Tag Archives: book reviews

March Reading Wrap-Up

I’m a little late with my March wrap-up since I’ve been dealing with the flu all week, but we’re finally here! March was sort of an OK reading month for me; I read a bunch of 4-star reads but no 5-star reads and no new favorites. Here are my stats:

Total books read: 9

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 1

2019 releases: 5

ARCs: 1

Find Me by Laura van den BergMy Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan BraithwaiteJane Doe by Victoria Helen StoneThe Gilded Wolves by Roshani ChokshiDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins ReidOn the Come Up by Angie ThomasNever-Contented Things by Sarah PorterNightchaser by Amanda BouchetCall Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit

Call Them by Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit (4 stars) – This was my third Solnit book, and although it was good, it was my least favorite of the three (the other two being Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions, both of which I gave 5 stars to). This collection focuses on how language can be utilized to either elucidate or hide the true meaning of actions and events, and it covers a wide range of contemporary political issues, from the removal of Confederate monuments to police brutality to the general truth-obscuring tendencies of the Trump administration. Unfortunately, I did find the collection to be somewhat uneven; while some of the essays were fascinating, detailed, and focused, others were far too broad and discussed issues in terms too general for me to find helpful. I’d still recommend this book and absolutely Solnit as a writer, but this collection overall fell short of my expectations, which may have been unfairly high.

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter (4 stars) – I was lucky enough to be able to read an eARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley, and I ended up finding it disturbingly entrancing. You can read my full review here.

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (4 stars) – I’m often wary of the hype surrounding new releases (I’ve been burned before!) but when I heard that the audiobook of Daisy Jones & the Six was done with a full cast and that the story was told in an unconventional interview format, I was in. I’ve always struggled to listen to audiobooks; I have a hard time processing books this way in a lot of cases, so I’m always trying to find books that are more like people telling me stories, because that’s the way I’ve found it best to listen. And it worked. Seriously, take it from an audiobook struggler–this is a fantastic production. I felt like I really got to know the characters better because their voices fit with them so well (particularly Daisy), and it was a great way to absorb a book that’s all about the fact that there are many sides to every story. Audiobook aside, this is also just a really great book. I don’t have a ton of music knowledge, and I’m not particularly familiar with the ’70s (two reasons I initially thought I wouldn’t be interested in this book), but neither of those things affected my enjoyment of the story at all. It’s a book about how flawed people can come together to create amazing art, and I think that’s something we can all find fascinating.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (4 stars) – Genre-wise, this book sits somewhere between literary fiction and mystery/thriller, and it’s one that I pretty much devoured. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a very quick novel that easily sucks you in and forces you to care about two sisters, each with quite a few issues, and the fact that one can’t seem to stop killing her boyfriends. I recommend the audiobook, which is how I consumed this novel, although I think it would be addicting in any format.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (4 stars) – If, like me, you enjoy books featuring a band of misfits teaming up for a secret adventure, you’ll probably enjoy The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi. This YA fantasy set in a magic-infused 1889 Paris follows six teens: Severin, who’s out to reclaim his birthright as the head of one of Paris’s ruling magical families; Laila, whose pastry chef skills are matched only by her dancing abilities; Tristan, Severin’s younger brother with a penchant for plant magic and a pet tarantula; Enrique, a brilliant historian; Zofia, a neurodiverse engineer; and Hypnos, the patriarch of a magical House none of them are sure they can trust. Together, they band together to plot a heist, take back what’s theirs, and maybe save the world in the process. While I did find the plot disjointed at times and the mythology was a bit confusing, I overall very much enjoyed the read and will definitely be looking to pick up the sequel. Great for fans of Six of Crows, although much less violent.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (4 stars) – I was really lucky to be able to attend an event last year where Angie Thomas spoke at our local museum; she’s one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen, and her accomplishments are especially impressive considering how young she is. Along with pretty much every other YA reader, I loved The Hate U Give, and was interested to see what her next book would bring. I may have actually liked On the Come Up even more than The Hate U Give; protagonist Bri is captivating and relatable, and we get to see her try to realize her dreams while also dealing with the reality of her family’s financial struggles. I both read the physical book and listened to the audio version, which is fantastically done by my favorite audio narrator, Bahni Turpin, and would definitely recommend it to adult and YA readers alike.

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet (3.5 stars) – I think this was my first time reading a science fiction romance, and I found that I quite enjoyed it as someone who enjoys both of those genres. I tried Amanda Bouchet’s fantasy romance series last year and really appreciated her worldbuilding and female main character, but stopped after the second book as I really wasn’t a fan of the male lead, but she’s been an author I’ve been wanting to try again and I’m glad that I did. Nightchaser follows spaceship pilot Tess, a fugitive with a mysterious past who’s on the wrong side of the law for trying to help the rebels against the notorious Dark Watch, mainly by providing food and medical supplies to orphans. After a particularly daring endeavor she runs into Shade, a self-described space rogue who she quickly develops a connection with. The two of them, together with Tess’s ragtag crew, find themselves on an adventure and  a mission that could have ramifications larger than they’d dreamed of. It was a fun, fast-paced read with plenty of action alongside the flirtation, and although the plot was quite clumsy in places, I do plan to continue with the rest of the series to see what happens next.

Find Me by Laura Van den Berg (3 stars) – I went into this book fully aware that it has a very low Goodreads rating (one of the lowest of any books on my Goodreads shelves), but since I’ve tended to disagree with books’ average Goodreads ratings in the past and tend to fairly often have unpopular bookish opinions, I didn’t want to let this dissuade me from picking it up. Unfortunately, I ended up finding this book ultimately very disappointing. I did settle on three stars, since I felt that certain aspects of this book did have a lot of merit, but I also found a lot of things frustrating.

Find Me follows Joy, a 19-year-old living outside of Boston, working the night shift at a Stop-and-Shop, and drinking cough syrup to help herself cope with a traumatic past. When an illness causing memory loss and eventual death sweeps the U.S., Joy demonstrates immunity and is offered a place at a research hospital in Kansas attempting to find a cure. The first half of the novel follows Joy falling into the rhythms of the hospital and distancing herself from her former life and her past, while the second half follows Joy’s search for her mother, who abandoned her at birth, in a meandering road trip across a country still suffering from the shock and devastation of the epidemic.

Here’s my main issue with the book: it just didn’t ever seem to fit together. The book contained a lot of really interesting ideas that I thought could have been explored very well as short stories or even as spinoffs into independent novels, such as the epidemic itself and Joy’s time in the Hospital (which I didn’t feel made sense as being only half of her story), Joy’s experiences in the foster care system, which include her childhood best friend, who is scarred from a childhood accident and always wears a Halloween mask, and a really strange episode during the road trip portion of the story that takes place in a house occupied by a girl with angel wings and a man attempting to perform experiments to find his own cure for the epidemic. Any of these ideas could have been a great independent story if explored enough, but instead it was a struggle for them to connect into a larger narrative in which everything eventually felt anticlimactic. I wanted to care about the epidemic, about the state of the country, about Joy and her childhood best friend, but about halfway through the novel, there was a shift in how the story was being told that made me unsure whether the author was attempting magical realism (which I normally love, but didn’t really seem to fit in this context) or a more weird fiction element. There were too many strange coincidences and too-convenient plot elements for it to be realistic speculative fiction, which is fine, but I’m just not sure what the author was going for. I just wanted the story to commit to something, whether it was a plot point or a storytelling mode, but it never did, and so I left the book feeling underwhelmed.

Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone (2.5 stars) – I’m not the biggest mystery/thriller reader, but once in awhile I get in a thriller mood and pick one up. There have definitely been thrillers I’ve really enjoyed over the years; unfortunately, Jane Doe was only okay. I appreciated the discussion surrounding the main character being a sociopath, and I found that aspect of the book very interesting, but the actual plot really didn’t grab me in any way. The reviews for this book are great, so I’m clearly in the minority here, but it just wasn’t for me.

Have you read any of these, or are they on your radar? Let me know in the comments!

September Reading Wrap-Up

In September, I basically only read SFF and nonfiction, with the exception of my favorite read of the month, which I would classify as magical realism. I didn’t feel like I did a great job with reading from my physical bookshelf, and my reading in general felt slower and less productive than normal. I was out of town for two of the weekends in September (I was in Montreal for Labor Day weekend, and Toronto last weekend) and although both weekends were very fun, they didn’t leave a lot of reading time. On the other hand, I enjoyed every book I read this month!

Stats:

Total books read: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

Ebooks: 2

Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and TrumpI'm Afraid of Men by Vivek ShrayaMagic Triumphs by Ilona AndrewsRecord of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisFear by Bob WoodwardThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee BenderBannerless by Carrie Vaughn

And here are my reviews, from most enjoyed to least:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (4.5 stars) – Due to its cheerful cover, I’d always thought this book was going to be a light, summery read–which was why I wanted to finish it during the summer. I knew that the premise was a reverse-Like Water for Chocolate situation (If you haven’t read either of these, in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel the main character is able to imbue the food she cooks with her emotions, whereas in Lemon Cake the protagonist gains the ability to taste the emotions of others, such as the people who have picked, packaged, or prepared the dish, in the food she eats) but I didn’t realize that the book as a whole focused closely on an unhappy and dysfunctional family. It’s a book about growing up and slowly finding out who you are, and a lot of the time it’s deeply sad. That being said, it’s a novel that builds, and by the last third of the book I was completely in love and fascinated. Bender explores the implications of tasting emotions every time you taste food and the impact it would have on a person, as well as how it would help her gain insight into the issues of her family members. The novel starts with our protagonist as a child and follows her into young adulthood, and we grow with her as family secrets are exposed and also as she comes to better understand the people she sees every day. I absolutely loved the ending and the direction the book took, and I was left thoughtful and entranced. I’m very glad that I started reading Aimee Bender this year, and I’d highly recommend this book to fans of magical realism.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – It’s really difficult to rate or review the tenth and final book in my favorite fantasy series, but I’m trying. I really can’t say anything at all about the plot, except that it builds on a lot of things that have been happening throughout the series, and that almost every character we know and love showed up at some point. I thought that it set things up really nicely for both the Iron Covenant trilogy (which focuses on Hugh, who’s sort of a villain throughout most of this series; the first book came out earlier this summer and I really enjoyed it) and a possible spin-off series focusing on Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter. Basically, if you enjoy fantasy with strong female characters, found families, and a lot of action and humor, you should really be reading this series, and know that Andrews does not disappoint with the finale. I can’t say that I loved every single thing about how the plot of this book went, but overall it’s been a wonderful ride, and this is a series I’ll continue to revisit in the future. I’m glad that Andrews isn’t ending things with this world or these characters for good, even if she won’t be putting out anymore Kate-centric books.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – This is the third book in the excellent Wayfarers series and was one of my most anticipated books of 2018. This book focuses on the Exodus fleet of spaceships, which originally was how humans fled a dying Earth and discovered a greater universe of other peoples, and now exists as a home for humans not interested in living on Mars or other planets among alien species. We follow five characters as they mediate on the values of tradition versus exploration and innovation, and what the purpose is of a fleet of ships that technically completed its mission decades ago.

I love Becky Chambers’ writing style, and her universe is a place I want to continue to read about in many books to come. That said, the pacing in this book felt too slow to me, and I wanted to hear more from members of non-human species since their cultures and perspectives are some of the most interesting things in Chambers’ books. I really enjoyed reading this one, but for me it wasn’t as good as The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is one of my all-time favorite science fiction reads.

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (4 stars) – It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Charlaine Harris book, but for years and years, I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on, starting with the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. She’s still #1 on my most-read authors feature on Goodreads (although Ilona Andrews has recently caught up, and they’re currently tied for first place with 28 books each). When I heard that she had a new book coming out, though, and that she would be signing copies at BookCon, I was so excited to be able to dive back into her writing. And An Easy Death definitely did not disappoint; the premise is a lot different than Harris’s other books, but it has her signature cozy mystery-esque writing style alongside plenty of action and lovable characters.

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

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

*I received an ARC of An Easy Death at an autographing session at BookCon.

Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer (4 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of Yes We (Still) Can, which is half a memoir about working for President Obama during his campaign and presidency and half an advice guide for Democrats on how to move forward and beat Trump. Dan Pfeiffer was President Obama’s Communications Director (prior to that the Deputy Communications Director and traveling Press Secretary on the campaign) and he has some great stories of what it was like to work in the Obama White House. This book made me miss President Obama even more than usual, and I’ll definitely be checking out Pfeiffer’s podcast Pod Save America next.

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (4 stars) – this was an extremely short, extremely personal memoir about Shraya’s experience as a transgender woman, both before and after her transition, and her experiences with how men have treated her throughout her life. It’s very short–you could call it a long essay, or a very short book–and very powerful.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (3.5 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of this one because, as a liberal who faced a rude awakening after the 2016 election, I almost felt like I had to. I want to understand as much as I can about why Trump was elected and what’s been going on since then, and how we can turn things around and repair what he’s been doing to our country. I thought Woodward’s book was a very interesting read and a necessary piece of the puzzle; he clearly had a bunch of very high-level sources in the administration speak to him about this book, and it paints a disturbing picture of a disorganized White House with an incompetent bully at the helm. If you’re interested in politics, or if you’d like to read a book that’s sort of like a written version of an episode of the West Wing or Veep, then you should definitely pick this one up.

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (3 stars) – I didn’t really dislike anything about this post-apocalyptic mystery, but I wasn’t in love with anything about it, either. Bannerless follows Enid, a young investigator living in what’s now called the Coast Road communities, a collection of towns along what was once the West Coast of the U.S. The book is set a few generations after what’s known as the Fall, when the countries and societies of our current world were destroyed by a combination of epidemics, natural disasters, and prolonged financial crisis, and people in this part of the world have re-organized themselves into a society strictly based on division of labor, conservation of resources, and population control. Only households and communities that have proven themselves able to sustain an extra mouth are given a banner, which is an indication that they are allowed to conceive a child; it’s based on the idea that overpopulation, waste, and greed were the main factors leading to the Fall.

Enid’s job as an investigator is to expose and punish those who violate the communities’ laws, and the book begins when she is called in to investigate a possible murder in a seemingly thriving town. Since murder has become a rarity in this world of interdependency and communal living, the prospect is daunting, and we follow Enid through her uncomfortable investigation in a community that doesn’t seem to want her there, interspersed with flashbacks to a younger Enid meeting her first love and discovering her independence as an older teen.

For me, this book was interesting; I love a good post-apocalyptic story, and I’m always interested in hearing about an author’s interpretation of how society is likely to collapse and what they imagine humanity’s response to be. Post-apocalyptic SF is often fairly dark, and Bannerless definitely isn’t; as readers you can see flaws in how society is organized, but for the most part the people of the Coast Road are healthy and happy, and there is no exploitative ruling class. It was nice to see something different in that regard, but I kept wanting more from the book. More reveals, more depth, more exploration of the implications of strict reproductive control. And I just never got them. The writing is good and solid, but didn’t blow me away. I enjoyed the read, for the most part, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one.

 

And here are the books I purchased during the month of September:

July Reading Wrap-Up

So, where did July go? Seriously, guys. Anyways, it’s the end of the month, and we all know what that means–wrap-up time!

My reading in July was a little bit weird and out of the box for me (what else is new). I participated at least a bit in three separate readathons (!), dove headfirst into a new-to-me genre, and finished a book that’s been sitting on my shelf staring at me for over 2 years. I also went on a road trip to Portland, Maine and while there discovered my new favorite indie bookstore: Longfellow Books, which has an amazingly curated combination of new and used titles, along with bookish merch. Seriously, their used book section was the best I’ve ever encountered, with recent titles and everything in great condition. I may or may not have bought 8 books there, seven of which are used books.

To go into a little more detail about the readathon side of things, I kicked off July by participating in the Tome Topple readathon for what I think is the 4th time. I’ve had The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell on my TBR for Tome Topple literally every time I’ve done it, but I was never quite in the right mood for it so I always ended up reading something else. Until now! I feel so accomplished. Tome Topple focuses on books over 500 pages long, and lasts 2 weeks, but due to my mood-reading tendencies, it usually takes me more than the 2 weeks to actually finish the tome since I’m picking up other reads in between.

And then I also decided to participate in both 24 in 48 and the Reverse Readathon, even though I knew I wouldn’t actually have that much time to read during those weekends since I had other plans too. Basically, I just tried to read as much as I could and was in the mood for around what I had planned. In my opinion, as long as you read, you’re technically participating in a readathon, and even if I’m not able to fully commit I sometimes use it as motivation to help me read more than I would have otherwise. I spent the Reverse Readathon at a lake beach with friends, so I got in some nice beach reading during that one.  Usually I’d be doing separate blog posts for these readathons, but since my participation wasn’t super enthusiastic this time around, I didn’t. (I will be actually participating in and doing blog updates for Bout of Books in August, though!)

Anyways, here are my stats:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 0 (technically I listened to some audio for 2 of the physical books)

ebooks: 3 (a lot of ebooks for me!)

Iron and Magic by Ilona AndrewsNot That Bad by Roxane GayThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean WeirThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellOf Light and Darkness (Of Light and Darkness #1)Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiThe Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret KilljoyWrong to Need You (Forbidden Hearts, #2)Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

And here are my reviews!

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay (5 stars) – Roxane Gay never fails to blow me away, and this anthology of essays examining different aspects of rape culture was no exception. A difficult read emotionally that should be required reading for everyone. I’d recommend spacing out your reading of this book; I listened to the audio all in one sitting (during a road trip) and it was really rough. If I could do it over again, I’d read one or two essays at a time over a few weeks.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (4.5 stars) – This book is long and complex, and reading it was a journey. I love long books, but they do require a big time investment, so I was very glad this one was worth it. I’ve only read one previous David Mitchell book (Cloud Atlas) and I’d definitely say I preferred The Bone Clocks overall. The Bone Clocks is about Holly Sykes, who we first meet as a rebellious British teenager in the 80s and follow through shifting perspectives and the frame of a mysterious psychic war that she becomes entangled in. It’s hard to talk too much about the actual plot without giving anything away, and I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave the summary at that. Mitchell’s writing is consistently strong and he’s so adept at switching perspectives that you never second-guess the authenticity of each new voice. I honestly can’t even imagine the amount of research and time that it must have taken to craft a story as intricate as this one and decide the best way to tell it, but Mitchell did an amazing job. That being said, I did of course enjoy some sections and plot twists more than others, and there were a few things that I wish were revisited a bit more closely toward the end, but overall this is a fantastic book and I’d definitely recommend it.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (4 stars) – I received an ARC of Spinning Silver at BookCon at an autographing session; I will be posting a full review here in the next few days (I’ll link it here when I do), but I haven’t had a chance yet since I just finished it last night. Basically, I really, really enjoyed this historical fantasy novel told from multiple perspectives; I found it to be really well-written and to have a nice blend of magic, political maneuvering, and explorations of how women and marginalized groups were treated during the time period. The reasons it didn’t reach 5 star status were that I felt like 3 of the 6 viewpoint narrators really didn’t need to narrate (the story would have been better told by just the 3 main female characters) and the scenery descriptions tended to be overly long. Overall, though, this was great and I’d highly recommend it. It’s actually a really good and atmospheric winter read, and at times reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – Ilona Andrews can do no wrong in my eyes, but I still had some skepticism heading into this new spin-off series featuring one of the villains of the Kate Daniels series as its main character. I shouldn’t have been concerned! They knocked it out of the park as usual with a whole new cast of intriguing, snarky, lovable characters, and there were some guest appearances from characters from the KD series as well. I never thought I would say this, but I really liked Hugh as an antihero, and Elara is an awesome new female lead. This book also has a ton of action, and as soon as I was done I immediately became super impatient for book 2. To summarize, Ilona Andrews crushes it every time, and I will continue to read every single book they come out with and love them. Oh, and I do not recommend jumping into this new trilogy without having read the Kate Daniels series–definitely read those first, because major spoilers.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this contemporary romance (which isn’t a genre I usually pick up!). After reading The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang last month and loving it, though, I’ve been wanting to give more romance a try, and this one (the first in the Forbidden Hearts series) came highly recommended. It follows Livvy, a tattoo artist, and her ex-boyfriend Nicholas, who broke up ten years ago when tragedy struck both of their families and who have been secretly meeting up every year on Livvy’s birthday for, um, some fun. When Livvy moves back to town, all of the emotions they’ve been suppressing rise to the surface and they’re forced to actually confront all of their angst and family drama. All of the characters in this book–including all of the side characters, not just the two leads–are really well-developed, and I thought there was a good level of angst with all of the family conflict. I loved the central relationship as well, and I’m really looking forward to picking up more from Alisha Rai in the future! I’m so glad to find an author that lives up to the hype. I received a free copy of Hate to Want You from the publisher at BookCon.

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I also really enjoyed the second book in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series. I have to say that I wasn’t as much of a fan of the romance in this one compared to Hate to Want You, but I LOVED the female main character and her family. This one focuses on Sadia, a single mom whose husband died tragically a few years before the book begins, and Jackson, the brother of both Sadia’s husband and the main character from Hate to Want You, a chef who fled town ten years earlier after he was accused of a crime and condemned in the court of public opinion. I’m very much looking forward to picking up the third book in this series, Hurts to Love You.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy (3.5 stars) – This is a novella set in the near future in an anarchist town that summons a guardian spirit, a three-antlered deer, for protection. Our main character shows up in town looking for information about the death of her friend, and discovers that the spirit may turn out to be more of a threat than a protector. It’s an interesting, unique premise, and there were some good eerie moments, but it did feel somewhat rushed.

The Book of Essie (3 stars) – This was a fast-paced read that worked well for me on audio during a road trip; the premise drew me in and I was absorbed throughout. I did, however, guess all of the major reveals very early on, and I had some issues with how certain things were handled later on in the book. It also felt a bit strange that this book was told in three perspectives; one of the storylines, the journalist’s, felt like it should have been its own separate novel.

Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton (3 stars) – There were aspects of this fantasy novel that I enjoyed (especially the setting and concept) and that I didn’t enjoy (the characters and romance). You can check out my full review of this book here.

And here’s my book haul for July, which is mostly indie bookstore finds:

Have you read any of these? How was your reading in July? Let me know in the comments!

June Reading Wrap-Up

June is over and it was a fun reading month! Lots of fantasy and beach reads for me this month, and even though I didn’t get any 5-star reads, I did find several that I loved and plan to re-read in the future. BookCon at the beginning of the month (and I do still plan on posting a rundown of how much I loved BookCon, I swear, I’m working on it) and a weeklong beach vacation with friends did cut into my reading time a bit, but I ended up with a very respectable number of books read.

Total books read: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 1

ebooks: 1

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha IrbyThe Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient, #1)Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseBetween the Sea and StarsMEMAce of Shades by Amanda FoodyThe Dying Game by Åsa AvdicThe Female Persuasion

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (4 stars) – Believe the hype about this one! It’s a sweet, sexy, well-written romance that even I, as someone who almost never reads contemporary romance, really enjoyed. Looking forward to more from this author.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (4 stars) – I’m so excited to have found a great new urban fantasy series to follow! In the world of Trail of Lightning, a series of rapid catastrophic climate-change-related events have fractured what was once the United States and buried much of it underwater on an accelerated timeline. In the aftermath, the Navajo nation of Dinetah has formed in what was once the Southwestern United States, and Navajo legends and magical powers are manifesting among its people. Our main character Maggie possesses gifts that help her to slay the monsters that threaten her people, but also have her questioning whether she herself may be monstrous as well. An especially strange new monster has Maggie set on a new path, where, in between fighting monsters and dealing with beings out of Navajo legends, she grows closer with an attractive young medicine man while being haunted by her history with her former love, the legendary Monsterslayer.

Urban fantasy can be very hit-or-miss for me, but I really enjoyed this book. With its post-apocalyptic setting and mythology-laden world-building, I think it would be great for readers of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. I loved that Rebecca Roanhorse took the very real threat of climate change as inspiration for the book’s setting and used that as a jumping-off point to introduce Navajo mythology into the world. It was so interesting getting to learn more about Navajo myths and legends.

Maggie is a prickly, somewhat isolated main character at the beginning of the book, but we see a lot of growth even during this relatively short novel. I found it very easy to root for her, and I loved the concept of the clan powers, which played a large role in the book. The book’s secondary characters were also great; I especially loved Kai, her mysterious medicine-man love interest, and of course his grandfather Tah as well, but also thought Coyote was a great character.

I think the world that Rebecca Roanhorse created has the potential for so many more stories, and I’m very excited to see where she takes Maggie next. Definitely recommend.

*I received a free signed copy of Trail of Lightning at an autographing session at BookCon.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (4 stars) – The Female Persuasion is the second Meg Wolitzer book that I’ve read, after The Interestings, and I did definitely prefer this one. The Female Persuasion follows four viewpoint characters but centers on Greer, a young woman who becomes interested in feminism during her freshman year at a liberal arts college when she meets famous second-wave feminist Faith Frank. The book follows Greer, her boyfriend Cory, and best friend Zee as they navigate college and their lives and careers after college, and eventually Greer reunites with Faith to work for her new company, and we get a lot of Faith’s story as well. I did a mixture of physical reading and audio listening for this one, and I recommend both versions as the audio is very well done.

Overall I enjoyed this book and thought it was a very good read, but not an amazing one. I wasn’t sure at first that I liked all of the main characters, but by about halfway through the book I was really interested in all of them and their stories. I ended up wishing we got more time with Zee, a young activist, and Faith, because those two were probably focused on the least in terms of narration. Some plots twists were really shocking and others more predictable; the book meandered more than I’d have liked it to and I felt that it could have been much tighter in terms of structure. The main reason I picked this book up was because feminism plays a prominent role in the story, however, and I would have liked an even deeper focus on feminist movements and goals.

Mem by Bethany C. Morrow (4 stars) – I enjoyed this concise, thoughtful, well-written historical science fiction novel that asks what it means to be human. Recommend if you enjoy literary scifi. Mem takes place in 1920s Montreal, which is a really interesting setting for a science fiction book, and focuses on the idea of a new technology where the wealthy can pay to have memories they no longer want extracted and placed into living clones, or “mems,” who can only think about and reenact those memories. Except for our main character, Elsie, who is her own complete person but doesn’t know why.

The Dying Game by Asa Avdic (4 stars) – It’s really hard to classify The Dying Game into a single genre; if I tried, I’d have to say that it’s sort of a futuristic dystopian spy mystery/thriller without being fully any one of those things. In the world of The Dying Game, the Soviet Union never fell, and Sweden is one of the countries that’s been annexed. Our protagonist is working for the government when she’s asked to go on an unusual assignment: to travel to an isolated island with a group of potential applicants for a position with a mysterious organization, and to fake her own death and then judge the applicants on their responses to a crisis situation. Except that things don’t go as planned, and as conditions deteriorate on the island, we learn more about our protagonist’s mysterious past. It’s fast-paced and addicting to read, and it had a great amount of weirdness for someone like me who isn’t always interested in traditional thrillers.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (3.5 stars) – A funny yet moving personal essay collection that I really enjoyed. I highly recommend the audiobook, which is read by Irby herself.

Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody (3.5 stars) – I really enjoyed this book! Enne Salta travels to the nefarious City of Sin searching for her missing mother and has to struggle to keep herself alive in an environment unfamiliar to someone raised to be a lady. Along the way she meets Levi Glaisyer, a young street lord who she convinces to help her in her search, and also learns a lot about her and her mother’s mysterious pasts.

This book is getting a lot of comparison to Six of Crows, but they are definitely not the same book; their main similarity is that they both are set in cities in fantasy worlds and deal with street gangs. The similarities really end there (and Enne and Levi would definitely not come out well in a fight against the Six of Crows gang) but I still really liked this one. Great worldbuilding, likable characters, and a really cool magic system where everyone inherits abilities from each parent, and unique powers run through family lines that are used to secure power for their wielders.

Between the Sea and Stars by Chantal Gadoury (3 stars) – I received an eARC of Between the Sea and Stars from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. You can see my full review here.

May Reading Wrap-Up

May is over and it ended quite awhile ago! I’m very late with this wrap-up, but I have good reasons (sort of…).

So May was a pretty crazy month in general for me; one of my good friends got married in Arizona, so another friend and I flew there and then took a road trip to the Grand Canyon and then Sedona before going to her wedding. It was a lot of fun, and between packing, traveling, and a crazy month at work, May really flew by. And then I spent the first few days of June at BookCon (I’ll have a post up about my experience soon! Spoiler alert: it was fantastic 🙂 ) and then another crazy week at work leading up to a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week at the beach with friends. But now I’m finally trying to get caught up with bookish things, so here’s what I read in May:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks: 1

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. MaasIn Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanJane, Unlimited by Kristin CashoreImpostor Syndrome (The Arcadia Project, #3)The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor, #1)The Color MasterWicked (A Wicked Trilogy, #1)The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday HorrorFuryborn by Claire Legrand

Reviews:

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (5 stars) – This month, I read one of my new favorite books of the year, and also of ever. In Other Lands fits right into that niche genre of books that satirize and also pay homage to traditional portal fantasy stories, like Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, or Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, or Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. If you liked any of those, you’ll also probably love this book. We follow Elliott, a young bisexual British boy, who’s given the opportunity to enter the fantasy realm of his dreams–except nothing there is as he expects it to be, and he finds himself constantly challenging society’s expectations and norms. Elliott is extremely intelligent but very difficult in social situations, and he’s constantly butting heads with everyone around him except for his crush, Serene-Heart-In-the-Chaos-of-Battle, a beautiful elf maiden who is also, like all female elves, a deadly warrior. The two of them form an at-first tension-filled friend group with Luke Sunborn, a seemingly perfect stereotypical male fantasy hero, with the three of them gradually becoming closer and learning more about accepting each other’s faults as they progress in their training to join the Border Guard, which acts as a military force policing both the fantasy realm and its border with the human ones.

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

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

Furyborn by Claire Legrand (4.25 stars) – Furyborn is a well-written, well-plotted, absorbing, feminist YA fantasy. There’s a great amount of action and worldbuilding, and also some romance, which I’m always a fan of in my YA. Since it’s the first book in a planned trilogy, I’m extremely excited to see where things are headed, and I’ll absolutely be planning on picking up the next book. I won an ARC of Furyborn in a giveaway on Litsy, and you can see my full review of Furyborn here.

The Color Master by Aimee Bender (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this short story collection and will definitely be picking up more books from Aimee Bender. These short stories run from more realistic to magical realism to fairytale-esque, and I liked the variety. My three favorites were “Tiger Mending,” which is about the relationship between two sisters but also about the literal stitching together of fraying tigers; “The Color Master,” which is a partial fairytale retelling of “Donkeyskin;” and “The Devourings,” which is about a woman who marries an ogre and what happens after he mistakenly eats their children.

Impostor Syndrome by Mishell Baker (3.5 stars) – This was the third and final book of Baker’s Arcadia Project series, so I can’t tell you much about the plot, but this series revolves around Millie, a double amputee with Borderline Personality Disorder who survived a suicide attempt and now works for an organization that attempts to regulate the secret interactions between the human and fae worlds. It’s a great UF series that has a lot of discussion about mental illness, and I’m sad that it’s ending, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each book and hope that Mishell Baker writes more things in the future.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas (3.5 stars) – this short novel is intended to bridge the gap between A Court of Wings and Ruin and the upcoming trilogy that focuses on side characters from the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. It was enjoyable to read, but there wasn’t a whole lot happening in terms of plot. I still love this series and am very excited for the new books.

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg (2.75 stars) – Unfortunately, this was a disappointment for me. I love Ortberg’s old site The Toast, and I thought that Texts From Jane Eyre was delightful and hilarious, but these stories mostly fell flat for me. They weren’t as funny or as creepy as I wanted them to be. I love fairy tale retellings, especially dark ones, and I wanted to love this, but it ended up being only OK. I do feel like I have a decent amount of fairy tale knowledge, but Ortberg’s knowledge of fairy tales and classic literature is super impressive, so I’m sure that there are some references that I missed; it’s possible that may have taken away some of my enjoyment.

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee (2.75 stars) – This book is literally a futuristic version of Gossip Girl, and I checked out the audiobook from my library after hearing a review on the Young Adulting podcast (which sadly was forced to change its name to Bad on Paper). It was a fun audiobook listen overall, but it did drag in parts, and I wasn’t the biggest fan of most of the characters. There is a sequel out, and apparently it’s going to become a trilogy, but I don’t think I’m into it enough to continue.

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore (2.5 stars) – This was an example of a YA book with a really great premise that (for me) failed in its execution. Jane, Unlimited is about a teenager who accepts an invitation to visit a sort-of friend’s family’s island mansion on the advice of her recently deceased aunt, who had made her promise that if she were ever asked there, she would say yes. While there, she finds a number of strange rich people and suspicious circumstances, and eventually the story branches off into five different choose-your-own-adventure-ish endings, all in different genres (except you really have to read all five or you’ve only read a bit of the book, so it’s not really Choose Your Own Adventure, unfortunately).

And also unfortunately, none of the five possible plot lines were very good. Neither were any of the characters, who all acted sort of nonsensically and were seemingly without actual personalities. No one was guilty of this more than Jane, the main character, whose entire personality could be summed up by the word UMBRELLAS. You see, Jane is a teenager who makes artsy umbrellas, and they are SO AMAZING that wealthy art dealers want to buy them for thousands of dollars, and everyone sees them as evidence of Jane being basically the coolest chick alive. I wish I was kidding. I guess if you are a huge fan of umbrellas, you would enjoy this book more than I did.

As I said before, Jane’s story branches off into different genres, which sounded like something I could really get into, since I basically love all genres. But all of the stories seemed like they were half-explored; the fantasy one in particular just seemed very lazy and not well thought-out. The horror one was fairly creepy, which I did like, but most of the others just felt far too silly for what they were supposed to be doing. I know that a lot of people loved this book, and I did finish it (I DNF a lot of YA if I’m not feeling it) but it definitely wasn’t for me.

 

Has anyone read any of these? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

November Reading Wrap-Up!

I participated in NaNoWriMo (for the first time!) this November, so I went into the month not expecting to get much reading done. I thought that setting aside time to write every day would cut into a lot of the time I normally spend reading, but I was really pleasantly surprised at how much I was able to read while getting a large chunk of writing done. Most excitingly, I read TWO five-star reads this month! I’m so picky that this is almost unheard-of for me, especially for a relatively lower-reading month. Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed with how much I read this month, but it wasn’t quite as many books as I hit in a typical month. But TWO FIVE-STAR READS! Dang. I feel like a big part of the reason for that was that I didn’t set a big solid TBR for the month; I feel like maybe I read better books when I mood-read and don’t plan in advance. I’m going to be doing more of that going forward, although I did make a list of ten books I really want to get to this winter.

Number of books read: 6

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

When did I acquire the books I read? March 2017 (Crosstalk), June 2017 (Norse Mythology), August 2017 (The Stone Sky), November 2017 (The Refrigerator Monologues)

CrosstalkThe Awakened Kingdom (Inheritance, #3.5)Norse MythologyThe Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act DifferentlyThe Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente (5 stars) – This book could not be more incisive or more timely. I don’t understand why it’s not more popular. Essentially, this book takes on sexism in the world of superheroes, by highlighting women whose lives (and deaths) have been used solely as plot devices to motivate the male main characters. If, like me, you really enjoy superhero movies and are also a feminist, this book will resonate with you. You don’t have to have extensive comics knowledge to enjoy this book or to get most of the references (I certainly don’t); I’m not familiar with every character they referenced, but enough of it is mainstream, like riffs on Batman and Harley Quinn, that you’ll get it regardless. The book’s premise is that in the afterlife, here called Deadtown and expressed as this gorgeously banal yet macabre city, women who have been involved with superheroes gather as what they call the Hell Hath Club and tell their stories one by one. These stories are interspersed with life in Deadtown, which on its own would make a great book. I really wasn’t expecting to love this as much as I did. I both laughed and cried while reading this, and it’s very short. Highly, highly recommend. I need to read more from Valente, stat.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (5 stars) – I definitely don’t want to give away anything about the plot of this book, since it would spoil the first two in the trilogy, but this was a very well-done and fitting end to the series. The world-building was incredible, and I was tearing up at the end.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (4 stars) – this is a cute, funny, fast-paced, highly entertaining SF rom-com. It was a lot of fun to read; the dialogue is great, and you really end up loving the main characters. This was my third Connie Willis book, and my second of her “lighter” books; I have two others on my physical TBR shelf and a bunch more on my hypothetical one.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (4 stars) – I’ve always loved reading about mythology, although Greek mythology has always been my favorite, and this book was no exception. It was well-done and Gaiman also gave a great introduction talking about his connection to Norse myths. The parts about Ragnarok were particularly well-done.

The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin (3 stars) – this novella takes place after the Inheritance trilogy, and the entire plot is a huge spoiler. It was cute and fun to read, but it wasn’t as awesome as most of Jemisin’s work tends to be.

 

And here are the books I acquired in November:

March Reading Wrap-Up & Book Reviews

March was a really enjoyable reading month for me. I may not have had any 5-star reads, but my 4-star reads were all wonderful and I had a bunch of them this month. In terms of my reading goals, I actually did a good job of reading the books on my physical TBR shelf (almost all of my reads this month came from there) and I did manage to read another short story collection, which means that I’m 2 for 2 with my new goal of reading one of those each month in 2017.

Number of books read: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 1

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Tasks Completed: 2

✓ 8. Read a travel memoir.
Wild From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

✓ 5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

When did I buy the books I read? October (The Regional Office is Under Attack!), February (The Possessions, There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself, Wild), March (The Princess Saves Herself in this One, Exit West)

So here’s what I read in March:

Giant Days, Vol. 3 by John AllisonThe Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda LovelaceLab Girl by Hope JahrenThe Possessions by Sara Flannery MurphyThere Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and... by Ludmilla PetrushevskayaWild by Cheryl StrayedThe Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel GonzalesExit West by Mohsin Hamid

Giant Days, Vol 3 by John Allison, Max Sarin, Whitney Cogar, Jim Campbell, and Lissa Treiman (2 stars) – unfortunately, I think I’m done with this series. This latest issue and the previous one were both disappointments, and I’m just not interested enough in the story anymore to keep on going.

The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace (2.5 stars) – another disappointment, unfortunately. I had heard this was similar to Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, which I loved, but the writing was much less impactful in this book and I felt that the poems were overly simplistic with not enough craft.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (4 stars) – fantastic nonfiction audiobook. I loved hearing about the dedication and obsession of this female scientist who was coming into her own in a time when female scientists were very rare; her story is inspiring and fascinating.

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy (4 stars) – So this was my Book of the Month Club pick for February, and I really enjoyed it–but at the same time, I can totally see that a lot of people probably won’t like it. It’s sort of a mishmash of genres (mystery, ghost story, fantasy, thriller) that never fully inhabits any genre. The main character is really vaguely drawn and we never feel like we really know her all that well; the plot does tend to stagnate and it’s heavier on ambiance than twists. But I was really into all of that, fortunately, and it really worked for me. The book’s premise is that there are pills that allow people to channel the spirits of the deceased, and the main character works at an agency that helps people contact their departed loved ones in an attempt to gain some closure. The intrigue starts when the lines begin to be blurred between the rigid structure of contacting the dead at this company versus what happens when our main character starts to fall for a client and discovers more about the darker side of this phenomenon.

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself by Ludmila Petrushevskaya (4 stars) – my short story collection for the month of March. These stories are all set in Russia and all involve families and elements of daily life; there’s an overwhelming sense of oppression and depression but still a strong cord of hope running through them. Petrushevskaya’s writing style was wonderful, and her blend of dark humor and stark realism really worked for me. I definitely will be picking up more of her short fiction in the future.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (4 stars) – For some reason, I had always had this impression of Wild being a sort of sappy, inspirational self help-y kind of book, and so I avoided reading it for years. After I listened  to Cheryl Strayed’s other nonfiction book (Tiny Beautiful Things) on audio last year, though, I revised my opinion and realized that I probably had the wrong idea about Wild. I ended up listening to this one on audio as well and it’s probably one of my favorite audiobooks so far. This was NOT sappy or self-help-y at all; it’s honest and real and very absorbing.

The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (3 stars) – this was a fun read that I mainly listened to on audio about superpowered female secret agents and what happens when one contingent attacks another (the Regional Office) and the events leading up to and following said attack. While it was fun, there were a LOT of issues in terms of plot holes and it constantly teetered between science fiction/fantasy elements and more realistic ones in a way that just did not at all come together. It almost seemed like the author just didn’t feel like explaining a lot of the fantastical elements and also occasionally forgot about them.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (4 stars) – This was my Book of the Month Club pick for March, making this the first time I’ve actually read my BOTM pick during the month it was sent to me. It’s a magical realism story that takes place in an unnamed Middle Eastern country on the brink of civil war; at the same time that this is happening, doors start to open up all over the world that allow people to be transported from one disparate place to another. When I started reading this, I really thought that because of the lyrical, gorgeous prose that it would be a 5-star read, but unfortunately I ended up liking the first half much better than the second and it was more of a 4-star read for me in the end.

And here are the books I purchased in March: