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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses #4) by Sarah J. Maas

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Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.

The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.

Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.

Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance-and healing-in each other’s arms.

Rating: 1 out of 5.
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A ​Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book was just too much for me in every which way.

I read it for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book-of-the-Month Club.

I suppose those already invested into the series may like it better than me, but as a newcomer to the author, series, and this type of explicit fantasy, it just wasn’t for me.

I put off finishing it since starting it 6 months ago. Tried to start again as half reread, became less invested at page 94, skimmed the rest, read the last chapter, didn’t feel like I missed out on much. The deeper sentiments were a bit muddy to me.

The Story
Boring. Stakes weren’t high enough. Nothing subtle here, a very direct approach with repetition and all the details were too much for me. I felt like I was supposed to have a keen sense of imagination with this one that just wasn’t there. I kept waiting for the good part but it never got good. I get that the main character had hesitancy and struggled but some bits were a bit belabored and there wasn’t enough to keep me interested in what was to come because it was so drawn out for a 700 page book.

I feel like I kept reading a bunch of words without really reading anything. I say that with hesitancy because there are some heavy topics, but wow was it longwinded.

Sex is a major theme, graphic sex. Erotica. Nothing about the romance is veiled so it felt obscure, less special, and lifeless, nothing visceral, nothing to enrich the scene or the characters on a deeper level with each other or with themselves, all to the point of excess with strange reproductive anatomy word substitution.

There was no emotional arc. Too many things are announced then overly justified and explained. No moral code for me to go by. I wanted to be in the world but it was just so difficult to get into. Had to really concentrate on the message but the message took forever to be delivered. There was dramatic pause effect in Nesta’s life that was realized in a peculiar way. The plot was not so satisfying to me, a rather very bumpy road to the end. I would have liked some side story or supporting context. They had no other hobbies or nothing else to talk about. Left me wondering what these characters lived for pre-dating such tragedy?

The Writing
Everything is explained as you go, no matter the POV which I felt lost charm and emphasis. Real time action followed by they’d be this or they’d be that. An over abundance of words and oh-so-detailed dialogue over every which matter from turning door handles with their hands grasped over the knob to stepping with one foot in front of the other.

There was also this reinforcement of logic behind every decision which I think was my biggest grievance and overshadowed what was actually going on. Nesta was all aware of that, Nesta knew this, Nesta knew that. What they had done, as if this, as if that. Distracted me. A lot of reminiscing, mulling over the intent of someone else’s actions, like they’d do something then it was followed by some foreknowledge or insight that they actually had all along. Continually took me out of the story.

Tone
Everyone seems to be at odds with one another. Agenda and unspoken complaints with one another. Through to the end.

Descriptions
I had a hard time gauging the room/mood, the setting, time. Pains, pangs. I don’t know how a book can be so descriptive without actually describing anything.

The Characters
I don’t think I liked reading about any of the characters. I wanted to skim over every one. No one had any charisma, redemptive qualities were difficult to find, and the bantering was so cheesy. I didn’t understand this sexual tension, it was a bit odd to me. I tried to understand it in concept, but it became the overall execution that got to me in the end because character development was so stagnant in the sense that there was no baseline or happy life or joyous times reflected to compare it to. There were mentions of memories of dad but at the same time quite absent.

Overall, I couldn’t find it to be a good one whether plot or subject, setting, or time but maybe there will be something appealing to me in the future.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb

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Originally written and slated for publication in 1939, this long-forgotten masterpiece was shelved by Random House when The Grapes of Wrath met with wide acclaim.

In the belief that Steinbeck already adequately explored the subject matter, Babb’s lyrical novel about a farm family’s relentless struggle to survive in both Depression-era Oklahoma and in the California migrant labor camps gathered dust for decades.

Rescued from obscurity by the University of Oklahoma Press, the members of the poor but proud Dunne family and their circle of equally determined friends provide another legitimate glimpse into life on the dust-plagued prairies of the Southwest and in the fertile, but bitterly disappointing, orchards and vineyards of the so-called promised land.

Babb, a native of Oklahoma’s arid panhandle and a volunteer with the Farm Security Administration in Depression-era California, brings an insider’s knowledge and immediacy to this authentically compelling narrative. A slightly less political, more female-oriented, companion piece to The Grapes of Wrath.

School Rules Over the Years

1798 School Rules | Erica Robbin
1872 School Rules | Erica Robbin
1915 School Rules | Erica Robbin

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really appreciated this one. I read it for Life’s Library Book Club. I’d recommend it to anyone.

The Story
I had no idea the connection to Steinbeck. I remember reading about the Dust Bowl in grade school, in more recent years Ken Burn’s PBS documentary. Such an interesting phenomenon from preceding events to the sequela, this book really captures it all. Events to emotion.

Love the details of life that depicted a sense of community.

The Writing
I’ll just list out what I loved.

The visuals. Adjective and adverbs in threes which I thought was different. I loved the overall rhythm. The imagery with what I felt to be deliberate word choices that were unique throughout the book.

I love the way the author set the tone, the livelihood, the customs, daily life.

Reflective bits.

My Favorite Lines
“They would rise and fall and, in their falling, rise again.”

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fiction Historical Fiction Romance

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Beautiful rocks a friend shared with me.

Rocks | Erica Robbin

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m still sorting my thoughts about this one.

I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

I think those looking for a twist on Greek mythology, something with a sort of magic school system fantasy, or coming of age story may enjoy this one more than I did.

I certainly applaud the risk in a retell. I for one did not really care for majority of it but there were things I really liked. Had more romance novel qualities than I expected.

Basically it started out strong but then I found it circling the drain.

I’ve always enjoyed the wonder of Greek mythology, being captivated by the figures, storylines, preservation, mythical realm, archaeological findings, and pictorial representations of weaponry, shields, leather sandals, the elements, and animals. Medusa, Icarus, Athena, and Achilles are my primary favorites. I haven’t read much about the deities and such for years, I find it incredibly hard to keep their family trees and heritage straight. This story to me, simplifies the complex, complicates the simple. I enjoyed certain aspects, while others I didn’t.

The Story
I felt this retelling to be somewhat overemphasized, idealistic with deductions out of unknown circumstances. Which is the creative part but I found it to be a story retold with certain implications that I just wasn’t on board with. What I wanted was something like Age of Empires, with thrilling concepts, battle scenes with swords clanking, someone biffing it with sand in their teeth. Depictions of honor, battle, and virtue.

I love stories with open interpretation with leadings to unifying universal relatability, but this one took all the things I love about these characters in Greek mythology and watered them down in one way while embellishing certain concepts, cloaking them in escapades of sex, perhaps for readers who would enjoy drooling over such optimism in using certain aspects of a relationship as the sole reason for the story.

I appreciated the creativity as a retell, but was less keen on the romantic focus, social inept, attempts to answer questions that weren’t asked. Which would be ok as a whole story, but my mind changed on my enjoyment of it as it started to focus more on a physical attraction, because at the center, it was in these abundance of sex tales where the notion and quantity of these experiences became mundane.

Overall I enjoyed the first bits of chapter, but started to realized how the book had a very large drawn out middle. The middle was more explaining the war and second cousins, uncles, and aunts than sword clink and clank, which again, was not what I was looking for. I needed a refresher but couldn’t decide if I should have stopped and reread Homer and other supporting literature, or whether this would be best read as an introductory piece, which in my mind, had nothing but my sparse memory to rely on and dig up what I thought was becoming a confusing perception of Petroclus who then turned out to be a more confused character than I ever thought of him as.

Then there was the ending, but I’ll stop here.

The Writing
I loved fluidity in language, combining modern or old and overall concept. It’s a very accessible story into Greek mythology with seamless bits of root terminology sprinkled throughout. I liked how it stayed within certain confines of speech in narration and dialogue, and not overly done in either way.

The Tone
Overall, came off as emotionally stagnant for me. There was too much invested into Petroclus as far as his love pursuit which became monotonous and dry because I didn’t feel he had much else to offer until the very end, which by then I was already bored and in my memory I don’t remember thinking he was that boring.

The Atmosphere
While staying true to certain aspects, I felt time was off, literally off. First the moon slithered smaller and smaller, next day spring races, next day Harvest moon. Then weeks went by so I felt sort of lost in moon progression phases and pacing altogether. I feel the main weakness for my taste is leaving certain details in and at the same time leaving certain things unsaid.

Descriptions
I was torn. Good descriptions became a bit repetitive. There were so many breathing descriptions. Holding still, blowing and holding breaths, by the end I was exhausted.

The Characters
My main dissatisfaction with the story. It was more lover than companionship, there wasn’t much connectivity to their relationship. I wasn’t convinced. Both ended up feeling like lost, rejected souls, finding love in each other, but not much in substance to speak of in this utopia of sex.

I didn’t like the way Petroclus was portrayed. I always thought of him as strong in a subtle way, like this foundational, philosophical, wise sounding board for Achilles, like this grounded person.

Instead he came off as an unbridled fumbling character, bordering unhinged. His characterization was a bit creepy, the silent watcher type of the worst kind. Petroclus was portrayed to me as a wondering soul, infatuated with the physical attraction toward Achilles and all without feelings of emotional attachment being reciprocated. Sort of this lustful obsession that I didn’t like and one I didn’t remember in past years of reading. I don’t know, I’m more about projected thoughts in characters that are more condensed and subtle I suppose.

Also there was nothing to be said about the training he did receive. By that I mean Petroclus spent all this time training as a guest of Achilles, yet it was said that wearing the armor of Achilles was heavy and foreign to him when it came time for battle. I just didn’t think there would have been that much of a distinction to be seen as almost unknown.

Achilles is another story. Again, physical attributes a bit drawn out compared to successes that I felt both characters had to offer from my memory, thinking back to original source.

Homer’s was dry from what I remember, but it was rich in depth and culture and nuance. I felt this book had peaks and valleys misplaced, centering around obsession, dare I say borderline fetish? Everyone will have a different take on it, but I really didn’t like it.

The relationship with his mother makes him more milquetoast than the fearless warrior that I depicted him to be and I didn’t see him as an anchor to the complimenting mind of Petroclus. Mother provided opposition to their relationship in a way I didn’t remember, and added complexity of mother not approving such a relationship as obstacle and contrast that which we were led to believe was the norm didn’t quite make sense to me. I get that there had to be some embellishment for development of the plot, but I don’t know about this one. I suppose it was hard to pick obstacles.

I loved the glossary and information at the end.

This book just didn’t capture the charm I wanted and overall lacked the meditative quality I was looking for. By no means devalued the work, it just didn’t highlight what I thought was the shining characteristics that stuck with me all these years.

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

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From the internationally bestselling author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the boldly imagined tale of a poor boy’s quest for wealth and love. 

His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world’s pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation, and exceeds it. the astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.”

It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along. 

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hopes it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve kind of had to think about whether I truly enjoyed reading this one or not. Kind of on the fence about it at the moment. Confused and disliked it at first then it sort of grew on me.

I read it for Life’s Library Book Club.

I think anyone looking to read something written a bit differently may enjoy it.

The Story
It’s more of a love story, more of an autobiographical quality really, which was a unexpected to me, having not paid little attention to the description as I often do, just scanning it for key words that make me say “yay I’m excited” or “nay this is going to be a slog,” which felt indulgent if only going by the title as I read the beginning chapters.

I wasn’t disappointed, just intrigued and surprised by how it all came to be in a book like this. I had a lot of questions that were answered in the very end so I glad I stuck with it as it did have some redemptive qualities. There just wasn’t a crux or a character/plot arch per say, yet it kind of was in itself as a whole if that makes sense once you hear from the author himself, as I did by listening to an author interview that made the read a bit more complete for me. More of a passing on of wisdom in a different sort of sense.

The Writing
This is the unique bit about the book. Written in 2nd POV, present tense, often omniscient. Sort of talking in a futuristic sense as well. Sort of built up the premise up in this way, which also made for a very long-winded account.

I admit I was incredibly bored at the beginning, not as much about the content, though it felt jumbled to me and I had a hard time processing it, but mostly in the writing in the way it was presented. My brain was tired of the POV and self-help theme, but I got more into it by the end which you could argue its effectiveness of that.

There was no framing. Completely lacked which made it amiss for me.

The style spoke of universal implication and also individual anonymity. This I quite liked.

Descriptions
I think for me, there was just so much detailed play-by-play. Not with a lot of descriptors or emotional state, not a lot details of atmosphere or mood, just more about people doing things. All the smell descriptors were about disgust, nothing about cuisine or spice which I would have liked to have known. Which is okay, just made me antsy because I kept waiting for something to connect to, to look forward to, especially something about the How to part. It wasn’t a complete bait-and-switch though. I won’t spoil it here, but I was happy to have read it to the end. Though overall I am still not sure how really invested I was.

Tried hard at being somewhat philosophical, lofty, kind of gibberish at times, too abstract for my liking. Very likely could have been my mood and hunger for more of a connected tone or escapist reading experience at the moment.

Probably what it really was now that I think about it, was this use of far fetched vocabulary to describe things that were much more simpler than they came out to be. I had to look up a lot of words. Perhaps this is what distracted me the most. Took me out of the story.

The Characters
All this yearning for physical intimacy and hardly a mention of emotional intimacy. No real introspection, no one barely gets to talk about their feelings. It often came across as a very empty, disconnected read. In the end though, it sort of read like a mobster story which I enjoyed.

I loved the comedic bits. Though I don’t think I got all the cultural humor. Felt like an inside joke sometimes where I was the only one that didn’t know what was going on.

I absolutely loved that the author took risks in the writing, playing around with a less common approach and style that is unique to the lit fic genre as it is typically classified.

I think I probably would have appreciated it more if I knew more about the culture he was basing this book off of, the dilemmas, successes, and backstory.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction Science Fiction

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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Simon Schuster Logo | Erica Robbin

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Featured in the Netflix series Love, Death & Robots

Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his multiple award-winning stories for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This mesmerizing collection features many of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon Award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and original voices.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really appreciated this one.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

I’d recommend it to anyone. I’d say those looking for something different, as self-described in the book toward the end, it portrays collected works. Genre distinction of science fiction, alternate history, magical realism, fantasy, noir. Makes for an excellent book club read.

The Story
I suppose from reading the description there is not much really telling about the book apart from accolades so I’d say that this book reads like a sampler variety of writing, anthology of sorts of different writing styles. Speculative fiction, some literary fiction, essay like, sometimes thriller. The telling of historical events, war crimes like U731, the surrounding denial and silence. Cultural nuances, love, human relation, humor, random insight. The future of technology and human response to it.

The book made much more sense to me in the end. Themes described as delving into the past, speaking for the dead, recovering their stories. Forms of telling stories from ideograms and papier-mâché. Storytelling, translation, memory, identity. Mentioning this because it would have helped me understand what the whole collection was and likely would have helped me understand it even more.

Some stories didn’t really have a plot or characters, happenings that I cared as much about, some heart-wrenching. Others, as often with essays, there’s always certain ones that resonate with me more than others, as opposed to a collective whole. Certain ones I was more invested in than others, in this case and overall, I thoroughly felt grateful for this one for its unique approach and the heavy topics it mentioned. And these were told without apology or over-explanation which was key appreciation for me as far as past, present, and future speculation and transparency goes.

The Writing
All the parts of the collection were quite different from each other so it’s difficult to comment on, but I’d say as a collective piece, the running themes, the writing, as story I should say, were all like an interesting experiment tied together in an aha moment for me at the end.

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Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fiction Science Fiction

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

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Two best friends create a computer that can predict the future. But what they can’t predict is how it will tear their friendship—and society—apart.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined.

Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was immersed in this one.

I read this one for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club.

I’d recommend this to anyone, especially those who have been intrigued by recent past events as it pertains to the aspects of corporate social responsibility when it comes to social media, where it’s been and where it’s headed. It is also a very accessible science fiction book if you’re new to the genre.

The Story
It was clean and linear while maintaining enough side interest. Well-organized plot from this aspect. The overall theme was just presented, not forced, which I found to be very refreshing. I didn’t feel like reading a book with a loaded political message so I was delighted to read how ideas in this book were brought forth, especially the ending.

A very interesting and insightful spin, as an informational source, entertainment, and at times an almost satirical take on recent past events which I adored.

Interestingly enough, I actually enjoyed the court proceedings. Usually I zone them out. I’m actually quite proud of myself for reading them through. Perhaps it was because I was one who was glued to watching the entire senate hearing of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on behalf of Facebook. I recognized aspects of it and enjoyed every bit of it.

There were some funny inferences. The Tumbler posts were hilarious and clever.

Relevant and timely.

The Writing
Sort of a modern epistolary format which matched the storyline and wasn’t overly complicated. Solid in its structure.

The characters were pretty standard, pretty stereotypical, which was quite fitting all in all. I wasn’t always incredibly personally attached them as a result because they didn’t offer too much out of the ordinary character-wise, but maybe that was part of its strength. Also maybe it was just as well because I felt that rejection in the returns of the thesis proposal and prospective partnership emails, very well written.

And I learned a lot.

The photos were a very nice touch too.

Enjoy reading this one, I certainly did!

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When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

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Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Enjoyed the scenes creation in this one.

I read this one for the Literally Dead Book Club.

I’m wondering if the audiobook version was the way to go.

The Story
I think this book is one that will speak to people differently and warrants such an individual interpretation based on certain experiences and perceptions of the past and present time.

Bits I thought were great, some a little less.

Really enjoyed a little bit of New England history. Most of the story focused on changes happening during gentrification of a neighborhood with overall increased racial and social divide that already pre-existed, told in a fore-telling way. Narrowing it down to the realization of it in a community from two points of view, highlighting differences in culture, social status, social inequality, social injustices.

An arching theme of racial subjugation. Made some social talking points in a nuanced way, some otherwise more overt. Inclusion in the lack of diversity while also pointing out the exclusion because of diversity.

Sort of spoke to a loaded point with presuppositions I was less clear about. Thriller aspects I quite enjoyed, especially the Uber scene.

My favorite scene was the hair boutique.

Definitely more of a modern take geared toward an audience likely within a certain age range. Spanned from Avon to emojis. It took a certain amount of know about of pop culture/modern references, some I understood, others not so much.

Tone
The overall tone at the beginning was negative, very hopeless. Hopeful for the glory days of Brooklyn, mostly told through neighborhood watch commentary.

I felt myself wanting to know more about these better days as the characters experienced them and what made it all so great without having any prior knowledge and I’m not sure if there was a real tipping point for the time frame since the beginning 2/3rds of the book was more of a slow burn in time, from a solidarity that was less defined.

I wondered about the familiar faces, where did they all go? I wanted more of the lived experiences rather than told in retrospect. I suppose I missed it in the book because it sounded like on page 56, that she came back to Brooklyn as an adult so I wasn’t sure her yearning because the golden years seemed to be mostly tainted from the start so it was hard to gauge if I hadn’t had any presupposition. Perhaps for her it went from bad to worse without measure and the portrayal was more nuanced.

Character descriptions like a “Hispanic teen” and mentions of Middle Eastern and Chinese restaurant businesses not being up to par with the main character’s standard, which at first hand was less credulous to her point, instead came back full circle, though I’m not sure if I understood it correctly in its entirety if that was the case.

Written as a character who was continually unhappy with her situation, with life, with herself. Action and description of those she encountered was in the most judgmental way, comparing all of her experiences to the glory days as a passive spectator, yet strong at heart and will, which was so different than the ending when pent up emotion finally came out. She took action with all her might, at least what was left of it after much time of suppression.

Her emotion from the start was worn down. I would have liked to have explored more and greater depth of her distant memories of the place and personal growth aside from being told of such things like the fire hydrant play, that would have been more unique to her as an individual aside from race and social status, as well as her friends and family as a collective experience. Maybe some points of joy to reference from in her previous relationships.

The Writing
It was like “Here’s the scene…” and proceeded to tell me about everything through a rant without any grounding into the lives and experiences I wanted to know more about.

Some of the writing I really enjoyed, brought out the curtness, loved the one liners, but other times because of perhaps the pacing, I didn’t find myself always immersed in it.

Pacing
A lot of commentary on everyone and everything as an introduction to her world and everything in it. The telling of it all became sort of repetitive. Until the end, then action, as in the writing of it. I sometimes felt like I was told after the fact and a little too late.

Characters
The characters sort of read the same to me. I only knew what was happening all around them. It wasn’t until about page 144 that the characters started to differentiate a bit in thought, though dialogue characteristics remained the same amongst them.

“You find something nefarious in everything” Marcus told her at one time. She remained hyper-vigilant and suspicious. I often wondered what life was like before Marcus because she didn’t start off with redemptive qualities to invite engagement with those different than her, so it was difficult to feel every disappointment alongside her, though perhaps it was half way through the book, when it became the point and started to make somewhat better sense. Half way I started to understand her social relationships with herself, others, friend betrayal, her mother, though I’m not sure I found all I was looking for in time for the plot to end like it did.

Dialogue
Much dialogue to plow through and because I felt the characters less distinguishable, I think likely audiobook may have helped in this one.

I’ll remember to choose the audiobook version if a subsequent book has multiple POVs and lots of dialogue the next time.

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Categories
Biography Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him.

In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend.

He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really appreciated this one.

I read it for Life’s Library Book Club.

It was certainly different than what I expected and I’d recommend it for anyone looking to write in general and for gaining insight into other people’s life experiences. It has useful information and is a book that has essays that each have different tone and approach that would be great considerations for style. For advice, example, perspective. It’s a heavy and vulnerable read, one you’ll want to set aside ample time for or one you’ll want to devote making room in your emotional space for.

It would make a great pick for writing circles and book clubs wanting to explore a very reflective, naive, age-specific/life stage, pondering of how the author viewed and processed the world around him as a teen which shaped him into adulthood as he retells it. Journeying with him and learning how he fit into the world, development of self, cultural identity, social class, sexuality, sexual maturity as a whole, belonging. Fitting in. Not only loss, but rejection.

I honestly didn’t know about this one at first. A battle of my expectations. Times I thought wow this is genius other times I was like what in the world am I reading?

The Story
I won’t speak too much about the content from the autobiographical part for sake of spoiling it. I initially went into it without taking in the blurb which I think gave me a fresh dive into it during the initial chapter. Apart from his victories/tragedies I didn’t feel like I got to know the author, but it came full circle toward the end so if you’re thinking about DNFing the book at any point, hang in there.

The content as far as writing advice was very different. Approach at times was quite frustrating for me, but wasn’t without purpose. It is a unique take on a book titled “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays.” It was a unique book for an autobiography/memoir. It turned into an almost telling a story within a story about a story while writing a story which I quite enjoyed overall.

The Writing
Really enjoyed his writing style overall when he was writing. Some essays in and of themselves were a bit disjointed but I think that may have been deliberate to show different takes on writing style? Overall I loved the style which was to the point, not overly descriptive, yet drew clever detail/simile out of the scene. Simplicity by choosing just a few, accurate and profound concepts. He is super talented.

POV/Tense
Interesting.

Tone
At times sort of less optimistic and my thoughts about certain essays reflect that in some ways. I didn’t know the last chapter would take a turn like it did at the beginning, a bit jarring mention of religion and politics, and the last paragraphs left me a bit longing, but perhaps that was the point?

A lot of writing gems both subtle and overt. A lot memory retrieval for me from a writing aspect.

Side note, my favorite Stephen King novel and movie is also Firestarter.

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Deckled Edges, always a nice touch.
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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A bit disappointed sadly.

I read this one for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club.

I think people who swoon over descriptive, flowery writing may like this one. I however just don’t have patience for books like this unfortunately, just not my preference.

The Story
I was looking for a fun adventure, lyrical or deep-spirited, world-mesmerizing, child-hood memory retrieval, challenging, mysterious, riddle-like, realistically-unrealistic reach into my appetite for a good escape book. Loved what the premise was going to be.

Instead this was an incredibly slow, portal type fantasy that came off as loaded, with hidden agenda, moralizing, teachable lessons from mundane actions of everyday life when the main character had a much more interesting story to tell. Often read like a mash-up of fan-fiction with unnecessary depictions of social commentary, meditations on life, fantastical romantic relationships that didn’t really mesh well together nor move the story forward enough for my particular taste.

By page 130, I realized that this story was not going much of anywhere. My mind wondered. Thoughts of needing to vacuum the house turned into full on chores. Took me way too long to finish it because boredom became distraction.

My favorite parts were about the dog and the sea, though not much action was really going on with the sea scenarios like I had hoped.

Some loosely inaccurate historical events. A new president in 1903. Grocery carts.

POV and Tense
Combination of present and past/retrospective. Timeline was sometimes hard to gauge because character growth and age-appropriate observations/language didn’t shape them enough to shine through.

Pacing
Progress was too slow. In my mind, each door was going to be a clue, instead they stood independently. Independently toward a mismatched agenda/goal that was not clearly identified in the beginning. By the time the middle picked up, I was already less invested.

Descriptions
Verbose in every way. It said a lot without really saying a lot. Too many color adjectives. A good example of where less would be more. A handful were very insightful though.

Characters
I started out enjoying the initial engagement with the main character and everything she had to offer; however, she came up very short. In fact all of the characters sort of got lost in the minutiae toward the end.

Overridden by the descriptions of the environment without much development on a personal level considering all the things happening around them. As a result, I didn’t find any connection to them or purpose of excessive detail in the story. The comments about race and origin didn’t have a strong base or unifying factor, very loose presuppositions, and therefore their triumph ultimately lacked wonderful achievement.

Oh well, next time I will look forward to checking out another from this author.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (Agatha Raisin #5) by M.C. Beaton

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The morning of Agatha’s longed-for marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. But her luck runs out in the church when Jimmy, the husband she had believed long dead, turns up large as life and twice as ugly. Agatha has a go at strangling him.

It’s all too much for James, who breaks off the engagement. So when Jimmy is found murdered the next day. Agatha and James are both suspects.

And they’ll have to work together in order to clear their names…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Agatha! You’ve gone and done it again!

I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, always amazing.

I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a light-hearted, good time, appreciate a bit of snickers as it reads like a bit of juicy gossip you’d overhear at a dog park.

The Story
I loved the commentary on the world situation. It was amazing how relevant to today and this book was written 25 years ago.

The Writing
One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read along is how the author only really gets into physical descriptions when describing what people are wearing and they’re hilarious at that, really captured the whole essence of the person.

I love this series so much!

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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting

Blaire Calloway has planned every Instagram-worthy moment of her cupcake and cocktails shop launch down to the tiniest detail. What she didn’t plan on? Ronan Knight and his old-school sports bar next door opening on the very same day. He may be super swoony, but Blaire hasn’t spent years obsessing over buttercream and bourbon to have him ruin her chance at success.

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lost Property by Helen Paris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun, unique story.

I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I’d recommend this one to anyone who enjoys romance. It’s fresh, has a unique storyline, and deeper themes that will tug at you heart.

Loved the backstory, side stories, the insight into what really happens to all this lost luggage, research clearly done. Not that I would even know what happens on the back end, but I travel a lot and definitely found some incredible relatability here! The support for this premise was super unique.

One of my favorite aspects of the book were the tidbits of lost items and their owner. Really characterized items from the type of person who wears such clothing items or such luggage pieces, or whatever the item may be. Clever.

The Story
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this one with its plot, main setting, or occupation. They added so much interest and dimension to the overall story.

Themes of regret, loss, grief, self doubt, frustration, resentment, and hints of jealousy, were all integrated into the plot which made for a stronger, grounded narrative much deeper than I was expecting and I really enjoyed these aspects of the book.

I will say it was a little rather rocky in beginning. I guess bits were less memorable and I didn’t know their purpose nor their context. I didn’t quite identify the bigger picture dilemma or tension early on, aside from typical day to day work complaints. There was some clutter with detail that was somewhat interesting but I kept thinking less would be more. Too many tangents, made me lose focus of what was really happening. But it did come together nearer to the end though, definitely worth reading through.

The Writing
Even though my least favorite, first person present tense narration was used, it worked rather well with carefully curated perspective into her day to day tasks.

Loved the conversation-like writing style. Some casual pop culture references some I got, super clever, others I had to dismiss because I just wasn’t sure I understood, some verbiage I had to look up. Which was ok, I just had to leave the book quite a few times, taking me out of the book when I wanted to keep reading further one. It’s more because when I do that I get distracted and will end up definition, root words, other languages, looking up many other things, then check my email, then… I do love looking things up, particularly fact-checking and such when reading historical fiction/nonfiction, but any other genres not so much.

Descriptions
I enjoyed majority of the descriptions, especially more toward the end, but some became quite sore. Not every noun needs an adjective, especially a color at that. Just my own personal preference, others may love it, I don’t.

Some other examples, perhaps more to do with the writing, is why did I need to know about this character who wore hair gel, slicked back, mentioned, reemphasized as many times. Like one mention was enough, then maybe later a thought about not a hair was out of place or perhaps a mention of some other characteristic that made a more clear picture of the character as rather polished, classic, cool, or rockstar person of the sort. And I still wasn’t sure at second mention whether his slicked back hair made him more rebel rocker-esque John Travolta in Grease or Leonardo DiCaprio, waiting at the top of the staircase. Maybe it was just a simple tease or inside joke unbenounced to me that was I was waiting for to play a bigger role or deeper insight into a character.

It’s just the way my brain thinks I suppose. When I see a recurring description I interpret it as a hint, then tend to wait for some further reveal or deeper insight that will add deeper connection or insight into some bigger reveal in the end. Like I want everything in a book to count. It’s just I found some descriptions didn’t add much meaning, context, drive, or embellishments to the characters or story in their repetition when told the exact same way every time, especially at the beginning when I was loosely connected to the characters and plot.

The Characters
The hardest time I had with the book overall was with the main character. I didn’t get the main character. She commented on stuff happening around her but lacked emotional response. The emotion didn’t come through until about page 120. That was when the writing became the strongest and the plot more captivating. When the emotion was there is when the writing began to shine. Again, it wasn’t until later in the book where more vulnerable, intimate scenes and character expression, reaction, and reflection guided me into what I was wanting to embrace and understand to a certain extent early on.

The main character had great insight, seemed to read people well, but she was sort of lifeless early on I guess. I Iiked her character role, but elements to define her as a person were quite lacking. I needed some reflection earlier on to understand who she was to make a more complete characterization to connect with for stronger understanding later on.

Dialogue
Everyone read the same to me and too much of it. Most of the dialogue didn’t add anything or help me identify characters as unique individuals.

The Setting
Absolutely loved the work environment and beach scenes, took me straight there. Mundane work to a lovely day at the beach.

The little visual details of chapter tags were such pleasant bonuses! Unique for sure!

I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

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A divorced woman returns to her childhood home where she confronts the memory of her parents’ confounding yet deep bond.

The accidental near-drowning of a child exposes the fragility of the trust between children and parents.

A young man, remembering a terrifying childhood incident, wrestles with the responsibility he has always felt for his younger brother.

In these and other stories Alice Munro proves once again a sensitive and compassionate chronicler of our times. Drawing us into the most intimate corners of ordinary lives, she reveals much about ourselves, our choices, and our experiences of love.

Hippo Group, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin

Why am I so beautiful?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Progress of Love by Alice Munro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the writing in this one. It just flowed easily, hitting the highlights of human emotion, connection in a beautiful way. It’s a collection of short stories.

I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are simply wanting to try out short stories, a book that’s a very accessible in introduction, and as one you can simply pick up and read a bit during an in-between time, keeping it on your nightstand for a short nightly book with substance read, before bed, wind down, type of book if that makes sense.

I read this one for SunBeamsJess Book Club.

The Story
Straightaway it was so immersive, happenstance and bigger life preponderances. Ones that are almost obscure.

Takes you through the waxes and wanes of someone’s lived experiences, good and bad, as if they were yours to experience first hand, though you didn’t see it coming because it’s the subtleness that’s powerful.

When you ask yourself, “Did I just have those thoughts as the character had them?” Or “I could totally see how that could happen in those circumstances and how it affected them.” It’s a step beyond believability, but experiences you take on as your own or as someone you know well in your personal life.

It takes a unifying theme into different directions, different perspectives, making for lovely short stories of sorted emotions.

It carries on with strong direction, not needing any explanations or reckoning but the stories exist on their own. And as short as the short stories were, they were really fulfilling and complete.

The Writing
That is what makes a good book become great to me. Certainly there is a time and place for books that are forth right and telling (evidence and emotion and your proposed/expected reaction right in front of you type of scenario), which I enjoy from time to time too, but when the writing is deep and descriptive, yet also rather simple and concise at the same time, it’s this well-seasoned writing style that just makes me indulge in the stories and invest in the characters.

I’m not a fan of writing that pairs every single noun with an adjective or appears to pull incredibly convoluted/out of character words from a thesaurus just for word variation. This is rather writing that doesn’t waste words nor fluff them up for bulk. Rather it hits the ground running and maintains sustenance with every sentence and paragraph. Nothing is without place and purpose.

I liked certain ones better than others. Some I wasn’t as fond of. But it won’t stop me from making this book a favorite of mine, even if it was the first short story as representative of one of my favorites alone.

My Favorites
The Progress of Love
Lichen
Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux
Miles City, Montana
Eskimo

Overall, it was a moving and settling, valuable reading experience and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
Hippo in the Water, Malawi, Africa | Erica Robbin
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