Title: How to Build a Heart
Author: Maria Padian
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 28, 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
Review: There are so many things about this book that I love. It is a very thoughtfully written book and it feels very authentic. I have very little in common with the main character, but I could totally relate to her. There was a lot about her that reminded me of myself at her age.
I recently reviewed another book that had very similar themes to this one; a biracial girl navigating grief and struggling to define herself. I personally felt that this book did a much better job of tackling these topics and I was honestly disappointed when it ended. This is not to say I wasn’t happy with the ending, I just wanted to follow her life longer! I look forward to reading more books by this author.
Title: I’m Not Dying With You Tonight
Author: Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Page Count: 272
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 1, 2019 by Sourcebooks Fire
Review: I was eager to read this book because the two authors have done something that Kym and I have talked about at great length, and that is co-authoring a book from two different character perspectives. It worked well for this story, and I thought it was appropriate that the two characters were written with very distinct voices.
This book isn’t very long, so it was a quick read. In fact, the whole story takes place over the course of a single night. The conflict is established quickly, and the “action” is pretty consistent throughout the story. I was never bored and I would say this is a pretty timely novel considering our current political climate.
My biggest criticism is that I had hoped for a stronger character arc with both characters, so when the end came, my first thought was, that’s it? After undergoing such a traumatic experience, I had expected there to be more discussion of the aftermath and what it meant for each of the characters. I really think this story would have a greater impact on readers if this aspect was more thoroughly explored.
Title: The Belles
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Performer: Rosie Jones
Length: 13 hr, 2 min, 45 sec
Series: The Belles, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Blackstone Audio
Review: This book knocked my socks off. I have been eyeing it for some time due to the beautiful cover art, but kept passing it over in favor of other fantasy novels. That was my mistake, because this book blew me away with it’s originality and spectacular character development. Camellia is not by any means a perfect heroine, and this makes her all the more relatable. The antagonist of the story made my skin crawl, and was a total psychopath. This made for a very interesting story chock full of political intrigue, manipulation, and mystery.
What I find truly fascinating about this book, and what really sets it apart in my mind, is the author’s commentary on beauty through the story. Beauty standards are fickle and ever changing in today’s world, and it is no different here. All over the world people are obsessed with achieving impossible standards of beauty, and are never satisfied because beauty is perceived differently by everyone. This is reflected in the world Clayton has created, where physical appearance can be changed in a matter of minutes, but at great personal and financial cost. People are constantly changing their appearance to match changing beauty trends and endure a great deal of physical pain to make it happen. The parallels this draws to real life make this a wholly believable story despite its fantastical elements.
I deducted a half star from my rating because there were a couple things that I did not feel were fully explained, but these minor plot hiccups may very well be ironed out in the second book in the series. I have already requested it from the library and look forward to listening to it.
The performer for this story was perfection. She easily ranks as one of my top favorite readers after listening to this performance. I can’t wait to hear her in other works.
Title: We Set the Dark on Fire
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Page Count: 384
Series: We Set the Dark on Fire, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: February 26, 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
Review: I enjoyed this book and I can see a lot of potential in this series. This book was mainly setting the stage and the characters for the overarching storyline, so it doesn’t feel like a lot happens, but it is clear that there is a lot more action yet to come.
This book draws a lot of interesting parallels with current events, and I thought that the mythology aspect was very expertly woven into the threads of the story. The author did an excellent job establishing the conflict, and I am excited to see where the story goes from here. Also worthy of note is that all the characters are Latinx and there is an LGBT romance that is central to the story.
Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Performer: Lynn Chen
Length: 13 hr, 53 min, 16 sec
Series: Crazy Rich Asians, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2013 by Books on Tape
Review: This book has been extremely popular at the library thanks to the breakaway movie success that hit theaters last year. I was finally able to reserve an eAudiobook copy after a long wait, and I am glad I held out to get the book in that format. The reader, Lynn Chen, did a great job bringing the variety of characters to life. I think I enjoyed the book a lot more than I would have if I had read the print version.
This book is very heavy on description, which I generally enjoy, but I was surprised at how fast I became desensitized to the opulence of the setting and the decadence of the food described in the book. After awhile, I became entirely unimpressed by the flashy displays of wealth. This book really does live up to the old adage, “money does not buy happiness.” It seemed to me that the wealthier the character was, the more miserable they were and the more miserable they made those around them. This left me feeling frustrated as a reader, and it didn’t feel to me that the book had much substance beyond these observations. I did not feel deeply connected to Rachel or Nick as characters, so I did not feel deeply connected to their romance. Other characters, such as Astrid and Eleanor, had much more impactful character development in my opinion. Rachel and Nick were just too perfect, and not nearly flawed enough for my liking.
The book was certainly better than the movie (no surprise there), but it didn’t wow me. I probably won’t be reading the next two books in the trilogy.
Title: The Psychology of Time Travel
Author: Kate Mascarenhas
Page Count: 372
Publishing Date/Publisher: 12 February 2019 by Crooked Lane Books (originally published August 9th 2018 by Head of Zeus)
I don’t think I can accurately describe just how much I love this book, but I will try.
It had me hooked from the start, grabbing me instantly with the strong, smart, vulnerable women, and kept me hooked through the entire story. The relative lack of men was an added, welcome, and refreshing change of pace from most books I’ve read. I’ve also noticed that most books and movies/television shows involving time travel make the reader/viewer do some mental gymnastics in order to wrap their head around the whole concept, however Mascarenhas does all that for you, leaving your brain free to try to dissect the murder mystery.
I also loved how the story is woven together and how organized it is, despite it being about a very disorganized subject. This made it easy to read and impossible to put down.
I have already started telling all my friends about this book and will continue to bother them until each and everyone of them reads it. I was utterly blown away and loved every minute of it.
Review: This book thoroughly boggled my brain. The concept of time travel makes absolutely zero sense to me. This book is technically a murder mystery, but oddly it didn’t feel to me like a murder mystery at all. The mystery itself became more of a subplot as I struggled to wrap my head around the various concepts detailed in the book pertaining to time chronology, “genies”, and other time travel concepts. I liked the book, but I was honestly too confused by it to love it.
Title: A Blade So Black
Author: L.L. McKinney
Performer: Jeanette Illidge
Length: 11 hr, 24 min, 1 sec
Series: A Blade So Black, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by MacMillan Audio
Review: This book wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was sort of Alice in Wonderland meets The Mortal Instruments meets Social Justice Warrior.
The author was clever in how she wove the aspects of the original tale into her adaptation, which is why I thought it was an OK read. Unfortunately, many of the hot button issues that were addressed in the story such as race relations and violence were not fully fleshed out and I was bothered by the occasionally prejudiced dialogue, the selfish characters, and the anti-law enforcement undertones.
I will, however, note that many of the elements I found to be problematic are mostly in the first half of the book. The second half of the book is, in my opinion, a much more enjoyable read than the first half. I initially thought I would be rating this book with two stars, but it went up to three as I neared the end of the book. I believe this is McKinney’s debut novel, so I imagine her character/plot development and pacing will continue to improve in any subsequent books in this series.
I did listen to this book in audiobook format, and although I thought that the various voices chosen by the performer worked for the characters, I thought that she had some difficulty with transitioning between those voices. At times this was confusing, but overall I liked the cadence of her voice and thought she did a good job.