Review of Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan (Spoiler Free)

I have a new goal for the summer: write more individual book reviews.

Did I just jinx myself? Probably.

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan is another library book that made me think and feel an unexpected number of things. It follows Ren Ishida, who travels to a small town in Japan where his sister, Keiko, ran away to years before. Keiko has just been found stabbed to death in the rain. Despite their weekly phone calls, Ren has always felt the emotional distance from his bubbly, caring older sister. In hopes of learning more about her life, he impulsively accepts her job teaching English at the cram school in town and moves into her room at a politician’s house, where he will take on Keiko’s role of reading to the man’s bed-ridden wife. In the same vein as Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Rainbirds is more of a contemporary than a mystery. Ren discovers Keiko was hiding more than a few secrets and even comes face to face with his own life decisions.

rainbirdslibrarybook

Though I went into Rainbirds expecting a more domestic mystery set in Japan, I’m not disappointed in how it turned out. The book was a quick and easy read, with flashbacks between past and present that managed to flow well. As far as I know, Rainbirds is a debut novel. The writing was still lovely. From what I’ve read in reviews, Akakawa, the town the novel is set in, is fictional. The author created a dark, beautiful small town atmosphere. It felt run-down and isolated yet exotic at the same time. Akakawa was as mysterious as many of its inhabitants.

Normally, contemporary novels like this focus on very bad sibling/family relationships. However, Ren and Keiko had a healthy brother/sister dynamic. Keiko was nine years older than her brother and, because of their parents’ tumultuous relationship, she often had to step in as a parental figure. Though there was a lot of responsibility placed on her shoulders, she never took her frustration out on Ren and continued to treat him with concern and compassion. She kept in contact with him even after she impulsively ran away when he entered high school, which is probably why Ren never held any bitterness towards her for it. Yet both siblings are private, independent people, making it harder for them to share troubling events going on in their lives with each other.

The overall arching theme of Rainbirds is “people are complicated.” That includes Ren, who is completely dominated by his Id and screws up a lot in his personal relationships. There is another character, a female student at the cram school, who he finds himself in trouble with. Despite this, Ren isn’t unlikeable. He acknowledges when he’s messed up and there are situations where he gets himself out before things go too far.

If you are looking for a book without romance, I recommend Rainbirds. Ren is a commitment phobe, although it is not written like a flaw. Some people are not interested in long-term relationships, preferring to live independently. That opinion won’t change with “the right person” either. Ren is one of those types of independent people, though he somehow tends to involve himself with women who are looking for the opposite. Usually, it’s how he causes himself, as well as other people, a world of grief.

One element in Rainbirds that I view as both a con as well as a pro is that not all questions are answered. At least, they are not answered clearly; more on the basis of assumption. Not having all the answers is annoying, especially since one of those questions was a pretty big one. At the same time, not all questions presented in real life are answered. Rainbirds isn’t a fantasy, so it shouldn’t be written like one. But I know for many readers, this could be extremely frustrating.

While Ren is smart, there are times when he comes to certain conclusions you have no idea how he got there. To me, it felt more like “cold reading”: he had a theory about someone, threw his suspicions at them, and then watched how they reacted. Most times, this was confusing.

Then, there is the closest thing to a “plot twist” Rainbirds had. When it was introduced, it felt as though the author pulled it out of thin air simply for the purpose of shock value. There was the bare minimum of nonexistent evidence provided to support of how this revelation could have happened. It was so, so out there.

Overall, I give Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan 4.5 stars. I enjoyed the beautiful writing and complex characters. If you are looking for an adult contemporary novel set in another country or if you enjoyed Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, I highly recommend this novel.

Advertisements

Review of Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar (Spoiler Free)

It’s been a hot minute since I did a book review….

Until now, I used the occasional reading wrap ups this year as an excuse for not writing individual book reviews. Truth is, there hasn’t been a lot of books this year that have made me feel a lot of things or think a lot of thoughts as much as Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar.

The novel is the fictionalization of the lives of famous sisters, painter Vanessa Bell and acclaimed author Virginia Woolf. When the four Stephan siblings—Vanessa, Virginia, and their brothers Thoby and Adrian—move into a new house in a bohemian neighborhood following the death of their fancy middle-class parents, they begin the Bloomsbury Group. It is a collection of eccentric intellectuals that break away from the 20th century English norms in their art, writing, and love lives, among other things. Manipulative as she is brilliant, Virginia and her unstable mental health is the center of her family, especially for her big sister Vanessa. But when Vanessa falls in love, the sisters’ once close bond is tested.

vanessaandhersisterlibrarybook

I enjoyed the writing style and format of Vanessa and Her Sister. It is written in a diary format through Vanessa’s first person point of view, with letters and other correspondence from Vanessa, Virginia, and other members of the Bloomsbury Group woven in. Vanessa Bell herself had an interesting way of speaking that the author incorporated into the prose. She also did a good job with the transitions between time jumps; the time passing never came without warning.

Thus leads into my main qualm with the book, which is the pacing. Parts One and Two seemed to fly by. We see the forming of the Bloomsbury Group and their Thursday Night meetings where they talk about art and writing. We see glimpses of what the Stephan siblings had to deal with in regards to Virginia’s mental illness and how they handle tragedy as a family. We also see the forming of the prominent romantic relationships and women embracing their independence, like Vanessa’s back and forth courtship with her husband Clive.

Parts Three and Four were more complicated, yet they seemed to drag on. Everyone in the Bloomsbury Group has a different dynamic with each other that somehow maintain a balance in the overall group, with occasional tilts in the flow later in the book. But any issues or disagreements that come up are handled in a very adult manner, for the most part, which is something I appreciated.

The characters—Vanessa, Virginia, their brothers, and the rest of the Bloomsbury Group—all felt like real people the author might have actually known. I liked watching Vanessa come into her own, learning to stand up to herself and deciding when to put what she wants first when she needs to. Some characters, like Vanessa’s husband Clive, you begin the book viewing a certain way, then have a different opinion of them at the end. One of the characters I loved fit the “sassy gay friend” type.

Some characters I liked, then could not stand at the end of the book. That particular person is Virginia Woolf, someone who is such an acclaimed feminist that does some things against other women, namely her sister, that I find deplorable. She is also described to being very brilliant, although she rarely did or said anything that I found to “brilliant.” Granted, I only read Virginia’s book A Room of Her Own and I didn’t like it much. Most of the time, I found Virginia Woolf—or, technically Virginia Stephan still in this novel—extremely annoying and selfish.

So, if you are a big fan of Virginia Woolf, be aware you might absolutely hate her if you read Vanessa and Her Sister.

But no one in the Bloomsbury Group is strictly good or strictly bad. They are complicated artists and individualists that reject the rules society places on them. They maintain strong friendships, embrace all forms of love and creation, and accept sexuality as a thing that should be explored instead of repressed. Because of them, I would say the novel was primarily character driven instead of plot driven.

Overall, I give Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar 4 stars. If you are interested in reading fiction novels on well-known literary figures or looking for a good historical novel in a different format, I highly recommend this novel.

2019 Reading Wrap Up #3

If I’m being honest, at the beginning of this year, I was expecting three months in between my reading wrap ups. I didn’t know how much reading time I would have in the new semester. This semester, I have extra amount of time on my hands that somehow makes me anxious that I’m forgetting a school assignment….

suspicious happy endings GIF

Really, I’m not complaining. Since I went on my book buying ban, I’ve checked out more library books than I can read (as usual). Last week, I had to return all of them because there was no way I could read them before the due date (even after I renewed them). I have a lot of unread books at home that I need to get to.

In the meantime, here are the five library books I recently read:

 

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

4.5 stars

marinalibrarybook

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is an auto-buy author for me and Marina was going to be my next purchase…as soon as a copy became available on Amazon. Once I realized my library had it, I didn’t see the point in waiting anymore.

Marina is set in Barcelona, circa 1979, and follows school boy Oscar. When he was fifteen, he disappeared for a week and would not tell anyone what happened to him or where he went. He had been befriended by a girl named Marina, who showed him something peculiar in a graveyard: on the last Sunday of every month, a woman dressed in black leaves a single red rose on an unmarked headstone. Intrigued, the children follow her one day. The novel takes off from there.

As one would expect, Carlos Ruiz Zafon creates a beautiful, haunting version of Barcelona that both frightens and fascinates. The mystery was a weird one, but held my interest and the book was hard to put down. Oscar wasn’t as fleshed out as Marina, but their friendship was the driving force of the novel.

However, Marina didn’t go in the direction I had expected. It begs the question “did any of this really happen?” If any other author had written it, I’m not sure I would have liked it as much as I did in Marina. 

 

A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

4 stars

aschoolforunusualgirlslibrarybook

A School for Unusual Girls is an older title—it came out in 2015—and the first of an alternate historical fiction series set in a finishing school where teenaged girls are trained to be spies or scientists in the war effort after Napoleon is forced out of France.

A School for Unusual Girls follows Georgie, who is shipped off to Stranje House by her parents after accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire in an experiment gone wrong. Georgie thinks she’s entered a prison, when in fact Emma Stranje, the headmistress, has enlisted her to make a solution for an invisible ink. Teaming up with arrogant and handsome Sebastian, she soon realizes getting kicked out by her parents is the least of her problems.

If you all remember the days of young adult in 2015, the romantic tropes were not that great, or healthy. I loved Georgie as a protagonist and related to her feelings of awkwardness as she tries to come into her own, and I enjoyed how the plot unfolded as it went along. My biggest concern, however, was the romance. Sebastian came off a lot like William Herondale did when first introduced: arrogant and he talked down to Georgie. Once she proved herself to be his equal, he still teased her and flirted but he showed her more respect and he was never outright mean. Best part, while both felt an attraction, neither of them said “I love you” yet.

A School for Unusual Girls is a series of companion novels. I like all the girls and how Kathleen Baldwin turned history on its head. Plus, the second book is following two characters from the first book I am smitten with.

 

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

4.75 stars

twocankeepasecretlibrarybook

When everyone and their mother was raving about Karen M. McManus’s debut novel, One of Us is Lying, I had no interest in reading it. In between the praise I had heard things that didn’t exactly thrill me. Then, Booksplosion announced their February read was Two Can Keep a Secret, Karen M. McManus’s second novel. This one had me intrigued.

Two Can Keep a Secret follows true crime buff Ellery, who moves from California with her twin brother Ezra to Echo Ridge, Vermont to live with their grandmother after their mom gets sent to rehab. Having a theme park previously called “Murderland” is not the only disturbing thing about this otherwise normal-looking town. Girls have gone missing over the years, the first being Ellery’s aunt twenty-five years ago. Then, five years prior, the homecoming queen is found strangled to death. When strange threats start appearing around town and yet another girl goes missing, Ellery decides to take matters into her own hands.

When I was not reading Two Can Keep a Secret, I wanted to be reading. The author does a good job at building suspense and making different characters look guilty. As a main character, I liked Ellery, as well as the other narrator, Malcolm, who was the younger brother of the boy who was accused of killing the homecoming queen. I also enjoyed Ellery’s twin brother, Ezra, and Mia, Malcolm’s best friend. There was a good amount of representation as well, such as Mia is Asian and bisexual and the twins are Latinx.

The mystery was very good, the killer being someone I had not expected, and the novel ended with the best line I’ve read in a mystery. It was the characters and their dynamics are what made the book for me. They all felt like real people, with personalities and relationships completely fleshed-out.

 

Where I Live by Brenda Rufener

2.5 stars

whereilivelibrarybook

Sadly, my second two-star read of the year is one I had relatively high expectations for. Linden Rose is a homeless orphaned teen living inside her high school and trying to hide it from her best friends, Ham and Seung. She runs the school newspaper and dreams of going to college with her friends, as well as of a possible romance with Seung. But when her classmate Bea starts showing up to school with bruises, Linden risks exposing her secret, and her painful past, to help someone get out of a bad situation.

While I appreciated the representation of teen homelessness and domestic violence, that was all I can say I liked. Linden was a two-dimensional main character, even though she was likeable. Ham and Seung were annoying characters, especially the former, even if he was totally comfortable in his sexuality and didn’t care what others thought. I didn’t care for the romance, either; the book would have been so much better without it.

The plot had a good concept, however the cringey, repetitive writing style did not help. There was a lot of winking and swearing and talking about how hot Seung is. My eyes glazed over a lot while reading. Needless to say, Where I Live had potential but fell flat. To be fair, though, it is a debut novel.

 

Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider

4.25 stars

invisibleghostslibrarybook

Invisible Ghosts follows Rose Asher, a high school junior haunted by the ghost of her older brother, Logan, who died four years ago when he was fifteen. Shy and introverted, she spends her afternoons watching Netflix with her brother. Then, her childhood friend Jamie comes back to town, and slips back in with their former group of silly theater nerds like he never left. When he crosses paths with Rose, and she learns he has a secret of his own, Rose is drawn back into the life she was missing out on after Logan’s death. But what if by choosing a life out of the shadows means losing her brother all over again?

I really, really enjoyed Invisible Ghosts. I was a lot like Rose when I was in high school and, in a lot of ways, I still am. I liked Jamie, their group of friends, and the romance was sweet, too. As for Logan, I saw him more as a metaphor than a ghost. When she would go out with her friends or get more involved in school and her extracurricular activities, he would throw a temper tantrum. I thought he more represented Rose’s insecurities and social anxiety. Though the book dragged in some parts, I was glad to see Rose come into her own and figure the problem out by herself.

 

What have you read recently?

2019 Reading Wrap Up #2 (2/23/19)

When this semester started, I was fully prepared to not be reading much. A month into last semester, I was completing one or two books in the span of a month. So far this semester, I have read seven books.

Granted, most of these were graphic novels. And it helps to have two free days in the middle of the week. Since I get up early enough, I get an adequate amount of homework done where I can read in the afternoons. This also usually leaves my weekends open.

This wrap up is a combination of books I own as well as library books, plus one book that was a recommended read for one of my classes. But more about that in the wrap up.

Between the last week of January until now, I read:

 

Evermore by Sara Holland (library book)

3.5 stars

evermorelibrarybook2

Evermore is the sequel to Everless and is the concluding novel to the duology. In case you are unaware, Everless is set in a fantasy world where time is based in currency taken from the blood. The main character, Jules Ember, returns to the manor home she fled years before to earn money for her ailing father. In the meantime, she learns something about herself, as well as the kingdom at large.

While I enjoyed Evermore, I think I liked it a little less than Everless. The writing was atmospheric, yet a little too flowery at times. The magic system was fascinating and so was the mythology, however I think there were still holes in the story. Though I liked Jules and adored the romance in this novel, even if some might say it came out of nowhere, the plot was slow, then rushed to reach a resolution.

I checked both Everless and Evermore out of the library. Despite that I was interested in the synopsis, I didn’t want to risk the money on them. The concept seemed so out there for me to wrap my head around it.

Overall, I say I enjoyed the Everless duology. I might buy my own copies someday, and will likely read anything else Sara Holland writes.

 

Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

5 stars

sagavol9

It took me a while to come up with something to say about the ninth volume of the Saga graphic novels. At least, something coherent or not a spoiler.

Even as they brought up strong criticism about media and intentionally spreading fear, there was a point I suspected it would be another “filler” volume, until the ending happened. The last thing I have to say is that what I have been anticipating since the first volume finally happened. Yet, it was not quite how I expected it to happen. This particular event was also coupled with something I had not seen coming. It added on more to the emotional preparation I had built up from the previous eight volumes.

Needless to say, it’s going to be a hard year before the next installment of Saga.

 

Poe: Stories and Poems: a graphic novel adaption by Gareth Hinds

4.5 stars

poegraphicnovel

Gareth Hinds is a graphic artist that recreates classic stories in graphic novel adaptions. Poe: stories and poems is the first of his that I read. Inside are illustrated adaptions of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, The Cask of Amontillado, Annabel Lee, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Bells, and The Raven. While the language has been condensed a little to fit the graphic novel format, the artwork in this collection is simply gorgeous. He uses different color schemes to match each work, like beachy pastels for Annabel Lee and a monochromic one for The Raven.

If I was rating the Poe graphic novel on artwork alone, it would be five stars. However, the majority of the stories featured in this were not my favorite of Edgar Allan Poe’s works. Gareth Hinds’ illustrations added something to them, though. The visuals in The Cask of Amontillado gave me a new appreciation for it. I already loved The Tell-Tale Heart, so the artwork added more to it. Yet the artwork for The Masque of the Red Death didn’t quite appeal to my imagination. So, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m rating this Edgar Allan Poe graphic novel mostly on my reading experience.

 

To Make Monsters Out of Girls by Amanda Lovelace

5 stars

tomakemonstersoutofgirls

The Princess Saves Herself in This One had an emotional impact on me, The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One unfortunately did not have the same effect. Because of that, I kept my expectations for To Make Monsters Out of Girls neutral.

To Make Monsters Out of Girls was originally published on Wattpad under a different title. After her success with her previous works, it was republished with a new title as well as illustrations that added something to already hard-hitting, lyrical free verse poetry.

I’m not entirely sure how to review a poetry collection, beyond rating it by how it made me feel. I love Amanda’s style of poetry; how direct and honest she is. I also appreciated how she owned up to her mistakes, like how she was involved with a man already in a relationship. I enjoyed the topics covered in this collection and how it made me think and feel. I had the same kind of reading experience with To Make Monsters Out of Girls as I did with The Princess Saves Herself in This One.

 

And The Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Rovina Cai

4 stars

andtheoceanwasoursky

And The Ocean Was Our Sky is a retelling of Moby Dick through the eyes of the whale. Bathsheba is a member of a whale pirate crew that hunt humans, claiming to be protecting the ocean from the world above. When they capture a human, it leads Bathsheba and the rest of her crew on a mission they deem to be their destiny. But as the whales carry out their mission and she talks more with their human captive, she has doubts about not only their mission, but the relations between humans and whales.

I flew through And The Ocean Was Our Sky like I thought I would. It is a combination of prose and beautiful dark blue/black/white/red artwork, as illustrated by Rovina Cai. Patrick Ness does a good job blurring the lines between who is right and wrong between the whales and humans, making neither look entirely innocent. Bathsheba is the narrator and we see directly through her eyes as the world she thought she knew unravels around her. I wanted to give it five stars but the plot twist kind of threw me for a loop. I had no idea where the author was going with it.

 

True Notebooks by Mark Salzman (library book)

5 books

truenotebookslibrarybook

Nonfiction is a genre I don’t reach for often, if at all. True Notebooks is a book recommended by the professor of my Friday class, Literacy Services to Underrepresented Populations, in preparation for our visit to a correctional facility in a few weeks.

True Notebooks is about the author, Mark Salzman’s, experiences as a creative writing teacher in a juvenile detention center. When his friend first approached him with the opportunity, he tries to think of ways to politely decline until he is persuaded by Sister Janet, a nun in charge of the program trying to rehabilitate these incarcerated minors. The book chronicles the various challenges Mark encounters—rowdy students, illiteracy, prejudice from outsiders and insiders, among other things—and how he not only helps his students, but they help him.

The book is narrated primarily from Mark’s first-person perspective, with samples of his student’s writing. For the first half of the book, the boys annoyed me. By the middle, as they began to understand these writing classes were a privilege that had to be earned, they had my sympathy. I felt the justice system was being too hard on most of them for a single mistake they made at fifteen.

However, towards the end of the book, you realize some of those boys had good reason to be in prison. They severely injured or even killed someone. And, while most of the boys grumbled society failed them (which in some cases, it was true), there were those that understood they were their own people who made their own choices that got them to where they were. That is what I appreciated the most about True Notebooks: there was more gray area than black or white.

 

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (library book)

3.5 stars

thedarkestpartoftheforestlibrarybook2

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a young adult fantasy novel based around traditional, non-Sarah J. Maas fairy folklore that I have had my eye on for years. Holly Black is also an author that has peaked my interest, especially since she published The Cruel Prince. Before I bought The Cruel Prince, though, I had owned one of her first works, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. I read it last year, wanting to read her previous works before the new. While I liked the nostalgia I got for my Twihard years, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was ultimately boring. Since I heard mention that a character from The Darkest Part of the Forest might make an appearance in The Cruel Prince, I checked it out of the library to read, instead of buying it.

Thankfully, I enjoyed The Darkest Part of the Forest. The writing was lyrical and the town of Fairfold a beautiful, atmospheric kind of creepy. I liked the traditional dark faerie folklore woven in and how the humans coexist with the fairies as they have always been there. The Sleeping Prince, a horned boy sleeping inside a glass coffin in the woods, was treated like a weird tourist attraction. I liked the protagonist, Hazel, her brother Ben, and Jack, Ben’s changeling best friend. The plot twist I kind of saw coming, but I liked it nonetheless, mostly because I don’t see it used often.

My favorite part about The Darkest Part of the Forest was the primary focus the relationship between Ben and Hazel. Though they resent each other deep down for different things and a lot of bad stuff happened to drive an emotional wedge between them, the siblings put each other ahead of everything. They both have love interests, but the romance is more of a side plot than a driving force.

Which leads me into the things I didn’t like about the novel. While I liked Hazel’s love interest, Ben’s romantic relationship feels too much like insta-love for me to get on board with. The writing was overly descriptive and sometimes certain scenes took too long to get to the point. Lastly, the ending seemed to drag on for longer than it should have, although it might feel that way to me because I checked the library book out for too long and I had to return it, so I had to read fast.

 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

 

In case you are curious, here is the link to my first reading wrap up of 2019.

2019 Reading Wrap Up #1 (1/22/19)

I go back to school this week and I’m excited for the new semester. Although, I admit, I did enjoy the break. It allowed me time to recharge my brain batteries and have a lot of free reading time.

I took advantage of the time off to visit my local library. I have four books left from the library that you will likely see in my next reading wrap up in two weeks (hopefully). After that, I will be preoccupied with piles of schoolwork. Plus, it’s starting to snow and there are books at home I want to read.

Over my winter break, I read:

 

Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (library book)

4.75 stars

praisesongforthebutterflieslibrarybook

I found Praise Song for the Butterflies while browsing the new additions shelf at my library. I almost did an individual review on this book, but it messed with my emotions so much I had no idea how I could write it.

Praise Song for the Butterflies is set in West Africa. Abeo Kata is the nine-year-old daughter of a government worker living a life of luxury until her father falls on hard times. Taking his mother’s advice, her father takes her to a religious shrine, hoping the sacrifice of his daughter to the gods will improve the family’s fortune. For fifteen years, Abeo endures horrible physical, sexual, and psychological abuse as a shrine slave. When a heartbreaking tragedy finally pushes her over the edge, Abeo has to find her way back into herself after being rescued and learn to trust and love others again.

The writing in Praise Song for the Butterflies was beautiful. Bernice L. McFadden doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of shrine slavery and the brutality these women experience on a daily basis, but she doesn’t get too graphic. As for the characters, I felt they were realistic, yet I didn’t connect with any of them. Most made me angry, like Abeo’s parents and her grandmother. In fact, I think I disliked them more than the men at the shrine abusing Abeo and the other shrine slaves. There was a twist in the story that I saw coming, but they also revealed it too early. Despite the book being short, the pacing dragged in the beginning and the end for longer than it needed to.

I wanted to give Praise Song for the Butterflies 5 stars. Sadly, I still found some problems with it that bothered me.

 

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (library book)

4.5 stars

iamthemessengerlibrarybook

After buying Bridge of Clay a few months back, it didn’t feel right to read it without having read Markus Zusak’s other well-known, though not as beloved, work, I Am the Messenger. And I am very glad I did.

Ed Kennedy is a wise-cracking but good-natured underage cab driver with a coffee-drinking dog named the Doorman and an unrequited crush on his best friend Audrey. After inadvertently stopping a bank robbery, he gets playing cards in the mail that lead him on various missions of helping and occasionally hurting others by an enigmatic mastermind. As he delivers each message, the identity of the person behind Ed’s mission remains a mystery.

I really, really liked I Am the Messenger. The main reason I would say is Ed himself. He’s a wise-ass, but he’s not mean about it. He has a good heart and a strong conscience. There are certain situations in the novel that he could have easily backed out of, but he chose not to, even if he was potentially in danger. He tends to see the good in most people, which made me hate his verbally abusive, spiteful mother very much. The best part was watching Ed grow as a person. He was already good; he was just feeling a little lost.

Ed and his mission carried the novel. I liked his friends, though Audrey got on my nerves for most of it. It might be my loneliness talking, but if a guy like Ed Kennedy wanted to date me, I would absolutely give him a chance. Eventually, she grew on me, like Ed’s other friends did. Lastly, I liked the overall message of I Am the Messenger.

 

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson (library book)

3.5 stars

strandsofbronzeandgoldlibrarybook

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a reimaging of the fairy tale Bluebeard set in 1855 Mississippi. After the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Sophia is sent from Boston to Mississippi to live with her godfather Monsieur Bernard. Though he showers her with expensive gifts and attention, as she explores his beautiful home, Sophia discovers dark secrets of her godfather’s past hidden within the abbey.

Strands of Bronze and Gold is a book I have wanted to read for years. Only it’s been out of print for so long, you can hardly find it anywhere anymore, even on Amazon. The library came to my rescue. Turns out, while I did enjoy the book, I did not love it as much as I thought I would.

Sophia is a likeable protagonist. She doesn’t stick her head in the sand; she knows Bernard’s abusive behavior towards her is wrong and she looks for various ways to get out of the situation. The mystery was solid, with a fantasy element woven through. However, at times I was bored, even though it was a fast read.

 

Kiss Me in Paris by Catherine Rider (library book)

3.75 stars

kissmeinparislibrarybook

In the vein of The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Kiss Me in Paris follows two people, Serena and Jean-Luc, who meet by chance in Paris and spend a whole day together. Serena is on a mission to make a scrapbook for her mother and she’s on a tight schedule. But easygoing Jean-Luc intends to show her a different kind of Paris, leading her on a path she never intended to take on this vacation.

Kiss Me in Paris is one of the cutest books I’ve ever read. It was overly dramatic sometimes but fun and fluffy. While you could argue the relationship in this story is sort of insta-love, it didn’t really bother me. It was also compulsively readable and addictive; when I wasn’t reading it, I wanted to. Highly recommend Kiss Me in Paris if you are looking for something cute and easy to fly through.

 

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chis Riddell (library book)

3 stars

thesleeperandthespindlelibrarybook

Despite owning his novel American Gods, The Sleeper and the Spindle is technically my first read by Neil Gaiman. It is a fairy tale that turns the popular tropes on their heads. The queen saves the princess and does her own thing. There is no prince or knight on a horse coming to save them. It was even written like a fairy tale. And the illustrations in this graphic novel were simply gorgeous.

While I read The Sleeper and the Spindle in less than a day, I admit I was not as blown away by it as I wanted to be. It was entertaining and had a worthy moral to it, yet I left it wanting more. Also, the plot was resolved a little too quickly, I think. Sadly, The Sleeper and the Spindle was a middle-of-the-road novel for me.

 

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab (library book)

2.75 stars

thenearwitchlibrarybook

The Near Witch is my second book I’ve read by Victoria Schwab (the first being This Savage Song) and it was her debut novel. And it is a product of its time.

The Near Witch is set in a small village where children are going missing after a strange appears in the middle of the night. While magic is known in this world, it is feared and anyone that practices it is looked down upon. The main character, Lexi, is feisty, curious, and determined to get answers, even though her uncle wants her to be a good girl and stay put.

I hate to admit it, but I had to push myself to read The Near Witch. While I liked Lexi’s thirsty curiosity and the atmospheric writing, that was all that carried the book. The secondary characters, including Cole, had little to no depth in their development. The magic system was unclear. Despite being roughly 250 pages, the plot seemed to drag and took forever to resolve. Unfortunately, after a certain point, I stopped being entertained and kept reading hoping things would get better.

To be fair, given how old the novel is and it is a successful author’s debut, I went into The Near Witch with relatively low expectations. Only I was expecting more of a 3 star rating than a 2 star.

 

The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany (library book)

1 star

thekingofelflandsdaughterlibrarybook

I checked out The King of Elfland’s Daughter from the library after seeing it on a list of “best fantasy novels ever” while doing research for one of my final projects last semester. It follows a young lord who, at the orders of his father, marries the daughter of the King of Elfland so the people of their kingdom might have a future ruler that practices magic.

I want to ask the person who wrote that list—and Neil Gaiman, who wrote the introduction—how this was possibly a good book.

Plot? What is plot? Characters? What are those? Dialogue? That’s a thing? This book was basically one long description after another and the characters were just part of the set without any real development or depth to them. I can’t remember the last time I was so bored reading a book.

 

What have you been reading so far in 2019?

 

What I Read Recently #1

I’ve been up for almost an hour and, as I begin to write this post, I’m already worrying about the amount of homework I need to complete today. I have to rationalize it that writing this post is getting my brain warmed up to write two papers I have due in the next couple of weeks. That is how much graduate school is taking over my life right now.

But I miss my blog and writing for fun. Unfortunately, I haven’t read much for pleasure in the last two months. I want to read, I just don’t have much time or energy for it lately. I have to remind myself to make sure I take breaks when I can, to let my batteries recharge. So, that’s what I’m doing right now.

From the beginning of September to the middle of October, I have read a total of four books. Those are:

 

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

4.75 stars

themarkofathena

I finished this the week before I started graduate school. And I realized later it is the worst book to pause at in the middle of the Heroes of Olympus series. If you have read this book, you know the ending is a cliffhanger that makes you want to drop everything to read The House of Hades. But I had to stop myself from doing that and favor books that were not likely to be so life consuming.

Besides that, I did enjoy The Mark of Athena very much, although I think The Son of Neptune is still my favorite. The Mark of Athena had some of the best Leo moments as well as adorable relationship moments between Annabeth and Percy. The plot was stronger in this one, we got to see places like Rome, and encounter familiar characters from mythology, like Hercules (who, by the way, is not like the guy from the Disney movie).

As of right now, my plan is to get back into the Heroes of Olympus series around Thanksgiving break…hopefully.

 

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

3.5 stars

mansfieldpark718

It took me almost a month to finish Mansfield Park. Not because I didn’t like it—because of graduate school. Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s least popular works, and I can guess why. Compared to a character like Lizzy Bennet, Fanny Price stays on the sidelines most of the time. The drama doesn’t involve her until near the second half of the book and most of the plot are people hanging out being teenagers. And, of course, there is the fact that Fanny’s only obvious love interest is her cousin, Edmund.

But I personally saw a lot more of myself in Fanny than I have in most other Jane Austen heroines. She’s quiet and shy, but very observant. She comes off as naïve, but she sees right through Henry Crawford when he starts toying around with Julia and Maria. And she does try to be nice to everyone, even the Crawfords. I found the drama of this novel to be extremely entertaining, especially since it was so tame compared to what you see now in most contemporary young adult novels. In terms of the romance, I don’t think it was unusual for that time period, given cousins married often. So, I took it with a grain of salt. Overall, I enjoyed Mansfield Park very much.

 

The Opposite of Innocent by Sonya Sones (library book)

4 stars

theoppositeofinnocentlibrarybook

At the beginning of October, I felt compelled to check out a bunch of library books. The Opposite of Innocent was one of them. It was the first that I read and as soon as I finished it, I brought it back to the library because it disturbed me so much.

Told in verse, The Opposite of Innocent follows fourteen-year-old Lily, who is madly in love with Luke, her father’s best friend. After travelling for two years, Luke returns and stays with Lily’s family. They soon begin a physical relationship that turns sexual and then abusive very quickly.

The Opposite of Innocent was one of those books I had to be careful when and where I read it. Because once I picked it up, I wouldn’t want to put it back down. While there were many parts I was uncomfortable—which I think was the author’s intention—the story is an important one. When I become a librarian, this is definitely a book I will encourage young girls, as well as boys, to read, so they can be wary of grooming and know that Luke’s behavior towards Lily, even though he says he loves her, is unacceptable. I wanted to give The Opposite of Innocent five stars, for the honest portrayal of pedophilia and Lily coming into her own. But I took off a star for the anticlimactic ending and I wish it were slightly longer.

 

The Life and Death Parade by Eliza Wass (library book)

2 stars

thelifeanddeathparadelibrarybook

Ever had that experience with a book where you are left feeling why did I read this? That’s what happened with me with The Life and Death Parade.

The novel follows Kitty, whose boyfriend, Nikki Bramley, died unexpectedly after a psychic told him he had no future. Grief has torn her away from the Bramley family, and she makes it her mission to track down the psychic that gave Nikki his fortune. Instead, she finds Roan, a master con artist she brings to the surviving Bramleys in hopes his tricks will give them comfort, as well as give her clues to the Life and Death Parade, a group of charlatans that mess with the balance between the living and the dead. But Kitty, like the Bramleys, soon falls under Roan’s dark spell.

I had read Eliza Wass’s novel, The Cresswell Plot, two years ago and I was terribly disappointed by it. But I wanted to give her a second chance, since it was her debut novel. Unfortunately, The Life and Death Parade was a let down, too.

Her writing was still good; she created a spooky atmosphere that was perfect for Halloween. The portrayal of Kitty’s grief felt realistic in that she wasn’t thinking clearly most of the time and she was beating herself up for not always being the most loving girlfriend (she was the daughter of the family’s maid, so their class difference bothered her, among other things). Since Eliza Wass lost her own husband, I can imagine she was reliving her own experiences. But that’s about it.

The characters were one-dimensional and not much happened in terms of their development, including Kitty. Roan is probably the only one I would call interesting, except barely. Though he was only seen at the beginning of the novel and in flashbacks, I found Nikki to be utterly annoying. As far as plots go, this one was weak. Nothing made sense. Lastly, the ending wrapped up too quickly. It happened so fast the book ended before I could process it. If she had allowed herself to write a few more pages, I think Eliza Wass could have done much better with The Life and Death Parade.

 

What books have you read recently?

 

 

UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT: A Somewhat Spoilery Rant on Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

As I begin to type this, I am very glad there is a solid wall between me and the rest of the world….

I know I’m not the only person that feels this way about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I like to think that readers are generally accepting of other people’s opinions. Personally, hyped books are a hit or miss for me. I don’t know why, they just are. Knowing that about myself, I kept my expectations neutral for probably one of the most beloved novels to be published in the last ten years. Unfortunately, I was let down.

aristotledantelibrarybook

On the surface, the plot was interesting: a coming of age novel about two Mexican boys in 1980s Texas, one of them realizing he is gay while the other struggles with his identity. But upon reading the novel, there was little plot to speak of. Just a lot of talking, or, in the case of Aristotle, not talking, and describing the various things the boys did together over the summer. The writing was cringey, repetitive, and overly philosophical (we’re talking fifteen-year-old boys here), yet dumbed down, like you’re talking to a moron and trying to teach him life lessons in layman terms.

As characters themselves, Aristotle and Dante were all right. Aristotle’s anger was understandable, if frustrating. He learned from his parents not to talk about his feelings, especially not to ask questions about his brother in prison, so he bottled everything up until it exploded. Surprisingly, I realized I related to some of his anger. When I was younger, I was told often to stop talking, even when I had something I wanted to say. Sometimes, I felt like my feelings were being ignored. Eventually, I found people I could talk to, though I was older than Aristotle was when that happened.

As for Dante, I’m not sure how I feel about him. Mostly because he is what I feel like I need to rant about.

So, if you have not read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, there will be spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

It really, really bugged me when Dante pressured Aristotle to kiss him. Then, he got all pouty when Aristotle avoided him for a few days. After that, he admitted to Aristotle when he was kissing that other boy, he was thinking of kissing Aristotle. And Dante again confessed his love for Aristotle, saying he was all Dante thought about. It didn’t help that their parents noticed. As far as I was concerned, it seemed as though Dante was trying to force his feelings onto Aristotle, who may or may not have returned the sentiment.

I completely understand Dante had his feelings hurt. Believe me, I’ve been there. But it was obvious Aristotle was not ready. I don’t blame him in the slightest. An openly gay Mexican boy in Texas? Those of us that have read the novel know how well that turned out, at least for Dante.

I did find Aristotle’s borderline obsession with Dante weird. Although, I would sum it up to his lack of non-pushy friends (those girls Gina and Susie would annoy me, too, if I knew them in real life). Except that didn’t bug me so much. It was how much of a roll the parents played.

Why did his parents have to tell Aristotle he was in love with Dante? Why didn’t Aristotle figure that out on his own, like Simon did in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli? Aristotle can’t love Dante like a friend? Don’t we want to protect our friends as much as we would our significant others?

If I’m missing something, please tell me.

I know how this sounds. But I want to stress that I am all for LGBTQ+ books and a healthy gay romance. I am not for forced romantic relationships; does not matter if it is heterosexual or otherwise. I honestly did not see how Aristotle and Dante were romantically compatible. Best friends, yes, but boyfriends I’m not so sure.

Despite my rant, the novel was an easy read, at least in the beginning. Towards the middle, I wasn’t really enjoying myself anymore. Even though I liked Aristotle’s wise-ass sense of humor, after a while, I was starting to find the characters annoying.

Overall, I give Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz 2 stars. I liked Aristotle’s sarcasm and I could relate to him in some degree. I also appreciated the realistic approach to family, giving the boys healthy relationships with their parents. Unfortunately, the cringey writing, lack of plot, and feeling of a forced romance didn’t do it for me.

 

Let’s discuss Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Is there anyone that shared my opinions? Do you want to try to bring me over to the other side? Have at it!

Review of A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell (Spoiler Free)

I rarely give out 1 star reviews and I am really happy about that. It means I have become more selective about what I read. To get a 1 star from me, the book needs to have a lot of problems that I simply can’t overlook and less pros than cons. And there is virtually nothing about it that I liked.

Spoiler alert: I gave A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell one star.

I picked this book up from the library because the movie starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively is coming out next month. It is about two moms, Emily and Stephanie, who are brought together by their sons. Stephanie is a widow and mommy blogger that admires Emily’s career working for a fashion designer and her handsome British husband, Sean. Then, Emily calls her one day and asks if she can pick Emily’s son up from school, as she is being held up at work. At first, Stephanie thinks nothing of the simple favor, it’s something mothers do for each other all the time, but then Emily goes missing.

I have no idea where to begin in reviewing this book. Other than to say, I’m going to try really hard not to rant or be too mean. After all, I’m sure the author worked hard on this. And someone saw something in it to turn it into a movie, with an actress like Blake Lively as Emily, no less. But, sadly, A Simple Favor was not for me.

asimplefavorlibrarybook

First off, the writing was mediocre. I didn’t find anything special about it. There was more telling than showing; we don’t really see how Stephanie and Emily supposedly bond, it is told to us by Stephanie. It was also very choppy, like the narrator would be talking about one thing, then jump to another random topic without warning. To be fair, it is a debut novel. While I did find the writing style plain, the novel was fast-paced and compulsively readable, even when I wasn’t sure how much more I could read. Lastly, the novel is told in both Stephanie and Emily’s perspectives, and the women’s voices were distinctive.

So, yes, I guess I could find something worthwhile in a book rated 1 star.

My major qualm with A Simple Favor was the fact that so much was revealed about Stephanie too soon. Her secrets were scandalous and admittedly interesting. However, revealing them so early in the book—as in within the first 50 pages out of the blue—took away the anticipation a reader feels wondering what Emily has on Stephanie and vice versa. By doing that, almost anyone can predict the plot twists.

The author tried to make the characters of Emily and Stephanie more unique. Stephanie is someone drawn to anything taboo and Emily as a thrill-seeker with slightly sociopathic tendencies. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The characters’ motivations, especially Emily’s, did not add anything to the plot. If anything, it just made the story more boring and predictable.

Despite all this, I still plan on watching the movie. I think the plot of A Simple Favor is more suited for a movie than a book.

Overall, I give A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell 1.5 stars. That .5 is for being compulsively readable. Like eating chocolate cake, I couldn’t stop reading even if I wanted to. If you are looking for a trashy book to get you out of a reading slump or something not very thought-provoking if you need a break, I recommend you check out A Simple Favor.

Review of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Spoiler Free)

The Poppy War is one of those books that came out of nowhere and blew up the Internet. And, after reading it, I completely understand why.

Inspired by Chinese history and folklore, The Poppy War follows Rin Fang, a war orphan that flees drug-dealing foster parents and an arranged marriage by acing the Keju, an Empire-wide test to find the Empire’s most talented pupils, and enrolling into the Sinegard Academy, an elite military school. Only her wealthy peers are non too pleased to have a dark-skinned peasant girl among their ranks, so life now is even harder than she anticipated. Then, Rin discovers she is a shaman and she has the power to save her people from a Third Poppy War. But at what cost when dealing with a vengeful god?

thepoppywarlibrarybook

I want to start off this review by saying this book is graphic. There is a lot of violence, drug abuse, and Chapter 21 is based off the events of The Rape of Nanjing. As the name suggests, there is extreme sexual violence, rape, and genocide. I don’t consider myself squeamish when reading ugliness in books, but I had some trouble sleeping after reading Chapter 21 of The Poppy War. So, if you are sensitive to such topics, be aware of that if you want to read this novel.

The Poppy War has some lovely descriptive writing. I could picture myself in the Nikara Empire. R.F. Kuang did a good job weaving in humor in the character’s dialogue, despite the overall feeling of dread present throughout the novel. On the flip side to that, I thought the story dragged in some places, like the ending took so long to wrap up, my eyes kind of glazed over. In Part One, where Rin is in school, there were these time jumps that sometimes came without warning, or so it felt like to me.

While this book is bloody, there is also mythology and political intrigue, which were some of my favorite aspects of the book. In other books I’ve read, gods are often portrayed as benevolent, guiding the characters to make the right choices. The gods in The Poppy War, however, don’t really care what happens to humans one way or another. They are either malicious in their intents or they are neutral; you can call on them for help, but don’t blame them if things go wrong. In the armies of the Empire, no one could agree on anything and no one trusted each other. The dark side of human nature really showed in this book.

Speaking of the characters, virtually everyone in The Poppy War is obviously flawed and in many cases, Rin included, not particularly likeable. They are overly ambitious and only think about proving themselves rather than stopping the war and protecting people. They make a lot of terrible mistakes. There is a lot of gray area. Was it wrong to do such and such thing? Depends on whom you ask. But the characters also grow throughout the events of the novel.

Another thing readers might be interested to know is that there is no romance, or at least one that is obvious. R.F. Kuang teased me big time with the possible sexual tension between Rin and her commander Altan, as well as the connections she builds with Nezha, a school rival turned ally, and with her nerdy best friend Kitay. However, when taking account certain things that happened during the novel, I’m starting to wonder if Rin was actually asexual. She cared about more receiving praise from Altan than getting him to kiss her. So, their “sexual tension” could have been all in my head.

When I picked up The Poppy War, I had no idea it was the first book in a trilogy. Now that I do, it explains the open ending and how so many questions were left unanswered. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed; there are not a lot of stand-alone fantasy novels anymore. Only that does not mean I won’t check out the sequel whenever it comes out. I’m too curious not to.

Overall, I give The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang 4.5 stars. I enjoyed the blend of Chinese history and folklore, as well as her beautiful writing style. If you were looking for a diverse high fantasy or science fiction novel, I would absolutely recommend this one.

Review of Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Spoiler Free)

Tess of the Road is a young adult high fantasy novel set in the same world as Rachel Hartman’s most successful novel, Seraphina. It follows Seraphina’s younger half-sister, Tess, who is a known troublemaker and not at all what the medieval society expects women to be. After she does something so terrible she can’t bear to think about it, her parents decide to send her to a nunnery. But on the day she is set to leave, Tess instead puts on a pair of boots, dresses like a boy, and sets out with her childhood best friend, a little dragon named Pathka, to find a new life where she can finally be who she is.

tessoftheroadlibrarybook

Before picking up Tess of the Road, I had heard of, but had not read, the Seraphina books. Truth be told, I was more interested in reading Tess of the Road because of the character arc: troubled girl searches for redemption in a fantasy medieval society typically unforgiving towards females. It was a good introduction to Rachel Hartman. I want to read her other books now.

Let me start by saying Tess is a very flawed, protagonist. While others have mistreated her, Tess is not entirely innocent. She makes a lot of bad choices. She pushes away anyone that tries to help her, like her half-sister Seraphina, or those that genuinely care, like her twin sister, Jeanne. But as she meets different people on the road, she learns to forgive herself and be a better person, as well as she is not the only person suffering. Tess realizes that nobody is perfect, even those, like her mother, who appear so.

Rachel Hartman has a beautiful writing style and a dazzling imagination. She created this fantastical medieval world with magical technology, creature-type beings that can take human form or can even change their genders, and lots of invented languages, religions, and mythologies. I personally found the world building a little slow and sometimes confusing. However, that could be because the world was pretty much already established from previous novels I have not read.

One thing you should know if you are interested in picking up Tess of the Road is that the plot is primarily character-driven and, for most of the book, Tess is literally just walking places. Her adventures are various incidents she gets herself into along the way and with the people she meets. Each person she encounters teaches her important lessons and makes her look at society’s problems, like why the woman is only blamed if the man is as equally responsible.

Another aspect most people might enjoy is that Tess of the Road has no romance. There are flashbacks to Tess’s ill-fated relationship with an older boy named Will, but it only serves as a plot device. In the present day, she has no love interest; the story is about her finding herself alone.

On Goodreads, Rachel Hartman herself said you do not need to read the Seraphina books before reading Tess of the Road. Only there are things I picked up on in the first few chapters I suspect are spoilers for the original series, except they could be very minor details. For me personally, I wonder if I would have benefited more from Tess of the Road if I had read the Seraphina books first, especially since I find the character of Seraphina so intriguing.

Overall, I give Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman 4 solid stars. The writing was beautiful and the main character realistic, but the story was too slow for my liking and not much happened in terms of plot. However, I would still recommend it if you like unique medieval fantasy novels.