Book Review: What Shines From It by Sara Rauch

What Shines From It by Sara Rauch

Short story collection

Release date 3/3/20

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review: 

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.

Some of my favorite stories in the collection:
-“Kintsukuroi,” about a woman who uses gold to repair broken pottery in her shop, as she focuses on the beauty despite the wrongness of the affair she’s having
-“Abandon,” about a woman who seemingly loses everything in the aftermath of an accident and a miscarriage–except her best friend, who’s there, like it or not, to help her pick up the pieces
-“Seal,” about a woman and her partner debating whether to relocate when they have their first child, and how she faces the aftermath of her mother’s alcoholism

And my absolute favorite of the collection was the final story, “Beholden,” which is the most sensitive and achingly real portrayal of post-9/11 New York that I’ve ever read, and which uses fabulism to convey the way that memories never leave us.

I look forward to reading more from Sara Rauch in the future, and hope that her next collection includes even more fabulist fiction in the vein of “Beholden.”

I received an ARC of What Shines From It from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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!

March TBR (Mood-Reading March)

After participating in (or attempting to participate in, let’s be real) a few different readathons in Feb, I’m taking it back to mood-reading for the month of March. This is partially because I’m generally a mood-reader, but it’s also because my reads overall for Feb were a bit disappointing, and several highly anticipated reads fell short of a 5-star rating for me.

I’m looking to read a few different types of books in March:

New releases/ARCs:

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)Before Anyone ElseWhat Shines from It

Several of my most anticipated books of 2020 come out this month, and in particular, I’ve been hyped to pick up Sarah J. Maas’s new book Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood, the first book in an adult UF/PNR series that sounds fantastic. I have it pre-ordered, so hopefully it’ll be getting here in the mail this week and I’ll be able to start it ASAP. I also have two ARCs sent to me by publishers that I need to get to this month: Before Anyone Else by Leslie Hooton (release date 3/24), a contemporary with romance elements set in the culinary world, and What Shines From It by Sara Rauch (release date 3/3), an excellent short story collection I’m currently in the middle of (thank you so much to the publishers for the opportunity to read & review both of these!).

Backlist Books:

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild PossibilitiesNormal People

Feeling discouraged by the current political climate, I felt pulled towards Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark over the weekend, since Solnit’s insightful essays always help me learn and gain perspective; I think it was the right choice to pick up this month. I’m also hoping to get to Normal People by Sally Rooney, one of the books on my top 10 TBR for 2020, since I’m trying to pick up at least one of those per month.

ebooks/audiobooks:

Trick (Foolish Kingdoms, #1)Solitaire

I have 2 current reads going on my phone that I’d like to finish in March also, one on ebook and one on audio. I started reading Trick by Natalia Jaster, a fantasy romance between a clever fool and a stubborn princess, last month, but got distracted by other reads; I’d like to finish it in March and figure out whether this author and series are ones I’d like to read more from. I also started listening to Solitaire by Alice Oseman after a long audiobook drought; I love Oseman’s writing, and although I think it’ll take me awhile, since my audio listening skills are not functioning stellarly lately, I’m hoping I can finish it this month as well.

 

That’s it for me! What are you hoping to read in March? See any books on my TBR you’ve enjoyed (or disliked)?

Most Anticipated Books of 2020, Part 2

I knew this was going to happen.

I knew that as soon as I posted my initial Most Anticipated Books of 2020 blog that I’d immediately hear about a bunch of enticing new books, and I was right.

I was sort of hoping to hold off making another one of these posts until the halfway mark of 2020, but I’ve decided that there are just too many awesome-sounding books to do that, so here we are. This post is going to be a bit different than my previous one: I’m not only going to be focusing exclusively on the first half of the year, but rather talking about anything I’ve added to my Goodreads 2020 shelf that really appeals to me, which includes a few already-released books in addition to some coming out this fall. I’d also say that overall this list encompasses a lot more new-to-me authors and books I don’t know very much about (compared to my initial post, which did focus a lot on favorite authors and next-in-series books), so I’m including full Goodreads synopses for each pick so that we can all learn more about these books together (I’m also linking to each Goodreads page so that you can more easily add them to your shelves if they sound interesting, which is something I tend to do with any book that strikes my fancy, which is also why my Goodreads to-read shelf is absolutely out of control). My other list was also fairly focused on fantasy, YA, and romance, whereas this one is a bit more diverse in terms of genre, but I’m again arranging them in order of release date.

Now let’s get into it!

 

The Regrets

The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons (release date 2/4/20) – I’m generally interested in any fabulism/surrealist books, and I really love this almost minimalist-esque cover. Ghosts? Romance? Weirdness? Yes.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “Reality and dream collide in Amy Bonnaffons’s dazzling, darkly playful debut novel about a love affair between the living and the dead.

For weeks, Rachel has been noticing the same golden-haired young man sitting at her Brooklyn bus stop, staring off with a melancholy air. When, one day, she finally musters the courage to introduce herself, the chemistry between them is undeniable: Thomas is wise, witty, handsome, mysterious, clearly a kindred spirit. There’s just one tiny problem: He’s dead.

Stuck in a surreal limbo governed by bureaucracy, Thomas is unable to “cross over” to the afterlife until he completes a 90-day stint on earth, during which time he is forbidden to get involved with a member of the living — lest he incur “regrets.” When Thomas and Rachel break this rule, they unleash a cascade of bizarre, troubling consequences.

Set in the hallucinatory borderland between life and death, The Regrets is a gloriously strange and breathtakingly sexy exploration of love, the cataclysmic power of fantasies, and the painful, exhilarating work of waking up to reality, told with uncommon grace and humor by a visionary artist at the height of her imaginative power. ”

 

Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today

Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today by Rachel Vorona Cote (release date 2/26/20)

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“Lacing cultural criticism, Victorian literature, and storytelling together, “TOO MUCH spills over: with intellect, with sparkling prose, and with the brainy arguments of Vorona Cote, who posits that women are all, in some way or another, still susceptible to being called too much.” (Esmé Weijun Wang)

A weeping woman is a monster. So too is a fat woman, a horny woman, a woman shrieking with laughter. Women who are one or more of these things have heard, or perhaps simply intuited, that we are repugnantly excessive, that we have taken illicit liberties to feel or fuck or eat with abandon. After bellowing like a barn animal in orgasm, hoovering a plate of mashed potatoes, or spraying out spit in the heat of expostulation, we’ve flinched-ugh, that was so gross. I am so gross. On rare occasions, we might revel in our excess–belting out anthems with our friends over karaoke, perhaps–but in the company of less sympathetic souls, our uncertainty always returns. A woman who is Too Much is a woman who reacts to the world with ardent intensity is a woman familiar to lashes of shame and disapproval, from within as well as without.

Written in the tradition of Shrill, Dead Girls, Sex Object and other frank books about the female gaze, TOO MUCH encourages women to reconsider the beauty of their excesses-emotional, physical, and spiritual. Rachel Vorona Cote braids cultural criticism, theory, and storytelling together in her exploration of how culture grinds away our bodies, souls, and sexualities, forcing us into smaller lives than we desire. An erstwhile Victorian scholar, she sees many parallels between that era’s fixation on women’s “hysterical” behavior and our modern policing of the same; in the space of her writing, you’re as likely to encounter Jane Eyre and Lizzie Bennet as you are Britney Spears and Lana Del Rey.
This book will tell the story of how women, from then and now, have learned to draw power from their reservoirs of feeling, all that makes us “Too Much.””

 

What Shines from It

What Shines From It by Sara Rauch (release date 3/3/20) – This short story collection is from Alternating Current Press, an indie publisher that also published one of my all-time favorite short story collections, The Girl Wakes by Carmen Lau. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of What Shines From It, and am hoping I love it just as much.

Synopsis (via Goodreads) –

“The eleven stories in Sara Rauch’s What Shines from It are rife with the physical and psychic wounds of everyday life. In “Beholden,” girl meets boy meets the unsettled spirits of post-9/11 New York City, but her future can’t hold them all. In “Kitten,” a struggling veteran and his wife argue over adopting an abandoned kitten, deepening their financial and emotional rifts. In “Abandon,” a ghost-baby ravages a woman’s body following a late-term miscarriage, marring her chances for new love. And in “Kintsukuroi,” a married potter falls in love with a married geologist and discovers the luminosity of being broken.

What Shines from It is populated by women on the verge of transcendence—brimming with anger and love—and working-class artists haunted by the ghosts of their desires. Abiding by a distinctly guarded New England sensibility, these stories inhabit the borderlands of long-established cities, where humans are still learning to embrace the natural world. Subtly exploring sexualities, relationships, birth and rebirth, identity, ghosts, and longing, Rauch searches for the places where our protective shells are cracked and, in spare, poetic language, limns those edges of loneliness and loss with light.”

 

Anna K.: A Love Story

Anna K by Jenny Lee (release date 3/3/20) – I actually already own a copy of this book (it was released early via Book of the Month), but I haven’t read it yet, and I’m including it on this list because up until its BOTM selection, I hadn’t heard anything about it, and it sounds fantastic: it’s a contemporary YA retelling of Anna Karenina, inspired by Gossip Girl. Part of me wants to be extremely ambitious and choose a month to read both Anna Karenina and Anna K back-to-back; we’ll see how that goes.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way.

Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.

As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K.: A Love Story is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless love story, Anna Karenina―but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak.”

 

Writers & Lovers

Writers & Lovers by Lily King (release date 3/3/20) – I absolutely loved King’s previous book Euphoria, about anthropologists in a strange love triangle in New Guinea, and can’t wait for this next release.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with an unforgettable portrait of an artist as a young woman.

Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.

Writers & Lovers follows Casey–a smart and achingly vulnerable protagonist–in the last days of a long youth, a time when every element of her life comes to a crisis. Written with King’s trademark humor, heart, and intelligence, Writers & Lovers is a transfixing novel that explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.”

 

Chosen Ones (The Chosen Ones, #1)

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth (release date 4/7/20) – Veronica Roth isn’t an author I’ve ever gravitated towards; I did read Divergent, which I liked, but I disliked Insurgent so much that I stopped reading the series. Chosen Ones sounds a lot more appealing to me, since it sounds like it might fit into that weird niche of books that I love that sort of pay homage to SFF tropes while also sort of twisting and providing commentary on them; it also deals with child fantasy heroes who have since grown up, which is another element I’m always interested in reading about. I haven’t heard much buzz about this yet, especially considering that Roth is a pretty well-known author, which is surprising to me, but it’s definitely on my radar now.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “The first novel written for an adult audience by the mega-selling author of the Divergent franchise: five twenty-something heroes famous for saving the world when they were teenagers must face even greater demons—and reconsider what it means to be a hero . . . by destiny or by choice.

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended.”

 

Catherine House

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (release date 5/12/20) – Catherine House might be the book I’m most hyped about on this list; I have this hope that it will fit into the If We Were Villains/Bunny/Ninth House kind of niche genre of sinister vibes between toxic friend groups at unique colleges.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “A gothic-infused debut of literary suspense, set within a secluded, elite university and following a dangerously curious, rebellious undergraduate who uncovers a shocking secret about an exclusive circle of students . . . and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines Murillo, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. Even the school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves within the formidable iron gates of Catherine. For Ines, it is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had. But the House’s strange protocols soon make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.”

 

Pew

Pew by Catherine Lacey (release date 5/12) – Catherine Lacey always has such intriguing premises for her books; I was fascinated by her unique book The Answers a few years ago.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “In a small unnamed town in the American South, a church congregation arrives to a service and finds a figure asleep on a pew. The person is genderless, racially ambiguous, and refuses to speak. One family takes the strange visitor in and nicknames them Pew.

As the town spends the week preparing for a mysterious Forgiveness Festival, Pew is shuttled from one household to the next. The earnest and seemingly well-meaning townspeople see conflicting identities in Pew, and many confess their fears and secrets to them in one-sided conversations. Pew listens and observes while experiencing brief flashes of past lives or clues about their origins. As days pass, the void around Pew’s presence begins to unnerve the community, whose generosity erodes into menace and suspicion. Yet by the time Pew’s story reaches a shattering and unsettling climax at the Forgiveness Festival, the secret of their true nature—as a devil or an angel or something else entirely—is dwarfed by even larger truths.

Pew, Catherine Lacey’s third novel, is a foreboding, provocative, and amorphous fable about the world today: its contradictions, its flimsy morality, and the limits of judging others based on their appearance. With precision and restraint, one of our most beloved and boundary-pushing writers holds up a mirror to her characters’ true selves, revealing something about forgiveness, perception, and the faulty tools society uses to categorize human complexity.”

 

Exciting Times

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (release date 6/2/20) – I find love triangles in literature really interesting when they’re done well, and this literary fiction release sounds intriguing.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “An intimate, bracingly intelligent debut novel about a millennial Irish expat who becomes entangled in a love triangle with a male banker and a female lawyer.

Ava moved to Hong Kong to find happiness, but so far, it isn’t working out. Since she left Dublin, she’s been spending her days teaching English to rich children—she’s been assigned the grammar classes because she lacks warmth—and her nights avoiding petulant roommates in her cramped apartment.

When Ava befriends Julian, a witty British banker, he offers a shortcut into a lavish life her meager salary could never allow. Ignoring her feminist leanings and her better instincts, Ava finds herself moving into Julian’s apartment, letting him buy her clothes, and, eventually, striking up a sexual relationship with him. When Julian’s job takes him back to London, she stays put, unsure where their relationship stands.

Enter Edith. A Hong Kong–born lawyer, striking and ambitious, Edith takes Ava to the theater and leaves her tulips in the hallway. Ava wants to be her—and wants her. Ava has been carefully pretending that Julian is nothing more than an absentee roommate, so when Julian announces that he’s returning to Hong Kong, she faces a fork in the road. Should she return to the easy compatibility of her life with Julian or take a leap into the unknown with Edith?

Politically alert, heartbreakingly raw, and dryly funny, Exciting Times is thrillingly attuned to the great freedoms and greater uncertainties of modern love. In stylish, uncluttered prose, Naoise Dolan dissects the personal and financial transactions that make up a life—and announces herself as a singular new voice.”

 

Thin Girls

Thin Girls by Diana Clarke (release date 6/9/20) – I thought I had seen somewhere that this was being compared to Roxane Gay, or had been recommended by Roxane Gay, but now I can’t find that anywhere, so I may have imagined it. Either way, I like books that focus on sibling relationships, and Thin Girls also seems like it will be a really interesting examination of diet culture and body image.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “Purdue MFA and University of Utah PhD candidate Diana Clarke’s THIN GIRLS, an exploration of toxic diet culture as well as the power of sisterhood, love, and lifelong friendship, in which twin sisters with a compulsive need to balance one another out are pushed to their limits when one sister, who’s stuck in an anorexia rehabilitation center, is inspired to recover when her twin falls prey to bizarre dieting cult run by a faux-feminist dictator.”

 

Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency

Mad and Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch (release date 6/9/20) – This nonfiction book looks to provide an expansion of Regency-era knowledge to the Jane Austen fan, and is written by one of the owners of amazing romance-focused bookstore The Ripped Bodice (which I hope to visit one day if I’m ever in Southern California!). It seems like a fascinating book I’ll likely check out via audiobook.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “A feminist pop history that looks beyond the Ton and Jane Austen to highlight iconoclastic women of the Regency period who succeeded on their own terms and have largely been lost to history.

Regency England is a world immortalized by Jane Austen and Lord Byron in their beloved novels and poems. The popular image of the Regency continues to be mythologized by the hundreds of romance novels set in the period, which focus almost exclusively on wealthy, white, Christian members of the upper classes. But there are hundreds of fascinating women who don’t fit history books limited perception of what was historically accurate for early 19th century England. Women like Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose mother was a slave but was raised by her white father’s family in England, Caroline Herschel, who acted as her brother’s assistant as he hunted the heavens for comets, and ended up discovering eight on her own, Anne Lister, who lived on her own terms with her common-law wife at Shibden Hall, and Judith Montefiore, a Jewish woman who wrote the first English language Kosher cookbook.

As one of the owners of the successful romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice, Bea Koch has had a front row seat to controversies surrounding what is accepted as “historically accurate” for the wildly popular Regency period. Following in the popular footsteps of books like Ann Shen’s Bad Girls Throughout History, Koch takes the Regency, one of the most loved and idealized historical time periods and a huge inspiration for American pop culture, and reveals the independent-minded, standard-breaking real historical women who lived life on their terms. She also examines broader questions of culture in chapters that focus on the LGBTQ and Jewish communities, the lives of women of color in the Regency, and women who broke barriers in fields like astronomy and paleontology. In MAD AND BAD, we look beyond popular perception of the Regency into the even more vibrant, diverse, and fascinating historical truth.”

 

The Lightness

The Lightness by Emily Temple (release date 6/16/20) – Yes, this one was on my original list, but it didn’t have a cover or detailed synopsis at that time, so I’m re-including it.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “A stylish, stunningly precise, and suspenseful meditation on adolescent desire, female friendship, and the female body that shimmers with rage, wit, and fierce longing—an audacious, darkly observant, and mordantly funny literary debut for fans of Emma Cline, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Jenny Offill.

One year ago, the person Olivia adores most in the world, her father, left home for a meditation retreat in the mountains and never returned. Yearning to make sense of his shocking departure and to escape her overbearing mother—a woman as grounded as her father is mercurial—Olivia runs away from home and retraces his path to a place known as the Levitation Center.

Once there, she enrolls in their summer program for troubled teens, which Olivia refers to as “Buddhist Boot Camp for Bad Girls”. Soon, she finds herself drawn into the company of a close-knit trio of girls determined to transcend their circumstances, by any means necessary. Led by the elusive and beautiful Serena, and her aloof, secretive acolytes, Janet and Laurel, the girls decide this is the summer they will finally achieve enlightenment—and learn to levitate, to defy the weight of their bodies, to experience ultimate lightness.

But as desire and danger intertwine, and Olivia comes ever closer to discovering what a body—and a girl—is capable of, it becomes increasingly clear that this is an advanced and perilous practice, and there’s a chance not all of them will survive. Set over the course of one fateful summer that unfolds like a fever dream, The Lightness juxtaposes fairy tales with quantum physics, cognitive science with religious fervor, and the passions and obsessions of youth with all of these, to explore concepts as complex as faith and as simple as loving people—even though you don’t, and can’t, know them at all.”

 

Self Care

Self Care by Leigh Stein (release date 6/30/20)

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“The female cofounders of a wellness start-up struggle to find balance between being good people and doing good business, while trying to stay BFFs.

Maren Gelb is on a company-imposed digital detox. She tweeted something terrible about the President’s daughter, and as the COO of Richual, “the most inclusive online community platform for women to cultivate the practice of self-care and change the world by changing ourselves,” it’s a PR nightmare. Not only is CEO Devin Avery counting on Maren to be fully present for their next round of funding, but indispensable employee Khadijah Walker has been keeping a secret that will reveal just how feminist Richual’s values actually are, and former Bachelorette contestant and Richual board member Evan Wiley is about to be embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal that destroy the company forever.

Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and seen countless influencers who seem like experts at caring for themselves—from their yoga crop tops to their well-lit clean meals to their serumed skin and erudite-but-color-coded reading stack? Self Care delves into the lives and psyches of people working in the wellness industry and exposes the world behind the filter.”

 

Or What You Will

Or What You Will by Jo Walton (release date 7/7/20) – Walton’s Among Others is an all-time favorite of mine, and this one sounds like it could be another book that examines books and stories in the way that Among Others did. Absolutely can’t wait.

Synopsis (via Goodreads): “From the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author of Among Others, an utterly original novel about how stories are brought forth.

He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been dream and dreamer. He has been a god.

But “he” is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. He has played a part in most of those novels, and in the recesses of her mind, Sylvia has conversed with him for years.

But Sylvia won’t live forever, any more than any human does. And he’s trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.

Now Sylvia is starting a new novel, a fantasy for adult readers, set in Thalia, the Florence-resembling imaginary city that was the setting for a successful YA trilogy she published decades before. Of course he’s got a part in it. But he also has a notion. He thinks he knows how he and Sylvia can step off the wheel of mortality altogether. All he has to do is convince her.”

 

Loveless

Loveless by Alice Oseman (release date 7/9/20) – I read and loved Oseman’s Radio Silence last year, and was particularly impressed by her skill at capturing teen voices on the page. I’ve been looking to read more from her ever since then.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“Georgia feels loveless – in the romantic sense, anyway. She’s eighteen, never been in a relationship, or even had a crush on a single person in her whole life. She thinks she’s an anomaly, people call her weird, and she feels a little broken. But she still adores romance – weddings, fan fiction, and happily ever afters. She knows she’ll find her person one day … right?

After a disastrous summer, Georgia is now at university, hundreds of miles from home. She is more determined than ever to find love – and her annoying roommate, Rooney, is a bit of a love expert, so perhaps she can help.

But maybe Georgia just doesn’t feel that way about guys. Or girls. Or anyone at all. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe she can find happiness without falling in love. And maybe Rooney is a little more loveless than she first appears.

LOVELESS is a journey of identity, self-acceptance, and finding out how many different types of love there really are. And that no one is really loveless after all.”

 

The Comeback

The Comeback by Ella Berman (release date 8/11/20) – This one sounds like it’s inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and real-life Hollywood events.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“A deep dive into the psyche of a young actress raised in the spotlight under the influence of a charming, manipulative film director and the moment when she decides his time for winning is over.

At the height of her career and on the eve of her first Golden Globe nomination, teen star Grace Turner disappeared.

Now, tentatively sober and surprisingly numb, Grace is back in Los Angeles after her year of self-imposed exile. She knows the new private life she wants isn’t going to be easy as she tries to be a better person and reconnect with the people she left behind.

But when Grace is asked to present a lifetime achievement award to director Able Yorke–the man who controlled her every move for eight years–she realizes that she can’t run from the secret behind her spectacular crash and burn for much longer. And she’s the only one with nothing left to lose.

Alternating between past and present, The Comeback tackles power dynamics and the uncertainty of young adulthood, the types of secrets that become part of our sense of self, and the moments when we learn that though there are many ways to get hurt, we can still choose to fight back.”

 

Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy, #5)

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (Hidden Legacy #5) (release date 8/25) – I absolutely cannot wait for the newest installment in my favorite PNR series by one of my favorite authors.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“Ilona Andrews, #1 New York Times bestselling author, continues her spellbinding series set in the Hidden Legacy world where magic controls everything…except the hearts of those who wield it.

As Prime magic users, Catalina Baylor and her sisters have extraordinary powers—powers their ruthless grandmother would love to control. Catalina can earn her family some protection working as deputy to the Warden of Texas, overseeing breaches of magic law in the state, but that has risks as well. When House Baylor is under attack and monsters haunt her every step, Catalina is forced to rely on handsome, dangerous Alessandro Sagredo, the Prime who crushed her heart.

The nightmare that Alessandro has fought since childhood has come roaring back to life, but now Catalina is under threat. Not even his lifelong quest for revenge will stop him from keeping her safe, even if every battle could be his last. Because Catalina won’t rest until she stops the use of the illicit, power-granting serum that’s tearing their world apart.”

 

Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove, #2)

Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin (release date 9/1/20) – I recently read & enjoyed romantic YA fantasy Serpent & Dove, and absolutely plan to pick up this sequel when it’s released.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

The hotly anticipated sequel to the New York Times and IndieBound bestseller Serpent & Dove—packed with even steamier romance and darker magic—is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas.

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Dames Blanches, Lou, Reid, Coco, and Ansel are on the run from coven, kingdom, and church—fugitives with nowhere to hide.

To elude the scores of witches and throngs of chasseurs at their heels, Lou and Reid need allies. Strong ones. But protection comes at a price, and the group is forced to embark on separate quests to build their forces. As Lou and Reid try to close the widening rift between them, the dastardly Morgane baits them in a lethal game of cat and mouse that threatens to destroy something worth more than any coven.”

 

A Rogue of One's Own (A League of Extraordinary Women, #2)

A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore (A League of Extraordinary Women, #2) (release date 9/1/20) – Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke was the first historical romance I’ve really enjoyed (it’s normally not my genre), so of course I need to read more from her.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“A lady must have money and an army of her own if she is to win a revolution—but first, she must pit her wits against the wiles of an irresistible rogue bent on wrecking her plans…and her heart.

Lady Lucie is fuming. She and her band of Oxford suffragists have finally scraped together enough capital to control one of London’s major publishing houses, with one purpose: to use it in a coup against Parliament. But who could have predicted that the one person standing between her and success is her old nemesis and London’s undisputed lord of sin, Lord Ballentine? Or that he would be willing to hand over the reins for an outrageous price—a night in her bed.

Lucie tempts Tristan like no other woman, burning him up with her fierceness and determination every time they clash. But as their battle of wills and words fans the flames of long-smouldering devotion, the silver-tongued seducer runs the risk of becoming caught in his own snare.

As Lucie tries to out-manoeuvre Tristan in the boardroom and the bedchamber, she soon discovers there’s truth in what the poets say: all is fair in love and war…”

Piranesi

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (release date 9/15/20) – Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was a past favorite of mine, and I’m very interested to see what she’s created in her next book.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“From the New York Times bestselling author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.”

 

The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves, #2)

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi (release date 9/22/20) – the sequel to The Gilded Wolves, a Six of Crows-esque magical heist YA that I read & enjoyed last year. The release date for this one was pushed back significantly (from Feb to Sept).

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost ― one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumoured to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job. ”

 

A Deadly Education (Scholomance, #1)

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (release date 9/29/20) – Extremely intrigued by this one based on its synopsis, and also by how much I enjoyed Novik’s Spinning Silver.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.”

 

Ruinsong

Ruinsong by Julia Ember (release date 11/24/20) – I loved Ember’s previous YA fantasy The Seafarer’s Kiss.

Synopsis (via Goodreads):

“Her voice was her prison…Now it’s her weapon.

In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence must choose between the two. For years, she has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding.

But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.

In this dark and lush LGBTQ+ romantic fantasy, two young women from rival factions must work together to reunite their country, as they wrestle with their feelings for each other.”

 

Which of these are you adding to your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

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.

2020 Reading Goals

It’s that time of year again (or, more accurately, slightly after that time of year, as is my brand)–the time to set yearly reading goals. I don’t know that I tend to stick very well to reading goals when I set them, but I do think that it’s a nice way to kick off the year and set intentions for my reading. I would like to do a better job of checking in with these goals this time around, after a mediocre performance in 2019, especially since this time I’m going to try to set fewer goals and focus them more accurately on the books I want to be prioritizing.

Goals:

Read this stack of my top 10 books to read in 2020: a goal I always set, and traditionally do really poorly at. This time around, all 10 of these books are 5-star predictions, and I really want to read all 10 of them and see how accurate my choices are for my ratings. I tried to put together a good mix of favorite authors and new-to-me authors, as well as a variety of genres, and I think I’m going to try to pick up at least one of these per month until I’ve read them all.

The Seas by Samantha Hunt – author of Mr. Splitfoot, which I loved

Kindred by Octavia Butler – one of my all-time favorite authors, this is perhaps her best-known book, and although I’ve read 5 or 6 books from her in the past, I have yet to read this one

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente – another favorite author; I’ve previously loved The Refrigerator Monologues, Space Opera, and Deathless

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – new-to-me author, literary fiction from dual perspectives

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire – I’ve read McGuire’s October Daye, Indexing, and Wayward Children series in the past; this one is a standalone fantasy that’s getting amazing reviews

Melmoth by Sarah Perry – new-to-me author, historical fiction with mythology (I think?)

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – memoir from the author of one of my favorite short story collections

Bunny by Mona Awad – new-to-me author, fabulist/horror

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao – new-to-me author, literary fiction about friendship and tragedy

Normal People by Sally Rooney – new-to-me author, literary fiction about first love

Read more than 9 five-star reads – I have this strange trend where I tend to only read 8 or 9 five-star reads over the course of a year. I don’t know why it happens, and that doesn’t discount all of the amazing 4, 4.25, and 4.5 star reads I generally find, but in 2020, I’d like to somehow read 10 full five-star reads. I don’t know how to make this happen, since luck will have more to do with it than anything else, but I’m going to give it a shot.

Focus on backlist books: last year, in 2019, I made new releases my focus, since there were SO MANY new releases I was interested in; in 2020, I still want to read new releases that I’m excited about, but I also want to make backlist titles my primary focus.

Read some books on writing: I have several writing projects in the works, but I haven’t been as focused on them lately as I’d like to be. In 2020, I’d like to pick up some books on writing, and also try to go on a writing retreat.

Letters to a Young PoetThe Artist's Way

Re-reads: There are four specific books I want to re-read in 2020, as all of them have sequels either out now or upcoming that I want to pick up, and I loved the originals enough that I want to experience those again first. I really got back into re-reading books during the latter half of 2019, and found the experience to be a really positive one, so I’d like to keep the re-reading momentum going in 2020. Here are the originals and sequels I’m eyeing:

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

The Handmaid's Tale (The Handmaid's Tale, #1) .    The Testaments

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1) .      Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2)

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

 

What are your reading goals for 2020?

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

 

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

December reading stats

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 1

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

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

Resistance Reborn by Rebecca RoanhorseDeathless by Catherynne M. Valente

And now for some reviews!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I write about nontraditional beach reads for nontraditional readers