[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.

[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.

 

These Witches Don’t Burn Review

image1Title: These Witches Don’t Burn [1/?]
Author: Isabel Sterling
Genre: fantasy; ya; paranormal witches; own voices; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Review: 5 Stars. When my book group, the Lit Coven, (find them HERE) decided to read this book, I was late to the party. I’d instituted a summer book buying ban and decided against reading anything I didn’t already own, but obviously I folded, (DUH) and bought this. It only took me reading the description before I was clicking BUY and devouring it upon its arrival.

Okay, so let’s start with setting. I’ve only been to Salem three times, but Sterling put me back there pretty much immediately. From the touristy areas where all the witch shops are, to where the more suburban houses are, it was New England through and through. She did a great job at setting the scene and using the historic undercurrent to highlight the very real threat for her main characters in 2019. I loved how this modern day clan of witches lives and breathes the history of what happened in 17th century Salem, and Sterling’s writing made that happen for me.

Another thing I quite enjoyed about this book are the very real and relatable characters in this book. Hannah is a solid main character. She’s, like many of the other MCs I tend to like, not perfect, but learning and growing. She relies on others, seeks truth, doesn’t just accept things as fact, and questions everything the adults tell her to believe. Go Hannah!

She trusts her judgment and believes in her friendship with Gemma, even when she knows it goes against everything she’s ever learned. She trusts her heart and her mind. But she’s a teenager, so she’s also learning how to come to terms with heartbreak, and relationships. She’s also a really strong example of an unapologetic and badass lesbian. I love Sterling’s writing of her character.

At one point, a side character,  Benton thinks he can persuade her to date him, and she’s like, um, “no dude, I’m gay.” The way Sterling injects the social commentary of turning girls straight here was so smooth and so easily done, just a quick conversation. Then it was done and handled, and then both Hannah and Benton move on, as friends.

Morgan is also badass. She’s bi, and so cool. Hannah assumes she’s a lesbian, there’s a clarifying convo in there about assumptions, and then they move on and it’s literally no problem. Another cool move by Sterling. Morgan is confident, calm, and perfect for Hannah— the complete opposite of Hannah’s ex, Veronica.

Veronica is the epitome of unhealthy relationship.

———-Okay, hold up————

Listen. I promise this book is about witches. But Sterling’s writing is SO GOOD we have to talk about how she writes these characters.

Okay, back to Veronica. So unhealthy. Manipulating. Wishy washy. She wants Hannah back, but only so Hannah doesn’t have someone else. Ugh. But so well written. Isabel Sterling. You are so so good at writing characters and character interactions. For real.

The plot itself is kind of like a mystery whodunit but with witches and a teenage love triange thrown in for good measure — if you’re into that sort of thing. As it’s in Salem, and it’s called These Witches Don’t Burn, there are some assumptions you can make, right? Someone wants to burn witches. So people are after Hannah – the witch. Despite, everything though, throughout the whole book, I wasn’t actively trying to figure out who it was that was trying to hunt witches. I’m usually pretty good at guessing who the bad guy is, but this time, it took me a bit to figure it out.

BUT
I REALLY LIKED that. I liked not knowing. I didn’t want to figure it out. I wanted to enjoy the story and the mystery. I was so wrapped up in the characters and the drama of the romance and the family / clan dynamic that I didn’t guess who the witch hunter(s) was/were until the end.

These Witches Don’t Burn was amazing. I am putting it in my classroom with a big huge 5 Stars on it so my kids know it was an amazing read.