asleep at 3am with no audiobook is a terrible feeling, and once I started listening to this one I was able to focus on the story and not my inability to sleep for a bit. There are a few too many coincidences and unbelievable plot points in this one, and I didn’t love that the main character and her twin sister both defined themselves in terms of being either lucky or unlucky, but it was overall an entertaining listen.

Summer TBR Smash-Up Readathon Recap

I decided to continue on with my reading tracking during the Summer TBR Smash-Up readathon this week, since I felt like I was on a roll after Bout of Books. Maybe 2 straight weeks of readathons will help me finish off strong in my August reading; maybe I’m just enjoying tracking my daily reading stats. Either way, let’s do it!

I had an unexpectedly insane week at work (not that work is ever not busy for me, but still) and I felt like tracking my reading helped keep me balanced in a way. During the weekend, I was thankfully able to catch up on some sleep, work out, see family, and read even more (although I read literally nothing on Sunday, oops). Let’s get into the stats!

Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1)So We Meet AgainA Cathedral of Myth and Bone

Day 1

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 84 pages of Battle Royal by Lucy Parker, 14 pages of A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Day 2

Books started: So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park

Books finished: Battle Royal, A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Pages read: 131 pages of Battle Royal, 75 pages of So We Meet Again, 107 pages of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Day 3

Books started: A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

Books finished: None

Pages read: 115 pages of So We Meet Again, 38 pages of A Cathedral of Myth and Bone

Day 4

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 87 pages of So We Meet Again

People We Meet on VacationRestless Slumber (Fortuna Sworn, #2)

Day 5

Books started: People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry

Books finished: So We Meet Again

Pages read: 63 pages of So We Meet Again, 50 pages of People We Meet on Vacation, 60 pages of Restless Slumber

Day 6

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 106 pages of People We Meet on Vacation, 32 pages of A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, 36 pages of Restless Slumber

Day 7

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: None

 

And here are my stats for the readathon as a whole:

Books finished: 3

Battle Royal by Lucy ParkerA Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersSo We Meet Again by Suzanne Park

Books read from, but not finished: 3

A Cathedral of Myth and BonePeople We Meet on VacationRestless Slumber (Fortuna Sworn, #2)

Total pages read: 998 (!)

 

Bout of Books: Days 5-7 and Wrap-Up!

Like I expected, I wasn’t as productive with my reading during the last 3 days of Bout of Books. I did still manage to get a bit of reading done while enjoying a trip to Chicago to visit family; highlights included seeing an improv show at The Second City and eating at Little Goat and Sugargoat, two restaurants owned by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard (I love Top Chef, and her food is AMAZING).

Here are my stats for the rest of the readathon:

Day 5

Books started: A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Books finished: None

Pages read: 26 pages of A Psalm for the Wild-Built, 50 pages of Battle Royal

Day 6

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 57 pages of Battle Royal

Day 7

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: None

 

Overall readathon stats:

Books finished: 3

The Unhoneymooners by Christina LaurenFortuna Sworn by K.J. SuttonHow the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith

Total pages read: 594

Books read from, but not finished: 3

Restless Slumber (Fortuna Sworn, #2)Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1)

Audiobook time: 4 hours

Bout of Books Updates: Days 1-4

So I’m dividing my Bout of Books blogging for this round into two parts: days 1-4 and then days 5-7, because on Friday (aka day 5) I’m leaving for a long weekend to go visit my brother in Chicago, and I won’t be able to post any updates until I get back. I’m not expecting to get a ton of reading done while I’m there, but I’ll probably at least do a little plane reading, and I still want to participate in the readathon even if it’s only a teeny tiny bit.

Now for my days 1-4 updates!

I’m honestly pretty impressed with my reading this week so far; I really wasn’t sure how much I would get done, but I was able to jumpstart the week on day 1 since I was off work that day. Mixing up my reading between physical books, audiobooks, and ebooks has also been helpful, as has the discovery of a new series that I’ve gotten really into (the Fortuna Sworn series, which I heard about on Booktok as a recommendation for ACOTAR fans). Most surprising to me is probably the fact that I finished 1 book each on the first 3 days of the readathon, which pretty much never happens for me (to be fair, I’d started them all prior to the readathon, but still!).

Fortuna Sworn (Fortuna Sworn, #1)The UnhoneymoonersHow the Blessed Live

Day 1

Books started: None

Books finished: The Unhoneymooners

Pages read: 225 pages of Fortuna Sworn, 31 pages of How the Blessed Live

Audiobook time: 4 hours of The Unhoneymooners

Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)Restless Slumber (Fortuna Sworn, #2)

Day 2

Books started: Battle Royal, Restless Slumber

Books finished: Fortuna Sworn

Pages read: 18 pages of Fortuna Sworn, 22 pages of Restless Slumber, 20 pages of Battle Royal, 40 pages of How the Blessed Live

Day 3

Books started: None

Books finished: How the Blessed Live

Pages read: 50 pages of How the Blessed Live, 40 pages of Battle Royal

Day 4

Books started: None

Books finished: None

Pages read: 15 pages of Battle Royal

Bout of Books TBR

Grab button for Bout of Books

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 16th and runs through Sunday, August 22nd in YOUR time zone. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are reading sprints, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional. For all Bout of Books 32 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

It’s time for another round of the Bout of Books readathon! I love this one because it’s low pressure and lasts a full week, so even if I have things going on there’s usually time to get some reading done. This time, I’m really not sure what my reading is going to look like–I’m working Tuesday through Thursday and then leaving on a little trip to Chicago Friday, and won’t return until next Monday night. So with the trip and packing there is a non-zero chance that I’ll end up throwing in the towel halfway through the readathon. But hey, let’s try anyways!

I’m currently reading several books that I’d like to finish and/or make progress on during the readathon:

How the Blessed LiveFortuna Sworn (Fortuna Sworn, #1)The Unhoneymooners

This weekend I started How the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith (fabulism), Fortuna Sworn by K. J. Sutton (fantasy/romance), and The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren (contemporary romance).

I also have a few in mind that I’d really like to start in the near future:

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1)Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)The Heart Principle (The Kiss Quotient, #3)

Next up on my radar are A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (science fiction), Battle Royal by Lucy Parker (contemporary romance) and The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (also contemporary romance).

July Reading Wrap-Up

July was a productive reading month for me, but unfortunately I didn’t end up finding any new favorites or 5-star reads. I did, though, read several ARCs, plenty of romance, a few nonfiction, and several great 2021 releases. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Reading stats

Total books read: 12

ARCs/review copies: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

Hang the Moon by Alexandria BellefleurTalk Bookish to Me by Kate BromleyWitches Get Stitches by Juliette CrossTeddy Spenser Isn't Looking for Love by Kim FieldingAct Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia HibbertOut of Character by Annabeth AlbertSweep with Me by Ilona AndrewsIt Happened One Summer by Tessa BaileyYou Play the Girl by Carina ChocanoReasons to Stay Alive by Matt HaigFor the Wolf (Wilderwood, #1)The Humans by Matt Haig

Witches Get Stitches by Juliette Cross (4 stars) – I love this series so much. In the third installment of Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, which focuses on a family of witch sisters living among the supernatural community of New Orleans, we’re following tattoo artist, new business owner, and prickly psychic witch Violet, who’s fighting feelings for werewolf musician Nico despite a past hookup since her psychic readings show that a relationship between them isn’t in the cards. Along the way, we get plenty of appearances from Violet’s sisters (and hints of relationships to be focused on in future books) as well as their sweet, supportive family dynamics; drama and adventures among New Orleans’ various species of supernaturals; and watch Violet develop a new type of spell related to her tattoo artist skills. The romance in this story is fantastic; it rivals the first book in the series, Wolf Gone Wild, for my current favorite. I loved Violet and Nico together but at the same time could very much understand Violet’s hesitance to get involved with him due to her ominous tarot card reading about their relationship. I can’t wait for the next books in this series! I received an eARC of Witches Get Stitches from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (4 stars) – I was a bit hesitant to pick up this nonfiction book about depression, which turned out to be part memoir, part information and discussion about different aspects of depression, because as someone who’s struggled with depression, I can be a bit picky about how it’s talked about in books. Haig’s take, however, is wholly genuine; his descriptions of his experiences will ring true to anyone who has struggled or is struggling with depression. His goals with this book–to remind people that they’re not alone, and that the world is better with them in it–never feel like they’re being depicted artificially or condescendingly, which I very much appreciated. I’d recommend this to anyone with a history of depression; the audiobook narrated by the author is particularly good.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I really, really enjoyed this enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance, which is also the third and final book in Hibbert’s Brown Sisters series. I’m actually not sure anymore which book is my favorite of the series (between this one and Dani’s book) but I definitely know that this is one of my favorite romances of 2021 so far. Eve, the youngest Brown sister, has a history of many jobs and career paths without ever finding the right one for her, and after her parents step in to try and take control of her path forward, she stumbles upon a job opening for a chef at a B&B while fleeing the upsetting situation. Unfortunately, however, she accidentally hits grumpy B&B owner Jacob with her car in the process, which means that Jacob is reluctantly forced to hire her to help him out while he recovers from his injuries. Their romance is very sweet, as they discover that they have more in common than was initially apparent, and Eve gradually comes to realize that she might just have found the place for her after all. I can’t wait to read even more from Talia Hibbert; I believe that her next series is going to be a spinoff from the Brown sisters set in the small town where the B&B is located, and I’ve picked up a few from her backlist too.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten (4 stars) – I really enjoyed reading For the Wolf, a fantasy constructed around the concept of a mysterious and ancient forest that demands a sacrifice in exchange for keeping its monsters locked inside–a sacrifice in the form of the Second Daughter of the queen, who is marked as being “for the Wolf, and the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.” Our Second Daughter protagonist Red is determined to fulfill her role, although not for the reasons we might think; likewise, the Wolf she meets in the Wilderwood is not the monster everyone expects. I really enjoyed the magical, enigmatic Wilderwood, the dynamic between Red and the Wolf, the growing complexity of the plot, and the earthy magic system. I’d recommend this to readers who enjoy fantasy with intrigue and a bit of romance!

I received a free copy of For the Wolf from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Out of Character by Annabeth Albert (3.5 stars) – The second gamer-centric m/m contemporary romance I’ve read from this author wasn’t quite as strong as the first, Conventionally Yours; I wasn’t quite as attached to either of the main characters as I was in the first book. That being said, overall I still enjoyed this audiobook and will keep an eye out for what Albert publishes in the future.

Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews (3.5 stars) – Since Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors, my standards for their writing may be a bit high; unfortunately, although this was a fun return to the world of the Innkeepers and their intergalactic guests, it wasn’t my favorite of theirs.

Hang the Moon by Alexandria Bellefleur (3 stars) – The sequel to Bellefleur’s stellar f/f contemporary romance Written In the Stars, Hang the Moon features Stars protagonist Darcy’s younger brother and best friend falling for each other while their friend group attempts to convince the best friend to move to Seattle. I really loved getting to see more of Darcy and Elle as a couple, and I think that the friendship dynamics here were really sweet, but I wasn’t overly a fan of Brendan and Annie’s romance.

You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano (3 stars) – A nonfiction book about gender roles and how they are influenced by pop culture that unfortunately wasn’t overly successful for me. I’ve read a lot about this and related topics in the past, and I didn’t feel that this book brought up any new insights or arguments; I also felt like the author spent too much time in pop culture discussion and description and not enough time drawing conclusions or doing analysis.

The Humans by Matt Haig (3 stars) – After reading Haig’s nonfiction book centered around depression, I was drawn to immediately pick up another book by him. This one didn’t work quite as well for me. It’s a great concept–an alien comes to Earth for the first time disguised as a human and has to learn about humans while simultaneously erasing any knowledge of a mathematical theorem that could lead humankind to advance technologically before they are ready–that I didn’t feel was explored enough to be successful. I also really could have done without the romance that the alien forms with the wife of the man whose body he’s wearing.

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey (3 stars) – A fish-out-of-water contemporary romance following Piper, an L.A. party girl, whose antics get her banished to a small town in Washington where crab fishing, not designer labels or social reputation, is the center of life. Not only that, but it’s where she and her younger sister Hannah, who accompanies her for her banishment, grew up with their father, who passed away when they were young and who they no longer remember. Through connecting with her roots, Piper meets crab ship captain Brendan, a gruff, set-in-his-ways-never-leaving-this-small-town kind of guy, and the two rapidly fall for each other despite their differences.

I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to write this review, because I had very mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed the majority of my reading experience–I think that Tessa Bailey has a fun, compelling, easy-to-follow writing style; I liked the development of Piper and Hannah’s relationship to their father’s town and its interesting side characters; I liked Piper’s growth and new belief in herself as someone other than just a party girl; and I really liked music nerd Hannah and the potential for her story in a future book. But I was really put off by the rigid gender roles Bailey portrays in this book, and the consistently gendered language she used on a repetitive basis anytime there was an interaction between Piper and Brendan. I just don’t think that in 2021 we should be enforcing the ideas that “men are like this, and women are like this” without any acknowledgement of people who fall outside the gender binary, or of men and women who don’t fit the prescribed roles that society may set for them. It’s not only that this is mentioned once or twice either–it’s a constant throughout the story that left a bad taste in my mouth despite an otherwise enjoyable read. For that reason, I’d caution readers about this element before picking this one up, even though there were a lot of things I did like about the story.

I received an eARC of It Happened One Summer from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love by Kim Fielding (3 stars) – A cute but imperfect contemporary romance between a designer and a programmer working at the same startup who are sent to woo a potential investor despite the fact that they’ve never really gotten along. It’s not really enemies-to-lovers as advertised (it’s too sweet for that), and although I did enjoy the read, I wasn’t blown away by it.

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley (2 stars) – I was really disappointed and frustrated by this one. It’s a contemporary romance with an author/bookstagrammer main character (although the bookstagram components felt very much shoehorned into the story), but unfortunately I really couldn’t root for the main couple to be together. At all. They were both fairly frustratingly terrible people, but the love interest in particular was condescending and treated the main character terribly. To be fair, it’s a second chance romance, which is definitely not my favorite trope, but I really can’t at all recommend this book.

June Reading Wrap-Up

In June, I focused my reading on books featuring LGBTQIA+ authors and/or main characters, and I found some fantastic reads in the process. I did a lot of audio/ebook reading this month, picked up several 2021 releases, and also found a new favorite for the year. Let’s get into the stats!

Reading stats

Books finished: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 1

Detransition, Baby by Torrey PetersThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia WaiteSomebody's Daughter by Ashley C. FordThe Weight of the Stars by K. AncrumConventionally Yours by Annabeth AlbertThe Navigator's Touch by Julia EmberOne Last Stop by Casey McQuistonThe Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat SebastianPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth (5 stars) – I LOVED THIS BOOK. Books featuring stories within stories are very difficult to do, and even more difficult to do well, but this one knocked it out of the park. In the early 1900s, two girls in love die under mysterious circumstances at a boarding school in New England, and in modern-day L.A., a renowned horror filmmaker is adapting a book about them written by former wunderkind writer Merritt into a movie featuring it girl Harper and former child star Audrey. Chapters alternate between past and present, with clever and mysterious footnotes dotting the pages as well as relevant illustrations. There’s a hint of creepiness, but mostly I just found the book fascinating, and despite its length I flew through it because I just absolutely had to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Brookhants, the boarding school at the center of the puzzle. This book also featured some of my favorite characters I’ve read about in 2021 so far; I loved every single scene with Audrey, Harper, and Merritt.

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford (4 stars) – An extremely well-written, emotionally charged memoir about Ford’s life, but with a focus on her relationship with her father, who has been imprisoned for almost her entire life. I listened to the audiobook, and found this powerful and well-told, but I wished it was longer and that certain aspects had been explored more thoroughly.

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian (4 stars) – A funny yet emotional M/M historical romance between a semi-retired highwayman/shady cafe owner and the son of a nobleman. It’s an opposites attract romance featuring some very woke crime scheming as lord’s son Percy attempts to thwart a blackmailer by learning the art of highway robbery from Kit; I listened to the audiobook and very much enjoyed it. I’m wondering if there will be a companion novel featuring two of the book’s side characters in the future; if so, I’ll definitely be picking it up.

Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert (4 stars) – A very sweet, nerdy contemporary romance that I listened to on audio, centering around a friend group that plays a popular fantasy card game and makes YouTube videos with their professor/mentor. Down-on-his-luck sweetheart Conrad and prickly/brilliant Alden find themselves on a road trip to a convention together and in the process go from frenemies to falling in love. It’s a really cute read, and I’d definitely recommend it.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (4 stars) – There’s always a little trepidation–along with all the excitement–associated with picking up a new book by a previously loved author. Since, along with many of us on bookstagram, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue is one of my all-time favorite romance reads, I was both excited and nervous about One Last Stop. I ended up really enjoying the read; it has a lot of what I loved about RWRB (fantastic characters, both protagonists and side characters, as well as a super-sweet romance) but is also very different in terms of plot and structure, which was the aspect I liked a bit less. Without giving too much away, former child detective and new New Yorker August meets a mysterious and gorgeous girl on the subway, and soon finds herself enmeshed in a mystery surrounding the intriguing Jane Su. There were times that I got a bit frustrated with stagnancy in the plot (but, to be fair, I’m definitely more of a character-focused reader than a plot-focused one), but the strength of August and Jane as characters kept me enjoying the read. (I also have to shout out Niko, my favorite side character, who’s one of Jane’s roommates and also a psychic.) If you’re looking for a cute romance with a twist, I’d definitely recommend this one.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (4 stars) – A character-driven contemporary novel centered around Reese, a trans woman; her ex, Ames, previously Amy, a trans woman who has since detransitioned; and Ames’s new girlfriend and boss, Katrina, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and forces all three characters to confront what they are looking for in terms of family and relationships. I thought that this book was a great deep dive into the world of these characters, but I wasn’t a fan of the ending.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (4 stars) – A very sweet historical f/f romance featuring an astronomer and a widow with artistic talent. This one is full of discussions about astronomy, art vs. science, and feminism in a historical context, all of which I very much enjoyed. I’m looking forward to reading more historical romance from this new-to-me author.

The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum (4 stars) – A sweet, space-centric YA contemporary featuring a found family/band of misfits lead by Ryann, who is caring for her younger brother and his baby after their parents passed away. When surly newcomer Alexandria shows up in her history class, Ryann is fascinated despite herself–particularly when she is drawn into Alexandria’s mission to obtain messages from her mother, who left on a space voyage she’ll never return from right after Alexandria was born. I loved Ryann as a main character and thought the book’s ending was gorgeously done.

The Navigator’s Touch by Julia Ember (3 stars) – The sequel to Ember’s Norse mythology-inspired YA fantasy romance The Seafarer’s Kiss, Navigator focuses on young Viking warrior Ragna and her quest for revenge upon the people who destroyed her village and killed her family, while she also juggles her relationship with mermaid Ersel and a rebellious crew. Although I enjoyed its predecessor, I had some difficulty with this one, mainly because it fell into the common YA fantasy issue of having most of the adults be incompetent and/or evil while the teen protagonist is preternaturally skilled at almost everything.

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag!

It’s time for one of my favorite blog posts of the year–the Mid-Year Book Freak-Out tag, created by Earl Grey Books and Chami! I love this way of looking back on my reading over the first half of the year, because it helps me better analyze where I’m at and where I want to go with my reading over the coming months.

Oh, and I always give multiple answers for each question, because I like to be able to feature as many of the books I’ve loved as possible; I try not to repeat books for multiple prompts for the same reason. I’ve also tried to provide links to the books I’ve loved, so that you can check them out if they sound interesting. Let’s get started!

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2021

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle EvansLegendborn by Tracy DeonnBlack Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseTender by Sofia SamatarWriters & Lovers by Lily KingPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Tied for best book of the year (so far) are all of my 5-star reads for the first half of 2021: The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (short story collection), Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (contemporary YA fantasy), Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (fantasy), Tender by Sofia Samatar (SFF short story collection), Writers & Lovers by Lily King (fiction), and Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth (horror).

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021

Headliners by Lucy ParkerA Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore

I know that romance series are more series in a looser sense of the word, but the truth remains that the only sequels I’ve loved so far this year have been in the romance genre. I really enjoyed Headliners by Lucy Parker, the 5th book in her contemporary romance London Celebrities series, and A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore, the 2nd book in her League of Extraordinary Women historical romance series.

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)Act Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3)The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)People We Meet on Vacation

I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t finished ACOSF (fantasy) or Eve Brown (contemporary romance) yet, tbh. To be fair, I have started both, I just somehow haven’t finished them? And the newest Becky Chambers (science fiction) and Emily Henry (contemporary romance) books are high priority for the next half of 2021.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

The Heart Principle (The Kiss Quotient, #3)Comfort Me With ApplesLight from Uncommon StarsAll's WellBattle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1)

SO MANY. I had a lot of trouble narrowing it down at all for this question, so I ended up with a top 6: The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (contemporary romance), Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (unknown genre), Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (science fiction), All’s Well by Mona Awad (fiction), Battle Royal by Lucy Parker (contemporary romance) and A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (fantasy).

5. Biggest disappointment

Fates and Furies by Lauren GroffAcross the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6)Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri ManiscalcoThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Probably the least fun question to answer. I felt let down by the hype surrounding Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff; less enamored by Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire than by any other book so far in the Wayward Children series; not a fan of the underdeveloped plot and characters of Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco; and frustrated by the poor decision-making of the characters of The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon.

6. Biggest surprise

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

I’ve been reading less and less YA in general, and YA fantasy in particular, over the years because I’ve been having a harder time finding favorites in the genre. That’s why even with the hype surrounding Legendborn I was blown away by how amazing it was! It honestly was so good that it’s managed to renew my faith in YA fantasy as a whole.

7. Favorite new author (Debut or new to you)

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonWinter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellThe Body Myth by Rheea MukherjeeFables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras

3 of my answers for this one are stellar debut novels: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (science fiction), Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (science fiction romance), and The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee (contemporary fiction), while one is from a new-to-me romance author, Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras (contemporary Gothic fantasy romance)

8. Favorite fictional couples (technically, this prompt was favorite fictional crush, but I can’t think of any, so I figured I’d instead highlight some of my favorite fictional couples of the year)

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat SebastianConventionally Yours by Annabeth AlbertOne Last Stop by Casey McQuistonNeon Gods by Katee Robert

Kit and Percy from The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian (historical romance), Conrad and Alden from Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert (contemporary romance), August and Jane from One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (contemporary romance) and Hades and Persephone from Neon Gods by Katee Robert (dark fantasy romance).

9. Newest favorite character

Blood Heir by Ilona AndrewsPlain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

Ilona Andrews always gets me with character development. The Julie that we meet in Blood Heir is very different than the one that appeared as a young teen in the Kate Daniels series, but one that I’m absolutely loving as a badass protagonist in her own right. I also loved seeing past favorite characters from the series pop up in this book, which is the first book in Andrews’s newest follow-up series. And I also fell in love with the three heroines of Plain Bad Heroines, Audrey, Harper, and Merritt, who are all such fully realized characters who shine even more when they come in contact with each other on the page.

10. Book that made you cry

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi was so emotional and personal; I’d highly recommend it.

11. Book that made you happy

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallSecond First Impressions by Sally ThorneThe Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert

Romance reads seem to fit best for this category. 3 contemporary romances that were just a joy to read for me were Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne, and The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert.

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

LikesSudden TravelerFlyaway by Kathleen JenningsFor the Wolf (Wilderwood, #1)

These covers are all super gorgeous in different ways! (I went with books I haven’t already featured in past questions for this one.)

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

The Stone GodsAll the Birds, SingingThe Vanishing HalfHow the Blessed Live

So far, I’m exactly halfway done with my top 10 2021 TBR. So in the “need to read before the end of 2021” category, these 5 books are my priorities. (Although there are about a zillion others I really want to get to.)

Bonus question! Most-read authors of 2021 (so far): This is a stat I started tracking last year and I find it really fun. Interestingly, at the halfway point of 2021, I’ve only read multiple books from 2 authors. I’m very interested to see how much that changes in the second half of the year, particularly with several authors I’ve already read from putting out new releases.

Lucy Parker – 3

Headliners (London Celebrities, #5)Act Like It (London Celebrities, #1)Pretty Face (London Celebrities, #2)

Carol Anderson – 2

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial DivideOne Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy

 

 

If you’ve done this tag, please feel free to link to yours below! I love seeing everyone’s answers.

 

June TBR

Since it’s June, aka Pride Month, I’ve decided to focus on reading books featuring LGBTQIA+ authors and/or main characters. I’m really happy with the TBR stack that I’ve put together, but with my mood-reading tendencies and the many great books to choose from, who knows what will happen!

Books from my physical TBR shelf I’d love to get to:

The Weight of the StarsOne Last StopWhen the Moon Was OursPlain Bad HeroinesThe Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)Olympia Knife

2 of these are from my Top 10 2021 TBR (When the Moon was Ours and Plain Bad Heroines); 2 are highly anticipated 2021 releases (One Last Stop and the Becky Chambers).

Audiobooks/ebooks:

Detransition, BabySomebody's DaughterThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics (Feminine Pursuits, #1)

 

Are any of these on your list for June?

May Reading Wrap-Up!

I had an absurdly productive reading month in May, and I’m still trying to process how it happened. I think it was a combination of reading shorter books, reading in various formats on a consistent basis, and participating in readathons and reading challenges. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

May stats:

Total books read: 13 (!)

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 2

ARCs/review copies: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Broken by Jenny LawsonThin Girls by Diana ClarkePretty Face by Lucy ParkerWriters & Lovers by Lily KingWriting into the Wound by Roxane GayDisfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making SpaceThe Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan HeThe Body Myth by Rheea MukherjeeRiot BabyHoney Girl by Morgan RogersRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallNeon Gods (Dark Olympus, #1)The Ex Talk

Writers & Lovers by Lily King (5 stars) – I have a lot of thoughts about this book, but more than thoughts I also just have a lot of feelings. Sometimes I describe 5-star reads as books that make me FEEL THINGS (in all caps, of course) and this is one of those times. I identified so much with Writers & Lovers’s protagonist, who is the same age as me and struggles with anxiety and obsesses about books and writing. I think that almost all aspiring writers will find pieces of themselves and bits of truth in her character. This book made me tear up several times, either because of the emotions in the story as Casey deals with the grief of the loss of her mother, her debts, and her physical and mental health, but also because of the beauty of its writing. The almost-meta, writing-centric themes made me think of Mona Awad’s Bunny, my favorite book, even though they are very different and Bunny is much, much weirder. Sometimes I really hate books with writer main characters, but Bunny and Writers & Lovers both get it right.

Disfigured by Amanda Leduc (4.5 stars) – A nonfiction book that’s part memoir and part analysis of the portrayal of disability in folklore and fairy tales, Disfigured was a powerful and multi-faceted read. LeDuc has a lovely writing style, and I’m interested to pick up her fiction after being impressed by this work. It made me consider the stories I’ve been hearing since childhood in new ways, and it also includes a lot of discussion about contemporary disability rights struggles.

The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee (4.5 stars) – After finishing The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee, I’m really looking forward to reading more from this author. We’re following Mira, whose husband died after less than one year of marriage, and who turns to books and philosophy in her grief to help her make sense of the world. She has a strange, chance encounter with an intriguing couple that ends up drawing her into their orbit and shifting her worldview yet again. I LOVED the beginning and middle of this book, and particularly thought Mukherjee’s writing itself was excellent, but was much less enamoured with the ending. Recommend if you like thoughtful character studies and short books written in interesting, meandering ways.

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall (4.5 stars) – My favorite romance of the year so far! After loving Hall’s Boyfriend Material, my favorite romance of 2020, I was a bit worried that any follow-up would be a letdown; I’m so glad that it wasn’t. Set at a pseudo-Great British Bake-Off show, Rosaline Palmer is a sweet, hilarious, thoughtful book about finding happiness by embracing what we truly love.

Thin Girls by Diana Clarke (4 stars) – I picked this one up because of a recommendation from Roxane Gay, who mentored the author, and I’m not sorry I did. Emotionally, it’s a very difficult read, and I would urge caution if you’re at all sensitive to reading about eating disorders; the main character is severely anorexic and is undergoing treatment throughout the book. I struggled through the first half, in which we become immersed in life at the inpatient eating disorder clinic our main character has been living at for a year, and gradually learn more and more about hers and her twin sisters’ past, particularly in regard to their relationships with food. The story picked up a lot for me in the second half, though, and I found the ending to be extremely satisfying, which lead me to significantly bump up my rating. I’d be interested to see what Clarke writes next.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers (4 stars) – A lovely story about friendship, love, and self-love, Honey Girl is about a young woman suffering from burnout who finds herself abruptly married to a woman she meets one night in Vegas. After finishing her PhD in astronomy, Grace finds herself desperately needing a break before entering the job market, which is already difficult to navigate due to gatekeeping and racism, and she ends up finding herself by spending a summer in New York with her new wife and slowly falling in love with her. The central romance is very sweet, but the gorgeous friendships are given perhaps even more weight, and the story has great messages about the need for self-care and the problems with perfectionism and pushing yourself too hard.

Writing Into the Wound by Roxane Gay (4 stars) – This was a Scribd exclusive audiobook that I believe is technically an essay (it’s only about an hour long) discussing writing about trauma. Gay talks about her personal trauma as well as a course she taught at Yale on the topic; if you like her work, you definitely won’t regret picking this one up. I just wish it was longer!

Neon Gods by Katee Robert (4 stars) – As a huge Greek mythology fan, I’m always looking for great modern retellings of classic myths to pick up; as a romance reader, this was the Hades and Persephone retelling that I’ve been looking for. We have a mysterious modern setup that’s light on magic but heavy on political machinations, with the thirteen main gods and goddesses of Greek mythology recast as the Thirteen, roles that are either lobbied for or inherited and that combine to rule and oversee different aspects of the city. Persephone is trying to avoid the drama and power struggles while planning her escape from it all when she’s unexpectedly forced by her mother, Demeter, into an engagement with Zeus, who has rumored to have killed his previous few wives. Desperate, she flees across the River Styx into the territory of the one member of the Thirteen thought to be only a myth–Hades. The two develop instant, great chemistry, and I loved how they went from reluctant allies plotting against Zeus to much more. The book’s premise is perfect, and it also sets up potential sequels featuring Persephone’s sisters (in this world Psyche, Calliope, and Eurydice, who are traditionally from separate myths) and a whole cast of side characters (my personal favorite was Hermes, who I hope continues to be heavily featured in the series). I had a great time reading this book, and I’m very much looking forward to more Green mythology-inspired romance from Katee Robert.

I received an eARC of Neon Gods from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson (3.5 stars) – This is actually my third audiobook from Lawson, who writes essays that are a combination of funny and serious, mainly about her life in Texas and her mental and physical health. Most of the essays in this collection worked well for me, with one about depression being especially poignant, although some seemed a bit too silly to be believable.

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – the second book in Parker’s London Celebrities series, a contemporary romance series centered on the theater world of London’s West End, but actually the 4th book that I’ve personally read in this series since I read it out of order. My main complaint about this installment is that it has a different audio narrator than the others, and that I unfortunately liked less, but I did like the forbidden romance between a TV actress looking to break into theater and her grumpy director.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He (3 stars) – A scifi YA 2021 release about two sisters, one of whom has disappeared and is trying to survive on a deserted island so that she can find her way back to her younger sister, who lives on a climate-controlled city hovering above the Earth’s surface. I was really interested in this book at first, but gradually lost interest and investment as the story progressed, mainly because I didn’t feel that most of the plot twists worked very well; there was also a romantic storyline that felt very superfluous.

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon (2.5 stars) – A 2021 contemporary romance release that I listened to on audiobook and unfortunately didn’t love. It’s about two rival coworkers who team up to create a radio show that portrays them as exes discussing various relationship-related topics, which in theory could have worked as a premise if executed differently. As it was, I never found the characters to be very well-rounded or believable, and the plot was frustrating, with the romance taking a long time to develop and never really gaining chemistry.

I write about nontraditional beach reads for nontraditional readers