Since I have nothing better to do, I’ve been snuggling under my favorite llama blanket in my spot on my couch with my noise-blocking headphones reading books–AND doing my book reviews almost immediately upon a book’s completion, go me!
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman–published 2006–fantasy–four stars: Fat Charlie Nancy lives an acceptable, albeit rather mundane, life in London and is engaged to Rosie, a lovely woman. When Fat Charlie reaches out to his estranged father who lives in the States to invite him to the wedding, a family friend tells Fat Charlie that his dad is dead. Upon arriving in Florida for the funeral, Fat Charlie learns that not only is his dad a god but also that he has a brother. Random, mirthful mayhem, of only the kind that Gaiman is capable of crafting, ensues. I thought this would be a five star read for me up until the part of the book where Fat Charlie travels into a bizzaro realm filled with strange animal gods and a shit ton of caves, but this part of the book unbalanced the rest of its awesomeness for me. This book has more of Terry Pratchett Discworld vibe to it as compared to any of other works by Gaiman, and I just didn’t get the whole Discworld phenomenon.
Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1) by Diana Wynne Jones–published 2001–YA Fantasy–four stars: After Sophie’s sisters have been apprenticed off, Sophie is stuck making hats in her recently deceased father’s shop when a witch comes in and strikes Sophie with a curse that makes her a very old woman. In order to try to break the curse, she seeks the help of Howl, a wizard, and joins his moving castle household as a rather annoying housekeeper. This is a fun read. My biggest issue with the book was Jones’s choice in naming the fire demon Calcifer. That’s not a cool fire demon name. It made me think of a milk demon or a bone demon instead.
The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1) by Genevieve Cogman–published 2015– YAL fantasy–three stars: Sent to an alternate reality to retrieve an original Grimm’s fairy tales, Irene and Kai find the book missing and befriend a detective in their attempt to locate the book. Set in a steampunk London, vampires, fae, alligators, and a menagerie of other animals bar their way. Imma be honest—I had no idea what was going on in this book 1/5 of the time. I felt punked by my first foray into steampunk.
Grit by Angela Duckworth–published 2016–nonfiction–three stars: It took massive amounts of grit for me to finish this book. Watch Duckworth’s TED Talk instead. The gist: people who have grit achieve more in life. I didn’t need to read 277 pages to tell me that. Where she discusses grit in education wasn’t anything new to me either. Set high expectations, give feedback, let them try again, reward them, etc. Any good teacher can tell you that. Also, she discusses how gritty people might work anywhere from 70-77 hours per week, which is understandable, but as a teacher, isn’t that promoting unpaid work in a field that’s already underpaid?
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel–published 2020–thriller–four stars: A former boarding school student recounts and grapples with her so-called love affair with her sophomore year English teacher. There’s no way you can read this without being uncomfortable. Vanessa makes it clear that she wants the relationship with Mr. Strane, and the sex scenes, while not overly graphic, are creepy. She doesn’t feel like a victim, but she clearly is. The author does a nice job of fleshing out the conflicting emotions of a victim of abuse. I dislike the whole teachers are predators trope, but also recognize that sometimes it does happen. Also, this is also like the 15th book (completely made up number) I’ve read this year where the protagonist is a redhead. That is statistically impossible. I need to start keeping track. Why are all the protagonists red-headed anymore????
The Bear by Andrew Krivak–published 2020–fantasy/fable–four stars: A girl and her father, the last two people on Earth, leave the safety of their mountain home, journeying to the ocean for salt. When tragedy befalls them, a bear offers hope for survival. What a perfectly lovely tale. It’s short. Its simplistic storyline and language hide a complex, beautiful fable. The only reason this isn’t a five star read for me is because of the fables within the fable. I don’t stan over fables to begin with, and my eyes started glazing over while reading the ones within the story. This reminded me of The Road, not in the sense of being chilling because this story is not, but in the sense that the silence at the end of humanity and the sheer loneliness that a soul can experience is visceral and spooky. This story makes the end of humanity beautiful.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave–published 2020–historical fiction–four stars: After a sea disaster claims the lives of nearly all the men from a small Northeastern Norwegian community in the 1600s, the women try to rebuild their lives and some take on men’s roles in order to survive. A godly Scottish commissioner is sent to oversee the village and root out any of the villagers’ old, pagan ways. The story is rooted in true events from the time period. I appreciate the writing in this novel, but it’s slow-paced and quite boring up until the last twenty percent of the book. The story follows Ursa, the commissioner’s new wife, and Maren, a villager whose betrothed was killed in the wreck, and is told in the third person. I think the story would have benefitted from a first-person perspective because the narrative is a bit cold.
The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James–published 2020–thriller–three stars: Carly leaves suburban Illinois to investigate her aunt’s disappearance that happened in Fell, New York back in the 80s. The tale alternates between Carly’s story set in 2017 and her Aunt Viv’s experience in 1982. Viv was a night shift clerk at the rundown Sun Down Motel prior to her disappearance, and Carly decides to take the same position to help solve the case. This book started off strong for me and then fizzled flatter than an open coke left out for three days. There are legit ghosts in here, and they are scary. I was terrified at first and then the narrative left the ghosts behind for the majority of the story. I was hoping for a truly terrifying read and then it became more of a lackluster thriller. There were too many parallels between Viv and Carly. Carly even moves into Viv’s old apartment. The twist at the end was surprising, but I should have seen it coming.
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez–published 2019–romance–three stars: Firefighter Josh moves to California after a breakup for a bit of a change and to be closer to his best friend Brandon, who he met while they were marines. Josh is Brandon’s best man in his upcoming wedding and has a meet-cute with Brandon’s fiancee’s maid of honor Kristen. Kristen is fiery and independent and fights her attraction to Josh even though they’re both smitten with one another because she has an underlying health condition that she’s certain Josh won’t like about her. The dialogue and premise for the story are witty and adorable at first, but it falls too heavily on the romance plotline archetype. She puts him off for way too long, making the story about 70 pages longer than it needed to be. The story is a bit of a tearjerker though. I got misty-eyed in a couple of places.
The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica–published 2020–thriller–three stars: After some familial troubles while living in Chicago, Sadie and her family move to a small island off the coast of Maine when her husband’s sister commits suicide and leaves them her house custody of her teenage daughter. As soon as they move though, Sadie senses that all is not right and their neighbor, a young wife with a stepdaughter, is murdered. I’ve read a few of Kubica’s novels now, but this one wasn’t as impressive as The Good Girl. The story alternates among Sadie, Camille–a psychopath who is sleeping with Sadie’s husband, and Mouse–a little girl who is being abused by her stepmother. I’d figured out the biggest twist as soon as Mouse stepped in as a narrator, and it pretty much ruined the rest of the book for me. It was an easy read though that was hard to put down.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby–published 2020–nonfiction essays–four stars: This is the funniest thing I’ve read in ages and am adding her other two books to my TBR faster than you can spell diarrhea–which may seem like a strange figurative language choice on my end, but she talks a lot about her struggles with IBD in this book. She makes talking about literal shit hilarious. As someone who suffers from IBD too and knows that the only workaround the poop taboo is to make that literal shit funny, I applaud her. This isn’t just a poop joke book; it’s a well-crafted essay collection by self-proclaimed I-don’t-have-my-life-together-and-I-don’t-want-to-change-out-of-my-comfy-clothes-person. It’s so hard to write humor, and she makes it look easy. I would have given this five stars, but she was a little reliant on the word adjacent and death jokes and her last essay was a mess–which she pretty much admits to. I love her though.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix–published 2020–fantasy–four stars: Patricia, a mom of two who is living the so-called perfect life, finds an escape from housewifery when she joins a true-crime-reading book club. When a handsome stranger moves in next door, strange things begin happening in their sleepy southern town, but Patricia is the only one who connects all of the dots, enlisting her book club friends to help her solve the mystery. I’m in love with this book and would have given it 5, but I have a couple of major issues with it. The men are assholes. Every last one of them. And they don’t listen to their wives. It made me furious. At least 100 pages could have been shaved off this book if the writer, a man, would have stopped denying the wives of their right to be heard. Granted it takes place in the late 80s and early 90s, but still. In no way do I think that Hendrix was making fun of women at any point, but the ladies came off as silly upon occasion. The other issue I had with this book is that the black characters were more than flat. And again, it is a book set in the south 30 years ago, but still, it’s enough to make you go hmmmmm. However, this book is funny, dark as hell, and sexy; overall, I enjoyed it.
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel–published 2020–thriller–two stars: When Rose Gold’s mother is released from her five-year prison sentence, RG takes mommy dearest in despite the fact that her mother poisoned RG for her entire childhood, hence, you know, PRISON. This alternates POVs between both mother and daughter, and I just can’t with this thriller. Instead of creating any kind of suspense or creepiness, the mood comes off massively hokey. This book should be titled Wretched Puke Green instead because 1. it’s awful and 2. of all the vomiting in the book.
Chosen Ones (The Chosen Ones, #1) by Veronica Roth–published 2020–fantasy–four stars: Ten years ago, the Chosen Ones saved the world from the Dark One, a powerful magician responsible for mass killings called Drains. Sloane, one of the Chosen Ones who now suffers from PTSD, brought about his supposed demise. She thinks the past is behind them, but when she and two of the other Chosens are called into a parallel universe to fight a similar foe, she begins to question everything. I’m glad Roth decided to take on adult literature. This was a fun read. I thought the parallel universe setting in Chicago was well done despite there not being a ton of world-building.
One Crazy Summer (Gaither Sisters, #1) by Rita Williams-Garcia– published 2010–historical fiction middle grade–four stars: At the beginning of the summer, Delphine and her two sisters who live with their Big Ma and Pa in New York are sent to stay with their California-living mother who left the girls when they were young. Their mother wants nothing to do with them while they’re there so the girls spend their days at the Center, primarily run by the Black Panthers. I had a hard time getting into this read, but at about 15 percent of the way in, I was hooked.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin–published 1974–fiction–four stars: Set in the 70s in New York, Fonny is falsely accused of raping a woman, and his fiancé, Tish, and her family try to get him out of prison. Ultimately this is a love story, but it’s also a deep dive into the corruption and racism rampant in NYC’s police force and legal system during the time period. I’ve eschewed watching the movie version of this because I, duh, wanted to read it first. Baldwin’s writing style crept under my skin, and I’m still thinking about the story days later. And while I’m a huge fan in general, I didn’t think that Tish’s first-person POV worked throughout the whole book. There are parts that she’s narrating that she’s not present for like when her mom goes to Puerto Rico to confront Fonny’s accuser who has fled the country, which doesn’t really work in standard first person. I had a hard time with the verb tense too. It switches in and out of the present tense to past in places that should be written in the same tense. For example, Tish describes a dinner that Fonny and she had before Fonny went into prison, but it’s written in the present tense and then switches to the past. It does this in a couple of other places too.
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord–published 2020–YAL romance–four stars: WHO NEEDS A YAL MODERN-DAY RETELLING OF YOU’VE GOT MAIL? Even though the novel’s plotline is unabashedly stolen from the Tom and Meg rom-com, I. Could. Not. Put. This. Book. Down. You need Jack and Pepper in your life. It’s cheesy, and there’s a whole bunch of grilled cheese references. There’s Taylor Swift and Mean Girls allusions. There’s witty banter. What more could you want? My biggest criticisms: the epilogue reeks of every single YAL romance cliché and I’m tired of the whole YAL-female-protagonist-being-the-best-baker-on-the-planet-trope.
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) by Jim Butcher–published 2000–urban fantasy–four stars: I am a fantasy purist, swear on Harry Potter’s life or force Veritaserum down my throat to test my loyalty or whatever, but occasionally I’ll break from mainstream fantasy and venture out into its urban cousin. I chose this one because it’s the number one urban fantasy pick on Goodreads, and muggles, if you can get past Harry Dresden being a chauvinistic pig who thinks every single woman (there’s about four total in the book–who are all Gigi Hadid stunning) is a sex object and is trying to use their sexuality to against him, then you might enjoy this read. I’m keeping it in mind that this was written 18 years before #metoo made its way onto the scene. Dresden’s really not a bad guy, the writing is funny, and the pace is quick.
What are you reading friends?
(All cover art is taken from Goodreads.)