Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Babel [review]

Babel by RF Kuang
Published by Harper Voyager on August 23, 2022
my rating: 2 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.45 (as of 2022-10-16)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

Clearly I am in the minority here, but this book just did not do it for me. The story follows Robin Swift, a boy who is orphaned by cholera and taken from China by a mysterious professor, who trains him in languages. Eventually Robin is enrolled in Oxford to learn translation — in this world translations power the magical bars of silver that ease life for the wealthy. I appreciated the messages here about how colonialism consists of violence and theft, and how colonizers devalue the cultures that they steal from even as they rely upon them. I just had a lot of issues with the way the story itself was told.

In order to focus on translation, Kuang creates an alternate version of our own world with silver-working at its center. I took issue in part with the fact that Kuang does very little with silver-working itself. It’s used to create inventions that… would already have been invented anyway, as we see in our own world. It’s bizarre to me that Kuang would create an entire alternate reality only to make it almost exactly like our own. The changes made to life itself are minute and don’t reflect, to me, what reality would be like if we did have this magical technology at our hands.

It also read to me as rather YA. The characters are technically adults but have the demeanor of teenagers and seem quite naive at times. A lot of the messages are in your face and there are often long monologues where characters lecture in order to tell us what we should be getting out of the book. There are some abrupt shifts in character that don’t make sense to me and there is a large plot point that I don’t even think should have occurred, but the entire end of the story relies upon its happening.

It felt to me like Kuang had a message she wanted to relay and wrote the whole book around that. I didn’t feel compelled by the story or the characters because they felt like nothing more than a mouthpiece. A lot of “and they studied, and they studied, and they studied some more” could have been cut from this to make the pacing a little more smooth. As is, it drags the reader through the first two-thirds and then sprints along to the ending. I’m honestly glad so many liked this, but I really fail to see the appeal of the story itself.

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Piranesi [review]

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on September 15, 2020
my rating: 4 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.26 (as of 2022-09-15)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

There is a thing that I know but always forget: Winter is hard.

What a bizarre little book. This is difficult to review without giving anything away, but I’ll give it a shot. I went into this pretty cold, knowing only that it was somewhat related to mythology and fairly fantastic. I honestly think that was best, it took me a bit to settle into the narrative style but witnessing the story unravel while trying to figure out what was going on was very satisfying. Piranesi is an oddly satisfying character to follow, I appreciated his emphasis on logic and his understanding of the world around him. Although his naivety could have been frustrating, I found it more sad than anything else and I found him very sympathetic. Clarke did an excellent job with this and I’m glad it was the Women’s Prize winner of 2021.

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The Thief of Always [review]

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
Published by HarperCollins on January 30, 2014 (originally 1992)
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.20 (as of 2022-08-30)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

Harvey had climbed the porch steps by now, and stopped in front of the open door. This was a moment of decision, he knew, though he wasn’t quite certain why.

This was a quick little MG/YA fantasy read with a pinch of horror. Harvey Swick is a kid dealing with the dreariness of mid-winter who wants some excitement in his life. And he gets exactly what he wishes for — kind of. Harvey is whisked away to a magical house, where he can play with other children and where all his wants are met. But, of course, things aren’t quite what they seem. This wasn’t a new favorite, but it was a fun little novel to zip through. I definitely recommend it to those looking for some lighter horror


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Sorrowland [review]

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Published by MCD Books on May 4, 2021
my rating: 2 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.83 (as of 2022-08-21)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and may differ from the final publication.

The forest didn’t mind illiterates and mad girls. Didn’t mind that screaming was sometimes a person’s only language.

This was my first Rivers Solomon and I hate to say it but I was definitely disappointed. I went into this pretty cold and wasn’t really expecting the extreme fantastical elements — which I’ll admit is on me. It’s definitely a book that some people will love, but it was a little too out there for me. I had difficulty following some things and just didn’t get along with the writing in general. I did appreciate how queer this was, though, as well as the messages Solomon was conveying. I have a copy of The Deep which I’ll definitely also be trying out.


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One Last Stop [review]

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on June 1, 2021
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.02 (as of 2022-08-06)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and may differ from the final publication.

Jane is spun sugar. A switchblade girl with a cotton-candy heart.

I wish I could put my finger on why this didn’t quite work for me. Maybe I went in with my expectations too high: I loved Red, White and Royal Blue and I was so excited for McQuiston to put out a sapphic romance as well. Most of my friends — people I share reading tastes with — gave the book five stars. But I was able to put this down for four days after hitting the halfway point because I didn’t feel compelled to continue.

Looking back, I think I found August a little unbelievable as a character. In fact, her whole group of friends made me feel more like I was reading a sitcom than a story I could really immerse myself into. I read plenty of sff and horror, so I don’t necessarily need realism in my books but I do need to feel like the characters are real people and I just didn’t get that here. I found myself skimming a lot throughout the second half of the book because I really just wanted to finish it.

That being said, this book still made me really emotional! That McQuiston can tug on my heartstrings in a story I’m not attached to is a testament to their writing. I had to put down the book at one point because I was reading during downtime at work and didn’t want to cry in front of any customers. I think if I had read it earlier, I may have gotten along with it better so I would definitely take my outlook with a grain of salt — especially because I’m in a clear minority.


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20th Century Ghosts [review]

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 16, 2008 (originally 2005)
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.94 (as of 2022-08-03)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

She is saying something about home. She is saying something everyone knows.

This has been on my TBR for years so I’m disappointed that I wasn’t a huge fan of it. Joe Hill is one of my favorite authors, but this was his first book and it just didn’t hit like I had hoped it would. The fatphobia in this is absolutely rampant and really destroyed my interest in a few of the stories. The f-slur and the n-word were also both used at some points. As for the stories themselves, a lot of them didn’t do much for me. I’ll include my full ratings here:

Best New Horror – ⭐⭐⭐
20th Century Ghost – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pop Art – ⭐⭐⭐
You Will hear the Locus Sing – ⭐⭐
Abraham’s Boys – ⭐⭐
Better Than Home – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Black Phone – ⭐⭐
In the Rundown – ⭐⭐⭐
The Cape – ⭐⭐
Last Breath – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Dead-wood – ⭐⭐⭐
The Widow’s Breakfast – ⭐⭐⭐.5
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
My Father’s Mask – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Voluntary Committal – ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
Scheherazade’s Typewriter – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A few of them were hard-hitting in the best of ways, but overall I found the collection somewhat forgettable. I do think My Father’s Mask and Voluntary Committal both could be expanded into novels or series and make for a good time. I’m also very intrigued to see how they adapted The Black Phone because it didn’t feel to me like something that could be expanded into a full-length film. Overall, probably wouldn’t recommend this collection highly, but it’s probably worth reading if you want to see Hill’s earlier works.


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Beneath the Keep [review]

Beneath the Keep (The Queen of the Tearling #0) by Erika Johansen
Published by Dutton on Febrary 2, 2021
my rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2022-07-27)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and may differ from the final publication.

3.5 ⭐️

I have to say I definitely enjoyed this and found it very compelling, but it was missing a little… something for me. Getting the backstory of the Mace was interesting but I found Christian a little boring at times. While I understood the inclusion of Aislinn, it didn’t feel like her story fully meshed with the rest. Following Elyssa was heartbreaking though. My biggest issue was that this felt like it was building toward something that never happened, but I guess that’s the problem with prequels. This did make me super excited to re-read the Tearling series! I’m hoping to pick up the Queen of the Tearling again asap.


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The Memory Police [review]

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, transl. by Stephen Snyder
Published by Pantheon in August 13, 2019 (originally 1994)
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.75 (as of 2022-05-25)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I wish I had gotten along with this more, but it was a little flatter than I expected. It was reminiscent to me of 1984 in some ways, although I wouldn’t draw a tight comparison between the two. I thought the titular Memory Police would play a more pivotal role in this, but it felt like they only existed to add stakes to the story. I just felt a lot of “why?” reading this. I could draw connections to colonialism and the erasure of cultures, or the oppression of afab bodies, but it didn’t feel like a fully formed commentary was there. I was largely bored by this and although some aspects were compelling, I felt let down.


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Build Your House Around My Body [review]

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith
Published by Random House in July 6, 2021
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.87 (as of 2022-05-23)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I’m still not sure whether I read this book or whether it was all a fever dream that I imagined. Build Your House Around My Body spans decades and follows an ever-changing cast of characters through a dark, fantastical story. The ‘main’ character, Winnie, is a Vietnamese-American woman attempting to find herself in Vietnam while slipping deeper and deeper into a depressive spiral.

While I appreciated this story overall, I found myself swinging between bored, confused, and intrigued. Sadly, too much of my time was spent waiting to get to the end of the story rather than appreciating the journey itself. This novel is often difficult to follow, although I was impressed by the way Kupersmith was able to connect the characters to each other. There were many instances where I found myself highlighting lines that would have meant little-to-nothing in another book, but that gave me an ‘aha!’ moment in seeing another connection.

I would recommend this with the caveat that if you don’t like sweeping storylines that take their time to intersect and become clear, this is probably not the book for you. It does have a lot of interesting commentary on colonialism and bodily autonomy, but I struggled to untangle this from the story itself.


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Blood and Ash Series #1-4 (review)

This review WILL be filled with spoilers, as I read all 4 books in one whirlwind and want to discuss them in more detail.

  • From Blood and Ash, 5 stars
  • A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, 5 stars
  • The Crown of Gilded Bones, 3.5 stars
  • The War of Two Queens, 3.5 stars

I picked this series up because I had heard that there was some drama around the 4th book — specifically drama around a triad that developed. I’m polyamorous and always looking for more rep, so I was intrigued. I couldn’t have imagined that I’d tear through all 4 books (none of them less than 600 pages) in less than 2 weeks. I fell deeply in love with the world and the people JLA created and adored this even more than the ACOTAR series.

The first book follows Poppy, the Maiden — a young woman who is Chosen by the gods and who is not to be looked at, touched, or spoken to. She leads a solitary life interacting with almost no one but her guards and her closest friend, her lady in wait. And the duke and duchess who watch over her. And then Hawke steps into the picture. If you like bad boy romances, you’ll love Hawke. I could not put this book down, loving the relationships between the characters (particularly between Poppy and Hawke).

I was truly shocked by the twists in this. Obviously the Ascended were awful and were doing very suspect things, but I could never have guessed that they were vampires (this series calls them vamprys) taking children to feed on. I had guessed that Hawke was an Atlantian after the scene under the willow tree and eventually also guessed that he was ‘The Dark One.’ And that ENDING! I lowkey love the cliffhangers these books end on, and the first was probably the best.

The second book picks up exactly where the first leaves off and I loved this one just as much. Seeing Poppy develop herself and her powers was great and I loved seeing more of her and Casteel (formerly Hawke). I did get annoyed at times when they were SO CLOSE to talking about their feelings and then didn’t, or didn’t understand each other. But they figured it out in the end. Meeting more of the wolven and the Atlantians was so nice, too. I got very [eyes emoji] about Poppy/Kieran/Cas.

The third book is where I began to tire a bit. Things start to go off the rails and it feels like there’s almost too much going on. Poppy is Ascended, but she’s not. She’s a deity? She’s a god? Who knows! I was shocked that the triad didn’t develop during this book tbh. There is a LOT of [eyes emoji] happening between them. I felt like Poppy was getting a little OP and was confused about how much we were going back and forth on her heritage and who she was.

Book four made my dreams come true, but other than that I was underwhelmed again. It was exhausting reading what I felt like was the same interaction over and over again between Isbeth and Poppy, Isbeth and Cas, Cas and Callum, etc. Poppy is truly OP at this point and just cannot control her temper. There were more shocking reveals that had me throwing my hands up, I can only take so many twists and back and forths before they start to bore me. The end was total chaos.

I’m just glad I finally got my triad, which has been steadily building since book 2. Kieran and Poppy’s interactions in this book made my heart all bubbly and happy. I really hope that their relationship develops more, because right now it definitely feels a little lopsided. I know Poppy and Cas are heartmates, but I’d like things to feel a little more equal. I am intrigued to see where things go, because JLA definitely left it a little vague. I really do hope book 5 is full of threesomes that are a little less chaotic than the one in this book.

Anyway, yeah I loved this series and I’m excited to read more from JLA (and more of this series). But for now, I’m looking forward to picking up some books that won’t keep me up until 2am every night.


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