Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3) by Brandon Sanderson—published 2017—1,246 pages—high fantasy—four stars: Curls into a little ball and covers her head out of fear for what she’s about to say—this isn’t nearly as good as the first two. Oathbringer starts slowly, focusing on Dalinar and flashbacks to flesh out the wife that he can’t remember. Shallan doesn’t appear until around the 70 page mark. Bridge Four isn’t featured enough, and because of this, Oathbringer lacks major comic relief to break up the monotony of the drawn out storyline and the focus on so many characters. Wit and Lift, who also add humor, barely grace the pages. Even though I thought the Szeth narrative was over, he made quite a dent in the book, as did his sword (who DID offer some funny bits). Three angry emojis, huffing puffs of air out, light up over my head every time I think of Moash. He broke my heart. Why hasn’t he been exiled to Shadesmar yet? I feel like a different major character should have died. Is Sanderson, unlike George R. R. Martin, afraid of killing off major characters? Teft’s character arc was also surprising, but beyond welcome. I’m looking to become a Radiant myself. Can I bond a winespren? The book’s last twenty percent picked up the pace, alternating between characters’ POVs more quickly building suspense, but the narrative had gaps because of it. I often read a passage and then had to reread it immediately because it wasn’t clear to me what had happened. AND I AM NOT OKAY WITH HOW THE LOVE TRIANGLE ENDED UP. Where was the ending cliffhanger? Book two’s cliffhanger made me want to start Oathbringer right away. And you knew I was going to say it—it’s too long. But only by about 300 pages—you know, like enough to fill a whole other book.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave—published 2021—320 pages–thriller—three stars: I understand if you adored this story; it has mass appeal, and Reese’s stamp of approval. And there are houseboats (fun!). A Theranos-esque tech scandal! A perfect husband who has a secret past! But, y’all. I know I’ll never be a novelist nor a professional writer, and I write yawn-worthy book reviews and teacher blog posts peppered with run-ons and incoherent rants, but I could not with Dave’s writing style. The Last Thing He Told Me told me nothing. The sentences lacked panache and complexity. Sticky words ran amok. Amok I tell you! Amok! I copied and pasted a sample of the first chapter into an online tool that checks grade level, and that sample came back on a fourth grade reading level. While I realize that section was a small piece, Dave constructs the rest of the book similarly. Comparatively, I ran a sample of Oathbringer through the same checker, and it’s written on an 8th grade level. This review you’re reading now is on a 7th grade level. According to multiple websites, the average popular novel clocks in on a seventh grade level. I need some lively writing anymore, and this was dead on the page.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris—published 2021—357 pages—thriller—four stars: Wowza. How do I even describe this book? It’s a thriller, but also possesses a light tippity-tap of sci-fi. It’s been described as “Get Out meets The Stepford Wives” and has drawn comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada. I felt it’s more The Firm adjacent (at least I think. It’s been years since I’ve read the novel or watched the movie) except featuring Black women working in New York publishing. Hazel, the antagonist, reminded me of Candace Owens. For once in a thriller, the ending twist surprised the hell out of me. I enjoyed Harris’s writing style. But, I warn you, you might not like this book. The beginning is a little confusing when the different plot lines are still being fleshed out. I thought some of it was satire until the sci-fi element revealed itself. The conspiracy part was uneven. But overall, I enjoyed this read.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz—published 2021—336 pages—thriller—four stars: Two four star thrillers in a row? I’m, wait for it, thrilled! A has-been novelist, now third-rate MFA writing instructor named Jacob writes his former student’s bestselling book idea after finding out that his student is dead. Then the plagiarism accusations slide into Jacob’s inbox after the novel does indeed hit it big, and he realizes that maybe the plot that he thought was fiction actually was a real life thriller. I didn’t even hate the book within the book here y’all.
This Is Not the Jess Show (This Is Not the Jess Show #1) by Anna Carey—published 2021—304 pages—YA thriller—four stars: Three four star thrillers in a row? I’m questioning life. Even though this novel rips off The Truman Show, I think teens would find it appealing because they’re probably not familiar with the famous film. (Does Gen Z even know who Jim Carrey is? Alrighty then; I’m old.)
The Comfort Book by Matt Haig—published 2021—272 pages—nonfiction/mental health—three stars: I want to like this nugget of a book more because who doesn’t love Haig? He’s always so candid about his mental health, and his novels are fantastic. Haig composed this book of lists and snippets and words of encouragement that he wrote when going through dark patches in his life and published it. And while some passages and sentences are beautiful, I couldn’t get it out of my head while reading that this book only got published because it’s Haig. A book like this wouldn’t get published by a no-name author.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix—published 2016—337 pages—horror—three stars: I’m a mixed cassette tape of conflicting emotions here. This 80s-set horror story should tickle my I-grew-up-with-mall-bangs fancy, but the more Hendrix novels I read, the more I get upset that his protagonists are female. I’ve only read two of his novels, but he hyper-sexualizes those women and puts them in rape and unwanted touching situations with demons, and I can’t help but let out “ewwwwwwwwww” and mutter “is this necessary?” every time I see it on the page. And then he sets the stories in the past and is satirizing some aspects of the plot and it comes off to me like he thinks he can just write women that way because “that’s the way it was back then” but if he’s making fun of some parts, then it just comes off as white guy icky to me. I’ve got his newest sitting in my Libby queue, and I don’t know if I’ll be reading it.
Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley—published 2021—317 pages—romance—three stars: Kara writes romance novels for a living. The first draft of her next novel is due almost yesterday, and she barely has anything on the page. Her best friend’s wedding is coupled with her looming deadline. When her ex-boyfriend from college (the one who got away) shows up as a groomsman in the wedding, she has plenty of inspiration for her book, but will her heart get broken again in the process? This book is meh. There’s a book within a book here too, and it’s pretty meh as well.
Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses—published 2021—256 pages—nonfiction/writing—five stars: Very obviously this book is only going to appeal to a very specific audience, but I loved this book. I’ll never look at a novel the same way again, and I took away great tips for narrative writing and teaching narrative writing from this book. It makes me want to get my MFA in creative writing.
Survive the Night by Riley Sager—published 2021—324 pages—thriller—two stars: Finally! A terrible thriller! Is the writing decent? Yes. Are there pretty surprising twists? Yes. But this book took me over six days to finish and suffers from a man writing the female protagonist’s perspective. Charlie’s roommate was murdered, and Charlie, who isn’t coping well, drops out of school and hitches a ride back to Ohio with a man who she found on a bulletin board. Something seems off about him, but Charlie assures herself that it’s all in her head. She sees “movies in her mind” which seem real but aren’t further confusing her. She finally becomes convinced that the man driving her is the serial killer, and she decides she has to avenge her friend’s death. Charlie is an idiot. The end.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan—published 2020—243 pages—contemporary fiction/LBGTQ+–four stars: Bends toward the literary and doesn’t have a conventional plot—so I understand why this is only rated 3.35 stars on Goodreads—but I quite enjoyed Ava’s love triangle with Julian and Edith.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter #6) by J. K. Rowling—published 2005—652 pages—YA fantasy—five stars: In earlier mini book reviews I didn’t write reviews of Harry Potter rereads because 1. I’ve read every single one a gazillion times and 2. Just saying J. K. Rowling’s name has been as bad as saying Voldemort aloud recently. I was worried if I typed Rowling’s name, Death Eaters would show up at my door. She’s as flawed as Snape, James, and Umbridge, and I don’t agree with her politics, but I love these books. And the reason I’m rereading right now is because I’ve been reading them aloud to Little Thing (before the controversy started), and she’s hooked. The books ARE magic. Watching her reactions to what happens in each book are gifts I will never forget. I’ll never forget how we had to stop reading when Harry used Sectumsempra because she thought Harry was infallible and he devastated her. How she giggled uncontrollably when Ginny and Harry kissed. I’ll never forget her anger at Dumbledore’s fate at the book’s end. I can’t cancel these books.
The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix—published 2021—352 pages—horror—two stars: So, I read it anyway. And I hated it. That bloody foldable chair on the book jacket? It’s the best part of the book. I’ll never read another Hendrix book again. Again there’s a female protagonist that’s written in the first person who’s a victim and is fighting to be the last one standing in a group of victims, and Hendrix just needs to stop writing female leads. Much like the last Hendrix novel I read, he tortures women throughout the entire book and then tries to correct all the mayhem and harm in three sentences at the book’s end. So is there something symbolic about that? Maybe? But ugh.
Refugee by Alan Gratz—published 2017—352 pages—middle grade historical fiction—five stars: I read this book for the first time last year while I was hospitalized during a U.C. flare and rated it four stars. I am not in the habit of rereading and rating a book higher than my initial reaction (And I reread it because I chose it as a new summer reading book for our 8th graders.) but. This. Damn. Book. Y’all. THIS DAMN BOOK. It’s so well done. Gratz tells the harrowing stories of three different children who are refugees. Isabel is escaping from Castro’s Cuba. Josef is escaping from the Nazis. And Mahmoud is escaping from Syria. And by the book’s end, all three stories come together. This is the kind of book that builds empathy in young minds and should be required reading.
Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin—published 2021—256 pages—contemporary fiction/LGBTQ+–four stars: Gilda, a lesbian atheist fixated on death, accidentally becomes a secretary at a Catholic church. Ohhhhhhhhh, this one. I love it. Gilda also accidentally dates a man because she’s too nice to turn him down. This book is FUNNY while being awfully serious about mental health. If you like books by Jenny Lawson, T. J. Klune, or Fredrik Backman, you’ll love this book.
(All cover art taken from Goodreads.)