I had some struggles this month – a lot of big reading plans I was very excited about, a lot of big reading plans that didn’t get completed. I had a hard time with my vision this month, which I’m sure you can imagine, makes reading A LITTLE BIT DIFFICULT. I do have periods of time every day where the double vision is not bothering me, but it’s broken up in chunks some days, and that’s really affected the KIND of books I’ve been able to get into this month. Like do you read different books in different ways? If I’m reading something like just contemporary lit or a beach read kind of thing or even some light thrillers, I have no problem picking it up and putting it down as needed, reading in little bits here and there, like back when I had a very small kid and it took me a near literal year to get through A Discovery of Witches not because I didn’t like it, but because I could only read it bit by bit, because of the general life circumstances of someone living in a newborn-harassed way. No problems. Other stuff, though, I need to really SIT DOWN and GET INTO in a long unbroken chunk to get reading – fantasy, heavy-ish sci-fi, some thrillers and mysteries, etc. Really need to get a momentum going to get properly stuck into reading it.
So I had a lot of DNFs this month – more books than I actually finished, as it turns out. I thought it was going to add up to being a REAL SHIT reading month, but when I was looking over my ratings for the stuff I did finish – I really liked almost all of it. Like, truly enjoyed the stuff I did manage to get read. So I’m calling March a good one.
Here are some quick reviews of the things I managed and didn’t manage this month.
I have already said it, this bitch loves a Backman, and this is a Backman, and I did love it. It’s a novella and is a pretty quick read — I read most of it in one of my old lady crumple body epsom salt baths. It’s told from the perspective of a man who is mostly spending time with his grandson throughout the story. It’s a sort of inner world look from the eyes of someone who is declining from Alzheimer’s. It’s about him, his life, his late wife. His son, his grandson, and his time with them. It took a minute to hook into the way the story was being told, but it turned out to be a pretty brilliant way to explore that concept — someone continuing to live while aware of what’s slipping away. It’s a bit like Still Alice by Lisa Genova in that the narrator is someone with the disease, but told in a slightly fantastical, metaphorical way, rather than a clinical day to day decline witnessed through the character’s eyes. It’s sad, but it’s not, but it is — it’s tragic and upsetting but it’s also not a devastating reading experience. I’m not quite sure how to explain that — it’s a painful topic, it’s painful to witness, but the way it’s told makes it almost bearable. It is not my top favorite Backman, but it is a good one, and I think it’s worth a read.
I didn’t end up finishing this one. I actually didn’t end up getting very far in this one. I don’t think it fell victim to my vision issues, because I don’t feel any urge to return to this later. This one just isn’t for me. Thrillers/mysteries aren’t really my genre, so I guess I am a bit extra picky in that area, but this book was just doing several things I didn’t like pretty early on, and I couldn’t get into it, and knowing I was having trouble getting into it colored my attitude and made me start getting extra nitpicky and resentful about what I was reading. It’s got multiple POVs, which is generally fine by me, but pretty much all of them are a wildly overblown caricature of the type of person they’re meant to be. On top of that, almost every POV chapter ended with some sort of “and there’s a deep dark secret the character has/knows, but we can’t talk about that right now…” in a really leading sort of way that really grated on me. I got too annoyed with everyone and lost my give a fuck before I could get any momentum going, and if I rated DNFs, this would be a solid, unquestioned “not for me” one star. THAT SAID, many people I know who have generally excellent taste in books HAVE liked this book, so if a multiple POV murder mystery set on an island in a storm sounds like your jam, by all means give it a shot. Maybe from the library. Use the library.
I think I’ve already talked about this one – link to post here. I finished it and I liked it quite a bit, and I do think I will pick up the next book in the series. It’s about a school called the Scholomance, where magical children are kind of … ZOOPED up into it at a certain age. There are no teachers, there is no supervision, there are only the children, and the school is FILLED WITH FUCKING MONSTERS. Monsters that just KILL THE HECK out of the students. I’m not going to rehash everything I said about it, because I had a LOT to say about it — a couple of weeks on, I still feel basically the same way. The main character was grating and hard to sympathize with, I didn’t really understand her motivations until the book got rolling, and when it did get rolling and everything connected together and the reasoning for everything was explained and so tightly woven, I just ended up finishing this book really impressed. Just super impressed. I am absolutely 100% going to read the next book, as well as check out more Naomi Novik, and I am GEARING UP TO FANGIRL HARD.
This is a book of short stories, which are not usually my thing (as you will see further down in this list). They’re connected stories that proceed from childhood to adulthood throughout the book. The synopsis on Goodreads includes the following:
“In her brilliant, hilarious, and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad simultaneously skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance, and delivers a tender and moving depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform. ”
I can’t really think of a better way to describe it than that. That’s exactly what it is. While it’s on the surface about the very specific experience about growing up fat, I don’t think the book’s impact is limited to people who have lived that experience. I do think it is particularly cutting for those people, but at the core of it, it’s about growing up in a world where your earliest social impressions and norms and ability to find value in yourself as a human is based on how you look, and what that does to a person on the inside — stuff that really feels normal is laid out completely bare. I think just about every woman can see some example of her own personal youth, or her own young adult behaviors, or her own motivations in these stories, in ways that don’t pull any punches. It’s harsh. It is a harsh book. I really liked it, and I really recommend it.
I didn’t finish this one. I barely started this one. This is not a DNF like The Guest List is a DNF — I don’t rule out ever picking this one up again. When this and Circe were getting big hype, I wasn’t interested. I’m not really into mythology stuff and okay, look, I hated the covers. I was not interested and then the covers made me even less interested. Is that shallow? I don’t think so. I decided I didn’t care what it was ABOUT before I decided I didn’t like what it looked like, you see. That’s the opposite way round. Anyway, people DO love these, though. And you know I love a bandwagon, and I don’t use that word with the negative connotations people seem to give it. You’ve got a whole wagon of people enjoying something! LET ME IN THE WAGON. WHERE WE GOING? DON’T CARE, I’M IN THE WAGON. And I’d also seen a TON of people say they initially didn’t pick it up because mythology type stuff really wasn’t their thing, either, but ended up loving it. I believe what people say, I am too old and too tired to figure out if you’re bullshitting me these days, so if that’s what people said, I believed them, and I STILL believe them, but oh man, I don’t know if I just wasn’t in the mood for this or if it’s really just not my thing but every time I picked it up, I did NOT want to be reading it. Maybe some other time.
Loved it. LOVED it.
From Goodreads: “Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?”
OF COURSE THERE’S SOMETHING MORE AND I LOVED IT. The problem with graphic novels, though, is that they go by SO FAST. And the problem with my local library system is that they keep buying ONLY THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES. I was done with this in about 30 minutes and loved every second of it, but now I have to WAIT. Graphic novels are a CRIME. This is a CRIME SCENE. Gonna read the rest of the series, though. You should, too. YA appropriate.
I talked about this one in the same post where I talked about A Deadly Education and The Guest List. I had high hopes for it fitting some of my favorite stuff from this other post, but in the end, the fact that it read on the really young side of young adult just did me in. I almost certainly won’t pick this back up, but not in an “I hate this” kind of way. My own kid is gradually aging up toward YA reads and I’d definitely pick it up for her to see if she was into it. There’s nothing wrong with YA that reads really YA. I am an AA. Uh, an adult-adult. Some YA appeals, some doesn’t, and that’s fine, it’s not for me. Fun if I can get into it, but if I can’t, no hard feelings, no harsh reviews. Some YA books have adult appeal, and for me, this one just didn’t, and there’s nothing WRONG with that, it’s not SUPPOSED to, that would just be a BONUS. Am I covering my own butt enough here? It just wasn’t for me but it’s probably for a lot a lot of other people
Sometimes a book is weird and it works for you, and sometimes it’s weird and it doesn’t work for you? The only way to know if a book described as “weird” is going to work for you is to give it a try, so I did, and while I don’t dislike weird books on the whole, this particular weird book was not a weird book for me. However, if you are the type of person who likes weird books, I can tell you that this book is weird, and like all other weird books, you will have to actually try it to figure out if it is your particular kind of weird or not. I don’t think I’ll be picking it back up, but never say never for this one, I guess. I am, at the moment, unmotivated to do so, though.
It is by Mona Awad, same author as 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl mentioned above, so I do have pretty solid faith in her as a writer. This one just wasn’t for me, but if weird is something you like to try, I give you an encouraging nudge for this one.
Okay, so this is a book of short stories that didn’t work for me. Not on the whole, anyway. I didn’t finished it, but I DID finish SOME of the stories. A couple of them really hit me just right, like perfection, absolutely, love it, snaps, etc. And then the ones that weren’t those ones hit me VERY wrong. The wrong kind of weird for me. Not my kind of weird. I’m hesitant on if I rate this one or what or how things work with a book of short stories, because I really liked the ones I did read, and I would give them 4 to 5 stars for sure. But I don’t rate (on Goodreads) books I don’t finish, because that seems unfair to authors who may pull it out in the end without me knowing because I never made it to the end, and I didn’t finish this, because several of the stories were just NOT for me.
This is what I will say — the story that hit me the hardest is called The Husband Stitch, and it’s available to read, legally and for free, online. I think you should try that out. I think you should try it out today, especially if you’re a femme leaning person around my general age. I think you should try it out and see what you think, and if you really like it, pick up the book and give that a try, too. And if it’s not really your thing, I still don’t think you’re going to be sorry you read it. I think you will want to push it into other people’s hands just like I do. I think it’ll punch you in the guts. Link here.
Okay, I’m not going to say much about this one. Louise Penny books are going down big in my internet circle right now, so you know I wanted to be in on that. I listened to it on audio, and it just couldn’t grab me, but at the same time, I knew it COULD. I liked the tone of the writing a lot more than I thought it would — for some reason, I assumed it would be kind of pokey and slow, but it wasn’t at all. I liked the way the characters were sketched out, I liked that the dialogue was realistic and lightly funny, I liked the pacing that was set up. I just couldn’t sink myself into it right NOW. I’ve already re-added myself to the hold list to give this one another shot, so no rating or thoughts for now, but I am looking forward to reading this one again, whenever that may be, as it has been whooshed back into my personal storage (aka the library) and I am generously allowing others to read it before I take another turn, because that’s the kind of person I am.
So this was probably the clearest victim of my physical reading frustrations this month. With world building at play, I really need to be able to sit for a good amount of unbroken time to give a book a fair shot, and I just could not get ahold of a solid enough block with functioning eyeballs this month to make this work for me. On top of that, the lead is female, and I got it in my head that at this moment in time — not all moments, not every moment, but the specific moment at which I was attempting to read this book — I was really in the mood for a strong, kickass female lead. Pretty early on, though, I was getting hints of “not like other girls” vibes and also the set up for a potential love triangle with her and two dudes and you’ve got to understand — I’m not shooting that down as a concept or thing I hate forever and ever til I die. It just wasn’t what I wanted right then. And I DO want to read this book. Attempting to read this book when I know it’s veering toward something I’m NOT IN THE MOOD FOR is not really giving it a fair shot. It had to be put down to preserve it for future me, who has functioning eyeballs and is feeling less moody and picky about what she is and is not going to be willing to entertain at any given moment.
This is really the only book I’m coming out of this month with genuinely negative feelings about. I didn’t finish it, so I hesitate to tell you not to pick it up and give it a shot, but absolutely 100% I did not like this, it is not for me.
The concept is that a woman has the power to see the future through tea leaves and can’t control when her predictions come shooting out, because she was offered to learn how to train this gift with an aunt when she was a child but rejected it for whatever reason, and now shit has gone kind of fucky and said aunt is taking her away to Paris to finally get a grip on her shit or whatever. I’m sure you can tell I am already not describing this in the most generous of terms.
The concept of this book is fine, though a quick skim through the parts I didn’t read leads me to suspect it does not really live up to the concept as promised. It’s fine in theory, though. The thing that got me — the thing I could not stand — is that in addition to this being a book about a woman who can predict the future, in addition to this being a book about a woman who is learning to control a magical ability, in addition to this being a book about running off to Paris, in addition to this being a book about a tea shop, IN ADDITION TO THIS BEING A BOOK WITH A ROMANCE — on top of all of that, somehow the concept of being a foodie is crammed in there. And I’m saying foodie in the opposite way I say bandwagon — the disdainful way. I don’t object to the concept of people who truly enjoy food and call themselves foodies. I just felt subjected to it by this book. Endless descriptions of high end, fancy food and the descriptions had such a fan fiction feel — if you read a lot of fic, you’ll know — like when an author realizes they need to add more descriptive language to their work and just starts DESCRIBING FOODS and the sensation of biting foods, and unironically using the word “divine” as if that’s a thing people just say a couple of times per meal.
And if she’s a foodie — you know the type of foodie, the type who says, “you don’t understand – MY family REALLY loves food.” I DO UNDERSTAND. EVERYONE LOVES FOOD. If she’s such a foodie, why is her aunt explaining what tarte tatin is to her? Has she not watched a Bake Off?
And then — amidst all this fancy food description — the narrator took a smug, snooty, “above this” potshot at diners. Oh no. Oh hell no. I am way way WAY THE FUCK too Northeastern American for you to speak disdainfully of diners. Up this book’s. I’m not even couching this one in diplomatic “not for me, but maybe for you” terms. DINERS? HOW VERY DARE YOU. Right the hell up this book’s bum with a divine cup of diner gravy.
I finished this one! It’s a pretty quick read. I think it’s billed as a thriller/mystery, but I’d definitely call it more of a suspense novel. It’s about a woman at a sort of crossroads period in her life who becomes obsessed with a true crime podcast. When the true crime podcast host seems to disappear, Sera takes it upon herself to investigate. Through the course of just… things getting away from her and rolling downhill, she ends up almost stepping into the missing woman’s life as she tries to figure out where she’s gone and what happened.
The concept of this book? A+. I bet it sounds like something that’s right up your alley. It certainly sounded directed straight at me. I didn’t really like it, though — definitely an “it was okay” two stars. It just didn’t carry through the promise I felt like the concept had. I didn’t feel thrilled or suspended. I was alternately annoyed and bored, but also kept reading because, all right, let’s see what happened here. I don’t think it carried off or earned it’s ending — I didn’t feel satisfied or paid off in any way, and I felt like it was hasty and kind of hamfisted in the way it wrapped up. It was fine, it was okay, but ultimately forgettable and I will never think about this book again, other than to wish someone else had gotten a book deal with this same concept and done it better.
I really, really enjoyed this book. It has the same sort of character-driven story that I really enjoy in Fredrik Backman books, though Eleanor is a different sort of character written in a different sort of way, of course. There’s a bit of a bumpy entry, as Eleanor is extremely unpleasant as the book begins, but as it goes on, you get to see some real development as she interacts with other really, really great characters throughout the book. You get a vibe pretty early that not everything is as straightforward as it seems, a sort of unreliable narrator thing going on a bit, and at times the doling out of information does feel like it drags a little. Eleanor’s development and changes ring true, though, and feel supported and valid and realistic as the book moves on. I just genuinely liked Eleanor and Ray and Glenn and Ray’s mom. This was pleasant, it was exactly my style, and I liked it quite a bit.
This is a tough one to put into words. Not what the book is about, that’s easy enough. A woman whose life has not gone exactly the way she thought it would when she was a younger receives a request from an old school friend — one she has a complicated history with — to do a job for her. When she travels to see this friend for the first time since high school, she’s told that the job is essentially being a nanny for her two stepchildren, as her husband is currently being vetted for a soon to be open political position and everything is just very complicated right then. The thing is, these particular children — when they get upset, they catch on fire.
No, the part that is tough to put into words is what I liked about it. I don’t mean that in the “I struggle to find something I liked about this book,” because I liked it quite a lot. I’m just not sure what specifically it was that I enjoyed so much. I liked seeing someone who had no experience with children or desire to have experience with children jump in with both feet and get stuff done the best way she could figure out, like the rest of us do. I liked how complex but also kind of simple her relationships with the kids, her childhood friend, and her own mother were — they were not great but realistic and workable in an “it is what it is” kind of way. I liked the side characters, the way they were written and the roles they played. I liked how it all shook out in the end. I like that it’s about just doing the best you can when it comes to life and kids. I just liked it. You should try it.
That’s it! That’s what I read and didn’t read this month. It looks kind of shitty, with that long streak of 8 books I didn’t finish, but if you look at the 7 I did finish, there’s one 2 star, one 3 star, and FIVE 4 star books. That’s not bad at all. I was pretty careful — since I had such limited reading ability last month — to not force myself to books I wasn’t feeling, whether totally and permanently, or just not at the moment, so I didn’t end up sunk too deep in anything I was hating and resenting. Almost everything I did finish was pretty enjoyable, so even though my not finished outweigh my finished books this month, I’m going to call it all in all a pretty good one.
Coming up soon and/or later this month on no particular schedule because there is no law and I answer to no man or internet: reading plans for April that will surely quickly go all to hell, bigger reviews of The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren (Goodreads) and Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora (Goodreads), an update on my ambitious reading projects, and something something goal for the year something something not fully fleshed out idea.
Thank you for your attention. Good bye.
Okay, so here’s the thing. There’s a lot of different kinds of DNFing a book, I think. Or there’s just one kind, the kind where you don’t finish it. But this is my blog and my book pile and my reading choices, so you can believe there’s only one kind of DNF but you still have to sit here and listen to me tell you there’s more than one, because the door snapped shut behind you and there’s spikes or something, I don’t know.
When I took this picture, all three of these books were existing in various stages of DNF. But they were all still here and all still had the potential to be F’d, so more like Schrodinger’s F. Something like that. Spoiler: one got finished, one might still get finished, and one is never going to get finished, and if you stop this blog post right here, I think in theory they all exist in some kind of hovering finished/unfinished state. I think that’s physics? I don’t know. I have a philosophy degree.
Just now, when I stood up from the exhausting task of inserting an image and writing 150 words — which honestly is less than I say to my toothbrush and toothpaste each morning as I verbally walk them through the task of tooth maintenance — to wander to the pantry even though I’m not hungry and eye the kitchen even though I know there’s no food there, only ingredients to make food, and besides, I am not hungry, I was thinking the order for talking about these books and it suddenly struck me that what all of these three had in common, for me, was issues with characterization and not that they all, at one point or another, hovered in an undecided state of F’d/not F’d. You’d think I’d go back up to the title and reattempt my approach with this new angle in mind, but that’s because I took such a long time off blogging that you forgot that there’s no turning back for either of us, once we get going, and that’s how it’s been for like 15 or 20 years now. Spikes, etc.
I just took another break to think about who has actually been reading my various blogs for a whole 15 or 20 years and you know what, I think it’s Brien. Just Brien. Hello, Brien. A professional, at this point — probably doesn’t even look back anymore, well aware there’s no point. Spikes back there, only way out is through.
All right, let’s get all the mystery out of the way immediately – this is the book that is hovering in the state of “I haven’t finished it, but I am still allowing for the possibility that I might finish it.” I’ve sent two batches of books back to the library since I started this one, started and finished other books since I started this one, started and not finished and returned to the library other books since I started this one, but it has stayed on my shelf, started but not finished but also not sent away. I don’t know if I’m going to finish it. I’m not feeling especially pressed to finish it. I haven’t sent it back, though, because it seems like it should fall right into #1 on the list in my post of 14 unnecessarily specific features, tropes, and plot points I like in books, which is “any sort of game element.” It’s got “game” right in the title, and seems to call back directly to The Westing Game, with a mysterious unknown rich person dying and leaving money to the protagonist and the protagonist is like, wait, what the fuck? But also kind of rolls with it, for reasons.
Since it seems like it will fall so directly into one of my own listed favorite things, I feel like I have to give it more of a chance, because admittedly, so far, I haven’t given it much of one. We’ve found out that an old rich person has died, and we’ve found out that our main character has been left all the money and stuff, and there’s a ton of complicated family who has not been left the money, and there are conditions on the protagonist receiving the money, of course, which I guess will be the “games” portion. But I haven’t gotten to any games yet. Are there going to be clues? Is it a scavenger hunt? Is it a structured game or more of a free form thing? I must find out the nature of the game before I can quit entirely.
The reason I haven’t gotten very far, though, is a reason that isn’t exactly fair, and I understand that it’s not fair, so I hope you will understand that when I tell you this reason, I am not shitting on the book for this reason, or acting shocked and upset about this reason, or let down specifically because of this reason, it is just a reason that I have. It’s all going to be fine.
Within the first three pages of this book, we are hit with SO MUCH character info about Avery (I had to go look up her name, obviously I don’t remember characters’ names, you know you have to look them up, too). In three pages, this is what we learn: she plays chess with a homeless man in the park to earn the right to buy him food without him complaining, she doesn’t have much money herself though because she has no parents, she takes on extra shifts at work for more money in a calculated risk that she can afford to spare that time from schoolwork and get a 92% instead of a 98%, she’s the first person ever to get a perfect score on a teacher’s physics test, which the school authorities are suspicious about, so she insists on taking a makeup test right in front of them, which she knows she will score perfectly again, she’s underestimated by adults, she takes care of herself, etc. I am not exaggerating when I say this is all within three pages, and it does carry on past that, laying on thickly how she works, supports herself, crushes it in school, is more adult than her older sister, is basically a take no shit, no-nonsense high school junior with all her ducks in a row and plans for the future and basically perfection, oh but also, “invisible” at school as people like her are meant to be, so she’s definitely unassuming, too.
I am not saying any of this is bad, I am just saying it was a lot, and leads into what has made me really hover with this book – it reads very distinctly YA. “BUT,” you bellow at me, “IT IS YA, SO HOW DARE YOU FAULT IT FOR BEING YA?” I’m not faulting it, calm down. Lots of adults read YA knowing they’re reading YA and being totally fine with it. I read a lot of YA knowing I’m reading YA and I’m totally fine with it. It’s just that I don’t find that this YA book is appealing to me in the same way it might appeal to a Y-er A. You know? You know what I mean? I would… hm, not necessarily relate better to the character if I was a Y-er A myself, and I don’t need to relate to every main character in every book I read. And it’s not that I find her unappealing. I just do not find her compelling to me now as I can imagine I might have in my Y-er days, and besides, the book is still here. I still might read it! Calm down!
It’s got a game (maybe!) and I’m into that. I will give it some more chance. I will update you.
Although, I did just go look it up to get the Amazon link for above and I see it’s a duology and ehhh that one Chrissy Tiegan grimace gif. You know the one.
This is the DNF. It is not getting F’d. For me, this book is un-F-able. I don’t rate books I don’t finish, for the most part, nor do I log them in my totals of books read, which really chaps my ass when I look at my read count for the year, and makes me seriously consider changing my tracking to books processed instead of books read because I process way more books than I actually finish and I feel like that should count for something, especially when I have given a book more than a fair shot. If I did log and rate books I don’t finish, though, this would be a solid 1 star “not for me,” respecting of course that it may be exactly the thing for you.
Again, characterization was a problem for me in this book. It has a fairly decent-sized cast of characters and a rotating first person perspective each chapter. Fine by me, I like that kind of stuff.
The book opens with a blackout, a scream, and an apparent murder, so no spoilers or surprises there. The set up is a wedding on a semi-remote, largely uninhabited island. The only people who live on the island are the couple who owns the venue, who are also the wedding planner and the chef, and the general do everything-ers in an event space. The perspectives we get in this book are the bride (an online magazine editor, which, come on, we all know is just a blogger who has outsourced some of the writing) who is marrying a hot Bear Grylls-esque outdoor adventure TV star guy; the bride’s sister and only bridesmaid; the wife of the bride’s childhood best friend; a groomsman who is one of the groom’s childhood friends, and the wedding planner.
The chapters are short, and almost every single one of them has a sort of not exactly cliffhanger line, but one of those “allude to a dark past/tragic event/bit of deep information unknown to the reader” sort of things, the kind of “and I almost told her about THE THING and I never tell ANYONE about THE THING and I thought better about telling her about THE THING,” with the implication that THE THING matters or will matter, and we’ve been informed that there’s A THING, but we’re not going to be told about THE THING until later in the story and come on. Tell me or don’t. It’s a suspense/thriller/one of those novels, I know there’s going to be THE THING or several THE THINGS, giving me five different notifications about five different THE THINGS two hundred pages before you’re going to tell me what any of THE THINGS are is just maddening. You can bait me with one THE THING. Maybe two. MAYBE. But so many THE THINGS and I am not eagerly flipping pages to find out what THE THING is, I am instead thinking “wow, this book has too many THE THINGS and it feels like it’s going to be exhausting.”
I could have possibly been interested in a THE THING or two, maybe, if any of the characters were compelling, but giving them each a THE THING that clearly matters to the character/is part of the character and the character’s motivation, but declining to tell me any of the things seemed to leave the book relying on almost cartoonish character development since we can’t actually know THE THING that has made them this way. The bride is so exacting and fussy, she can’t finish the table arrangements and harps constantly on her sister. The sister has some kind of traumatic THE THING, but we don’t know what, so all we get is extremely closed off and spooked “everyone look out for my poor sister” outline. The wife of the childhood best friend has some kind of complex about the bride. The groom’s childhood best friend is unsettled and disconnected and seems to know something, but WE DON’T KNOW THE SOMETHING SO ALL WE KNOW IS HE’S BEING A WEIRDO. And on and on.
You gotta tell me THE THING or you’ve got to create characters I give a shit about until I can discover THE THING. I lost patience, it’s gone back to the library, goodbye.
I read this one! All of it! And I liked it! But it did, at one point, hover in the F’d/not F’d space, and again it came down to characterization, in part.
This book is set at the Scholomance, a school for magical kids. If you’ll recall, both boarding school and magical/other training schools come up on my list of SHIT I LOVE, so this was another one that was right up my alley, which kept me pushing through when I initially thought I might put it down. On top of that, Naomi Novik was also mentioned in the comments of my post about my project with the ultimate goal of joining as many enthusiastic fandoms as I can (link), so two birds, one book.
I’m not gonna lie, this was a rough start for me. Likable characters is not something I require in a books I read, unlikable or evil or mean or bad or morally grey characters are all valid things in all kinds of books, and I have enjoyed books featuring all of them. But from the start, our main character Galadriel (who goes by El, not that anyone speaks to her) is so unpleasant, so bitter, so unhappy that it is just not a good time to be in her head. The actual reading experience was harsh, because she was so harsh. Add on to that the fact that the book throws you right in with a lot of information that can feel like a bit of a slog, and it left me feeling a lot like “why am I even doing this, I am not having ANY FUN.”
I did stick with it, though, for the same reason that I will probably pick up The Inheritance Games again – it’s got some of my stuff in it, and I seek out and want to enjoy that stuff.
The Scholomance has no teachers, no authority, no school holidays, no breaks. On top of that, it is full of monsters who absolutely will kill you. You get zooped right in there at a certain point in life and you stay there for several years until graduation, at which point you must battle your way out the single exit which is absolutely PACKED FULL OF MONSTERS WHO WILL ABSOLUTELY KILL THE SHIT OUT OF YOU.
Obviously, this would make one wonder why the fuck anyone would want to go to this school, and it does take a while for that to come to light. While all the pieces are being doled out via not-quite-info-dumps but still quite a lot of information to absorb along with the plot, we learn a lot about how the school works. Specifically, about how there’s pretty much NO WAY to be able to live, let alone get out, all on your own, and alliances must be made, and about how certain privileged kids come from long-standing magical alliances/families on the outside and have entered the school already loaded up with every advantage possible, which is not the case for El, who is not just on her own but a magical person of a whole different type all together.
All of the information about the way the school works and how one would eventually leave the school is part of what made reading about El so hard in the beginning — she knows she needs people, she even currently exists by hovering around the outskirts of groups who will acknowledge her, just to be able to halfway ensure her own safety when doing basic ass shit like eating and showering. When we enter the story, she’s started to figure out how she’s going to put some kind of plan in action to show the students what she’s actually capable of, maybe killing a big ol’ monster in front of them, in order to make herself an appealing asset for a possible alliance, as her own graduation is approaching the next year. Her plans keep getting foiled, though, by this guy Orion Lake from one of the powerful family groups. He just runs around rescuing everyone from everything, seemingly inexhaustibly, and she is NOT THRILLED to be rescued by him.
She’s existed this far on the absolute edges of what could be considered “social” groups in a school where you’re just trying not to die and is frankly kind of a real dickhead, so I didn’t know if I wanted to follow this whole thing — I didn’t think I’d be super compelled by a story where she kind of just pity-latches herself onto one of the advantaged groups, nor one where AND SUDDENLY SHE WAS VERY POWERFUL AND KICKED ASS ALL ON HER OWN STRAIGHT OUT THE DOOR, but none of that happened.
Instead, we follow her slow but steady process as she makes the necessary alliances and forms what could be called solid “friendships” (again, murder school, hard to judge what counts as friends) with people who will have her back just as she will have theirs. On top of that, she starts to find out a bit more about Orion Lake, the school hero, and why he does what he does, and further along, the consequences of his actions.
What really ended up kind of blowing me away about this book is hard to put into words. There is a lot of info in this book about how magic works, how one uses their magic, the different ways one might use magic. What the outside world is like, why the school exists, how the school exists, why the school is important even though it is ABSOLUTE MADNESS in there. Some things go wrong in the school (WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONGER IN A MURDER MONSTER SCHOOL, YOU MAY WONDER), some interpersonal stuff between both individuals, groups, and those inside and outside the major groups in the outside world is revealed. And the thing is, the thing that got me… there are no loopholes. Everything is wild and everything makes sense, right down to why Orion Lake is running around rescuing people all over the place, why El is not, why something went wrong, why the ways some people want to fix what went wrong are motivated the way they are — again, it’s hard to explain, but when you step back and look at this book and the world building and the society and the magic system and the interpersonal relationships among the kids inside the school and how the school itself exists and functions — it’s all so connected and so solid with such an unshakable thread of internal logic that holds it all together that it’s a fucking feat and a half of writerhood. Like, holy shit, for real.
I liked it a lot, but it’s not my favorite thing I’ve ever read, but at the same time, I am absolutely going to read the sequel as soon as I can because what the fuck? I’m just impressed. I’m just, you know, wildly impressed and it’s not even that I want to read more of the story (though I do), I just want to sit on the sidelines and wave a Naomi Novik pennant and CHEER HER ON. LIKE MY PROJECT GOAL SAYS. IT’S ALREADY ALL HAPPENING!
Anyway, F’d, not F’d, un-F-able.
That’s it. Thank you for your attention.
Remember when you first got a Goodreads account and started adding every book you could ever remember reading and quickly realized that was an enormous and impossible task, but you couldn’t just add some of them because that would be incomplete and infuriating, but if you just picked up from where you were in book life right then, people might think you’d NEVER READ A BOOK IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE because obviously your Goodreads shelves are empty or have one sad “currently reading” book on them and the whole process of deciding what to include or where to start was so impossible that you just did nothing?
Normally there’d be some kind of introduction in a first blog post, but the only people who I expect to see this are already familiar with the blog that came before this and anyone who is new can get a good idea of who I am as a person from that first paragraph. The important thing is, I can’t start writing a book blog from just some arbitrary point. I don’t have time to be concerned about getting to know each other when I have to carefully decide where to start a thing and what where I start might say about me.
Fortunately, we are still close enough to the beginning of 2021 that I feel I can catch you up on all 15 books I’ve read since then (we are all going to ignore the fact that I finished a book last night, making it technically 16 books I’ve read since the beginning of 2021, but as you can see, that’s probably not a good technicality for either of us to point out to me if we ever want to get anything done here), and from there, carry on as I’d like, as if I’d always been here, which I have, if you think about it.
We all agree to acknowledge the fact that I have read books before 2021, but these are the ones I have read in 2021.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have said it before and I’m probably going to say it 800 more times: this bitch loves a Backman. The premise of this book is ridiculous – a bank robber who doesn’t want to be a bank robber accidentally takes an apartment full of people hostage. Similar to some other Backman books, the plot was almost an afterthought (to me, not the author). The way Backman writes characters is either very clearly Not For You or 100% Absolutely Your Shit, no in between, and it’s not hard to see what side of that fence I fall onto. I love that the quirks that all the characters have seem ludicrous and overblown, but also rooted in the backstory that Backman provides for each character, and truly believable and relatable once you find yourself thinking about them – you are that way, or you know someone who is that way, or you definitely see why this particular someone would be that way. I love it, I love every Backman I have ever read, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have found my own “I will read everything this author writes” author while they are still actively writing shit.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This book. It’s a dual timeline thing – in the past, Vanessa is a 15 year old student at a fancy boarding school who enters into a relationship with her 43 year old English teacher. I don’t like phrasing it like that, but so it is. In the present, several students have come forward with allegations of abuse against this teacher, and have contacted Vanessa to encourage her to come forward as well. The problem is, Vanessa doesn’t believe she was abused. The book jumps back and forth between the timelines, with the past detailing how the “relationship” began and progressed, and the present dealing with Vanessa’s struggle against reframing what she thought was her one true example of loving and being loved and how that affects the whole rest of her life that has already passed and will come to be. By the time I finished, I swear to God I had grown fangs. I think most women can see their younger selves in Vanessa and you can see how things in the past are playing out exactly how these kinds of things play out, exactly how they have always played out and how it feels like they always will play out. Reading this book was kind of a helpless and invading and strangling experience and it feels weird to say I liked it, so I’ll say I “liked” it. I could say so much more about this book and maybe some day I will, or you can message me if you’ve read it and want to talk about, or if you think you might want to read it but want a warning of exactly what kind of triggering content it contains.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This book contains a lot of my favorite things – isolated groups/locations, building a sort of civilization/community from scratch, group dynamics, but in the end, it was a bit of a letdown for me. The majority of the reading experience itself was fine. It’s about a group of families, lead by a sort of… I don’t know what to call him, a child development specialist? An expert in raising children with various developmental issues? I’m not sure. A guy who likes helping families and has big ideas. He starts a camp called Camp Harmony, with the idea that his core group of initial families (all of whom have children with developmental difficulties of various sorts as well as neurotypical children) will help create the camp/society and live and work there full time, while other families pay to come and stay at the camp for a week or weekend at a time to benefit their children. You know there’s something off from the beginning and it turns out that there is, but for me, this book didn’t really earn its ending.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
This was a perfectly pleasant adult contemporary novel. A recent widow and a baseball player with the yips end up sharing a duplex and hitting it off. The relationship developed at a reasonable and realistic pace, and was also a reasonable and realistic relationship. There’s some misunderstanding, but of the mature, adult variety – not one person getting offended and running off without giving anyone a chance to explain, not someone misinterpreting something they saw or heard and acting on that knowledge and making a whole mess of things. Just two adult people trying to do their best for each other and not always hitting the mark. Everyone behaved the way we expect adults to behave, or at least hope they will. It was refreshing and comfortable to read.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
I’ve said before that when I’m reading thrillers (is this a thriller? suspense? either way) that I feel like I’m a visitor in a genre that is not mine. I do enjoy them from time to time, but I feel like I don’t have a good grasp on what makes a good one vs a not so good one, so you’ll just have to take my opinion on this book as how it was for me, not how I am suggesting it would be for you, because I know that this book is well-reviewed and I absolutely trust the kind of people who like this kind of book to have a better idea of what is good and what isn’t than I do. That said, this crossed too far into weird for me. I didn’t feel so much thrilled or suspended? Suspensed? As I did just kind of weirded out. I didn’t feel like the main character had any sort of internal logic I could connect to. Not for me, but definitely take someone else’s advice on this one.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Chanel Miller is Emily Doe of the Brock Turner Stanford rapist trial. Know My Name is her story from the night of the assault all the way through the trial. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and I definitely recommend that route if audiobooks are your thing. Before I started this book, it was hard to imagine being more angry at the state of the world shown through the lens of the Brock Turner trial as it happened, and I don’t know if I’m more angry. I don’t think I could hold more anger on this topic. But I was angry all through that trial and the ridiculous sentencing and the bullshit, and through all of that, Chanel Miller was Emily Doe and we didn’t know anything about her. This feels like necessary context.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This is pretty standard suspense stuff, what we’ve become used to over the last few years. I am not a person who gets upset if I figure out who did a thing or didn’t do a thing or predict a twist that is coming – I don’t feel like I need to be smarter than the book to enjoy it, if it’s well written. And this one was. It was pretty good, for a while. Standard, like I said, but if a formula works, it works, right? It’s just, this one went to the toppings bar and added just a couple too many kinds of sprinkles. Just one or two steps too far.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads says I gave this book four stars, and since I rate things immediately after I finish reading them, I believe me, but at the same time, I can’t for the life of me remember why. This is another one that had more of my favorite stuff – special schools, weird dystopian elements. Other than that, though, I couldn’t really tell you much about it, and I only finished it a couple of weeks ago. This is a terrible review and this is exactly why I had to catch up on all 15 now and keep up from here on out, because obviously there was something about this book that made me think it was great, but I feel no particular pull to reread it or talk about it.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
Sometimes Christina Lauren is hit or miss for me, but I did like this one. Another of my favorite things, where two people are internet talking and either one or both of them doesn’t know that they’re actually talking to each other. I was really pleased with the way the female lead, Millie, uses her fake profile to explore/set free parts of herself that she’s held back from her closest friends in the past, and her path toward meshing those two parts of herself together as the story goes on.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I don’t know if you want to read a virus book in a pandemic, but if you do want to read a virus book in a pandemic, maybe it could be this one? It was published in 2019, and I think if I had read it then, I would have rolled along more merrily, but since I read it now, there was a whole new weight given to scenes of kids crowded in dorm rooms, sharing shot glasses, and kissing all up on each other. Also, the parts about the government and human response to the illness might have seemed “oh come on, that would never happen like that!” if I’d read it in 2019, but guess what I read it in 2021. There were parts of it that I wish were just more – more fleshed out, more explained, more with this or that character – but all in all, I liked it a lot.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This is a “not for me, but maybe for you” contemporary romance. It says on the tin that this book (and series) is about a group of guys who read regency romances in order to learn how to deal with/connect with/solve problems with women. I feel misled by that, I would have liked to see more of like… a book club! The guys sitting around and talking about a book together! You know, like one does at a book club! Not just handing a man a book and hovering around at random as he reads it on his own and tries to figure out what to do with a single fictional case study. To be completely fair, I should have by rights backed out of this book from the start, because I don’t generally like romance with an established relationship. Our main couple is married but currently suffering from a major issue – I will leave it to you to figure out what that issue is, exactly, but upon finding out myself, I had no patience for either of them.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is a book about an aspiring author, not yet published but closing in, living in the tiniest of places with the dickheadiest of landlords, working at a restaurant because she wants to and it suits her and the kind of life she wants to have, her supportive friends and her not so supportive man friend, her distant brother and the seemingly less great man friend. There are no big dramatics, no speeding or slowing of the plot, what the is of one. It’s about living your life in a way that lets you do what you want to be doing, about your personal good man and your personal potentially great man, fitting yourself into someone’s existing life while they don’t shove over for you or choosing to be with people whose lives flow around your life with no one having to displace or be displaced or feel out of place. I think. I liked it!
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Listen, I believed everyone who said it was good, I really did, but still, there was a spaceman on the cover and it was a Matt Damon movie and I didn’t DOUBT that it was good but perhaps not my kind of good but Y’ALL IT WAS SO FUCKIN GOOD.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐*
There’s a lot of controversy that surrounded this book before and when it first came out, and that makes it hard to know how to talk about it – I don’t want to dismiss anyone’s concerns as “not a big deal,” because I liked the book just fine. This is a fantasy book set in a world with a huge amount of systemic racism – against fantasy races, but the parallels are clear and easy to draw to real life. I find it really hard to grasp whether it is a racist book or a book about racism, and I want to read a lot more opinions from a lot more voices before I make a final decision on whether I’m going ahead with this series. That said, I did like the story, which is unusual, because fantasy isn’t really “my” genre. I hope to have more to say about it when I can organize my thoughts.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
I really like books that play with time in a lot of different ways and this is definitely one of the more unique ways I have seen. The whole reading experience of this book felt very on a knife’s edge, because you think something bad is going to happen, but then you think it might not, but then you think it might but possibly it’s justified, but then again you think it might not happen but maybe it should, then things move along in such a way that you think oh bitch that better not happen, but then again, if it did, maybe it would be fine, but also it seems like it has to happen, but does anything really have to happen? It’s like you’re standing on the edge of disliking it/liking it with every page turn.
So those are the 15 books I’ve read so far in 2021, and from here on out I will proceed as if I am a normal human who reads books a normal amount and tells you about them in a normal way. Mostly. There’s some other stuff I want to do. This site isn’t finished yet but honest to fuck I can’t stare at one more line of incomprehensible garbleage telling me how to change link colors and it not working for one more second today NOT ONE MORE SECOND. This will do for now. I hope the comments work, but I haven’t checked. If you follow me on Instagram where I’ve been posting a metric fuckton of book content on my stories, please consider following @hellokorio instead, a totally empty account, because I am terrible at taking pictures, but do intend to in the near-ish future move my book-specific content over there, because I feel like if a person is going to change up their whole THING, it is only polite that it be opt in rather than forcing you to unfollow me on my main account which I wouldn’t hold against you, but would pretend I held against you to make you uncomfortable because that’s who I am as a person and I’m too old to change.