Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Ballad of Black Tom [review]

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Published by Tor.com on February 16, 2016
my rating: ★★.5 (2.5 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.89 (as of 2020-07-11)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


I’ll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.

I buddy read this with Hadeer, who enjoyed it and wrote a much more thorough review than I did. Go check hers out!

This is a retelling of one of Lovecraft’s stories, which I have not read. Lovecraft himself is infamously racist, so LaValle’s retelling is a commentary on racism. What I found myself most struck by was how some of the explicitly racist bits could have been pulled straight out of today’s world even though the story takes place some 100 years ago. I found myself absolutely horrified by one scene, only to immediately see how it is paralleled by stories in the news today. But while I appreciated LaValle’s commentary, I couldn’t connect to the character’s or the story itself and had a difficult time feeling invested in the novella. I’ll still be recommending it to others, and am glad to see most people have enjoyed it more than I did.


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Blanca & Roja [review]

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Feiwel & Friends on October 9, 2018
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.80 (as of 2020-07-05)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


My first read for Transathon! Anna-Marie McLemore is nonbinary and one of the main characters is a trans boy whose pronouns are both she/her and he/him.

While I enjoyed this, I wish I had liked it more! I thought that it was trying to do a little too much at once and subsequently ended up a bit scattered. The characters and their relationships really made the read worth it, but I was mainly confused about the magical realism element and felt like the ‘rules’ were kind of arbitrary. I also never felt a real sense of danger and thus wasn’t too invested in the swan aspect of the storyline. I definitely felt a lot could have been cut out of this to make it more enthralling. As a sidenote, I really liked the menstruation rep! Roja has heavy, painful periods and I appreciated their inclusion, although it also felt a bit heavy-handed at times.


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Mini-Review Compilation #21

Foul is Fair

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.

She looks at the bruises on my neck and the scratches across my face, but she doesn’t say anything.
So I point at my hair, and I say, This color. Know what it’s called?
She shakes her head: No.
I say, REVENGE.
She says, Good girl. Kill him.

This is the revenge story I’ve been dreaming about for ages and it was great. Apparently a Macbeth retelling (I am wholly unfamiliar with Macbeth), this was bloody as hell and pulled no punches. While ultimately an enjoyable read, both Jade and her coven were so cold and heartless that nothing about this felt realistic. Occasionally it felt a little repetitive and there were points where I just wanted to see where things would go. So while I would recommend this and am glad I read it, I’d also say it’s not necessarily a perfect read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

The Roanoke Girls

This was really not what I was expecting, although not to the book’s detriment. What I thought would be more paranormal YA turned out to be an adult thriller. This is a tense story about some pretty serious topics and is masterfully woven throughout multiple timelines. Sometimes I find this confusing, but I felt it was extremely clear when we were in the story and was able to keep each point in time separate in my mind. The characters are all distinct and pretty fully fleshed out. I liked how dubious Lane’s morals felt at times and thought her character was handled well overall. Overall this was a pretty compelling read whose only downfall was that it sometimes felt pretty far-fetched. I’d definitely recommend it to those who can handle the content.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pucked (Pucked #1)

Picked this up hoping for a fun, distracting romance and ended up having to DNF. The main character is SO childish and I struggled with the immaturity a lot. I didn’t feel any chemistry between Violet and Alex and the writing also wasn’t great enough to warrant continuing. What really pushed me over the edge was the *incessant* slut-shaming. Violet never stops putting down other women, assuming the worst of them, and thinking them terrible for… wanting to sleep with hockey players. Take a chill pill and get over yourself.

Rating: DNF


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And I Do Not Forgive You [review]

And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks
To be published by Liveright on February 11, 2020
my rating: DNF
Goodreads avg:
3.7 (as of 2020-01-27)
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


I unfortunately only made it through 50% of this before DNFing. I think the title and cover art made me think this would be more about revenge than it was. The stories here felt largely unrelated to that and were also so frustrating to read. Either a story would feel unfinished altogether, cutting off where it felt like it was just starting, or I would feel completely uninvested until the last paragraph, having it end just as I was getting excited. I hadn’t realized going in that I had tried to read another of Amber Sparks’ collections and DNFed that as well for similar reasons, so I think her work just isn’t for me. Below are my ratings and minor comments for the stories I did end up reading:

Mildly Unhappy, with Moments of Joy, ⅘. thought i would cry at the end.
You Won’t Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women, 2.5/5.
A Place for Hiding Precious Things, ⅗.
Everyone’s a Winner in Meadow Park, 2.5/5. felt unfinished, didn’t get invested until the very last page and then wanted more.
A Short and Slightly Speculative History of Lavoisier’s Wife, ⅕.
We Destroy the Moon, ⅖.
In Which Athena Designs a Video Game with the Express Purpose of Trolling Her Father, ⅖.
Is the Future a Nice Place for Girls, ⅖.


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Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #19

Ella Enchanted
Spoilers!

I haven’t read this in I don’t know how many years, but it holds up! I’ve been in a mini-slump recently but was able to slam through this old favorite. There were parts where I actually found myself laughing out loud. Ella’s humor is so great. Really my only complaint is that Ella is canonically unable to save herself but can save… a dude she’s in love with. Not my favorite trope, and not my favorite message to send (that a man is more important than you, even though I’m sure it wasn’t intended to come across that way).

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (reread)

Far From You
Minor spoilers!

Me during the first 95% of this book: Yeah this is good I guess
Me during the last 5%: [sobbing, but make it queer]

Anyway, this was pretty much your typical YA thriller. The writing was a little hit-or-miss at times but it was a mostly entertaining read. It went a little hard on the internalized homophobia and I kind of hated the deceased best friend because of how she treated the main character. Their relationship was way more toxic than it was cute. She was redeemed somewhat toward the end, but that didn’t really undo all the time she spent treating people poorly? Feel free to pick this up if you’re interested, but I’d keep expectations low.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Grownup

Not perfect, but definitely a pretty great short story! It was just lengthy enough to get me invested, and the twist did take me by surprise. This is probably my favorite piece by Gillian Flynn so far. My only complaint is that the ending seemed a bit silly and abrupt, but I have no regrets reading this.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


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The Silence of the Girls [review]

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Published by Doubleday Books on September 4, 2018
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.88 (as of 2019-05-22)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army. 

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.

Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.


I didn’t feel like anything that might have a name.

I had quite high hopes for The Silence of the Girls, which unfortunately just weren’t met. The best way to describe my reading experience is resounding apathy. Feeling apathetic whilst reading about a woman taken into slavery during war seems wrong, but here we are. I’d attribute this to a few things: the fact that I hadn’t read The Iliad before, the standoffish way I felt the story was narrated, and the fact that the POVs were not limited to Briseis, or even only to women.

I mentioned my lukewarm reading experience to Rachel, who noted that she wasn’t sure how much this book would hold for someone who wasn’t very familiar with The Iliad. While I knew bits and pieces of the story, my knowledge was really limited to its portrayal in The Song of Achilles as well as whatever I had picked up through osmosis throughout my life. As such, this was less of a retelling for me and more, well, a telling. On its own, I’m not sure the story stands as well as it would if I had more of a background with its greater context.

So we spent the nights curled up like spiders at the centre of our webs. Only we weren’t the spiders; we were the flies.

Briseis herself is quite terse throughout her narration. While she slips into emotional points, I found myself feeling untouched for most of the book. I’m certain others may disagree with me here, and I definitely think that this is quite a subjective opinion on my part. And I understand how this can be demonstrative of what she’s gone through — trauma can make or break us, and it’s clear that the Trojan women must put up walls in order to make it through the war without breaking entirely. I just wish I could’ve seen this in a way that didn’t make me feel distant from her as well.

Lastly, I was really drawn to this story as giving a voice to women traditionally silenced. So much of the focus of history is on the heroism of men and very little is on the women who they have been supported by, or who they trod on. And yet more than once the point of view is handed to Achilles, the very man who is actively oppressing Briseis. Whatever reason this may have been for, I didn’t feel that it enhanced the story for me. Quite the opposite, the first time it happened I felt jerked out of whatever immersion I was experiencing and had to reread a bit to ensure it was really happening. Each time thereafter it felt out of place and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like had the book kept its focus on Briseis, or at least stuck to the perspectives of the women.

Now he can see what he’s been trying to do: to bargain with grief. Behind all this frenetic activity there’s been the hope that if he keeps his promises there’ll be no more pain. But he’s beginning to understand that grief doesn’t strike bargains.

Criticisms aside, I can see why others enjoyed this. I can certainly see why it was included on the Women’s Prize shortlist. I wish that my experience with it had been better, but alas. While it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I do recommend trying it out if it seems to interest you. Particularly if you have more of a history with Greek mythology than I do! Hopefully my next pick off the Women’s Prize list treats me a bit better.


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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