Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The Light Brigade [review]

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Published by Saga Press on March 19, 2019
my rating: ★★★ (3 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.96 (as of 2020-07-21)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


“Starting to think communism is better than being dead.”

This was certainly, uh, a novel. This was my last read of the Hugo noms for this year and while I absolutely agree with its inclusion on the list, I can’t say I particularly loved this book. The nonlinear timeline is extremely confusing, in part because this is first person narration and the MC also has no idea what’s going on. It’s also just a confusing concept, period. The lack of linearity and large-ish cast also made it difficult to keep characters straight.

I did find a great deal of it to be compelling enough to keep me glued to my kindle, but also hit some spots where I was ready for us to wrap things up. I’m also not a huge fan of war narratives and felt like it hit a point where Hurley was hitting me over the head with her messages; on the other hand, a lot of the fascist elements were frighteningly timely. There was some interesting stuff done with gender, but I just didn’t get why it was handled the way it was; it would have been far more interesting to have a gender neutral MC than to wait until the final act to reveal the MC’s gender.

I guess I’m just not fully convinced by this one. I’ll definitely be recommending it to hard sci-fi fans and those who like war stories, but it wasn’t a big hit for me.


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a torbie cat looking up happily while sitting next to a copy of The City in the Middle of the Night
Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

The City in the Middle of the Night [review]

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books on February 12, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.56 (as of 2020-06-29)
Spoiler-free review

Would you give up everything to change the world?

Humanity clings to life on January–a colonized planet divided between permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other.

Two cities, built long ago in the meager temperate zone, serve as the last bastions of civilization–but life inside them is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.

Sophie, a young student from the wrong side of Xiosphant city, is exiled into the dark after being part of a failed revolution. But she survives–with the help of a mysterious savior from beneath the ice.

Burdened with a dangerous, painful secret, Sophie and her ragtag group of exiles face the ultimate challenge–and they are running out of time.

Welcome to the City in the Middle of the Night

Goodreads IndieBound | Author’s Website


Part of how they make you obey is by making obedience seem peaceful, while resistance is violent. But really, either choice is about violence, one way or another.

This was such a strange book that felt almost needlessly complicated in some aspects. I could tell that Anders was extremely into her world building but I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for some aspects of it. It reminded me a bit of Amatka: a society filled with unyielding rules. The comparisons largely end there, though.

I never felt strongly connected to any of the characters. Sophie didn’t feel solid enough as a pov character; she never really bypassed concept into full-fledged character for me and I didn’t feel like she had much agency. I struggled similarly with Mouth, who started off as a caricature and morphed into something softer that I didn’t quite understand. I just never felt fully convinced by either of them. The dialogue itself, while largely good, felt stilted in some parts. There were random scenes where I thought, “no one talks like that.”

I really struggled with the message of the story for a bit. It sort of felt like it was trying to push too many storylines together at once. If it was expanded into a series this would have made more sense, but as is it had a kind of claustrophobic feel to it. My mind was constantly dragged in several different directions and I wasn’t really sure what to expect next, but not necessarily in a good way.

I did really admire the way this tackled toxic relationships. Sophie is deeply in love with her best friend Bianca, although seemingly unable to admit it to herself. Bianca is privileged, self-centered, and blind to anything that doesn’t impact her directly. It was frustrating watching Sophie return to Bianca over and over, but it also makes sense in the context of their relationship (until their last meeting — that didn’t make sense to me).

Regardless of my criticisms, this was highly readable and I hope people will still give it a shot. I hit points where I just didn’t want to put the book down because the writing was so compelling and I really wanted to see what would happen next. It’s a good book, but I think cutting down a little would have gone a long way.


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Waking Gods [review]

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel
Published by Del Rey Books on March 13, 2018 (originally 2017)
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.04 (as of 2020-05-18)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website


Well, I’m sorry the apocalypse isn’t convenient for you. Now go to bed.

I literally could not put this down. It was so fun to be thrown back into the Themis Files, but I did struggle a bit with the format. I listened to Sleeping Giants on audiobook, which made it easy to tell the characters apart. The written format made that a bit more difficult, which is frustrating because any easy solution would have been to just write the characters’ names. I also got a little lost in what was going on at times and felt like the ending was… bizarre. It felt kind of thrown together and didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Those few reasons are what knocked an otherwise very compelling read down a star or two.


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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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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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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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Gideon the Ninth [review]

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #1) by Tamsyn Muir
Published by Tor.com on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
4.26 (as of 2020-02-11)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads IndieBound | Author Website

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead. 


“Don’t go down there solo. Don’t die in a bone. I am your creature, gloom mistress. I serve you with fidelity as big as a mountain, penumbral lady.”
Harrow’s eyes flickered open. “Stop.”
I am your sworn sword, night boss.”
“Fine,” said Harrow heavily.

No one is more disappointed than me that I didn’t love this, but there seems to be a pretty firm divide among my Goodreads friends. Some of them love it and some of them seem quite disappointed by it. I hate that I fell into the latter camp on this one. Part of it is probably that this just wasn’t the best time to read it; I just started grad school and have been massively distracted and stressed. But I’m not sure I would have loved this even if I had read it at the best of times.

Gideon is certainly a divisive character and you’ll probably either love her or hate her. She’s obnoxious, annoying, and honestly kind of endearing. It took me a while to warm up to her snark, which had me rolling my eyes at the start of the book but later had me smirking. She’s unapologetically gay as hell and wholly herself and I adore that. Harrow also took a while to grow on me, but I came to love her as well. Their scenes together had me dying after a bit.

The real trouble here for me was the enormous cast of characters. I could not for the life of me tell the necromancers and their cavaliers apart. It didn’t help that everyone was narratively referred to by like four or five different names. There’s a little guide in the front of the book, but that wasn’t much help to me and I would’ve had to take extensive notes had I wanted to really understand. Because of this I was lost so much of the time! I had no idea what the significance of so many events were in part because I had no idea who the hell was participating in each event. I would love certain scenes and feel sure my rating was creeping upward and then would be hit again with something that lost me and made me realize I was not having a great time reading it.

The world-building had me struggling as well. What are the other Houses up to? Where is the Emperor? Who is this big, giant war against? We are clearly seeing the tiniest bit of a giant universe that I know nothing about. I assume that’s in part because Gideon doesn’t know much — that’s why I didn’t have much of a problem with the lack of explanation around magic, which she just kind of knows exists but doesn’t know anything about — but clearly she knows enough to want to go fight in this war against… who?

I dunno y’all, I can easily see how people love this but it was decidedly not for me.


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Mini-Review Compilation #18

Dead Astronauts

I don’t know if this book and I were ever going to get along. I’m a huge Jeff VanderMeer fan, but didn’t initially realize this was set in the Borne universe. Borne wasn’t bad, but I just didn’t end up loving it. From what I read, the connections seem pretty loose — same universe, different characters. There is just so MUCH going on here that at 27% in I had no idea what I was reading. The prose was gorgeous, but I struggled to follow the plot. This book is going to make you work, and I cautiously recommend it to those who are up for the challenge.

Rating: DNF

In the House in the Dark of the Woods

I honestly have no idea what this book was trying to accomplish. It starts off as a lighthearted fairytale of sorts and turns into…? It alternated between dry and confusing, sometimes both. There was one point where I thought I genuinely liked it and thought it had a great ending — until I realized I had only hit the 75% mark and had to muddle through to the true ending. This had the potential to say so much about abuse and trauma, which I thought was its purpose for a while, but it ended up being a bit of a meandering mess that I genuinely regret spending my time on.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

I can definitely appreciate the points this book hit, but it just didn’t vibe with me very well! It’s a relatively quick read and I certainly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in it, though. As a YA book, it touches on a lot of important issues from abortion to drug addiction to teen pregnancy. One of my issues was that I felt like it was trying to touch on too many things and thus lacked a bit in focus. I’d also look up trigger warnings for this beforehand, as there are a lot of potentially upsetting topics at hand. My final criticism is that it read more like a MG book than a YA book as far as voice goes. I kept surprising myself when Gabi would say something about graduating from high school or applying to college because I honestly kept thinking she was 13.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


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Mini-Review Compilation #17

The Abyss Surrounds Us

This was a fun book! Sapphic pirates and sea monsters galore. I had a fun time with it overall and really appreciated that the power discrepancy in the romance was explicitly acknowledged. There were some bits that could have used some more fleshing out or revision (stuff like, “she suddenly stopped paying attention to me” followed a page later by “she was spending more time with me to make up for not paying attention to me” with no reasoning or resolution?) but it is a debut novel. I’m hoping to get to the sequel soon!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Buddhism without Beliefs

This was not a complete waste of time, but was close to it. The book detaches buddhism from religion and formats it not as a belief system, but a certain way of living. At first, I was really impressed with the ideas presented and felt I was getting a lot out of it. According to Dealing with “anguish” seems to be hinged on creating a perspective in which all is temporary: our “cravings” have not always existed, thus they will not always exist. It is turning our feelings into things we can watch ebb and flow rather than something that will overtake us entirely. Action is repeatedly emphasized as the key to dharma practice.

The formatting of the book seems to be without logical flow; it felt more like a general rambling than something coherently laid out. The chapters themselves confused me, as I felt like the author was talking himself around ideas and as soon as he began to approach what I thought was the point, the chapter would end unceremoniously. It was frustrating, since it started out explaining so many interesting ideas only to turn into something unstructured and unhelpful. It seems this may have made a better essay than an entire book. Also, the author is weirdly obsessed with someone they call S, who they refer to as their enemy and who apparently riles them up often. It was strangely distracting.

Rating: ⭐⭐

The Widow of Pale Harbor

After enjoying The Witch of Willow Hall, I was quite excited for this one. Unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to expectations. I had difficulty connecting with the characters and was completely unmotivated to finish. I finally decided to put it down in favor of reading something I’d feel more excited about.

Rating: DNF


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The Sea Beast Takes a Lover [review]

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The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen
Expected publication by Dutton Books on February 27, 2018
240 pages.
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
goodreads avg: 
3.95
cw: see review

Spoiler-free Review of an eARC provided by NetGalley.

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GoodreadsIndieBound 

Bewitching and playful, with its feet only slightly tethered to the world we know, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover explores hope, love, and loss across a series of surreal landscapes and wild metamorphoses. Just because Jenny was born without a head doesn’t mean she isn’t still annoying to her older brother, and just because the Man of the Future’s carefully planned extramarital affair ends in alien abduction and network fame doesn’t mean he can’t still pine for his absent wife. Romping through the fantastic with big-hearted ease, these stories cut to the core of what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing, whether in the form of a lovesick kraken slowly dragging a ship of sailors into the sea, a small town euthanizing its grandfathers in a time-honored ritual, or a third-grade field trip learning that time travel is even more wondrous–and more perilous–than they might imagine.

Andreasen’s stories are simultaneously daring and deeply familiar, unfolding in wildly inventive worlds that convey our common yearning for connection and understanding. With a captivating new voice from an incredible author, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover uses the supernatural and extraordinary to expose us at our most human.

From the instant I saw the cover, I knew I just HAD to read this book. It had already been on my TBR when I stumbled across it on Netgalley and slammed the request button reflexively. I love bizarro short stories, I love cephalopods, and I love anything with an octopus on the cover.

Unfortunately, these stories just didn’t mesh well with me. It wasn’t a bad read, it just wasn’t anything over-the-top outstanding. If you’re interested, I’d say give it a shot regardless. Michael Andreasen is a talented writer and I’m intrigued to see what else he comes out with!

Below I’ve rated and provided content warnings for each of the individual stories.

Our Fathers at Sea ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Bodies in Space ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The Sea Beast Takes a Lover ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
The King’s Teacups at Rest ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
He is the Rainstorm and the Sandstorm, Hallelujah, Hallelujah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Rockabye, Rocketboy ⭐️⭐️ 
(cw porn, pedophilia, stalking)
The Saints in the Parlor ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Andy, Lord of Ruin ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw animal abuse/animal death)
Jenny ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 
(cw assault)
Rite of Baptism ⭐️⭐️
Blunderbuss ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Avg: 3.36 rounded down to 3

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(Covers and blurb courtesy of Goodreads.)