Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (1/24/22) – The Last Cuentista

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve had The Last Cuentista on my TBR for a fair amount of time, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw a copy at my college’s library, so I ended up picking it up. I remembered almost nothing about the synopsis or why I wanted to pick it up in the first place, but what I found was a beautiful tale of the power of storytelling.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Last Cuentista – Donna Barba Higuera

Petra Peña loves nothing more than listening to the stories of her abuelita, and dreams of someday being a storyteller like her. But when Earth is put in danger by a comet, she must abandon her abuelita and travel with her parents and younger brother to planet Sagan, where humanity can start over. But on the centuries-long journey, the ship is infiltrated by the Collective, a shady organization who aims to erase the crimes of humanity’s past by wiping the memories of all the passengers. When Petra wakes up, she realizes that she is the only one who remembers Earth—and the only one who can save what remains of the human species from forgetting itself altogether.

TW/CW: loss of loved ones, descriptions of injury, fear, descriptions of sleep paralysis

Good middle-grade sci-fi is hard to come by, but The Last Cuentista was nothing short of wonderful. With a story as beautiful as its cover, it’s a shining testament to the power of storytelling and a poignant reminder to never forget where you came from.

I know I opened with specifically saying that The Last Cuentista is middle-grade, but I’d say it toes the line right between middle grade and YA. Petra is 13 years old, and there’s certainly some more middle-grade aspects to how the themes are dealt with and some of the character interactions, but it borders on hardcore, nail-biting sci-fi in other places. Think of every piece of sci-fi media that deals with cryosleep for several centuries, and think of all of the potential, existential obstacles that come along with it: chances are, they do end up appearing in this book. It’s a weird place to navigate reading-wise when you’re that age (I certainly remember wishing that there was an in-between place for middle grade and YA), but The Last Cuentista retains a middle-grade sensibility without downplaying the integrity of its themes and world simply because it’s aimed at a younger audience.

One of the strongest aspects of The Last Cuentista was Donna Barba Higuera’s fantastic writing. She especially excels at sensory details; in a particularly nail-biting scene when Petra is still awake while her pod is preparing for cryosleep (AAAAAAAAAAAAAA), Higuera filled her prose with all kinds of sensory details that really sold the crushing fear of the moment. Her descriptions of the bizarre flora and fauna of Sagan are just as lush, painting a picture of an alien planet just as well as Petra’s abuelita paints stories. Higuera’s ability to create suspense and her ability to spin beautiful prose went hand in hand, making for a novel that had me invested the whole time.

The Last Cuentista also had some beautiful themes; Petra’s quest to keep the history of humanity alive through storytelling serves to remind us that we should never forget who we are, despite having a history wracked with war and darkness. The Collective was a perfect, sinister dystopia to set this theme against, and they also added to the suspense that Higuera consistently built throughout the novel. Petra’s journey to return humanity to its roots was poignantly written and so wonderfully timely, and I have no doubt that The Last Cuentista will be a book that stands the test of time. In the end, we are all united by the stories that bind us together. Never underestimate the power of a storyteller.

My only gripe with this novel were some of the characters. Other than Petra and her family, most of the side characters felt interchangeable. A few of them had a few base traits to go off of, but other than that, I often found myself getting them mixed up. The switch from the Greek letter/number designations to nicknames didn’t necessarily help, although it was clearly important thematically. I wish we’d gotten as much development out of at least some of them as we got with Petra and maybe Voxy—the story was powerful by itself, but it would have been more so if some of the other characters were more fleshed out.

All in all, a beautiful piece of sci-fi that reminds us that stories have the power to do anything—change us, teach us, and above all, unite us. 4 stars!

The Last Cuentista is a standalone, but Donna Barba Higuera is also the author of Lupe Wong Won’t Dance, as well as the picture books El Cucuy is Scared, Too! and the upcoming The Yellow Handkerchief.

Today’s song:

shuffle decided to hit me right in the 6th grade feels today, I see

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

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Book Review Tuesday (1/16/23) – Little Thieves

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I forget exactly where I first heard about Little Thieves, but I think it may have been from seeing other people’s reviews here in the blogosphere. Now that I’ve read it, let me just say this: whoever’s review it was that inspired me to pick up this book, thank you so much. YA fantasy has started to become formulaic for me at worst, but Little Thieves was filled with charm, humor, and refreshing spins on the subgenre as a whole. Enjoy this week’s review!

Little Thieves (Little Thieves, #1) – Margaret Owen

Vanja Schmidt is the thirteenth daughter of a thirteenth daughter. Her mother knew how bad her luck would be, so when she was a child, she surrendered her daughter to be raised by the goddesses of Death and Fortune. But as Vanja grows older, she doesn’t seek to follow the paths of her surrogate parents and runs off on her own, making a living swindling and picking pockets. Vanja’s swindling gets as far as the royal palace, and with the theft of a charmed necklace of pearls, she assumes the identity of Princess Gisele.

But Vanja’s life of crime has attracted unwanted attention. When a Low God curses her body to turn to jewels at the full moon, Vanja must retrace her steps and right her past wrongs. Her trail of thievery will reach into the heart of a conspiracy that leads to Princess Gisele’s betrothed, and soon, Vanja realizes that she’s in for more than she bargained for.

some of the beautiful illustrations from Little Thieves, done by Margaret Owen herself!

TW/CW: child abuse, animal death, blood, descriptions of injury, sexual harassment

Barely halfway through the first month of the year, and I’m already running into books this good? SUCH a relief after the brief slump I was just in…

YA fantasies—fairytale retellings in particular—are books that I’ve started to steer away from slightly; over the years, they’ve gotten blatantly formulaic for me, and it’s rare that any have an impact on me anymore. It feels sad saying that, but after a while, I just got sick of all the secret royalty and love triangles and the lack of good worldbuilding. But Little Thieves showed me that there’s still faith in a sputtering subgenre and treated me to an exceptionally fun time!

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fairytale retelling—after a while, there are only so many Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast retellings one can take. But Little Thieves retold a fairytale that I hadn’t even heard of before—The Goose Girl, written by the Brothers Grimm. It also puts a spin on the fairytale’s antagonist, making her the main character and giving her more nuance and motives. From the first page, Little Thieves felt like a breath of fresh air into a tired genre, and I am all the better for it.

Owen’s vibrant characters seemed to leap off the page, and each and every one of the main cast won my heart in record time. They were all so distinct: Vanja with her determination and sass, Emeric’s delightfully uptight and sensitive demeanor, and the absolute chaos that was Ragne; I got attached to most of the main cast fairly quickly, which is certainly a rare occurrence for me. Little Thieves is also one of the only YA books I can think of that actually gets a morally gray protagonist right. “Morally gray” characters have almost become a buzzword after the success of books like Six of Crows, but most of the time, they just end up being characters that Do Crimes™️ but they have a Tragic Backstory™️ so they’re a Complex Character™️. Vanja, however, actually felt morally gray—her way of life, however shady her dealings and actions were—was her way of survival and defiance. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re raised by two surrogate moms that also happen to be the goddesses of Death and Fortune, but either way, it was refreshingly well-executed.

For the most part, I was also a fan of the writing style! It reminded me a lot of Ashley Poston—it was very cheeky and filled with humor, which matched Vanja’s voice perfectly, but it was also capable of plenty of nuance and depth, resulting in some spectacular bits of prose. Some of the humor bordered on meme-y at times, which was more than a little jarring, but in comparison to the rest of the book, I can let it slide. It’s the kind of charming writing that made me laugh, smile, and swoon, and it suited Owens’ story wonderfully.

The worldbuilding was also excellent, and I loved exploring the pseudo-German, medieval setting! It’s clear that Owens spent lots of time and energy into not only making a fleshed-out world with the appropriate amount of history and constraints, but also trying to stay faithful to German folklore and the original Brothers Grimm tale. All of the gods, shapeshifters, and other creatures were a delight—another reason why I’m a little bored with most YA fantasy is because they often shy away from having lots of mythical creatures (in place of just slapping a magic system onto a vaguely European setting), so, like so many other aspects of Little Thieves, this was such a breath of fresh air. I know I sound like a broken record every time I say that, but that’s seriously how reading all 500+ pages of this book felt.

Going off of that, I loved the casual queerness in Little Thieves! With a lot of fantasy settings where queerness is present, homophobia is still present because there’s a misconception that an ancient/older setting automatically equals homophobia/transphobia. I get the purpose of that on some level if the book is trying to share a message or theme about homophobia or transphobia, but on the other hand, if you can have a complex magic system and dragons, the concept of homophobia not being a thing in your fantasy world isn’t that strenuous of a stretch to make. Owens once again bashes all of these fantasy tropes and integrates queerness into her worldbuilding as something normal, and it made my heart so happy. Although no labels are specifically used in the book, Vanja and Emeric are both implied to be somewhere on the demisexual/asexual spectrum, Gisele is implied to be a lesbian (and later is in a relationship with Ragne), and there are several nonbinary and gender nonconforming side characters! More queer fantasy like this, please! (Also, I just loved Emeric and Vanja together. Just Love Them So Much)

All in all, a rare YA fairytale retelling that subverts all of the tropes of the genre and dazzles with its nuance and charm. 4.5 stars!

Little Thieves is the first in the trilogy, followed by Painted Devils (slated for release later this year) and an untitled third book. Margaret Owens is also the author of the Merciful Crow series, which consists of The Merciful Crow and The Faithless Hawk.

Today’s song:

just listened to this whole album today, perfect for winter!! this one almost sounds like Kid A

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 (1/10/23) – The Heartbreak Bakery

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ve been a fan of A.R. Capetta ever since I read the Once & Future duology, and when I was looking for a sweet rom-com to read the other day, the opportunity presented itself in this book. I’m glad to say that this is proof that Capetta almost never misses—a tender and sweet (no pun. intended) celebration of queerness and baking!

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Heartbreak Bakery – A.R. Capetta

Syd loves nothing more than baking—especially when it’s at the Proud Muffin, the queer-run bakery at the center of Austin’s queer community. After a nasty breakup, Syd deals with it in signature Syd fashion—by baking all the frustrations and bad feelings out into a batch of brownies. But when Syd’s frustrations works its way into the brownies and causes everyone that eats them to have relationship troubles, Syd has to fix the issue how it began—with baking. Throw in the cute delivery-person, and Syd has to avoid a recipe for disaster…

TW/CW: gender dysphoria

this book: has several jokes about the fact that it’s still possible to have a bad hair day even when you’ve shaved your head

me, having just shaved my head: [chuckles] “I’m in danger!”

I came into The Heartbreak Bakery just for a queer romance to tide me over, and I can now say with certainty that A.R. Capetta never misses! This piece of magical realism is a love letter to queer communities and spaces, and it made my heart so happy.

First off, this is easily one of the most diverse rom-coms that I’ve ever read! Syd is the first main character that I’ve read that’s agender, and the main relationship is between Syd and Harley, another nonbinary character! I think the entire cast is queer—a gay couple owns the Proud Muffin, there’s a polyamorous couple on the side, and there are queer characters of all identities as side characters, and many of them are POC as well! Capetta never shies away from unapologetic queerness, but it particularly shone in The Heartbreak Bakery.

The magical realism aspect was also fantastic, and it also culminated into a theme that I thought was incredibly important. I liked the ambiguity of where it came from, but the concept of putting tangible feelings into baking that have a visible ripple effect had me on board instantly. It served to show a great theme: the feelings that you put into anything, be it a project, a relationship, or a batch of brownies, is what you’re going to get out of it. If you pour all of your negativity into something, that’s exactly what’s going to come out of it. The Heartbreak Bakery takes the concept very literally—brownies that make couples break up, cakes that make you apologize, et cetera—but it was a great theme to explore. I do feel like some of the problems being almost immediately solved by the “apology cake” were a tad bit too easy for Syd to maneuver, but I’m glad Capetta made it more complicated—having Marisol eat the cake by accident, for example. (I wish I had a physical copy of the book on hand—some of those recipes looked good!)

My only major qualm with The Heartbreak Bakery was the pacing. I’m all for slower, gentler books, but it felt like the main points of conflict were unevenly spaced. For instance, the final climax of the bake-off felt far too rushed for me; given how much hinged on the outcome, it should’ve gotten a lot more page time than it did. Some of the interim scenes between the main points of conflict should’ve been shortened in favor of the more important, plot/character building scenes. It was a great novel to start with, but I could’ve done with a little tweaking with the pacing and the importance placed on certain scenes.

All in all, an incredibly sweet (no pun intended) magical-realism romance that reads as an ode to baking, queerness, community, and love itself. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!

The Heartbreak Bakery is a standalone, but A.R. Capetta is also the author of The Lost Coast, the Once & Future duology (co-authored with Cory McCarthy), Echo After Echo, and several other books.

Today’s song:

man I have so many memories of hearing this song when I was a kid

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 (1/3/23) – Across a Field of Starlight

Happy first Tuesday of the year, bibliophiles!

My first review of the year also happens to be the first book that I finished this year! I hadn’t heard anything about it before I came upon it while browsing the YA graphic novel section of Barnes & Noble. I’m always all in for queer sci-fi, and that, combined with the art style, was enough to convince me to buy it. I’m so glad to say that it was a wonderful graphic novel, full of heart, bright colors, and queerness aplenty.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Across a Field of Starlight – Blue Delliquanti

Lu and Fassen have been friends since childhood, after a chance meeting when Fassen’s spaceship crashed onto Lu’s peaceful planet. Though they came from entirely different backgrounds, they kept in contact even as Fassen was forced back into their duty as a soldier. But when the tyrannical Ever-Blossoming Empire begins a siege on Fassen’s resistance front and endangers Lu’s planet, the two are reunited. Together for the first time in years, they must set aside their differences to escape the Empire’s clutches—and discover truths about each other.

TW/CW: sci-fi violence, depictions of injuries/blood, war themes, vehicle crash, loss of loved ones (off-page)

Across a Field of Starlight was the perfect book to start my year off with! With its beautiful art, tender story, and unapologetic queerness all the way through, this is a graphic novel that you won’t want to miss.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how wonderfully diverse Across a Field of Starlight is. I don’t think I’ve read anything—graphic novel or otherwise—quite this diverse in such a long time! Both of the protagonists are nonbinary and POC, Lu is plus-sized, and there is an array of POC and trans characters all throughout the story. I especially loved that Delliquanti didn’t shy away from giving their cast of characters a variety of different body types, and it made their world and story all the more rich.

Delliquanti’s art style made Across a Field of Starlight shine as well. Although the book gets into some dark themes—war, colonization, etc.—the colors are vibrant all the way through, giving it a very fantastical feel. It especially suited Lu’s more peaceful, utopian planet and its welcoming nature, as well as Lu’s caring personality. Delliquanti’s depiction of outer space has a beautiful vibrance to it, making for an incredibly inviting story.

art by Blue Delliquanti
art by Blue Delliquanti

The perspectives that Delliquanti chose gave the story a more compelling angle as well. Instead of most sci-fi/fantasy war stories, Across a Field of Starlight focuses on the Firebreak resistance front and a party completely outside the main conflict; most media (Star Wars comes to mind) focuses just on the tyrannical empire and the rebellion, but I liked that they largely left the Ever-Blossoming Empire as more of a looming threat. It also made the point that even though Firebreak was fighting to free the galaxy of colonization, they weren’t all pure and good either, and although the aim was good, the motives for some of the authority figures may have been less so. Never meet your heroes, kids.

That being said, I would’ve liked more context for the intergalactic conflict that this novel sets up. I did like that we were thrown right into the action, but I would’ve liked more historical context on how the Ever-Blossoming Empire and the Firebreak came to be, how long they’ve been at war, and the consequences for the rest of the galaxy. Across a Field of Starlight is great on its own, but with a world as expansive as the one Delliquanti has created, it’s begging for a few sequels or spin-offs, or at least some more background.

All in all, a highly enjoyable graphic novel filled with heart, diversity, and vibrant color. 4 stars!

Across a Field of Starlight is a standalone, but Blue Delliquanti is also the author of the comic series O Human Star, which currently has three volumes, and has contributed to several other comic collections.

Today’s song:

good mindset for this year, I think

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 (12/27/22) – Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I only found out that Gleanings existed about a month ago, so naturally, it landed right on my Christmas list. More stories from one of the most creative and chilling YA dystopian worlds? SIGN ME UP. I got a copy for Christmas and immediately started reading, and while there were a few missteps, Gleanings was just the thing that I needed to get out of my reading slump.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Gleanings: Stories from the Arc of a Scythe – Neal Shusterman et. al. (anthology)

(summary from Goodreads):

There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.

Neal Shusterman—along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman—returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

TW/CW: death (central theme), descriptions of injury, suicide, past descriptions of mass death, attempted killing of an animal

What better book to get me out of my reading slump than a collection of short stories set in one of my favorite dystopian worlds? I’m so glad that Neal Shusterman made the decision to delve even further into the fantastic, multilayered world of the Arc of a Scythe, and even though the anthology had a few weak points, overall, it was a highly enjoyable glimpse into the unexplored corners of a trilogy I adore.

(For this review, I’ll be doing a mini-review for each short story.)

“The First Swing” – Joelle Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Having a poem as the first installment in the collection was an interesting decision, but I would’ve liked it more if the poem…had something more to it. It was…alright? There didn’t seem to be a whole lot to it, but it was at least an interesting direction to go with.

“Formidable” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was the first fantastic story in this collection—I loved seeing the early days of Scythe Curie before she became a fully-ordained Scythe, and I loved how Shusterman made her determined, fiery personality come off on every page. Reading stories like this make me wish that it wouldn’t take six coats of bleach to dye my darker hair silver.

“Never Work with Animals” – Neal Shusterman and Michael Payne – ⭐️⭐️

The weakest point in the whole anthology, without a doubt. It seriously baffled me that Shusterman had any part in this story—it was hokey, the writing was clunky as all get-out, and the story itself seemed to have no point. It was honestly just ridiculous, and I really don’t think it had any place in the anthology. Just…why? Why does it exist? However, I’d say this is just a fluke in a sea of mostly amazing stories, so the others successfully overshadow it. But still. Why.

“A Death of Many Colors” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Not the best out of the collection, but I liked the stance that it took. I loved the framing of the mythos of Scythes against the backdrop of a futuristic misunderstanding of a Halloween party, as though Scythes had faded into the same category as any other Halloween monster many years in the future. Given how prominent the Scythes were in the original trilogy, it didn’t even cross my mind that there were some people that would think that Scythes were fake, so that was also an interesting angle to work from—especially from the perspective of teenagers trying to scare each other at a Halloween party.

“Unsavory Row” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Again, not my favorite, but it was at least an interesting perspective to go with. Cheesy futuristic gang names aside (it’s the kind of cheese you kind of have to get used to with a Neal Shusterman dystopia—he sort of pulls it off), it gave us a glimpse into the criminal underworld of the Unsavories. Kila was the perfect example of an audience surrogate, and she worked excellently for the role.

“A Martian Minute” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

WOW. Without question, one of my absolute favorites of this collection! I’m already keen for a good villain origin story, but Shusterman executed the mind of a teenage Scythe Goddard so wonderfully. From the descriptions of Mars to young Goddard’s inner turmoils and how they translated to the very beginnings of megalomania, every part of this story shone. Also, I loved the foreshadowing with Xenocrates’ robes and The Pool Scene…yeeeeeeeeesh…

“The Mortal Canvas” – Neal Shusterman and David Yoon – ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

What’s great about this anthology is that a lot of its stories use this world to talk about art, which, given the other themes of the books thus far, was an unexpected surprise. Although the writing in this story wasn’t quite as strong, I love the statements that it made about the connection between emotions and art, especially the rise of AI art. AI art may be a crowd-pleaser, but true art comes from stirring up complex emotions in the viewer—emotions that a human artist imbued into the canvas.

“Cirri” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

An unexpectedly emotional story about the Thunderhead’s AI “children” shepherding pockets of the human race out into the universe in search of new worlds. It makes a beautiful statement about humankind as a whole, and through the eyes of a conflicted Cirrus, emphasizes that despite our faults, we are worth saving, and that all hope isn’t lost.

“Anastasia’s Shadow” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A fascinating look at the fate of Citra’s younger brother Ben, his failed training to be a Scythe, and the fraught romance he fosters during that time. It was interesting to see how Citra’s transition to Scythedom—and the trauma that it wrought—shaped Ben, and how it influenced his training and who he became now that he’s reached his sister’s age when she became a Scythe.

“The Persistence of Memory” – Neal Shusterman, Jarrod Shusterman, and Sofía Lapuente – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Another favorite in this collection, and another wonderful statement about art and spectacle. There were so many elements that made this story as charming as it was, but I especially loved the concept of Penélope, our resident goth, being so obsessed with death that she hangs around a Scythe, who becomes her surrogate uncle. There’s so much tenderness and wit in this story, and it all culminated in a theme that, now that I think about it, is very similar to the theme of Jordan Peele’s “Nope”—the lengths that we will go to achieve a spectacle. Without spoiling anything, they also resolve themselves in…shall we say, very similar ways.

“Meet Cute and Die” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This story easily could’ve fallen into the same fate as “Never Work with Animals,” but the dry gallows humor of this story made it so much more memorable and funny. As shrouded in death as this whole universe is, this story takes a lighter approach to it and makes an unexpected romance out of the absurdity of life itself.

“Perchance to Glean” – Neal Shusterman and Michelle Knowlden – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Another story that explores uncharted territory—the Antarctic settlement of Ross Shelf, and the system of collective dreaming that the citizens undergo. Not only was the worldbuilding fascinating, I loved the main twist of the dreams. Again, without spoiling anything, we see just how scarily powerful the Scythes are, if that wasn’t already obvious.

“A Dark Curtain Rises” – Neal Shusterman – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This works well as the last story of the collection—eerie and more than a little twisted, but still hopeful in its culmination. Combined with “Cirri,” this just makes me want to know more about this world post-Arc of a Scythe. (Mr. Shusterman PLEASE tell me you have some more plans for this universe PLEASE)

Averaged out, my ratings came out to just around 4 stars! A must-read for fans of the Arc of a Scythe, and a wonderful addition of vignettes in Neal Shusterman’s cleverly crafted, dystopian world.

Gleanings is technically #3.5 in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, as it contains spoilers for the original trilogy. It is preceded by Scythe, Thunderhead, and The Toll. Shusterman is also the author of the UnWind dystology (UnWind, UnWholly, UnSoulled, and UnDivided), the Skinjacker trilogy (Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound), and many other books for middle grade and YA readers.

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 (12/20/22) – A Venom Dark and Sweet (The Book of Tea, #2)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I really enjoyed the first book in the Book of Tea duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, because of its unique magic system and immersive world. Lucky for us, book 2 came out mere months after Magic (HOW), so I got to get my hands on Venom somewhat soon after reading book 1. However, a lot of what I loved about Magic was watered down in the sequel—Lin’s writing remained strong, but a good portion of what made Magic so unique had been sidelined.

Tread lightly! This review may contain spoilers for A Magic Steeped in Poison. If you haven’t read it and intend on doing so, read at your own risk.

For my review of book 1, A Magic Steeped in Poison, click here!

A Venom Dark and Sweet (The Book of Tea, #2) – Judy I. Lin

After the Banished Prince returns to take his place on the throne of Dàxi, Ning and the other exiled royals are forced into hiding. Evading the Prince’s systematic tea poisonings across the kingdom, it’s up to Ning to expose the fraud and treachery of the new ruler. But an even greater evil lurks in the shadows, and if Ning and her newfound allies can’t stop the hostile takeover of their kingdom, they may fall to an even worse fate than they could have ever imagined.

TW/CW: fantasy violence, death, substance abuse, torture

I really wished I liked A Venom Dark and Sweet more than I did; the series was off to such a strong start with A Magic Steeped in Poison, but this sequel bordered on lackluster in comparison. Without the novelty of the unique elements that made book 1 so memorable, there wasn’t much else to carry the plot, save for Lin’s excellent writing; nevertheless, it was still entertaining.

As with Magic, Judy I. Lin’s beautiful writing was the strongest point of the whole novel. Her prose continues to be as lush and immersive as the world she created, and even when the plot faltered, Lin’s words carried it afloat until the end of the book. It wasn’t quite enough to overshadow the weaker aspects of this book, but it gets an extra half-star from me—it largely picked up the slack of the rest of the book.

However, the rest of Venom didn’t seem to have much to it. Most of the book seemed to just be the two parties skirting around each other/trying to avoid getting killed, and it just felt like 350-odd pages of a wild goose chase. After how compelling the political intrigue and the magic system of Magic were, I expected so much more from this book, but there seemed to be hardly any payoff to anything that happened in book 1. We did get some bits of fascinating worldbuilding (the bamboo forest, for one, we needed more of that), but they were delivered in such brief, fleeting chunks that they left me feeling disappointed. It was decent on its own, but I just wanted more—more exploration of the world, more exploration of the magic system, more stakes.

And speaking of no payoff…did Lin just forget that she was teasing a romance between Ning and Kang? Venom was told in dual POVs between the two of them, but they didn’t end up meeting until about the 95% mark and then…nothing really happened? My issue isn’t that they were just platonic (in fact, I’d be all for that), but given that Lin was teasing a romance between them for a good portion of Magic, I really wished there had been some sort of resolution.

All in all, a promising sequel with beautiful prose, but a lackluster conclusion to the duology as a whole. 3.5 stars.

A Venom Dark and Sweet is the final book in the Book of Tea duology, preceded by A Magic Steeped in Poison. Judy I. Lin is also the author of the forthcoming Song of the Six Realms, slated for release in 2024.

Today’s song:

finished learning this on guitar today, so much fun

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 (11/29/22) – The All-Consuming World

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I never learn, do I? Every few weeks, I always start craving sci-fi again, and when there’s nothing readily available at the library or on Kindle, I just sift through the dust bunnies in my TBR until I find something interesting. And to be fair, The All-Consuming World did sound interesting. I was willing to give it a chance despite the pitifully low ratings it’s been getting (a 3.28/5 on Goodreads, as of now), but it turned out to be exactly the disappointment that the reviews promised.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The All-Consuming World – Cassandra Khaw

Maya’s glory days are over. After being resurrected dozens of times, she’s slowly outgrown the Dirty Dozen, the galaxy’s most infamous criminal group, and decided to make her own way. But when the galaxy’s ruler, an all-powerful, sentient AI, threatens to hold their realm in a chokehold, it’s up to Maya to recruit the disbanded bunch of cyborgs, clones, and lowlives to save the galaxy from complete control.

TW/CW: body horror, sci-fi violence, amputation/emergency medical procedures, suicide

DNF at 35%.

I genuinely can’t think of a book with a more jarring writing style than this one. Jarring can sometimes be good, but in the case of The All-Consuming World, it seemed like a case of vast stylistic indecision, and this indecision dragged the entire book down with it. I really wanted to like this book—queer space opera is always up my alley, and I always want to try and support queer authors—but it ended up being a sore disappointment all the way through. (What I could stand to read before I gave up, anyway.) As I always say with my negative reviews: I completely understand. Putting yourself out there as an author is an immensely hard thing to do, and I always admire the work put in. But this book just did not click with me at all.

The writing style is what, for me, made The All-Consuming World crash and burn. Maya was clearly supposed to be a rough-around-the-edges character, battered and bruised, and all around Tough and Gritty™️, and at least half what I read seemed to try and get that voice…with at least 15 f-bombs dropped within rapid succession of each other on each page. Now, I don’t have a problem with swearing at all, and I appreciate the art of a well-placed, well-timed swear. But the excess of ill-placed cusses (along with more f-bombs than there are leaves on the trees in the Amazon Rainforest)—half of which were in combinations that made absolutely no sense at all—made for writing that read more like a middle schooler trying to be edgy than a tough and hardened criminal.

But on the other hand, the other half of what I read was some of the wordiest, floweriest prose I’ve ever read. And some of that had moments of being good—I’ll give Khaw some credit for that—but it was such a jarring contrast. Sometimes, juxtaposition like this works, but the two, distinct voices that Khaw was trying to go for had such a vast gulf in tone between them that it lacked any sense of cohesion whatsoever. I really wanted to stick it out to see what happened, but it was just giving me such a headache to try and weather the writing, so I had to quit.

I stopped at 35% of the way through, and I still don’t have a clue what was going on, plot-wise. I seriously can’t remember if there was a plot beneath all of the flashbacks and exposition, impenetrable prose, and multitudinous f-bombs. From the synopsis, I was told that Dimmuborgir was supposed to be a central plot point, but I only remember it being mentioned a single time. Yes, 35% of the way in isn’t all that far, but that close to the halfway point, I would’ve thought that the characters would have at least moved the slightest bit towards their destination. It was all very…vague. Vague sense of rebellion towards a vague concept of an omniscient, ruling AI with a vague set of characters that fell into either AI or Hardened Criminal™️ boxes. And the worldbuilding? Left the building before the book had even begun. Trying to read The All-Consuming World felt like trying to dig through a messy closet, and emerging an hour later without having found the thing you needed to find in the first place.

All in all, a book that it pains me to rate so low, but crashed and burned in almost every conceivable aspect. 1 star.

The All-Consuming World is a standalone, but Cassandra Khaw is also the author of the Persons Non Grata series (Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet), Nothing but Blackened Teeth, These Deathless Bones, and several other novels and novellas.

Today’s song:

BACK TO BLUR AGAIN!! so far, this is my least favorite album of theirs that I’ve listened to, but it’s still a fantastic listen—take this song, for instance

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 (11/22/22) – The Depths

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I found out about The Depths after Nicole Lesperance’s other YA novel, The Wide Starlight, was my first 5-star read of the year. (For my review of The Wide Starlight, click here!) After it came out, I was excited to read it after how much The Wide Starlight impacted me. I knew going into The Depths that it would be a very different kind of book, and that was certainly the case—compared to Starlight, it was a slight disappointment, but when separated from Lesperance’s other works, it’s a unique horror story with a creative setting.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The Depths – Nicole Lesperance

After a free-diving accident left her medically dead for several minutes, 17-year-old Adeline Spencer has to tag along with her mother and step-father on their honeymoon. In a secluded, nearly uninhabited island, Addie is supposed to stay put while she recovers from her near-fatal lung injury. But Eulalie Island is full of strange secrets—birds that seem to call her name, flowers that bleed bloodred sap, and a 200-year history of mysterious deaths. When she uncovers a centuries-old mystery hidden in a remote cave system , Addie must rescue herself from the same fate before Eulalie Island takes her in as one of its own.

TW/CW (from the author): death, past child death, blood, drowning, venomous insects/arachnids (spiders, centipedes, etc.)

I’m not much of a horror person, but after The Wide Starlight captured my heart, I was willing to give this novel a try. Sadly, The Depths didn’t blow me away like her previous novel did, but it still held its own with its unique take on a spine-chilling ghost story.

What really saved The Depths for me was its unique approach to the genre. Even though I don’t read/watch much horror at all, I’ve seen hardly any horror stories that take place in tropical locations. The secluded setting of Eulalie Island was the perfect, underused setup for a story like this—a chilling history of shipwrecks and sickness, cave systems that are all too easy to get lost in, and plenty of creepy crawlies to go around—not to mention the color-changing flowers that appear to bleed. (If I hadn’t already been dissuaded before, The Depths further convinced me that I’m not going caving any time soon.) Despite the supernatural elements, there were so many elements that felt real, and that’s part of what made it so successful. The Depths is a fantastic case study in using all aspects of your setting to make the most of your story.

I also love how Lesperance wove all of these centuries of history into her mystery; it’s easy to establish recurring events in your story, but the detail that she put into each part of the timeline—plus the presence of the ghosts and each one of their stories—gave the plot a more tangible sense of scale and weight. Even though I’ve repeated that The Wide Starlight and The Depths are two very different novels, when they stand together, you can see how skilled Lesperance is with building history and establishing a clear and well-thought-out timeline.

However, I found several elements of the story to be rather predictable. As detailed as the timeline was, the “plot twists” were often left behind, making for plot points that were easy to see coming—and I’m saying this as someone who hardly ever reads or watches horror. Without spoiling anything, the most obvious was the twist with Sean—I remember seeing that one coming from at least 100 pages before it was revealed. To be fair, it was at least a decently clever twist, but the fact that it was so easy to predict took a little bit away from my enjoyment of the story, even though I’m not the best at maneuvering plot twists.

All in all, a solid horror story that excelled in its unique setting, but fell flat in its predictability. 3.5 stars!

The Depths is a standalone, but Nicole Lesperance is also the author of The Wide Starlight, as well as the middle grade Nightmare Thief duology (The Nightmare Thief and The Dream Spies).

Today’s song:

the single most unexpectedly motivational song I’ve ever heard and I LOVE it

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 (11/15/22) – She Gets the Girl

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles! Even more snow today…

I initially put She Gets the Girl on my TBR because of so much buzz from my fellow bloggers, and I like to go for a queer romance every once in a while. I read it recently and I liked that it was from the perspective of a freshman in college (hey, it’s me!), but beyond that, it felt more like a mess of unlikeable characters and uncomfortable peer pressure instead of feel-good romance.

Enjoy this week’s review!

She Gets the Girl – Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

Alex Blackwood is entering college on the heels of a nasty breakup. Molly Parker is looking for love, and she’s in luck—her longtime crush, Cora Myers, is attending the same college as her. Problem is, Molly’s hopelessly awkward, especially around people she likes. When she and Alex have a chance encounter, they hatch a plan for Alex to polish up Molly’s flirting skills so that she can get the girl. But when Molly starts falling for Alex instead of Cora, the end goal becomes hazy…

TW/CW: alcoholism, toxic relationships, internalized racism, substance abuse

It’s all fun and games until the romance you picked up because you wanted it to be somewhat “feel-good” turns out to be…more uncomfortable than feel-good. It’s even harder when you hate one of the characters, and harder still when the two main characters seem to have hardly any chemistry. That’s the story of She Gets the Girl—a romance with an easy enough concept that was dragged down by forced and unlikable elements.

I’m sorry, I just have to get it out of the way: I hated Alex Blackwood. Hated her. It was clear that the authors were trying to make her a rough-around-the-edges character that would a) contrast Molly’s uptight and awkward personality and b) push her out of her comfort zone, which was a good enough pairing in concept. Key words here are “in concept.” What Alex ended up being was a total hypocrite—she’s so intent on being the opposite of her toxic ex, but turns around and manages to be just as toxic, just in a different way. And the whole concept of pushing Molly out of her comfort zone so that she can get with Cora? Most of it just ended up being Alex forcing Molly to do things that she was deeply uncomfortable with.

Thus, Molly and Alex had almost zero chemistry. Their entire relationship was built on the shaky foundation of knowing that they would end up together by the end of the book, and not much else. Everything was just…so forced. It’s heavily implied that Cora wasn’t a good option either since, yes, it as forced, but…I really don’t think dating Alex would’ve been a great option either, seeing as how much of a manipulative jerk she was to Molly. Proposed third option: Molly just takes off and finds better friends/lovers that…y’know, aren’t toxic?

That brings me to the weird message of this book. Throughout the book, all of the things that Alex pushes Molly to do to win Cora’s love involve changing herself in some way: changing her wardrobe into things she would normally be uncomfortable wearing, going to events that you have no experience in just to fit in with Cora, etc. It was sort of resolved by the relationship with Cora not working out, but Alex’s “advice” boiled down to Molly changing herself so that Cora would like her. I suppose they were trying to go with a “be true to yourself” message, which I really would’ve liked, but they resolved it by…pairing Molly with Alex, the one who was trying to force Molly to change in the first place. And Alex never apologizes for any of that—they just fall in love and then move on. Hence—no chemistry. No repercussions, save for the fling with Cora not working out. All that really happened was Alex’s manipulative actions being rewarded, which really rubbed me the wrong way. Even though Molly and Alex got into an argument about that, there was no sense of Alex taking responsibility for forcing Molly into all that uncomfortable stuff. I really wish Lippincott and Derrick had handled their relationship—and the message—better. She Gets the Girl had an easy way to send a good message, but it ended up bungling it all in the end.

There were a few aspects of She Gets the Girl that I did like. It’s always nice to have a mixed race character, and having Molly be mixed race really freshened things up, as well as some of the discussions about internalized racism. Even though I still despise Alex, the way they handled the situation with her mother was also respectfully handled—hard to read, but it seemed genuine to me. However, a lot of this ended up being overshadowed by how much of a mess the rest of the book was.

Overall, a romance that stumbled and fell when creating chemistry between the two characters, making for an uncomfortable book—and an uncomfortable message. 2 stars.

She Gets the Girl is a standalone, and the first and only book that Rachael Lippincott has written with her wife, Alyson Derrick. Lippincott is also the author of Five Feet Apart and All This Time (both co-written with Mikki Daughtry), as well as The Lucky List.

Today’s song:

listened to the whole album yesterday! it was one of those cases where I listened to all of the best songs beforehand so the rest of the album wasn’t *as* good (still good though), but it’s a great album

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 (11/8/22) – Huntress (Ash, #0.5)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Huntress is one of those books that just sat on my TBR collecting dust for several years. I decided to read it after finishing Ash a few years back, and I finally was able to get my hands on a copy from the university library. After remembering liking Ash, my expectations were average, and I was rewarded with a solid, strong fairytale full of darkness in unexpected places.

Huntress is technically a prequel, but it doesn’t necessarily require reading Ash beforehand, as its set in the same world, but hundreds of years earlier (you should read it anyway, though!). If you’d like to read my review of Ash, click here!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Huntress (Ash, #0.5) – Malinda Lo

Kaede and Taisin have been chosen for an insurmountable task: restoring order to the human world. For years, the sun hasn’t shone, the crops have dried up, and strange creatures have begun to breach the boundaries of human and otherworldly. The only way for them to seek answers is through the mysterious Fairy Queen, but the journey there may be more dangerous than what lies at the end. But as members of their party begin to die off, Kaede and Taisin must grapple with their futures—the future of the human world, and of the feelings they’re having for each other.

TW/CW: blood, fantasy violence, death, descriptions of injuries/corpses

“I don’t want to marry the man you arranged for me to marry because I don’t know him and I want to have control over my life”: good, good

“I don’t want to marry the man you arranged for me to marry because I don’t know him, I want to have control over my life, and also I’m a lesbian”: EVEN BETTER

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Ash, but reading Huntress doesn’t necessarily require a whole lot of knowledge of Ash‘s world to understand it. What remains, however, is that you have to remember that it was some of the first of its kind. Nowadays, YA is dominated by fairytale-inspired and fairytale retellings, some of which are queer, but stories like Ash and this companion were some of the first ones to do so—and some of the first to be openly queer. If you remember that (and if you can get past the painfully dated cover), you’re in for a fun ride—a dark and atmospheric piece of high fantasy filled with all sorts of danger and strange creatures.

Lo’s world is pretty distinctly High Fantasy™️, which I’ve been jaded with as of late, but her unique spin on it was enough to create a captivating world. Although the magic system was a little hazy, Lo’s descriptions of the barren landscape and treacherous forests created a world that felt real enough to step into. Even more captivating were the creatures that inhabited this world—everything from unicorns to horrifying changelings; the mythology around them and the stakes they created propelled the story even more. Plus, it’s always refreshing to have non-European inspiration for a high fantasy novel; in the author’s note, Lo explains that most of the book was inspired by both Chinese and Japanese mythology.

What I remember about Ash was how much I loved the main couple, but with Huntress, that was a little bit less of the case. In fact, I found Kaede and Taisin to be almost interchangeable (accentuated by the sporadic POV changes), but still compelling enough to root for. Most of the other characters were rather underdeveloped and forgettable, but Lo has a grim solution for the problem—killing them off. For me, it was Con who stole the show; he was the only character with a distinct personality, and it was a very lovable one at that. He’s the kind of character who probably would’ve been lumped in as the love interest in any other YA book, but having him as a platonic friend was so much more endearing.

Even though I loved Lo’s worldbuilding, I still wish that more was explored; we only got tidbits of the creatures in the Fairy Queen’s kingdom, and especially since the main villain was introduced so late in the book, I wished that we’d spent less time on the road and more time near the destination. The journey was interesting, sure, but it would’ve been more interesting to explore the more alien, unfamiliar corners of the world Lo created.

All in all, a solid piece of fantasy that made good use of its dark, barren atmosphere, but could’ve pushed it even further. 3.5 stars!

Huntress is a prequel to Ash, and they are the only books set in that universe. Malinda Lo is also the author of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, the Adaptation duology (consisting of Adaptation and Inheritance), and several other books for teens and adults.

Today’s song:

found this and “Metal Mickey” in a video somebody made of a medley of Britpop riffs, and…maybe I should check them out now?

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