Category Archives: Reading Recaps

January Reading Wrap-Up! (including my NEW FAVORITE BOOK)

I kicked off my reading year in a stellar way this month by reading my NEW FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. Yes, I’m serious. I was in this sort of dazed, I-don’t-know-what-to-feel-anymore state for a good 24 hours after I finished it; I know it may not work for everyone, but it was the perfect book for me, and I know I’ll be revisiting it in the future and saving my favorite passages. I also read a bunch more books from a variety of genres, including the first book in a great new paranormal romance series and the 5th book in a portal fantasy series I love.

Stats:

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 2

My Fake Rake by Eva LeighThe A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa ColeLife of the Party by Olivia GatwoodCome Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireWolf Gone Wild by Juliette CrossFollowers by Megan AngeloUnravel Me by Tahereh MafiCatch and Kill by Ronan FarrowBunnyUnclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting

Reviews:

Bunny by Mona Awad (5 stars) – It’s a quarter to two in the morning, and I think I just read my favorite book. 5 stars. A million stars. All the stars. How, exactly, is this book so good? How did Mona Awad manage to write a book that speaks to me on such an intellectual level, a visceral level? How did she fit so much into just 300 pages? (and HOW is it possible that this book has less than 3.5 stars on Goodreads???)

Bunny is a dark feminist horror novel, a fabulist story about writer’s block, a meditation on loneliness and outsiderness, a story that continuously analyzes itself even as you analyze it, and it’s perfect. It’s exactly the book I want to read.

I don’t know what else to say. Read it.

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire (4.5 stars) – I’ve enjoyed every installment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series, and this one may be one of my favorites. The focus is back on Jack and Jill, twins sent to a horror-movie-monster world populated by vampires, mad scientists, and sea-monster-worshipping cults (one of the strongest and most fascinating worlds McGuire creates in this series) and in a way, it’s about their struggles to become the right kind of monster for that world. Jack enlists the help of several more Wayward Children for a quest (even though they’re banned at their school!) that lets us see the unique perspectives and personalities they each bring to the table. I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi (4.5 stars) (re-read) – The Shatter Me series is one of my all-time favorite YA series, which I partially attribute to the fact that it acted as a form of escapism and stress relief when I was studying for my board exams during grad school. Its escapist qualities hold up well with re-reads, and this was a fun one for me to revisit.

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross (4 stars) – I absolutely loved this paranormal romance featuring witches and werewolves; you can check out my full review here. I received an eARC of Wolf Gone Wild via NetGalley.

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow (4 stars) – fascinating, horrifying, powerful. I thought Ronan Farrow did an excellent job with this account of his reporting on Harvey Weinstein and other related crimes; he’s detailed without being boring, and informative yet personal. He handles a difficult topic extremely well, by letting the gravity of the situation speak for itself, and also interjects a few bright spots of humor, and a few heartbreakingly poignant moments,  with his interactions with his now-fiance (who’s one of the Pod Save America guys!) and his sister Dylan. I think fans of John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood will also enjoy Catch and Kill, as it seems a similar, journalistic narrative style of nonfiction.

Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood (4 stars) – a poetry collection centered around violence against women, ranging from true-crime obsessions with serial killers to violence we horrifyingly come to think of as everyday, mundane. Several of the poems in this collection gave me goosebumps or brought me to tears; it’s somehow simultaneously intimate and universal, always powerful. I’m trying to read more poetry this year and am still finding out what exactly my taste is; this collection, with its clarity but not starkness, is very much it.

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting (3.5 stars) – Alissa Nutting has a very strange, unsettlingly funny writing style that I find works really well for me in some circumstances, and less so in others. I overall really enjoyed her novel Made for Love and several of the stories in this collection; two that stood out for me were “Hellion,” about a woman becoming acquainted with Hell, and dating the devil, after murdering her husband, and “Porn Star,” about a reality show where men compete to have sex with porn stars, but in this circumstance it’s in space.  But not all of the stories straddled the line between uncomfortable and meaningful quite as well, although her creativity throughout was extremely impressive.

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh (3.5 stars) – a cute, fun story about two very nerdy friends who fall in love, My Fake Rake also happens to be only the second historical romance I’ve ever enjoyed. (Is this becoming a trend? A new genre for me? Maybe?) Grace, a herpetologist and a nobleman’s daughter, is pushed toward marriage by her ill father, but the man she’s long admired from afar isn’t showing any interest in her. Undaunted, she turns to her friend Sebastian, an anthropolgist and the son of a wealthy businessman who nevertheless lacks any personal wealth, and asks him to feign interest in her to catch the attention of her crush. Unbeknownst to Grace, Sebastian has long harbored feelings for her, and their experiment forces her to realize that she may have feelings for him as well. I loved both main characters equally, and thought the writing style, as well as the makeover/fake rake storyline (supposedly this author is focusing on turning 80’s rom-coms into historical romances with this series, called the Union of the Rakes–I definitely got Breakfast Club vibes from an introductory flashback scene to Sebastian and his friend group) was a lot of fun. I’ll definitely be looking to pick up the next books in this series.

Followers by Megan Angelo (3 stars) – Although I thought this book had a really interesting premise (and a very relevant one), I was ultimately let down by the flatness of its characters. A full review will be up soon; I received an ARC of Followers from the publisher at BookExpo.

The A. I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole (3 stars) – I love Alyssa Cole’s contemporary romances (the Reluctant Royals series is so much fun!) but I wasn’t as big a fan of this science fiction romance that’s an Audible exclusive. I’m not the biggest fan of Audible or Amazon in general, and generally don’t subscribe, but I did a free trial just to listen to this one; unfortunately, I didn’t feel it was quite worth it for me. It’s near-future SF featuring a romance between a former programmer and the A.I. who moves in across the hall, and although I liked the main character, overall I needed more worldbuilding and action to move the book along.

December Reading Wrap-Up (Last Wrap-Up of 2019!) (Belated)

 

OK, yes, it’s late January, and here is finally my December reading wrap-up, but last year I promised that I’d stop remarking on the lateness of my wrap-up blog posts, so I’d like to take that energy into 2020. December ended up being the month with the most 5-star reads in all of 2019, and I discovered a few new favorites in addition to re-reading one of my favorite YA books of all time. I also picked up several novellas that surprised me, and read a Star Wars book for the first time in many years in preparation for the release of The Rise of Skywalker. Let’s get into the stats!

December reading stats

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 1

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

The Test by Sylvain NeuvelAll Systems Red by Martha WellsNinth House by Leigh BardugoArtificial Condition by Martha WellsGhost Wall by Sarah MossIn Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanAn Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1)A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Resistance Reborn by Rebecca RoanhorseDeathless by Catherynne M. Valente

And now for some reviews!

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (5 stars) – this is now my third 5-star read from Catherynne M. Valente, the previous two being The Refrigerator Monologues and Space Opera, and if she wasn’t already, she’s now been firmly cemented in favorite author status for me. Deathless is dark, disturbing, even disgusting at times, but beautiful in spite of or perhaps because of these elements. Set in Russia, it has so many elements of both history and mythology twisted into its narrative (some I was familiar with, some I was not, but I definitely don’t think you need to be an expert of Russian history to enjoy this book, although you’d probably pick up on some elements I may have missed) but still manages to create something wholly new and unique. It centers around the twisted, myth-based love story of Marya Morevna, who when the story begins is a young girl growing up as Russia turns to communism, and Koschei the Deathless, a villainous god from Russian mythology. They spend years fighting against and falling into the tropes that myth have set for them, meanwhile encountering other memorable figures both historical and mythical. Valente’s writing is so saturated and compelling that you feel completely immersed while at times forced to distance yourself and reflect on what she’s doing with the narrative, which is always something impressively clever. I was absolutely blown away by this book, and I can’t wait to pick up more from her and find out what other worlds she’s created in her books.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (5 stars) (re-read) – Although this is my second reading of In Other Lands, my feelings have not changed since my initial read, so I’m just going to include my original Goodreads review, with a brief addendum at the end:

5 stars is not enough. I loved the crap out of this book. In Other Lands fits right into that niche genre of books that satirize and also pay homage to traditional portal fantasy stories, like Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, or Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, or Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. If you liked any of those, you’ll also probably love this book. We follow Elliott, a young bisexual British boy, who’s given the opportunity to enter the fantasy realm of his dreams–except nothing there is as he expects it to be, and he finds himself constantly challenging society’s expectations and norms. Elliott is extremely intelligent but very difficult in social situations, and he’s constantly butting heads with everyone around him except for his crush, Serene-Heart-In-the-Chaos-of-Battle, a beautiful elf maiden who is also, like all female elves, a deadly warrior. The two of them form an at-first tension-filled friend group with Luke Sunborn, a seemingly perfect stereotypical male fantasy hero, with the three of them gradually becoming closer and learning more about accepting each other’s faults as they progress in their training to join the Border Guard, which acts as a military force policing both the fantasy realm and its border with the human ones.

I will say that if you are a stickler for structured plots, then you may have issues with this book. Personally, as long as I’m enjoying what I’m reading and I love the characters, I could care less about having drawn-out battle scenes or whatever, so it didn’t bother me at all, but I could see some readers taking issue with the fact that the story meanders without following a traditional conflict/resolution fantasy plot struture.

This book is a beautiful story about growing up and learning to challenge traditionally held beliefs, which may not be the right ones, and learning to understand and accept yourself for who you are. It’s about friendship and how people can complement each other while still being from very different backgrounds. It’s about learning your strengths and using them to make the world a better place. It made me laugh out loud continuously and also cry multiple times. It’s one that I can see myself re-reading and enjoying just as much each time. It’s honestly wonderful, and I really hope that more people read it.

Edit: Upon re-read, In Other Lands has become one of my favorite books of all time. You should all stop what you are reading and immediately read this instead, because it’s better.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (5 stars) – I’ve seen some stellar and some disappointed reviews for this highly hyped adult fiction debut from YA powerhouse Leigh Bardugo, and I found myself falling firmly in the “love” camp on this one. Ninth House is dark, yes, and there is a LOT of infodumping, yes, but neither of those things tend to bother me; on the contrary, if I’m really interested in a book, I’d always rather err on the side of more information, and I don’t really mind if it’s presented in the narrative or outside of it. And although the worldbuilding of Ninth House is fascinating–magical secret societies at Yale, a protagonist with the ability to see ghosts, magic driving political and business leaders’ decisions but sourced from college students–it was the characters that really grabbed me. Alex, a misfit with a dark, haunted past, and Darlington, an old-money “gentleman,” both won me over instantly, and their scenes together were some of my favorite in the book. I also think Ninth House sets itself up really well for a sequel, which I can’t wait for.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (5 stars) – I love a short, impactful literary fiction novel with a unique premise. Ghost Wall is about a modern-day family who joins a summer university project to live like it’s the Iron Age, but the historical reenactment brings out the worst in the family’s abusive father, and the daughter is confronted with just how disturbing his actions are. It’s extremely tightly written, a very fully realized story with no extraneous words or actions, and I’ll definitely be looking to pick up more from this author.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (4 stars) – Even after hearing about a million positive reviews of this scifi novella series, I was put off by the name (Murderbot isn’t a word that’s instantly appealing to me) but I finally gave into the hype, and I’m very glad I did. Following Murderbot (who named itself) a bot intended for guard/protection duty who has hacked its system and now spends most of its time watching TV inside its head, All Systems Red is both very funny and also full of plenty of action, as Murderbot’s most recent mission to protect a team of scientists goes very awry and it’s forced to interact with people far more than it feels comfortable with. Murderbot is a great, memorable character, and as soon as I finished this novella I knew I’d be picking up the rest of the series next.

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel (4 stars) – a twisty, addicting scifi novella about a man taking a UK citizenship test where something goes horribly wrong. You really don’t want to know much going into this one, since it goes in several unexpected directions, but I read it in one sitting and would very much recommend–it would be perfect for a readathon,

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (4 stars) – the sequel to All Systems Red, this novella follows Murderbot as it attempts to fill in the gaps in its memory about the events that lead to it hacking its system and gaining autonomy. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as All Systems Red, but I did enjoy the interactions between Murderbot and an overbearing transport ship it meets.

Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse (4 stars) – the last time I picked up a Star Wars book, I think I was about ten and obsessed with Queen Amidala’s outfits and badassness from Episode 1. I was inspired to return to the world of Star Wars books for a few specific reasons: Rebecca Roanhorse, whose Sixth World series I’m obsessed with and recommend to everyone who listens; my love of the new Star Wars sequel trilogy and impatience for The Rise of Skywalker to come out; and my best friend, who’s obsessed with Star Wars and bought me a copy of Resistance Reborn when she was worried she wouldn’t finish her copy in time to lend it to me before the movie’s release. I’m very glad I did end up picking it up, as I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book; it’s a bridge between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, jumping between several perspectives but focusing in particular on Poe and his struggles with the events of The Last Jedi and the ramifications of his actions. I really liked how Roanhorse delved into the emotional fallout from The Last Jedi, and also was very much on board with the interesting side characters she introduced. I’m definitely glad I picked this one up; it’s definitely not necessary for understanding the movies, but it works well as a companion.

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (4 stars) (re-read) – Again, since this was a re-read, I’m including my original Goodreads review; I felt similarly about it upon re-read.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Charlaine Harris book, but for years and years, I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on, starting with the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. She’s still #1 on my most-read authors feature on Goodreads (although Ilona Andrews has recently caught up, and they’re currently tied for first place with 28 books each). When I heard that she had a new book coming out, though, and that she would be signing copies at BookCon, I was so excited to be able to dive back into her writing. And An Easy Death definitely did not disappoint; the premise is a lot different than Harris’s other books, but it has her signature cozy mystery-esque writing style alongside plenty of action and lovable characters.

An Easy Death is hard to classify, genre-wise; it’s sort of an alternate history Western with fantasy elements. It’s set in a version of a fractured United States that splintered apart after the assassination of FDR and a series of disasters, and at the time the book is set, pieces of the U.S. are now owned by Canada, Mexico, and England, and the exiled tsar of Russia has settled on the West Coast with his army of grigoris, or wizards. Our main character Lizbeth Rose lives in the southwestern country of Texoma and works as a gunnie, sort of a gunslinger/bodyguard hired out to protect people. She gets drawn into a search for a missing grigori when she’s hired by two wizards as a guide and protector, and although she’s not a fan of magic or the Russian wizards that brought it with them to her country, she’s determined to see her mission through.

There are really no dull moments in An Easy Death; it’s action-packed and does have a high body count. Lizbeth Rose is a badass, street-smart heroine who’s easy to root for, and she faces down a series of bandits, wizards, and rival gunslingers head-on. The worldbuilding is gradual and fascinating; the concept of the Romanovs surviving an assassination attempt and fleeing Russia for California is a particularly interesting one, as well as the idea that Rasputin had actual magical powers that he taught to a host of other magic-wielders. The book sets up a sequel well, as there’s still a lot left to explore at the end of the book, and I really can’t wait to return to this world. I think that this book would work really well for fans of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (which I also loved) as well as urban fantasy fans looking for something different. Highly recommend!

A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris (3 stars) – Unfortunately, A Longer Fall missed the mark for me, especially compared with the first book in Charlaine Harris’s fantastical, Western alternate history series, An Easy Death. I love the world-building in these books (FDR was assassinated, which set off a chain of events that fractured the United States into several smaller countries, and California/Oregon was settled by the exiled Russian tsar and an order of magic users founded by Rasputin), and the first book was an action-packed ride featuring “gunnie” or hired bodyguard Lizbeth Rose as she took a job protecting two Russian wizards whose mission had a connection to her past.

A Longer Fall brings back Russian wizard love interest Eli, who I did find likable in the first book and who hires Lizbeth to help him track down a mysterious crate in the nearby country of Dixie, or what was formerly the American South. A Longer Fall is slower in pace, with not much of a payoff at the end, and a romance that quickly turns from interesting to stale. A central issue in this book is Dixie’s pervasive racism and sexism, which could have been interesting for the story to delve into, but unfortunately I didn’t feel that either topic was handled very well.

I love Charlaine Harris, and I hate that I’m not giving this book a higher rating, but ultimately it just wasn’t as enjoyable for me as many of her other books have been.

I received an eARC of A Longer Fall courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

November Reading Wrap-Up

November lasted approximately five minutes, which is probably why I didn’t get quite as much reading done as I expected. But I did read three Book of the Month books, and since I’m working with a significant BOTM backlog, that was definitely helpful. I was pleasantly surprised by a book in a genre I don’t normally read, and I also finished another ARC from BookExpo.

Here are my stats:

Number of books finished: 6

Audiobooks: 1

ARCs: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

The Grace Year by Kim LiggettThe Witches Are Coming by Lindy WestMagic for Liars by Sarah GaileyBringing Down the Duke by Evie DunmoreWell Met by Jen DeLucaWhen the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry

And here are my reviews:

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (3.75 stars) – It would be hard for me not to read a contemporary fantasy set at a magical school, and Magic for Liars was no exception. In this case, socially isolated private investigator Ivy is called into the magical high school her sister teaches at in order to investigate a murder, and in the process has to revisit her childhood insecurities about growing up normal with a magical sister and losing her mother at a young age. I found this an enjoyable read overall; at times it feels like a modern play on a noir detective story, and the magical elements often felt incidental rather than central. For that reason, it would be an easy dip into fantasy for readers who aren’t typically fans of the genre, but still has enough fantastical elements for genre fans. The characters and the school that Gailey sets up would definitely work well for the possibility of spin-off books set in this same world, possibly even with different main characters, that I would like to see, but also wraps up well for this being, from what I understand, a standalone book.

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore (4 stars) – Before picking up this book, I was ready to give up on the historical romance genre–not through any fault of the genre itself, but because I had yet to find a book or author I really clicked with. And then Book of the Month offered Bringing Down the Duke as one of its selections, and it had one of those cute cartoon romance novel covers that I vastly prefer to traditional bodice-ripper covers, as well as a feminist premise, and I decided to give historical romance one last shot. I’m so glad I did, it because this was such a fun read. I found that I loved Dunmore’s writing style and liked both main characters equally (which shouldn’t be rare in romance novels, but for some reason is for me?): suffragist and Oxford student Annabelle and icy aloof duke Sebastian. I also got some Pride and Prejudice vibes from their early interactions and in some ways the writing style, which is something that I’ve been looking to find done well in the genre but previously hadn’t seen. There was one plot point that I was NOT a fan of, but I do understand that it could be attributed to social norms of the time, and it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the read. There’s also a clear set-up for the next book in the series that I am very much on board for, with a romance between lead suffragist Lucie and a notorious rake taking center stage.

Well Met by Jen Deluca (3 stars) – A cute contemporary romance with an interesting setting (Renaissance faire!) and premise (out-of-towner-turned RenFaire tavern wench meets uptight English teacher/RenFaire pirate!) that I ultimately didn’t connect with writing-wise the way that I was hoping to. Relationship issues became repetitive, as did their solutions, and I wasn’t convinced by how quickly the relationship progressed.

The Witches are Coming by Lindy West (3 stars) – I found this essay collection on how pop culture influences our current political environment to be enjoyable, but ultimately disappointing, as I felt West didn’t necessarily choose the best examples to make her points, and was largely speaking to an audience who already agreed with her views. It’s an easy and short listen on audio, and if you like Lindy West, I’d still recommend it, but it’s not the strongest essay collection I’ve read on the topic.

When the Sky Fell On Splendor by Emily Henry (3 stars) – Excellent band of misfits friend group at the center of this story, but ultimately a plot that I just didn’t love. I really enjoyed Henry’s A Million Junes, and this didn’t quite live up, despite the characters that I would have happily followed in a different story. I almost felt like the science fiction elements of this story detracted from its impact; when you have such strong characters that readers can connect with so easily, sometimes a simpler plot allows them to shine more.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett (2 stars) – The Grace Year was one of my most anticipated books of 2019, mainly because it was pitched as sort of a YA version of The Handmaid’s Tale, and while that’s an apt description, the book itself unfortunately didn’t work for me. I had issues with the logic of the premise–in their sixteenth year, the girls of “the county” are sent into the woods for a mysterious “grace year” in order to rid themselves of the magic they supposedly possess before they fully join society to become docile wives for workers–and the fact that neither the county itself nor the surrounding world was ever explained, but that wasn’t my only issue with this one. Our main character, Tierney, felt more like a fictional YA protagonist than she did a fully developed person; the book’s side characters remained one-dimensional, despite us as readers spending a year with them, and overall I felt like there was too much summarizing in the narrative and not enough action or dialogue. I also really disliked the romance storyline; I think I’d have greatly preferred the story without it, and focusing on female friendships instead. I did like the direction the book took towards the end with regards to certain realizations Tierney came to (trying to be as vague as possible to avoid spoilers), and the potential for interesting developments in the future, but this unfortunately just wasn’t the book for me. I received an ARC of The Grace Year from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

October Reading Wrap-Up!

Yes, we’re belated again, but last month I promised that I would stop talking about how belated all of my monthly wrap-ups are, so we’re just going to move on and forget that I already broke that promise.

October was such a fun month–in addition to experiencing October-ish things, like hiking in nearby Letchworth State Park, going on a ghost tour of an allegedly haunted old mansion, and going to a set of five haunted houses, I soaked up all of the fall weather and Trader Joe’s pumpkin-related products that I could find. I was also in Orlando for a week for a work conference, but went early enough that I was also able to go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios for the first time, which made me ridiculously happy–I nerded out hard with my friend as we got frozen Butterbeer (delicious), went on the Hogwarts ride (the experience of waiting in line inside the castle was honestly more fun than the ride itself, but I mean that in a good way), explored Knockturn Alley, and picked out a wand at Ollivander’s (I ended up choosing Narcissa Malfoy’s wand, as it best matched my overall aesthetic, plus the actress also plays Polly in Peaky Blinders, so it was a double win). I may end up doing a separate post with a more full/thorough review of my experience there as someone who isn’t traditionally a theme park person–what do you guys think?

My October reading didn’t go quite as expected–I had set aside a dark fantasy TBR stack for the month that I didn’t end up picking from as much as intended–but I still had some really great reads, including a great YA historical fantasy, a novella from one of my favorite science fiction authors, and a re-read of a favorite from 2018.

Total books read: 9

ARCs: 4

Audiobooks: 0

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Emergency Skin by N.K. JemisinGet a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia HibbertThe Deep by Rivers SolomonThe Beautiful by Renée AhdiehTrail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseStorm of Locusts by Rebecca RoanhorseLove Her or Lose Her by Tessa BaileyAphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista MateerTo Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (re-read) (5 stars) – Update: upon re-reading, I changed my rating from 4 to 5 stars, because this book is fantastic. In the world of Trail of Lightning, a series of rapid catastrophic climate-change-related events have fractured what was once the United States and buried much of it underwater on an accelerated timeline. In the aftermath, the Navajo nation of Dinetah has formed in what was once the Southwestern United States, and Navajo legends and magical powers are manifesting among its people. Our main character Maggie possesses gifts that help her to slay the monsters that threaten her people, but also have her questioning whether she herself may be monstrous as well. An especially strange new monster has Maggie set on a new path, where, in between fighting monsters and dealing with beings out of Navajo legends, she grows closer with an attractive young medicine man while being haunted by her history with her former love, the legendary Monsterslayer. Urban fantasy can be very hit-or-miss for me, but I really enjoyed this book. With its post-apocalyptic setting and mythology-laden world-building, I think it would be great for readers of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. I loved that Rebecca Roanhorse took the very real threat of climate change as inspiration for the book’s setting and used that as a jumping-off point to introduce Navajo mythology into the world. It was so interesting getting to learn more about Navajo myths and legends. Maggie is a prickly, somewhat isolated main character at the beginning of the book, but we see a lot of growth even during this relatively short novel. I found it very easy to root for her, and I loved the concept of the clan powers, which played a large role in the book. The book’s secondary characters were also great; I especially loved Kai, her mysterious medicine-man love interest, and of course his grandfather Tah as well, but also thought Coyote was a great character. I think the world that Rebecca Roanhorse created has the potential for so many more stories, and I’m very excited to see where she takes Maggie next. Definitely recommend. I received a free signed copy of Trail of Lightning at an autographing session at BookCon.

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (4 stars) – After re-reading Trail of Lightning, I could not have been more excited for the sequel, and although I did absolutely still enjoy the read, this one didn’t quite work for me as well as the first book did. It’s a month after the events of the first book, and Maggie Hoskie, our badass, monsterslaying protagonist, is living with her elderly friend Tah, whose nephew and Maggie’s love interest, Kai, is still MIA. So Maggie’s been taking on jobs with the local Thirsty Boys mercenary crew to fill the time, and after a job goes sideways, she finds herself the guardian of a young teenage girl named Ben, and from there on the road after Kai, who seems to have been abducted by a cult leader called the White Locust. I still absolutely love Maggie as a main character; she’s tough, but is learning to care about people more and more; newcomer Ben added more to the story by bringing out Maggie’s protective side and casting her into a big sister role. The world Roanhorse created with this series is fascinating, and I would easily read ten books set here; every time we see a new angle of the Sixth World, I’m impressed with her creativity all over again. What was missing for me this time was Kai and Coyote, two of my favorite main characters from the first book, who are both pushed to the back burner for this one and aren’t given enough time to shine. I like both of their dynamics with Maggie, and I felt that the side characters from this book didn’t hold as much interest for me, with the exceptions of Ben and Rissa. Quite a few interesting things are set up towards the end of the book that definitely bode well for future stories in this series, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh (4 stars) – I’ve seen the phrase “vampires are back!” associated with The Beautiful more than anything else, and although I’m not averse to the idea (although I don’t believe vampires in literature really went anywhere in the first place, nor did I want them to), I think it’s misapplied to this book in particular. It sets up Twilight-esque expectations, or maybe a new version of True Blood, when that’s simply not the case. The Beautiful is a lot of things, but I absolutely would not call it a vampire book. That being said, I absolutely loved it. Check out my full review here.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon (4 stars) – The Deep is a short but profoundly impactful novel that blends history and fantasy together to tell the story of Yetu, a young woman who shoulders the intense burden of being the historian for her people, the wajinru, who are mer-people descended from enslaved pregnant African women who were thrown overboard on the journey to the Americas. While all other wajinru are able to spend most of their lives spared from reliving the horror of the collective memories of their people, Yetu must constantly bear it all, and, understandably, she’s struggling to do so and still survive. When her people gather together for an event where they periodically share the memories, guided by Yetu, she flees, and embarks on a journey where she learns more about herself and her people. It’s a powerful story, one that deserves to be widely read, and one that I would absolutely recommend. I received an ARC of The Deep from the publisher at BookExpo.

Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin (3.75 stars) – Technically a short story, but I’ll take anything I can get from N.K. Jemisin, who’s one of my favorite authors. “Emergency Skin” is science fiction, told in second person, and follows a soldier sent back to a destroyed Earth from an extraplanetary colony that abandoned our planet centuries previously, in search of genetic information that would help to ensure the survival of his society. It’s a very quintessentially N.K. Jemisin story that utilizes several hallmarks of her writing (twists, second person narration, commentary on current societal issues), but, having recently read her fantastically amazing short story collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?, I’d say that overall it wasn’t one of her strongest stories for me. I’d definitely still recommend the read, though, especially as it’s free if you have Amazon Prime.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (3.5 stars) – This contemporary romance, set in England, follows web designer Chloe Brown, a guarded woman dealing with her fibromyalgia diagnosis, and Redford Morgan, an artist-turned-property-manager, who’s dealing with insecurity and the aftermath of a traumatizing relationship. Our story kicks off when Chloe undergoes a near-death experience and decides that she needs to, well, get a life–to stop being afraid to make bold life decisions and go out and experience the world. She initiates this by moving out of her family’s house, but stalls trying to accomplish any of the next few tasks (ride a motorcycle, travel the world with minimal luggage, have meaningless sex, etc) until she meets Red, who she seems to think is the sort of “dangerous” guy who could help her with her list, but who in actuality is a complete sweetheart who happens to ride a motorcycle. While working through Chloe’s list, with some necessary modifications, the two confront their mistaken first impressions of each other (Red assumes Chloe is a rich snob, Chloe assumes Red is carefree and full of himself) and end up falling for each other. You can read my full review here; I received an eARC of Get a Life, Chloe Brown from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey (3 stars) – Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this second installment in Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series quite as much as the first book, Fix Her Up, but it was still a fun, quick read that I think a lot of contemporary romance readers will likely enjoy. Love Her or Lose Her follows a married couple (unusual for a romance novel!), Rosie and Dominic, who, despite a deep love for one another that began when they were childhood sweethearts, find themselves at a point in their marriage where they’re only truly able to connect in the bedroom; otherwise, their communication has completely broken down. Rosie in particular has been feeling the strain, and kicks off the novel by leaving Dominic, as she’s feeling unappreciated and unsatisfied both professionally and in their relationship. The plot of the novel revolves around Rosie and Dominic’s attempts to reconnect through a hippie version of last-ditch couples counseling Rosie initially proposes as a challenge to Dominic, thinking there’s no way he’ll let his guard down enough to try therapy, and Rosie’s efforts to start her own restaurant, which she’s been dreaming about her entire life. My full review is linked here; Love Her or Lose Her comes out on January 14th. I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer (3 stars) – I didn’t enjoy this poetry collection nearly as much as Mateer’s other collection Honeybee, which I read earlier this year, but it’s a gorgeously designed book with a great concept that I think a lot of readers will likely appreciate. Although I love Greek mythology, the poetry in this collection was in parts too pared down and in other parts too over-explained for my personal preference.

 

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

September Reading Wrap-Up

I had set a vaguely defined goal for myself for September (something like “read lots of books”) and I’m happy to report that I accomplished that. Not only did I finish more books than I have in the past few months, but I read several books that I rated over 4 stars, and I honestly enjoyed every single thing I read in September.

Let’s go to the stats and reviews:

Total books read: 9

ARCs: 2

Audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Sapphire Flames by Ilona AndrewsKill the Queen by Jennifer EstepThe Future of Another Timeline by Annalee NewitzShame Is an Ocean I Swim Across by Mary LambertParkland by Dave CullenWe Died in Water by Meg FloresBloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovernRadio Silence by Alice OsemanThe Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (4.5 stars) – Sapphire Flames is technically the fourth book in Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series, although it’s also technically the start of a new trilogy featuring the younger sister of books 1-3’s protagonist. I’ve actually just finished this one and LOVED it; I’m an Ilona Andrews superfan, but this was actually one of my favorites of hers. It’s set in a version of our world that features warring dynasties of magical families, and our main character Catalina has a very unique power; we follow her trying to solve a friend’s mother’s murder, protect her own family, and maybe connect with her crush, Alessandro, who has more than a few secrets up his sleeves. Honestly, this book is SO GOOD, and I think it’s also a great starting point for readers new to Ilona Andrews.

Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert (4.5 stars) – An impactful, striking, shiver-inducing autobiographical collection of poems that discuss sexual assault and its aftermath, falling in love, heartbreak, mental illness, and survival. There were several poems in this collection that made me pause, re-read, and take a moment to consider how Lambert used so few words to say so much. Her writing style is sometimes fluid and sometimes jarring; the poems are relatable and very readable but contain a lot of depth. I’d definitely recommend this one.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (4.25 stars) – I absolutely loved this YA contemporary retelling of Twelfth Night that dealt skillfully with mental illness and sibling relationships; my full review will be up soon. I received an ARC at BookExpo from the publisher.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (4 stars) – really well done YA contemporary, revolving around two misfits and a science fiction podcast. I absolutely loved the main characters, and the writing and perspective felt extremely authentic. I did feel that the plot stumbled a bit towards the end, but overall I really loved this one.

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (4 stars) – Creative, feminist time-travel science fiction, set mainly in the 1990s and 1890s. Check out my full review here.

Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen (4 stars) – A very necessary and topical read. I listened to Dave Cullen’s Columbine on audiobook last month and was impressed by his research and thoroughness, and I wanted to pick up Parkland especially because it focuses almost exclusively on the March for Our Lives kids and movement rather than the school shooting itself; although the books are related, they emphasize very different things. The Parkland kids are so impressive and inspirational, and I think Cullen did a great job capturing what they are trying to accomplish.

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern (4 stars) – the first graphic novel I’ve picked up in literally years, because it’s by the author of a webcomic I adore (My Life as a Background Slytherin). It’s a parody of historical/Regency romances, with an added fantastical element, and I quite enjoyed it. We follow Lucy, our heroine, who feels like a misfit under the constraints of proper society; Lord Byron (“from books!”), a poet with a very short attention span and a penchant for stabbing any vampire he sees; and Sham, a mysterious vampire hunter, on their adventures around England while trying to infiltrate a secret vampire society but keep getting sidetracked. I found it very cute, quirky, and funny, although for me it maybe wasn’t quite as consistently hilarious as McGovern’s webcomic tends to be, likely because there’s a lot more plot in a graphic novel than a 1-page webcomic. The art style and colors are likewise adorable and fun, and I’m definitely glad I picked it up.

We Died in Water by Meg Flores (4 stars) – We Died in Water is a memoir told in short prose poems that focuses on themes of love and leaving, using the ocean to help tell the author’s story in a variety of metaphors. The memoir itself mirrors the waves in structure, by repetition of the stories of loving and heartbreak that both the author and her mother experienced, stories that echo each other and force both the author and the reader to wonder if we are doomed to repeat our families’ pasts. As someone who’s always loved the ocean (as you can probably garner from my account name), I loved the integration of waves and ocean imagery into the author’s retelling of her story, and I found the writing overall to be lovely and fluid, while still retaining clarity, which can be difficult in a book with a nontraditional structure. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful little book, and I’d recommend it if you enjoy unconventional structures, poetry, and the ocean.

I received an early copy of We Died in Water from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep (3.75 stars) – Mistakenly thought this was UF when I picked it up (the leather pants threw me off!) but it’s actually a really fun, fast-paced royal revenge plot in a full fantasy world with a writing style that reminds me of UF. I really enjoyed it–our main character Everleigh, a minor royal, survives an assassination attempt on the royal family, and joins a gladiator troupe, where survival turns into a desire for vengeance. She has to use the magic she’s kept hidden her entire life as well as every ounce of the cold rage that fuels her in order to do what she’s never even imagined–try to kill the queen. It’s got action, humor, and the hint of a romance, plus literally every character is wearing black leggings at all times, which is a fantasy world I can really get behind. There’s also a really interesting magic system featuring everything from enhanced senses, shapeshifting, and elemental magic. I’m about to start the second book, Protect the Prince, and I’m really interested to see where the story goes from here.

 

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

August Reading Wrap-Up

It feels strange to already be putting together my August wrap-up, mainly because my July wrap-up was so belated that August had already almost ended by the time I posted it. I’m also thinking that I’m going to stop starting each wrap-up blog by remarking on how late it is; my wrap-up blogs are belated, guys, that’s just how it is lately. Maybe I’ll post one early at some point in my life and then I can comment on that?

Anyways, August had the distinction of being the month I read my favorite book of the year so far! I also finished 3 of my BookExpo ARCs; listened to 2 nonfiction books on audio; and picked up an unfortunately disappointing dystopian read. Let’s get to the stats and reviews…

Total books read: 6

ARCs: 3

Audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Columbine by Dave CullenGideon the Ninth (The Ninth House, #1)My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache WilliamsVoxRage (Stormheart, #2)The Ten Thousand Doors of January

 

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (5 stars) – Gideon was, without question, my absolute favorite book of the year so far. And I did not at all expect it to be. You can find my full review here, but to summarize: read this book, because it made me so happy and I just want to talk about it with everyone. (I received an ARC of Gideon the Ninth from Tor at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review).

Columbine by Dave Cullen (4 stars) – This was a very difficult read emotionally, especially considering how school shootings continue to tear lives apart today, and for that reason I think it’s a very important book for people to keep reading. It’s also extremely well-researched, and focuses a lot on media coverage of Columbine and how that contributed to various misconceptions about the events that persist to this day. I listened to the audiobook, and would recommend it, but only if you’re prepared for an emotionally heavy nonfiction read.

Rage by Cora Carmack (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this follow-up to romantic YA fantasy Roar; you can find my full review here. (I received an ARC of Rage from Tor Teen at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review.)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (3 stars) –The Ten Thousand Doors of January had an intriguing premise and was solidly written, but unfortunately missed the mark for me. I do, however, think it’s a book that a lot of readers will love, particularly readers of historical fiction looking to dip a toe into the fantasy genre, or YA readers looking for an approachable crossover adult fantasy. You can find my full review here.  (I received an ARC of The Ten Thousand Doors of January from the publisher at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review.)

My Friend Anna by Rachel Deloache Williams (3 stars) – An entertaining listen on audiobook, although at times also frustrating and naive. My Friend Anna is nonfiction and follows young New Yorker and former Vanity Fair assistant photo editor Williams as she befriends Anna Delvey (actually Anna Sorokin), allegedly a wealthy German heiress, who turns out to instead be a Russian con artist. It’s a fascinating true-crime story and one that I was really interested to read more about; the “millennial scammer” grabbed headlines earlier this year due to hiring a stylist for her courtroom appearances and her unrepentant attitude towards her crimes, and Williams has a very personal take on the story. Essentially, Williams befriends Sorokin, and the “heiress” shares dinners, personal training sessions, spa visits, etc with Williams, which turns into a short but fairly close friendship. Eventually, Anna proposes a lavish trip to Morocco that she assures Williams she’s paying for, but once they arrive, none of Sorokin’s payment methods work and Williams is forced to “temporarily” put the ($60,000) trip on her own cards, despite the fact that she doesn’t have the money. Anna swears she’ll pay Williams back, but this turns into a drawn-out saga of Anna inventing every excuse in the book to avoid paying Williams, and Williams gradually coming to the realization that Anna isn’t who she says she is. I did overall find myself very engaged by the narrative, but I was also frustrated by Williams’s reluctance to believe the truth about Sorokin even when it became extremely obvious, and her insistence, even in the face of Anna’s crimes, that theirs was a true friendship. I’d still recommend it overall, and will be interested to see Shonda Rhimes’s Netflix series on the topic.

Vox by Christina Dalcher (3 stars) – This book was, unfortunately, quite disappointing. I wavered a bit about rating it lower, but honestly, I rarely give books 1 or 2 stars because if I dislike a book enough to rate it that low, chances are I’ll have DNF’d it long before finishing. And I did consider DNF-ing Vox, but I was still interested enough, and the writing was still strong enough, to make it to the end, so 3 stars it is. So, why did I dislike it so much? First of all, I’m generally a fan of dystopian books, and although I find them difficult reads in particular when they focus on the erosion of women’s rights (like The Handmaid’s Tale), I still think that they are important works to consume as warnings and political catalysts. And I understand that this genre has exploded in recent years, and that it’s hard for a feminist dystopia book to stand out unless it has a particularly intriguing premise. But Vox, to me, fell into the same kind of trap as When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, which I read a few years ago and also strongly disliked–the premise just doesn’t make any sense, even if the political inspirations do, and the subsequent plot makes even less sense than the premise, leading to a book that’s nonsensical and the opposite of cohesive. (The ridiculous premise of When She Woke involves peoples’ skin being dyed certain colors based on crimes they have committed, and their first few days after the skin dyeing process being broadcast on a weird version of reality TV.) In Vox, an extreme branch of the religious right has gained power, and somehow, over the course of a year, every woman in America has been forced to wear a word counter on her wrist that administers a painful electric shock if she speaks more than 100 words a day. Somehow also in this single transition year, the entire school system has become gender-segregated; LGBTQ people have been imprisoned in camps; all women have been forced to leave the workforce; and cameras have been installed in both public and private areas to make sure that the population follows these rules. Note that democracy is still in place; it’s the president who has started these changes, not some kind of creepy overthrow situation like in The Handmaid’s Tale, but yet still, in ONE YEAR, with our current laws and bureaucratic system, all of this has happened. It’s just not plausible. I’m someone who can set aside a strange premise; I like when books are weird, and if they’re really good, I may not care whether or not they make sense, but this was just too much for me. Also, the main character’s husband is part of this administration (?!) and we’re supposed to believe he had no idea that any of this was going to happen before it did. Once we found that out, I had a really hard time feeling like the main character’s husband, and the main character herself, weren’t complicit in the formulation of the dystopia they found themselves in. And I get that this is sort of the point of Vox–that passive objection isn’t the same as active resistance, and that you have to fight to protect your rights–but the message is greatly undermined by having the central family so close to the president and his cronies in the first place. Even setting aside the premise, I found that the rest of the story was unfortunately equally nonsensical, and that there were a lot of other paths the author could have taken plot-wise that might have been more interesting. Personally, I would recommend giving this one a pass, and picking up The Power by Naomi Alderman instead.

 

Have you guys read any of these? Any on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

June Reading Wrap-Up

And it’s another belated wrap-up in 2019! June got a lot busier than I expected (BEA/BookCon and a road trip to Philly another weekend both ate into my reading time), but we’re finally here with some reviews and some recapping.

I really, really struggled with reading in June; I felt like I was having a hard time finishing books, and although I didn’t read anything that I necessarily disliked, I also felt like the books I was picking up overall weren’t as enjoyable for me as I’d hoped they would be. I felt like I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself to read a certain number of books before the end of the month, and also that since the end of June marked the halfway point of 2019, that I wanted to have read more 5-star or standout reads than I felt that I had. I found myself feeling more pessimistic about my reading than I normally do, and the books I gravitated towards tended to be shorter reads because of this. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; I love a tightly written short book, but in this case it was more about the fact that I simply wasn’t able to finish anything longer.

I’m already doing much better with my reading in July, and hopefully my reading slump seems to have abated some. That being said, here are my June stats and reviews:

Total books read: 7

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks: 1

HoneybeeKingdom of Exiles (The Beast Charmer, #1)The Royal We by Heather CocksThe Rose (The Red, #2)The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidBarbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren HolmesWhose Story Is This? by Rebecca Solnit

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (4 stars) – an unexpectedly great short story collection that I picked up on a whim at an outlet bookstore last year. There were some stories in this collection that I absolutely loved and felt were 5-star stories on their own; there were others that I connected with less, but overall it was a very strong collection that delved into complicated relationship dynamics extremely well. Favorites of mine were “How Am I Supposed to Talk to You?,” “I Will Crawl to Raleigh if I Have To,” and “Desert Hearts.”

Whose Story is This? by Rebecca Solnit (4 stars) – This is my fourth Rebecca Solnit book, and I continue to be impressed by her concise, clarifying essays. I’ll be posting a full review of this one closer to its release date (September 3rd); thank you so much to Haymarket Books for the opportunity to receive an ARC at BookExpo.

Honeybee by Trista Mateer (4 stars) -After giving a lot of thought to which BEA/BookCon book I would pick up first, I found that the decision was made for me on the first day of BookCon, when I found myself in a long line to get a signed book for a friend and needed something to read. I was drawn to a gorgeous little book of poetry I had purchased earlier that day: Honeybee by Trista Mateer. From the very first poem, I was hooked; I found myself wishing that the line was even longer so that I could read more (and after days of lines, that’s saying something.) Honeybee is a poetry collection but it’s also a memoir of the author’s experience ending a relationship with her girlfriend that had gone from beautiful and loving to unsustainable, in part due to her girlfriend’s internalized homophobia. It’s about the impossible feeling of being in love yet having a relationship that you come to realize is bad for you, and it’s told in eloquent snapshots of the breakup, its aftermath, the healing and questioning and fixating that are all part of how we deal with love in all its messy iterations. Several of the poems in this collection made me tear up or gave me goosebumps; all of them made me feel things. Highly recommend, even if you’re not typically a poetry reader.

The Rose by Tiffany Reisz (4 stars) – An extremely intelligent romance novel full of Greek mythology, great banter, and two very likable main characters.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (3.75 stars) – After seeing this on so many reviewers’ favorites of the year lists, I expected to be wowed by this one. And although I really enjoyed the plot, especially delving into Hollywood in the 1950s-1980s, and the characters, particularly Evelyn Hugo herself, I wasn’t blown away by the writing.

Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau (3.75 stars) – Pokemon-like creatures and undead assassins, with a healthy dose of romance. If that sounds appealing to you, check out my full review here. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casa for the opportunity to read an eARC of Kingdom of Exiles in exchange for an honest review.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (3.5 stars) – Cute, fun rom-com that I listened to on audiobook. It’s really the perfect light, fluffy summer read featuring a Kate Middleton/Prince William type of love story, with plenty of drama and humor along the way. We follow Bex, an American exchange student at Oxford, and her unexpected romance with Nick, the future king of England, and the ensuing problems with tabloids and family drama that we know are coming but are fun to read about anyways. If you enjoyed movies like The Prince and Me or The Princess Diaries, or if you need a fix after Red, White, and Royal Blue, then you’ll like this one. Apparently there’s a sequel, The Heir Affair, coming out in 2020, which I’ll definitely be picking up.

 

And that’s it! How do you deal with reading when you’re in a reading slump? Do you take a reading break or try to power through? Let me know in the comments…