Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (5/24/22) – A Magic Steeped in Poison

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I saw A Magic Steeped in Poison pop up on several blogs I follow whenever it first came out, and I figured I’d give it a go; I’ve become slightly jaded with a lot of YA fantasy by this point, but I was intrigued by the unique concept of tea magic that this novel promised. I bought it the other day, and I just recently finished it—lush and immersive, with a world that I loved getting lost in.

Enjoy this week’s review!

A Magic Steeped in Poison (The Book of Tea, #1) – Judy I. Lin

In Ning’s world, tea is everything. The shennong-shi—masters of the art of tea-making—are revered in her society, known for conjuring magic and omens through their tea.

After an incident with poisoned tea kills Ning’s mother and incapacitates her sister, she turns to the only option to save her family. In the imperial city, there is a competition to find the most worthy shennong-shi in the kingdom; the winner earns the favor of the princess. Knowing that it may be the only way to save her sister, Ning ventures into the city, but what waits for her there may be more than she bargained for.

TW/CW: poisoning, loss of loved ones, violence, murder, animal cruelty

my brain can’t decide between “Tea” by Jim Noir or “Have a Cuppa Tea” by The Kinks as my internal soundtrack for this…a little help here?

As a reader, I’ve started to grow tired of some many of the beats that most YA fantasies follow—chosen ones, love triangles, and not much “fantasy” other than a basic magic system. I’m glad to say that A Magic Steeped in Poison was a breath of fresh air in that department, filled with lush prose and steeped (no pun intended) in Chinese culture and mythology!

First off, can we all take a moment to appreciate how beautiful this cover is? WOW. Seriously still in awe of how gorgeous it is. DANG. That is ART right there.

now, back to our scheduled program…

What immediately stands out about A Magic Steeped in Poison is Judy I. Lin’s prose. Like the brewing tea that shows up in so much of the book, it’s lush and immersive, filled with all sorts of sensory details that make the world feel all the more fleshed out. Lin’s writing makes it easy to picture the world that she’s created, from Ning’s rural home province to the luxury of the Imperial City. I could smell the tea, feel rain on my skin, and sense the tension that hung in the air during the shennong-shi competition.

I didn’t get overly attached to any of the characters, but Ning worked as the perfect kind of protagonist for A Magic Steeped in Poison; her determination, her hard-working spirit, and her devotion to her craft and family made her just the kind of protagonist to root for. For me, most of the other secondary characters weren’t as fleshed out, but I did like Lian as a secondary character, and the budding romance between Ning and Kang was totally sweet 🥺 (more of that!!! please!!!) I wanted more from these characters, but as a baseline, they were still good to work with.

However, I will say that the plot felt disorganized at worst. Amidst the main plot of the shennong-shi competition, there were a lot of secondary threads that only lasted a few chapters. Their resolutions were often very rushed, and I found myself wondering whether or not they were really relevant to the plot in the end. It felt a bit like an unfinished tapestry; the main picture was all there, but all of the loose, fraying threads at the edges made it almost look sloppy.

All in all, a refreshing fantasy that engaged all of my senses with ease. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!

A Magic Steeped in Poison is Judy I. Lin’s debut, and the first book in the Book of Tea duology. Its sequel, A Venom Dark and Sweet, is slated for release this August.

Today’s song:

GOOD GOD this is SUCH A FANTASTIC ALBUM UGH

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (5/17/22) – Gallant

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve only started reading V.E. Schwab’s books since last year, when I read the Shades of Magic trilogy and loved it (for the most part). Since then, I’ve had most of her other books on my TBR, including this one. It unexpectedly came on hold at the library recently (originally I was probably at…#43 on the waitlist or something💀), and so I jumped at the chance to read it. What I got was a lush and atmospheric fairytale and an ultimately satisfying read!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Gallant – V.E. Schwab

Olivia Prior knows little about her past. All the clues she has are in her dead mother’s journal, which seems to chronicle her descent into indescribable madness. After graduating from the Merilance School for Girls, Olivia has nowhere to go, until she is invited by letter to Gallant, the Prior family home. She is met with hostility by her estranged, distant relatives, but soon discovers a dark secret: every place in the world has its shadow, but the shadow at Gallant may be larger and more unpredictable than any of the Prior family could have expected.

TW/CW: animal death, ableist language (outdated), blood, murder, loss of loved ones, violence

Strange, dark, and atmospheric, Gallant is a lovely gem of a modern, Gothic fairytale. It’s only my third or fourth (though I remember next to nothing about This Savage Song) foray into Schwab’s writing, but it’s enough to almost put her at auto-buy/checkout status for me!

Where Gallant excels is the atmosphere surrounding it. Even though the supernatural aspect of the book isn’t explicitly shown until the last third or so, there was a consistent air of darkness that hung around it. Every description, from Olivia’s experience at the Merilance School to the mystery of the Gallant house, was filled with dark and creeping prose. It called to mind so many pieces of media that I love—I know Coraline (and Neil Gaiman in general) and Guillermo del Toro have been common comparisons, but they absolutely fit the bill. Reminded me a lot of Courtney Crumrin too.

But what created this atmosphere was all V.E. Schwab’s writing. She has such a unique way with words, and her specialty with crafting immersive settings is much of what made Gallant a success for me. Everything from Olivia’s mother’s descent into madness to the supernatural occurrences converging into Olivia and her cousins was described in such an artful, deliberate way that I could almost feel the dark atmosphere like misty fog on my skin. It’s hard to think of a writing style as unique and layered as V.E. Schwab’s.

However, I still had some complaints. From reading the Shades of Magic trilogy, I felt like the plot itself was what dragged some of the books down. The same was true for Gallant; although the setting, characters, and general premise were set up and well-executed, the plot itself felt nebulous at best, clinging to the singular plot thread of Olivia moving from the girl’s school into her mysterious family home. Everything sped up in the last third of the book or so, and the elements of that section were some of the most interesting—I wanted more!

Additionally, I would’ve liked to know when the book takes place in the first place—there wasn’t a concrete establishment of that. From bits of the worldbuilding and some of the language (particularly the outdated language that surrounded Olivia’s mutism), it was implied that it could’ve been anywhere from the 1800s to the early 1900s. Not necessarily essential, but it made some aspects confusing. (Same problem I had with Encanto—no way I would’ve known that it was set in the 50’s if I hadn’t googled it.)

All in all, a dark and immersive fairytale from an author that I’d love to read more from. 4 stars!

Gallant is a standalone, but V.E. Schwab is also the author of several other book series, including the Shades of Magic trilogy, the Villains trilogy, and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (5/10/22) – The Psychology of Time Travel

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I don’t remember exactly where or when I heard about this novel; I don’t read a lot of books that involve time travel, but this one (paired with its beautiful cover) reeled me in some time ago. I finally got the chance to read it last week, and although it wasn’t the perfect book, it’s certainly a standout for its thorough worldbuilding.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

In 1967, four women created the first time machine and turned their invention into an empire. But as the project was being unveiled, one of them suffered a mental breakdown, condemning her contributions to be erased from history.

In 2017, Ruby Rebello lives in a world where time travel is commonplace. Her enigmatic grandmother, known only as Granny Bee, was one of the four women who created the time travel Conclave, but she reveals little about her past. But when a clipping detailing a mysterious future murder arrives on Ruby’s doorstep, she must dig through time itself to find out if Granny Bee’s life is at stake.

TW/CW: murder, descriptions of a corpse, mental breakdowns, loss of a loved one, death, gore

“Time travel! I see this as an absolute win!”

The Psychology of Time Travel is a textbook example of how worldbuilding can make or break a novel. In this book’s case, it enhanced it exponentially, making for a highly nuanced and lived-in world that compelled me to no end!

So! About said worldbuilding—it was Psychology’s strongest point, and it was what consistently made it worth reading. Mascarenhas imagines a world where time travel was invented in the 60’s, and how the four women who invented it created a veritable empire out of recording the future, predicting events, and preventing occurrences from happening. But she didn’t just have time travel exist and leave it at that—every possible nuance of time travel that one can think of was explored in some way. Everything from time machine toys to time-travel law to the psychological toll of it all (hence the title) was explored in marvelous detail. All without infodumps, too; with the split POV that jumped back and forth between timelines, the information felt more like anecdotes than dumps.

Psychology’s themes of women in history and how they are treated were also a consistent standout. All of the central characters are women, and through them, Mascarenhas explores how history books overlook women, and how some things may never change; even still, all of Psychology’s women are determined, steadfast, and innovative characters. They all bring home a powerful message and sustain a plot that jumped back and forth through time—just like the rabbits that this book’s first time machines were tested on.

Psychology is a murder mystery at its heart, and for the most part, I’d call it a compelling one. However, the plot’s intricate worldbuilding was a drawback when it came to the plot. With around six or seven time periods that Psychology jumps back and forth between, it was easy for the main mystery to be lost in the threads of the vast time tapestry. I’d read a chapter, remember what happened, read the next chapter in a different timeline, then only get to the thread in the first chapter six chapters later. For the most part, Mascarenhas managed to keep it together, but it was easy to get lost.

All in all, a fascinating and intricate novel that explores time travel and all of its implications across several decades. 3.5 stars!

The Psychology of Time Travel is a standalone and Kate Mascarenhas’ first novel. She is also the author of The Thief on the Winged Horse and the forthcoming Hokey Pokey.

Today’s song:

I’ve had this on repeat all day today and I can’t get enough aagh

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (5/3/22) – Beyond the Ruby Veil

Happy Tuesday!

Beyond the Ruby Veil wasn’t a high priority for me, but I figured I would check it out and give it a chance despite the bad-to-mediocre reviews. However, when I read it, I found the result to be lukewarm and underdeveloped—all the potential in the world without the execution to pull it through.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Beyond the Ruby Veil – Mara Fitzgerald

In Occhia, all of the water comes from a creature called the watercrea; in order for the city to be hydrated, it demands sacrifices in the form of the townspeople who show an omen mark on their skin. For centuries, all of the citizens of Occhia have obeyed. But Emmanuela Ragno has hid her omen for years, evading death until now. When her omen is exposed at her arranged wedding ceremony, she kills the watercrea, effectively cutting off Occhia’s entire water supply.

To return water to Occhia, Emmanuela must venture into a secretive neighboring kingdom that seems to have everything that Occhia doesn’t have. But behind the veneer of luxury is something far more sinister, and Emmanuela will do whatever it takes to take back her city’s water.

TW/CW: blood, violence, murder, torture, body horror

Describing a book with the words “queer,” “dark,” and “fantasy” are always enticing. Do I love queer books? I’m bisexual, of course I do! Do I love dark books? Yes indeed. Do I like fantasy books? Also yes. And yet, a good half of the books described as “queer, dark fantasy” end up being disappointing for me (also see: Ruinsong, Beyond the Black Door…maybe the problem is books with “Beyond” in the title?). I’m sad to say that the case was the same for Beyond the Ruby Veil.

If I had to describe Beyond the Ruby Veil in one word, it would be underdeveloped. I’ll give Fitzgerald one thing—the premise is still intriguing. Suffice to say, there isn’t a whole lot else to it. The bones of a story were there: a good start on worldbuilding, history, and a general direction for the plot. However, the muscle of the book was completely missing. It felt like a first draft, one where Fitzgerald hadn’t fully fleshed out the book and instead published the start of a story.

At least the one part of the book that I wasn’t supposed to like worked—Emmanuela. One of the major selling points of Beyond the Ruby Veil that I’ve seen was of her as an unlikeable anthero; unlike most of the book, I did like this part. Emmanuela was appropriately headstrong, rash, and impulsive, and those traits made for a character that wasn’t likable as a person but fun to follow as a character.

However, she wasn’t enough to carry the rest of the plot, and the few characters that showed up didn’t pick up her slack in the slightest. Ale wasn’t much more than a stereotypically clumsy sidekick, and he served almost no purpose whatsoever. Verene was one of the only other characters that mattered in the story, and she was only introduced at about the halfway mark; even then, her only personality trait was that she was alluringly secretive. As fun as Emmanuela was, Fitzgerald doesn’t give much to work with as a reader, making for a story that felt filled with holes.

The plot itself didn’t hold much water (no pun intended) either. After the botched wedding ceremony and the killing of the watercrea, it was mostly just Emmanuela and Ale bumbling around a foreign kingdom and trying to find clues. Not only did Emmanuela seem to get away with a lot more than was realistic (there wasn’t any context on how she enters this completely foreign kingdom and is immediately able to attempt and pull off the accent AND subsequently speak to the palace?? And get an audience with The Heart?? In a relatively short amount of time?? HUH??), but after the halfway mark, there wasn’t a whole lot of plot to speak of. There’s the beginning of…well, I won’t quite call it romance since there wasn’t much other than heavily implied context to hint at it instead of, y’know, actual chemistry, but in the midst of a book that already felt like a first draft, it felt even more like an afterthought than everything else did. And that’s saying something. Like I said: with a lot of polishing, this could’ve been a fascinating book, but it didn’t have much to sustain it—even in a book that’s less than 300 pages long.

All in all, a book with an ambitious premise that ultimately suffered from a lack of fleshing-out in all departments. 2 stars.

Beyond the Ruby Veil is Mara Fitzgerald’s first novel, and it is the first book in the Beyond the Ruby Veil series. This book is succeeded by Into the Midnight Void.

Today’s song:

first heard this in 6th grade, forgot about it for years, and just remembered it last week…good stuff

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (4/26/22) – One for All

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Disability representation—especially in YA—is few and far between, and even when I do find it, a lot of disability rep is still written by abled authors. (That isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, but it’s easy to fall into harmful tropes and misrepresent disability that way.) So when I heard about One for All, I was so excited—a feminist, historical fiction novel about a girl with a chronic illness! And beyond that—a girl with a chronic illness WHO SWORDFIGHTS. Doesn’t get much better than that, am I right? My copy finally came from the library last week, and although it wasn’t the perfect book, I enjoyed a lot of it!

Enjoy this week’s review!

One for All – Lillie Lainoff

Tania de Batz is determined for the world to see her as more than just a “sick girl.” As the daughter of a former musketeer, her passion is swordfighting, and with the help of her father, she’s become a skilled fighter. But when her father is brutally murdered, she discovers his dying request to send her to a finishing school.

But what she finds at L’Academie des Marieés is no finishing school—it’s a secretive school that trains young women as musketeers. Tania is soon swept into a world of swords and secrecy, and soon, she and her fellow students have an assassination plot to uncover. The only clue to the plot—and maybe even her father’s murder—lies in a boy named Étienne, but his charms may be Tania’s undoing.

TW/CW: ableism, blood, murder, loss of a loved one, past mention of sexual assault

Good disability representation—especially in YA—seems to only happen once in a blue moon. So I was so happy to find this book—a feminist historical fiction book written by a disabled author, no less! And while I did have a few problems with the story overall, One for All was no doubt a fantastic debut!

First things first—disability rep! While I can’t speak to the accuracy, Lillie Lainoff (the author) has the same chronic illness as Tania—Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)! Disabled representation from disabled voices always makes my heart so happy! For me, it’s even better that One for All is a historical fiction piece; most books with disabled characters only exist in contemporary/realistic fiction books, and I adamantly believe that disability rep in genres like historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction is just as important, if not more important; it’s crucial for disabled readers to know that they don’t only exist in modern realistic fiction realities—they have always existed in history, and they can exist in fantasy and sci-fi worlds as well. One for All did a fantastic job at detailing all the aspects of Tania’s POTS and how it affected her daily life, from her routine to her social interactions and childhood. So many chronically ill readers will be able to see themselves in Tania, and that, to me, is immensely impactful.

Beyond that, One for All is fiercely feminist! It’s set in France in the 1600’s, and the themes of empowerment and sisterhood ran deeply through it. Throughout most of the book, Tania struggles with her place in the world as a disabled woman in a time where both are frowned upon, but her journey for self-empowerment is one that is sure to resonate with so many readers. Although some of the other students don’t treat Tania with the respect she deserves at first, there are themes of recognizing and correcting your previous ableism. The friendship that Tania eventually shares with the rest of the fellow L’Academie des Marieés students is wonderfully tender and strong, and it makes for an incredibly empowering novel overall.

As much as I loved the aforementioned aspects, however, there were a few aspects of One for All that I didn’t like as much. For the most part, I liked the writing style well enough; Lainoff’s prose flowed well and was appropriately descriptive when the time called for it. However, Lainoff’s style tended to fall towards the over-the-top side of the spectrum. I could let it slide in most instances—it fit with the mood and tone of the book in general—but in some cases, it felt overly purple and theatrical. It had a dramatic feel to it, and while it fit the classic retelling tone at times, it felt superfluous in other cases.

Additionally, I wasn’t quite as invested in the assassination part of the plot as I was in the rest of the book. Seeing as that (after Tania’s father’s murder) was the main driving force to the plot, it didn’t come through all the way; it was overshadowed by more mundane character interactions (which I did like), and as a result, felt rushed and oversimplified. For something that was supposed to be the primary inciting incident of the second half of the book or so, it felt more like a subplot than anything. As a result, I felt my mind wandering a bit during these parts, but it didn’t take me out of the book entirely.

All in all, a feminist retelling with a disabled heroine who all readers will want to cheer on. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!

One for All is a standalone and Lillie Lainoff’s debut novel.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (4/19/22) – Any Way the Wind Blows (Simon Snow, #3)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Carry On has been a favorite book of mine for years. Ever since book 3 came out back in July, I’ve been trying to find it in the bookstore and buy it. I went to Barnes & Noble recently and finally got my hands on it (the exclusive edition!! with the beautiful endpapers!! 😭), and although it wasn’t as strong as book 1 was, Rainbow Rowell’s endearing writing and characters continue to please.

Now, TREAD LIGHTLY! This review may contain spoilers for the first two books, Carry On and Wayward Son. If you haven’t read either and intend on doing so, read at your own risk!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Any Way the Wind Blows (Simon Snow, #3) – Rainbow Rowell

After their trip to America, Simon, Baz, and Penny are called back to Watford. A new threat has arisen that threatens to upend the World of Mages, and despite his hesitance to be magickal, Simon is once again pulled into the fray. All the while, Simon still has personal questions left unanswered—if he leaves the World of Mages, what will happen to his relationship with Baz?

Simon’s friends are no better off; Penny has smuggled Shephard into England, and now must grapple with a demonic curse to save his life, and Baz’s family has drawn him back into the vampiric fray. Was America the last time that they were together, or will they remain the tight-knit group that they once were?

TW/CW: blood, animal death, cults/emotional manipulation, surgery, sexual content

I’m now reminded of why I had a crush on Baz when I was 14—how can you resist a sexy vampire who plays Kishi Bashi on his violin and sings Beatles songs to his two-year-old brother to help him go to sleep? Specifically THE WHITE ALBUM Beatles songs?? I’m getting all sappy at the thought of him singing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”… 😭

I’ve been a fan of Rainbow Rowell for years, and Carry On is easily my favorite of her books. Wayward Son was fun, but it felt sloppy, and I hoped Any Way the Wind Blows would pick up the mess it made. However, this book had the weakest plot of the three; that being said, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it—it’s Rainbow Rowell, so no matter the plot, it’s guaranteed that I’ll still adore the writing and characters.

Let me get my major complaint out of the way first—the plot. As much as I love Carry On, I stand by the argument that it should’ve been a standalone from the start. Wayward Son, even though I enjoyed it, was still unnecessary at worst, and it feels like Any Way the Wind Blows exists almost solely to tie up all the loose ends from the former. The concept of the whole Chosen One cult with Smith was an interesting premise, but it wasn’t nearly enough to carry over 600 pages. There are several plots going on in the book, but all of them felt like sideplots; maybe it’s the fact that all of the POV characters were separated to some degree, but all of them—even the main plot—came off like borderline afterthoughts.

As weak as the plot was, though, I will always love Rainbow Rowell’s writing! She has such a way with words that not many other authors have; every emotion feels genuine, her worlds are fleshed out, and her prose never fails to be endearing and poignant. It wasn’t enough to completely stitch up the plot problem, but I always enjoy reading her books.

Going off of that, part of what makes her writing so special is her characters. I already adored all of the gang™️ from this series, and they were just as delightful as they were in the previous books. Simon, Baz, and Penny are all so dear to me (Baz most of all), and everything that I loved about them from the previous books shone through just as much in Any Way the Wind Blows. These books have always explored how complicated relationships can be through the eyes of Simon and Baz, but I loved how Rowell didn’t hesitate to explore some of the messier sides of love; their relationship is far from perfect, but through it all, it felt messy in a refreshingly genuine way. The conflict felt realistic and wasn’t neatly wrapped in a bow, but through it all, Simon and Baz came through it. As abrupt as the ending was, I’m glad that their relationship got mended in the end. Gotta love my Snowbaz 🥹

All in all, the weakest addition to the Simon Snow trilogy, but still a sweet ending for the characters I love. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!

Any Way the Wind Blows is the third and final book in the Simon Snow trilogy, preceded by Carry On (book 1) and Wayward Son (book 2). Rainbow Rowell is also the author of Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, Pumpkinheads, and several other books for young adults and teens. She also wrote the 2017 run on Marvel’s Runaways.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (4/12/22) – All Systems Red

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve been reading more adult sci-fi in the past few years, and this novel has been one that’s popped up on many a review from bloggers I follow, as well as recommendations from friends. It sounded clever, so I ended up buying it recently—and it was wonderfully clever!

Enjoy this week’s review!

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) – Martha Wells

In the far future, no spacefaring mission goes without a SecUnit—an android who oversees the crew and their safety. One such SecUnit is different—it’s hacked into its own governor module, and now seeks to find out more about itself. Its chosen name is Murderbot.

Murderbot cares for little other than watching entertainment vids and avoiding humanity at all costs. But soon enough, its original duty is called into play when another mission severs contact without an explanation. Will Murderbot be able to discover itself—and keep its status hidden from the rest of the crew?

TW/CW: attempted suicide, blood, sci-fi violence, death, animal attack

everybody always asks where the comic relief android is…but nobody asks how the comic relief android is 😔

For such a small package, All Systems Red delivers a sci-fi character study unlike anything I’ve read! A perfect blend of sarcastic and introspective that struck a chord with my sci-fi loving heart.

A character study is all that All Systems Red really is, and for me, that’s not a complaint. I love delving into characters and seeing what makes them tick, so I ate up most of this novel. Murderbot is an instantly likable character; their sarcastic and caustic nature made for no shortage of laugh-out-loud passages. But beyond that, it was simultaneously complex—it truly doesn’t know the depths of who it is, and its quiet quest of self-discovery and its place in the universe was a consistently poignant one. I’m in it for the rest of the series (I think?) solely because of Murderbot. And yes, the first line of this review is a joke, but it’s exactly what All Systems Red did—it took a common sci-fi trope (the comic relief robot) and switched it to their perspective.

Murderbot’s development also shone in All Systems Red! Over the course of less than 200 pages, it goes from a misanthrope that does next to nothing all day to an android who realizes that it’s the only one that can control its destiny. Murderbot’s liberation story is an unexpectedly beautiful one, and I can’t wait to see how it continues.

Like I said—I adore books that focus more on character building and character studies. That being said, I did feel like there were a few aspects that got left behind in the process of making Murderbot so fleshed out. For the most part, I liked the worldbuilding well enough; the theme of corporate neglect and the struggles of the lower-level workers was well-executed, and I got a decent amount of context for the current situation. That being said, I felt as though there were…something missing. Just a tad bit more detail to give the world a little more oomph.

In addition, I felt like the rest of the characters were afterthoughts in comparison to the expertly-developed Murderbot. They all felt interchangeable, and they all blended together; they all sort of shared Murderbot’s sense of humor, and although it fit well on Murderbot, once it stuck onto the other characters, it just grew tired. Add in the fact that there are at least 8-10 other human characters in the mix that all blend together, and it all becomes a bit of a mess. I get that they’re side characters, but don’t give them all the same personality and sense of humor and call it a day.

All in all, the start to a compelling sci-fi series, and a masterful character study of an unlikely hero. 4 stars!

All Systems Red is the first novella in the Murderbot Diaries series, which consists of Artificial Condition (book 2), Rogue Protocol (book 3), Exit Strategy (book 4), Network Effect (book 5), Fugitive Telemetry (book 6), and three more untitled novellas. Martha Wells is also the author of The Books of Raksura, the Ile-Rien series, and many other series and standalone novels.

Today’s song:

Jack White is infuriating but man he can make some g o o d music

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (4/5/22) – Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!! I’m still reeling from finally seeing Spiritualized last night—such a transcendental show!

Rom-coms aren’t my go-to as far as genres go, but I really enjoyed The Henna Wars, so I wanted to given Adiba Jaigirdar’s newest rom-com a try. It ended up being one of those books that I put off for no good reason—I had it on hold at least twice at the library and left it on the shelf too long because of trips or something—but I ended up picking it up on Kindle over spring break. Having read it, I liked it overall, but generally, I have a few mixed feelings about it.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating – Adiba Jaigirdar

Humaira Khan—Hani for short—has started coming out to her friends and family as bisexual, but her friends don’t believe her. In their (horribly biphobic) beliefs, Hani can’t be bi if she’s only ever dated boys. So to save face, Hani blurts out that she’s dating Ishu, a top-of-the-class perfectionist and the only other Bengali girl at her school.

From then on, Hani and Ishu make a pact to orchestrate a fake relationship—as soon as both of their goals are achieved, they will stage a fake breakup worthy of the Oscars. But as they get deeper into their plan, they realize that their relationship might not be so fake after all.

TW/CW (from Adiba Jaigirdar): racism, homophobia, biphobia, lesbophobia, Islamophobia, toxic friendships, gaslighting, parental abandonment

I loved The Henna Wars, but despite all the hype that Hani and Ishu is getting, I’ve come away with mixed feelings. The setup is all there and the diversity is fantastic, but it’s difficult to enjoy a rom-com when the romance itself feels forced.

I’ll start out with what I enjoyed; Adiba Jaigirdar’s writing is consistently charming and funny. Her style is perfect for a rom-com, filled with wit and sarcasm. I can’t exactly say that she hit the perfect balance of levity and dealing with the aforementioned content in the TW/CW section (especially the biphobia, in my experience—more on that later), but it almost hit that sweet spot for me.

Adding onto that, it’s always wonderful to see POC characters at the forefront of rom-coms, and the fact that they’re LGBTQ+ makes it so much better! I can’t speak to the accuracy of the representation myself (Hani is Bangladeshi-Irish, and Ishu is Indian-Irish, and they’re both Muslim), but most of the LGBTQ+ rom-coms out there are…pretty white. So it’s always a breath of fresh air to see non-white LGBTQ+ characters in literature.

My main problem, however, is with the excessive biphobia throughout the book. I fully recognize that all of it was challenged, but there was just so much of it that it became unnecessarily triggering. Hani’s “friends,” in almost every scene they’re in, invalidate her every chance they get, and a lot of the extreme bigotry they displayed definitely triggered me as well. All of the biphobia was challenged and I appreciate Adiba Jaigirdar for putting the trigger warning there, but for a book that was advertised as a feel-good rom-com, it decidedly did not make me feel good as a bisexual person. I feel like Hani’s bisexuality was well-depicted and relatable, but there didn’t need to be that much biphobia to sell the point of how bigoted and toxic Hani’s “friends” were—there was already enough evidence towards them being disgusting people. (I will say, though—Jaigirdar did a great job of writing how difficult it is to break out of toxic friendships. So props to her for that.)

Other than that, I never got on board with the romance. The setup was all there, but even through all of the bonding that Hani and Ishu had, I just never felt like they had any chemistry at all. There was just this feeling of…neutrality throughout the whole thing. Like their relationship was just acquaintances at best, even though they were sold as an almost enemies-to-lovers kind of deal. They just didn’t seem to click for me. And seeing as Hani and Ishu was billed as a rom-com, I didn’t get a whole lot of the “rom.”

All in all, an LGBTQ+ rom-com that was sweet in concept, but messy in its execution. 3 stars.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is a standalone; Adiba Jaigirdar is also the author of The Henna Wars and the forthcoming A Million to One.

Today’s song:

this was the third song they played last night…still in awe of how smoothly they transitioned from “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)” to this. beautiful song 💗

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (3/22/22) – The Wide Starlight

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I think I saw The Wide Starlight on Edelweiss originally, but it’s been on my TBR for a good year and a half. I wasn’t able to go to the library last week, so I’ve been trawling the Kindle library for books to read, and came upon it again. To my surprise, it captured my heart—my first 5-star read of 2022!

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Wide Starlight – Nicole Lesperance

As a child, Eline Davis lived with her parents in Svalbard, raised on her mother’s fairytales. One of those tales cautioned to never whistle at the Northern Lights, lest they sweep you away to parts unknown. But Eline’s mother did just that, and she disappeared.

Ten years later, Eline and her father are living in Cape Cod. Now, the Northern Lights will be visible where she is, and she takes the opportunity to whistle and bring her mother back. Her mother returns, but vastly changed from the mother Eline knew and loved. Along with her return come strange, unexplainable occurrences—strange letters in the bushes, narwhals in the bay, and cloaked figures stalking her at every turn. The only way to make things right is to return to her old home in Svalbard, but what awaits her their may prove more dangerous than what the Northern Lights have in store.

TW/CW: loss of a loved one, emotional abuse, grief, animal death, depression, fire, near-death situations, description of a corpse

I am stunned. I am absolutely in awe. I picked this book up just because I needed a little fantasy to tide me over, but The Wide Starlight ended up being my first 5-star read of 2022!

The Wide Starlight is exactly what magical realism should be. It toes the line between reality and fairytale with the kind of ease I would have never expected from a debut novel. Lesperance’s writing is all-consuming and beautifully dreamlike, calling to mind the fairytale books that our parents told us as bedtime stories. And like an old fairytale, it balances raw reality with all things magical and cryptic. It’s the kind of book to get lost in.

On the subject of Lesperance’s writing, it’s also wonderfully immersive. With every word, I could see Eline’s green house at the top of the world and feel the chill of the Arctic wind at my cheeks. (Granted, it was chilly and snowing outside when I read this…nowhere near how freezing Svalbard is, I imagine) Every word paints a vivid picture, whether it’s of Eline’s harsh world or the stories she was raised on. Each character, from main characters like Eline to the minor characters that rarely appeared, had such an extensive degree of realism, and none of them felt like afterthoughts—everything was fleshed out.

For me, some of the best descriptions came through in Eline’s fairytale flashbacks. Not only did they tie up the loose ends within the world, the fairytales within gave new life to the story of Eline’s family. All of the stories are from Norwegian folklore, but I was particularly interested in the tale of Prince Lindworm—my dad mentioned a similar story recently, but the one he told me about was an Irish folktale. Archetypes are strange little beasts.

There’s also a consistent suspense that never dies down; Lesperance expertly built and maintained tension throughout the novel. Although the plot itself had a relatively moderate pace, Lesperance continually kept me on my toes with obstacles both real and supernatural. Magical realism novels generally keep a slow to medium pace, and it’s difficult to keep the plot moving, but Nicole Lesperance did so with ease.

But what brings The Wide Starlight together, in the end, is its emotional weight. Grief, depression, and generational trauma are ever-present in this novel, but Lesperance handled them in a way that was deeply grounded in emotion but still conscious of its reality. Eline’s journey with grappling with who her mother and grandmother were was a powerful one, and the conclusion she came to was equally powerful—sometimes grief clouds our memories of the people we love. Alongside that, there’s a powerful message about generational trauma; Eline’s mother’s side of the family is fraught with emotional abuse and depression, but not all of it is as one-sided as she once perceived it to be. Ultimately, Eline’s journey leads to forging her own path, informed by her past but not too rooted in it. The Wide Starlight is a book that is certain to stick with you. Certainly still sticking with me.

All in all, a deeply powerful and emotional piece of magical realism that melds fairytales with the harsh realities of family and coping with grief. You don’t want to pass this one by. 5 stars!

The Wide Starlight is a standalone and Nicole Lesperance’s debut novel. She is also the author of the Nightmare Thief duology (The Nightmare Thief and The Dream Spies) and the forthcoming novel The Depths, which is slated for release this October.

Today’s song:

NEW ARCADE FIRE THIS IS NOT A DRILL

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (3/15/22) – Love in the Time of Global Warming

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

As a bi person, I’ve been on the hunt for more bisexual representation in literature for years. Love in the Time of Global Warming popped up on a whole bunch of lists of YA books with bisexual characters, and the premise intrigued me, so I gave it a go. This one has a lot of bad reviews, but to me, it was a beautifully-written and inventive retelling of The Odyssey!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Love in the Time of Global Warming – Francesca Lia Block

Human civilization has been reduced to its barest remnants after a cataclysmic event known only as the Earth Shaker set the apocalypse in motion. After her house is raided by mysterious men, Pen sets out into the wasteland of what was once Los Angeles in search of her missing mother and brother. Along the way, she meets a cast of strange, lost characters who join her on her quest. But their path is plagued by giants and mad scientists, and they must search the ends of the Earth for what they seek.

TW/CW: sexual content, descriptions of death/murder, past descriptions of abuse/homophobia, use of a trans character’s deadname

Bonus points have been preemptively awarded for the TV on the Radio reference. To Francesca Lia Block—if you see this review, I’m just here to tell you that you have great taste.

I initially picked up this book because I’d seen it show up on loads of lists of YA books with bisexual protagonists, and now that I’ve read it, I’m so glad I did! Most of the reviews I’ve read aren’t too positive, but for the most part, I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

A lot of the complaints about Love in the Time of Global Warming were centered around Block’s writing style. I can usually get on board with more flowery, dreamlike prose, and that’s certainly how Block seems to write. I loved her lush descriptions; the hazy, mystic atmosphere of it made it feel all the more like a retelling, especially one of The Odyssey. Even though Love in the Time of Global Warming was strictly dystopia/sci-fi at its core, Block’s writing gave it a magical feel, which, for the story she was trying to tell, meshed perfectly.

As far as retellings go, Love in the Time of Global Warming was loose, but there were still enough callbacks to The Odyssey to make it feel like a retelling. Pen’s quest did have an odyssey-like feel to it, and some of the parallels (Circe, the cyclops, etc.) were clear, although the addition of Hex reading The Odyssey as they went along felt borderline ham-handed, as though to say “guys! GUYS! Guess what!!! This!!! Is a retelling!!!!1!!” However, Love in the Time of Global Warming was inventive in its brand of apocalypse, which made the setting—and the feel of the retelling itself—a lot more enjoyable. Having giants created by a mad scientist gave the book a fantastical feel without being a fantasy book, which I found to be a very creative move. With Block’s descriptive prose added to that, it made for a very creative retelling.

Another highlight for me was the fact that all of the main characters were casually LGBTQ+! It’s always great to see lots of queer representation in a story, and there is no shortage of queer and trans characters in Love in the Time of Global Warming. Plus, I loved having a brave, unique heroine like Pen be bisexual—always warms your heart to see yourself represented, isn’t it? Certainly warmed mine. Plus, I loved the little jab that they have about being told all their life that they’d be going to hell for being queer, and yet it’s them—not the homophobes—who survive the apocalypse. Call it comeuppance.

However, though most of the LGBTQ+ representation was positive and well-written, I do have a few issues with how parts of Hex, a trans man, was written. Take this as you will, since I’m cis, but there were definitely some parts that rubbed me the wrong way. After Hex comes out as trans, his deadname and old pronouns are used…frequently? Most of it’s in flashbacks, but even still, it’s generally accepted that using a trans person’s deadname and old pronouns after they’ve come out as trans is not the most considerate thing to do. I doubt there was any harm meant by it, but it was a little uncomfortable that Block wrote him this way.

All in all, though, a strange, dreamlike, and unapologetically queer retelling of The Odyssey. 4 stars!

Love in the Time of Global Warming is the first book in Francesca Lia Block’s Love in the Time of Global Warming duology, followed by The Island of Excess Love. Block is also the author of Weetzie Bat, The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold, Echo, Witch Baby, and several other books for teens and young adults.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!