Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Kept Animals [review]

Kept Animals by Kate Milliken
Published by Scribner on April 21, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★ (5)
Goodreads avg: 
4.07 (as of 2020-05-10)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The thing about trauma is that even after it is over, it is still happening. It is a memory in motion, forever present.

This absolutely devastated me. Kate Milliken has been without a doubt added to my must-read list of authors. Kept Animals is a novel about so many things: grief, toxic relationships, trauma, sexuality. I feel like it’s impossible to pin my thoughts on this down. I found it compelling from the start, but the deeper into the story I got, the more impossible it was to stop reading. I felt such an incredible depth of emotion reading this, and even cried at the end. It was quiet, but there was an underlying tension throughout reminiscent of a thriller — we are, after all, trying to find out what happened on one fateful day in 1993. All I can really say is: I highly recommend this if you’re interested in a dark, depressing, queer literary novel.

content warnings: drunk driving; child death; both casual and violent homophobia; sexual assault; racism and xenophobia; parental neglect; substance abuse.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories [review]

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Published by Gallery/Saga Press on February 25, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg:
3.94 (as of 2020-05-09)
Spoiler-free review
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

From award-winning author Ken Liu comes his much anticipated second volume of short stories.

Ken Liu is one of the most lauded short story writers of our time. This collection includes a selection of his science fiction and fantasy stories from the last five years — sixteen of his best — plus a new novelette.

I made it soo far into this, but unfortunately had to put it down. I found some of the stories really compelling but found they didn’t outweigh the ones I didn’t enjoy. At around the halfway mark, this morphed into a lot of interconnected stories that I was kind of struggling with, so it seemed best not to finish.

The stories I read, and the ratings I gave them:

Ghost Days, 2 stars
Maxwell’s Demon, 3.5 stars
The Reborn, 4 stars
Thoughts and Prayers, 4 stars
Byzantine Empathy, 4.5 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Chained, 2 stars
Staying Behind, 2.5 stars
Real Artists, 3 stars
The Gods Will Not Be Slain, 2 stars
Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, 2 stars

Average: 2.95 stars

I think there are a lot of people who will really like these! They just weren’t for me. So if this seems like something that’s up your alley, I definitely recommend giving it a shot.

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

My Name is Monster [review]

My Name is Monster by Katie Hale
Published by Canongate Books, Ltd on June 6, 2019
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.69 (as of 2020-05-05)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

After the Sickness has killed off her parents, and the bombs have fallen on the last safe cities, Monster emerges from the arctic vault which has kept her alive. When she washes up on the coast of Scotland, everyone she knows is dead, and she believes she is alone in an empty world.

Monster begins the long walk south, scavenging and learning the contours of this familiar land made new. Slowly, piece by piece, she begins to rebuild a life. Until, one day, she finds a girl: feral, and ready to be taught all that Monster knows. Changing her own name to Mother, Monster names the child after herself. As young Monster learns from Mother, she also discovers her own desires, realising that she wants very different things to the woman who made, but did not create, her.

I can really appreciate the appeal behind this novel, even if it didn’t do much for me personally. This is a quiet post-apocalyptic character study of two characters: Monster-turned-Mother and Monster (the second). The naming seems confusing, but it absolutely makes sense within the story and is quite easy to follow. The first half of the novel follows Monster (to-be-Mother) as she travels home following an apocalyptic war slash disease. The “Sickness” itself is more of a backstory and isn’t much focused on itself, but some of the flashbacks did remind me of the current situation we’re dealing with. Close to the halfway point, Monster comes across a young girl and decides to change her own name to Mother while referring to the girl as Monster.

I have not survived this long only to die on a shit-splattered beach in Scotland.

The concept is strange, but it works. The first half is a combination of flashbacks and present-day as Monster-to-be-Mother reflects on her life and deals with the struggles of surviving alone in a lonely, barren landscape. This is flipped in the second half as (the new) Monster bemoans the woes of her restrictive life and looks down upon Mother for her fear and dependency on their lifestyle. It was so frustrating for me to read Monster’s perspective since she’s the post-apocalyptic version of the spoiled brat. We learn in the first half of the novel the extensive trauma Mother has undergone and the pains she took to get where she is now. Monster follows this up by insisting she is braver than Mother and by continually placing herself in dangerous situations — or trying to.

People always marvel at waterfalls, and nobody pays enough attention to the chasm underneath.

I think, though, this is part of the point of the novel. Because Mother tries to forget her trauma instead of processing it and teaching Monster about the true dangers of the world, she enables this way of behavior and thinking. Monster cannot learn from Mother’s experiences if Mother does not share them. The problem is that it is just too difficult for me to read books where things could be solved by some simple communication. If Mother had just opened up, or given some kind of explanations to Monster, this all could have been averted. Regardless, it is fairly well-written and as I said, I can see the appeal.

Decisions made at night are tricksters, elusive and fickle, slippery as fish.

I do wish some things were explained further. I don’t know if certain plot points just went over my head, or what. (The second) Monster’s past was so confusing to me. I know it was difficult to spell things out more clearly since she did not have the language to communicate it, but I was… not really sure what had happened to her. I think one of the plot points of her past was weirdly far-fetched and didn’t make any sense without explanation. Every time it came up, I was so confused!

[…]maybe healing really means making something different. Maybe getting better doesn’t mean going back to how it used to be, but moving forwards instead[…]

Overall, though, I’d say this is worth reading if it sounds like it suits you. Like I said, it is a character study so there isn’t a TON of plot. It’s not your typical post-apocalyptic read, so I’d go for this if you like something a little more literary.

content warnings: apocalyptic war; graphic depictions of wounds; death of a loved one.

My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. Ninth House
  5. My Name is Monster
  6. Frankissstein

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Frankissstein [review]

Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson
Published by Vintage Digital on May 28, 2019
my rating: ★★
Goodreads avg:
3.71 (as of 2020-05-04)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love – against their better judgement – with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.

Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.

Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryonics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.

But the scene is set in 1816, when nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’

I am a poor specimen of a creature, except that I can think.

It is an understatement to say that I have issues with this book. I should preface this review with the caveat that while I am queer, I am also cis, so my opinions are colored by that. If you’re an ownvoices reviewer and would like me to link to your review, please let me know! Edit: Here is a great one-star review posted over at Revolution in the Pages!

I took great issue with Winterson’s portrayal of a trans person. Ry is a character completely without agency. Every single person they come into contact with in the book misgenders them and while on occasion they will make an effort to correct someone or to explain their identity, they feel like nothing more than a plot device to fuel a discussion surrounding gender rather than an actual character. At one point Ry is physically attacked, demeaned, and left alone cowering on the ground in a scene that seemed to hold little-to-no meaning in the greater plot. They were constantly fetishized and objectified by Victor, who seemed to think of them little more than a toy and a sex object. They were defined solely by their relationship to Victor and their trans identity. It seemed that Ry had no trans friends (really, no friends at all) and when Victor mentioned that he had never met a trans person before, Ry just replied that most people haven’t. If this is indeed set in the present or near future, I find that an absurd statement. Many cis people may think they have not met a trans person, but they would have no way of knowing.

It’s horrible, I said. You’re a doctor, he said. You know how useful horrible is.

Victor himself was impossible to read. I don’t think he was meant to be a likable person, but that doesn’t change the fact that I hated reading about him. Although he’s meant to be a “transhumanist” (he wishes his consciousness could be uploaded to a computer) and insists mankind will move beyond gender, race, etc., he spends all his time misgendering Ry, insists he’s not gay, and equates being a man with having a penis. As for the other characters, Ron, Claire, and Polly D all felt like one-dimensional caricatures and for half the book I thought Claire and Polly were the same person.

The formatting just didn’t work for me at all. I thought the two stories being told were completely disparate and didn’t mesh together at all. The commentary felt half-formed and I kept wanting Winterson to push a little further, or to adjust her trajectory. It just didn’t seem like she was in a position to be comparing trans people to monsters and machinery and I wish more had been said about life and death instead.

None can know the human mind. No, not if he read every thought man ever wrote. Every word written is like a child striking a flame against the darkness. When we are alone it is the darkness that remains.

Can someone also let me know whether the sex scenes were supposed to be erotic? Because they were completely devoid of passion and emotion and I literally couldn’t have cared less about them. It genuinely felt like an excuse to obsess over Ry’s genitalia more than anything else.

The only saving grace here is that there were beautiful moments of prose that I just loved. I highlighted a lot of lines while reading just because I was so struck with them. I cannot deny that Winterson has a way with words and a lot of this book was very readable. I also didn’t mind the lack of quotation marks because, for the most part, Winterson’s writing was so adept that it was clear where they should have been and who was speaking.

Even our best endeavours turn against us. A loom that can do the work of eight men should free eight men from servitude. Instead, seven skilled men are put out of work to starve with their families, and one skilled man becomes the unskilled minder of the mechanical loom. What is the point of progress if it benefits the few while the many suffer?

This is review is a lot to sum up, but I’ll just say: I think Winterson completely missed the mark here and I found this to be a painful reading experience.

content warnings: transphobia; [transphobic] sexual assault; sexism; misgendering; miscarriage; child death.

My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. Ninth House
  5. Frankissstein

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Ninth House [review]

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Flatiron Books on October 8, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.09 (as of 2020-05-02)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

By the time Alex managed to get the blood out of her good wool coat, it was too warm to wear it.

One hell of a first sentence, and an easy way to reel in your reader. Set at Yale in a universe where magic is real but fairly well-hidden, I thought the atmosphere of this book was so well-done. I could easily see the streets of New Haven in my mind and loved hearing about the different buildings the societies had. I also adored the characters. Alex is gritty and a bit of a stereotype, but still fun to read. Darlington reminded me a lot of Gansey from TRC, who I loved, so I liked reading about him as well. Dawes was GREAT and I loved how much time she and Alex got to spend together. I firmly feel that Alex is queer and the chemistry between her and Dawes was [eyes emoji]. Alex/Dawes/Darlington OT3, honestly.

There were always excuses for why girls died.

I only had a couple complaints, really. The plot felt convoluted at times and I struggled to follow some things. Some of what’s going on is really complicated and I was confused about how some conclusions were drawn or what had really happened. I also took issue with the first sexual assault scene. While the others felt like they had purpose to them, the first involved the rape of a minor and didn’t seem to add anything to the book. It was clearly supposed to be the foundation for Alex’s drug addiction and PTSD, but it just wasn’t clear to me why another device couldn’t have been used. That being said, from what I recall it was relatively brief and didn’t take too much away from the story for me.

We are the shepherds. But who would protect them from the wolves?

Overall though, I found this extremely compelling and did not want to put it down. I almost let myself stay up way too late reading it because I kept wondering what would happen next and wanted to spend more time with the characters. I’m bummed I’m going to have to wait for the sequel, but am so glad this is not the last I’ll be seeing of Alex and her crew!

My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa
  4. Ninth House

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Bookworm Blogging, Monthly Wrap-Ups

April 2020 Wrap-Up

Well, reading definitely picked back up for me in April. I found that the key was reading some real low-stakes stuff (romance was my personal life-saver) until I felt like reading my usual fare again. My finals end the first week of May, and then I’ve chosen to take a break from grad school until the fall for a couple reasons. It’ll be nice having a few months where work and personal growth/sanity are the only things I have to focus on! Also good timing, considering our Women’s Prize Squad Longlist.

Books Read:

  • The Invasion by KA Applegate. 3 stars, reread.
  • Wrong by Jana Aston. 4 stars, review.
  • Most Eligible Billionaire by Annika Martin. 3 stars, review.
  • The Dare by Lauren Landish. 3 stars, review.
  • Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon. 2.5 stars, review.
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. 5 stars, review.
  • My Dark Vanessa by Elizabeth Russell. 5 stars, review.
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. 4 stars, review.

Books read: 8 books
Average rating: 3.69 stars (haha nice)

Other Media:

  • Movies:
  • TV Shows:
    • I feel like all I did this month was watch TV.
    • Westworld, Season 2, Season 3 Eps 1-6.
    • Castle Rock, Season 2 Eps 6-10, Season 1 Ep 3 (the season 1 ep was a rewatch w my bf since he’s still on the first season).
    • BuzzFeed Unsolved: Supernatural, Season 3 Eps 4-8 (rewatch).
    • Glow Up, Season 1 Eps 1-2.
    • Locke & Key, Season 1 Eps 4-5.
    • W/ Bob & David, Season 1 Ep 2.
  • Video Games:
    • Still some Stardew Valley!
    • A pretty decent amount of Pokemon Sword; finished the gym challenge and am working to round out my Pokedex!
    • A little Tetris 99
    • Just Dance 2020! A great way to exercise in my room alone with fun music.
    • Sims 4, getting back into it.

Short Reads:

My Month in Photos:

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Girl, Woman, Other [review]

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Published by Black Cat/Grove Atlantic on November 5, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.43 (as of 2020-04-28)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a successful investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class.

Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative fast-moving form that borrows technique from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that shows a side of Britain we rarely see, one that reminds us of all that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.

this was a really lovely exploration of black individuals in the UK. 11 of the characters followed are women and one is a non-binary person who uses they/them pronouns. it was really refreshing to read about such a variety of people; many of these characters are queer, and some are even non-monogamous. the term polyamory is also explicitly used! it was really lovely to see these kinds of relationships normalized.

Amma experienced commitment to one person as imprisonment, she hadn’t left home for a life of freedom and adventure to end up chained to another person’s desires

this is essentially a series of overlapping short stories, each focused on an individual character. these characters are all interconnected, in ways that become increasingly clear as the book moves forward. there was one real WOW moment at the end that got me right in the gut. i was impressed at how well Evaristo layered these stories and built such a rich, real story.

she wishes her mother was alive to enjoy her new life she me now, Mama, see me now

my only complaint is really that the breadth of characters makes it difficult to follow. by the time a character was mentioned again, i would sometimes forget them or important information about them. i also found the first half of the book a little difficult to connect with. it was highly readable, but not extraordinary compelling. luckily, that changed in the second half, which i read in one day, unable to put the book down.

sadly, there wasn’t a sapphic bone in her body

i think this is a really important book and i’m glad it’s gotten so much recognition! i’ll definitely be recommending it to others. additionally, feel free to link me any ownvoices reviews to share, as i may be queer and polyamorous, but i am also white and american and can only review through that lens.

My current 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist rankings:

  1. The Body Lies
  2. Girl, Woman, Other
  3. My Dark Vanessa

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Bookworm Blogging, Readathons, TBRs

The 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist

Last year I made an effort to read the entire Women’s Prize longlist, along with some friends. I ended up reading 10 of the 14 longlisted books and had a blast doing it! We’ve kept up our Women’s Prize Squad group chat and have added some members as the year has passed. This year I decided not to read the longlist along with the group (they kindly kept me in the chat, ha!), as I’ve been working through grad school and (my real reason) had little-to-no interest in the books longlisted. I chose well, as most everyone has found it a struggle to read through the longlist. Since we felt our thoughts on the best books of the year were not aligned with those of the judges, we thought why not make our own longlist!

Without further ado, I present to you the 2020 Women’s Prize Squad Longlist! Using a draft, each of us chose 2 books to come up with the 16 book longlist. We used the Women’s Prize rules so that our list would be somewhat comparable and plan to vote on both a shortlist and a winner. I’ll run through the list here and give you all my thoughts. I am planning on reading all of the books (ideally before we vote) and have already knocked out one since we made the list on Saturday (I’m writing this on Monday)! I’ll hopefully also be making a wrap-up post once I’ve finished most or all of these.

My full list with no commentary is here (and you can find my ratings and reviews there as they’re updated). Fellow Women’s Prize Squad members are (in no particular order):

Posts by the rest of the squad:

Books I’ve Already Read

These were both 5-star reads for me, which bodes well for the rest of the list (I hope!). My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and did not disappoint and The Body Lies by Jo Baker blew me away in January and will definitely be one of my favorite books of the year.

Already on my TBR

  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. I really liked the SoC duology and already had a copy of this out from the library!
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I already have a copy of this since it was the one WP book I wanted to read (give me the polyam rep!!) and tried it last month while on vacation. I couldn’t focus enough to get through it so I put it on pause, but plan to pick it up again soon!
  • The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Inspired by real events?? Queer?? Witch trials?? Sign me tf up.
  • Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman. Emily has been stanning this since she read it for the Booker prize (you’ll never guess whose pick this was) and I have been intending to read it but am… intimidated. Understandably. Still tentatively looking forward to it!
  • Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. Another book I put on my TBR because of Emily, I’m looking forward to this one as well.
  • Bunny by Mona Awad. I love dark New England books!
  • My Name is Monster by Katie Hale. Added this to my TBR because of Molly Elizabeth Marcelle’s review; I think I’ll either love it or hate it. Hopefully love it!
  • Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater. Another book I put down during a slump with the intention of picking up again. Hopefully now is the time!
  • Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson. I love Jeaneatte Winterson. The formatting of my eARC made this absolutely impossible to read and I wasn’t sure whether I’d give it another try, but… guess I will!

On My Radar

  • The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy. Most of my friends loved this, but I wasn’t sure it was my cup of tea. Guess I’ll find out!
  • The Fire Starters by Jan Carson. I’m not particularly into Irish lit, unlike someone I know, but I’m up to giving this a shot.
  • Actress by Anne Enright. This feels fairly well-liked by the WP Squad, so I’m okay with giving this a shot as well!

New to Me

Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

My Dark Vanessa [review]

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Published by William Morrow on March 10, 2020
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.15 (as of 2020-04-20)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Wow. So, I read this almost entirely in one sitting and was absolutely blown away by it. Yet another book that tackles the intricacies of abuse and how things aren’t always black & white. While as a reader it is easy to condemn Strane and even to see where Vanessa went “wrong,” the novel also delves into the impact of grooming and how it can impact one’s thought processes for life. It faces head-on the idea of agency in young women and why some people may opt to see themselves as something other than a victim. This is unbelievably compelling and unbelievably important and in lieu of a full review (that would just be me gushing), I’ll leave you with some of the lines that struck me most while reading this.

It’s important that you never feel coerced. That’s the only way I’ll be able to live with myself.

“Haven’t you always felt like an outsider, a misfit?” he asks. “I’ll bet for as long as you can remember, you were called mature for your age. Weren’t you?” I think back to third grade, how it felt to bring home a report card with a teacher’s note scribbled on the bottom: Vanessa is very advanced, seems like she’s eight years old going on thirty. I’m not sure I was ever really a kid at all.

Slowly guided into the fire–why is everyone so scared to admit how good that can feel? To be groomed is to be loved and handled like a precious, delicate thing.

Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it?

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me [review]

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Published by First Second on May 7, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.13 (as of 2020-04-18)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound 

This was an amazing graphic novel that absolutely blew me away. Similar to but lighter than In the Dream House, this does an incredible job at demonstrating that queer relationships can also be toxic and abusive, which is imperative for lgbtq youth to be aware of. I really loved Freddy’s character and her friend group, which felt so real and relatable. I just wish we had seen some more of her friends! Laura Dean clearly has no idea what she’s doing wrong, which I think is unfortunately often the way of some abusers. The art itself is absolutely stunning and I was blown away by it from the start. This is a really incredible book that I’ll absolutely be trying to get others to read.

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