Category Archives: Reading Recaps

October Reading Wrap-Up

I did have several reads that I really enjoyed in October, but I also had a few that were really disappointing. In terms of quantity, it was a really excellent reading month; I tend to get excited about diving into fall-ish books this time of year and it definitely helps with my reading productivity. I also participated in Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon again, which was great, and in non-reading updates, I spent a lot of this month doing textbanking for the Biden campaign.

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 1

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Spoiler Alert by Olivia DadeMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-GarciaRage by Bob WoodwardThe Regrets by Amy BonnaffonsGrown by Tiffany D. JacksonYou Had Me at Hola by Alexis DariaLittle Eyes by Samanta SchweblinFangs by Sarah AndersenLandscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. AndersonThe Night Swim by Megan Goldin

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade (4 stars) – In the awfulness that was the first week of October, Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade managed to provide an extremely fun and relatable escape with this contemporary romance that’s well-written, authentic, and delightful. You can see my full review here; I received a free copy of Spoiler Alert from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Rage by Bob Woodward (4 stars) – this is the second of Woodward’s Trump biographies I’ve read (his previous book Fear chronicled Trump’s first year in the White House) and I continue to be impressed by his meticulous reporting and ability to combine accounts from various sources within the administration into a horrifying and fascinating account of a White House in constant turmoil. Rage is a ridiculously relevant book to be reading at this exact moment in time; its account extends to the summer of 2020, which feels impossibly current. It’s a must-read if you’re interested in politics and current events and are looking for a deeper understanding of the incompetence and danger of the Trump administration.

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson (4 stars) – A great example of one of my favorite kinds of books: books that are very short and very weird. Aliens have arrived on Earth, and instead of attacking outright, they offer what at first seems like salvation: advanced technology, in particular the ability to heal any disease. But their technology soon decimates the global economy and its consequences destroy the environment in an apt metaphor for the effects of colonization. Our protagonist is a teenage boy trying to help his family survive in this new world and also finding escapism in his art, but he finds that the only way he can make money is by feeding into the 1950s fantasy view the aliens have of humans. It’s a quick read, but it does a lot in a short time, with some excellent sarcastic humor and an eerie look at a different kind of alien invasion than we’re used to seeing.

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria (4 stars) -This was the second great contemporary romance I read in October! Like Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade, You Had Me At Hola by Alexis Daria features thirty-something protagonists focused on career goals, which is always something I’m on board for. Jasmine and Ashton fall for each other while playing romantic leads in a new show for a Netflix-esque streaming service, and the book features great writing, interesting friendship/family dynamics, and a really cute relationship. Would definitely recommend to anyone looking to pick up a new contemporary romance.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (3.5 stars) – This was an excellent October read. Set in 1950s Mexico, we’re following college student and socialite Noemi, whose family sends her to a remote estate in the mountains to check on her cousin Catalina, whose most recent letter hints at disturbing happenings with her English husband, his reclusive family, and their mysterious house. It’s atmospheric and moody, with a protagonist not afraid to take the initiative, and although I didn’t necessarily love the main plot twist, I did overall really enjoy the reading experience.

The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons (3.25 stars) – The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons has, in my opinion, one of the most intriguing premises, and one of the most interesting covers, of 2020, but unfortunately its execution didn’t quite work for me. I mischaracterized it somewhat when I referred to it as a book where a woman falls in love with a ghost–it sort of is, but it’s more accurate to say that it’s the story of a young man caught between this life and this afterlife on a technicality of the rules of death, who meets and falls in love with a woman while he’s living a shadow of what his former life was.

I struggled to find cohesion in this book, not just because of its shifting perspectives, but because it sets itself up to be one thing (an exploration of this specific concept of what happens when you die, and then what happens when that doesn’t go according to plan) and then becomes something else (a somewhat meta and at times clicheed doomed love story with coming-of-age elements) without fully exploring the former. I love fabulism and I’m always attracted to weird premises, but I think that either the weirdness or the love story (or both!) could have been dialed up a few notches in this one. Although interesting in concept and very readable, I wished that it had either been distilled down more or expanded into a broader scope to add more interest.

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (3 stars) – Unfortunately, Little Eyes ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the year for me. I absolutely loved Schweblin’s first novel Fever Dream, which I thought was incredibly strange, haunting, concise, and impactful, and so I thought I would love her second novel as well. I didn’t rate it lower because I do think the writing was strong, but I just really did not enjoy the experience of reading it, as the book seemed to lean much more on sadness than it did strangeness or uniqueness. I think my expectations were just not aligned with what this book actually was; I went in expecting horror and weird fiction and instead got unrelenting depictions of loneliness and isolation in a tech-focused world.

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin (3 stars) – a mystery/thriller that captivated me at first due to its true crime podcast premise, but lost me in the second half with a plot that wasn’t as interesting as it had seemed it would be and excessive graphic descriptions of sexual assault.

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson (3 stars) – A timely, topical YA contemporary that deals with important subjects. Unfortunately, I just didn’t love the writing style and plot structure of this one, but it has a strong message.

Fangs by Sarah Andersen (3 stars) – this graphic novel about a vampire and a werewolf falling in love was definitely cute, but it was also extremely short and didn’t feel like a complete story.

September Reading Wrap-Up

In September, I managed to finish 6 books, most of which I really enjoyed. They’re also somewhat color-coordinated, which I’m also into, but was weirdly not intentional. Unfortunately, my 5-star drought has not yet ended, despite picking up several books this month that I thought had 5-star potential.

Reviews:

Emerald Blaze by Ilona AndrewsChosen Ones by Veronica RothSay Yes to the Marquess by Tessa DareWhen No One is Watching by Alyssa ColeThe Wicker King by K. AncrumNormal People by Sally Rooney

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (4.25 stars) – I’ve been looking forward to Emerald Blaze since pretty much the minute I finished Sapphire Flames, the first book in Catalina’s trilogy in Andrews’s Hidden Legacy series, and it was great to finally be able to return to this world of dueling magical families in Houston. Catalina and love interest Alessandro have both grown and matured a lot since the previous book, and are able to deal with a new threat together despite lingering resentment. I continue to love Ilona Andrews’s fantastic world building, lovable side characters, and great relationship development, but I enjoyed this one just slightly less than its predecessor.

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth (4 stars) – I’ve been struggling with how to review this book, because on the one hand I fell completely in love with its premise, main character, and first section, but on the other I felt that it stumbled somewhat with aspects of one plot twist and its ending. You can check out my full review here.

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum (4 stars) – I love books with unconventional formats; if I’m ever on the fence about picking something up, hearing that it utilizes drawings or documents or notes in its narrative will always tip me over the edge. That and several positive reviews were what influenced me to pick up The Wicker King by K. Ancrum, which is about best friends dealing with the fact that one of them is seeing things that can’t be real–another world overlaid over their own, to be specific. In addition to text interspersed with illustrations of the other world, mix CDs highlighting characters’ personalities, and police reports, the book also colors its pages differently as its two main characters become more and more immersed in the alternate reality. I loved how thoughtfully this book was constructed, and also loved its main characters and their intense relationship; I’ll definitely be picking up more from this author in the future.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (3.75 stars) – I’ve read a bunch of Alyssa Cole’s contemporary and historical romances, so of course I jumped at a chance to read a thriller from her, particularly in the fall, which for me is mystery/thriller season. When No One is Watching is set in a close-knit Brooklyn neighborhood threatened by gentrification and follows our protagonist Sydney, who’s reeling from her divorce and subsequent move back to Brooklyn from Seattle, as well as her mother’s illness. Frustrated by the whitewashing of her neighborhood’s history on a walking tour of the area, Sydney gets the idea to develop her own tour that focuses on the area’s Black community, and dives into research with the help of Theo, a new neighbor Sydney isn’t exactly thrilled to have an as assistant. But strange and sinister things are happening in the neighborhood, and Sydney and Theo have to team up to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to protect their community from encroaching threats.

Alyssa Cole creates an extremely strong sense of place and community that grounds When No One is Watching and immediately makes you empathize with its characters and their plight. The side characters in Sydney’s neighborhood were possibly my favorite part of the book; I wanted to see more of all of them, and I also enjoyed the addition of neighborhood online forum posts as a way to track the growing tension between its longtime residents and interlopers. It’s a fantastic depiction of different forms of racism, both overt and insidious, that can affect peoples’ day-to-day lives, and I was extremely invested in the story and, at a certain point, unable to stop reading so that I could finally find out what exactly was going on. It’s a bit of a slow build, but the action-packed ending definitely compensates for the overall slower pace, and I thought that the book’s message was clear and extremely relevant. What I liked least was probably the story’s dual perspective; I liked protagonist Sydney’s chapters, but I could have done without Theo as a POV character, as I didn’t find him as compelling. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you’re looking for a mystery/thriller that’s relevant for 2020.

I received an ARC of When No One is Watching from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare (3.25 stars) – I’ve been reading a lot of Tessa Dare in 2020 (at the moment, she’s tied with Alyssa Cole for my most-read author of the year); her books are fun to read but also so well-crafted, with clever jokes and great chemistry. Even though I liked this one less than I have the others I’ve read of hers, it was still an extremely fun read, particularly the premise: tired of the eight years she’s spent waiting for her fiance to return from the Continent, Clio attempts to get his black sheep brother Rafe to sign a contract releasing her from the betrothal. Unbeknownst to Clio, Rafe has been long harboring feelings for her, but he’s also determined that she’ll still marry his brother, and this begins a battle of wills as Rafe tries to get her excited about the wedding while Clio tries to convince him that she’ll be better off alone and free to run her own castle and business.

Normal People by Sally Rooney (2 stars) – I picked up this book expecting to love it, and unfortunately I really, really didn’t. Normal People was one of the books on my Top 10 TBR for 2020 (I’m trying to finish all of them before the end of the year and am a bit behind schedule), and I’ve been hearing great things about it for so long, as well as about its Hulu adaptation. But this book, for me, did not at all live up to the hype. I was really frustrated with the aspiring pretentiousness of the tone, which never felt natural or authentic, and by its odd structure that repeatedly used the same technique of jumping forward in time several months but then flashing back to what had happened in those prior months, thus completely negating the need for a time jump in the first place. I felt that Marianne’s story and agency were jettisoned in favor of Connell’s in a way that felt regressive and frankly sexist, particularly when it came to the book’s ending, and I thought that making Connell’s character a writer felt very overdone, particularly the passages where he’s trying to make these profound statements about writing and literary readings but just never says anything new or fresh. I don’t actually write negative reviews very often, both because I’m fairly good at predicting what books I’ll like and picking from those, and also because if I’m not enjoying a book I’m very likely to DNF it unless it’s a review copy, but I just had to with this one. The last thing I want to do is take away from anyone’s enjoyment of Normal People; I know that a lot of people really love it, and I wish that I had too. But I really don’t recommend this one if you haven’t tried it yet–there are just so many books out there that do similar things in a better way.

August Reading Wrap-Up: ARC August and Bout of Books

In August, I had a productive reading month participating in ARC August, a reading challenge that focuses on catching up on Advanced Reader Copies, as well as the week-long Bout of Books readathon. I was able to finish 4 of the 6 ARCs on my list while still leaving some space for mood-reading, and although I didn’t encounter any elusive 5-star reads, I read several books that I really enjoyed.

Stats:

Total books read: 8

ARCs: 4

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Tools of Engagement by Tessa BaileyWe Are All the Same in the DarkA Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank GreenSlay by Brittney MorrisWhere Dreams Descend by Janella AngelesLuster by Raven LeilaniDon't Hex and Drive by Juliette Cross13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

Luster by Raven Leilani (4 stars) – A somewhat unsettling literary fiction coming-of-age novel focusing on a twenty-something losing her grip on the stability of her job and apartment and whose only apparent option becomes moving in with her married boyfriend, his wife, and their daughter. It explores the uncomfortable dynamics of an open marriage whose participants are clearly not equally happy with the situation, as well as the subtle racism facing the couple’s Black daughter, which our protagonist is clearly able to see but is invisible to her parents. Leilani’s prose is skillful and deft, and her sentences were fascinating to read. Luster came onto my radar after I saw it nominated for a debut fiction prize, and I’m so glad that I picked it up, because I’ll be extremely interested to pick up any future books from this author.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (4 stars) – After reading Mona Awad’s Bunny, my NEW FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME, earlier this year, I immediately bought Awad’s only other published novel in hopes that it would work similarly well for me. And there were definitely parts of 13 Ways that did. I think that Awad taps into the heart of our societal obsession with thinness and how diet culture is pervasive in so many aspects of life; there are so many scenes where the emotions and undercurrents are dead on. But there were other parts that dragged or felt superfluous, and I felt that it might have worked better as a shorter piece, even though it’s only about 200 pages long. So it’s not my new favorite book, but there were definitely aspects that reminded me why I love Mona Awad’s writing so much, and I think it’s a book that so many women can identify with in different ways. I absolutely don’t think it deserves its abysmal Goodreads rating, but I can see how it would be polarizing in the way that Bunny also was.

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin (4 stars) – My full review for this twisty, atmospheric, feminist mystery/thriller can be found here.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green (4 stars) – The sequel to the extremely fun and social media-focused An Absolutely Remarkable Thing was a little bit darker, more complex, and a very interesting ending to the saga of the mysterious Carls, alien technology that appeared simultaneously all over the world in the first book. I liked that it was told from multiple perspectives, which gave us a broader view on the situation, and I listened to the audiobook which was very engaging and well-narrated. I’d recommend this book to readers who mainly read contemporary fiction but are looking to dip a toe into near-future science fiction, and to social media-savvy readers.

Slay by Brittney Morris (3.5 stars) – An engrossing and addictive contemporary YA novel about a Kiera, a high school student and young game developer who creates Slay, a game that celebrates the Black experience, and whose world shifts when a player is murdered in the real world and she finds herself and her game the targets of blame and racist vitriol. Slay is a book that celebrates creativity and drive in a protagonist who’s balancing school, college applications, a boyfriend, and family with a secret passion no one in her day-to-day life knows about; I think readers of Fangirl and Eliza and Her Monsters will really like it for that reason. It also deals with the different types of racism Kiera experiences and the different ways that she and other characters take to combat this. It’s a book that I felt like I had to keep reading; at one part I got so emotionally invested that I had to peek ahead and spoil the ending for myself. Definitely recommend!

Don’t Hex and Drive by Juliette Cross (3.5 stars) – This is the second book in Cross’s Stay a Spell series, which is set in New Orleans and focuses on a family of witch sisters in charge of the city’s supernatural community. Isadora is a sweet, garden-loving witch who’s uncomfortable around most people outside of her family, and who enjoys gathering herbs and enchanting them for sale at her family’s witchy boutique. Devraj Kumar, a powerful vampire tasked with hunting down vampires who break their community’s laws, accidentally hits her with his car and becomes enchanted with her, although Isadora at first wants nothing to do with him. They’re thrown together further when young women begin disappearing from the New Orleans bar scene and it becomes obvious that vampires are involved, and Isadora and Devraj have to work as a team to take down the culprits.

I really love the supernatural worldbuilding that Juliette Cross develops in this series, from the witches and vampires to the mysterious Grims and artistic werewolves. I also love how she sprinkles in hints of relationships that will be the focus of future books (I cannot WAIT for the book focusing on Jules, the powerful head witch, and Ruben, the boss of the New Orleans vampires, who have great chemistry in every scene they’re in). Cross is also great at writing romantic scenes, and I loved Devraj as a character–he’s very complex, as one would expect from a centuries-old vampire who’s been able to travel the world and live life to the fullest. I connected less with Isadora, who didn’t have as strong of a personality as many of her other sisters, and who seemed much less dimensional than Devraj. Although I do really enjoy this series, as a whole I didn’t enjoy this installment quite as much as I did the first book, Wolf Gone Wild, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading the other books in the future.

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

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles (3.5 stars) – I really enjoyed this feminist YA fantasy with Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge vibes. Female magician Kallia performs nightly at a club owned by the enigmatic magician Jack, but dreams of making a name for herself outside of its boundaries. She finds her chance when a mysterious nearby city hosts a competition for magicians, but when its participants begin to go missing and she is forced to confront the misogyny of the world of magicians, she realizes it may be more of a challenge than she bargained for. Kallia’s strength of character and her formidable magical talents are tested throughout the book, and twists abound. It’s definitely an intriguing book, featuring a love triangle and mirrors that hold dark secrets, and I’d definitely recommend it to YA fantasy fans. I received an ARC of Where Dreams Descend from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tools of Engagement by Tessa Bailey (3 stars) – In the third installment of Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series, which is centered around a house flipping company on Long Island, we’re re-introduced to the chemistry between perfectionist house stager Bethany and new-in-town Wes, who’s several years younger than Bethany but was forced to shoulder a lot of responsibility at a young age. Wes, who’s also a former rodeo competitor from the South, is instantly attracted to put-together Bethany, but she remains very skeptical of his motives for most of the book. When they’re thrown together in a house-flipping competition that’s being filmed for reality TV, their chemistry heats up as they begin to develop a mutual respect–Wes coming to see Bethany as a more complex person than the cool, calm, collected exterior she always portrays, and Bethany respecting Wes’s devotion to taking care of his niece after his sister left town.

Although I did think that Bethany and Wes had great chemistry with a lot of banter, I felt that the book overall tended to emphasize rigid traditional gender roles in a way that didn’t feel like it was set in 2020, which made it hard to fully enjoy the book. Although the development of the “Just Us League,” a group of women supporting women developed in the first book, seems on the surface to be a progressive, feminist act, there’s a lot of repetitive binary talk of “girls do this” and “guys do that” that’s never really challenged or explored in a modern sense. It’s something I noticed more and more as the series progressed, and that I wish had been addressed.

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

July Reading Wrap-Up!

I didn’t read quite as much in July compared to the past few months, but I did read several great new-to-me books and re-read a favorite from last year. Let’s get to the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 6

ebooks: 1

Audiobooks: 1

re-reads: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 3

 

Reviews

Sapphire Flames by Ilona AndrewsCatherine House by Elisabeth ThomasThe Worst Best Man by Mia SosaThe Heir Affair by Heather CocksLet Us Dream by Alyssa ColeSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (re-read) (4.5 stars) – I wanted to re-read Sapphire Flames, one of my favorite books of last year, in preparation for the release of its sequel, Emerald Blaze, next month, and definitely held up.  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 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.

The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa (4 stars) – Wedding planner Lina, who prides herself on her ability to control her emotions, was left at the altar by her ex-fiance Andrew, who blamed his younger brother Max for his last-minute change of heart. Fast-forward to three years later, and Lina is running her own business in D.C. but has her eye on a new position to plan weddings for an upscale hotel. The catch is that to interview for the position, she needs to collaborate with a marketing firm–whose team consists of Andrew and Max. Choosing Max as the lesser of two evils, Lina finds herself opening up to him and even falling for him, while Max is realizing that his brother’s ex-fiance might be the perfect woman for him.

This book has so many sweet moments, and a lot of really great discussion about what it means to be emotionally vulnerable, and how hard it can be to confront our assumptions about ourselves. It’s funny while also letting itself dive into more serious topics, and I really loved Max and Lina’s dynamic and how they brought out the best in each other. It’s also one that I think would make an amazing movie; fingers crossed that happens one day! If, like me, you’re finding yourself picking up a lot of romance lately, definitely add this to your list.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (4 stars) – Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas is a moody, atmospheric, Gothic-inspired book centered on a mysterious and unconventional Ivy League school at which our protagonist unexpectedly finds herself after her troubled teenage years. It fits perfectly into the dark academia subgenre (which is one of my favorites!) while also remaining unique. I don’t want to share very much about its plot; I went in with essentially no prior knowledge, and I think it’s best that way, but I will say that it’s full of strangeness and friendship, and deals with concepts of feeling like an outsider vs. belonging. It’s haunting and eerie, and there’s an overlying feeling of dread that suffuses each scene, and I really loved the experience of reading it. I did feel that the ending was more anticlimactic than I’d have preferred, and I wish that certain areas had been explored further, but I overall really enjoyed this one and am very excited for whatever Elisabeth Thomas comes out with next.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (4 stars) – An informative and accessible nonfiction book about many different aspects of racism that provides insight and nuance to different frequently discussed topics. It’s a book that I’d recommend to pretty much everyone, since it’s smart and incisive but with a conversational tone that’s also great on audiobook.

The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (3 stars) – I thought there were a lot of directions the authors could have taken this sequel to The Heir Affair, and unfortunately the direction they actually went with just wasn’t the most interesting one. The premise of these books–it’s basically a Prince William/Kate Middleton romance retelling–is fun, as are most of the characters (particularly Freddie, the Prince Harry character), but this book was too long, and in my opinion focused on the wrong things. I think it could have been a more interesting book if instead of a direct sequel we got a Prince Harry/Megan Markle romance retelling, or even if the sequel itself had been more streamlined and faster-paced. That being said, I did enjoy revisiting these characters and their constant drama, although I definitely prefer the first book.

Let Us Dream by Alyssa Cole (3 stars) – A historical fiction novella set during the women’s suffrage movement in New York, Let Us Dream follows cabaret owner Bertha and chef Amir as they learn from and teach each other about political engagement, dance, and love. I didn’t find this book quite as strong as some of Alyssa Cole’s other works; I think I would have liked it better if it had been longer and more developed, but it did have a great sense of atmosphere and a fantastic female protagonist in Bertha.

June Reading Wrap-Up

I read a LOT of things in June; not quite as many as April, my most productive reading month of the year so far, but still quite a few. Due to an injury, I had to stay off my feet for a lot of the month, and I definitely read quite a lot during that time. I focused my reading on picking up books from Black authors, and genre-wise, my reading was mainly comprised of romance, nonfiction, and literary fiction. Let’s get into it!

Stats

# of books read: 13

ARCs: 3

ebooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

re-reads: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Stamped by Jason ReynoldsBorn a Crime by Trevor NoahLet It Shine by Alyssa ColeOne to Watch by Kate Stayman-LondonAn American Marriage by Tayari JonesKindred by Octavia E. ButlerSalt Slow by Julia ArmfieldOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa ColeWould I Lie to the Duke by Eva LeighWhen a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa DareTake a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia HibbertHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. RowlingThe Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Reviews:

Kindred by Octavia Butler (5 stars) – Octavia Butler is one of my favorite authors, but until this month I hadn’t read her most well-known book, Kindred. I’m extremely glad I finally picked it up; every time I read one of her books I’m in awe all over again. Her writing is challenging and thought-provoking; it stays with you and forces you to engage with difficult topics rather than just finishing a book and being done with it. Kindred is a time-travel story set in the 1970s and following 26-year-old writer Dana, a Black woman living with her white boyfriend. She’s unexpectedly drawn back to the early 1800s to save a young white boy named Rufus from drowning and comes to understand that he’s her distant ancestor, and that she’s saving him to save her own family line. Dana is repeatedly drawn back every time Rufus’s life is in danger, and has to deal with his slave-owning family and the danger to her own life and freedom as a Black woman in early 1800s Maryland. Butler introduces a number of ethical questions throughout the book, and the answers are never easy; Dana is being forced to deal with the reality of slavery as a modern woman, and she constantly re-analyzes how her mind processes the inexplicable. It’s a powerful, insidiously devastating book, and I’d highly recommend picking it up along with Butler’s other works.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (5 stars) – This was my second read from Colson Whitehead, and my second five-star rating as well. I completely understand why this won the Pulitzer Prize; it’s devastating, impactful, crucial, and also deeply character-driven. Although fiction, it’s based on true events at a real reform school in Florida, which makes it all the more haunting and all the more relevant. Whitehead’s prose is continuously compelling, and he makes you feel so deeply for his characters. Highly recommend.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (4.5 stars) – I’m not going to lie, I don’t typically gravitate towards a book when I hear it described as literary fiction focused on a marriage. (That’s why I still haven’t picked up Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies despite the plethora of excellent reviews.) But! An American Marriage by Tayari Jones has completely changed my mind about judging books with this premise, because it was fantastic. Celestial and Roy have been married for a little more than a year when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and their fledgling marriage, already flawed, is further tested as they try to figure out how to stay connected rather than become further divided during his incarceration. Jones’s prose is continually engaging, and the dialogue and issues Celestial and Roy face feel completely authentic throughout. She also explores different themes of racism, gender roles, and the concept of marriage in really interesting ways. Because we hear from both Celestial and Roy in alternating perspectives, and also through their letters to each other, we’re able to see how they present themselves to one another as well as what they’re feeling internally, giving us a deeper understanding of them as characters. I’d highly recommend picking this one up if you haven’t already.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (4 stars) – I haven’t watched the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, so it took me quite awhile to actually pick this one up (I don’t know why I was under the impression that you’d have to be a fan of Noah’s show to be able to enjoy it, but that’s definitely not true). It was my brother who highly recommended it to me and who finally got me to pick it up, and I have to give him a lot of credit, because this book is fantastic. It’s about Trevor Noah’s childhood in South Africa as the son of a Black woman and a white man, which was illegal at the time of his birth, and chronicles growing up under apartheid with his strong, determined mother. Noah’s writing is extremely compelling, and he’ll have you both laughing and crying during this one, along with educating you about the reality of living in South Africa. I listened to the audiobook, and Noah tells his story so well; I honestly really hope that he writes more in the future, because he’s very talented and I’d probably pick up anything he writes. Now I guess I’ll have to start watching his show, too!

Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (4 stars) – An essential book for teens through adults that provides a succinct, accessible look at the history of racism and antiracism. The audiobook, narrated by Jason Reynolds, is excellent. Definitely recommend for anyone looking for an introduction to and context for racism in the U.S., as well as an examination of antiracist leaders and thinkers.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I loved this contemporary romance that featured fake dating, a social media-crafted relationship, a driven, career-focused heroine, and great mental health and work/life balance discussion. Check out my full review here; I received an eARC from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley.

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole (4 stars) – My first foray into Alyssa Cole’s historical romances; I’ve read 5 of her contemporaries so far. Set during the Civil Rights era, we’re following a Black college student inspired to make a difference and join the movement and the childhood best friend who resurfaces in her life, a Jewish boxer. As a Jewish chick myself, I really loved seeing a Jewish main character in a historical that isn’t set during World War II, and I thought that the discussions about racism and anti-Semitism were really interesting and well-done. This book also had a really good mix of romance and history, with one never detracting from the other, and a lot of fascinating information about the Civil Rights movement.

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare (4 stars) – I’m a sucker for a book with a great premise, and I’ve rapidly become a huge Tessa Dare fan over the past few months, so this was such a fun read for me. A young noblewoman with social anxiety invents a fake Scottish fiance and proceeds to write him letters for years on end, until she eventually kills him off in order to live out her life with the freedom to pursue the scientific illustrations that are her passion. Except that the fake fiance she was writing to turns out to be a real person, in need of a castle to house himself and his displaced army friends, who shows up asking for the marriage she invented. One of my favorite Tessa Dare books so far (although I’m just not into the Scotland thing–I understand it’s very big in historical romance, but I’m just not about it) and I’d recommend if you’re looking for an escapist read with plenty of humor amidst the romance.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (re-read) (4 stars) – Although reading Rowling’s work right now leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, I’m participating in a book club with a group of friends and doing a re-read of the Harry Potter series as a way for us to stay in touch during the pandemic. I actually ended up skipping book 5 (I remembered it well enough to participate in the discussion without a re-read) but dove back in with book 6, which I remembered much less thoroughly. I really enjoyed this one, particularly the focus on Dumbledore, who’s probably the most interesting character in the series.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (3.5 stars) – A contemporary romance novella companion to Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series that follows Likotsi, advisor to King Thabiso (we met them both in A Princess in Theory) and her love interest Fabiola, a jewelry designer she meets through an app while in New York. The two initially plan on a brief fling, as Likotsi has to return home to Thesolo, but both fall harder than expected, and when Fab unceremoniously ends things, they’re both somewhat heartbroken. During a chance meeting months later, the two are forced to confront their dormant feelings for one another and what exactly happened between them previously. It’s a sweet second-chance romance story, with flashbacks to their initial relationship interspersed with present day, and I thought the chemistry between Likotsi and Fabiola was really well done. I really wish it had been longer, though, as I would have liked to have seen things develop further, since I liked the characters so much.

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield (3 stars) – I really enjoyed several of the stories in Julia Armfield’s Salt Slow, but the majority didn’t quite work for me. I wanted to love this collection (I want to love every short story collection since they’re one of my favorite things to read!) and I do think that Salt Slow has a lot of great premises and ideas, but the execution often felt repetitive and the stories themselves felt like they would work better if either condensed or expanded. My favorites were the first few stories in the collection: “The Great Awake,” in which people gradually lose their ability to sleep, and the elusive Sleeps become manifestations that follow them around, and “The Collectibles,” about three lovelorn college roommates and how one of their theses turns sinister.

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London (3 stars) – One to Watch is a contemporary romance that very much feels like reading an in-depth take on a season of the Bachelorette, with a bit of the show Unreal mixed in. Bea, a plus-sized fashion blogger, goes viral for her critique of Main Squeeze, a Bachelor-esque franchise, and its lack of every type of diversity and representation in its cast–in particular its lack of women who don’t fit into a narrowly defined beauty standard. After a slew of low-rated seasons, the show’s new producer decides to cast Bea as the new Main Squeeze, but Bea is struggling to believe in the possibility of finding love after pining over her friend Ray for so long without true reciprocation. The men she meets on the show surprise her in several different ways, but she struggles to open herself up to the possibility of falling in love–and being hurt–again.

It’s an undoubtedly fun read, filled with pop culture references, a variety of love interests, Bachelor-esque tidbits, and body positive messages, and I flew through it. I was surprised by the addition of articles, Twitter hot takes, and recaps that interspersed the narrative, and it was a device that I really enjoyed as I felt it lent a more realistic portrayal (because in the world of the Bachelor franchise, there are no end to the slew of thinkpieces and gossip and brackets that consistently appear each season). But I felt that most of the plot twists were predictable, and Bea’s emotional journey faced the same issues too many times throughout the book; even though I understand that being vulnerable and open to love can be a difficult journey, I felt that the narrative could have been more streamlined.

I received an eARC of One to Watch from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh (3 stars) – Leigh’s Union of the Rakes series follows a group of misfit best friends who met in school in a Breakfast Club-esque detention scenario and who are now grown up and living in different stratas of London society; each book utilizes tropes inspired by 80’s movies. It’s a really fun idea for a historical romance series, and one that necessarily leads to a lot of hijinks. Would I Lie to the Duke follows highborn Ash, the Molly Ringwald of the friend group, and love interest Jess, a small business owner whose family soap-making company was recently devastated by a fire. Jess is working as a lady’s maid while attempting to find investors to help get her company back on track when she stumbles into a risky but potentially lucrative scheme: disguise herself as a member of the nobility and infiltrate an exclusive annual investment conference–one that Ash is also attending–and persuade the elite investors that her business is one worth sponsoring.

I really loved the chemistry between Jess and Ash–even though she’s a commoner and he’s a duke, there’s never a sense of entitlement or uncomfortable power dynamics due to Jess’s strong personality and the way they come to interact with one another. Structuring the plot around business and investing was something I hadn’t seen previously in a historical romance, and I thought it was an interesting way to do things. What I didn’t love was the deception inherent in Jess and Ash’s dynamic and how long it took for Jess’s deception to be revealed; I found it frustrating and it kept me from being able to completely root for them as a couple. I do think this is a very fun series, and I plan to pick up the next book when it’s released.

I received an eARC of Would I Lie to the Duke from the publisher courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag!

We’re halfway through the year (what) and that means it’s time for the Mid-Year Book Freak-Out tag, which was created several years ago by Ely and Chami.

I absolutely love doing this tag; I think it’s a great way to look back on what I’ve read over the past six months and consider where I need to focus my reading for the rest of the year. I usually give more than one answer for each question, because there are a LOT of books I want to talk about, and I try not to repeat the same books for different questions so that I can highlight more of them.

Let’s get started!

Best book you’ve read so far in 2020:

Bunny by Mona AwadPassage by Connie WillisKindred by Octavia E. ButlerPossessionThe SeasThe Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

OK, this is almost unfair, because in 2020 I read my NEW FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME, Bunny by Mona Awad. I also read several other stellar 5-star reads, which I also wanted to include here (interestingly, all are from past favorite authors, while Bunny was from a new-to-me author): Passage by Connie Willis, Kindred by Octavia Butler, Possession by A. S. Byatt,  The Seas by Samantha Hunt, and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020:

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5)Girl Gone Viral (Modern Love, #2)Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

I loved next-in-series books Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire (YA portal fantasy), Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (contemporary romance), and Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (contemporary romance).

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

Little EyesThe RegretsWriters & LoversThe Vanishing Half

SO MANY. I’m definitely behind on reading 2020 releases (not that you can ever really catch up!); four at the top of my list are Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (weird fiction), The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons (paranormal), Writers & Lovers by Lily King (fiction), and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (historical fiction).

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:

Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2)Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky #1)Or What You WillTranscendent Kingdom

There are SO MANY fantastic-sounding books coming out in the second half of 2020. I’m particularly excited for Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, Or What You Will by Jo Walton, and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi.

Biggest disappointment

Followers by Megan AngeloThe Last Book Party by Karen Dukess

I…did not like Followers. It sounded like a sharp, relevant commentary on society’s over-dependency on social media, but fell flat for me, especially with regard to characterization. And The Last Book Party just was not what I expected, particularly in terms of writing strength.

Biggest surprise

The Governess Game by Tessa DareLet It Shine by Alyssa Cole

My number one reading surprise for 2020 has been historical romance as a genre. I hadn’t been even remotely a historical romance reader until late 2019, when I read and really enjoyed Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke. In 2020, I somehow found myself picking up much more historical romance, and enjoying nearly all of it (I’ve read 6 so far this year!). Tessa Dare has become a new favorite of mine, and I also loved Alyssa Cole’s Civil Rights-era romance novella Let it Shine ; I’m excited to pick up more from both of them in the near future.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

My other reading surprise so far this year was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I tend to avoid literary fiction books centered around marriages, because the topic just doesn’t grab me (I’ve been avoiding Lauren Groff’s lauded Fates & Furies for that reason also), but this book was fantastic, and I was gripped the entire way through.

Favorite new author (debut or new to you)

Queenie by Candice Carty-WilliamsThe Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie VictoireWhat Shines from It by Sara Rauch

I decided to go with favorite new debut authors for this question; I rated all of these books between 4 and 4.5 stars and would highly recommend them. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (contemporary fiction), The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie Victoire (fabulism short story collection), and What Shines From It by Sara Rauch (contemporary short story collection).

Newest fictional crush

I don’t think I have a solid answer for this one! I did read a lot of romance during the first half of 2020, but none of the love interests really stand out.

Newest favorite character

Queenie by Candice Carty-WilliamsJuliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraBunny by Mona Awad

OK, I’m going to have to repeat books for this category (this is the only one, I promise!). I LOVED the well-drawn and relatable protagonists of Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, and Bunny by Mona Awad.

Book that made you cry

Passage by Connie Willis

This was an easy one. I SOBBED throughout the last third of so of Passage by Connie Willis; it was devastating and beautifully done.

Book that made you happy

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross

I really loved this first-in-series paranormal romance set in New Orleans; it was really everything I was looking for in the genre (Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross).

Most beautiful book you’ve bought or received so far this year

Spectral EvidenceCatherine HouseSalt SlowBy Light We Knew Our Names

I love abstract covers with interesting colors and designs; these are four that I’ve hauled this year that I think are absolutely gorgeous.

What books do you need to read before the end of the year?

HomegoingRadianceStamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in AmericaIn the Dream House: A Memoir

SO MANY BOOKS. But four I really want to prioritize are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, and In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado.

 

If you’ve done this tag, please link down below, because I’d love to see it! If not, feel free to comment any favorite reads so far for 2020.

May Reading Wrap-Up!

May was probably one of my most successful reading months of 2020. I got into this very weird and specific reading mood where I just did not have the patience to finish anything I didn’t absolutely love, and so I ended up DNF-ing quite a few things, but then the books that I did like enough to finish I ended up loving in pretty much every case. Nothing I read this month got less than 4 stars from me, which is pretty unheard of (again, this was totally due to my DNF-ing/impatience strategy), and I read two 5-star books that will likely become favorites for the year. My reading goals for the month were to do some catching up on Book of the Month titles (I finished 2 and started another, which I hope to finish in June) and to participate in the Tome Topple Readathon by reading 500+ page books (I finished 2 new-to-me tomes in May, and also re-read another tome), so I’m quite happy with that.

Stats:

# of books finished: 10

ebooks: 3

audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Re-reads: 2

Reviews:

The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie VictoireAurora Rising by Amie KaufmanQueenie by Candice Carty-WilliamsBeach Read by Emily HenryPossession by A.S. ByattCork Dork by Bianca BoskerAurora Burning by Amie KaufmanThe Governess Game by Tessa DareThe Seas by Samantha HuntHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Possession by A. S. Byatt (5 stars) -A. S. Byatt’s Possession is one of the most ambitious books I’ve ever read, and I’m so glad to have finally picked it up. Its two main characters are researchers in the world of academia and focusing on two 19th century poets; they meet when a surprise discovery reveals a previously unknown connection between their two subjects. We’re thrown into the world of skeptical ’80s literary research as well as the romanticism and poetry embraced in the mid-1800s, and Byatt impressively manages to not only bring these characters to life but to write original 19th century-style poems, letters, diary entries, and stories in several different voices. My favorite aspect of the book was the feminist poems and stories from Christabel LaMotte, which focus on retellings of mythology I wasn’t familiar with. Highly recommend; it’s a gorgeous and impressive book.

The Seas by Samantha Hunt (5 stars) – I devoured this book. It’s about a 19-year-old girl living in an unnamed, isolated small Northern town on the coast with the highest rate of alcoholism in the country. Her father disappeared when she was younger, and to cope with his loss, she’s come to believe that both she and her father are mermaids and that she is destined to bring death to the man she loves unless he marries her or she returns to the sea. She lives with her mother and grandfather and pines after her only friend, Jude, an alcoholic Iraq war veteran more than ten years her senior. It’s not a happy book, but it’s gorgeously told with fabulist elements and short chapters that almost work as self-contained pieces themselves. Highly recommend.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (5 stars) (re-read) – I know I’ve talked about this in previous wrap-ups, but I’m currently doing a book club with some friends I went to high school with, and we’re doing a re-read of the Harry Potter series during the pandemic as a sort of comfort re-reading/discussion series. I think all of us agreed that Goblet of Fire was our favorite so far (by a large margin), and it was a re-read that I really enjoyed. (We are all also VERY disappointed in and disgusted by J. K. Rowling’s recent transphobic comments and her attitude toward the trans community in general. We decided to continue with our book club, as the Harry Potter series played a huge role in our childhoods and we’re enjoying the social interaction and connection from our re-reading, but separating the books from Rowling herself, although it has been part of several of our discussions.)

The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie Victoire (4.25 stars) – I really enjoyed the fabulism and fairy tale elements in this short story collection, which were reflected both in the content of the stories and the almost old-fashioned, fairy tale style of writing. Would definitely recommend to any other short story fans out there. My favorites in the collection were “Time and Silence,” in which a mysterious girl is discovered in the show by an abused young boy; “The Bouquet Witch,” in which a lonely young woman joins forces with a local witch to avenge the brokenhearted; and “Shanty,” a powerful exploration of gender identity and mermaids.

Beach Read by Emily Henry (4 stars) – OK, I get the hype now. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about the sheer volume of 5-star reviews I was seeing for this one, but I can confirm the hype is well-deserved. Emily Henry’s writing is just SO GOOD, and January is such a likable and relatable main character, that it was so hard to put this book down to get things done. I love all of the discussion about genre snobbery and romance/women’s fiction vs “literary” fiction and how the antagonistic relationship between the main characters develops into a sort of teamwork vibe; I love all the discussion about how much books, reading, and writing mean to people. For some reason the last third or so didn’t work as well for me, but overall a smart and addictive contemporary romance that I’d definitely recommend.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (4 stars) – A contemporary fiction set in London that was longlisted for the Women’s Prize that follows Queenie, a 25-year-old working for a news magazine and navigating friendships and relationships while coping with hints of past trauma. Queenie is a character who feels so completely real; while there definitely is a plot, the book almost reads like a character study, and you get to know her so well throughout the novel. I’ve seen this book compared to Bridget Jones in the marketing, which I don’t think is accurate at all (no offense to Bridget, but Queenie is a much better book that also deals with serious topics like racism and mental health). I’m so impressed that this is a debut novel; I’ll definitely be looking for more from this author in the future.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (re-read) (4 stars) – My review from last year: Unexpectedly fun and well-written YA science fiction book featuring a band of misfits, that reminded me slightly of Six of Crows but in space. I picked up this one randomly after reading a recommendation on Litsy and was not at all sorry. The trope of a bunch of extremely different people teaming up has always been one of my favorites (Six of Crows, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Lord of the Rings, etc, etc) and it worked really well in the context of this new first-in-series book by the co-authors of the Illuminae Files trilogy, which I also very much enjoyed. Lots of humor, lots of action, and many lovable characters.

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (4 stars) – I didn’t love this quite as much as Aurora Rising; two of the main characters became way less likable in this one, and there was a huge “plot twist” that was extremely predictable. But! It was still a really fun read for the most part, and I love the majority of Squad 312 and their banter and friendships. We get to know Zila a lot better in this book, which was something I was hoping for. I do feel that this book was a clear middle book in a trilogy, and I hope that the last book is a lot more satisfying.

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (4 stars) – My favorite so far of Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke quartet; I previously read books 3 and 1, out of order. This one follows astronomy-inclined Alex and flirtatious Chase, who’s recently become guardian of two younger cousins he’s not sure how to manage. When he mistakes Alex for a governess and hires her, the two begin to develop feelings for one another. Dare’s writing is smart, witty, and entertaining, and I can see myself picking up a lot more from her in the future.

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker (4 stars) – An interesting, informative deep dive into the world of wine and sommeliers, written by a journalist who leaves her position as a tech editor to immerse herself in this strange subculture. I really enjoyed learning much more than I ever had about wine; I like wine, and I’ve tasted at a lot of different vineyards, but I didn’t know even a tiny fraction of what Bosker unearths.

April Reading Wrap-Up and Reviews

I read significantly more than I normally do in April, due to social distancing requirements, working part time instead of full time, and books being a huge source of escape and stress relief. I also did a lot more re-reading than average, as I joined a book club via Zoom where I’m re-reading the Harry Potter series with a group of friends. I’m glad to have found a new favorite for 2020 as well this month; let’s get into the stats and reviews.

Total books read: 14

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 1

The Office by Andy GreeneThe Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-GarciaWow, No Thank You. by Samantha IrbyWayward Son by Rainbow RowellThe Duchess Deal by Tessa DarePassage by Connie WillisThe Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade ThompsonThe City We Became by N.K. JemisinUnspoken by Sarah Rees BrennanBlink by Malcolm Gladwell

Passage by Connie Willis (5 stars) – This is not a perfect book. It’s too long, it meanders, and it builds suspense for way too long before the reveals happen. But it’s an amazing book, and I laughed and cried intermittently throughout the last 200-300 pages. Even though it takes awhile to get there, its conclusions are absolutely beautiful and perfect.

So this book kicked off a bit of a rant about longer (500+) page books, and how lately I’ve been let down by several of them that I felt could have been edited down more. Even though I was enjoying Connie Willis’s writing style the way I normally do with her books, I felt that the plot kept getting stagnant and that the reveals were few and far between in this 800-page tome. But then, in the last 300 or so pages of the book, I was completely blown away by the poignancy, creativity, and boldness of the plot choices, and I ended up alternately laughing and crying throughout the book’s last sections. And because of that, even though I do think it has flaws, I absolutely couldn’t give Passage anything less than 5 stars. If you haven’t read Connie Willis yet, you need to. I might not start off with Passage if you haven’t read her before (maybe start with To Say Nothing of the Dog or Crosstalk) but she’s an author I wish I saw more people reading on here. Oh, and as for what this book is about: it’s about scientists researching near-death experiences while dealing with a variety of inescapable side characters and inexplicable findings, and it’s fantastic.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin (4 stars) – N.K. Jemisin is one of my absolute favorite authors, and I loved the concept of The City We Became, which involves cities designating human avatars to defend them from a nebulous, alien Enemy that wants to keep the cities from self-actualizing into dimension-spanning cultural centers. And even though I still found Jemisin’s writing to be excellent, I really struggled with the plot structure and pacing of this book. In The City We Became, we’re introduced to six fascinating characters: the avatars of each of the five boroughs of New York, and of New York itself, but unfortunately it felt like it took almost half the book just for the introductions to occur. I really liked all of the interplay between the characters once they started meeting up, which set up a lot of interesting character dynamics, but then I ended up frustrated with the pacing towards the end of the book as well, particularly a short and anticlimactic climax. So this was a four star book for me, and I’m hoping that the awesome setup leads to an even better sequel.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (4 stars) – a unique historical fantasy full of romance and drama from a new-to-me author that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile. I really enjoyed the high society shenanigans going on in The Beautiful Ones, and it’s a book that’s as entertaining as it is well-written. Moreno-Garcia uses really beautiful metaphors that evoke gorgeous imagery, and the plot was very tightly written, with no extraneous actions or pages. Very glad I picked this one up; I was inspired to finally read it as I found myself in a very specific mood where all I wanted to read was fantasy and/or historical romance, and this was a great combination of the two.

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell (4 stars) – I’d read a lot of meh reviews of Wayward Son, the sequel to Harry Potter homage and YA favorite Carry On, so my expectations were pretty low going into it. I ended up really enjoying it, however; I understand that some readers might be frustrated at the slower pace and sparser plotting, but I really enjoyed road tripping along with the characters I grew to love in Carry On. At its heart, it’s a sweet story about love and friendship that deals with life after traumatic events, and the fact that the plot was secondary to the character development really didn’t bother me. I liked the introduction of a new human character enamored with the magical world, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Rowell does with the final book in the trilogy, Any Way the Wind Blows.

The Office: An Oral History by Andy Greene (4 stars) – A well-done full-cast audiobook production, I listened to The Office while stress-cleaning my apartment, and it brought me back to when I first discovered the show in college and had its posters adorning my dorm room walls. I really enjoyed hearing behind-the-scenes stories and tidbits, although I could have skipped the parts about the British version of the show (sorry, British version fans–I just never loved it the way I do the American version). If you’re a fan like me, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (3.5 stars) – a fun, quick YA Gothic from the author of one of my favorite books of all time (In Other Lands). I enjoyed this one, although I could tell it was one of the author’s earlier books; some characters felt at times like prototypes for characters in In Other Lands, particularly smart, snarky aspiring journalist protagonist Kami, who reminded me a lot of In Other Lands‘ Elliott, albeit much less prickly. I do plan on continuing with the trilogy, as I started to love all of the characters the more I read.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (3.5 stars) – This is the first book in Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke series; I read the third book The Wallflower Wager last month and enjoyed it enough to want to continue with the series, albeit out of order. The Duchess Deal was still an enjoyable read, but I liked it slightly less than book 3; the titular duke was a bit too angsty and emotionally distant, and I was consequently a bit less invested in the romance. I did like determined protagonist Emma, a seamstress who finds herself the recipient of a surprise marriage proposal when all she’s trying to do is get paid for the wedding dress she designed, and I do plan to continue on to books 2 and 4 in the series.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby (3.5 stars) – another sometimes funny, sometimes impactful essay collection from Samantha Irby; I previously read her collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. I enjoyed this collection but wasn’t blown away; at times her writing style can start to feel repetitive. I listened to this one on audiobook.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (3 stars) – Blink was my second foray into Gladwell; I had picked up Outliers a few years back and found it very interesting. I did enjoy learning about all of the studies cited in Blink, but I did find it somewhat repetitive and not always as engaging or conclusive as I wanted it to be. I do want to pick up a more recent Gladwell to see if I enjoy it a bit more, and because I do think that his books are accessible and provide good information.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson (3 stars) – a horror novella about a girl whose blood creates doppelgängers every time she’s injured, and then her doubles always inevitably try to kill her. It was an interesting concept, but didn’t blow me away.

Re-reads:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. RowlingCarry On by Rainbow RowellHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (5 stars)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (4 stars)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (4 stars)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (4 stars)

2019: My Reading Year in Review and Stats

We’re a quarter of the way into 2020, which means it’s the perfect time for my 2019 reading wrap-up. I always like to organize a recap of my reading year with some statistics, lists, and final thoughts, and I didn’t want to let a little lateness stop me. Looking back on my reading helps me to better plan reading goals and plans for the future, and if nothing else I also just find it interesting to see how my reading breaks down in different categories.

So here are some stats/fun facts:

Total books read: 103

Total pages read: 32,900

Average rating: 3.9 stars

Shortest book read: Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin (33 pages)

Longest book read: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (re-read) (699 pages)

Average book length: 319 pages

Most popular book (based on Goodreads data): Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (re-read)

Least popular book (based on Goodreads data): Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

 

Top 10 books of 2019:

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

 

And now for some charts breaking down my reading:

 

Adult vs. YA:

Author breakdown by gender:

Format:

 

Genre:

 

Release year:

 

Longest Reads (new to me)
Children of Blood and Bone 525 pages
Aurora Rising 470 pages
Rage 460 pages
Ninth House 458 pages
Gideon the Ninth 448 pages

March Reading Wrap-Up/Discussion

First of all, I really hope that everyone is safe and healthy, and I’m sending all of you bookish friends a lot of love. I know that this month has been difficult and scary, and I always want this corner of the bookish internet to be a place for us to celebrate our love of reading, in both good times and bad.

It would be a lie to say that everything going on hasn’t affected my reading life the way that it’s affected everything else; of course it has. I’m currently working part time; I work in the healthcare field, so it’s an essential service, but routine visits are being postponed at this time. Despite the fact that I’m working less, I’m not necessarily reading more–I’m doing more work outside of work than I usually do, talking and Facetiming with friends and family more, and I’m also finding it harder to concentrate. I think I DNF’d at least 3 books this month either because they couldn’t hold my attention, were too dark, or I didn’t think I’d rate them highly enough to be worth continuing; I’m finding that my DNF threshold is very low right now, because I only want to read books that are a good distraction and are easy to follow.

What has been working for me genre-wise has been romance, contemporary YA, and fantasy; almost all of my books from this month (and probably for next month too, since I’ve got several going right now) fit into those categories. Familiar authors are also comforting; I was grateful that Alisha Rai and Sarah J. Maas had new releases or ARCs that I was able to dive into. I was able to finish six books this month and I rated all of those 4 stars or above; I’m very grateful to have found some very good and comforting reads in the last few weeks. I hope that you all have too.

Stats:

Books finished: 6

ARCs: 2

Audiobooks: 2

What Shines from It by Sara RauchSolitaire by Alice OsemanHouse of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. MaasGirl Gone Viral by Alisha RaiThey Both Die at the End by Adam SilveraThe Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare

Reviews:

What Shines From It by Sara Rauch (4.5 stars) – A fantastic short story collection focusing on fractured or fracturing relationships and incredibly human characters. The stories are thoughtful and beautifully written, and they stayed with me long after I finished reading them; check out my full review here. I received an ARC of What Shines From It from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (4.5 stars) – I absolutely loved this contemporary romance featuring strong friendships and family bonds, discussion of mental health issues, and two sweet main characters. Check out my full review here; I received an eARC of Girl Gone Viral from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (4 stars) – It’s hard to review a book that I was anticipating for so long. I’m a huge fan of Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but I could never get into her YA series, Throne of Glass, but from what I know of both series Crescent City does retread some familiar ground, particularly in regard to characterization. It’s also definitely too long, which I wouldn’t have minded if it was also a bit better, but there were also things I did really enjoy about it. I might do a long, spoilery review involving a pro/con list later on, but essentially, I felt it was a fun read with some characters that I really loved, a beautiful female friendship at its heart, and hints of intrigue to come.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman (4 stars) – A well-written, character-focused contemporary YA from the author of Radio Silence, which I loved. This is Oseman’s first novel, but doesn’t read like it–it has both humor and emotional depth, but it’s the characters that really shine.

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare (4 stars) – Historical romance is still a new-to-me genre, but what everyone I talk to seems to agree on is that Tessa Dare is a must-read author. With The Wallflower Wager, I understood why–this book is fun but also packs emotional punches, and it’s light without ever feeling inconsequential. It’s the perfect book to pick up if you need assurances that a happy ending is around the corner.

They Both Died at the End by Adam Silvera (4 stars) – YA contemporary, with a twist: a service called DeathCast calls you just after midnight on the day you’re going to die, and although there’s nothing you can do about it, you’re then able to live out your last day to the fullest. In the case of protagonists Rufus and Mateo, they decide to use the Last Friend app, which matches you with another person fated to die so that the two of you can spend your day together. It’s a well-written book, poignant without being overly sappy, and features a really lovely relationship that’s totally believable despite its day-long time frame.

 

What books worked best for you this month? Are there certain authors or genres you find yourself drawn to lately? And how are you guys doing with everything? Let me know in the comments.