All posts by jaleenajo

March Reading Wrap-Up

I’m a little late with my March wrap-up since I’ve been dealing with the flu all week, but we’re finally here! March was sort of an OK reading month for me; I read a bunch of 4-star reads but no 5-star reads and no new favorites. Here are my stats:

Total books read: 9

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 1

2019 releases: 5

ARCs: 1

Find Me by Laura van den BergMy Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan BraithwaiteJane Doe by Victoria Helen StoneThe Gilded Wolves by Roshani ChokshiDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins ReidOn the Come Up by Angie ThomasNever-Contented Things by Sarah PorterNightchaser by Amanda BouchetCall Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit

Call Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit (4 stars) – This was my third Solnit book, and although it was good, it was my least favorite of the three (the other two being Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions, both of which I gave 5 stars to). This collection focuses on how language can be utilized to either elucidate or hide the true meaning of actions and events, and it covers a wide range of contemporary political issues, from the removal of Confederate monuments to police brutality to the general truth-obscuring tendencies of the Trump administration. Unfortunately, I did find the collection to be somewhat uneven; while some of the essays were fascinating, detailed, and focused, others were far too broad and discussed issues in terms too general for me to find helpful. I’d still recommend this book and absolutely Solnit as a writer, but this collection overall fell short of my expectations, which may have been unfairly high.

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter (4 stars) – I was lucky enough to be able to read an eARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley, and I ended up finding it disturbingly entrancing. You can read my full review here.

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (4 stars) – I’m often wary of the hype surrounding new releases (I’ve been burned before!) but when I heard that the audiobook of Daisy Jones & the Six was done with a full cast and that the story was told in an unconventional interview format, I was in. I’ve always struggled to listen to audiobooks; I have a hard time processing books this way in a lot of cases, so I’m always trying to find books that are more like people telling me stories, because that’s the way I’ve found it best to listen. And it worked. Seriously, take it from an audiobook struggler–this is a fantastic production. I felt like I really got to know the characters better because their voices fit with them so well (particularly Daisy), and it was a great way to absorb a book that’s all about the fact that there are many sides to every story. Audiobook aside, this is also just a really great book. I don’t have a ton of music knowledge, and I’m not particularly familiar with the ’70s (two reasons I initially thought I wouldn’t be interested in this book), but neither of those things affected my enjoyment of the story at all. It’s a book about how flawed people can come together to create amazing art, and I think that’s something we can all find fascinating.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (4 stars) – Genre-wise, this book sits somewhere between literary fiction and mystery/thriller, and it’s one that I pretty much devoured. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a very quick novel that easily sucks you in and forces you to care about two sisters, each with quite a few issues, and the fact that one can’t seem to stop killing her boyfriends. I recommend the audiobook, which is how I consumed this novel, although I think it would be addicting in any format.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (4 stars) – If, like me, you enjoy books featuring a band of misfits teaming up for a secret adventure, you’ll probably enjoy The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi. This YA fantasy set in a magic-infused 1889 Paris follows six teens: Severin, who’s out to reclaim his birthright as the head of one of Paris’s ruling magical families; Laila, whose pastry chef skills are matched only by her dancing abilities; Tristan, Severin’s younger brother with a penchant for plant magic and a pet tarantula; Enrique, a brilliant historian; Zofia, a neurodiverse engineer; and Hypnos, the patriarch of a magical House none of them are sure they can trust. Together, they band together to plot a heist, take back what’s theirs, and maybe save the world in the process. While I did find the plot disjointed at times and the mythology was a bit confusing, I overall very much enjoyed the read and will definitely be looking to pick up the sequel. Great for fans of Six of Crows, although much less violent.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (4 stars) – I was really lucky to be able to attend an event last year where Angie Thomas spoke at our local museum; she’s one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen, and her accomplishments are especially impressive considering how young she is. Along with pretty much every other YA reader, I loved The Hate U Give, and was interested to see what her next book would bring. I may have actually liked On the Come Up even more than The Hate U Give; protagonist Bri is captivating and relatable, and we get to see her try to realize her dreams while also dealing with the reality of her family’s financial struggles. I both read the physical book and listened to the audio version, which is fantastically done by my favorite audio narrator, Bahni Turpin, and would definitely recommend it to adult and YA readers alike.

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet (3.5 stars) – I think this was my first time reading a science fiction romance, and I found that I quite enjoyed it as someone who enjoys both of those genres. I tried Amanda Bouchet’s fantasy romance series last year and really appreciated her worldbuilding and female main character, but stopped after the second book as I really wasn’t a fan of the male lead, but she’s been an author I’ve been wanting to try again and I’m glad that I did. Nightchaser follows spaceship pilot Tess, a fugitive with a mysterious past who’s on the wrong side of the law for trying to help the rebels against the notorious Dark Watch, mainly by providing food and medical supplies to orphans. After a particularly daring endeavor she runs into Shade, a self-described space rogue who she quickly develops a connection with. The two of them, together with Tess’s ragtag crew, find themselves on an adventure and  a mission that could have ramifications larger than they’d dreamed of. It was a fun, fast-paced read with plenty of action alongside the flirtation, and although the plot was quite clumsy in places, I do plan to continue with the rest of the series to see what happens next.

Find Me by Laura Van den Berg (3 stars) – I went into this book fully aware that it has a very low Goodreads rating (one of the lowest of any books on my Goodreads shelves), but since I’ve tended to disagree with books’ average Goodreads ratings in the past and tend to fairly often have unpopular bookish opinions, I didn’t want to let this dissuade me from picking it up. Unfortunately, I ended up finding this book ultimately very disappointing. I did settle on three stars, since I felt that certain aspects of this book did have a lot of merit, but I also found a lot of things frustrating.

Find Me follows Joy, a 19-year-old living outside of Boston, working the night shift at a Stop-and-Shop, and drinking cough syrup to help herself cope with a traumatic past. When an illness causing memory loss and eventual death sweeps the U.S., Joy demonstrates immunity and is offered a place at a research hospital in Kansas attempting to find a cure. The first half of the novel follows Joy falling into the rhythms of the hospital and distancing herself from her former life and her past, while the second half follows Joy’s search for her mother, who abandoned her at birth, in a meandering road trip across a country still suffering from the shock and devastation of the epidemic.

Here’s my main issue with the book: it just didn’t ever seem to fit together. The book contained a lot of really interesting ideas that I thought could have been explored very well as short stories or even as spinoffs into independent novels, such as the epidemic itself and Joy’s time in the Hospital (which I didn’t feel made sense as being only half of her story), Joy’s experiences in the foster care system, which include her childhood best friend, who is scarred from a childhood accident and always wears a Halloween mask, and a really strange episode during the road trip portion of the story that takes place in a house occupied by a girl with angel wings and a man attempting to perform experiments to find his own cure for the epidemic. Any of these ideas could have been a great independent story if explored enough, but instead it was a struggle for them to connect into a larger narrative in which everything eventually felt anticlimactic. I wanted to care about the epidemic, about the state of the country, about Joy and her childhood best friend, but about halfway through the novel, there was a shift in how the story was being told that made me unsure whether the author was attempting magical realism (which I normally love, but didn’t really seem to fit in this context) or a more weird fiction element. There were too many strange coincidences and too-convenient plot elements for it to be realistic speculative fiction, which is fine, but I’m just not sure what the author was going for. I just wanted the story to commit to something, whether it was a plot point or a storytelling mode, but it never did, and so I left the book feeling underwhelmed.

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone (2.5 stars) – I’m not the biggest mystery/thriller reader, but once in awhile I get in a thriller mood and pick one up. There have definitely been thrillers I’ve really enjoyed over the years; unfortunately, Jane Doe was only okay. I appreciated the discussion surrounding the main character being a sociopath, and I found that aspect of the book very interesting, but the actual plot really didn’t grab me in any way. The reviews for this book are great, so I’m clearly in the minority here, but it just wasn’t for me.

Have you read any of these, or are they on your radar? Let me know in the comments!

April/Camp NaNoWriMo Goals & TBR

It’s April! When did that happen?

April means it’s actually (hopefully) spring, that we’re only 2 months away from BookExpo and BookCon (which I seriously cannot wait for), that I consequently have 2 months left in the book buying ban I’ve placed myself on until that time, and that it’s Camp NaNoWriMo, which is essentially a less structured version of National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November. I’ve set my writing goal for the month at 25,000 words, or half of what the traditional NaNoWriMo goal is, but my actual game plan is to finish the first draft of the fantasy novel I’ve been working on for awhile so that I can start to edit it into something that makes even a little bit of coherent sense. If you guys are interested in NaNoWriMo or what I’m working on, let me know in the comments, and I can try to post about it more.

Since I’m having a writing-centric month, I don’t want to be stressed about choosing books to read or whether or not I’ll enjoy them, so I’ve tried to make a realistically small TBR with a few books I feel fairly confident I’m going to like.

The PiscesMouthful of BirdsPalimpsest

Samanta Scheweblin and Catherynne M. Valente have both given me 5-star reads in the past, Valente in particular during 2 previous NaNoWriMos, and I have a good feeling about The Pisces. There’s also going to be another round of the Tome Topple readathon taking place this month, where the goal is to read books with 500+ pages, and it’s also Dewey’s 24-hour readathon this week, but as I’m not yet sure what I’ll be reading for those I’m not including any readathon books on my TBR.

And these are the NetGalley eARCs that I would like to get to in April, especially because several of them are coming out this month. I don’t know how many ebooks I can realistically devour in a month where I’m trying to write as much as possible, so we’ll see. I’m currently in the middle of the first one, Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which is really funny and adorable so far.

Red, White & Royal BlueThe Devouring GrayA Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals, #3)King of Fools (The Shadow Game, #2)

 

Happy reading!

Book Review: Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

Never-Contented Things

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter (4 stars)

This is a story about love, and about consent. It’s one of those fantasy novels that uses its fantastical elements to emphasize real-world issues and turn them hyper-real, which is one of my favorite things the genre can do. It’s an exceedingly disturbing book at times, not only due to the creepy magical imagery but because it explores how sometimes even the people who love you the most can do terrible things to you.

Never-Contented Things is the story of Ksenia and Josh, foster siblings with trauma in their past who love each other more than anything, and also of their best friend Lexi, who Ksenia has never truly let in the way she wants to. Ksenia, the older sibling, knows that Josh has come to love her in a more-than-brotherly way, but their more immediate problem is their impending separation as Ksenia is about to turn eighteen. Before this can happen, however, their entire reality shifts after the introduction of a group of frighteningly beautiful strangers appears one night at the gorge. I really don’t want to give much away about the plot; I think this is a book where it’s better to let things unfold slowly, because it enhances the disturbing qualities of what in many ways reads like a very dark fairy tale.

It’s beautifully written, with a continuous battle between describing the inhuman and unreal things happening and allowing the reader to realize along with the characters that some of what they’re seeing is too difficult for a rational mind to perceive. It feels like a dream and a nightmare, and I’d highly recommend it to readers of dark fantasy, dark fairytale retellings, and anyone looking for a story to get lost in.

I received an eARC of Never-Contented Things from NetGalley.

Should You Go to BookCon? Belated Recap and Advice

I definitely meant to post this much earlier, as in right when I got back from BookCon 2018, but better late than never! This past year, I was lucky enough to be able to attend BookCon for the second time, and I had an amazing weekend listening to panel discussions given by fascinating and hilarious authors, meeting lovely bookish people, and learning about new and interesting books. I made the last-minute decision to attend BookCon 2017 on a whim and went in with little advance preparation or knowledge about the event, and I think that having already attended once helped me better prepare this time around. I did have just as much fun the first time attending with no prior knowledge, though!

If you aren’t already familiar, BookCon is a 2-day event held at the Javits Center in New York for bookish fans as well as those in the book industry (although book industry people generally are more likely to attend BookExpo, an industry-specific event held in the week before the Con). A lot of emphasis gets placed on the free books aspect of BookCon (and there are free books, it’s true!) but there’s a lot more to it than that. I’ll go through my experiences with BookCon and my favorite parts below, but as a disclaimer, I’m not an expert–I’ve only been to BookCon twice and basically just figured everything out on my own, I don’t work in the book industry, none of this is sponsored in any way, I’m just an avid reader and a fan of all things bookish. As another disclaimer, this post is going to be really long, because a lot happens at BookCon and I have a lot to talk about!

So at BookCon, there’s a gigantic showroom floor with tons of booths featuring different publishers, bookish companies, and independent authors–this is the part of BookCon that I feel gets focused on the most, but it’s not all of it by a long shot. It is really awesome, though; it’s a lot of fun to wander the convention floor and discover different books and creators. There are large mega-booths for the biggest publishing houses, which generally have the biggest crowds, but you’ll also find a lot of awesome smaller and independent publishers and independent authors as well. If you have bookish friends with birthdays coming up, the show floor is the perfect place to shop for them, since a lot of bookish companies are represented and generally have some really great deals and discounts that you can take advantage of; I purchased a Supergirl-themed notebook for a friend at the Insight Editions booth, and a tote bag with a black cat and a stack of books for another friend (who has a black cat, of course) at the Obvious State booth. I also couldn’t resist a tote bag with a bookish quote for myself at the Obvious State booth as well, and I had my eye on a Jaws T-shirt for my dad at the Out of Print booth, but unfortunately they were sold out. As a compensation, though, they were offering $50 giftcards for only $25, so I’ll be able to order him the shirt from their site anyways. Like I said, great deals!

Book-wise, you will also tend to find some good deals at BookCon, although it varies from booth to booth. Some publishers are selling their books for full price; others offer discounts or deals specific to BookCon, and others have giveaways going on at specific times during the weekend. Probably the most popular pricing deal I saw was paperbacks for $5 and hardcovers for $10, but again, this could vary a lot from booth to booth. So, how do you decide what books to purchase at BookCon? Some people purchase full-price books if it means that you can meet the author and get them to sign it; other people will look for giveaways and sales. Personally, I’ll pay full price if it’s supporting an indie author or publisher, and I’m a big fan of the $5/$10 deals as I think that’s a very fair price.

Giveaway-wise, some are publicized beforehand on publishers’ social media pages or via the show guide (which you can pick up once you get to BookCon); some are more spontaneous. Some involve waiting in really long lines; some involve spinning a wheel for a chance to win a prize which may or may not be a book; sometimes books are sitting in piles for you to take; some require a purchase to get a free item. For me personally, I’ve found that giveaways depend a lot on luck and timing, and I think of them generally as a nice and unexpected bonus of going to BookCon rather than something I’d depend on happening, especially for more popular titles which are really difficult to find. I’d say that for the past two times I’ve gone to BookCon, free books comprise about half of the books I end up taking home.

Another cool aspect of BookCon is the autographing sessions. I actually didn’t do a single autographing session in 2017 because I didn’t know about them (again, my trip was very last-minute) but this past year, autographing sessions were posted online a few weeks before the actual BookCon, and you were limited to signing up for 2 per day. Although technically I could have signed up for 4, I ended up only signing up for 3 because these were the authors/books that interested me the most that didn’t conflict with any of the panels that I wanted to go to:

  • Naomi Novik (Spinning Silver) – because I love a good fairytale retelling
  • Charlaine Harris (An Easy Death) – Harris is my most-read author on Goodreads, and her new series sounded great (which it is, I’ve since read An Easy Death and loved it).
  • Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning) – I’d heard a lot of great buzz about this book and author, and the post-apocalyptic concept is always an intriguing one for me.

What might be the most underrated part of BookCon, and is also possibly the best part, are the panel discussions.

Here are the panels I attended, with the names of the panelists (names in bold are authors whose books I’ve read). As you can see, I definitely haven’t read books from every author in the panels I attended; I don’t think that’s at all necessary to do beforehand, and panels are actually a great way for you to find authors you may be interested in reading in the future. Of course, as a fan, you’ll likely want to see authors you already know you love speak as well.

Saturday:

  • Tor Presents: #FearlessWomen in Tor Science Fiction and Fantasy with Charlie Jane Anders, V.E. Schwab, S.L. Huang, and Seth Dickinson – the Tor panels tend to be really fantastic with wide-ranging discussions about politics, feminism, and the importance of awesome female characters.
  • Women of Mystery and Thriller with Sandra Brown, Megan Abbott, Sara Blaedel, Kate Kessler, and Karen Ellis–this was the only panel where I hadn’t read from a single author. Still great.

Sunday:

  • NaNoWriMo: The Power of Writing with Abandon with Susan Dennard, Marissa Meyer, Kami Garcia, Danielle Page, and Grant Faulkner – this was an interactive session, where there was both a panel discussion and a fun part where we were given index cards to create crazy sentences as a group. I found it really inspirational as someone who’s been doing NaNoWriMo for the past two years.
  • Toxic Male Syndrome with Jasmine Guillory, Zoey Castile, Alisha Rai, Sarah Morgan, Megan Frampton, and Claire Legrand – possibly the best panel I’ve ever attended.

(In 2017, I attended two panels: one with Margaret Atwood and the Handmaid’s Tale showrunner in conversation, and one given by Tor with Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz, in addition to other Tor authors).

In general, the quality of panels at BookCon is AMAZING. Panelists discuss interesting and relevant topics, and they usually have the audience both cracking up and thinking deeply about new insights by the time the panel is over. If you do make it to BookCon, I’d say that the panels are the one thing you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

One more thing I’d like to mention about BookCon is the people. Bookish people tend to be awesome in general, and BookCon is a great place to connect with other readers. I met several people standing in line who were so sweet and we shared tips and bookish info with each other; I also met up with people from Litsy on Sunday and attended panels with them. Some people attend BookCon with friends or in groups; I’ve attended by myself both times and it was completely awesome.

So, should I go to BookCon/Is it worth it go to BookCon?

I mean, I can’t really answer that for you, but it depends. I love BookCon and I think it’s a really awesome experience (see all of my gushing above) but it does require you to actually pay for the BookCon tickets, find a way to get to New York, and find a place to stay for at least 1 if not 2 nights. I’m lucky enough to have one of my best friends in New York who loves having people stay with her (and is very understanding about the whole “OK so there’s this thing called BookCon so I was wondering if I could stay with you except I won’t actually be able to hang out during the day” thing; she was actually the one who first suggested I come to BookCon last year when she heard about it and knew of my book obsession. Also, she has a life and a job so while I’m at BookCon she has her own plans and then we meet up afterwards to hang out.) so that means that I didn’t pay for a hotel, which in New York can get really expensive. I also live only a short plane ride away, and with advance notice can usually get a really good deal on a flight. So if you live further away and don’t have anyone in the city you can stay with, the cost of BookCon can really add up. The tickets themselves aren’t that expensive considering that you’re getting access to the show floor, some autographing, and the amazing panels (I paid $55.75 for standard weekend tickets; VIP tickets are more and they tend to sell out fast, but I’ve never even tried to get them) but the actual cost of a trip to New York is what gets you. And again, these are only my opinions–I’m sure that many people who attended BookCon had vastly different experiences from mine, and I’m absolutely sure that most of them probably planned better for it than I did.

 

If you have any questions about BookCon, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! Maybe I’ll see some of you there this June…

February Reading Wrap-Up

Despite the fact that I had a productive reading month in January, and it’s often hard for me to have two productive reading months in a row, I actually did a pretty decent job in February. I read one impactful and devastating 5-star read and several excellent/enjoyable 4-star books over the course of the month, and struck a good balance between reading physical and audiobooks. I also picked up books from a wide range of genres but managed three 2019 releases, in keeping with one of my main reading goals for the year. So even if February was a pretty cold and miserable month in terms of weather, it was still a great month for books.

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks: 2

2019 releases: 3

Short story collections: 1

Five Feet ApartGood and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's AngerUnexpected Stories by Octavia E. ButlerThe Underground Railroad by Colson WhiteheadThe Last Romantics by Tara ConklinChildren of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)The Wicked King by Holly Black99 Percent Mine by Sally ThorneAn Absolutely Remarkable Thing

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (5 stars) – With The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead wrote a book that everyone in America, and the world as a whole, should read. It’s impactful, devastating, and vitally important. The writing is intensely immersive and so skillful as to seem effortless, which underscores the emotional difficulty of reading a book like this. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (4.25 stars) – I listened to the audio of this informative, infuriating book that discusses women’s anger in both a historical and contemporary context, and I thought it was fantastic. There are three books that I know of dealing with similar topics that were released around the same time (Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, which I read last month; this book; and Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly), and I’m slowly making my way through all of them, as getting in touch with one’s anger is especially relevant given the current political situation. I thought that Traister did an excellent job of arguing the case for the importance and power of women’s anger and its crucial status in today’s world.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this 2019 release that follows four siblings over a century. You can check out my full review here.

Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler (4 stars) – Unexpected Stories was the sixth work I have read by Octavia Butler; she’s an author that I eventually want to read everything from. This particular ebook is comprised of a previously unpublished short story and novella that Butler wrote early on in her career, and although it wasn’t the strongest work that I’ve read from her, I still appreciated her skill and the emergence of the themes that haunt all of her works. The novella in particular was powerful and haunting, although it went in a direction I didn’t expect, one that was more optimistic than I had anticipated. It’s a very short book, just a quick snapshot of some of Butler’s early ideas, but it made me feel like I need to dive back into Butler’s longer work sooner rather than later. Her writing remains the one that tends to evoke the most emotional responses in me, and her use of science fiction to tell her stories somehow leaves them feeling more true than realistic fiction.

I was really intrigued by the world of the novella, “An Unnecessary Being,” which is set in a science fictional world where castes are determined by the amount of blue in one’s skin. The leaders of this world, the Hao, are revered for their strength as well as their completely blue status. That, and their rarity, also makes them a commodity and in many ways prisoners of the people who they lead. The story didn’t go the way I expected, but I thought the worldbuilding and sense of unease permeating the story were fantastic. The tone of most of the story reminded me a bit of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by LeGuin. (The plots are very different, though.) I was less intrigued by the short story “Childfinder,” which I wish had been developed more, but I’m really glad I read this bind-up. Octavia Butler is an amazing writer and I know I’ll keep returning to her work throughout my life.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (4 stars)  – This book was a fast, action-packed read with an important message. I got so absorbed in the story and literally could not stop reading it; I don’t remember the last time I read such a long book so quickly. I loved main characters Zelie, an indomitable and impulsive member of a persecuted group of people who have lost their magical abilities and have since faced discrimination and repression, and Amari, a runaway princess facing a cruel awakening to the real world, and felt very invested in their journey. I thought that the book tackled systemic racism and the pervasiveness of bigotry really well, and managed to strike a great balance between heavy topics and fast-paced action. I really wasn’t a fan of the romance, or the male main character, Inan, who changed sides and perspectives too many times, but those were my only real issues with the book. As soon as I finished it, I faced a sudden and intense need to read the sequel, which unfortunately won’t be out until June 4th.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne (3.75 stars) – Along with seemingly everyone else on the bookish internet, I didn’t love this one as much as Thorne’s debut novel The Hating Game, but I did still really like it. In particular, I loved protagonist Darcy, a prickly, sassy photographer/bartender who refuses to let her heart condition dictate her life, and her determination to prove she’s capable of follow-through by sticking around to finish the flipping of her beloved deceased grandmother’s house. I didn’t find her love interest/twin brother’s best friend Tom to be quite as engaging, but it was definitely a cute, enjoyable contemporary romance, which is a difficult thing for me to find.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (3.5 stars) – I listened to this scifi debut on audiobook, and I thought it was a fun, engaging, fast-paced book to listen to; the narrator was great, and it’s a quick read. The protagonist, April May, becomes an unwitting social media celebrity after she discovers the presence of the “Carls,” giant statues that appear simultaneously in cities around the globe and have properties that mark them as something not of this world. As she gains more and more attention and followers, she becomes unmoored from her everyday life and her girlfriend, Maya, and discovers that being famous–and the Carls themselves–maybe aren’t what she predicted they would be. Although I did enjoy this book overall, I wouldn’t say that I thought this book had a ton of depth, and I wish the ending had more of a resolution and wasn’t such a clear setup for a sequel.

The Wicked King by Holly Black (3.25 stars) – I liked this book about the same that I liked The Cruel Prince, which is to say that I overall enjoyed the read, but had quite a few issues with the book overall. Slytherin/Machiavellian protagonist Jude frustrated me perhaps more in this book than she did in the last one, as despite the fact that some of her scheming was very skillful, she continued to make choices that were clearly the wrong ones. I do like the fact that she’s a YA protagonist who is very morally grey, but I think that her supposed skill levels have a lot of inconsistency and she can be a frustrating person to read about. The plot of this book meandered quite a bit, and I found some characters and circumstances a lot more interesting than others. I would have loved more time and emphasis, for example, on Jude’s fae sister Vivi and her human girlfriend, since I think that Vivi’s unconventional choice to live away from the fairy world deserves more exploration. I do plan to pick up the third book in what I assume is a trilogy, and I hope that things go in an interesting direction.

Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry, and Tobias Iaconis (3 stars) – Some aspects of this contemporary YA romance about teens with CF worked better for me than others. I loved the female protagonist, a type-A teen with a popular YouTube channel, and I found her sections really informative and relatable, as an organization nerd myself. I also really appreciated how informative this book was in regard to CF, a disease I really didn’t have much familiarity with prior to reading this book. However, I wasn’t a fan of the male protagonist, who I felt was too much of a stereotypical YA love interest, and a few of the plot decisions toward the end were frustrating. I do think I’ll check out the movie at some point.

 

How did your reading go in February? Have you picked up any of these yet? Let me know!

Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (4 stars)

I had no idea when I started The Last Romantics that I’d end up loving it so much. It’s the story of the unbreakable and transcendent bonds between four very different siblings, and how even their disparate paths in life can never truly keep them apart. It’s a story about what’s really important when the world is shattering around you, and how we grow together and apart from the people who mean the most in our lives.

The story starts in the future, in 2079, when a renowned poet named Fiona Skinner is giving a talk about her work in the midst of a world destabilized by climate change. Her talk turns to her three siblings, her source of love and inspiration throughout her life, and spans a century in its telling. The four Skinner siblings’ reliance on each other is cemented during a period in their childhood known as the Pause, when their mother enters a deep depression and they commit to taking care of one another until she recovers. As they grow older, their bonds are tested by the very different directions they find themselves moving in, but their childhood personalities continue to define them; Renee, the eldest, has always been the smart, responsible one with her life together; Caroline is more emotionally connected with those around her; Fiona, the youngest, buries herself in poetry and words; and Joe, their brother, has always been somewhat of a golden boy, although the cracks in this persona reveal themselves more and more over time.

I don’t usually tend to read books that could be considered family sagas, but I was really drawn to this one because of its emphasis on the bonds between siblings. I wasn’t aware prior to starting this book that there was any type of science fictional element; I have to say that although the science fiction is light, this was a huge plus for me as a lover of SFF. Having climate change woven into the story, and the hints throughout of a future that is far less stable than the world the Skinner siblings initially grew up in, felt very real and gave the story’s emotional bonds even more depth as we feel the fragility of the world. The Last Romantics is beautifully structured, with the story unfolding in bits and pieces throughout the Skinners’ lives, even as we’re given hints of the future world and the story’s telling. The writing throughout is also gorgeously done, with each of the four siblings given equal weight and their stories equal importance, even as Fiona remains our primary narrator. I have to say that I really loved this book; I felt very connected to the story and invested in all of the siblings’ lives throughout. I’ve already been recommending it to people and will be continuing to do so, as I think it’s a book that, with its emphasis on family, can find resonance with just about anyone.

I received an ARC of The Last Romantics from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

January Reading Wrap-Up

That’s a wrap on the first month of 2019, and I’m really happy with how I’ve kicked off my reading year. I set a lot of goals for 2019, and this time, in a shocking twist, I actually attempted to work towards accomplishing some of them. I know, right? Crazy. Specifically, I picked up 2 short story collections and 3 nonfiction reads this month as well as 2 books from my top 10 2019 TBR stack. I also read 1 2019 release, which I loved, and started a fun new YA fantasy series.

January stats:

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks:2

The Mother of All QuestionsEloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her SuperpowerIn an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4)Bad Blood by John CarreyrouRabbit Cake by Annie HartnettGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring BlakeHow Long 'til Black Future Month?A Portable Shelter by Kirsty LoganA Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, #1)A Poison Dark and Drowning (Kingdom on Fire, #2)

How Long Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin (5 stars) – Short version: this book is fantastic and you should read it. Long version: This is the 9th book I’ve read from N.K. Jemisin, and somehow she manages to blow me away every time. Each story in this collection is unique and fully realized, and Jemisin’s talent for world-building is on full display. I’m really in awe of her talent and range, and every time I finish one of her books I can’t wait for the next to be released. Some of my favorites from this collection were “Red Dirt Witch,” “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters,” “Valedictorian,” and “The Narcomancer,” but there really aren’t any weak links in this book. If you’ve never read Jemisin, this is a great introduction to her work, and if you have, you’ll love that some of the stories connect to her novels.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit (5 stars) – This is my second time reading Rebecca Solnit; after I read her other essay collection on feminism, Men Explain Things to Me, I knew that I wanted to read everything she had written. This collection explores different aspects of feminism and the issues that women face and care about in methodically researched, beautifully phrased sentences that elucidate new aspects of very old issues. I would highly, highly recommend it.

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (4.25 stars) – I really loved the fourth installment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series. Check out my full review here.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (4 stars) – I’d seen this nonfiction book recommended over and over, and it absolutely lives up to the hype. Even though it’s nonfiction, it’s incredibly suspenseful; it’s also very detailed and told in such a compelling way. It follows the saga of Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup company founded by Elizabeth Holmes, whose purported mission was to develop the ability to run hundreds of tests on a single drop of blood and make blood testing freely available in the home. Instead, the company was built on a foundation of lies that only got worse with time. Definitely recommend; I listened to the audiobook, which was very well done.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper (4 stars) – In this book, one of three anger-focused feminist nonfiction books I’ve been meaning to read for the past few months, Brittney Cooper succinctly and eloquently describes various aspects of black feminism and the power of women’s anger in a way that’s both intellectual and accessible. I’d highly recommend the audiobook, which is read by the author.

A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan (4 stars) – this is a short story collection framed by the story of two women promising to only tell their unborn child the truth rather than stories, but who then both secretly begin telling the child stories when the other can’t hear them. The stories in this book are mainly magical realism, and Logan’s writing is just as lovely as it was in The Gracekeepers. I really enjoyed it, but wasn’t completely blown away.

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (4 stars) – This book is a great example about how powerful and topical YA literature can be. It follows a girl whose twin brother has been accused of rape by his girlfriend, who is also her good friend, while she also deals with a devastating breakup with the girlfriend she still loves. When she discovers that her brother is actually guilty, which at first seemed unthinkable, she’s forced to confront the pervasive impact of rape culture in her community while simultaneously working through her own trauma. I thought this book dealt with very difficult topics extremely well, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for an impactful contemporary YA read.

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess (3.5 stars) – this is the first book of a Victorian-era YA fantasy featuring a chosen one main character who isn’t actually the chosen one, a drama-filled love square, and a ton of action. I really enjoyed it, so much so that I immediately had to start book 2.

A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess (3.25 stars) – The sequel to Shadow, I still enjoyed this book a lot, but I did feel that certain characters started to develop a lot of inconsistencies. I do plan to continue on to book 3, but I think I’m going to wait a bit.

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett (3 stars) – I didn’t think this was a bad book, but I feel like I’ve read other adult literary fiction books with precocious child narrators that were done better. It’s a quick read, and I did enjoy Elvis and Lizzie as characters, but I wasn’t blown away.

 

Have you read any of these? How did your reading month go?