Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue: A Review

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 star

I loved this book, like I thought I would. It is a beautiful, heart-breaking, clever story filled with intrigue and mystery with just the right touch of magic.

Addie Larue is a girl from the 1700s France who wants to escape from her mundane life on the day of her wedding to a man she doesn’t love. She makes a deal with a god of darkness who gives her immortality with a catch, no one who meets her remembers who she is after she leaves. Since both of her parents forget who she is, she is forced to strike out on her own, and there begins her adventure.

The god of darkness who she made the deal with continues to pop in and out of her life. You see, if she decides she no longer wants this immortal life of anonymity, he gets her soul. But when she enters a book store in New York City three hundred years after her deal, a man remembers who she is, and it begins a whole new exciting and heartbreaking journey.

The definitions of love, loss, death, and dying are what I am here for.

I really resonated with the character of Henry with his lack of direction and the full, big feelings he feels. I don’t get the storms he deals with, but I understood a lot of what drove his character and why he made the decisions he does. It is a beautiful depiction of mental health and depression.

If you like a little historical fiction mixed with magic and romance, this book is for you. It was a wonderful ride, one that I will definitely re-read in the future!

There is a profanity in the book. Sexual content includes kissing and sex scenes, not super graphic but definitely steamy. Violence includes stabbings, starvation, suicide attempts and of course, seeing others die around you, losing family members, etc.

A Conjuring of Light: A Review

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 star

This is the third book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy. Since I try not to reveal any spoilers for the entire series, this review will be short.

The book begins right where the last book left off, which was expected since that is how the first and second book transitioned as well. It was action-packed, everything from the previous books are coming together and this one took off running.

There are some character deaths, both main and secondary characters. In retrospect, I did find that the author really honed in on a lot of these characters in this book so that when their abrupt end happened, I felt emotion. But she weaves them all together beautifully, and I cared for all of the characters in the end.

The ending was messy but so good. Imperfect, but filled with hope. Not saying I would have wanted it to end in another way, but the author doesn’t tie up everything neatly, allows the characters to still have flaws at the end that affect their relationships, and I really liked the lack of a happily ever after for everyone. It worked well for this story.

Of course, I loved these books. I love this author. I love what she does with her characters. I love the fast moving plot. I love the world she created. She is one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to continuing to read her backlist as well as any future stories she may create.

There is a profanity in the book. Sexual content includes kissing and roaming hands, described genitalia and suggested oral sex, but nothing is too graphic or steamy. Violent content includes lots of death, either by sword or magic. There are also mentions and displays of familial abuse.

Come As You Are: A Review

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
My rating: 5 of 5 star

I really enjoyed this author’s book, Burnout, which she wrote with her sister, so I wanted to ready her other well-known book. I am so glad I did. This book was really informative and research/science based.

The chapters on body image and cultural influence were my favorite. They are vital and necessary for everyone to ready. Even though this book is directed primarily towards women, even men can benefit from the information in this book, namely those chapters.

The only critique I have of the book (which obviously didn’t affect my rating) was that she keeps referring to future chapters, and that was quite distracting. I can understand referring to past chapters but it was just confusing at the beginning.

This book is so needed. I recommend it especially to every woman in my life. In fact, I already have recommended it to a few. It is supporting, encouraging, and challenging. A definite book that will stay on my shelf for future reference.

There isn’t any profanity in the book. But there is definite sexual content since the book is about sex. There are some sexual traumas that are addressed as well, but not described in detail. She has a whole section specifically meant for those who are coming out of or have had sexual trauma in their life. So that is the closest to violent content that is there.

A Look Back and A Look Forward: Book Reviews

Looking Back

At the beginning of the year, I was doing quick recap reviews of all of the books I was reading each month. I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself to read so many books in a single month in order to write a review of each book. But by June, I was back to writing out my reviews, one book at a time. I prefer that format.

Especially since I spent the majority of this month making lists of the books that I read in the last 12 months: 5 star, 4 star, and 3 star books. I know that the rating format can be very subjective, but I hope that the reviews speak for themselves and explain why the books received their ratings. I’ve tried to challenge myself to dig deeper into why I didn’t like some things about books. I’ve also learned a lot about my tastes

For example, I learned that I gravitate towards fantasy and psychology/self-help kinds of books. And I haven’t really been a fan of books written in the first person. Not sure if that’s just a coincidence or something I actually don’t like.

Looking Forward

Last year, I made a goal of reading 48 books, which I completed. This year, I’m challenging myself to read 50 books. Not knowing what this year will bring makes me slightly nervous, but I’m just going to take it one book at a time.

My 2021 Media and Reading Journal

Like this year, I’m also going to keep a handwritten journal of what I read (as well as what I’m watching). I hope this will help hold me accountable as well as hone my reviewing skills. I still plan to share reviews with you on Wednesdays, and in an effort to give myself a head start on the reviews, I’m going to review the books I read in December and continue from there.

It’s hard to make any goals or resolutions after a year like 2020, so instead of making a new goal, I plan to keep doing what I’m doing, and hopefully get better at it and learn some things in the process. That’s really what I hope for in the new year – more growth, more passion, more pursuing the things that bring me joy and letting go of the things that are no longer working. And perhaps learn a little more about myself along the way.

A Look Back: Three Star Books

2020 is coming to an end, and for my own curiosity, I thought I would share the books that were good books, but not quite my favorite in the last 12 months. I count December 2019 in this collection since I’m obviously not done with December 2020 yet. This is my final list of the year. These books were ones I didn’t truly connect to, but had enough merit that I felt someone else might enjoy them.

#IMomSoHard – I read this book by Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley on a whim from my library at the end of 2019. While it had some funny parts to it, it was a bit tone deaf when it came to infertility and pregnancy loss.

Followers – Debut novel by Megan Angelo. Divided into a present-day and a future point after a cataclysmic event called The Spill, we follow Orla and her roommate, Floss, as they chase fame and fortune through social media. The writing was pretty fluid, but I felt like the characters lacked depth.

Born in Fire – Nora Roberts romance novel. I’m not big into romance, but I inherited this three book trilogy from my grandmother. Apparently, I have read this author before and didn’t remember, but the big problem I had with this story were the problematic relationships that edged on the side of abuse and codependency. Set in Ireland (whichc is my favorite part about the book), Margaret Mary is a glass artist who is also quite the loner, but her world is turned upside down when an art dealer takes an interest in her work.

Mask of Shadows – Debut novel by Linsey Miller. I met the author at a Farmer’s market and decided to give her book a try. The story follows a gender-fluid character named Sal who enters an assassin contest. There were a lot of characters in this contest which made it difficult to follow, but the last part of the book was the most interesting part, once a lot of the minor characters are killed off.

Never Let Me Go – A Kazuo Ishiguro novel set in a boarding school for special students, this book was overall just unfortunate for me. But if you like science fiction, a little romance, and a lot of flashback foreshadowing until everything is revealed in the end, I would recommend it.

Any books you read this year that weren’t quite bad but weren’t quite for you?

A Look Back: Four Star Books

2020 is coming to an end, and for my own curiosity, I thought I would share the books that were good books, but not quite my favorite in the last 12 months. I count December 2019 in this collection since I’m obviously not done with December 2020 yet. This is a long one, but I divided by continuing books in a series (like book 2 or 3), the first book in a series or a standalone, collections (of devotionals, poems, or essays), and nonfiction.

Continuing Books in a Series

Vengeful – the second book in the duology by Victoria Schwab. The two scientists continue to wield their powers. Other characters with their own powers are introduced. It wasn’t as good as the first book, but the story is beautifully written as a whole.

The Toll – The final book in the Neal Schusterman series. In a world where death is no longer a threat, society has created a job that culls the growing population. The series is quite the ride, and while I wasn’t crazy about the ending, it still wrapped up things well.

The Hand on the Wall – The perfect end to the murder mystery by Maureen Johnson. This is the last book of the Truly Devious series. Set in an elite private school in Vermont, Stevie has been invited to attend because of her detective skills and unique interest in a murder mystery that happened at the school during the 1930s. But after she arrives, strange things happen and there is more than one murder mystery to solve.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Second book in the Legacy of Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi. Based in African mythology, magic has disappeared and those who used to wield it have been cast aside as second class citizens or worse. But when the chance to restore magic is presented to Zelie and possibly a chance to level the playing field, the threat of war hums in the air. This book especially, but the whole series, shows how prejudices can blind even the best of intentions. This particular book wasn’t as strong as the first, but it definitely seemed more like a bridge to a final book.

The Night Country – This is the second book in the Hazelwood series by Melissa Albert. This series has been either loved or hated by readers. I enjoy the story which is based on a series of dark fairy tales. It follows a girl named Alice who, in this book, is really trying to figure out who she is and what sacrifices she is willing to make to save the ones she loves. Not as great as the first one, but still a pretty stellar read.

The Queen of Nothing – The final book in the trilogy by Holly Black. Jude and her sister watch their parents’ murder and are whisked away to the land of fairies where they have to learn to survive. She learns about true power and true love. There is a bit of problematic aspects in her relationship with Cardan, but overall, her character transformation is well done.

A Gathering of Shadows – Second book in the Shades of Magic series by Victoria Schwab. After the events of the first book, the characters are once again connected but this time, it’s a tournament of magic. Alucard Emery is introduced as well as new revelations with the other main characters.

Standalones or First Books in a Series

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Magical story by Alix E. Harrow about writing and books and believing in yourself. January is a young girl with an absent father and doting guardian. Her father works for her guardian, and one day she finds a door on the estate. After the door appears, she can summon it in the written word. And the adventure, and her true identity, emerge.

Parable of the Sower – One of the books I read for a book club that scared me. What a book to begin reading in 2020! Octavia Butler writes a dystopian future set in 2024 after a global climate crisis and a socioeconomic collapse. It was interesting to see how much people tried to hang on to their old lives as the world collapsed. I saw parts of this played out in real life only months later. It probably add to my anxiety.

The Bear and the Nightingale – First book in a trilogy by Katherine Arden. Set in Russia and, I believe, based on Russian myths, Vasya comes from a line of magical and crazed women, and when she starts to connect to the supernatural creatures, the whole world gets turned upside down. Good bit of violence and heavily uses 14th century Russian history which lost me at times.

All Systems Red – Science Fiction read by Martha Wells. The first part of the book was a bit slow, but it really took off in the end. The book is written through the perspective of an sentient AI robot that is acting as security for a research team. But when things go amiss, the team starts to realize that someone is sabotaging them and the robot, SecUnit, is all that stands between the success of their mission or their death.

The Space Between Us – This was a book club pick by Thrity Umrigar. It was a heartbreaking, but the relationships were fascinating. There are also a lot of triggers – rape, abuse – both verbal and physical, abortion and loss. It is set in Bombay and follows the lives of two women in different classes, and the limitations and freedoms they find in their lives. Really appreciated the connection of mental health and pregnancy loss.

The Gilded Wolves – First in the series by Roshani Chokshi based, I think, on Eastern mythologies, particularly Hindu practices. It is a heist book with magical realism aspects, though the characters didn’t seem as well-rounded as I would have liked. It definitely ends in a cliffhanger so it is obviously part of a series.

Blonde Roots – Really good book by Bernardine Evaristo answering the question, what if white people were the enslaved instead of black people. It changed the geography, what was defined as beautiful, and really showcased the microprejudices and how they affect day to day living.

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones is a hard author to read because I don’t agree with her characters’ choices. But the reason I am so uncomfortable really comes from the fact I never have had to make these hard choices because other opportunities were available to me. Really exemplifies privilege in many forms. Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and his newly-wedded wife Celestial must make hard choices that will affect both their futures.

The Last Train to Key West – Historical Fiction by Chanel Cleeton that follows three women as they face a terrible hurricane in Florida during the Great Depression era. In addition to this deadly storm, each woman is also trying to navigate their own stormy lives which come together in unexpected ways. There is mention of pregnancy loss and abusive marriage in this book.

Station Eleven – Another pandemic-related apocalypse book by Emily St. John Mandel. This was a flu-type of pandemic so it was perfect for 2020. After 99% of the world’s population dies, the ones left have to learn to survive on no electricity, internet or running water. There is a traveling symphony that shares the classics of Shakespeare and others to various towns, which is quite a dangerous job since they don’t know just what they are walking into, even if they have been there before. There is a lot of loss and sadness in the book, which the author beautifully explores from different perspectives.

We Hunt the Flame – First book in a series by Hafsah Faizal. The second book is on my list to purchase. The land has become cursed, and Zafira the secret Hunter and Nasir, the Prince of Death, must come together to try to restore magic and heal their land. Another story based in culture and mythology.

Silver Sparrow – Another book by Tayari Jones (the hard author to read because I don’t agree with her characters’ choices). This book, though, explores privilege more directly. James Witherspoon is a bigamist, but his secret family is the only one that knows. First part comes from his secret daughter’s perspective and the second part is from his other daughter.

Collections

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter – Really good collection of writings from different authors (including C.S. Lewis which drew me to the book in the first place) about Lent, Jesus, and Easter. It didn’t line up to the 40 days of Lent, but it was still a nice devotional to read during that time.

Space Struck – A collection of poems written by Paige Lewis. Lots of really incredible lines, though some of it did go over my head. Clever observations, Biblical references and chances from perspective from poem to poem

Nonfiction

The Self-Evolved Leader: Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People In a World The Refuses to Slow Down – This book was sent to me by the author, Dave McKeown. It is well-written and easy to follow with lots of journaling and practice throughout the book. But I was not its target demographic. Still rated it pretty highly.

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 – Book by Joanna Faber and Julie King that was empowering, validating, and helpful, though not the only parenting book you should have on your shelf. It deals with rage and frustration (which all parents can identify with) and some tools to help.

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent – This feels like a trend that I read this year, but it was different than the above parenting book in that Carla Naumburg focused directly on anger management. I felt that though this was directed towards parents, it is helpful for any relationship.

Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life – Beth Moore’s new book that compares our life in Christ with viticulture (or growing grapes on vines). It was informative and inspiring, though not my favorite study of hers.

On Immunity: An Inoculation – Another timely read book by Eula Biss. This is a collection of thoughts about immunizations, vaccines, and being a member of a community. Fascinating history of how vaccines started, how they have evolved, and why people may be hesitant to take them. Also why it is ultimately important to take them if you are able.

What are some of your 4 star books this year?

A Look Back: Five Star Books

2020 is coming to an end, and for my own curiosity, I thought I would share the books that moved me in the last 12 months. I count December 2019 in this collection since I’m obviously not done with December 2020 yet.

Vicious – The first book in a duology by VE Schwab. All of her books usually garner a four or five star for me. In this book, there are two scientists trying to figure out how to give themselves special powers. And when they finally figure out what it takes, things go horribly wrong.

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern’s most recent book. I love her lyrical writing and fantastical settings. A man finds a scene of his life written in an incredibly old book. Upon further investigation, he finds an entire world of magic that is on the brink of trouble.

The Stationery Shop – I love this book by Marjan Kamali because it addresses pregnancy loss and mental health, though it is not really a part of the main plot. Two lovers get separated during a revolution. Decades later, they are reunited and discover exactly what happened and why it happened on that fateful day in history.

When God Made the World – Any book of Matthew Paul Turner usually gets a five star from me (as you will see on down this list). The illustrations are beautiful. Lovely children’s book that explores God’s creation and how we play a wonderful part in it.

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands – One of my absolute favorite nonfiction/self-help books this year. Lysa Terkheurst shares the beauty of boundaries and changes the perspective of saying no to waiting to say the best yes.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – The other favorite nonfiction/self-help book. Written by sisters Amelia and Emily Nagoski, it explores stress as a study and how to work through it to live a healthier, slightly more sane life.

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life – Sweet memoir kind of book from Anne Bogel, who has a blog (Modern Mrs. Darcy) and a podcast (What Should I Read Next). Very appropriate book for this year.

Lovely War – Julie Berry Novel set mostly during World War One. The twist of this book is that the author incorporates Greek Gods who narrate the story. Aphrodite is trying the tell Hephaestus what love is when he finds her in the arms of Ares.

This Tender Land – William Kent Kruger novel that gives both Odyssey and Tom Sawyer vibes. Set during the Great Depression. Odysseus and Albert escape the abusive boarding school in the North and travel along the Mississippi river in hopes to reunite with their aunt.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth abut the American Church’s Complicity in Racism – Jemar Tisby’s excellent look at the history of the American church and slavery. I learned so much about how everything has evolved throughout time and how it has complicated everything today.

A Darker Shade of Magic – One of my hands-down favorite authors, V. E. Schwab. This was probably the series that put her in the spotlight, though I read some of her other novels first. It really does live up to the hype. The story takes place in London but there are four Londons, four worlds, once connected by magic. But when one world fell, it was shut out in hopes of containing the destruction. However, Kell and Lila have stumbled upon something that could change and destroy everything.

The Jane Austen Society – Natalie Jenner’s novel. Another historical fiction set in the town of Chawton, England after World War II. The town is known as one of the last places Jane Austen resided, writing some of her last novels there. A group of people connect over her books and seek to preserve her memory when the famous estate her brother owned might get sold off by its owner. TW: There is pregnancy loss in the book, but it is well-handled

All the Colors of Christmas – The second Matthew Paul Turner book on this list. No surprise here. Very beautiful book for Christmas that talks about the different colors that we find during this season, including ourselves as part of the beautiful picture.

How to Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi’s memoir-esque book about his journey to becoming more antiracist. It includes history and the people who inspired him along the way.

The House in the Cerulean Sea – This absolutely lovely book by TJ Klune is magical, fantastical, sweet, heartbreaking, and the closest thing to a perfect story. Linus Baker is a social worker who observes orphanages of magical creatures to see whether they are appropriately caring for their wards. When he is given a special assignment, his isolated, quiet life is turned upside-down in the most delightful way. Lucy was my favorite character.

Middlegame – A Seanan McGuire alchemical story about two people created as counterparts to each other and how they try to stop the end of the world. Beautiful, hopeful and heartbreaking.

What are some of your 5 star books this year?

Silver Sparrow: A Review

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
My rating: 3.5 of 5 star

This was the pick for November for the Modern Mrs Darcy Book club. I had read her other book, An American Marriage, which I reviewed here. So, I knew what I was getting into when reading her novels.

Her books make me feel uncomfortable. They are full of very flawed characters and sad situations. But what she does well is she shows how people survive in flawed, sad situations. It’s not an optimistic worldview, but there is still some hope.

James Witherspoon is a bigamist, living in Atlanta. His first wife and daughter don’t know about his second family, but Dana Lynn and her mother know about them. It affects Dana in so many ways throughout her life. And when revelations come to light, there are no winners.

The book is divided into two parts, the first from Dana’s perspective and the second part is from the perspective of the second daughter, Chaurisse. The limitations in these perspectives really reveal the truth that we don’t know everything that is going on in another person’s life. At one point in each part, the girls talk about each other and better the other life or person, not knowing all the pain that they have gone through.

It is well-written, but very sad. I’m not sure if the book is one for me because of how frustrated I get with the characters and the situations. It’s amazing how emotionally connected and invested I get, but the end, I just get depressed. So, I really struggle to rate these books because they are amazing works of literature, but they don’t lift my spirits, so they aren’t books I would willingly gravitate towards. Still, I think they are important to read to understand people around us who may not be like us.

There is a profanity in the book. There is also sexual content. I made note when reading this that said, “Everyone has sex in this book.” But sexual content played a significant part in explaining plot and character flaws. There is also a little violence, mainly in a story that is told throughout the book about this famous, or infamous, girl who pours grits on Al Green. Other than that, there is a little pushing people, but no real serious violence. There is some mention of rape, but not violent, yet a significant plot point.

Middlegame: A Review

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 star

This book was in a Page 1 Subscription box. If you haven’t tried this subscription, I highly recommend it. They send a carefully selected book based on your reading interests, wrapped in brown paper, along with a few bookish treats. Check out my instagram (@katyslifestory) for more, as I frequently share my monthly treats.

The world in this book is based in alchemy, but even if you aren’t completely knowledgeable in alchemy, the world is so well-written that it’s hard to get lost. There are a lot of twists and turns that feel like getting lost, but everything gets revealed and explained down to layman’s terms. Outside of that, the plot is a bit difficult to explain.

Roger and Dodger are two kids, around seven years old, when they are introduced. The book follows them as they grow up on opposite sides of the country. Roger is a language prodigy and Dodger is a genius with numbers. When they are very young, they are able to talk to each other through what is described as quantum entanglement. As they grow up, they realize that they are two parts to an even bigger, more nefarious plot, which they must figure out before it is too late.

The book moves back and forth in time, specifically forward in time to one specific point which is done over and over, and each time a little more is revealed. Until finally we reach that same point towards the end of the book. McGuire expertly leads the reader through the maze of knowledge and discovery without revealing anything too early.

The characters are relatable in the loner, coming of age, kind of way. It is easy to root for them, to feel for them, to understand their loss and pain. They connect with the reader really well. Erin is also a relatable character, specifically to those who have a penchant to organize life around them.

The story is a quest, both to a specific place and to learn more about oneself and grow confident in who a person is meant to be. The plot is fast-paced, especially in the last 100 pages, which seemed to fly by as each action brought on another action until the finale. The rules in this world were interesting, and there were references to scientists and authors who used a lot of metaphor in their writings, connecting that they were all alchemists. Some Easter eggs might be lost on a reader who doesn’t know much about alchemy, but it is still a fun ride regardless.

There is a substantial amount of profanity in the book. Also, there is some sexual content, as this follows two people from about the age of 7 to almost 30 so there is sometimes sex, however not explicit or steamy. There is a significant amount of violence in this books. Trigger warnings for suicidal attempts. There is murder, horror movie style, described fear. The books opens with the words “There is so much blood.” It is a bloody book.

A Gathering Of Shadows: A Review

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 4.5 of 5 star

This review is going to be short because it is the second book of the series, and I don’t want to spoil anything if you decide to pick it up.

The book focuses on a lot of character growth, particularly with Delilah Bard. There is a pirate storyline in this book, which was really fun. Plus, the tournament in this book is used to pull all the characters together, explaining how they are all growing as characters and relating to each other. There is also a lot of processing through the outcome of the last book, and it’s used beautifully in this book as a bridge to the final book.

There are also a few more characters introduced in this storyline, Alucard takes a fairly large role in the book, though only the original three main characters – Lila, Kell, and Rhy – have the story told from their point of view. Still, the author does a beautiful job of seamlessly introducing these characters without too much of an information dump.

It is a fun second book, but was slow in some parts, mainly because I wanted to get back to plot lines I preferred, but all of the book makes an impact by the end. All the seemingly small pieces of information become big plot points by the end. I loved the ride and look forward to the last book in this series.

There is not a strong amount of profanity, but it is present. There are a few kissing scenes in the book, but nothing too graphic or steamy. There is a lot of violence. The tournament involves attacking each other with magic, but there is also murder and death and physical harm throughout the story. Nothing too descriptive, though.