Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

A Closed and Common Orbit [review]

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager on October 18, 2016
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.36 (as of 2019-08-15)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.


After adoring The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which planted Becky Chambers firmly on my auto-read list, I decided I better read the rest of her backlist (and continue the Wayfarers series). A Closed and Common Orbit picks up right where The Long Way leaves off and while it could be read independently, I wouldn’t recommend it. The plot of this book relies heavily on the ending of its predecessor, so spoilers from the first book will be present here.

As before, my favorite part of reading this was the characters. The main character, Sidra, is the AI formerly known as Loveless, now present in a human-like body known as a kit rather than controlling a spaceship. I really liked Sidra and found her journey towards finally feeling one with her body to be quite compelling, although I’m sure it will resonate more with some than with others. Sidra goes through a lot as she struggles to integrate into a world she wasn’t necessarily meant to be in, although she has plenty of support along the way.

Pepper and her partner Blue have taken guardianship of Sidra in order to protect her and help her find her place in the world. Pepper has a soft spot in her heart for AI, for reasons we soon discover through flashbacks into her childhood. I’m a big fan of the dual timelines when done well, which I feel Chambers has done here. And Pepper is such a fun character that I was happy to get more of her — and Blue!

Again, Chambers tackles a lot of futuristic moral issues: namely, are AIs people? As one would expect, the answer is a resounding yes but I think the way she demonstrates it is quite good. She also delves more into the cultures of other alien species, which is another thing I really liked about The Long Way. I think the aliens and the societies she creates are so fascinating and I just love learning about them. Rather than an info dump, we are taught by experiencing it all through the lenses of human (or human-designed) characters, which I think gives it a more authentic feel.

Basically, I’m just totally in love with Becky Chambers’ writing and I can’t wait to read the next book in this trilogy. I’m also quite excited about her upcoming novels. If you liked The Long Way, I think you’ll also like A Closed and Common Orbit. 


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Evicted [review]

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Published by Crown on March 1, 2016
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.48 (as of 2019-06-23)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

In this brilliant,heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.


Y’all know that meme that’s like “Uh, hey guys? Just found out about [bad thing everyone has been aware of for quite some time]. Yikes!” Anyway, that’s how I feel about landlords after reading this book. A lot of the people in my leftist circles have been damning landlords for quite some time now and while I didn’t love the fact that they profit off of the ubiquitous need for shelter, I just didn’t quite get how they were worse than any other staple of capitalism. Now I know.

It was easy to go on about helping “the poor.” Helping a poor person with a name, a face, a history, and many needs, a person whose mistakes and lapses of judgment you have recorded — that was a more trying matter.

Evicted follows two landlords in Milwaukee — Sherrena, who owns many properties in the inner city, and Tobin, who owns a trailer park — as well as several of their tenants. It does so gracefully, interweaving life experiences with research and statistics in a way that makes sense and enhances one’s understanding of the topics at hand. Most notable is the cycle of eviction and how impossible it seems to climb out of. There are so many factors at play but Desmond is able to explain them all without losing the reader.

Part of the reason why this works is the narrative format; with concrete real-life examples it is much easier to become invested in wanting to know how the system functions. Marrying the bare facts with personal histories turns a series of numbers into an infuriating and heart-wrenching reading experience. And believe me, you will be infuriated. The entire time I was reading this book, I found myself discussing it with family and friends. Learning the details of the housing system, I was deeply disturbed. I realized more fully how privileged I’ve been to live the way I’ve lived.

When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers, and citizens.

While it’s easy to place accountability the landlords, making six figures and taking tropical vacations while throwing tenants out onto the streets, the blame is spread more widely than that. Although don’t get me wrong, they do deserve to shoulder plenty of it. They will intentionally refuse to maintain properties of poorer residents, particularly those who owe money. If a resident who owes calls a building inspector, the landlord will often evict them for the trouble — technically illegal, but not if the landlord cites the missing rent as the reason for the eviction. They will charge tenants using housing vouchers well above market value. Technically, the tenant doesn’t pay extra out of pocket, but an estimated 588 additional families in Milwaukee could be housed using the surplus money the landlords are charging.

One particular practice I hadn’t been aware of was nuisance property ordinances, in which the police departments can penalize landlords for their tenants’ behavior — meaning that the more the police are called to a specific property, the more likely they are to fine the landlord. Of course, this practice can have dire consequences for domestic violence victims. Instead of being supported, a battered woman is evicted as a “nuisance.” This leads women to remain silent about their abuse even more often, which could in turn lead to their deaths. Additionally, nuisance property ordinances aren’t fairly enforced. In Milwaukee, citations were given to eligible properties in primarily black neighborhoods at over twice the rate they were given in primarily white neighborhoods. Through this, the police have a direct hand in forcing more black residents to be evicted than white residents.

But those solutions depend on how we answer a single question: do we believe that the right to a decent home is part of what it means to be an American?

All that barely scratches the surface of what Desmond has to share. This really is quite an engrossing read, and really educational. I’d like to put some work into researching tenancy laws and practices in my area, both to know my own rights and to lobby for necessary change. My only complaint is that Desmond doesn’t leave us much in the way of solutions, but I suppose that could fill an entire second book. He also notes that solutions will likely vary region to region and city to city, so the local context counts for a lot. Overall, I really cannot recommend this book enough. It is quite eye-opening and quite important and I’m so, so glad that I read it.


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Red, White & Royal Blue [review]

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on May 14, 2019
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.50 (as of 2019-05-14)
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. All quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which the First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


I put this on my TBR when I saw it on Reads Rainbow’s Enemies to Lovers rec list (PS pls follow their blog, Charlotte and Anna share some wonderful stuff and are always beefing up my to-read list!). I was #BLESSED with a review copy from Netgalley and have spent the last week and a half getting my heart destroyed by this book.

Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.

RW&RB is a skillful combination of both the “enemies to lovers” and “fake relationship” tropes, although the fake relationship is a fake friendship rather than fake dating. The main character, Alex, is a bisexual biracial angel who falls in love with the (extremely gay) Prince Henry of Wales after plenty of angst and a lot of drama. I will admit it’s a little instalove-y, if that’s something that bothers you. Luckily it’s not something I mind and I found their relationship so, so precious!

[…] Henry, who knows him. Henry who’s seen him in glasses and tolerates him at his most annoying and still kissed him like he wanted him, singularly, not the idea of him.

The side characters are equally wonderful and McQuiston does an incredible job of fleshing them out. The two we see the most are Alex’s older sister June and his best-friend-sort-of-ex Nora who is openly queer, although I don’t think she uses any particular label on-page. There are several other queer side characters, including a trans woman and a pansexual character. I love that this book kind of demonstrates how we gays tend to stick together, since I’d say a good 95% of my friends have identified as lgbtqia.

He rolls onto his side and listens, trails the back of his hand across the pillow next to him and imagines Henry lying opposite in his own bed, two parentheses enclosing 3,700 miles.

Besides containing a truly unbelievably cute romance, this book explores discovering your sexuality, politics, and mental health. Alex and Henry have very different feelings about their lives in the public eye, and the expectations set upon them as the children of leaders conflict with what they’d prefer to do with themselves. Henry also deals with depression, which is touched on but isn’t the focus of the story.

“Ugh! Men!” she groans. “No emotional vocabulary. I can’t believe our ancestors survived centuries of wars and plagues and genocide just to wind up with your sorry ass.”

Overall, I just loved this book more than I can even convey. I cried several times reading it and am positive I’ll return to it in the future. It’s fluffy, it’s steamy, it’s political, and it is quite honestly PERFECT. Casey McQuiston is heading straight to my insta-read author list.


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Freshwater [review]

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Published by Grove Press on February 13, 2018
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2019-05-09)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.


I finished this after the Women’s Prize shortlist is released and all I can say is: it’s a damn travesty that this book didn’t make the cut. It was initially interesting to see that it was longlisted — Akwaeke Emezi is nonbinary, which the judges were not aware of until after they had decided upon the list. Emezi gave their okay for the book’s inclusion regardless and fans were glad to see it gain further recognition. But for the judges to leave off this masterpiece in favor of the combination they did… I won’t get into it, but it sure doesn’t make any sense.

The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.

I actually received a Netgalley ARC of this in January 2018, which I far too quickly DNFed in a “I’m not sure I Get this, maybe later” scenario. Maybe for the best, since I don’t know that I would have fully appreciated this novel without the growth my literary tastes have experienced over the last year. While I’m still not sure I was able to fully appreciate it — there were doubtless many things I missed — this is one of the most impactful books I have ever read and I’m sure I’ll never forget it.

The boy made Ada a gibbering thing in a corner — this is the truth, but he would never get her again. I had arrived, flesh from flesh, true blood from true blood. I was the wildness under the skin, the skin into a weapon, the weapon over the flesh. I was here. No one would ever touch her again.

Freshwater is an exploration of many things, but at the forefront lie trauma, gender identity, and spirituality. It’s hard to explore the plot too deeply without spoilers, but I’ll say that this is one of the best portrayals of trauma that I’ve ever read. The entire book requires endless trigger warnings and it’s quite an intense experience, but I found it so rewarding. If you’re in the space where you can pick this up, I cannot recommend it enough.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Normal People [review]

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Published by Hogarth on April 16, 2019 (originally 2018)
my rating: ★★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.08 (as of 2019-05-09)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.


While I knew from the start that this book would be different than anything I had experienced before, I had no idea how much I would love it. Normal People tells the story of Connell and Marianne, two very different people who somehow just keep meeting. It begins while they’re in secondary school and spans the course of their university careers. At its heart, this is the story of two people whose lives cannot untangle.

Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening.

While their relationship is often not quite healthy, I really rooted for them to be together. Sally Rooney writes in such a way that you can understand them both even while condemning their actions. Oftentimes their conflicts are the result of miscommunications that could have easily been avoided by pressing one another further rather than making assumptions. Deep down, they both care quite deeply about each other and none of the hurt is intentional.

Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence?

I found myself repeatedly caught up in the depth of emotion I felt while reading this. Sometimes I would have to put it down for a moment, breathless, as I contemplated the characters and their situations and the parallels I was able to draw to my own life. I nearly wept at the closing page, but at the same time felt buoyed by its message. I’d say I thought my reaction to this was just me, but everyone else in my Women’s Prize group also gave the book 5 stars.

Life offers up these moments of joy, despite everything.

Sally Rooney is really something else. I was worried my expectations for her were a bit too high, but she still managed more than I could have even hoped for. I have a copy of Conversations With Friends sitting on my shelf at work that I cannot wait to dig into. If you were thinking about picking up Normal People, I cannot recommend it highly enough.


More Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist reviews:
The Pisces
Ghost Wall
Ordinary People
Circe
Lost Children Archive
Praise Song for the Butterflies
An American Marriage
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Normal People
Freshwater
The Silence of the Girls

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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #13

Tarot Elements
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.

I’ve been meaning to read Kitchen Table Tarot by Melissa Cynova for ages now, so when Destiny let me know that Tarot Elements was available for request on NetGalley, I was stoked. The spreads all seemed immensely helpful and Melissa described their purposes very well in addition to providing some exercises to help you stay in the proper headspace for each element. My only complaint is the specific examples given for each spread. While these were helpful to a certain extent in understanding how the spreads worked, they felt quite repetitive and I ended up skimming through most of them. Regardless, I did enjoy reading through this and will definitely use these techniques in the future!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Squire (Protector of the Small #3)

I’ve been trying to draft a review of this for almost a week, but I’m struggling to piece something together because I feel like I covered it all in my reviews of the first two books! The series continues much as it has been, with Kel experiencing ups and downs and learning along the way, this time as a squire. The big difference here, besides Kel truly getting her feet wet as a soldier, is that we finally have a solid romance plot. Without spoiling anything, my only complaint was that the romance felt a bit abrupt and that I didn’t feel there was much build-up. Other than that, this book was amaaaazing. I finished it in one day, which I haven’t had the energy or focus to do in a while!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Shift (Silo #2)

Shift is book two of the Silo series, which I first devoured in 2014 and which (thankfully) stood up to the test of time, just as Wool did. The best thing about waiting so long to reread these is that I had almost entirely forgotten the specifics of the plot. I was on the edge of my seat all over again, waiting to find out what would happen. While not quite as compelling as the first book and, clocking in at almost 600 pages, just a tad too long for its own good, Shift still stands well as a sequel. We are introduced to some new characters while also getting to know some familiar faces a bit more thoroughly. Any more explanation than that may start heading into spoiler territory, but I will say I was kind of disappointed to see that only men received POV chapters in this one as far as I can recall. If you’ve started the Silo series, I highly recommend continuing. I can’t wait to pick up Dust!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5


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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark [review]

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Published by Harper Collins on February 27, 2018
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 
4.19 (as of 2019-03-14)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer—the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorized California for over a decade—from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.

“You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.”

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.

Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called “the Golden State Killer.” McNamara pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.

At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by McNamara’s lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.


I think almost everyone has heard of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark at this point. It is the true crime book of the last few years. The disturbing, intriguing mystery is enough to pique interest, but Michelle McNamara’s sudden death combined with the fact that the Golden State Killer (aka the East Area Rapist, aka the Original Night Stalker) was arrested shortly after the book’s release makes I’ll Be Gone almost impossible to disregard. I bought a copy of the book back in August and put off reading it for the “right” time, afraid to pick it up for fear it would trigger a bought of paranoia that even a locked door wouldn’t fend off.

There’s a scream permanently lodged in my throat now.

Fortunately, that was not the case. While a decent portion of the book is devoted to the Golden State Killer’s crimes, the focus is more on his methodology than any graphic details. Although, what we are told about is chilling: a startlingly literal form of stalking, wherein the GSK learns every pertinent detail of his victims’ lives so that he might have complete control over them while attacking. Our homes are sacred places to us, and any safety or comfort residents of the communities he attacked may have felt was ripped away from them in the aftermath of these events.

The EAR is a card face down on a table. Our speculation is a cul-de-sac. Round and round we go.

More than the crimes themselves, McNamara focuses in on the process of hunting the GSK. It seemed he foiled investigators at every turn. Even after the study of DNA analysis continued to grow, even when they had multiple samples linking him to countless crimes, they were unable to determine who this man was. Instead of presenting the experiences of faceless cops, McNamara digs deep into the investigators’ involvement and brings them to the forefront as their own fully-fledged selves. We even watch her build personal connections with them as she herself attempts to unveil this masked predator they all have in common.

“Has he ever gone back?” the thirteen-year-old asked the investigators interviewing her after the attack.
“Never,” said the first investigator.
“Never, ever, ever,” said the second.
“The safest house in the area,” said the first.
As if any house was ever going to feel safe again.

In this way, I’ll Be Gone is more than just a compilation of the events and evidence surrounding the Golden State Killer; it is a memoir detailing McNamara’s relationship with the investigation itself. We learn about her life, how her obsession alarms her in the way it mirrors the killer’s own obsessions. We learn where she was when learning vital pieces of information, as well as how deeply she was willing to dig in order to uncover this night terror made real. McNamara was no mere true crime writer; she was truly part of this investigation in a way that few seemed to be.

A ski mask won’t help you now.

The book isn’t perfect, but there’s no way it could have been. Michelle McNamara passed away suddenly while still writing, leaving her editor and friends to piece together her work into what has become its final form. The last part of the book, the shortest, is more of a summary of notes than anything else. But, somehow this works. I shed tears more than once while reading, knowing McNamara was unable to see what had come of her work. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, wrote an afterword that left me absolutely heartbroken. Somehow, the book manages to end on a positive note: a letter from Michelle McNamara to that shadow in the dark, the absolute nightmare of a man who she knew would someday be caught. And knowing that he has been strengthens this letter into the triumphant swan song of a woman who left this world just too soon.


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If, Then [review]

If, Then by Kate Hope Day
To be published by Random House on March 12, 2019
my rating: ★★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 
3.69 (as of 2019-02-21)
cw: infidelity, grief
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. All quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The residents of a sleepy mountain town are rocked by mysterious visions of an alternate reality in this dazzling debut that combines the family-driven suspense of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere with the inventive storytelling of The Immortalists and Station Eleven.

In the quiet mountain haven of Clearing, Oregon, four neighbors find their lives upended when they begin to see themselves in a parallel reality. Ginny, a devoted surgeon whose work often takes precedence over her family, has a baffling vision of her beautiful coworker in her bed, and begins to doubt the solidity of her marriage. Ginny’s husband Mark, a wildlife scientist, sees a vision that suggests impending devastation–and grows increasingly paranoid, threatening the safety of his wife and son. Samara, a young woman desperately mourning the recent death of her mother and questioning why her father seems to be handling it with such ease, witnesses an apparition of her mom healthy and vibrant, and wonders about the secrets her parents may have kept from her. Cass, a brilliant scholar struggling with the demands of new motherhood, catches a glimpse of herself pregnant again, just as she’s on the brink of returning to the project that could define her career.

At first the visions are relatively benign, but they grow increasingly troubling–and in some cases, frightening. When a natural disaster threatens them all, it becomes clear that the visions were not what they first seemed, and that the town of Clearing will never be the same.

Startling, deeply imagined, and compulsively readable, Kate Hope Day’s debut novel is about the choices we make that shape our lives and determine our destinies–the moments that alter us so profoundly that it feels as if we’ve entered another reality.


I’m sure all of us have wondered what if. All those little — and big — choices that we’ve made throughout our lives. What they would have led to, where we’d be today had we chosen a different path. If, Then explores what would happen if we got a glimpse of these once possible other lives. The plot is mostly slow-moving and even when big things happen, the focus is almost entirely on the characters’ internal lives. Kate Hope Day is a remarkably good writer, and I was surprised to find this was her debut novel. She writes flawed, believable characters whose lives you will truly care about. It’s hard to delve too much into without reaching “spoiler” territory, but I’ll try.

She waits for a rush of gratitude for all the good, solid things in her life. But it doesn’t come. Her life will continue just as it is. She’ll go home and figure out what to make for dinner. She’ll have a glass of wine, feed the cats, and talk to Mark about what to do if school is cancelled next week. She’ll iron a shirt for clinic tomorrow.

Ginny was probably my favorite character (although I’m probably biased because she’s queer). She starts out as the stereotypical woman-who-can’t-have-it-all, a surgeon who doesn’t have time for her family, but as her thoughts and experiences are exposed to us she becomes her own person outside of the trope she lives. I do wish that her husband, Mark, had felt a bit more sympathetic to me, but I think that’s also due to some personal bias. It was interesting to see how Ginny’s perception of their relationship seemed to change the nature of the relationship itself, although Mark had something to do with that as well.

She’s not very good at it — loving and being loved.

Samara is deep into mourning the loss of her mother, and I enjoyed seeing their relationship explored in a different way than Ginny and Mark’s. Most would assume that the death of a person ends your relationship with them, but it was clear that Samara’s bond with her mother was able to strengthen even after the death of the latter. I liked how this was displayed, through Samara imagining the things her mother would say and how those things shifted after Samara’s impression of her had changed.

The picture Cass has of herself — it doesn’t match the woman in the rocker at all. When she thinks of herself the picture is colorless, all light eyes and skin and hair. Washed-out. Static. An overdeveloped driver’s license photo that lives permanently in her mind. But this other Cass is a polychromatic wonder. Full of agile, assured movement, even in routine pose. Full of grace.

Last but not least, I just adored Cass and seeing how her relationship with herself changed. Cass is a new mother and former doctorate student who put her studies on hold in order to care for her child. After giving birth, she lost all motivation to write and sees no way of returning to her former life in academia. As someone with depression and chronic fatigue, I can relate to having the need to do something while also lacking the ability to do it. Watching Cass grapple with this internal struggle felt simultaneously saddening and inspiring. With not just Cass, but the entire cast of characters, Day shows that change, even when necessary, is not easy.

What I really loved was the ending. There is a slowly rising wave of emotions building throughout the novel that come to a thrilling climax near the end. The aftermath of this wave is examined in a thoughtful and realistic light, and Day makes no promises of easy happy endings. She recognizes that although things are hopeful for these characters and their futures, difficulties still lie ahead. I’m no longer satisfied by carefree endings and enjoy the more nuanced world Day was able to provide. The journey of these characters is not at an end, and that is made clear to the reader. I put down the book with a surge of emotion, and hope that Day’s next novel will give me a similar experience.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet [review]

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
To be published by Hodder & Stoughton on August 13, 2015 (originally 2014)
my rating: ★★★★ ★
Goodreads avg: 
4.17 (as of 2019-03-05)

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.


I know I’m late to the party on this one, but I’m just glad I finally got around to it. Everyone has been singing praises of The Long Way for what feels like ages, but I kept putting off reading it because for some reason I get intimidated by “hard sci-fi” books even though I almost always end up loving them. Luckily, I managed to win a giveaway thrown by Debbie’s Library back in August, and received a copy of it then! I finally got around to picking it up and wow am I glad I did.

With a terrible silence, the sky ripped open. It swallowed them.
Rosemary looked out the window, and realized that she’d never really seen black before.

As is typical of a longer book with a larger cast, it took me a bit to get into The Long Way. Chambers does a skillful job of introducing us to the world and the characters, but I always get overwhelmed anyway. Once I made it through the first hundred pages or so, I was hooked. The majority of the book takes place aboard a spaceship called The Wayfarer, as the multispecies crew is joined by their newest member, Rosemary. While there’s a decent amount of action, what I really fell in love with was the world and the characters that Chambers has created.

Being alone and untouched… there’s no punishment worse than that.

The characters are all so unique in wonderful ways, but my favorites are definitely Sissix and Rosemary. It felt like Rosemary was our portal into this otherwise foreign world — she had grown up planetside and was unfamiliar with a lot of the ins and outs of space travel (although through her studies she had learned a lot about different alien cultures). This was a nice way to ease the reader in without making it seem like they were being spoon fed every piece of information about the world. Meanwhile, I really loved learning about Sissix’s culture. She comes from a lizard-like bipedal species that’s polyamorous as hell and relies strongly on physical contact to express affection. I found it interesting to learn more about them, and to see how Sissix is able to modify her own methods of socialization in order to mesh better with the crew.

He was not a prisoner of those memories. He was their warden.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg as far as the new species and cultures Chambers has come up with. She’s also able to navigate some interesting ethical dilemmas that may evolve with more progressive technology, such as advanced body modifications, cloning, and the potential rights that could be given to AI. Somehow she can incorporate all these elements without sounding preachy or like she’s squeezing too much into the story.

I’ll never understand how the rest of you expect brand new adults to be able to teach kids how to be people.

Overall, I just loved this book and truly didn’t want it to end. I felt a wild wave of emotions crest over me when I turned the last page, because in a way I was losing some new friends it seemed I had just gotten to know. While I’ve been known to get emotional over books, they rarely make me feel quite this strongly. The Long Way is really something special and I highly recommend picking it up if you’re interested. I just can’t wait to see what Chambers’ other books have in store for me.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #12

An Anonymous Girl
cw: sexual assault, infidelity, domestic abuse
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.

This story starts out with a somewhat intriguing, if not completely exciting, premise. At first it’s difficult to figure out where things are going, but things begin to fall together soon enough — at least, that’s what we think. I was impressed with the twists in this, although the ending does leave something to be desired. I felt things were tied up a little too nicely and a little too quickly, so I didn’t end up feeling very satisfied by it. Overall, though, it’s a quite compelling read and worth picking up.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

If I Was Your Girl
cw: homophobia, transphobia, violent hate crimes, suicide

I’m not planning to write a proper review because it took me forever to read this (because I started it on audiobook, had my hold expire, and then took a while to get the eBook). The audiobook is excellent, so well-narrated. The story itself is great and I loved it. My only nitpick was that the Homecoming scene felt overly convenient and not necessarily super realistic but that’s really quite minor. Overall I’d definitely recommend this!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
cw: racism

While I’m bummed to see this series come to an end (although I believe there is an additional novella out and potentially a new series coming out?), I thought this was a really nice way to wrap things up. I’ve been working my way pretty slowly through the books and left a lot of time between reading each so I wouldn’t binge them and get sick of it (as I’ve been known to do). It’s hard for me to write a traditional review of this, because all I want to do is gush about it. I care so, so deeply about all of these characters and can envision all of their mannerisms and I think Maggie is such a talented writer. She’s definitely going on my must-read list and I’m excited to see what kind of work she has in store for us in the future.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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