Tag Archives: Book review

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.

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.

Never Let Me Go: A Review

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 3.5 of 5 star

I wish I liked this book more. I don’t know if it was because it was mostly in the first person or it was science fiction, but I just couldn’t get into the story. I do like some science fiction, and I’m sure I have liked books written in the first person (although, lately, the latter does seem to be a problem). I was just not really invested in these characters.

Kathy is a carer. In particular, she cares for donors until they complete. All of that process is what this book is about. As she goes about her job, she reminisces about her life growing up at a boarding school/group home called Hailshem. She has two friends, Ruth and Tommy. The three friends are pretty naive and passive, even when big pieces of information are dropped on them. Most of the book is in flashback.

The story seemed to drag in parts, but each chapter seems to set up the next which helps with pacing. The story definitely builds on itself with excellent foreshadowing. The twists were not particularly big or surprising. But because of the pacing, I would put the book down for a bit, and when I picked it back up, I wouldn’t remember some details so it would affect my reading.

The back of the book says that it is heartbreaking. While it is a sad book and just frustrating a lot of the time, I didn’t cry at the end of the book. I just felt that it was all unfortunate. But I did find it an interesting look at how people accept their lot in life sometimes with passivity and apathy. Sometimes the idea of revolting and fighting back just doesn’t occur to them.

While this book wasn’t really for me, if you like science fiction, a little romance, and a lot of flashback until everything is revealed at the end (with so many clues in between), you might like this book.

There is profanity in the book. There are both conversations about sex and actual sex scenes, but they seem to represent their innocence and naivete. Not much violence. There is talk about death and dying as a major part of the book. Some bullying and tantrums as well.

On Immunity: A Review

On Immunity by Eula Biss
My rating: 4.5 of 5 star

This is a series of short essay reflections inspired by a mother trying to do what is best for her baby boy during the H1N1 health crisis. The book opens on a conversation she has with other mothers of whether or not to vaccinate their children against this particular virus. She decides to do more research which effectively becomes this book.

There is so much involved in the vaccination decision. Prejudices, fears of toxins, and fears of how this decision will affect the child’s future were a few mentioned. The author goes into the history of vaccines as well as the medical profession as a whole, explaining why there is a trust gap between doctors and mothers at times.

She speaks at length about how capitalism, paternalism, and class differences have played a part into the mistrust of doctors, and how maternalism is an essential part of the discussion (as it has been dismissed in the past under the label of hysterical mothers who are getting in the way).

Ultimately, she makes a case for why vaccines are important for the community at large, that the benefits outweigh the risks, especially considering just how many toxins and radiations we are exposed to in the womb as well as throughout our lives that the vaccine’s contribution is negligible comparatively.

The book is interesting and informative. And while her own opinion is pretty clear by the end of the book, she definitely gives the reader the opportunity to make up their own mind. This book is exceptionally timely considering the present pandemic and the impending vaccine. Definitely recommend this one.

There is some profanity in the book. There is discussion of prostitutes and being held at gunpoint to force vaccination on a community (that really happened), but not explicit sexual or violent content.

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.