Tag Archives: book review

May Reading Wrap-Up!

I had an absurdly productive reading month in May, and I’m still trying to process how it happened. I think it was a combination of reading shorter books, reading in various formats on a consistent basis, and participating in readathons and reading challenges. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

May stats:

Total books read: 13 (!)

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 2

ARCs/review copies: 1

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Broken by Jenny LawsonThin Girls by Diana ClarkePretty Face by Lucy ParkerWriters & Lovers by Lily KingWriting into the Wound by Roxane GayDisfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making SpaceThe Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan HeThe Body Myth by Rheea MukherjeeRiot BabyHoney Girl by Morgan RogersRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallNeon Gods (Dark Olympus, #1)The Ex Talk

Writers & Lovers by Lily King (5 stars) – I have a lot of thoughts about this book, but more than thoughts I also just have a lot of feelings. Sometimes I describe 5-star reads as books that make me FEEL THINGS (in all caps, of course) and this is one of those times. I identified so much with Writers & Lovers’s protagonist, who is the same age as me and struggles with anxiety and obsesses about books and writing. I think that almost all aspiring writers will find pieces of themselves and bits of truth in her character. This book made me tear up several times, either because of the emotions in the story as Casey deals with the grief of the loss of her mother, her debts, and her physical and mental health, but also because of the beauty of its writing. The almost-meta, writing-centric themes made me think of Mona Awad’s Bunny, my favorite book, even though they are very different and Bunny is much, much weirder. Sometimes I really hate books with writer main characters, but Bunny and Writers & Lovers both get it right.

Disfigured by Amanda Leduc (4.5 stars) – A nonfiction book that’s part memoir and part analysis of the portrayal of disability in folklore and fairy tales, Disfigured was a powerful and multi-faceted read. LeDuc has a lovely writing style, and I’m interested to pick up her fiction after being impressed by this work. It made me consider the stories I’ve been hearing since childhood in new ways, and it also includes a lot of discussion about contemporary disability rights struggles.

The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee (4.5 stars) – After finishing The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee, I’m really looking forward to reading more from this author. We’re following Mira, whose husband died after less than one year of marriage, and who turns to books and philosophy in her grief to help her make sense of the world. She has a strange, chance encounter with an intriguing couple that ends up drawing her into their orbit and shifting her worldview yet again. I LOVED the beginning and middle of this book, and particularly thought Mukherjee’s writing itself was excellent, but was much less enamoured with the ending. Recommend if you like thoughtful character studies and short books written in interesting, meandering ways.

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall (4.5 stars) – My favorite romance of the year so far! After loving Hall’s Boyfriend Material, my favorite romance of 2020, I was a bit worried that any follow-up would be a letdown; I’m so glad that it wasn’t. Set at a pseudo-Great British Bake-Off show, Rosaline Palmer is a sweet, hilarious, thoughtful book about finding happiness by embracing what we truly love.

Thin Girls by Diana Clarke (4 stars) – I picked this one up because of a recommendation from Roxane Gay, who mentored the author, and I’m not sorry I did. Emotionally, it’s a very difficult read, and I would urge caution if you’re at all sensitive to reading about eating disorders; the main character is severely anorexic and is undergoing treatment throughout the book. I struggled through the first half, in which we become immersed in life at the inpatient eating disorder clinic our main character has been living at for a year, and gradually learn more and more about hers and her twin sisters’ past, particularly in regard to their relationships with food. The story picked up a lot for me in the second half, though, and I found the ending to be extremely satisfying, which lead me to significantly bump up my rating. I’d be interested to see what Clarke writes next.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers (4 stars) – A lovely story about friendship, love, and self-love, Honey Girl is about a young woman suffering from burnout who finds herself abruptly married to a woman she meets one night in Vegas. After finishing her PhD in astronomy, Grace finds herself desperately needing a break before entering the job market, which is already difficult to navigate due to gatekeeping and racism, and she ends up finding herself by spending a summer in New York with her new wife and slowly falling in love with her. The central romance is very sweet, but the gorgeous friendships are given perhaps even more weight, and the story has great messages about the need for self-care and the problems with perfectionism and pushing yourself too hard.

Writing Into the Wound by Roxane Gay (4 stars) – This was a Scribd exclusive audiobook that I believe is technically an essay (it’s only about an hour long) discussing writing about trauma. Gay talks about her personal trauma as well as a course she taught at Yale on the topic; if you like her work, you definitely won’t regret picking this one up. I just wish it was longer!

Neon Gods by Katee Robert (4 stars) – As a huge Greek mythology fan, I’m always looking for great modern retellings of classic myths to pick up; as a romance reader, this was the Hades and Persephone retelling that I’ve been looking for. We have a mysterious modern setup that’s light on magic but heavy on political machinations, with the thirteen main gods and goddesses of Greek mythology recast as the Thirteen, roles that are either lobbied for or inherited and that combine to rule and oversee different aspects of the city. Persephone is trying to avoid the drama and power struggles while planning her escape from it all when she’s unexpectedly forced by her mother, Demeter, into an engagement with Zeus, who has rumored to have killed his previous few wives. Desperate, she flees across the River Styx into the territory of the one member of the Thirteen thought to be only a myth–Hades. The two develop instant, great chemistry, and I loved how they went from reluctant allies plotting against Zeus to much more. The book’s premise is perfect, and it also sets up potential sequels featuring Persephone’s sisters (in this world Psyche, Calliope, and Eurydice, who are traditionally from separate myths) and a whole cast of side characters (my personal favorite was Hermes, who I hope continues to be heavily featured in the series). I had a great time reading this book, and I’m very much looking forward to more Green mythology-inspired romance from Katee Robert.

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

Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson (3.5 stars) – This is actually my third audiobook from Lawson, who writes essays that are a combination of funny and serious, mainly about her life in Texas and her mental and physical health. Most of the essays in this collection worked well for me, with one about depression being especially poignant, although some seemed a bit too silly to be believable.

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – the second book in Parker’s London Celebrities series, a contemporary romance series centered on the theater world of London’s West End, but actually the 4th book that I’ve personally read in this series since I read it out of order. My main complaint about this installment is that it has a different audio narrator than the others, and that I unfortunately liked less, but I did like the forbidden romance between a TV actress looking to break into theater and her grumpy director.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He (3 stars) – A scifi YA 2021 release about two sisters, one of whom has disappeared and is trying to survive on a deserted island so that she can find her way back to her younger sister, who lives on a climate-controlled city hovering above the Earth’s surface. I was really interested in this book at first, but gradually lost interest and investment as the story progressed, mainly because I didn’t feel that most of the plot twists worked very well; there was also a romantic storyline that felt very superfluous.

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon (2.5 stars) – A 2021 contemporary romance release that I listened to on audiobook and unfortunately didn’t love. It’s about two rival coworkers who team up to create a radio show that portrays them as exes discussing various relationship-related topics, which in theory could have worked as a premise if executed differently. As it was, I never found the characters to be very well-rounded or believable, and the plot was frustrating, with the romance taking a long time to develop and never really gaining chemistry.

April Reading Wrap-Up

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

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

ARCs/review copies: 1

ebooks: 1

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

Reviews & Ratings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

March Reading Wrap-Up

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

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

Stats:

Total books read: 9

Audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb Reading Wrap-Up!

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

Stats:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

December Reading Wrap-Up

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

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October Reading Wrap-Up

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

Total books read: 10

ARCs: 1

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Release date: 10/6/20

Genre: contemporary romance

Rating: 4 stars

In the awfulness that was the first week of October, Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade managed to provide an extremely fun and relatable escape. It’s a contemporary romance that’s well-written, authentic, and delightful. We’re following geologist April, a superfan of the book and TV series Gods of the Gates (a Game of Thrones-esque series) who spends her free time immersed in fanfiction, cosplay, and fandom culture as a whole. A Twitter encounter with Marcus, the lead actor on the TV series and a closet superfan/fanfiction author himself, leads them to a real-life date–but it turns out that they’re already close friends online, which Marcus soon realizes but April doesn’t.

First of all, I loved that both protagonists are in their 30s; as a 31-year-old, it’s sometimes hard to relate to contemporary romances featuring 22-year-olds, and I liked that both main characters are career-focused and looking to take themselves to the next level. I also related so much to April’s struggles with reconciling her professional life and her personal life when it comes to fandom. There’s discussion about how some hobbies are more socially acceptable than others, and how it’s become normalized to talk about football with your coworkers but not things like fan conventions; even though Gods of the Gates is an extremely popular show, April worries her coworkers won’t see her as serious or professional if they find out the depth of her interest. (Kind of like how, even though books are an integral part of pop culture, I didn’t talk to my coworkers about going to BookCon; it’s as though there is a perceived threshold of how much interest is socially acceptable to have about a particular topic). There’s a lot to think about there with regard to feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Spoiler Alert is a great mix of relatable life and relationship issues with larger-than-life celebrity and fandom drama, and I think there are so many people who will be able to relate to one or both protagonists. I know that some readers don’t love the romance trope of “one character knows something about the other but won’t say that they know it,” so it may bother some people that Marcus realizes that he and April have been internet friends for years but doesn’t tell her, because he’s worried about his fandom involvement affecting his acting career (especially because his commentary on the show he stars in has not been entirely positive).

Definitely recommend to readers with ties to fandom, and to career-focused thirtysomethings looking to see themselves in a fictional character and enjoy a good romance at the same time.

I received a free copy of Spoiler Alert from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

September Reading Wrap-Up

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

Reviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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