[Book Review] The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Title: The Fifth Season (Book 1/3)
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Genre: fantasy; science fiction; ya; dystopia
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Review: 4 stars 

The learning curve for this novel / series was really steep, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this novel in the least. Jemisin has, in this series, created a world, and along with it, a complicated mythology, history, and vocabulary. There is a class system, a series of working pieces, and a natural order of things that from the beginning feels like it needs disrupting. 

Readers walk into this book en media res and it feels like jumping into an eight foot pool without really knowing much more than a doggy paddle. She provides a strong warning at the beginning though, so if we decide to keep reading, it’s really our choice. I decided to keep reading and was not disappointed. 

I love the characters in this novel. Jemisin creates strong voices in each of them. She also uniquely presents the second point of view for Essun, one of the narrators of the novel. Throughout her chapters, instead of getting an understanding of what’s going on around Essun, we see what’s happening through her. 

This is made clear in the very beginning of the text when Jemisin writes, “You’re the mother of two children, but now one of them is dead and the other is missing. Maybe she’s dead, too… And you… you shut down. You don’t mean to. It’s just a bit much, it’s the it? Too much. You’ve been through a lot, you’re very strong, but there are limits to what even you can bear” (Jemisin, 16). 

This truly and intrinsically places the reader squarely within the narrative framework of the text. I’ve never felt more a part of a novel before this. It was almost like I was going to have to stay with her, suffer with her, survive with her. Whatever this character had to face, so would I, as the reader. 

The interwoven tapestry of the Stillness is so creatively designed in this novel. There are so many connections and characters that are, in the end, all tied to this stonelore. 

I still have to many questions about the stonelore. 

Okay. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this review for a minute and here’s what I got:

Sexuality and sex is really well written in this book. It’s so nonchalant and like, normalized that it isn’t even a big deal in this world, but that’s why it’s cool to say something about in this review. 

This book really has a lot to say about systems of power and corruption. It does so in really, really overt, horrifying ways (Damaya’s hand, Syen’s first assignment, the node worker, etc.).  There are so many ways, through this first book in the series, that Jemisin really talks about the struggle of power, and it is really cool when Syenite and Alabaster have their discussions about this. 

I love the dynamics between Alabaster and Syenite. There’s this deep respect, but also utter annoyance. I’m here for it. It was really interesting to watch this relationship grow this book. It was clear right away that Alabaster had this very different ideology, right? And that he could really teach someone like Syenite, if she was open to it. I have so many thoughts about this. I almost wish there was more of this.

One thing I didn’t like at the very when he told her he understood why she did something, but would never forgive her for it. He was the one who told her to do whatever it took to make sure it never happened. She did what she had to. So. That pissed me off. 

(Rant over)

Okay. 

So. 

I loved this book. I loved the relationship between characters and time and the world and the earth. I’m so intrigued to see where this is going. 

[Review] the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur

Title: the sun and her flowers
Author: Rupi Kaur
Genre: poetry; feminism; nonfiction; adult; contemporary; romance; health; mental health; cultural; women’s literature
Syposis: (from Goodreads) A vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing. Ancestry and honoring one’s roots. Expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms.

Review:

2 Stars
CW: sexual assault

Full disclosure. I have not read Milk & Honey. I do not regularly read poetry. (As in weekly, or even bi-weekly, or even on a consistent basis.) I do not buy poetry anthologies. I do not typically look out for poetry reads, but here I am, rating one?

What right do I have to rate one? Well, I’m using my same scale. For me, a two star book means that the I finished it, it was okay, but it’s not something I’m going to actively recommend to others or put in my classroom library. So yeah; it was alright. 

I think the problem for me was that there’s a lot of hype for Milk & Honey and then I went into this hoping to get something spectacular and wasn’t blown away. And I’ll admit that wasn’t fair of me to do. I know that out the gate. I also, even though I hate it, have this idea in my head that poetry should also BE something, you know? That it should always mean something profound and spectacular. That’s not to say there weren’t some really wonderful, even powerful poems, but it wasn’t something I find myself wanting to talk about after. 

There were so many poems in there that were just… like, words on a page to me. And like, maybe Kaur’s point is to revolutionize poetry, to like every-person it, and in that, I get some of it. But, it just didn’t fit my style of reading, and so I stand by my review, even though I rarely review poetry. Here are some of the specifics from the book I’d like to discuss:

There were two poems in particular; one about consent and one about sexual assault that stood out. So much of poetry, historically and even today is this lofty thing, but Kaur, in these two poems specifically makes her intention clear and precise. The one about assault, untitled, begins “at home at night / I filled the bathtub with scorching water / …I picked pine needles from my hair / … I wept / …I found bits of him on bits of me” (Kaur).

The way she breaks down the sexual assault is tragic, but is, in my opinion, intentionally simple. The speaker is reduced to the remains of the event. It’s powerful and heartbreaking. And at the end, the girl “prayed” (Kaur). Because like, what else can you do after something horrible like that happens to you? The emotional response I was left with, regardless of how “simple” the words on the page were was heavy. This was a weighted poem and I was left with all of the emotions and unrest of the theme.

The one about consent is called “how can I verbalize consent as an adult if I was never taught as a child” and illustrates this pretty intense scenario and asks that very difficult question of its readers with its title. 

The opening line is “no was a bad word in my home / no was met with the lash / erased from our vocabulary” (Kaur 1-3). The poem continues with the image of the speaker being sexually assaulted.  She then says, “I heard no pounding her fist on the roof of my mouth / begging me to let her out / But I had not put up the exit sign” (Kaur 12-15). This is another really strong message in an accessible way. It can start, or maybe continue, a conversation that needs to be had without a person having to dissect a difficult poem to figure out a way to do so.

Again, I was left with these really powerful emotions, feeling the weight of this poem in my heart and honestly, in my body after reading, really grappling with it. Her words do have power.

Not all of poems are about tough topics.  In fact, a lot of them aren’t. Some are about sunflowers and rainbows. Some are about self-acceptance and self-love. All of her poems are easily accessible. I think she has a really strong balance of putting the harder to swallow poems in between these easily, smaller ones.

Another that I really liked was about the heart. She writes, “what is stronger / than the human heart / which shatters over and over / and still lives” (Kaur). So simple, honest, but true.

And really, I think it’s the truth in Kaur’s poetry that got her the hype. She isn’t saying a lot of big things, new things, revolutionary things. She isn’t saything anything in a new way, it’s just stripped back, raw, and true.

At the end of the day, 2 stars overall. 


[Book Review] The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

Title: The Love that Split the World
Author: Emily Henry
Genre: young adult; contemporary; fantasy; romance; scifi; time travel
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.

Review: 4 stars

After finishing Beach Read (you can read that review here), I wanted to read more of Emily Henry’s stuff, so I went to my Kindle app and searched. I decided to pick up her first book without reading anything into it. I was very, very shocked. It was a complete departure from Beach Read. Where Beach Read is this new adult awakening, The Love That Split the World is this young adult fever dream of surrealism and like… magical realism?

Bottom line, it was fantastic.

I noticed a few of beautiful similarities from the first book to the latest. She writes with this wonderful fluidity that made it so effortless to keep reading. (I read this book in two days as well.) Her chapters end and begin so seamlessly, so naturally that it feels like a perfect transition. It doesn’t feel like this huge cut or break like some books. This is why I think I was able to finish the book so quickly. I find that sometimes, when the chapter ends with such finality, it allows me to feel more confident about putting the book down for a spell. In this book, I felt almost compelled to continue, I didn’t want to stop scrolling / turning the page, despite it being the end of a chapter (if that makes sense).

I also really loved this book’s use of storytelling. It seems like Henry did her research (as evidenced by her Acknowledgements) to tell this story. I love the way it begins. It’s a little spooky and reminds me of the Netflix retelling of The Haunting of Hill House with Eleanor. (The Love that Split the World is NOT a horror book.) I love this idea of the universe being so flexible and fluid that someone like Natalie can see through veils.

Natalie is an awesome lead. She’s adopted, she doesn’t have her act together, and she wants to get away from her current problems by moving all the way to Brown. She thinks that by getting out of her small town, everything will suddenly just be better. That’s so relatable.

There are some really strong messages in this book — you can’t run away from your problems; your identity is what you make it, yes, but your heritage can be very transformative; no means no; stand up for what you need; be there for the ones you love; do what’s right, no matter the cost; leaps of faith are sometimes truly cathartic.

The way this book is written seems almost like verbal storytelling itself at points. Where Grandmother reminds Natalie that stories are meant to be heard and remembered, not written down, it feels almost the same for Natalie’s own journey. She goes from her present to Beau’s so effortlessly at times, and their story is so frenetic, it feels like it’s meant to be read aloud. There are so many lines that read like poetry, but here’s the one I love the most:

“The sky split open then. / The stars fell like silver rain. / The world stopped turning. The Universe held its breath” (Henry 389).

If you read Beach Read, and like me, go back to Emily Henry’s first, this will be something of a shock. They’re very, very different.

Natalie can kind of bend time and space, and there seem to be ghosts along the way. The element of the supernatural is nowhere to be seen in Beach Read, but it is so well done in The Love that Split the World. This is definitely YA, it’s a fast read, and it’s well done. I definitely recommend.

[Book Review] Beach Read by Emily Henry

Title: Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Genre: romance; contemporary; fiction; women’s fiction; adult fiction; humor
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

Review: 4 stars (perhaps with a bit of spoilery bits?)

I received this book as a Book of the Month choice for the month of April. I know, I’m a month behind, but I’m a teacher, and the distance learning / pandemic thing threw me way off. But like, I truly enjoyed this book. I’d never heard of Emily Henry before, and when I was looking through the April selections, I just remember thinking, I need something easy. So, I picked Beach Read.

When I say “easy,” I do not mean that in any kind of condescending sense. Honestly. I mean that the same way someone puts on their favorite sweater instead of a cute outfit to go out. I mean it in the same way a person chooses the same series instead of starting a new one. I was in a place professionally, mentally, personally, all-ly where I needed the next book I read to be something that felt familiar and safe. With a title like Beach Read, and a synopsis and Book of the Month preview that read, “Nothing like a “friendly” writing competition to set the scene for some quirky, cute, inter-author love” I knew it would be something that could get me out of my reading slump.

The last book I’d read was Crescent City (the review is posted here) and that book took me longer than it should have, but I got through it mostly because it was SJM. (I was definitely, obviously, always going to finish it… even if it took me 3 weeks.

This was different. I finished it in two days. I loved it cover to cover. I felt seen and written through January immediately on page 1. She writes, “Maybe, for example, you didn’t have much control over your life as a kid. So, to avoid disappointment, you learned never to ask yourself what you truly wanted. And it worked for a long time. Only now, upon realizing you didn’t get what you didn’t know you wanted, you’re barreling down the highway in a midlife-crisis-mobile” (Henry 1). I mean like…. damn, Henry, you called me out in the second paragraph of your 358 page novel.

As a character, she felt well rounded and clear. She felt whole, and imperfect, the way characters should be. She was a unique and clever, quirky, but she didn’t always know what to say, or have those perfect one-liners for every single moment, which the clever, quirky leads tend to do in love stories.

She starts broken, but *spoiler* she isn’t saved by a man! hooray! A romance that doesn’t depend on one character saving the other. I mean, I’m sure there’s an argument somewhere out there where someone says the male lead does save her, but I think she honestly figures herself out.

The way she thinks and acts in the relationship is totally relatable too. She tries so hard to be impartial, to be okay with the one time idea, but then she starts overthinking, and I’m like, girl same. At one point she thought, “There would be consequences. This had to be a bad idea” (Henry 244). There’s a part around 250 where he starts saying “If you want to go” a lot and she starts to question whether he’s trying to give her an out, or if he actually wants her there or not, and I felt that to my core. Like, she already agreed, so why was he asking her “if you want” again?? See, relatable.

All that aside, the dynamic between her and Gus is truly great. There’s humor, there’s reality, there’s awkwardness, there’s angst, there’s sorrow, but there’s also a deep respect and true mutual understanding. It’s just this raw, spectrum of what it’s like when two people are dealing with trauma separately and come together to unpack it. Henry’s ability to create those honest moments between two broken people are really touching. When someone compares themselves to a black hole, and the other to a bright light, problems are bound to arise. And they do.

The best relationship is obviously the one between her and Shadi. The best friend in a book like this has to be good or the book will fail. Shadi fits in perfectly. She’s comic relief where it’s needed, but she also reminds January about what love and falling in love is all about. The part that gets me is when Shadi explains that part to January — January the romance author who has always believed in love (until very recently) and is supposed to be the expert in it. “Falling’s the part that takes your breath away. It’s the part when you can’t believe the person standing in front of you both exists and happened to wander into your path. It’s supposed to make you feel lucky to be alive, exactly when and where you are” (Henry 338). I love that Shadi, wild, lovely, perfect, best friend, Shadi is the one who has to explain this to her. Sometimes, we need someone to remind us of what’s important.

Another little thing that I loved is when January and Gus are talking about the reason why January’s last relationship wasn’t her forever. She mentions that she wasn’t excited to wake up next to him in the morning. Her goal is to find someone she truly wants to wake up next to every day. I loved that tiny moment between them.

The fact that this book is pretty meta is cool too. A book writing itself is pretty profound. I’m sure the concept has been done before, but I’ve never read anything like it, and I loved watching it unfold. I’d love to read the novels that came from their bet, honestly. Even though we got to see what went into them, I’d really like to read them.

I still haven’t even gotten to the family secrets. That’s the catalyst for the whole novel, January’s unraveling, and her shaken faith in love and her writing slump. She has to realize that it’s not the mistakes that make the person, it’s how they come back and make amends, sort of? Regardless, she learns that she doesn’t have to hold onto that hate and anger, and that she can still love someone, despite their mistakes. I needed to hear that message too.

This book was all around just good for me in this moment.

Thanks, Emily Henry.

[Review] House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)

image0Title: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; new adult; adult; romance; mystery; series
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.


Review
: 3 Stars

Spoiler content warning! Proceed with caution!

Like many others, I preordered this book and waited with bated breath. Then tore into it the moment it arrived. And then. I wasn’t dazzled? Like, it took over 100 pages for me to get into it and even then, the only reason I kept reading at all was because it was an SJM book. Here’s the good news— it got better over time!

While I never truly fell in love with any of her characters (maybe a few side characters) I did really enjoy the plot by the middle. I loved the bare bones of it: a murder mystery whodunit. I liked that SJM gave us little pieces that kept coming back up throughout the book (Bryce going to the Istros and seeing something creepy, Danika and Bryce getting caught up in something scary when Danika says she loves Bryce, Hunt’s backstory with Shahar, Jesiba’s whole character in general, Fury) that kept the plot moving.

There were a few plot twists that I definitely expected:

  • Micah — duh.
  • Hypaxia, obviously.
  • “What blinds an Oracle?” (471)

But I found that I didn’t care too much that I saw them coming because it kept the story going, just like the little clues. It was well done.

I really liked the world building in this book. SJM wrote unique and distinct subsets of Lunathion and it was brilliant.  SJM’s writing style changed depending on where we were in Crescent City. I really loved that. My heart raced when they were in the Meat Market. Sentences seemed shorter. When Bryce and Hunt were at the shooting range, there was a carefree feel to the writing that made me feel like the characters.  The energy and time put into this element of the book is clear. Moonwood, FiRo, the Gallery — each territory is its own space, and it’s so wonderfully done.

Another thing I love about SJM is how she goes about creating a new mythos in each book series. It’s clear she’s setting her readers up for a new series too. Before even jumping into the book, readers are given a preview on the “Houses of Midgard” so we’re aware that we’ll be diving right in. At the very bottom of this page, it says, “Sprites were kicked out of their House as a result of their participation in the Fall, and are now considered Lowers, though many of them refuse to accept this.” This preview lets us all know that we’re in for something bigger, but I for one, didn’t expect the amount of the Fall storyline that we got in this book too.

Overall, in terms of worldbuilding, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end — (literally every mythical beast will appear, any animal can be a shifter — can we talk about the magpie shifter at the market? omggg — every scary creature you’ve ever heard of is in there too, and angels, fae, and mermaids will be in here also) but I knew how to swim, so… I dealt with it.

That being said, her characters were not fun. Like. From Bryce to Hunt to all of them, it was tough to care about literally any of them. I get that SJM wanted to write an adult fantasy book but having her main heroine be the jaded party girl was not easy to read. I think I understood the intention — hide who you truly are and watch people show you their true colors — right?  But in my opinion, that went on too long. Bryce’s grief was palpable and parts of that felt so real and so raw, and I truly go that. Those pages were tense and hard to read for the right reasons. But so much of Bryce was hard to read for the wrong reasons.

And don’t get me started on Hunt. With his brooding “tortured soul” thing? It was just really rough to read for SO MANY pages.

Bryce is very anti- alphahole the whole book, but then, on a DIME, she turns around and attempts to give up everything for Hunt. Her entire character is built on this idea of not giving up herself for a man, and then she sells herself to Jesiba for him? Tries to sell herself to Sandriel for him? After everything he did to her — it’s like antithetical to her character. I still don’t understand it as a plot point.

Some of the other characters were also like… kind of like character cliché shells to me. Like Ruhn, Bryce’s overbearing-yet-essential-skill-having parents, the friends who just give up on her when everything with Danika goes down.

It was almost like the plot took all of SJM’s attention and then she just pulled character cards that she started working on but hadn’t finished yet. It’s almost like she plans on filling out the character traits in the subsequent books in the series.

At the end of the day, I still:

  • read all 800+ pages

still enjoyed:

  • the banter between Bryce and Tharion
  • Bryce telling off Ithan and the wolves
  • Hunt telling off Amelie
  • Bryce’s dynamic with Lehabah and Syrinx

still cried when:

  • “My friends are behind me, and I will protect them” (702) and “My friends are with me and I am not afraid” (703).
  • “I forgave him a long time ago… I just didn’t know how to tell him” (735).
  • “Light it up, Bryce” (764).

and will still buy the next one.

[Review] Save the Date

image0Title: Save the Date
Author: Morgan Matson
Genre: contemporary; ya; romance; realistic fiction; family
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster. There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo. Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractedly cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review: 3 stars

I had a hard time with this rating. I waffled between a 2 and a 3 star. It wasn’t that this story was bad, but it wasn’t my favorite read either, and there were points where I wanted to DNF it.

So. The not so good:
Charlie as a narrator is annoying and narrow sighted. I guess that comes with being a teenager (I feel like a broken record saying this) but I was so fed up with reading her perspective. I have read so many books with teenager narrators and can read page after page without being 1. Bored to tears 2. Rolling my eyes or 3. Mad as hell. But Charlie was infuriating. She wanted everything to be just so, and if it didn’t fit her perfect vision, she didn’t handle it well.
I think it frustrated me the most because people try to warn her but she doesn’t listen. I hate obstinate narrators. Like, you don’t have to be perfect, but dang girl, give the people around you a break when they aren’t either.
The good:
I laughed out loud at some of Morgan Matson’s clever writing. She had some really sweet family moments and some really funny family dynamic moments that hit. Very well written. The GMA interview in particular made me actually laugh… like, legit out loud, so I think that’s saying something.
When Charlie does eventually learn her lesson (it’s not a spoiler, every protagonist learns SOMETHING), that’s where I felt like i could get behind her character a little.  Matson writes, “but now, in this moment, she no longer seemed Perfect, the one who knew everything, the one who was always right. Because he wasn’t. He was in the wrong with Brooke —and what’s more, I could see it and he couldn’t. It was the latest revelation in a night that had been chock-full of them. But it felt like it had tilted the world on its axis a little. Because who was Danny if he wasn’t my big brother, the one who could fix anything and do everything? Who was I if I wasn’t looking to him for answers?
“As I drove on in silence, my headlights cutting through the darkness, I realize that maybe it meant we could be closer to equals. Maybe I could actually find out who he was, now that I wasn’t blinded by the vision of him that I had been holding onto you, the one left over from when I was six and he was the best person in the world” (372).
Like, Charlie felt so inauthentic and obnoxious to me before this, and then this scene, it felt like I’d lived that scene myself with a few people. Where you suddenly see them in a real and honest light and your opinion of them shifts (for good or ill) and you can’t go back to seeing them any other way.
I also really enjoyed the Bill plotline. Bill wasn’t pushy or invasive. He did his job as a character. Nice, Billiam.
The alright:
The minor characters add depth. The “what can go wrong, does” aspect of Linnie’s wedding is so outrageous it almost stops being funny. Everyone knows a Jesse. Mike is a real one. They should have let DJJJ handle wedding music.
Overall, I went with 3/5 instead of 2/5 because Charlie figures it out in the end. And because it made me laugh. And because I didn’t DNF it after all. And because of Waffles.

 

An Enchantment of Ravens Review

51kirZzj7BLTitle: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Genre: fantasy; ya; faerie; romance
Synopsis: (from Amazon) Isobel is an artistic prodigy with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious, Rook spirits her away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously wrong in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending on each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

Review: *SPOILER REVIEW*

I had a hard time deciding between a three-star and a four-star rating for this book. I truly enjoyed this book, and for 95% of it, I had a really hard time putting it down. I love Rogerson’s writing style. I started reading her books backwards. (If you’d like to read my Sorcery of Thorns review, click HERE.) In a book world overwrought with series, Rogerson has delivered two really beautifully written standalone novels with strong, badass women – obvious requirement of mine – and really well-crafted plot lines.

Isobel is a master of her Craft, and as such, she has power over faeries, which is really cool. They want something from her that they can’t do themselves. I haven’t seen that before in other faerie stories, and I read a lot of them.  She, like other heroines in faerie stories, knows not to trust faeries, and uses her smarts to keep herself and her family safe.

This is how she meets Rook. Rook, the autumn prince, is a fun character. Cocky AF, but different than other fae, because he can feel emotions and he can acknowledge them. He has this keen interest in Isobel from the beginning and he trusts her to be his companion too. I liked her aura of protection, and the way Rogerson wrote in his magic.

In fact, I like the way she built her world, and everything in it. I like faerie worlds and magic generally. I like the way magic is written, but particularly how Rogerson wrote in each particular faerie’s gift. They weren’t just a mass of fair folk, they were individualized, and the courts were so vast and clear and distinct too. I enjoyed that immensely.  One scene I specifically enjoyed was when Isobel realized the feast in the Spring Court was all an illusion. When everything starts to decay, it was written so masterfully!

That being said, I still waffled on whether or not this book rated a three- or four-star rating. In the end, I think it came down to the way Rogerson developed the climax of the story for me. It felt rushed and almost forced. She got to experience the entire world because of Rook, so I understood, and even respected her love and admiration for Rook, but when she was willing to die for him, it felt like too much. And then, like, practically, how does that even work, as her being Queen of the fae? And Rook – he was confounding! Like, how does he feel so deeply when fair folk aren’t meant to feel as he does? Like, the whole charade of Isobel going to the Spring Court was to paint human emotions on to the faerie portraits, but Rook feels everything so deeply and with so much humanity, I just didn’t understand it.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Honestly. I just have questions, that’s all.

 

Galatea Book Review

Screen Shot 2019-10-26 at 2.31.45 PM.pngTitle: Galatea
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: fantasy; mythology; short stories; retellings; historical fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In Ancient Greece, a skilled marble sculptor has been blessed by a goddess who has given his masterpiece – the most beautiful woman the town has ever seen – the gift of life. Now his wife, Galatea is expected to be obedience and humility personified, but it is not long before she learns to use her beauty as a form of manipulation. In a desperate bid by her obsessive husband to keep her under control, she is locked away under the constant supervision of doctors and nurses. But with a daughter to rescue, she is determined to break free, whatever the cost…

Review: 4 stars.

I think it’s safe to say at this point that I’d read anything Miller writes. She’s written two of my favorite books of all time — you can read my review of Song of Achilles HERE and my review of Circe HERE — and I’m a Classics nerd. While I didn’t jump on the Percy Jackson train, I can appreciate what it did for the genre. Miller takes a more sophisticated approach to myth retellings though, and it’s just brilliant.

Galatea is very different though. If I think of her work thus far on a continuum, in terms of her readership, it reminds me a lot of JK Rowling’s writing. Like, with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that book was clearly YA, meant for children around Harry’s age, but by Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, that YA line was very blurred. So much of what Harry was going through in (arguably) 4-7 were ADULT.

Galatea was much of the same. While Galatea is not connected to Song of Achilles or Circe, I think her writing style has evolved with each text. Song of Achilles seemed very YA, even if it isn’t marketed as such on Goodreads. It’s a quick read, lower lexile, all that, and it’s soft and sweet and kind.

And then with Circe, Miller’s writing is harder. And maybe that’s because Circe’s story is harder, but Circe’s feminist eye is open so it’s kind of reaffirming, and the Odyssey tale is so much more charged because of it. Guys. Circe was one of two books that made me change how I rate books. (Internment was the other in case you’re wondering.) That’s how beautiful I thought it was. But like, Miller’s style seemed to evolve in my opinion. A more adult audience required, sort of thing.

And then there’s Galatea (see this is definitely a Galatea review). This is definitely an adult short story. (Less than a 30 minute read for most readers, I’d say). This Pygmalion retelling is not beautiful and sweet or hard and reaffirming. This is tragic and difficult. Right out the jump there’s fuck and confusion, and a woman in a hospital being told to lie down, and a nurse who doesn’t seem to listen.

And later, Galatea tells the reader that if she doesn’t play the game (listen to the orders of her doctors) they’ll give her a tea that stops her tongue from working and makes her piss the bed.

This is not beautiful, but it is really, really good. It has something to say. At its core, almost, as a reminder. The Pygmalion myth is a good reminder about how men are rarely satisfied, and Galatea brings that right to the forefront in such a cutting way.

Again, I’m left breathless, waiting for her next text. Fingers crossed that it’s Medusa. Especially after some of the undertones here, I think it would be a perfect transition.

Red, White & Royal Blue Review

41150487._SY475_Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre: romance; contemporary; LGBT; new adult; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads): What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

Review: 4 Stars

Casey McQuiston’s 2019 romance was as funny as it was tender. It was sweet and kind but also witty and full of banter and sexy flirting from the millennial characters McQuiston created. It was so well done too. All of the millennial / gen z generation characters felt fully dimensional. In fact, the characters that fell flat for me were the older generation. The ones I didn’t really care about, even if they were the ones apparently leading the nation. *shrug*

Alex and Henry had me from Cakegate. Their energy was electric. From the moment Henry called Alex out and was like, “you’re the one always coming to seek me out, Alex,” I was hooked on them.

When McQuiston wrote in the banter from the people following them on internet, the newspaper, Twitter, on Buzzfeed, etc. I felt like it literally could have been me. Particularly the “OMG just make out already” comments after their first television filming.

But it’s not just about their snark and witty repartee. It’s also about their tender moments and their private email exchanges. I loved how they sent excerpts from actual letters in history. I loved how that began with Hamilton and John Laurens. It was a fun, and particularly pop culturally relevant way to start their love story.

The author was, in my opinion, particularly brilliant with how she allowed their love story to unfold. The clandestine meetings, their secret texts, their private emails, their innuendos, and the help of the seven people they trust. It just works. It helps build the suspense but also brings with it this reminder that it has to end. Logically, as a reader, I knew somehow they would get exposed, and from some of the repeated phrases, I guessed (SEE! I CAN GUESS THE ENDINGS!!! TAKE THAT LAST TWO BOOKS) correctly. It was a really volatile coming out for both of them and it felt like a real invasion of their privacy, but I really like how they all handled it.

I don’t have any experience with this, so I can’t speak to whether McQuiston handled this with grace and empathy, but I thought Alex and Henry were strong and brave AF. They stood up to the MF Queen of England for Christ’s sake.

The LGBT representation in this book was awesome. Nora and Alex pulling it out for the bi team, Amy for the trans community, Henry and Raf for the gay community, Cash for the pan community, and then all the other characters as strong allies. (I don’t think I missed anyone, but I’m writing this review without the book to skim through, so if I am, please comment below).

Getting back to the older generation for a second, they all seemed so flat. The only one that really gave me anything was Alex’s dad. When they were in Texas for their weekend away from the world, I really loved how the father just accepts Alex. He even teases him and calls himself the patron saint of genderless bathrooms in California I think.

But they have a good conversation about how it’s different when it’s your own kid, which I think is a good distinction to have. Oscar (dad) says it isn’t any different for him, and Alex is his kid and he loves him just the same— but it really is for some parents. I’ve heard parents say that they’re okay with it as long as it isn’t THEIR kid. (Gross, btw)

So for Oscar and Alex to have this conversation, it’s pretty cool.

POTUS has a moment of humanity when she kicked her staff out and asked if Alex was okay, but other than that, she was just a politician, through and through.

I think in general, the book is one written in response to what happened in the last election. It’s a HEA, and it’s FICTION, so it’s not this super realistic account of what could happen tomorrow. This was one of the concerns I read about when I got the book— “it’s too unrealistic, it would never happen” — in my opinion, that’s why it’s uh, FICTION? And that’s also why I like it. It’s the dream election for 2019, that’s what makes it good.

The POTUS is also a Democrat, so the politics mentioned in the book, naturally, swing left too, but that didn’t bother me either. I figured that would be the case so I didn’t get caught off guard by it.

Another criticism I read was about how Henry hates the monarchy while still benefitting from it. I lol’d at that. Henry’s character literally struggles with being part of an empire built on genocide and war the whole book, going so far as to never spend any of that money. I liked his character development. I don’t really understand the criticism I guess. *shrug*

Overall, this book is driven by more than just Henry and Alex. It’s also Nora and June and Pez and Amy and Cash and Bea and supported by the POTUS and a double agent (triple agent?) and a senator and two protective agents who care deeply, even if they pretend they don’t.

It was an idealistic HEA and I loved it. Pick it up today.

Sorcery of Thorns Review

IMG_1283Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Genre: fantasy; ya; lgbt
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

Review: 4 stars. This was another Lit Coven selection — if you are looking for a badass book club that is primarily YA fantasy, look no further. You can find them HERE. Last month we read These Witches Don’t Burn (my review of that is HERE) and I loved that one too. So, you could say that my book club picks out some bomb titles for us to review.

So, this month, it’s Sorcery of Thorns. As you read from the synopsis above, this one is about a girl who is framed for a crime, and then has to figure out how to stop the actual perpetrator(s) from continuing their crime spree. I had some predictions as the text went on, but not really. Like, about 100 pages in, I thought I knew who, but I had literally no idea how until it was revealed.

In my These Witches Don’t Burn review, I said I was usually pretty good at predicting things, but maybe I’m not as good as I thought after all. (Lol). In the end, I didn’t really care about not being able to guess because I liked having Elisabeth reveal it all to me. It’s a new experience to be shocked by the big reveal. (okay, so I guess that means I am good at it usually, but not in these two cases?)

I really liked the dynamic between Nathaniel, Elisabeth, and Silas. That trio was so strong and foundational. I mean, I think obviously Silas was my favorite character. With Katrien as a strong second supporting character. Their unwavering devotion to Elisabeth, their faith in her was awesome, and fun to watch unfold. Silas was a strong character’s even stronger sidekick. As demon’s go, he was pretty amazing. The way Rogerson wrote his backstory and character development felt pretty damn spectacular.

Everyone in Austermeer has these preconceived notions of what it means to have a demon, and how those demons feel about their human masters. Elisabeth sees something in Silas that no one else does, and that’s wicked cool. (tangent: but, I HATE that I used wicked there. I didn’t want to use it, but the New England transplant in me couldn’t think of a better word to use, and so I used it, and didn’t replace it). I LOVED Silas and Nathaniel’s relationship too.

Another obvious favorite for me was Nathaniel’s almost acquiescence to Elisabeth. I even marked a page because of how he confessed himself to her. Like he hated it, and only did so begrudgingly. “God, Elisabeth, I’ve been doomed since the moment I watched you smack a fiend off my carriage with a crowbar” (343). All the way through the book he calls her a menace. It starts honest enough, but then basically becomes a pet name of sorts. It’s kinda cute. I like it. PS: Nathaniel is bi, and just so casual about it. He’s like, if you’re gonna talk about my love life, might as well be accurate about it. Like, he trusts Elisabeth enough to be honest with her, but it’s so flippant and just naturally a part of him — well introduced and written in, Rogerson!

What I love the very most is Elisabeth’s attachment and connection to the books. I think every avid read wishes to be as connected to books as Elisabeth is to them. When Katrien explains why she is, I found myself wishing I was her.

“None of this is its fault” (377) she says about a book some of the wardens are using as torture practice. And later, when they need their help, I got seriously over emotional when the books spring forward and do her bidding. A little bit of freedom and a whole lot of sacrifice.

This adventure is so full of story, heart, and vivid world building. There’s so much to take in, so much to want to figure out as you’re reading. I didn’t feel like I was in the 19th century aside from the carriages, the cravats, and the female hysteria. Women can be in the Magisterium, can be Directors of the Collegium, but if they read too many books, they’re prone to hysteria? That was the only jarring thing for me.

The ending was perfect. The last paragraph specifically.

While I would love more in this world, I’m secretly hoping this is where this ends. Goodreads doesn’t have it listed as a duology or as a series, so I’m thinking it’s a standalone and this makes me very happy indeed.