Category Archives: Book Reviews

Faces in the Crowd: A Review

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
My rating: 2.5 of 5 star

I read this book as part of the Life’s Library book club which is probably the one way I really broaden my reading life. I don’t think there has been a book in this subscription club that I would have known about or picked up. And I have liked some of the books that they shared. But this was not one of them.

According to the back of the book, there were supposed to be three different narrators. But I could only see two. And the book isn’t divided in chapters, but instead just little snippets of storyline all mixed up. Plus, I believe this has been translated from Spanish, and I think some of it got lost in translation. There were a lot of times in the book that I had no idea what was going on, and I think the narrators were unreliable as well. The husband of the main protagonist kept dying or leaving the family but then, not really.

There was this one fascinating thread throughout the book about future ghosts. The poet translator kept thinking that she was seeing Gilbert Owen on the subway. And in a storyline narrated by Owen, he thinks he sees a woman fitting the description of the translator in a passing subway. This idea that all of the stories kind of fold on to one another was really cool.

I’ve heard that the audiobook is better as it clearly differentiates between the different narrators. So, that might have also added to the confusion. Overall, I didn’t feel anything for the characters because I couldn’t really tell what was happening. I know that there were a lot of literary allusions to things I love, Emily Dickenson and William Carlos Williams. But I could clearly see the allusions without understanding how they worked in the story which just made it feel strange.

This book wasn’t for me. But perhaps I will at some point try the audiobook version and see if that makes a difference. But for now, just not my kind of book.

There is profanity in the book. There are a lot of masturbation scenes and a few nondetailed sex scenes. There is talk of death throughout the book, this idea of dying at various points of your life but also dying in general. There is also an earthquake that happens and death is discussed then, too.

THe House on the Cerulean Sea: A Review

The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first heard about this book, it was presented to me like a book recommendation for those that like Harry Potter. This is not. I don’t even think they are in the same genre. But this book is good on its own merits. To be fair, I don’t think I would have actually picked up the book if not for this faulty recommendation and its gorgeous cover.

But on to the story.

The story is about a social worker who is part of the Department of Magical Youth. In this world, all sorts of magical creatures really exist, and in a recent past, new laws have begun an attempt to assimilate magical creatures into the society of humans. When a magical creature is a child, and has no family, they are sent to orphanages. It is the social worker’s job to determine if these orphanages are doing their job. If they aren’t, the orphanage is closed and the children are moved elsewhere.

Linus Baker is a 40 year old man who has been working as a social worker all of his adult life. He doesn’t make waves, does the best he can at his job, and is very much alone and lonely. His only companion is a cat who isn’t particularly friendly. His only fun is listening to old records at night.

The Extremely Upper Management decides one day to send Linus to a classified orphanage with the most problematic children. He is to live there a month, and at the end of that month, he is to make his assessment of whether it should stay open. He has, up to this point, managed to stay detached when making his observations, but this time is going to be different. This time, he will find love. He will understand acceptance. He will transform.

This book is beautiful. It’s all about acceptance, of yourself and others. It’s about using the privileges we are given in life to help those who are not privileged. It’s about the innocence of youth and seeing past the outer shell into the heart of a person.

My favorite relationships are that of Linus and each of the children. He reads their files at the beginning of his observations, seeing them as potentially quite dangerous to himself and others, but you see throughout the book that they are labeled concretely when there should be more nuance. The conversations between the Linus and the children are absolutely precious, showing both their problems and their innocence at the same time.

I didn’t know at the time that I received the book that the main character was queer and that there was a queer relationship in the book. I don’t know if I would have honestly picked up the book had I known. But most of what I had known about queer relationships before this book was quite different. The romance in this book is a slow burn, meaning that the romantic aspects of the relationship grow slowly and are not revealed until the end. You see glimpses of attraction, but they are more subtle.

Plus, it just further supported the character transformation that Linus goes through. He doesn’t come out of the other side as a socially acceptable version of himself. Instead, he learns how to accept himself despite what society says. Something the characters around him have had to learn to do.

In the end, I cried. The sweet relationships that develop and how much character growth Linus goes through in this story were just so emotionally overwhelming for me. In this climate, a sweet book like this is very needed. I understand if it may not be a book you would normally pick up, but if you give it a chance, the magic is well worth it. Even if it is nothing like Harry Potter.

There are a few words of profanity in the book. The children call him on it once which is exactly what children do. There are a couple of kisses mentioned, innuendo to more, but absolutely nothing graphic. For violent content, there is a mention of one child enduring physical abuse prior to his stay on the island, most of the children had endured some type of abuse, but nothing detailed. Also, Lucy (the child anti-Christ) says some pretty violent threats, but it is quickly understood that he uses them as a defense mechanism.

How To Be An Antiracist: A Review

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is filled with so much good information. Though heavy at times, I really learned a lot about how racism pervades everything. This isn’t a book about how White people have done this or that, but it’s about how policies that have been put in place for years, decades even, have been racist, and how we need to focus on making those policies more equal for all people.

Each chapter looks at racism from a different angle – culturally, biologically, both in gender and sexuality. It was uncomfortable at times, really challenged my own thoughts and beliefs, but I felt like he always came back to what was important, not that we try to change the thoughts of a racist, except by changing policies first.

Also in each chapter marks his own journey to becoming more antiracist, all the wrongs turns he made, and the people who he looked up to and righted him back on the path of antiracism. It was fascinating the watch his own growth, actually giving me hope in how I can grow as well. He embraced the times he was wrong because he learned the value of doing right was greater than being right.

This book was transformative and engaging. It repeats over and over from each angle how focusing on policies will be more productive in the long run than focusing on people and their individual actions. Highly recommend, though I do warn you, this isn’t an easy, light read. It will require some reflection and thought after each chapter

There is profanity in the book. Since it talks about the past, there is mention of rap and name calling of certain groups of women that would count as sexual content, but nothing explicit. Also, there are mentions of lynchings and murders of Black bodies but, again nothing quite graphic.

Mask of Shadows: A Review

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was the first book that I received with my Page 1 Subscription Box. I didn’t hate it enough to contact them to ask for a different book (which they do that), but I think I did something I shouldn’t have before reading the book. Something I don’t normally do for any book.

I read reviews on Goodreads. I didn’t read any particular star amounts, just the first few reviews on the page, and it definitely colored my reading of this book.

So, Sal is a gender-fluid thief who joins a masked competition for the position as one of the honored assassins to the Queen. This was not my first gender-fluid character in a fictional book – I remember Jericho in the Arc of the Scythe series by Neal Shusterman who was male in the sun and female in the shadow, but it was the first lead character who is. I think there’s a lot of creativity in a gender-fluid character, or there can be. Sal is male when he wears “male” clothes and she is female when she wears a dress. So you have to really pay attention to what he/she is wearing, so you could understand when a character slighted them.

Which isn’t my favorite part of books, the description of clothing, and there was a lot of that. It felt like every time a character entered a scene, we had to know every piece of clothing they were wearing, including the masks on their faces.

The other issue I had with this book was also mentioned in the reviews. There are a lot of characters in this book that seem to be throwaway characters. There are twenty-three competitors. Plus, in the midst of the competition, Sal talks about all of the backstory of the kingdom which I honestly couldn’t remember the names of the good and bad people in the war, which made remember them later when Sal references them really difficult. I literally used a notebook to list characters so I could understand what was going on.

I did find Sal’s past with shadows really interesting, and how it plays into the book. The plot really speeds up towards the end, but it feels more like it’s just for the set up for the next book. I don’t think I will get the next one right away, but just let that book simmer on the shelf, maybe pick it up at a later date to read again.

There is profanity in the book. Sexual content includes pretty chaste kissing, hugging, and holding. Lots of violence including but not limited to cutting off hands, weapon play, flaying, poison, and lots of death. There is, of course, LGBTQIA representation in the main characters.

All The Colors of Christmas: A Review

All The Colors of Christmas by Matthew Paul Turner
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Since this year has been absolutely crazy, I think reviewing a Christmas book for children in September sounds not only normal, but very much needed. Matthew Paul Turner has again created a beautiful story about all the good things this holiday season brings, giving us something nostalgic and precious to look forward to as we enter into the Fall season.

The book starts with the traditional colors of red and green as they bring up memories of sled rides and decorations of garland. Then, he moves to white and gold, as in the snowfall or star toppers on Christmas trees. He rounds out the colors with brown, like the reindeer (and the skin of baby Jesus) and with the color of You, impressing that we are a vital part to the season, adding our personalities and laughter to the holiday as vibrant as the colors all around us.

It’s a cozy book. It’s a book about beauty. And the pictures are gorgeous. The illustrator is Gillian Gamble who did the last book called, When God Made the World.

Overall, the book is sweet. I read it to my kiddo the day we got it, and he asked for me to read it again immediately, which makes it a winner in our house. We will definitely open it again closer to Christmas. It will also be a nice reinforcement of colors for our toddler which is another plus. This would be a great book to give at Christmas time, especially for new parents of little ones.

The rhyming sequence is different, which threw me off a bit when I first read it outloud. Generally, this author has written in couplets, but this time it was aabba stanzas. It changed the pacing of the book. This was just an observation, not a critique, because the writing still brings you to a beautiful place, even if the pace is slightly different.

I recommend any of this author’s books. Each one is a gorgeous journey of hope and beauty and inclusion into God’s story. This particular one would make a great Christmas gift to anyone, but especially the parents of little ones.

The Jane Austen Society: A Review

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

It should be obvious by the title, but if you are a Jane Austen fan, this book is definitely for you. There are so many references to all of the books that Austen wrote, plus the characters in this novel also have a very Austenian feel to them. And the story is set in a real town that is known as one of the places Jane Austen wrote her final books.

Set mostly in the years after WWII, the residents of Chauton, England are familiar with the notoriety of the local estate, inherited by Jane Austen’s brother. But the estate has dwindled over the years, unable to keep up with estate taxes, and the final heir has no heirs of her own. Within this small village, there is a group of people who love Austen’s books and come together in an attempt to save artifacts from the estate connected to this beloved author. They become the Jane Austen Society.

The writing is immersive without being too descriptive. Every time I picked up this book, I was transported to this town, though the main plot of this book didn’t feel dated within the period. The problems each of the characters were facing are still relatable. I even was surprised at the decisions some characters made, almost to a point of frustration. I wouldn’t have made the same choices, so it was fascinating to see the outcomes. True to a Jane Austen novel, things do work out in the end even if you don’t see it completely until the last page of the book.

Two trigger warnings, however, and I have to slightly spoil the beginning plot to reveal them. First the spoilery one, there is a detailed pregnancy loss early in the book and the aftermath grief described. I practically threw my book across the couch when it happened, as I wasn’t prepared for it (and I read this close to the anniversary of one of my own losses), hence the warning. Second, there is a sexual assault (both of these happen to different characters) that happens in the first half of the book as well. It is a little detailed, enough that made me feel a little uncomfortable, so warning there, too.

Towards the end of the book, there is a good bit of legal jargon in regards to the estate. I had to reread it a few times to follow what the issues were and how they were being resolved, but it was quite fascinating. Overall, the book is wonderful and I would reread it again, most definitely. Also, all of the conversations the characters have over their favorite Austen books have me wanting to pick up that author and reread some of her work again.

There is profanity in the book. Sexual content includes the above mentioned assault, as well as some light kissing, and a sex scene which is not detailed or steamy. No graphic violent content (other than the pregnancy loss), but there is some death mentioned from the war. There is also LGBTQIA representation in the main characters.

Space Struck: A Review

Space Struck by Paige Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a recent Life’s Library pick that is a collection of poems. I have a small library of poetry, but it’s not the first place I look to for new things to read. That’s why I like this book club. It really has broaden the genres on my shelves.

This particular collection has some incredible lines. The entire book is worth it just for the line “I’m the vice president of panic and the president is missing.” Some of the poems went over my head or left me a little lost. And then another line would hit me hard like, “I move through life like I’m trying to avoid a stranger’s vacation photo,” or “I think about how hard it is for me to believe in the first Adam because if Adam had the power to name everything, everything would be named Adam.”

It’s full of clever observations, Biblical references, and changes perspectives from poem to poem (which was one of the reasons I could feel lost at times). But the whole book is a trip and one that leaves you thinking long after it is put back on the shelf.

It does have profanity, so be aware of that. The sexual or violent content is not explicit but there is some symbolism and innuendo in the text.

Station Eleven: A Review

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the most part, I rely on book clubs and recommendations from certain friends and influencers, but I don’t really pay attention to plot. I want to be surprised. So, leave it to me to unknowingly pick up a book about a dystopian era after a flu pandemic.

I chose this book because the author goes back and forth in time, connecting all of the stories and timelines at the end. The flu in this story also has a shorter incubation time and a higher mortality rate. It was written in 2014, probably after the SARS outbreak as a “what-if a pandemic was really bad” writing prompt. But the character pulling seven carts from a grocery store to hole up in an apartment after getting a call from an ER doctor friend warning him of the coming virus was definitely relatable in 2020.

After 99% of the world’s population dies, the ones that are left are without electricity, internet, or running water. They leave their homes to camp in Wal-marts or airports in small communities. Kirsten travels with the Traveling Symphony, a nomadic group that plays music and puts on Shakespearean plays, from one community to the next over a select route, never going more south than they have to. Upon arriving in one town that they had been to in previous years, they realize that the town was taken over by a prophet and too dangerous to stay for too long.

It was interesting to see how all of the characters dealt with change. The story spans probably about 40 years before the pandemic, following the story of an actor named Arthur Leander and all of the people that are in his life on to about 20 years after the pandemic with Kirsten and her Traveling Symphony. Most of the characters that connect to each other, connect through Arthur, and it’s interesting to see how affects a lot of the outcomes of different characters (even though he dies from a heart attack in the first chapter before the pandemic actually begins). It’s a different look at legacy.

One of the main themes that threaded through all the chapters is this idea that people are going through their lives without knowing when it will end. I could see how it affected me by the end because a character said they would do something the next day, and I wondered if they would actually be able to do that thing. There’s a sadness to the book, so much loss and uncertainty but there are small moments of hope that keep the book from being completely depressing.

There is profanity in the book. Sexual content included sex implied in relationships, maybe one brief sex scene mentioned, but nothing graphic. Also, some implications in child brides. The violent content includes a lot of death, murders, scars, and guns and knives usage.

A Darker Shade of Magic: A Review

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be fair, this is my favorite author.  I have yet to find a book she wrote that I didn’t just completely love.  I actually heard about her when the third book in this trilogy was coming out, but the library (the place I go to check out new authors) didn’t have this trilogy.  So, I read The Archived and loved it.  And now I’m finally getting a chance to read this series.

I totally get the hype.

The story is set in London, well four Londons, each in a different world.  They used to be connected by doors that anyone could go through for a visit.  Magic was liberally shared between the worlds.  But now, the doors have been sealed, and only a special type of people, the Antari, are able to move between them.

Kell is an Antari.  He can’t remember his childhood, and all he knows is the family that he belongs to, the royal family of the Red London.  Red London still has a good balance of magic.  Grey London has no magic (and is our world set in a time that still depended on horse carriages), White London consumes magic, and Black London was consumed by magic (hence the sealing of all the doors in an effort to get it all under control).

Kell has a bad habit of smuggling things to each of the different worlds, and one of these items is found to be extremely dangerous.  Lila Bard, a gray-worlder, is a thief who pickpockets Kell and finds herself a part of the adventure to get this item to a safe place.  But there are others who would use this item for worlds domination, hence the plot thickens.

By the end of the book, I was heavily invested in these characters.  The plot was fast-moving and the adventure was fun.  It definitely left it open for the next book in the series, but I just love Schwab’s characters.  They are beautiful and flawed.  They don’t make perfect choices, but they have a deep set of values that help them navigate when it counts the most.

It does have profanity throughout the book.  There is one brief sex scene, but it isn’t detailed.  There is a lot of violence (one of the major qualities of White London), so expect torture and murder, conversations about murder, and a small trigger warning for cutting.

Like everything else I have read from this author, I really enjoyed the beginning of this series.  I am looking forward to reading the next one soon!

The Last Train to Key West: A Review

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a story of three women with vastly different lives and a hurricane headed for Florida that is going to upend every one of them.  At the beginning of the book, their lives cross at a diner in Key West.  Each also seems to have a knight in shining armor that will help them navigate through the story.  There are also some abusive husband triggers with one of the women.

Helen is a pregnant waitress who is with an abusive husband.  She is afraid that if she tries to escape, Tom will come looking for her and hurt her or the baby.  There was also some references to previous pregnancies that ended in loss, so she is also constantly afraid she will lose this baby.  Mirta is from Cuba and newly wed to someone she doesn’t know.  Her dad had backed the wrong political power and after the politics shifted, she is told that she has to marry this gangster with ties to the new regime in hopes that it will save the family.  And then Elizabeth, a once wealthy debutante whose family lost all their money in the stock market crash.  She is engaged to someone but has run to Florida to try to find a man who will hopefully save her from this engagement and save the family that is falling apart.

There is profanity, but it’s not a significant part of the dialogue.  There are kissing scenes and implications of more, but nothing quite graphic.  And the violent content comes from the abusive relationship, and also a violent assault that ends in a death, as well as all the dead from this hurricane.

Overall, the story is fascinating.  I had never heard of this hurricane that happened so soon after the stock market crash of 1929.  It was interesting to see what else was going on at the time that we don’t usually discuss in history books.  The story felt alive and moved well with the looming storm approaching.  Plus, I love how everything connected in the end and there was a sense of hope for the future.