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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.

March TBR

I keep telling myself I’m going to step away from making TBRs, since I’m a mood reader at heart, but then I somehow end up setting a TBR anyways because at the start of the month I’ll be just beginning a whole new set of books and want to talk about them. My TBR for March has unintentionally become very fantasy-heavy, which is interesting because in Feb I gravitated the most towards nonfiction and in January mainly contemporary fiction and romance. Am I somehow accidentally focusing on certain genres every month? That would have been a really cool yearly reading goal if I’d actually planned on doing that.

Anyways, here’s what I’m thinking for March! I’ve sort of loosely organized the books into categories that they sort of fit.

Books from reading challenges (Top 10 TBR for 2021 and/or TBR shelf poll): I’m trying to pick up at least 1 book per month from my Top 10 TBR for 2021 list (so that I don’t fall behind and have to read them all in November/December like last year) and hope to continue that streak with Black Sun. Black Sun also won a TBR shelf poll I did over on my Bookstagram account where I had people vote for the book from my shelf they thought I should pick up next; that also turned into a whole other TBR challenge where I decided to try to read as many of the recommended books as possible before the end of the year. One of those is And Again by Jessica Chiarella, which I’ve actually already started and am enjoying so far. I’m also really glad to be picking it up finally, since I think it’s been on my shelf for about 5 years now.

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)And Again

2021 releases (new releases and/or eARC): One of my most anticipated books of 2021, A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J Maas, came out in Feb and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t finished it already. I’m about 70 pages in and definitely enjoying returning to the world, but haven’t yet been in the mood to sit down and really immerse myself in the book; I assume I’ll do that in March. I also want to get to a NetGalley eARC, Malice, which is a Sleeping Beauty retelling.

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)Malice

Other books I really want to read: I wanted to start a new short story collection immediately after I finished What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi last month, and I chose Tender by Sofia Samatar, an SFF collection that was nominated for several awards. I also want to pick up one of my Book of the Month selections this month (I’m trying to do the Book of the Month challenge, and to win you need to read at least 12 2020 or 2021 picks over the course of a year), and I’m leaning towards Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, which I keep hearing great things about.

TenderTranscendent Kingdom

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.)

January Reading Wrap-Up

I started out my reading year strong with a whole bunch of compelling reads and a much more prolific reading month than I’d expected. I managed to kick off my Top 10 2021 TBR/5-star predictions list with my first 5-star read of 2021; caught up on several books that I’d meant to pick up as 2020 was winding down; and finished 2 NetGalley eARCs from my list. Let’s check out some stats and reviews:

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Such a Fun AgeFirst Comes Like by Alisha RaiA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasHeadliners by Lucy ParkerA Rogue of One's Own by Evie DunmoreWhite Ivy by Susie YangDo You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa DareThe Russian Cage by Charlaine HarrisThe Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle EvansDon't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (5 stars) – My first 5-star read of 2021! I picked up this short story collection after I saw that it was highly recommended by Roxane Gay, one of my favorite writers, and found it to be fantastically, skillfully crafted throughout. The stories in this collection are all very distinct, although many of them focus on themes of racism and all contain extremely compelling characters. It’s difficult to choose favorites within the collection, but if I had to choose, I’d highlight “Happily Ever After,” which focuses on a woman working in the gift shop of a Titanic replica museum; “Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain,” which follows a reluctant guest at a wedding that gets unexpectedly derailed; and of course the title novella, “The Office of Historical Corrections,” which discusses misinformation and racism throughout American history. I can’t recommend this one highly enough; any short story fans should immediately pick it up.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (re-read) (4.5 stars) – I kicked off my intended re-read of the ACOTAR series in January, and ended up enjoying the first book even more this time around.

White Ivy by Susie Yang (4 stars) – This was a fantastic debut novel. I loved its twists, its “unlikable” main character, and its smart subversions of expectations. We’re following Ivy, who is taught to steal by her grandmother at a young age, and who falls for the golden boy at school, Gideon, who’s from an old money New England family. We then flash forward to an adult Ivy determined to make an adult Gideon fall for her–and to become a part of the world he represents. I was hooked early on by the premise and the compelling style, and this book continually surprised me.

A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore (4 stars) – The second book in Dunmore’s League of Extraordinary Women historical romance series, which revolves around a group of suffragist friends fighting for womens’ rights in late 1800s England. I continue to love Dunmore’s writing style and her passionate activist female protagonists, and I really liked the relationship dynamic between suffragist leader Lucie and rake/poet/war veteran Tristan in this book. I can’t wait for the next book in September, which is set to focus on banking heiress Hattie and shady businessman Lucian Blackstone.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (4 stars) – Mhairi McFarlane is becoming one of my favorite contemporary romance authors. Both books of hers that I’ve read have been extremely well-written and contain a lot of heart; her main characters are so lovable and are dealing with a lot. In this one, protagonist Georgina gets unfairly fired from her waitressing job and walks in on her boyfriend cheating on her on the same day. She’s facing a lot of judgment from her family, who feel that at 30 she should be further along in her career and/or romantic life, and she falls into a new job at a bar that turns out to be co-owned by her high school boyfriend, whom she’s really never stopped carrying a torch for. It’s a sweet romance that’s also really a story about Georgie finding herself and standing up for herself, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – You can read my full review for this fun contemporary romance featuring a beauty YouTuber and great family and friendship dynamics here. (I received an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (4 stars) – It took me a little while to fully get into this story, but once I was past the first big twist, I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading until I’d finished it. I can see this making a really great movie someday; the dialogue felt very authentic, and it had thoughtful discussions and portrayal of racism throughout.

Headliners by Lucy Parker (4 stars) – Another great installment in Parker’s London Celebrities series; I liked this one just as much as the only other book in the series I’ve read, The Austen Playbook. Parker is great at setting up chemistry, and the enemies-to-lovers dynamic was very well done. Sabrina and Nick, rival TV presenters, are forced to work together due to a company merger and for the sake of ratings, and hijinks quickly ensue. Their relationship evolution is well-paced and believable, and I liked both of them more and more as they began to fall for each other. I’m looking forward to going back and reading the first few books in this series, since I sort of skipped to the fourth and fifth, and I hope that even more books come out in future.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare (3.5 stars) – A historical romance with a bit of mystery, featuring a diplomat/spy marquess and a young woman with an undeservedly bad reputation. I loved the premise of this book, which involves the protagonists attempting to discover the identity of a pair of mystery lovers at a country retreat to prevent being forced into an engagement for the sake of propriety, and I overall did like both main characters as well. However, the plot stagnated for a good portion of the book, and I didn’t love it quite as much as some of Dare’s other works.

The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris (3.5 stars) – This is the third book in Harris’s Gunnie Rose series, which is a unique combination of alternate history, fantasy, and Western . Set in the 1930s, the U.S. has been fractured into pieces, with East Coast Brittania realigning with England, the South becoming independent Dixie, Texas and Oklahoma forming Texoma, where our protagonist Lizbeth Rose lives, and California and Oregon becoming the Holy Russian Empire, ruled over by the escaped royal Romanov family. In The Russian Cage, we’re finally getting a glimpse of the mysterious Holy Russian Empire (HRE) when Lizbeth rushes there to help her love interest, Eli, who’s been imprisoned under murky circumstances. Lizbeth remains a pragmatic, antisocial, capable main character who you can’t help but like and root for; I loved that we got a lot more interaction between her and her younger sister in this installment. I continue to be fascinated by Harris’s worldbuilding and the sharp contrasts between the places we visit in each book. I did, however, feel that the writing in this one wasn’t as strong as in some of Harris’s previous books, and the ending left me wondering where the plot will be going in future books. I received an eARC of The Russian Cage from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: First Comes Like by Alisha Rai

First Comes Like (Modern Love, #3)

First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #3)

Genre: contemporary romance

Release date: 2/16/21

Rating: 4 stars

First Comes Like is a book I’ve been anxiously awaiting for a very long time. We first meet its protagonist Jia in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series as the younger sister of past protagonist Sadia who’s determined to forge her own path by leaving medical school to dedicate herself to her true passion. Jia is a beauty influencer with a YouTube channel and a large dedicated fanbase–she’s passionate about makeup and skincare, and dreams of one day owning her own makeup company. She’s a creative and charismatic character, and I’m so glad that she finally got her own story, after being featured as a side character in not only the Forbidden Hearts series but also the first two books of the Modern Love series. Although I’m fairly terrible at makeup, I enjoy watching beauty Youtubers, and I thought it was so much fun to have one as the main character in a romance novel–we get to see behind the scenes of what Jia’s process is like and watch her struggle with a creative rut and fears that she’s out of touch as an “older” influencer, and also see what some of her past content has looked like.

Like the previous two books in Rai’s Modern Love series, First Comes Like deals with a modern dating conundrum–catfishing. (The Right Swipe was focused around ghosting, while Girl Gone Viral featured, well, going viral.) Jia thinks she’s been talking to famous Indian actor Dev through his verified account, but when she finally tries to meet him in person, she realizes that he has no idea who she is–she’s never actually spoken with him in the first place. Nevertheless, Dev is intrigued by Jia, and after a rocky start the two begin a whirlwind and very sweet fake relationship that quickly turns into real feelings.

Everything I love about Alisha Rai was present in First Comes Like: a badass female protagonist, a strong friendship group that supports one another, complex and interesting family dynamics. I did find Jia a more compelling character than Dev, who has a quieter and less forceful personality, but I really liked their interactions and their eventual HEA. This is a great series that contemporary romance fans absolutely need to check out if they haven’t already, and I can’t wait to see what Alisha Rai comes out with next.

 

I received an eARC of First Comes Like from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Bout of Books Updates (Days 5-7) and Wrap-Up!

That’s a wrap on another round of Bout of Books! Here are my stats for the last 3 days of the readathon, as well as my overall stats and thoughts.

Bout of Books updates for Days 5-7:

Headliners (London Celebrities, #5)A Court of Mist and FuryWhite Ivy

Day 5

Pages read: 50 pages of A Court of Mist and Fury, 4 hours of Headliners (audiobook)

Books started: A Court of Mist and Fury (re-read)

Books finished: None

Day 6

Pages read: 1 hour of Headliners (audiobook), 150 pages of A Court of Mist and Fury, 27 pages of White Ivy

Books started: None

Books finished: Headliners

Day 7

Pages read: 62 pages of A Court of Mist and Fury, 50 pages of White Ivy,

Books started: None

Books finished: None

 

And here are my stats for the readathon as a whole:

Total pages read: 872 pages; 6.5 hours of audiobook time

Books started, but not finished: A Court of Mist and Fury, A Rogue of One’s Own, White Ivy

A Court of Mist and FuryA Rogue of One's Own (A League of Extraordinary Women, #2)White Ivy

Books finished: A Court of Thorns and Roses, Headliners

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasHeadliners (London Celebrities, #5)

I’m definitely happy with my overall reading productivity during Bout of Books. I may have only finished 2 books, but I made significant progress on 3 others and managed a very respectable final page count. I’m actually about to start another readathon just as this one wraps up, but since it’s hosted on Bookstagram I’m not sure that I’ll be posting regular updates here as well. But I’m hoping to make progress on the 3 books I started but didn’t finish during Bout of Books!

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!

Bout of Books TBR!

It’s a bit last minute, but I’m planning on joining in on this round of the Bout of Books readathon!

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in YOUR time zone. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are reading sprints, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional. For all Bout of Books 30 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

I usually do kick off my reading year with Bout of Books, but I’ve been reluctant to post a TBR since I’m trying to avoid TBRs altogether in January and instead focus on mood-reading. I do, however, still really want to participate in the readathon, as it always help me be more productive with my reading to start the year off, so here are the two books I’m currently reading (and will probably read more from during the week?): From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout (fantasy romance) and Headliners by Lucy Parker (contemporary romance, audiobook).

From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash, #1)Headliners (London Celebrities, #5)

And here are a few books that I’m sort of maybe feeling like starting soonish, but I’m definitely not committing to:

The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and StoriesA Rogue of One's Own (A League of Extraordinary Women, #2)A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (short story collection), A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore (historical romance), A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (fantasy romance; re-read).

 

Anyone else planning on participating in Bout of Books or any other readathons to kick off 2021? Let me know in the comments!

2021 Reading Goals

Last year, I set reading goals for myself that were intentional as well as accessible, so I’m going to try to do that in 2021 as well. Let’s get started!

Read all of the books on my Top 10 TBR for 2021/5-Star predictions list.

I tried to be thoughtful in curating this list and included books in a lot of different genres and formats; I’m hoping that the variety will help make it easier for me to stick to this stack despite my mood-reading tendencies.

Shorter backlist novels I’m intrigued by:

The Stone GodsHow the Blessed LiveAll the Birds, Singing

Short story collections:

What is Not Yours is Not YoursThe Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories

Critically acclaimed books I keep meaning to read:

Fates and FuriesThe Vanishing Half

YA:

When the Moon Was Ours

Longer books:

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)Plain Bad Heroines

 

Read a classic or modern classic. I didn’t read any classics at all in 2020; I actually started Anna Karenina and was really enjoying it before lockdown started in my area, but then I abandoned it due to stress and a need for more comforting reads. I’d really like to read at least one classic in 2021 (and modern classics would count too!) although I’m not yet sure which one I’m gravitating towards.

Read some lesser-known or independently published books. This sort of goes along with my selections for my Top 10 TBR for the year. I do like to keep up with new releases, and to a certain degree I can also get caught up in the hype with popular books. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I also want to make sure that I’m picking up plenty of less popular or less talked-about titles as well.

Re-read the Court of Thorns and Roses series. I’m not going to lie, this is probably my favorite ongoing series. I have re-read the first three books in the past, but not for quite awhile, and with book 4 finally coming out in Feb, I’m thinking that I’ll either want to do a re-read of the series in the lead-up to the newest book’s release or after I read the newest book when I’ll likely be in a book hangover and wanting more from that world.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3)A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)

In the past, I’ve almost felt guilty about doing re-reads when I have so many books on my TBR shelf, but in the last two years I started forcing myself to abandon the guilt and go back to enjoying re-reads the way I did when I was younger. I want to keep doing that in 2021–if I’m in the mood for a re-read, I should just do it.