Posted in Reviews

Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Was this what I expected? No. Not even close. It was so much more.

This was a short read packed with so much. This is a great example of what can be done in ~100 pages. This is something you have to think about, and savor, and should not read passively.

Recommended: yes
For a short read that packs a punch, for beautifully lyrical writing, for a story that emerges through clues and fog and whispers, for a surprisingly gorgeous depiction of a life through objects

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women. A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that since this is just over 100 pages that it is sparse in detail or not much happens or you would not have time to learn the characters. We get all of that and more, and in such an elegant way, that it’s stunning to think how few times you actually need to turn the page.

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Review: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
Good, not mind blowing. As the author says, more than just a dead mom book. Read this from 3:38am to 7:42am because I couldn’t sleep. Just call me Ethan.

Recommended: sure
For a quick cute read, for those who can suspend disbelief and pretend the world is a nice place, for a fairly predictable and straightforward story, for those who can tolerate a plot that sometimes makes you roll your eyes at the MCs ability to misinterpret obvious things

Yes, I read everything in the cover background.

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help? In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

The primary strength of this book was in the connections created between characters and the portrayal of grief from Jessie. She’s thrown into a crazy situation when around two years after her mother’s death, her father abruptly announces he’s remarried a rich LA lady, and they’re going to move out to California to live with her. Cue Jessie’s entrance into a creme de la creme private school for the rich and glamorous, as well as a bizzaro world of her new “family” in a house that’s more like a museum.

Jessie’s grief stays with her through the story, as a constant point of reflection and pain and growth for her. The author in a note at the end states that this is very personal for her, as she lost her own mother at 14. Because of that painful personal experience, the portrayal in the story of grief — Jessie’s, her father’s, and even her new stepmother & stepbrother’s — are consistent and painfully believable.

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Review: What You Wish For by Katherine Center

What You Wish For by Katherine Center – ⭐⭐⭐
Expected Release: July 14, 2020

Recommended: sure
For teachers, for those who like Center’s writing style, for a blend of teaching pedagogy and medical/personal self-discovery, for a book where you know exactly what to expect, for something uplifting and quotable if you’re having a bad day

Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary school librarian on the sunny, historic island of Galveston, Texas—the goofy kids, the stately Victorian building, the butterfly garden. But when the school suddenly loses its beloved principal, it turns out his replacement will be none other than Duncan Carpenter—a former, unrequited crush of Sam’s from many years before. When Duncan shows up as her new boss, though, he’s nothing like the sweet teacher she once swooned over. He’s become stiff, and humorless, and obsessed with school safety. Now, with Duncan determined to destroy everything Sam loves about her school in the name of security—and turn it into nothing short of a prison—Sam has to stand up for everyone she cares about before the school that’s become her home is gone for good.

The writing was very familiar to Center’s other works. The MC was very self-aware, and did a good job at calling herself out in cliche situations with clear-eyed bemusement. Overall, I was entertained but not enthralled. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I’ll try.

There were points that felt unnecessarily drawn out; like descriptions that didn’t add to the story, or musings that we had already heard several times before (“I can’t believe how different Duncan is”). I rarely skim in stories, but I was here every now and then.

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Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin – ⭐⭐⭐

Recommended: for specific people if you’re REALLY interested in this
For those really into witchy stuff, for those who want the “hate to love” romance arc, for a story focused on self-discovery. Stay away if you’re expecting the historical French setting to actually matter or importance in featuring the magic

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned. Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony. The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made. And love makes fools of us all.

So. As often with crazily hyped books… I wasn’t that impressed. I probably would have waited even longer to read this, but it was a thoughtful gift for Christmas and I was intrigued. In the end this was nearly a 2 star read overall, but a key element of the end bumped it to 3 and made it more likely that I would pick up the next, though not in a hurry. The overall path of reading was like: 4,5,3,2,2,2,3 (that new-read excitement got me hard on this one but helped carry me through).

My gripes are with the romance and the magic. The romance felt abrupt, as the characters only have a few interactions before they’re declaring their newfound feelings, and the interactions they had were mostly antagonistic. I can get behind the enemies-to-lovers thing, but I just wasn’t wooed by their progression in this case.

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I finally finished my stack of books!

I had a huge stack on ongoing reads the past month or so, because I just couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted to read. So I read a bit of everything, depending on my mood. Here’s what I finally wrapped up!

4/5 surprise

I stumbled onto a mystery novel and I liked it. So many people had recommended it to me, too, so it was a perfect gift to dive into.


Having a rough hour, day, week? I was. So I picked up my best go-to book for tough times.

3/5 but almost 2

Surprisingly disappointing, I know I’m very much the minority. One end promise bumped it to a 3, but I set this one aside for a while around 75% through because I lost interest.

4/5 unique

Devoured this one as a necessary digression from everything else I was in the middle of because a retelling of Anna Karenina is something special that I had to have.

3/5 backlist work

Run Away whetted my appetite for mystery/suspense and this seemed like a good choice. I generally enjoyed it, but probably won’t think of it much ever again now that it’s done. Not sure I get why it was so popular and hyped.

Still working….

This is a lot of octopus talk, which is starting to drag at 70% but I will get there. I have learned a lot of interesting things, but I also don’t need to hear so much about octopus motherhood and and sex.

Posted in Reviews

Review: Anna K. by Jenny Lee

Anna K. by Jenny Lee – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Overall, probably kind of dense for readers coming into this with no expectations from the original. Enough reflection of the original yet with its own surprises to interest those familiar with the original. And for both, moments where the old Russian style and internet era style will clash in a really strange way.

Recommended: yes!
For an adaptation from an uncommon source for the genre, for a rich-and-famous-teen story, for a lot of interpersonal intrigue and drama sprinkled with plenty of sex, drugs, and partying.

Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society. She has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W. Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.

As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.

The experience for those who are coming into this as its own standalone story with no preconceived ideas of what will happen is different than those who have read the original. Be aware that this is a lot more serious and formal in tone than most YA novels, which is due to Lee’s success in imitating the reserved Russian mindset and style of the original. While I plowed through this, other friends said it took them weeks to get through because of how slow and dense it felt at times. The overall effect is an unprecedented blend of modern and classic tones.

The primary hurdle to this blend is when they clash in a quite jarring way. For example, the sentence “Perhaps [she] was rueful over her lost opportunity with [him], who wasn’t as babe-a-licious as [the other guy] but was vastly superior in intellect and character.” (Edited to keep it vague). The term “babealicious” set up against “vastly superior in intellect and character” is extremely weird, posing the character thinking it simultaneously as a serious posh old lady and a millennial pop-culture fanatic. It gets really awkward at times, and the tone is pretty inconsistent. Alternatively (and as above, sometimes simultaneously) aggressively young and weirdly old in their mindset, these teenagers often don’t read as teenagers and makes it hard to classify this as a young adult genre.

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Review: Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Crying & heart squeezes combined with a unique and successful format = five stars! Also, this was the 100th book of 2019!!! That was a huge and unplanned accomplishment for me. 🙂

Recommended: yes!
For a unique format, for an intimate way to learn one man’s heart and fears

Daniel Mayrock’s life is at a crossroads. He knows the following to be true:
1. He loves his wife Jill… more than anything.
2. He only regrets quitting his job and opening a bookshop a little (maybe more than a little)
3. Jill is ready to have a baby.
4. The bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent. Dan doesn’t know how to fix it.
5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble.
6. Then Jill gets pregnant.

This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances:
1. Dan wants to do something special.
2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary.
3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure.
4. He doesn’t want to live in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.

Dan is also an obsessive list maker; his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to do anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.

Thoughts: This was a featured release book!
This is going to be a pretty mixed review for a five star rating, and I really debated what to give it for a while. Ultimately I went for five stars, because the depth the author was able to give through such a simplistic format was impressive. He thrived in a limitation, and created something unique and well done. Despite some of my nitpicky feelings on other elements within the story, I’m overall celebrating this as a fantastic accomplishment and worthy addition to my shelf.

The lists make this look deceptively simple, but the story itself involves a conflicted and twisting heart the whole way through. Dan reveals bits and pieces of himself through his lists, from the mundane to the secretive to the humiliating. The intimacy with which we learn to see him comes from the format, as his lists are explained as partly a therapist-ordered journaling method.

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Dear past me: what’s your problem with Roger Ackroyd??

Yesterday I was writing my review for The Girl on the Train and trying to pinpoint why I wasn’t terribly excited by it. While I was thinking, I found that I kept comparing it to a mystery I remember really fondly. It was by the queen, of course, so maybe it’s an unfair comparison because who can compare well to Agatha Christie?

I had The Murder of Roger Ackroyd stuck in my head, so I went to nab a look at it out of curiosity to see what I had written in my review of it when I read it about five years ago. I remember the overall gist and tone of it now, but what details did I enjoy that I certainly missed?

WELL. Imagine my surprise when I found out that back in my youth in college, I had felt that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was a two-star read. As in, it was just okay.What the hell? How did I not care that much for it then, but end up five years later thinking on it fondly as one that I was impressed with and taught me a lot about the art of mystery?

Ultimately, I have no idea, but here’s a little retroactive note to myself.

Alright, past self. I know you were forced to read this in a college English class, but seriously, what? You’re saying it was just ok??

Current me is shaking her head in shame. And thinking, I should probably re-read this, as my memory of it was that it was pretty damn good. Entertaining, and dramatic, and an ending I didn’t expect, with a quirkily developed cast. Why didn’t I think so the first time? Odd.

I sense a re-read in my future. And maybe a dip back to Agatha, with Murder on the Orient Express, because how have I never read that yet?

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – ⭐⭐⭐

Recommended: eh
For those who don’t read many mysteries, for a slow-burn psychological drama, for a story you can read once and be done with forever after

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

I finally got around to reading this book. And since I remember years ago that there was a lot of excitement around this book, including it being a Goodreads Choice winner (2015 I believe), and there was also a movie adaptation, I had really high expectations. Maybe that was part of it’s downfall for me, really.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it while I was reading it and was usually interested to see what happened next. I wanted to know the answer to the mystery. I had my own suspicions and was really angling for a specific outcome that I thought would have been worthy of the intensity of hype around the book. Each character intrigued me in their own way, and the snippets I got from Anna and Megan drew me in each time. I didn’t dislike any of them, and was never disappointed when it switched perspectives.

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Review: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden

Arthas: Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: DEFINITELY
For fans of the world of Azeroth and its lore, for fans of high fantasy, for an epic tale of a hero / villain and villain / hero, for a really intense and intricately woven story

When a plague of undeath threatened all that he loved, Arthas was driven to pursue an ill-fated quest for a runeblade powerful enough to save his homeland. Yet the object of his search would exact a heavy price from its new master, beginning a horrifying descent into damnation. Arthas’s path would lead him through the arctic northern wastes toward the Frozen Throne, where he would face, at long last, the darkest of destinies. The Lich King is an entity of incalculable power and unparalleled malice — his icy soul utterly consumed by his plans to destroy all life on the World of Warcraft.

Oh man. I had a craving for some epic high fantasy, and naturally I thought “nothing gets the job done better than WoW books.” Picked this up thinking it would be great to learn more about the Lich King prior to Shadowlands later this year.

WOW. This was so good it actually made my craving WORSE. The incredible span of the book was far more than I expected. I always love getting the perspective from the character who maybe isn’t the hero, and Arthas was extraordinarily complex and fascinating. There were so many other characters and events woven in that I’ve read about. I was delighted every time someone popped up, and loved adding the new thread of Arthas to the tapestry of each event.

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