In September, I managed to finish 6 books, most of which I really enjoyed. They’re also somewhat color-coordinated, which I’m also into, but was weirdly not intentional. Unfortunately, my 5-star drought has not yet ended, despite picking up several books this month that I thought had 5-star potential.
Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (4.25 stars) – I’ve been looking forward to Emerald Blaze since pretty much the minute I finished Sapphire Flames, the first book in Catalina’s trilogy in Andrews’s Hidden Legacy series, and it was great to finally be able to return to this world of dueling magical families in Houston. Catalina and love interest Alessandro have both grown and matured a lot since the previous book, and are able to deal with a new threat together despite lingering resentment. I continue to love Ilona Andrews’s fantastic world building, lovable side characters, and great relationship development, but I enjoyed this one just slightly less than its predecessor.
Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth (4 stars) – I’ve been struggling with how to review this book, because on the one hand I fell completely in love with its premise, main character, and first section, but on the other I felt that it stumbled somewhat with aspects of one plot twist and its ending. You can check out my full review here.
The Wicker King by K. Ancrum (4 stars) – I love books with unconventional formats; if I’m ever on the fence about picking something up, hearing that it utilizes drawings or documents or notes in its narrative will always tip me over the edge. That and several positive reviews were what influenced me to pick up The Wicker King by K. Ancrum, which is about best friends dealing with the fact that one of them is seeing things that can’t be real–another world overlaid over their own, to be specific. In addition to text interspersed with illustrations of the other world, mix CDs highlighting characters’ personalities, and police reports, the book also colors its pages differently as its two main characters become more and more immersed in the alternate reality. I loved how thoughtfully this book was constructed, and also loved its main characters and their intense relationship; I’ll definitely be picking up more from this author in the future.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (3.75 stars) – I’ve read a bunch of Alyssa Cole’s contemporary and historical romances, so of course I jumped at a chance to read a thriller from her, particularly in the fall, which for me is mystery/thriller season. When No One is Watching is set in a close-knit Brooklyn neighborhood threatened by gentrification and follows our protagonist Sydney, who’s reeling from her divorce and subsequent move back to Brooklyn from Seattle, as well as her mother’s illness. Frustrated by the whitewashing of her neighborhood’s history on a walking tour of the area, Sydney gets the idea to develop her own tour that focuses on the area’s Black community, and dives into research with the help of Theo, a new neighbor Sydney isn’t exactly thrilled to have an as assistant. But strange and sinister things are happening in the neighborhood, and Sydney and Theo have to team up to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to protect their community from encroaching threats.
Alyssa Cole creates an extremely strong sense of place and community that grounds When No One is Watching and immediately makes you empathize with its characters and their plight. The side characters in Sydney’s neighborhood were possibly my favorite part of the book; I wanted to see more of all of them, and I also enjoyed the addition of neighborhood online forum posts as a way to track the growing tension between its longtime residents and interlopers. It’s a fantastic depiction of different forms of racism, both overt and insidious, that can affect peoples’ day-to-day lives, and I was extremely invested in the story and, at a certain point, unable to stop reading so that I could finally find out what exactly was going on. It’s a bit of a slow build, but the action-packed ending definitely compensates for the overall slower pace, and I thought that the book’s message was clear and extremely relevant. What I liked least was probably the story’s dual perspective; I liked protagonist Sydney’s chapters, but I could have done without Theo as a POV character, as I didn’t find him as compelling. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you’re looking for a mystery/thriller that’s relevant for 2020.
I received an ARC of When No One is Watching from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare (3.25 stars) – I’ve been reading a lot of Tessa Dare in 2020 (at the moment, she’s tied with Alyssa Cole for my most-read author of the year); her books are fun to read but also so well-crafted, with clever jokes and great chemistry. Even though I liked this one less than I have the others I’ve read of hers, it was still an extremely fun read, particularly the premise: tired of the eight years she’s spent waiting for her fiance to return from the Continent, Clio attempts to get his black sheep brother Rafe to sign a contract releasing her from the betrothal. Unbeknownst to Clio, Rafe has been long harboring feelings for her, but he’s also determined that she’ll still marry his brother, and this begins a battle of wills as Rafe tries to get her excited about the wedding while Clio tries to convince him that she’ll be better off alone and free to run her own castle and business.
Normal People by Sally Rooney (2 stars) – I picked up this book expecting to love it, and unfortunately I really, really didn’t. Normal People was one of the books on my Top 10 TBR for 2020 (I’m trying to finish all of them before the end of the year and am a bit behind schedule), and I’ve been hearing great things about it for so long, as well as about its Hulu adaptation. But this book, for me, did not at all live up to the hype. I was really frustrated with the aspiring pretentiousness of the tone, which never felt natural or authentic, and by its odd structure that repeatedly used the same technique of jumping forward in time several months but then flashing back to what had happened in those prior months, thus completely negating the need for a time jump in the first place. I felt that Marianne’s story and agency were jettisoned in favor of Connell’s in a way that felt regressive and frankly sexist, particularly when it came to the book’s ending, and I thought that making Connell’s character a writer felt very overdone, particularly the passages where he’s trying to make these profound statements about writing and literary readings but just never says anything new or fresh. I don’t actually write negative reviews very often, both because I’m fairly good at predicting what books I’ll like and picking from those, and also because if I’m not enjoying a book I’m very likely to DNF it unless it’s a review copy, but I just had to with this one. The last thing I want to do is take away from anyone’s enjoyment of Normal People; I know that a lot of people really love it, and I wish that I had too. But I really don’t recommend this one if you haven’t tried it yet–there are just so many books out there that do similar things in a better way.