Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #22

Gone at Midnight

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 kept trying to push myself to pick this up, but just couldn’t press any further. The writing leaves a lot to be desired; I didn’t feel engaged with the content at any point. It really felt like the author was just regurgitating info they found online, and jumping from topic to topic without much of an idea of where they’re going.

There were several points at which I had to wonder how much independent research they had really done. One of these involved a quote from Elisa’s tumblr, where some thought she could have been commenting on graffiti from the roof. But I recognized it right away — it’s literally a quote from the Game of Thrones books. Could she have just been reading asoiaf? Yes! There’s no way for me to know whether the author knew this but either they intentionally left it out to make it look like Elisa had written it herself or they didn’t do the bare minimum of research it would take to realize this was a popular quote from a popular book series.

Regardless, I just didn’t feel like putting time in energy into reading a book I wasn’t at all enjoying.

Rating: DNF @ 15%

Face Off

pros:
-quick read
-mostly fun

cons:
-biphobic mc; assumed another wlw must be a lesbian and later said that she thought her ex (who she had dated for YEARS) who left her for a man was just a straight woman looking to experiment with “a dyke”
-the premise itself didn’t make that much sense to me (two people obviously into each other decide to fake date instead of just… dating)
-using an abusive stalker ex for drama
-mc has a homophobic teammate for ?? no reason, just more drama i guess even tho nothing comes of it
-editing issues (inconsistent timelines, mixed up names, etc)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️.5

The Outsider

This was a really great read, especially after I struggled so much with Mr. Mercedes. We run into just a couple of the same issues — namely, King’s obsession with Holly taking Lexapro (yes, Holly makes an appearance!). It was kind of funny to see Holly saying she absolutely could NOT drink because of her Lexapro when just about everyone I know who is on it drinks to no ill effect. Regardless, I thought this was a pretty clever way of doing the shapeshifter trope. As I began it, I thought “wait, how is he going to do this in a creative way?” but he really pulled it off. This was quite the spooky read and I had to put it down a few times while reading it alone at night. My only real complaint is that things kind of fell apart in the finale and I felt dissatisfied at the ending. Regardless, I highly recommend this but do be forewarned that there are major spoilers for the Bill Hodges trilogy. While it is not necessary to read the trilogy before this, do NOT read this first if you do plan to read the trilogy.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


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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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Vampires in the Lemon Grove [review; reread]

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Published by Vintage on January 14, 2014 (originally 2013)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.68 (as of 2020-02-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Within these pages, a community of girls held captive in a Japanese silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms and plot revolution; a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow that bears an uncanny resemblance to a missing classmate that they used to torment; a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West has grave consequences; and in the marvelous title story, two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try to slake their thirst for blood and come to terms with their immortal relationship.


I’m honestly devastated that I didn’t enjoy this more, considering I had originally given it five stars. This is one of those rare (for me) instances where re-reading is not necessarily a good idea. Interestingly, the stories I don’t remember liking much were my favorites on this readthrough, and vice-versa. It’s interesting to see how my reading tastes have changed over time, and this is very indicative of that. I wish I had read the rest of Russell’s bibliography around the first time I read this, as I think her writing isn’t really for me anymore and it would have been nice to experience it when it was.

By this time we’d found a dirt cellar in which to live in Western Australia, where the sun burned through the clouds like dining lace. That sun ate lakes, rising out of dead volcanoes at dawn, triple the size of a harvest moon and skull-white, a grass-scorcher. Go ahead, try to walk into that sun when you’ve been told your bones are tinder.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

Vampires in the Lemon Grove 4/5
Reeling for the Empire 5/5
The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979 3/5
Proving Up 2.5/5
The Barn at the End of Our Term 2/5
Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating 2/5
The New Veterans 3/5
The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis 4/5

He couldn’t remember the last time he had acted without reservation on a single desire.

The average rating for these is 3.19, which I rounded down to 3. While there were a couple strong stories in here, the ones that didn’t work for me really stood out. I will mention that Reeling for the Empire is an incredible read. I think before I had even read this collection the first time, I had heard an audio version of the story — meaning this is my third time “reading” it and I still loved it. It becomes more meaningful to me each time.

I was glad he was afraid–I hadn’t known that you could feel so grateful to a friend, for living in fear with you. Fear was otherwise a very lonely place.

There is nothing wrong per se with the stories I didn’t like, and it’s certainly all personal preference. I found the stories I rated on the lower end either needlessly goofy or uncompelling. Proving Up in particular has a lot of promise but unfortunately fell flat for me. I’d definitely recommend this collection to people who like “weird” short fiction, though. There are a lot of fantastic elements that I would say could be categorized as magical realism. If you’ve enjoyed more of Russell’s work, you’ll probably like this and if not, then I doubt you will.


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Mini-Review Compilation #20

You Are Not Alone

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 wish I had much to say about this, but I don’t. I’m sure this will satisfy a lot of people as an entertaining thriller. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the plot was compelling and thought that Shay was sort of a weak, boring character. Usually thrillers have me desperate for answers, even if they’re lacking otherwise, but I didn’t have that experience here. It was readable enough for me to finish, but I think the biggest issue is that I didn’t feel a sense of urgency; I felt sure Shay would get out of this mess and instead of worrying for her, I just waited to see what would happen. The only piece I really liked was the running theme of statistics. Shay is a big and I loved the data book she kept. Clearly I’m in the minority on this though, and it is great that the somewhat large cast is almost entirely female.

Rating: ⭐⭐.5

Enduring Love

Objectively, I can see the appeal to this. It is generally well-written and there are some interesting aspects to it. Unfortunately, it totally lost me. I found myself mostly bored and not caring enough about the outcome to bother picking it up unless I had nothing else to do. I can certainly see this working for other people, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

Rating: ⭐⭐

Penance

This was, uh, strange. I struggled with it a lot and am not sure if that’s due to the writing itself or things getting lost in translation. The tone felt strangely monotone, which made it difficult for me to fully engage with the story. I also struggled to differentiate all the characters — partly because of the flat tone and partly because I felt like I was constantly having names thrown at me. I wish I had enjoyed this more because the format was interesting, as was the story itself. It will definitely stick with me, but it wasn’t something I really enjoyed reading.

Rating: ⭐⭐


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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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Dead of Winter [review]

Dead of Winter by Kealan Patrick Burke
Self-published on December 11, 2018 (originally 2010)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.20 (as of 2019-12-24)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Winter it’s coming… it’s already here, and with it comes a horror no door can keep out. It’s there in the yard, in the faces of the snowmen a young boy doesn’t remember building. It’s in the oddly empty streets below Santa Claus’s crumbling sleigh. It’s in the unnatural movement of the snow that suffocates a widower’s town, and in the cold eyes of a lonely man’s estranged children.

Here, there is no holiday cheer, only spine-chilling fear, in the DEAD OF WINTER.


This was my first time reading Kealan Patrick Burke and in all honesty, I was pretty disappointed. This collection had an average of 4.2 on Goodreads, so I was expecting something rather spectacular. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it certainly fell short of what I was hoping for. This is a rather short book (only 96 pages!) containing 7 short stories. I think that part of the issue for me is that it’s difficult to fully develop a story in so few pages. Some stories did remarkably well considering their length, but others just didn’t do much for me.

My ratings for each story are as follows:

  • Snowmen 3.5/5
  • Doomsday Father Christmas 2/5 
  • Black Static 2/5 
  • Visitation Rights 4/5
  • Home 4.5/5
  • The Quiet 3/5 
  • They Know 4/5 

Which comes to an average of 3.29. Like I said, not a bad rating by any means. My favorites, as you can probably tell, were Visitation Rights, Home, and They Know. In particular, Home went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and really hit me in the gut, as did Visitation Rights. They Know was the longest story in the collection and its length allowed for a lot more development of the story and the characters. A couple of the stories have tugged at the back of my brain in the couple days since I’ve finished the book, which I always take to be a good sign as well.

I have to wonder if this was just a poor introduction to Burke’s work for me, and think that may be the case. When I love short story collections, I really love them, but others can fall flat easily. This unfortunately settled into the latter category. I had a similar reaction to Paul Tremblay’s book of short stories recently, but I love his novels from what I’ve read. So I’ll definitely be picking up more of Burke’s work, even if this set of stories didn’t work very well for me personally.


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Into the Water [review]

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Published by Riverhead Books on May 2, 2017
my rating: ★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.56 (as of 2019-12-18)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from–a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface–you never know what lies beneath.


Into the Water follows a multitude of characters in small-town England following the death of one of the town’s inhabitants. Only, as it turns out, many others had perished in a similar way. I did find this quite engrossing at first. The mystery was intriguing and the backstory that was being slowly revealed was enough to keep me interested. I initially thought that what the novel was trying to say was good — something about how women have been dismissed and disposed in similar ways over time. 

Part of where things fell apart for me was the large cast of characters. I found it somewhat difficult to follow who was who, and would get thrown out of the story while I tried to remember. There was also a plotline about rape that I just didn’t love. I recognize that this is certainly more of a personal opinion rather than anything else, but I felt that it was handled sort of strangely and the message that it was trying to relay, while commendable in nature, came across as flat and trying too hard. There is a way to discuss and portray the nature of victim-blaming and coming to terms with assault without throwing it in your audience’s face that you’re doing so, which is what I felt like happened here.

Another very specific thing I disliked was that there was one queer character whose queer identity was not known until near the end of the novel, where another character viciously outed them using slurs. This happened in a single paragraph and was never acknowledged again. I wouldn’t even deign to say that this has lgbtq rep, as it is so brief and poorly used — it is literally for shock value.

Aside from the few points above, I can see why people would enjoy this. As a thriller it’s decent and the red herrings make it quite difficult to pinpoint exactly what is going on until the end. It’s another book that I wouldn’t outright recommend, but also wouldn’t necessarily dissuade anyone from reading unless anything I’ve mentioned sounds like a dealbreaker to you.


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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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There There [review]

There There by Tommy Orange
Published by Knopf on June 5, 2018
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.99 (as of 2019-11-16)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid–tied to the back of everything we’d been doing all along to get us here. There will be death and playing dead, there will be screams and unbearable silences, forever-silences, and a kind of time-travel, at the moment the gunshots start, when we look around and see ourselves as we are, in our regalia, and something in our blood will recoil then boil hot enough to burn through time and place and memory. We’ll go back to where we came from, when we were people running from bullets at the end of that old world. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, that we’ve been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers.


Tommy Orange springs forth with a marvelous debut novel that falls just a bit short of its potential. There’s a lot here that works, but also some that doesn’t. It’s weakness to me was the breadth of characters. Perhaps this is a personal shortcoming of mine: I struggle with books that host a large cast of characters. I feel it’s difficult to balance so many personalities while also keeping them all memorable and fully-formed. While Orange succeeds at the latter, I found the constant switches in perspective complicated and was always a step behind in remembering each character’s earlier chapter.

There were some bits I really loved: the nonfiction interludes were fascinating and eye-opening to me as someone who really knows minimal information about the history of Native Americans. It made me want to go out and grab some full-length nonfiction books in order to supplement my knowledge — which I plan to do now. It also brought me awareness of urban American Indians, which I had known little to nothing about previously. The way the characters’ lives overlapped, whether a little or a lot, was interesting to see as well. Sometimes it was played more subtly than others, and I think with fewer characters to follow it would have had a much larger impact on me.

And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?

The way Orange directed the tone of the story was also interesting. I started off having truly no idea where things would be going. The tension picks up so slowly that once you realize it’s there, you have to wonder when it started. By the end of the book I was bracing myself for an impact that I knew would come — I just didn’t know when, or how it would resolve. I do have mixed feelings on the ending, which I felt was somewhat abrupt, but I’m not sure I have an alternate to propose.

TL;DR: While this book was highly commendable in many ways, the number of POVs just didn’t work for me.


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Half Way Home [review]

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey
Published by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on October 1, 2019 (originally 2010)
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 
3.72 (as of 2019-11-05)
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.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

WE WOKE IN FIRE 
Five hundred colonists have been sent across the stars to settle an alien planet. Vat-grown in a dream-like state, they are educated through simulations by an artificial intelligence and should awaken at thirty years old, fully-trained, and ready to tame the new world.

But fifteen years in, an explosion on their vessel kills most of the homesteaders and destroys the majority of their supplies. Worse yet, the sixty that awaken and escape the flames are only half-taught and possess the skills least useful for survival.

Naked and terrified, the teens stumble from their fiery baptism ill-prepared for the unfamiliar and harsh alien world around them. Though they attempt to work with the colony A.I. to build a home, tension and misery are rampant, escalating into battles for dominance.

Soon they find that their worst enemy isn’t the hostile environment, the A.I., or the blast that nearly killed them. Their greatest danger is each other.


Half Way Home was originally published in 2010 but was recently re-released. I’ve consistently enjoyed a lot of Hugh Howie’s books so I was excited to pick up this one, which was no exception. Quite an original concept, Half Way Home explores the potential future of space colonization. Colonists are sent to planets and raised sleeping in vats as an AI sets up the start of the colony. After 30 years, the colonists awaken fully-grown, trained, and ready to take over. In Half Way Home something has gone wrong, and the colonists are awakened early. They must figure out how to make it without their full training program and without all of the resources they were supposed to have.

While it had a lot of potential, this really just missed the mark for me. There were a lot of interesting bits — in particular, the flora and fauna unique to this new planet — but there wasn’t enough to impress me. It felt like there was just something… missing, and I felt a bit let down by the ending. Part of this can probably be chalked up to a lack of proper world-building. Howey definitely has skill when it comes to building a sci-fi world (Wool speaks to that), but there was a lot here that felt like it should have been expanded upon. I just never felt fully convinced by the environment he had created here. It felt so limited; we’re only really introduced to a couple of new species with the implication being that they are the only ones.

Besides that, I felt really uncomfortable about the characterization of the main character. He’s gay, and the “hints” towards it are quite heavy-handed. He’s also often likened to a woman and is made fun of by the other characters for being a “sissy.” This isn’t at all challenged or addressed, and doesn’t do much except play into existing stereotypes. There’s also a love triangle that doesn’t really get resolved; the drama with it feels forced and even the main character admits that it’s ridiculous to think so much about dating when lives are on the line.

For all my criticisms, this is a pretty enjoyable read. I ended up getting sucked in whenever I’d pick it up, and had no problem jumping back into the story. The pacing is good and I was always intrigued to see what would happen next — even if it didn’t seem like much would. Overall, this is a decent sci-fi novel, but nothing I’ll be scrambling to recommend.


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