Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: Gifty, a Stanford doctoral student, studies addiction and depression and their effects on mice. When her mother has a mental breakdown, she moves in with Gifty. The narrative gets interrupted by flashbacks to Gifty’s childhood, outlining her brother’s life as an addict and her Christian faith. Gifty struggles with justifying her religious beliefs to her Ivy League science community. While this book is beautiful, it is dull. I liked this more than Homegoing.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke–published 2020–fantasy–three stars: Piranesi lives alone in a labyrinth of halls. The whims of nature and the tides batter his world. Occasionally he meets with the Other, a mysterious man. When Piranesi suspects another person has penetrated the labyrinth, he questions his entire reality. The writing style was a bit too repetitive for my taste.
He Started It by Samantha Downing–published 2020–thriller–three stars: When Beth, Eddie, and Portia’s grandfather dies, the siblings recreate a harrowing, murderous road trip that their grandfather forced them to take as children. If they don’t, they won’t receive their millions in inheritance. Not gonna lie, this book is pretty twisty, but it was long for a thriller despite being written in a whole bunch of short sentences. The ending was a complete surprise.
Rosemary’s Babyby Ira Levin–published 1967–horror–four stars: I might be the only person on the planet unfamiliar with this book’s premise. I pictured myself huddled up under the covers, scared shitless, the entire time while reading, but it wasn’t scary. However, I appreciated the writing, the layered details that melded together in the last chapters.
A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik–published 2020–fantasy–four stars: A heroine 95 percent unlikeable? Check. A magic school that tries to kill its students? Check Check. Novik killing it at worldbuilding with a super original storyline? Check Check Check. Is this Uprooted, one of my all-time fantasy faves? Absolutely not. This is dark. And that damn cliffhanger at the end. Ugh!
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson–published 2015–thriller–four stars: Truth bomb alert: because school’s back in session, I’ve had less time to write book reviews as I finish each book. I’m typing this three weeks after finishing the book. Yes, I enjoyed this thriller. Was it twistier than Twister? Sure! Can I tell you the main characters’ names without revisiting the book’s blurb on Goodreads? Nope.
The Year of the Witchingby Alexis Henderson–published 2020–fantasy/horror–three stars: Think feminist dystopian literature meets witches rebelling against oppressive religion. Also, prepare yourselves for religious men taking multiple wives, you know, because, oppressive religion. The book read more like YAL than true adult fiction. Some parts were scary. Others weren’t. The pacing was off.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier–published 1938–classics/gothic/mystery–four stars: I dislike when authors layer on the imagery thick right at a book’s beginning, which happens here. Just begin in medias res, please! And while I wasn’t necessarily creeped out, I enjoyed the slow burn of the mystery surrounding Rebecca’s death.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby—published 2017–nonfiction/essays/humor/memoir–five stars: All I want to do in real life is meet Samantha Irby. Her writing IS goals. I had to put the book down at one point because I was laughing so hard my whole body shook. Irby makes writing about literal SHIT, mainstream (mainpoop?), and she deserves all of the claps (and chorusing of toilet flushes?). I too suffer from IBD, and we should flush the talking about poop taboo down the toilet.
September wasn’t a great reading month for me. Don’t get me wrong, I read some pretty great books, but I didn’t read very many books.
I read three books that were over 400 pages. Long books means less books read.
I discovered TikTok.
Hybrid teaching leaves me brainless by the time I get home.
I am doing more work at home than I usually do–because hybrid teaching leaves less time to get lessons made and papers graded at work.
Did I mention TikTok?
I quit reading two books: The Guest List by Lucy Foley and The Dragonette Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland.
Tokking of the Tik.
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson–published 2020–romance–two stars: Jesse’s foster mother, who owned a knitting shop, passes away, leaving the shop to not just him, but his three foster brothers too. They’re all dangerously sexy, but Kerry, a woman who worked in the store and looked to Mama Joy as a mother as well, has always had a thing for Jesse, a bit of a fuck-up. She’s finally finished with school and looking to make her way in the city, but she agrees to help Jesse tackle running the store. Maybe I’m too critical of this genre, but it was just so bland.
Making Faces by Amy Harmon–published 2013–YAL romance–three stars: When the small-town golden boy Ambrose convinces his buddies to join him in the military after the September 11th attacks, Fern Taylor, a small, nondescript redhead who is the preacher’s daughter, pines for him. She’s been in love with him for years. When he returns from war drastically changed, she and her cousin Bailey, who has muscular dystrophy, convince Ambrose to ease back into life in the small town. There’s something very wholesome and innocent about this book, but this book didn’t age well. Be prepared for a tearjerking ending.
Afterlandby Lauren Beukes–published 2020–dystopian fiction–four stars: A virus plagues the world, killing off most of the men. After her sister betrays her, Cole tries to keep her son, one of the few remaining males in the world, safe from the government by dressing him as a girl and joining a traveling nun cult. Totally Atwoodian but with song lyrics and less serious. It’s refreshing to find a contemporary novel that isn’t completely beholden to some rigorous genre-specific plot line. I totally dug Beukes’s writing style.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip–published 1974 –YAL fantasy–four stars: Beautiful. I had a hard time keeping the beasts’ names straight until halfway through the book, but it was a nice change of pace in comparison to the contemporary YAL that gets published anymore. I’ve been slowly making my way through some older fantasy books, and I’m really enjoying them.
Bitten (Otherworld #1) by Kelley Armstrong–published 2001–urban fantasy–three stars: And then I read something like this and am proven wrong by the last sentence of the last review I wrote. I don’t think urban fantasies age very well, and I know to keep in mind the time period in which they are written, but I didn’t much enjoy The Mortal Instruments series either . . . and it could have had something to do with the fact that I read them wayyyyyyy after they’d originally been published. I was totally into Bitten, but parts of it weren’t very fleshed out and it was pretty predictable. I thought maybe Elena lacked a female protagonist’s depth because the book was written by a male author, but nope. Totally penned by a woman. I guess I was expecting a bit more of a badass female werewolf? And it had a totally sexist storyline and it is part romance novel, but . . . Give me Vampire Academy instead?
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid–published 2015–contemporary fiction/romance–three stars: Hannah moves back home to L.A. from New York to be closer to her best friend and to distance herself from a bad relationship. She has high hopes of rekindling a love affair with her old high school flame Ethan. But on the evening of her welcome back party, she has to make a decision to go home with Ethan or not, and the audience gets to see how her life plays out if she makes either choice. You can tell that this is an early novel from Reid. It’s not as well done as Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and there’s way too much emphasis placed on Hannah’s high bun and cinnamon roll obsession.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones–published 2019–YAL fantasy–four stars: A zombie fairytale? Lovely and a bit scary. A great October read.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism–published 2019–nonfiction–four stars: If you are a white person and haven’t read this book yet, you should do so. It’s an uncomfortable read. But being uncomfortable is key to growth. I still have so much work to do in identifying and correcting my own behaviors, thoughts, and speech when it comes to discussing race in America. And I still have so much work to do in identifying and correcting my own behaviors, thoughts, and speech when it just comes to existing in a racist society. I learned from this book that we need to rethink what it means to be racist. I learned from this book that relying on intelligence and hiding behind the guise of reading certain books has racism behind it. Earlier this year, I made of list of recommended books to read about racism in America and posted it on Facebook. Was that racist? Yes, because I hid behind intellectualism. I learned about how Black people view white women’s tears, and my gut reaction was, tears? Really? This book points out how our emotions are a product of socialization. Did I mention that I have a lot of work to do?
Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) by Janella Angeles–published 2020–YAL fantasy–four stars: Caravel meets Night Circus, but sexy, in a young adult way, and a bit of Stockholm syndrome? Yes, please! It was bit too long though. This is a great October read too.
Anybody have any great October reading recommendations? I want to read something that will scare the shit out of me. Please!
Approach my August mini book reviews with caution. Here’s what you shouldn’t read (and four books you should)!
Anna K: A Love Story (Anna K #1) by Jenny Lee–published 2020–YAL romance/retellings–three stars: I never read book blurbs fully before diving into a book, and sometimes it backfires worse than taking a sip of Coke when you’re expecting unsweet tea but occasionally I’m rewarded with an unforeseen, delicious book flavor. Anna K is room temperature water. Parts were witty and then others were listy. It’s Crazy Rich Asians plus Gossip Girl, butit lacks the glamorous good fun the characters in those series have so it’s hard to get past the entitlement here. I liked Dustin (because he isn’t entitled), but he’s choppy.
The Strangerby Albert Camus–published 1942–classics–three stars: I’m not exactly sure what I just read here. Mind you, the writing is startlingly clear, but . . . I’m confused as to why the protagonist killed another person. And just who is “the stranger”? The protagonist? The guy who the protagonist kills? Imma just back away from this one slowly like Homer Simpson disappearing into the bushes.
Of Curses and Kisses (St. Rosetta’s Academy #1) by Sandhya Menon–published 2020–YAL romance/retellings–two stars: For the love of books, y’all! When am I going to learn my lesson? Once again, I walked into a book without reading the blurb and ended up with another retelling–this time a Beautyand the Beast varietal. This is the most unimaginative, repetitive retelling I’ve ever read. There’s a bunch of bratty rich kids sent to a boarding school in the middle of Colorado. Woohoo, another story featuring children of the one percent! Jaya and her sister, Indian princesses, enroll there after a scandal at home. Jaya finds out that her family’s nemeses–the Emersons–have a son that attends St. Rosetta’s too, and she plots to use her feminine wiles to seduce him into destroying his family’s good name as revenge for destroying her family’s good name. She’s beauty. He’s beast. There’s nothing original here, and it gets too teach-y. However, Menon can rock a metaphor; that’s the only reason I finished reading this. Read A Curse So Dark and Lonely instead.
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner–published 2020–LQBT romance–one star: I don’t often distribute one-star ratings, but there’s nothing that makes this read stand out. Jo, a Hollywood producer, invites her assistant Emma to accompany her to an awards show, not as a date, but as a buffer between Jo and the paparazzi. Rumors swirl anyway, and the two deny that they have feelings for one another. Zero character development? Check. Generic, boring writing? Check check.
House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig–published 2019–YAL fantasy/retellings–two stars: Another freaking retelling???? I’m smarter than my August book choices, promise. A reimagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Again, no character development. Book lovers, throw a four or five star read my way soon like a life preserver. I’m drowning in a salty sea of terrible writing and its sorrows.
The City We Became (Great Cities #1) by N.K. Jemisin–published 2020–fantasy–four stars: Thank. God. Leave it to Jemisin to rescue me. I loved this more than Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Each borough of NYC manifests as a person, and those people must find each other in order to save the city from alternate universes. While the writing glows, the judgments and themes further illuminate Jemisin’s voice. Take a look: Innocence is nothing but a ceremony, after all. So strange that you people venerate it the way you do. What other world celebrates not knowing anything about how life really works? And But these people are always gonna tell themselves that a little fascism is okay as long as they can still get unlimited drinks with brunch! Don’t get me wrong, the novel is slow at first because it focuses on establishing the different characters and what they are doing when outside forces attack the city. It gets explain-y too at times when I didn’t think that certain plot points needed further clarification; I mean, it is a fantasy. Reading funk–officially over!
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens–published 2007–nonfiction–three stars: He fails to outline any new arguments in his position, and his tone is just so damn disdainful of believers.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson–published 2020–YAL LGBT romance–three stars: Moment of honesty: I can see the appeal to teenage readers here, and that’s why I rounded up. Liz, a band nerd, has gotten into the school of her dreams but didn’t get a much-needed scholarship. At her rich, suburban Indiana high school, prom is a big deal, and king and queen win not just crowns, but big buck scholarships as well. So, she decides to run for prom queen despite the odds against her. At the first meeting, she meets Mack, a new girl also running for court, and Liz is smitten-smacked. So where do I start? This high school is ridiculous. What high school makes prom a scholarship pageant? At one point, Guy Fieri caters an event (maybe prom itself? I can’t remember) . . . I mean, come on! The school has its own social media app, lording over Snapchat and TikTok and the like, just like in Tweet Cute. Also, is this a thing now? Where individual high schools have their own apps that trump mainstream social media? Also, Mack just so happens to be cousins with a member of Liz’s favorite band. And they just so happen to go on their first date to that favorite band’s show and then later on in the novel the lead singer surprises Liz at school. And all that just fits too nicely. And, what new girl runs for prom court? The people who run the school are idiots, and I hate seeing that repeatedly in YAL. And it took me forever to read this book because I just wasn’t that invested in it. The writing is cute-ish though, and Liz and Mack’s relationship will be relatable to high schoolers. And this cover? Swoon!
Brunch and Other Obligations by Suzanne Nugent–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: The title had me at brunch despite the fact I’m not a huge fan of that whole let’s-combine-two-meals-into-one-on-the-weekends-meal vibe. Stop your gasping. If you had the stomach problems I do, you’d feel the same way. Brunch menus are limited and often revolve around gluten, making it damn near impossible for me to find a meal that I can actually eat AND fill me up, and Bloody Marys are the worst (fighting words I know) and mimosas give me heartburn to rival a pregnant woman’s who’s carrying a baby with a headful of hair. Anyway, when their mutual friend Molly dies, three women who grew up together but barely tolerate each other respect their friend’s last wishes and eat brunch together once a month. Because it’s light-hearted and funny, I’ll overlook its predictability. It gets a bottomless-beer cheers from me.
The Pull of the Starsby Emma Donoghue–published 2020–historical fiction–three stars: In Ireland during the 1918 flu outbreak, Julia works as a nurse in a large hospital in a small unit where pregnant women with the flu are treated. The first day takes up around 50 percent of the book and moves at a glacier’s pace. I might be mistaken, but the novel doesn’t possess a plot. However, it’s so very readable, and the last 30 percent makes up for a draggy first half. Unfortunately, it doesn’t use quotation marks to indicate dialogue. Vomit emoji.
Want by Lynn Steger Strong–published 2020–contemporary fiction–four stars: Despite having rich parents and being Ivy League-educated, Elizabeth and her husband struggle to make ends meet for their family while living in New York City. I loved how deep this novel dived into Elizabeth’s mind and how it explored her complicated friendship with her best friend from home Sasha. It felt like it needed more editing, and then on closer inspection, I liked its rambly stream of consciousness. Strong did a nice job portraying the ins and outs of charter school teaching in a big city (not that I’ve ever worked in one, but it’s how I envision it). I don’t know if I would recommend this to everyone, but if you err more on the side of literary, it’s worth the read.
Pericles by William Shakespeare–drama/classics–three stars: Not his best? Pericles, a king, thinks his wife dies during childbirth, so she receives a pirate’s burial. She washes ashore on a distant land still alive. After his wife’s supposed death, Pericles leaves his newborn daughter with a trusting family in a different foreign land. After the girl grows up, the family tries to have her murdered, but pirates kidnap her instead. When Pericles returns to check on her, he’s told she’s dead. Then at the end, they’re all reunited like the whole thing isn’t completely implausible anyway . . .
The Bird and the Sword (The Bird and the Sword Chronicles #1) by Amy Harmon–fantasy–published 2016–four stars: Because of a curse before her mother’s murder, Lark can’t speak, but with her inner voice, she can bend animals, nature, and inanimate objects to her will. Living in a world where magic is banned, her silence keeps her safe. When the king absconds with her to ensure her father’s fealty against battling unnatural magical creatures that threaten the kingdom, she must find her voice to keep the realm safe. My friend from high school pointed me in Harmon’s direction, and I must say, Harmon’s writing is magic and a welcome reprieve. What prevented this from five-star status? A predictable storyline.