Category Archives: Reading Recaps

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.

Feb Reading Wrap-Up!

 

Feb was a solid reading month for me, but not a standout one. I found some books I enjoyed and learned from, as well as some really fun reads, and participated in two readathons (Tome Topple and the Contemporaryathon), but I also had a few disappointments. I think I also set myself up for failure a little bit considering I read my NEW FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME, Bunny by Mona Awad, in January, which of course was a tough act to follow.

Stats:

Books finished: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

ebooks: 2

The Last Book Party by Karen DukessThe Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri WilsonSerpent & Dove by Shelby MahurinJuliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraWicked Wonderland by Eva ChaseWrathful Wonderland by Eva ChaseOctavia's Brood by Adrienne Maree BrownMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (4 stars) – I just finished Middlegame, and I…have some thoughts. Here’s the thing: I was really hoping that this book would blow me away, and it didn’t, and even though I overall enjoyed it, I just kept wanting more weirdness, more alchemy, more fantasy, more explanation and exploration of the genuinely awesome concepts at work in this book, and also less time spent with the main characters as children with little forward motion. Middlegame is fantastically creative, following twins created to become the living embodiments of math and language and, through fantastical alchemy, harness the power to shape the world for their creator. It’s a long book, but I think it spends time in the wrong places, and for that reason it’s a 4 star and not a favorite for me. I’d still recommend it, and I remain a huge Seanan McGuire fan, but I wish this amazing story had been told just a little bit differently.

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (4 stars) – After seeing this YA fantasy romance on about a million top ten lists at the end of 2019, I was fully convinced I needed to pick it up. And although this wasn’t a favorite for me, I did find it a very fun read–it’s a marriage of convenience/enemies-to-lovers plotline, featuring a kingdom divided between witches and witch-hunters. I think that I might have enjoyed it more if it leaned more thoroughly in the direction of either fantasy or romance, rather than straddling the two, but it’s definitely worth picking up, and I’ll be looking for the sequel, Blood & Honey, which comes out in the fall.

Wicked Wonderland by Eva Chase (4 stars) – I’ve been looking out for a good Alice in Wonderland retelling for awhile now; I’m obsessed with the SyFy adaptation of Alice, and have had this hope of somehow finding the book equivalent. With Wicked Wonderland, the first book in the Looking-Glass Curse trilogy, I finally found one that worked for me! Lyssa’s just been cheated on by her boyfriend, and after her aunt passes away and leaves her a house, she moves into the secluded mansion in the forest and discovers an unusual mirror. This being an Alice retelling, she of course falls through the mirror into Wonderland and into the resistance movement against the tyrannical Queen of Hearts–while falling for three very different men she meets. It’s a slow-burn fantasy romance, with the heroine moving in the direction of a poly relationship rather than a love square (which was a refreshing change in a romance, as there isn’t any jealousy or competition, but rather mature people communicating about what they’re looking for in relationships) but the resistance plotline, along with the heroine’s journey towards believing in herself, takes center stage. Definitely recommend if you’re looking for an adult retelling of Wonderland with plenty of action and romance.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (4 stars) – I really loved this contemporary coming-of-age story that focuses on intersectional feminism. The main character, Juliet, is so relatable, as is her search for knowledge about gender, feminism, race, and intersectionality that leads to constant questioning and learning from everyone around her. It’s a book that I really think everyone would benefit from reading.

Wrathful Wonderland by Eva Chase (4 stars) – In the second installment in Chase’s Looking-Glass Curse trilogy, Lyssa finds herself more deeply enmeshed in the resistance movement against the Queen of Hearts, and even more drawn to the three men she met in book 1–and they, in turn, begin to have more and more faith in her ability to save Wonderland.

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson (3.5 stars) – A very cute, Miss Congeniality-esque book about a nerdy teacher who has to take her twin’s place at a beauty pageant after an allergic reaction renders her twin unable to compete. It was a very fun read that made me want to re-watch Miss Congeniality immediately afterwards.

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess (3 stars) – I was hoping to like this one more than I did. It’s a summer coming-of-age story set in the 1980’s, following an aspiring writer finding herself wandering down the wrong path, in no small part due to her desire to be a part of the literary and artistic elite crowd where her family summers on Cape Cod. Unfortunately, I felt that although it was a quick, entertaining read, it lacked depth, and I had a big problem with one character’s extremely problematic actions being excused at the end.

 

Here’s to finding some 5-star reads in March!

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.