Category Archives: Reading Recaps

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:

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August Reading Wrap-Up

I’m a little late with my August wrap-up, since I was away for Labor Day weekend (I went to Montreal! It was really fun) and didn’t have a chance to finish it before I left or while I was gone, but here it finally is!

August was a prolific reading month, but I wasn’t able to find any new 5-star reads, which I’d have really liked to do. It was a really fun reading month overall, though; I’m especially proud that I finished all three of the books from the Make Me Read It challenge from Litsy. I finished some fun, summery reads, as well as some really interesting ones. I also participated in another round of Bout of Books, one of my favorite readathons.

Here are my August stats:

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

audiobooks: 0

ebooks: 4

The Hating GameThe MothersThe Answers by Catherine LaceyThe Hazel Wood by Melissa AlbertHurts to Love You (Forbidden Hearts, #3)Torn (A Wicked Trilogy, #2)To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny HanBellwether by Connie WillisRoomies by Christina LaurenCirce

 

Bellwether by Connie Willis (4 stars) – Bellwether is about a sociologist/statistician who studies the history and origins of fads, from short hair in the ’20s to Barbie to the current “it” colors, and finds herself on the path toward a major scientific discovery alongside a chaos theorist, while being forced to deal with repeated and hilarious bureaucratic and administrative hurtles. It’s fast-paced and funny, written and set in the early 90s, and is my fourth Connie Willis book. I absolutely love her chaotic writing style and sense of humor; reading Connie Willis brings me a lot of joy, and I’d highly recommend this one if you’re looking for an entertaining science-related read.

The Answers by Catherine Lacey (4 stars) – I ended up really enjoying this deeply weird novel; my philosophy on books is generally the weirder the better. The Answers follows Mary, a woman suffering from an undiagnosed illness who finds the only way to alleviate her symptoms is through an expensive form of alternative medicine called PAKing. To pay for her treatments, Mary joins an experiment that a famous actor is putting together to attempt to find the secret to an ideal relationship. Women are given roles and scripts such as the Anger Girlfriend and Emotional Girlfriend (Mary’s role) while a team of researchers analyze their interactions. Things actually get even weirder from there! Overall I found this to be very unique and well-written; I’d recommend it to fans of literary fiction with a weird/speculative twist. I’ll be interested to read more from Lacey in the future.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (4 stars) – The Mothers is centered around a black church community in Southern California, and we follow three of its young members, Luke, Nadia, and Aubrey, in alternating perspectives, interspersed by the voices of a chorus of “the mothers,” a group of elderly women whose lives now revolve around the church. Through these voices, we learn the intersecting lives and stories of Luke, a former college football recruit sidelined by an injury; Nadia, an intelligent, ambitious young woman reeling from the recent suicide of her mother; and her best friend Aubrey, who has an equally tragic family past and who copes by finding her place in the church. When the story opens, Nadia is pregnant at seventeen with Luke’s child, and the story follows her decision and their lives through the next several years. The Mothers is a relatively short novel, and it’s fast and almost addicting to read; it’s the type of book that could be read in a single sitting. Despite its fast pace, it’s really beautifully written, and each character is fully realized and easy to picture from the very beginning. It’s also a story very rooted in a sense of place, and the Southern California setting is one of the novel’s constants, even when its characters move to other places. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an emotional literary fiction read that will hold you and not let you go until the end.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (4 stars) – Honestly, this book just made me really, really happy. I’m not a big contemporary romance reader; I basically didn’t read any contemporary romance at all until a few months ago, and I was skeptical about this book for that reason. After a few chapters, I was hooked, and started to absolutely love this hate-to-love romance. I’d absolutely recommend this to fans of The Kiss Quotient; I think it has a similar vibe even if the plots aren’t at all alike, and also to anyone looking for a great contemporary romance.

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – This was the third and unfortunately the final book in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first two. This contemporary saga focused on warring families wrapped up nicely in Hurts to Love You, which focused the romance between Gabe, a tattoo parlor owner and the son of one of the families’ housekeeper growing up, and Eve, who grew up wealthy but is now trying to make her own way.

Circe by Madeline Miller (3.5 stars) – I definitely wouldn’t say that I disliked Circe, nor do I think it was a bad book in any way, but I also didn’t think that it lived up to the hype. I should start by saying that I’ve been a voracious reader of Greek mythology from a very young age, like a lot of bookish people. Because of that, I’ve read a lot of books of mythology and a lot of retellings, and although I absolutely understand Miller’s intent to put a feminist slant on Circe’s story, I just didn’t feel that I gained any new information or insights from this book. It was well-written and incorporated many different mythical “heroes” and deities; I was just expecting more from all of the rave reviews and 5-star ratings I’ve been seeing. By the end of the book, I still felt like Circe’s character development wasn’t fully realized, and that was disappointing, since feminist retellings are one of my favorite types of books. So many people loved this one, though, and so I still think that many people would enjoy reading Circe, but for me it was a bit disappointing.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (3 stars) – I have mixed feelings. The Hazel Wood follows Alice, a 17-year-old girl with anger issues who, along with her mother, has been constantly on the move around the country ever since she can remember. She’s also the granddaughter of the author of a cult classic fairytale collection–but she’s never even met her grandmother, or been able to read her stories, as they’ve become increasingly difficult to find. But then Alice’s mother goes missing, and more and more strange things start to happen, as Alice starts to wonder whether her grandmother’s stories might not be so fictional after all. The premise of this story sounded fantastic, but the execution didn’t go so well. I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style, which relied way too hard on similes and metaphors for my taste, and I felt like the most interesting part of the book–Alice’s grandmother’s collection of fairy tales–went unfortunately unexplored. We only get to hear two of her stories, and not even in their entirety; we get little hints of others, but I think this book would’ve been SO much stronger if we actually got to read these fairy tales rather than having characters constantly referencing interesting-sounding stories that we never get to know. It also makes our main character seem less competent and interesting since she doesn’t know them either. Overall there were aspects of this book that I did like, but it was inconsistent and the ending was rushed and anticlimactic, especially considering its meandering buildup.

Roomies by Christina Lauren (3 stars) – This was a cute, quick contemporary romance about Holland, the niece of a lauded Broadway director, who is living a sort of directionless life in New York, and Calvin, a young Irish musician whose visa has expired and is performing on the subway and in various bands to pay his bills. Holland decides that Calvin would be perfect for a star orchestral part in her uncle’s show, and the two fake a marriage in order to allow him to join the cast. Of course, they then develop real feelings for each other, and drama ensues. My issue with this was that I found both main characters really unlikable in a lot of ways, and although I found the book very readable, I was never really on board for their romance. My favorite characters were Holland’s uncles, and I found myself wishing that they were this book’s main characters instead. I did recently hear that it’s being adapted into a movie; maybe it will work better in that format. Personally, I’d recommend skipping this one and reading The Hating Game instead.

Torn by Jennifer L. Armentrout (2.5 stars) – This was the second book in Armentrout’s A Wicked Trilogy, which is an urban fantasy focused on the conflict between the fae and humans in New Orleans, and I definitely liked it less than the first book, Wicked. It went down a really dark and disturbing storyline, and I wasn’t in love with the series to begin with, so I’m not sure whether I’ll be picking up the third book.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2.5 stars) – This month, I discovered the delightful and adorable Netflix movie version of this book, and enjoyed it so much that I immediately picked up the book version. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it quite as much as the movie, but it was still a cute read. I’m very much hoping the movie gets a sequel, though!

 

And here’s my August book haul:

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!

April Reading Wrap-Up

April is over and I read a bunch of great things!

I unexpectedly had a really stellar reading month in April: I read an unheard-of three 5-star books (what!), re-read a YA favorite, found a new YA series to follow, and found a new author that I need to now read all the things from (Kirsty Logan). I also participated in Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon, which was wonderful as usual. I’m really hoping that I can keep the momentum going in May, because there are SO MANY BOOKS that I want to read RIGHT NOW.

Stats:

Number of books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 1

House of LeavesBreath of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles, #2)The Cruel Prince by Holly BlackOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyThe GracekeepersA Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)The Unseen WorldI Crawl Through ItObsidio (The Illuminae Files, #3)Penance

Here’s what I read, ranked from most awesome to least:

The Unseen World by Liz Moore (5 stars) – This book had a lot of build-up, but the last 150 pages were very much worth it. I absolutely loved the direction that things ended up going (yes, I have to be that vague). The Unseen World is about Ada, a young teen in the 1980’s, whose brilliant computer scientist father begins to lose his memory. At the same time, Ada begins to discover that she doesn’t know her father as well as she always thought she had, and she has to confront these feelings while attempting to uncover her father’s secrets. It’s about growing up, and learning to shift your perspective when your worldview is suddenly altered, and about AI. Highly recommend.

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King (5 stars) – I was so surprised by how much I loved this book; I basically never give 5 stars to YA, but in this case it was so earned. I Crawl Through It is an incredibly relevant novel about a group of teens dealing with extremely difficult issues, but it’s so much more than that. It’s surrealist and uses magical realism elements to highly the absurd contradiction of teens being forced to function normally and take endless multiple-choice tests in a world where nothing is being done to protect them against school shootings and bomb threats. It’s about the ridiculous fact that people don’t pay attention to real issues happening right before our faces. It’s about how we have so much horror happening that it becomes our new normal, and how we can shock ourselves into challenging our sense of what normal is. It’s a book that’s difficult and strange but also makes perfect sense, and I think everyone should read it.

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder (5 stars) – A very short and informative essay that’s essentially an instruction manual for resisting tyranny based on what historians have learned from the 20th century. A very important read in today’s political climate.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan (4.25 stars) – This was a really lovely novel set after the earth has become almost entirely covered by water, and prejudices between those that live on land and on the ocean divide the remaining population. It’s told in multiple perspectives, but our main characters are a “bear-girl” who performs a routine with a bear in a floating circus and a “gracekeeper” who is responsible for laying the dead to rest at sea. Their lives come into contact briefly at first and then they work to find their way back to each other. I really enjoyed the world-building and Logan’s writing; I’ll definitely be looking to pick up more from her.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (4.25 stars) (re-read) – This series remains the most enjoyable ongoing YA (ish) fantasy series I’m reading.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (4 stars) – A YA “it” book that lives up to the hype! I very much enjoyed this dark faerie story full of cruelty and revenge. Looking forward to the next book.

Penance by Kanae Minato (4 stars) – This mystery/thriller set in Japan is full of twists and told in multiple perspectives; I really enjoyed Minato’s previous book Confessions, and I definitely enjoyed Penance just as much.

Breath of Fire by Amanda Bouchet (2.5 stars) – Unfortunately I don’t think I can continue with this series; I still really like the worldbuilding, Greek mythology elements, and main character, but the terrible love interest and sexist behavior of literally every male character is just too frustrating, so I think I’m out.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2 stars) – Well, that was disappointing. I should start by saying that I love weird books; the weirder, the better. I also love when books utilize alternative formats and modes of storytelling, because it can be really creative and interesting when done well.
BUT. Books need to have more than that. To be successful, you still have to have good writing, memorable and well-developed characters, and an interesting plot. House of Leaves fails on all three of these accounts, unfortunately making its alternative formatting the most interesting thing about it.
This was actually a book that I’ve looked forward to reading for years and years, and I hate giving books bad ratings, and I wanted to love it, but I just didn’t, at all. The Johnny Truant sections in particular were so cliche and lazy that it almost made me unable to finish the book. At first I was really into the faux-academic format of House of Leaves, with all of the made-up quotations and footnotes (I also love academic writing) but after awhile you start to realize that you’re being told everything about the characters and shown nothing, and that it takes away any emotional impact the book might’ve had. A book needs to at least be good enough to justify the way that the story is told, and it wasn’t. The end result of this book just felt hollow and dull, even though with its premise the book should’ve been anything but that.
I know that this is a very well-known and much-loved book, but it didn’t work at all for me, even though I went into it really wanting to love it. Would not recommend.

 

What did you read in April? Have you read or do you want to read any of these? Let me know!

March Reading Wrap-Up

March is over! I’m pretty sure it lasted approximately 1,000 years but it was also over in like 2 seconds. Not sure how to explain that; I don’t have all the answers, guys.

Anyways, I read some books! Not nearly as many as I thought I would or wanted to, but hey, it happens. I actually kicked off the month really strongly by reading 3 books that were all quite good 4-star reads, and I was fooled into thinking that the rest of March would be stellar reading as well. It wasn’t! I started reading (but didn’t finish before the month was over) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and it sucked up a ton of my reading time and also (spoiler alert) I hated it, so it wasn’t even really worth it. While trudging through House of Leaves, I did read a few other books, but honestly, nothing really blew my mind this month and now I’m desperate for another 5-star read. Desperate!

And in non-reading-but-still bookish news, I got to see Colson Whitehead give a talk at a local college, and he was amazing and funny and I bought The Underground Railroad and he signed it. So that was pretty awesome. And! And! At a separate bookish talk at a different local college, I got to see my hero/idol Margaret Atwood give a talk, and she was just the coolest.

March stats:

Total books read: 7

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

When did I obtain the physical books I read? February 2017 (The Exile), April 2017 (American War, Purple Hibiscus), July 2017 (Made for Love), January 2018 (An Unkindness of Magicians)

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat HowardAmerican War by Omar El AkkadMade for Love by Alissa NuttingThe Exile (The Fae, #1)Bachelor Nation by Amy KaufmanA Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles, #1)Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

And here are some reviews!

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4 stars) – This book was beautifully written, but very difficult to read due to the subject matter. It’s about a wealthy family in Nigeria whose extremely religious father severely abuses both his children and his wife while presenting himself as a good and charitable man to the community. When the children are able to go visit their aunt and cousins and get away from their father for a week, they are awakened to the fact that life shouldn’t be like this.

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard (4 stars) – The Magicians meets Gossip Girl meets Game of Thrones. This book is about a tournament between prominent magical Houses in New York to gain the rule of the Unseen World, or the world of magic. Our heroine, Sydney, is a badass magician with a traumatic past out for revenge. I enjoyed the heck out of this book and would recommend as an enjoyable modern fantasy with great worldbuilding. I could definitely see this as a TV series and wish the book had actually been a series as well. I did have some issues with the writing style, which isn’t perfect, and the fact that climactic action sequences typically only lasted about a page was an odd choice. But overall, I really liked this book.

Made for Love by Alissa Nutting (4 stars) – this was very weird and quirky and full of incisive humor about human nature and behavior. Some people may hate it, and I didn’t love the ending, but overall I thought the writing was great and I very much enjoyed the read.

American War by Omar El Akkad (4 stars) – another difficult read, because this deals heavily with war and its many horrific incarnations and aftereffects. It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” this one, because it was so difficult to read in some parts, but I thought that the worldbuilding was really interesting and this future a very terrifying one.

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet (3 stars) – So, I really enjoyed the writing style, heroine, and Greek mythology-inspired worldbuilding of this book, but I was not a fan of the “alpha” male main character and the fact that he kidnaps the heroine and we’re all just supposed to get over it. I am going to continue with this series, but it definitely has its issues.

Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman (3 stars) – A very quick, entertaining analysis of the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise written by a fan who never shies away from the problematic aspects of the show. Kaufman moves from the history of reality dating shows to an analysis of how contestants are treated and why they act the way we see them on-screen to the modern implications of reality TV fame for contestants. If you watch the show UNreal, there’s nothing too shocking, but I did enjoy it, as you probably will too if you’re looking for a lighthearted, fun read.

The Exile by C. T. Adams (3 stars) – Great premise and ideas, but I wished everything had been fleshed out a LOT more. We could have used more of an introduction to the characters and the world, and the third-person narration with multiple POVs only served to distance me from characters I really wanted to get to know better, and could have done so through a sole main character (Brianna)’s eyes. I really just don’t think that having multiple POVs added anything to the story at all and I’m not sure why that was done. I liked Adams’s version of Faerie quite a bit, however.

And here are the books I purchased in March: