Category Archives: Reading Recaps

April Reading Wrap-Up

I had a really productive reading month in April! I managed to find a few new favorites, and I finally made some headway on picking up some of my most anticipated new releases of 2021. In general in 2021, I’ve been picking up fewer new releases than I’d planned, and now I have a bunch that I feel like I need to start catching up on. I did have a few disappointing reads this month, but overall it was excellent; I also enjoyed participating in another round of Dewey’s 24-hour readathon.

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

ARCs/review copies: 1

ebooks: 1

Tender by Sofia SamatarThe Princess Trap by Talia HibbertWinter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellOne Person, No Vote by Carol AndersonSecond First Impressions by Sally ThorneTrick Mirror by Jia TolentinoFlyaway by Kathleen JenningsBlood Heir by Ilona AndrewsKingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Reviews & Ratings:

Tender by Sofia Samatar (5 stars) –¬†Tender, an incredibly creative and thought-provoking short story collection by Sofia Samatar, should be a must-read for any SFF and/or short story fan. Divided into two sections, Tender Bodies and Tender Lanscapes, many of its stories heavily feature myths and folklore, while others are set in varied and unique futures. Many stories are told in unconventional formats (letters, journal entries, fictional historical documents) which serve to create even more impact and in many cases realism despite their fantastical and futuristic premises. My favorites from the collection include “Honey Bear,” about parents trying to give their daughter a ‘normal’ day at the beach in the midst of a haunting slow apocalypse; “Walkdog,” written like a school assignment and emphasizing guilt and local myth; and “Ogres of East Africa,” written like a compendium on the topic but with its narrator’s own story interwoven. If this book it’s already on your TBR, it should be.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell (4.5 stars) – This book was a surprise in all the best ways, and I’m really looking forward to picking up a lot more from this author. At its heart it’s a slow-burn romance between two men who find themselves forced into marriage to solidify an alliance, but it also has plenty of political maneuvering and investigations into a murder and potential conspiracy on the eve of a crucial interplanetary treaty renewal. It’s a lovely story about two people from different planets who want to understand each other and work toward a common goal, and everything that gets in the way of that. I think that both scifi and romance readers will find plenty to love in this book; it honestly just made me really happy to read.

The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – A contemporary romance featuring modern royalty and a fake engagement that also deals with heavier topics like the emotional ramifications of child abuse. This has now become tied with Take a Hint, Dani Brown for my favorite Talia Hibbert novel; it reads very quickly and has a good balance of romance and emotional growth. HR representative Cherry has a chance encounter with an obscure European prince, and after they’re caught hooking up by paparazzi, the prince tells the press that she’s his fiancee in order to protect her from slander and the invasive photos being published. After I finished this book I immediately wanted to read even more from Hibbert. Although very distinct, The Princess Trap has similar themes to A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (flirty prince of obscure European country has been depicted as playboy in the media but is dealing with private trauma; fake engagement; royal family secrets), which is my favorite novel by Cole, so I think readers of one will definitely love the other.

Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – This is the first book in a new spin-off series from Andrews’ beloved Kate Daniels series, and it’s difficult to discuss the premise while avoiding major spoilers. But this book has everything I love about books from my favorite UF/PNR author: lovable characters, believable action sequences, humor, and heart. I can’t wait for more in this newest series.

Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne (4 stars) – I’ve loved all of Sally Thorne’s books so far, and Second First Impressions was no exception. She writes with a lot of humor and quirkiness, and is adept at capturing the little weirdnesses in all of our minds. In Second First Impressions, we meet buttoned-up retirement community administrator Ruthie, who’s dealing with a lot of anxieties from her past and finding refuge by living on-site and helping the residents with everything they need. Her world is rocked by a rapid series of events: her boss goes away on a cruise, leaving Ruthie in charge; the temp in her office wants to help her start dating; and the parent company begins a site review of the retirement community that threatens Ruthie’s job and way of life. And most disruptive is the arrival of Teddy, tattoo artist and son of the parent company’s owner, who moves in on site for a temporary job and quickly develops an interest in Ruthie. I thought that Thorne developed great chemistry between Ruthie and Teddy, and I also loved the friendships that Ruthie developed with Melanie the office temp and the retirement community residents. It’s a really sweet, feel-good story, and I’d be surprised if this one doesn’t end up among my favorite romances of the year.¬† I received a gifted copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson (4 stars) – An extremely informative account of the history of voter suppression in America that is both historically thorough and extremely current. I learned so much about how voter suppression has been an endemic part of American history and the different ways in which it has been used and is currently used to suppress Black voices. It’s a book that could be relevant at any time, but in light of the new slate of voter suppression bills being introduced after the 2020 election it’s a reminder that this is nothing new and that it much be challenged and fought at every turn in order to obtain free and fair elections. It’s a book that should be required reading in America.

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings (3.5 stars) – A folklore-inspired mystery novella set in a remote area of Australia, Flyaway is centered around a family that has unraveled and a girl struggling to uncover her memories of how it really happened. There’s a really well-crafted sense of place in this novella, and it was interesting hearing about the different folk tales of the area. I found the ending a bit anticlimactic, though, and the scenery descriptions, while lovely, became very repetitive even in a very short book.

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino (3 stars) – This essay collection was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I thought that some of the essays were strong, especially those that were primarily autobiographical; others really struggled with cohesiveness and contradictions.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco (2 stars) – Unfortunately, this YA fantasy, although starting off with a great premise (demons and witches in historical Sicily, with a murdered twin setting off a mystery plot complicated by a possible romance), really failed in its execution of both plot and characters for me.

 

March Reading Wrap-Up

I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m kind of on a roll with reading so far in 2021!

March was a fantastic reading month for me. I managed to finish 2 fairly long fantasy books (450+ pages), read 2 books from the Women’s Prize longlist, found a great new author who writes romance in several different genres, read a book that’s been on my shelves for at least 5+ years, and finished a book that will definitely be making my favorites of the year list. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats:

Total books read: 9

Audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

And Again by Jessica ChiarellaTranscendent Kingdom by Yaa GyasiFables & Other Lies by Claire ContrerasBlack Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseExciting Times by Naoise DolanDead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Sady DoyleAcross the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireHarrow the Ninth by Tamsyn MuirThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (5 stars) – I haven’t been gravitating as much towards epic fantasy in the past few years the way that I used to, but Black Sun reminded me of everything I loved about the genre. The worldbuilding is intricate and extremely well-crafted; the setting is inspired by the civilizations of the pre-Columbian Americas but is completely unique. We’re following four main characters in shifting perspectives who seem to be set on a collision course centered around the upcoming eclipse and Winter Solstice in Tova, the city that’s the religious center of loosely allied lands in what seems to be a tenuous peace. I was equally interested in the storylines of Xiala, a ship captain with magical singing powers who is ferrying a mysterious young man who thinks he’ll find his destiny in Tova, and the Sun Priest of Tova, who is fighting conspiracies and popular opinion shifting against her that seems to be centered around the mysterious Carrion Crow people. Compelling is a word that gets thrown around a lot to describe books, but it’s very apt in this case. The pacing is extremely well done, with no slow moments, with the multiple perspectives contributing to this. I loved this one and already can’t wait for the sequel.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (4.25 stars) – This book is a thoughtful, introspective work that delves into conflicts between science and religion, but is also the very personal story of a young neuroscientist mourning the loss of her brother to a heroin overdose and trying to help her mother manage her severe depression. The timeline constantly shifts between adult Gifty as a PhD candidate researching the causes of addiction and attempting to find a cure for the same and her childhood growing up in a very religious household, where we learn why Gifty is drawn to the research she is doing and how her family has shaped her present. It’s beautifully written and a very worthwhile read; the audiobook is narrated by Bahni Turpin, my favorite narrator, and is extremely well done. It’s clear why this was nominated for the Women’s Prize, and it seems like a strong contender to win.

Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras (4 stars) – I’m not going to lie, I was drawn to Fables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras because of its gorgeous cover, and once I heard that it was a Gothic romance I was completely on board. Penelope is reluctantly returning home to Pan Island for her father’s funeral and quickly finds herself enmeshed in the island’s mythology and legends that she’d thought she’d escaped. She also finds herself catching the eye of River, the mysterious heir to the family that’s the legendary rival of hers–a family rumored to be cursed. I loved the mystery and supernatural elements that are essential to this book; there was the perfect amount of twists and suspense enmeshed with the romance. It ends up feeling like a modern, fantastical Gothic romance that’s very grounded in its sense of place. More than anything, this was just a joy to read; I enjoyed myself throughout, and never doubted that the author would take the story where it needed to go. The writing style is more spare and may not work well for every reader, but I loved it enough to immediately purchase another Claire Contreras book after I finished this one. Fantasy romance and/or PNR readers should definitely check this one out.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (4 stars) – This was the fourth longlisted nominee for the Women’s Prize that I’ve picked up. I found it funny and incisive, although its title belies a very introspective and uneventful tale. Ava is a young Irish woman who moves to Hong Kong to teach English and in search of something new, and she’s drawn to two different people while there: Julian, a British banker, and Edith, a lawyer with roots in Hong Kong. I particularly enjoyed the book’s exploration of women’s rights in Ireland and its discussions about bisexuality. I did feel that it reads like a debut novel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–it’s very much coming-of-age and self-exploration-focused. Its quiet nature means it may not be for everyone, but I quite enjoyed the read and will be looking for what Dolan does next.

And Again by Jessica Chiarella (4 stars) – a novel with a science fiction-inspired premise but an entirely character-driven narrative. It’s set in the approximate present or very-near future, with the caveat that the U.N. has made an exception to the ban on human cloning, for medical purposes only. We meet the four people involved in the first phase of the clinical trial that clones a terminally ill patient, rapidly ages the clone to the patient’s age, and then transfers a part of the patient’s brain into the cloned body, so that the patient awakens in a new, healthy body, but ostensibly can retain their memories and personality. We see the emotional fallout, both positive and negative, from the perspectives of Connie, a former soap star determined to return to the acting world; David, a Republican congressman whose constituents would be furious if they knew he was part of a treatment involving human cloning; Hannah, an artist who felt like she was losing her sense of self even before the transfer; and Linda, a fan of Connie’s soap who struggles to feel like a part of her family. At the beginning, I was favoring certain characters’ chapters over others, but before long I was equally invested in all four stories. I really enjoyed delving into their interactions in group therapy and their transfers’ ramifications on their lives; the only part of the book I wasn’t a huge fan of was the ending.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (4 stars) – I think I set myself up with impossible expectations for Harrow the Ninth, since Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth has become one of my all-time favorite SFF novels and is a book I find myself thinking about frequently. It’s not that I didn’t like Harrow, it’s just that, for me, I didn’t love it nearly as much as Gideon. I really struggled with its pacing and repetitiveness; I thought that the book could have accomplished the same things more concisely and with more impact. That being said, I’m very excited with where things left off heading into the third book, Alecto the Ninth, which is set to come out in 2022.

Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle (4 stars) – Doyle uses historical¬† and true crime examples as well as digressions into horror and fiction to talk about the portrayal of women as monsters, and how this at times can either challenge or reinforce the structure of patriarchy. If you enjoyed her previous book Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why, Dead Blondes acts as a solid follow-up to her combination of sociological discussion intermingled with pop culture and feminist history. Of the two, I probably preferred Trainwreck, but I thought that this book provided a lot of interesting discussion and analysis.

The Simple Wild by K. A. Tucker (3 stars) – This book was frustrating to me because I thought it was well-written and I loved the atmospheric Alaska setting, but I absolutely HATED the love interest and the romance storyline as a whole (which isn’t great, since it’s technically a contemporary romance). It’s never good when you finish a romance book and think, hm, that would have been a really great book if the romance part didn’t exist. I just don’t get the appeal of a love interest who treats the protagonist in a demeaning and frankly misogynistic manner for the entire book, lies to her, steals from her, etc. It was honestly pretty disgusting, but the quality of the writing really saved this one from a much lower rating from me. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it, though.

Across the Green-Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire (3 stars) – Unfortunately, this was by far my least favorite book in the Wayward Children series so far. It felt uneventful and incomplete, with the characters lacking the depth explored in previous books’ protagonists. I’ve overall loved this portal fantasy YA series featuring doors that lead children to other worlds somehow perfect and challenging for them, and sometimes rejecting them to unite at a school for those who have been to other worlds, and I plan to continue with it, but this entry was very much a miss for me.

Feb Reading Wrap-Up!

I had a great reading month in Feb! I managed to read a ton of fantastic books, several of which I suspect will be appearing on various end-of-the-year favorites lists, and finished 2 books from my Top 10 2021 TBR, which also both happened to be books that have been on my TBR shelf for several years. I read a LOT of nonfiction, but also some SFF and short stories.

Stats:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 3

Mediocre by Ijeoma OluoAct Like It by Lucy ParkerWhite Rage by Carol AndersonLegendborn by Tracy DeonnFates and Furies by Lauren GroffThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. KendiWhat Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen OyeyemiWeird but Normal by Mia Mercado

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (5 stars) – I’m sometimes leery of the hype surrounding new releases, but in Legendborn’s case, it’s completely deserved. We’re following Bree, who’s starting an early college program at UNC-Chapel Hill with her best friend Alice after losing her mother a few months ago. Bree has been feeling fractured and like she has to hide her true feelings after her mother’s death, and then her world is rocked again when she discovers a secret society of warriors and mages who are the living descendants and heirs of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Bree soon suspects that magic and the society may have been involved in her mother’s death, and finds herself entering into a tournament to obtain a place in the society in order to better investigate, while she simultaneously learns she may have a different power of her own.

Legendborn is the best YA book I’ve read in years. Bree is a determined main character who’s dealing with so much, and the plot never drags for so much as a chapter. The worldbuilding is unique and complex, and but in addition to the magic and action, the book focuses on addressing issues of racism, grief, and intergenerational trauma. I’d highly recommend this if you’re looking for a book to get lost in.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo (5 stars) – An excellent nonfiction book that I listened to on audiobook. Oluo uses examples from throughout American history (some recent, some not) to discuss how the ideology that contemporary Trump supporters rally around has been present throughout, just in slightly different clothing. It’s very informative but completely accessible; I felt like I learned so much that gets glossed over in most historical narratives. It’s a hard book to summarize because it discusses so much, but it’s definitely one I’d recommend to everyone. It somehow manages to be both concise and thorough in its account of how racism and misogyny has shaped American history and its policies.

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (4.25 stars) – I haven’t gravitated towards science fiction in awhile, but I picked up The Space Between Worlds on a whim due to insomnia one night, since the audiobook was available from my library and read by one of my favorite audio narrators, Nicole Lewis, who also narrates Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I was instantly drawn into the concept–in a world where the multiverse theory has been proven and is now being exploited for data and resource collection, Cara is a Traverser, able to travel to different versions of Earth on behalf of a company with questionable motives. There’s a catch, though–you can only travel to worlds where the version of you on that world is dead, and the reason Cara is such a valuable Traverser is that she’s died on almost all of the other Earths. Scientists and wealthy employees of the company aren’t able to travel within the multiverse because they’ve lived safe, privileged lives, whereas people like Cara grew up expendable, and on many worlds never grew up at all. Because of this, Cara is a scrappy, compelling main character determined to keep this version of herself alive.

This book has a lot of different elements that I loved, including a Mad Max:Fury Road-esque city; a suspicious tech company; interesting family dynamics; and compelling romantic storylines. Being able to see different versions of characters in different worlds was something I loved and didn’t know I needed; I also loved the writing style and the themes explored in this book.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson (4.5 stars) – A fairly short nonfiction book about the history of racism in the U.S., but one that is incredibly informative and packed with crucial information that hasn’t been highlighted nearly as much as it should be. It’s a book I think everyone needs to read and learn from; I mainly listened to the audiobook which is narrated by the author.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (4.5 stars) – I wasn’t aware when I picked this book up that it not only encompasses sociological discussion of racism and antiracism, but is also part memoir, with Kendi recounting various times he either exhibited or witnessed racist or antiracist behaviors in his life. I thought that the addition of these sections made it even more powerful; the last chapter in particular hits especially hard. It’s an extremely valuable book that I recommend everyone pick up; it’s told in short chapters that discuss different aspects of racism and antiracism.

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (4 stars) – The stories in Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours are connected by the recurring motif of keys and also by a few recurring characters. Many of them have fabulist elements, which is something I’m always drawn to in short stories, and they often contain stories within stories that don’t seem to relate to each other at first but then blend beautifully by the end. My favorites in the collection were “‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea,” about a man trying to help his stepdaughter deal with the revelation that her musical crush is facing a MeToo allegation, and “is your blood as red as this?” about aspiring puppeteers and their very strange puppets. Although Oyeyemi’s writing is consistently great throughout, some of the stories grabbed me much more than others.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – This is the first book in Parker’s London Celebrities series, a contemporary romance series centered around the theater world of London’s West End, but it’s actually the third book in the series I’ve read (I previously read books 4 and 5, The Austen Playbook and Headliners, both of which I loved). This time we’re doing the fake dating trope between likable actress Lainey and notoriously grumpy actor Richard. As with previous books, I loved the setting, side characters, and world in this one, but I did overall enjoy it slightly less than the other books in the series so far. The two main characters seemed a bit less well-developed than couples in books 4 and 5, and although I did like both of them, it caused the book to have a bit less emotional resonance for me. I’m still really looking forward to moving forward with book 2, Pretty Face, probably sometime in the next few months. (I’m not so sure about book 3, Making Up, since it involves the circus and I really hate anything circus-related.)

Weird But Normal by Mia Mercado (3 stars) – a debut essay collection that was fun at times but not a standout for me. My favorite essays dealt with millennial childhood nostalgia, mental health, and Mercado’s discussions of growing up biracial in the Midwest; the second half of the collection was much less successful for me, and many of the pieces included felt unnecessary.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2.5 stars ) – I’ve been struggling as to how to rate and review this book, since my feelings about it have been a bit of a rollercoaster. The premise is simple: it’s the story of a marriage, with the first half of the book told from the husband’s perspective and the second half from the wife’s; we know going in that the husband, Lotto, becomes a famous playwright, supported by his wife, Mathilde. I started out hating the book, in part due to my strong dislike for its main character, Lotto, and almost DNF’d it. I kept going because there were certain elements of the writing that I did like, and then I started to enjoy the book a lot more when Lotto and Mathilde got together and the author showed the passage of time in a really interesting way, by showing scenes and snapshots of the parties they held in their first apartment over the years with a cast of friends. The prose can be beautiful at times, but is often pretentious and overwrought, but the parts I liked kept me interested through the parts I didn’t. I was determined to make it to the perspective shift, since I really wanted to see what the author would reveal, but I ended up more disappointed than not with the last section; there were certain plot points that I did appreciate the author shining a light on, but it was more anticlimactic than expected, and I found the ending itself to be somewhat of a letdown. I can completely understand why there are people who love this book, and also why there are many who hate it; its characters are determinedly unlikable, and its prose definitely isn’t for everyone, but there are things that the author does very well. For me, it was neither great nor terrible. While I did find it interesting, and I don’t think I regret reading it, I also don’t think I’d be missing anything if I’d skipped it, because when I add up the elements I did and really didn’t like, I’m left with a feeling that for me, the book was just OK. (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Fates and Furies has a really absurd amount of fat-shaming. It’s present both in explicit statements from characters and the omnipotent narrator and also implicitly, with its only fat characters presented as the book’s biggest villains. It’s something that really takes away from the story, and I think readers should be aware.)

2020: Reading Year in Review (with Stats!)

Total books read: 109

Total pages read: 38,257

Average rating: 3.9 stars

Shortest book read: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (106 pages)

Longest book read: Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (803 pages)

Average book length: 350 pages

Author breakdown by gender:

 

Adult vs. YA:

 

Genre:

 

Format:

 

Release Year:

 

 

Longest books read in 2020:

Crescent City 799 pages
Passage 780 pages
Possession 555 pages
Middlegame 528 pages
Serpent & Dove 513 pages
Aurora Burning 512 pages

Favorite Books of 2020! (In Every Category I Could Think of!)

I’m doing my 2020 yearly wrap-up a bit differently this year! In addition to my yearly stats, (which will be in an upcoming blog post) I wanted to do a post talking about my favorites of the year in a bunch of different categories, so that I don’t leave out any great books in my yearly wrap-up. I actually tried to look for a book tag to do but couldn’t find one that really worked for me, so I just made up categories based on things I wanted to talk about. Let’s do it!

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2020:

10. The Seas by Samantha Hunt – beautifully written fabulist fiction with lots of ocean/mermaid imagery

9. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – impactful and devastating, with a twist that absolutely gutted me

8. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – a strange and wonderfully creative short fantastical novel

7. Melmoth by Sarah Perry – a surprising and gorgeously written favorite with shades of historical fiction and mythology

6. Passage by Connie Willis – I sobbed through the last 300 or so pages of this book, so there was no way it wouldn’t make this list

5. Kindred by Octavia Butler – another classic from the queen of science fiction that I’m so glad to have finally read

4. Possession by A.S. Byatt – impressive and complex, containing letters and poetry from fictional 19th-century writers

3. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente – the last book I read this year that also became a new favorite from an already favorite author

2. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – devastating and gorgeously written memoir told in so many different ways

  1. Bunny by Mona Awad (AKA my new favorite book of all time!)

 

Favorite short story collections of 2020:

What Shines from ItThe Other World, It Whispers

Both What Shines From It by Sara Rauch and The Other World, It Whispers by Stephanie Victoire were absolutely gorgeously written, and I’d happily read more collections from both authors.

Favorite contemporary romance reads of 2020:

This was really difficult, so I chose 5. To be fair, I did read a lot of contemporary romance in 2020, so there were a lot to choose from; there are still several excellent ones I had to leave off this list so that I could narrow it down a bit.

Boyfriend MaterialIf I Never Met YouGirl Gone Viral (Modern Love, #2)Beach ReadThe Worst Best Man

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall, If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane, Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai, Beach Read by Emily Henry, and The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

Favorite UF/PNR of 2020:

Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy, #5)Wolf Gone Wild (Stay A Spell #1)

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (the second book in a stellar fantasy romance series) and Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross (PNR featuring a romance between a werewolf and a witch set in New Orleans).

Favorite historical romance of 2020:

The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke, #2)When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After, #3)

Tessa Dare was such a great find for me in 2020. Her funny yet emotionally impactful historical romance was really the perfect thing to start reading this spring. My favorites of hers this year were The Governess Game, which featured a really fun couple, and When a Scot Ties the Knot, which was hilarious and had a fantastic premise.

Favorite debut novels:

LusterQueenieCatherine House

I read some really great debuts in 2020, but at the top of the list were definitely Luster by Raven Leilani, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, and Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas.

Favorite YA:

Landscape with Invisible HandCome Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5)The Wicker King (The Wicker King, #1)

Sort of a weird year for me in terms of YA–I think I read less YA this year than I ever have, and I didn’t necessarily find any new all-time favorites. I did, however, read two YA novellas that I thought were great (Landscape with Invisible Hand, which was impactful and hilarious and really isn’t being talked about enough, and Come Tumbling Down, the most recent entry in the Wayward Children series) and a YA novel from an author that I’m really excited to read more from (The Wicker King by K. Ancrum).

Favorite nonfiction:

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African ChildhoodIn the Dream House

Trevor Noah’s book (and its audio narration!) were FANTASTIC, and I cannot stop raving about In the Dream House, which was one of my favorites of the year.

Most disappointing reads of 2020:

Normal PeopleLittle EyesThe RegretsFollowers

These were books that, for whatever reason, I really thought I’d love and that had 5-star potential based on their authors/synopses, but that I ended up really not enjoying nearly as much as I thought I would.

Most surprising reads of 2020:

An American MarriageChosen Ones (The Chosen Ones, #1)

These 2 books were surprising to me for very different reasons–An American Marriage because I don’t normally gravitate towards literary fiction focused on marriages but ended up loving it, and Chosen Ones because it had some really crazy plot twists.

New-to-me authors I discovered in 2020 and can’t wait to read more from:

If I Never Met YouThe Austen Playbook (London Celebrities, #4)The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1)

Mhairi McFarlane, Lucy Parker, Tessa Dare: These are all romance authors that have a bunch of other books out that I’ve got my eye on to pick up in 2021. I’ll definitely be picking up at least 1 book from each of these authors this year–probably more!

Favorite covers of books I read in 2020:

The SeasCatherine HouseThe Other World, It WhispersHouse of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)

Most-read authors of 2020:

  1. Tessa Dare (tie!) – 5 books

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1)The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke, #2)The Wallflower Wager (Girl Meets Duke, #3)When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After, #3)Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After, #2)

  1. Alyssa Cole – (tie!) 5 books

When No One is WatchingLet It ShineLet Us DreamOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals, #2.5)The A.I. Who Loved Me

And then I read 2 books each from 10 other authors! I was actually really surprised by this stat. I think I just assumed that I only read one book per author, for the most part, but there were SO MANY 2-book authors. Several of these were due to re-reads, which makes more sense when I think about it.

Mona Awad:

Bunny13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Seanan McGuire:

Middlegame (Middlegame, #1)Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5)

Ilona Andrews:

Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy, #4)Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy, #5)

Juliette Cross:

Wolf Gone Wild (Stay A Spell #1)Don't Hex and Drive (Stay a Spell #2)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia:

The Beautiful OnesMexican Gothic

Rainbow Rowell:

Carry On (Simon Snow, #1)Wayward Son (Simon Snow, #2)

Eva Chase:

Wicked Wonderland (The Looking-Glass Curse #1)Wrathful Wonderland (The Looking-Glass Curse #2)

Eva Leigh:

My Fake Rake (Union of the Rakes, #1)Would I Lie to the Duke (Union of the Rakes, #2)

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff:

Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle, #1)Aurora Burning (The Aurora Cycle, #2)

Sarah J. Maas:

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)A Court of Frost and Starlight

 

What were some of your favorite reads of 2020? Let me know in the comments!

December Reading Wrap-Up

I had a stellar reading month in December! I ended up reading a lot more than I thought I would, especially considering the fact that I felt mired in a reading slump early in the month, and read several new favorites. My reading this month ended up having several unintentional themes: I read a bunch of books with blue covers, contemporary romance with the fake dating trope, and books that were almost exactly 400 pages long.

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 2

Ready Player Two by Ernest ClineBoyfriend Material by Alexis HallIf I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlaneA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiI Want To Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel BloomA Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. MaasWritten in the Stars by Alexandria BellefleurThe Austen Playbook by Lucy ParkerRadiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (5 stars) – Yet another incredible read from Catherynne M. Valente. All of her books are so different in genre and concepts, but all are so beautifully and intricately written and rich with metaphors. Radiance is genre-bending, but it’s sort of a fantastical alternate-history science fiction that pays homage to classic filmmaking and tells its story through an alternative format made up of journal entries, radio broadcasts, scripts and film transcriptions, and gossip columns, among other things. It’s incredible, beautiful, and an experience to read. Highly, highly recommend.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (4.5 stars) – My favorite contemporary romance of the year! A really well-written, character-driven fake dating/enemies-to-lovers romance set in London. I listened to this on audiobook and absolutely loved the narration; the book is at times both hilarious and touching and makes you empathize so much with its main characters. I’ll definitely be picking up more from Alexis Hall in the future.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane (4 stars) – This was a surprise addition to my list of favorite romance reads of the year. I wasn’t previously familiar with the book’s plot or with this author, but I quickly became a huge fan of the main character, Laurie, and rooted for her when her boyfriend since the age of 18 broke up with her out of the blue and upended her life. A work colleague, Jamie, at the firm where she and her ex both work proposes that they pretend to date each other both to make her ex jealous and to help Jamie advance in his career, and it develops into a very real friendship which slowly becomes something more. The main characters had great chemistry, but their friendship was very genuine and sweet as well. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (4 stars) – A sweet contemporary romance set in Seattle and featuring an opposites-attract, fake dating relationship that ends up becoming very genuine and real. Elle is an astrologer and the creator of a popular social media account called Oh My Stars who begins collaborating with a dating site to help them refine their algorithm based on astrology; Darcy is the straight-laced, reserved actuary and brother of the dating site founder who’s set up with Elle on a blind date. Although their initial meeting is disastrous, Darcy proposes that the two pretend to date so that she can stop the endless stream of setups from her well-intentioned brother. I loved the nerdy elements and references scattered throughout the book, as well as the really adorable relationship that develops as Darcy and Elle get to know each other better.

I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker (4 stars) – This was a really fun contemporary romance set in the theater world of London’s West End and centered around the production of an Austen-based murder-mystery live performance, but there’s also a real-life mystery surrounding the ancestors of the main characters. Freddy is a fun, optimistic actress who finds herself unexpectedly falling for grumpy and intimidating theater critic Griff, who falls for her right back. I loved their dynamic, the side characters, and the well-written and tightly plotted story. I’ll definitely be picking up more from Lucy Parker; this is the first book I’ve read from her, but it’s actually the fourth book in her London Celebrities series (although it can totally be read as a standalone!)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (3.5 stars) – One of the last books on my top 10 TBR for 2020, A Tale for the Time Being ended up being a bit of a miss for me. Its dual narrative resulted in me caring far more about one main character than the other, and I felt that the story dragged a lot in parts. There were some elements that I did find really interesting, but it never quite came together as a whole for me the way that I wanted it to.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas (re-read) (3.5 stars) – I absolutely can’t wait for A Court of Silver Flames, which comes out in Feb, and I’d realized that I’d forgotten what had happened in this novella that takes place between that book and A Court of Wings and Ruin. This is definitely not the most eventful book in the series, nor is it my favorite, but I did enjoy the re-read regardless.

I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom (3.5 stars) – I absolutely loved Bloom’s musical show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and two of my friends highly recommended I pick up her memoir/essay collection as well. Bloom’s writing is funny and relatable, and there’s some really great discussion about mental health, but I wouldn’t say that I loved this one.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline (2.5 stars) – A disappointing follow-up to Cline’s enjoyable and action-packed Ready Player One. The sequel is slower-paced and the action doesn’t really start until about 1/3 of the way into the book, and it lacks the competitiveness and panache of its predecessor. It felt unnecessary and frustrating, with its references forced rather than fun.

November Reading Wrap-Up (In Which I Finally Find Some 5-Star Reads!)

After a lot of mediocre and/or disappointing reads in October, I had an AMAZING reading month in November. I finally broke free of my months-long 5-star book drought with not one, not two, but THREE 5-star reads that absolutely blew me away. (I’m very relieved, as I was honestly at the point where I was really starting to question my reading choices.) Two of those 5-star reads were also on my Top Ten TBR for 2020, and I’ve now finished 7 out of those 10 books, which is honestly better than I think I’ve ever done. (For unknown, possibly mood reading-related reasons, I’m always really terrible at sticking to my Top 10 TBR lists.)

I’m keeping the reviews short and sweet this time, since there are so many reading and blogging things happening in December, and I’m going to try not leaving everything until the very end of the year/beginning of the new year!

November stats

Number of books read: 8

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. KluneWatch Over Me by Nina LaCourPiranesi by Susanna ClarkeThis Will Be My Undoing by Morgan JerkinsIn the Dream HouseDash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel CohnThe Shadows Between Us by Tricia LevensellerMelmoth by Sarah Perry

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (5 stars) – Machado wrote one of my all-time favorite short story collections, Her Body and Other Parties, so I had a strong suspicion that her memoir would also blow me away, and it absolutely did. She focuses on abuse in queer relationships by telling the story of her abusive ex-girlfriend, and dissects her relationship and her concept of the Dream House in so many different and unique ways. It’s endlessly creative and fantastically written, while delivering emotional gutpunch after gutpunch. Highly, highly, highly recommend.

Melmoth by Sarah Perry (5 stars) – This book is what I like to call an unexpected 5-star read: it’s from an author I’ve never read from before, I really didn’t know much about what the book was about before I started it, and for awhile I really didn’t know where things were going with the story. But then it absolutely blew me away and crushed me emotionally, which is honestly what I want in a book. Our protagonist Helen is living in Prague wracked by guilt from a mysterious past when she stumbles on the folktale of Melmoth the Witness, who is said to haunt those who have done wrong–and particularly those who have stood silent while evil was being committed. It’s a beautifully written book that gave me goosebumps multiple times.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (5 stars) – This is a very strange book that probably won’t be for everyone; I wasn’t even completely sure of its genre until later in the story. It’s much stranger than Clarke’s more traditional historical fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I also loved, but just as excellent. Clarke’s writing is extremely strong, and she weaves such an interesting mystery from a fascinating world.

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (4 stars) – I was impressed by this debut essay collection that discusses everything from pop culture to intersectional feminism within the framework of a memoir. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author, and would definitely recommend it.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (4 stars) – This feel-good contemporary fantasy has been raved about on every bookish platform in 2020, and as the beginning of November was quite stressful with election-related things, it was a great choice to pick up. It wasn’t a 5-star read for me, but I can definitely see why people love it–it’s such a sweet story about friendship and love and acceptance in a world where people hate you just for being born different. I definitely plan to pick up more from Klune in the future, particularly if I need a mood booster.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour (4 stars) – This atmospheric, lightly fabulist YA contemporary was a dreamlike surprise for me. I listened to the audiobook and would highly recommend it; we’re following a protagonist actively haunted by her past trying to find a place for herself after a traumatic childhood. This year I’ve really been finding that YA contemporary (especially with a lightly magical or fabulist element) has been working for me a lot more than YA fantasy; I’m still not sure why that is.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (3 stars) – I loved the Netflix miniseries Dash & Lily so much that after I finished watching it, I immediately started listening to the audiobook. This is a very cute contemporary YA holiday romance, but I ended up liking the Netflix series much more than the book.

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller (3 stars) – This dark YA fantasy romance was a disappointment for me. I never really felt like I had a handle on the love interest’s personality, and the writing style seemed very young for the subject matter. I did, however, like the power-hungry female protagonist and her very interesting-sounding fashion designs.

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.