Title: The Witch’s Heart
Author: Genevieve Gornichec
Page Count: 368
Publishing Date/Publisher: February 9, 2021 by Ace Books
Review: For people who loved Circe (*cough* me *cough* *cough*), this is a very strong readalike. The core of the story is very similar to Circe – it’s about a powerful witch living in relative isolation, who still manages to create meaningful relationships and build a family, all while struggling to stay out of the reach of wrathful gods – but the filler is quite different. The children and romantic relationships are entirely different, and the ending is quite different as well. I am a big fan of fiction rooted in mythology, and I was very pleased with this author’s take on Angrboda’s story. Not much mention is made of her in Norse mythology, aside from her being noted as Loki’s mate and the mother of his three monstrous children, so I really like seeing her story fleshed out and made whole. I am very excited to start recommending this book to readers once it is published.
Title: Such a Fun Age
Author: Kiley Reid
Performer: Nicole Lewis
Length: 9 hr, 58 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2019 by Books on Tape
Review: It took me a long time to decide how I feel about this book, and to be honest I still don’t really know. Lewis is a fantastic writer, so I didn’t dislike the book, but at the same time I felt very unfulfilled by it. She addresses some very timely topics, yet in the end I did not really take anything away from story. I found many of the conversations between characters to be very cringey (probably intentionally so) and the twist at the end was not as shocking as I think it was intended to be. Some elements of the story were interesting, however, I don’t think this book will be one that sticks with me in the years to come.
Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Performer: George Guidall
Length: 9 hr, 39 min
Series: Hainish Cycle, Book 4
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Recorded Books
Review: There are a few prolific science fiction writers that I have had on my TBR list for some time, and Ursula K. Le Guin is one of them. I decided to tackle The Left Hand of Darkness because of it’s many awards and stellar reviews. Unfortunately, despite it’s many accolades, I did not personally enjoy it. I do, however, understand why it has received the praise bestowed upon it. It is a rather revolutionary work, both for the time it was written and the current time, and it is deeply philosophical….too philosophical for me. Although I do like a book that expands my thinking, I found it to be boring. Gethen as a setting sounds like my personal hell – cold and icy. The ambisexual nature of the native people was interesting, but there was not any particular character that I especially liked. The pacing of the book is hard to describe because to me it felt slow in some parts and rushed in others. All things considered, it is unlikely that I will read anymore books by Le Guin, but nevertheless I can say that I truly appreciate what she has done for the science fiction genre.
Title: By Sea & Sky: An Esowon Story
Author: Antoine Bandele
Performer: John Rogers
Length: 9 hr, 56 min
Series: The Sky Pirate Chronicles, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by Audible Audio
Review: This really may be a matter of personal preference, but this book had far too much action and not enough plot/character development for my tastes. In my mind, it was kind of the equivalent of one of those action packed movies that has so many explosions you eventually become unaffected by them. The battle sequences were so long, that rather than finding them thrilling, I just wanted to move on with the story. I was thoroughly unsatisfied with the backstories for Karim and Zala, and therefore had difficulty connecting with them as characters. The past is referenced often, but not in much detail, so the picture of how we got to this place of conflict is unclear. In short, I liked the concept of this book far more than the execution.
I listened to this book in audiobook format and I thought the performer did a good job even though I wasn’t really feeling the storyline.
Title: Kingdom of Ash
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Page Count: 984
Series: Throne of Glass, Book 7
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 23, 2018 by Bloomsbury YA
Review: At this point in the game, I know exactly what I am getting into each time I pick up a Sarah J. Maas book. Kingdom of Ash was what I expected it to be in nearly every way, and I am totally ok with that. It was a satisfying ending to an epic saga (roughly 7,000 pages!). I think it is safe to say at this point that I am a dedicated Sarah J. Maas fan. Her writing is not perfect by any means, but I know that any book I pick up by her will be engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.
Title: Felix Ever After
Author: Kacen Callender
Page Count: 368
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 5, 2020 by Balzer + Bray
Review: First off, can we take a minute to appreciate that cover…gorgeous! I would have picked this book up for the cover alone if it wasn’t already in my TBR pile as a Mock Printz Committee selection. In the novel, Felix is an artist with a penchant for painting self-portraits. I like to think that this would have been one of those portraits.
But anywhoo, this book was a nice coming-of-age story filled to the brim with tropes. Misunderstood teenager? check. Angsty art school students? check. Mysterious online admirer? check. Confusing feelings about an attractive best friend? check.
Tropes aren’t necessarily a strike against a novel. When done well I enjoy them, however, I can’t say that about all the tropes in this book. I thought the romance angle in particular was weak. There was a weird quasi-love triangle that I didn’t feel did justice to either of the love interests. I could have cared less if Felix ended up either or neither of them.
So in summary, do not read this book for the romance, but rather for the character arc of a trans teen achieving self-acceptance and figuring out that it is ok to not have it all figured out.
Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Page Count: 439
Series: The Hunger Games, Book 0
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 19, 2020
Review: It has taken me awhile to write this review, mostly because I have had a hard time coming to terms with how I feel about this book. To say that I was a fan of The Hunger Games series would be a huge understatement…I was obsessed. I thought about it night and day as I blazed through the series. Nearly every other aspect of my life was put on hold, and when the first movie was released in theaters, I immediately bought a ticket and showed up in full Capitol inspired regalia. I talked to anyone who would listen about it, and religiously followed several fan blogs. All that said, I was positively tickled when I saw that Suzanne Collins would be writing a prequel. I was a little apprehensive when I read the initial synopsis, but I do love a good villain origin story, so I figured it couldn’t be bad.
I was wrong. So, so wrong. In fact, when I finally finished, my first thought was: WTF did I just read? I am completely confused about what the author was attempting to do with this story. Origin stories, when done right, can lend so much perspective to the actions of a villain. This did not happen at all with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Instead of adding more depth to the character of Coriolanus Snow, it made him seem shallow and his nature was constantly portrayed in contradiction of itself. Everything he loves, he also seems to hate, and this is very confusing as a reader because his motives are even murkier than his character. The romance was disturbing and felt very “off” to me. This particular aspect of the story resulted in an ending that was bizarre to say the least. I was left with an overall feeling of disquiet when I finished, and I am not sure if this was or was not the authors intent.
The only thing I enjoyed about this reading experience was looking for the little Easter eggs and THG tie-ins woven throughout the storyline. There were enough of them that I decided to give this book a two star rating instead of a one.
Title: Second Chance Summer
Author: Morgan Matson
Page Count: 468
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 8, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Review: If you love nostalgic beach/lake house in the summer vibes, this book is for you. It is a sweet story filled with friendship, romance, and above all, family. True to it’s title, this story is all about second chances. So if you are into that sort of thing, check it out. I personally found it to be an enjoyable summer read. I didn’t have to think too hard and I was satisfied by the ending. It had a tone very similar to The Summer I Turned Pretty (just with less angst), so I would definitely recommend it as a read-alike to Jenny Han fans.
Title: House of Earth and Blood
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Page Count: 803
Series: Crescent City, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 3, 2020 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Review: When I heard that Sarah J. Maas was officially taking the leap into New Adult/Adult Fiction, I was dying to get a copy of this book. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but darn it, Maas exceeded my expectations. I LOVED this book. In fact, I think that New Adult Fiction is really her jam. Considering that her YA series have a tendency to tip into this realm, it wasn’t really that much of a leap, but I am glad she finally just stopped flirting with that line and crossed it.
Maas has a lot of dark content in her YA books, and this book goes just a bit darker. It has been awhile since a book has made me cry, and more than once this book had me in tears. Two scenes in particular were just so damn beautiful, they haunt me still. Interestingly, it wasn’t even the romance that evoked this level of emotion in me, but rather the friendships. The friendships in this book are by far it’s strongest element. If I am being honest, the romance followed her typical formula, so no surprises there, and her heroine is very reminiscent of Celaena . BUT I DON’T EVEN CARE. Somehow she made it work and I can’t wait for the next book in the series to be released (or even announced for that matter).
If they adapted this book into a movie I would fangirl so hard. I am not usually one to fancast, but I envision Madelaine Petsch as Bryce Quinlan.
Title: American Dirt
Author: Jeanine Cummins
Performer: Yareli Arizmendi
Length: 16 hr, 43 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by MacMillan Audio
Review: This was a book club pick that interested me mainly because of the controversy surrounding it. When a bestselling book gets a lot of criticism, it makes me curious, even if it falls into a genre I do not typically read.
I went into reading this book with an open mind, because I like to form my own opinions. I personally found the content of the book to be very stressful, so at this point in my life it was not my favorite read. It did, however, make me more conscious of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that migrants face as they make their trek to the United States.
After reading the book for myself, and browsing through the reviews of critics, I personally find most of the controversy to be unwarranted. I won’t address every aspect of her work that has been criticized, but it seems that the primary criticism stems from Cummins being elevated as a White author over authors of color who have written about similar topics. I understand the argument, but the truth is, it is a very well-written book. Regardless of her own experiences, it felt like a very well-researched work of fiction and after discussing it with both my book club and a Latina friend who read it with her book club, it seems that Cummins portrayal of hardship, corruption, and abuse is true to the experiences of many migrants. Perhaps she tried to pack too much drama into one story, but I do believe that the journey to the border can be very dangerous, especially for young women. I’m not saying that #ownvoices works should not also be elevated, but as one person in my book club pointed out, the popularity of this book could have been used as a platform to recommend readers to books on similar topics written by people of color. As with any novel, it is not perfect and some criticisms are likely valid (particularly about the use of Spanish language throughout the story), but I think it is great that a book that inspires empathy and raises awareness about the challenges faced by illegal immigrants is reaching such a wide audience. To say that someone cannot write characters or settings of another ethnicity or culture would essentially be saying that most works of fiction should never have been written. I think it is great that the new publishing trend is embracing #ownvoice stories and authors, but it is absurd to say that someone cannot write fictional works about something they have not personally experienced or to hate on them for doing so. I hope this does not discourage Cummins from writing more in the future.