Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid | Book Review

★★★★☆
July 3rd

I’m so glad that I got to read this book when I did from the library, because this book has blown up in popularity recently, and is very difficult to get now!

Such a Fun Age follows Emira, an African American woman in her early twenties who is asked late one night to take the young girl she babysits, Briar, to the local grocery store to distract her from a family crisis. When she’s at the grocery store, a security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, causing a long series of events.

I was really expecting this book to be about a lot of drama following the incident in the grocery store. I was expecting a large presence of the media, a bigger tie into the Black Lives Matter movement in terms of protesting, and maybe some examples of the white parents trying to fix things and overstepping their boundaries.

I wasn’t expecting this book to be what it was: an African American women to just want to go about her life without drawing attention to herself, or to try and fix everything in the world. There’s a great quote in this book where she tells another character “I don’t need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like… happens.”

This book is a lot about allyship, specifically performative allyship. Emira’s boss Alix continuously mismanages and missteps with her actions, and it was sometimes really tough to read. She has a white savior mentality and continuously tries to get close to Emira in very creepy ways to make herself seem like the good guy. Throughout the book we see her tendency to try and re-write history to try and make herself seem like the victim, and how it’s easier for her to continue to believe something she knows is a lie.

This book felt extremely grounded in reality, and I loved how well the fallout of the situation was portrayed. I loved the dynamic that Emira had with her friends, and how much she loved Briar, the little girl that she was babysitting. Emira was an incredibly bright, smart and brilliantly written character who was looking to better herself, get a stable job, have a decent apartment, and be happy.

I highly recommend the audiobook for this. It made the reading experience incredible and added significantly to my enjoyment of the book. I’m so impressed with Kiley Reid’s debut and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with in the future.

July Recap | 2020

This month was a fantastic reading month for me! I read for a bunch of different readathons, book clubs, and prompts! Total I read 3583 pages across 12 books, and found some really great new books.

Literally Dead Book Club

  • June – The Guest List by Lucy Foley (Read July 1st – 2nd)
    ★★☆☆☆
  • July – Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Read July 4th – 7th)
    ★★★☆☆

The Reading Rush

  • The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Read July 20th)
    ★★★★★
    Read for the book that starts with the word “The”, a genre you want to read more of, and the first book you touch
  • V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (Read July 21st – 24th)
    ★★★★☆
    Read for the book outside your house, that inspired a movie I’ve already seen, and that takes place on a different continent than where you live.
  • Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (July 24th – 25th)
    ★★★★☆
    Read for the birthstone challenge

Books and Tea Readathon Prompts

  • Read a previous Books and Tea readalong book – A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (Read July 9th – 13th)
    ★★★★☆
  • Finish a book – Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia (Read July 13th – 15th)
    ★★★★☆

General TBR
These are the books that don’t fit into any of the prompts for either readathon, but that I had a desire to read this month:

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Read July 3rd)
    ★★★★☆
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (Read July 5th – 6th)
    ★★★☆☆
  • When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele (Read July 2nd)
  • Carrie by Stephen King (Re-Read July 18th)
    ★★★★☆
  • Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward (Read July 28th)

How Well Do My Five-Star Reads Hold Up?

So I was thinking about last year. I read 48 books, most of which I enjoyed. I considered it an average reading year, even though I was slightly under my 52 book goal. I read eight books which I gave 5 stars to, and I’m wondering what my feelings on them are now. Do I still think of them? Do I have fond memories? Do I have bad memories? Let’s find out!

I think that Saga was a great way to start my year last year, and was a great introduction into an ongoing graphic novel series, something I hadn’t read before. When I think back on the series, I read it so quickly that I can’t distinguish one volume from the next, but overall I think the series is a 4-5 star read.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think about this book ever. I really liked it when I read it, but I haven’t thought about the details surrounding it in a long time. When I read this book I was on vacation and was sitting on a lounge chair looking out over the ocean in Haiti, so that might have something to do with my enjoyment of the book. It might be worth a re-read, but I can’t say with confidence that it would stay at 5 stars. I remember thinking the writing was beautiful, which is likely where this rating came from.

This one absolutely holds up in my mind, and I think about it all the time. I may re-read this again this year, because I tore through it so fast that I don’t remember a lot of details, but I absolutely loved it. I’ve considered listening to the audiobook because I’ve heard that it’s done by a full cast, and is fairly short due to the way it’s written. This book introduced me to Taylor Jenkins Reid, which I’m really glad for.

Another book that I think about constantly, specifically the beginning. This was the first time in such a long time that I read the beginning of a book and immediately connected with it. I didn’t feel this way about the entire series, but this was such a strong start and a great introduction to Mark Lawrence.

Sea Prayer is an interesting one, because it’s so short that it isn’t memorable in terms of plot, but it was very affecting. It led me to look into some of Khaled Hosseini’s other work to add to my TBR, which I’m excited to get to. I don’t know that I would still give this five stars, but I do think about the path it led me down a lot.

This is a book I definitely need to re-read, because I’m not sure it would hold up to a five star. When I read this I was still looking to read YA and try and see myself in it, which is what I got here. Since then, I’ve stopped reading as much YA and have switched almost entirely to reading Adult. If this one does hold up, it would be because of the character-driven nature, less so the plot.

Horrorstör in retrospect is probably my current favorite book, and absolutely holds up. I’m shocked reading back to last year that it wasn’t included in my top 5, because when people ask me what my favorite book is, this is my answer. This book came to me at exactly the right time, and I’m thrilled that it helped solidify Grady Hendrix as one of my favorite authors. I’ll definitely be re-reading this soon because I loved this book so much.

I consider Where the Crawdads Sing to be the book that re-introduced me to literary fiction, and told me that I do actually like it. Until this point, things that were heavily description based and not plot driven were very boring to me. This book was so popular that I decided to give it a try, and I’m so glad I did. I listened to the audiobook of this one, and absolutely loved it. Since this book I’ve read so much literary fiction, and I look back on this one fondly. I don’t know if it would hold up to being a five-star read as I’m learning to dial in on what type of literary fiction I like, but it’s definitely responsible for getting me into the genre.

That’s all eight of the books I rated 5 stars last year! I’m hoping to make this a yearly post to look back, because my opinions have already changed, and I’m excited to see if (or likely when) that happens in the future.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley | Book Review

★★☆☆☆
July 1st – 2nd

We all know that I love a good thriller. I like mysteries with compelling characters, a well-put together plot, and an interesting setting. I like when the reader has all of the pieces in front of them and they aren’t reliant on external information to solve what’s going on. I also love gothic settings. I love the isolation and distance. This had a lot of those elements and I was so excited to read it, but the execution was not for me.

This review will have spoilers.

To start, I think this book had too many perspectives. We were following multiple characters getting ready for a wedding on an island off the coast of Ireland. The bride, the maid of honor, the best man, the plus one, and the wedding planner. Five perspectives is way too many in most settings, but definitely a thriller.

Clocking in at just over 300 pages, trying to fill in the backstory of five separate people with all of their personality feels like a tremendous task, and as a result, I really think the writing of this one suffered. I was not a fan of how much the characters were telling me about themselves, but with so little time to explain anything, I don’t know that there really was an alternative other than making it significantly longer.

In addition to the five character perspectives which take place starting the day before the wedding, the book adds a sixth element where it jumps to the present. These pieces in the present I found to do absolutely nothing. I believe the intention was to add tension, but they were so infrequent and had cliffhangers so insignificant that it took away from the plot and general pacing of the book. One of the cliffhangers was what was in a character’s hand, and 50 or so pages later we find out that it was a flashlight. This was exceptionally frustrating to me, because it felt like an attempt at tension for the sake of tension.

The entire book takes place on the island, which I really enjoyed, and there was one or two characters that really stood out as being interesting. If the whole book was from the perspective of the plus one, I think I really would have liked it. She was a flawed character who was recognizing holes in her marriage and difficulties she was having with it. She was the only one who saw growth as a character, and she did her best to help other characters grow.

A lot of the complaints I saw from other reviewers talked about how predictable it was, and while I agree, that’s not typically a problem I have with thrillers. I tend to enjoy the ride more than the ending, but in this case I did not enjoy the ride. With each of these characters we come to find out how they’re all connected to the groom, be it from a past relationship, a childhood friendship with a dark secret, or connected to people who were hurt by him.

I really hated most of the side male characters who were part of the wedding party (with the exception of the best man). They had a very tribal attitude that I sometimes found hard to read through. I do think that was the point of these characters though, so I believe that was a successful bit of writing, and when combined with the plus one character, it was the best part of the book.

From what I’ve seen of Lucy Foley’s other book The Hunting Party, people have similar complaints. I’d like to see for myself if I’d like it, but as of right now I don’t think that their writing is for me, which is disappointing.

What Makes Me Pick Up a Book? | Book Tag

I found this lovely tag over at Books and Dachshunds and wanted to try it! This is all about my habits when it comes to books, book covers, and what makes me interested in them. This is a topic I love talking about at length with friends, so I was excited to see these questions.

1. Do you judge a book by its cover?

Absolutely, but only if I’ve never heard of it. If someone is holding up the cover, or says they love the book first, the cover doesn’t matter. If it’s me discovering the book, the impressions I get on the cover convince me whether I should read the synopsis or not.

2. Focusing on just the cover, what attracts you to pick it up?

I’m mostly easy to please, but I don’t think photographs are done well all the time, especially when it comes to a specific character. I don’t typically want to see that character’s face on the book.

3. Do you read the synopsis first, or do you prefer to go in knowing nothing about the book?

I like going in blind. I want to know as little as possible. Most of the time this works out really well, but sometimes it totally backfires and I end up thinking something is a completely different genre than it is.

4. Do you have any auto-buy authors?

Yes! V.E. Schwab, Grady Hendrix, Riley Sagar, Sylvain Neuvel are my current favorites.

5. Are you more likely to buy a book if it has specific elements/themes?

Sometimes. I’m more of a genre-reader than a trope/theme reader, with the exception of thrillers. I like family dramas, or revisiting the past in the “modern gothic” sense when it comes to those.

6. Do you ever read a book that has generally negative reviews just to form your own opinion on it?

Oh absolutely, though most of the time I tend to agree with the reviews themselves. I read reviews from the people I follow/am friends with the most, because I know whose reading tastes are most similar to my own.

7. Do you ever buy a book just because another booktuber/blogger has talked about it a lot?

That’s the main reason that I read people’s blogs and watch their videos! I like watching people with similar interests to me, so when they recommend something I typically add it to the TBR. Most of the time I already have them on my radar.

8. Is there anyone who’s book recommendations you always trust?

I love watching Kayla at Books and Lala, Noelle Gallagher, Jesse at Bowties and Books, and Ariel Bissett.

That’s the end of this tag! Definitely check out all of the amazing channels/blogs linked! Consider yourself tagged if you’d also like to play along.

 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone | Book Review

★★★★☆
June 15th – 17th

This is a dual-perspective epistolary novella (buzzwords, yay!) about two agents fighting on opposite sides of a war through time and space. The reader is brought in at the beginning of their correspondence, where they leave letters for each other through time and space.

The writing in this is absolutely gorgeous, with Max Gladstone writing the character of Red, and Amal El-Mohtar writing Blue. The two are locked in this battle of outplaying each other and trying to circumvent the moves that each are making.

The war itself is an elaborate game of chess played across different timelines and different eras, and is something that the reader isn’t given much information on, but given that it isn’t the main focus, it doesn’t distract too much.

The core relationship between Blue and Red is what’s important, and what’s at the center of this book. I guess that this would constitute an “enemies to lovers” type relationship, however they’re never really individual enemies as much as they are on opposing sides of a war. Its more Romeo and Juliet, but without all of the tragedies.

I did want more of the war concept, but not in this book. I’d love a spinoff discussing the point of the war, the intentions, and what’s happening on each side, but I like being left with this small (and I mean really small. 209 pages small) piece of a war through time and space.

This book is weird, it’s interesting, it’s extremely floral and lyrical and I really enjoyed it. I had been in a reading slump for about two months when I picked this book up, and I’m so glad that I read it, since it kickstarted me back into reading and remembering that great stories are out there.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie | Book Review

★★★☆☆
April 8th – 11th

This book was just okay to me, which is less than I was expecting. As the second Agatha Christie book I’ve read, I was hoping that I would love this one just as much as Murder on the Orient Express. Sadly, that was not the case.

The plot of this one was very simple, without a large twist act the end to tie it together. After Hercule Poirot receives a strange letter telling him of a murder that will take place in Andover. Though it’s initially brushed off as nothing, a body is found soon after with an ABC train guide next to it.

This launches the investigation, and Poirot is once again on the case. Compared to Murder on the Orient Express, this book felt very tame and the mystery felt pretty small (even though it had triple the murder). I tend to like mysteries that happen in an enclosed environment with limited possibilities.

My biggest complaint about Agatha Christie books is that it feels like the reader needs outside knowledge to be able to solve the mystery. This is likely a product of the time that I’m now reading it in (I had no clue what an ABC train guide was), but I think it takes away from my internal desire to “solve” the mystery, because I’m not given the tools to do so.

That being said, I’m likely going to continue to read Agatha Christie novels, and see if I can find one that tops Murder on the Orient Express for me.

-Siobhan

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson | Book Review

★★★★☆
April 1st – 3rd

Nimona is a graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, which I read for the Magical Readathon (it was my Transfiguration prompt choice!) This book was absolutely adorable, with fun characters, a captivating plot, and really good stylized artwork.

We follow Nimona, a shapeshifter with a mysterious past who becomes the sidekick of Lord Ballister Blackheart, a villain with a vendetta against Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. The dynamics between Nimona and Blackheart were great, and took on a father/daughter or mentor/mentee quality fairly early on. I liked the relationship between Goldenloin and Blackheart as well, though I wished it was further expanded on whether their relationship was strictly friendship or something more.

Nimona herself was a bit of a mystery as well. The reader is given some clue into her backstory, but it’s unclear (at least it was to me) later if she was telling the truth or if there was something more. Maybe this is something that I missed, but the ambiguity of her past took away from her relationship with Blackheart for me.

I also thought this story would focus more on her, and less on Blackheart, though I ended up being glad that it didn’t. Nimona as a character was somewhat one-dimensional, and didn’t seem to learn or change by the end. In contrast, both Blackheart and Goldenloin did grow and change, and learn more about each other.

The two have an enemies to friends (or something more?) dynamic which is really well played, showing their transition from best friends to enemies and back, which became more of the plot than I was initially expecting.

Overall, this was good. I may check out Noelle Stevenson’s series, Lumberjanes in the future.

-Siobhan

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo | Book Review

★★★☆☆
March 28th – 31st

Third, and finally in my trifecta of non-fiction was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It was spring when I read this, and having been stuck at home for a month at this point, I decided to engage in some spring cleaning. I watched Marie Kondo’s show of the same name on Netflix last year, and I really enjoyed seeing her method in action. I’d heard good things about her book, and wanted to give it a try.

I did listen to the audiobook for this, and I wish that I had read it physically. There were a lot of descriptions of how to fold and how to organize which I felt would work better in a physical book than over audio. I don’t know if it was because of the audiobook, but this book was just okay for me. I enjoy Marie Kondo, and liked when her personality came out in the book, but the advice itself I found to be slightly unrealistic and not entirely practical.

She speaks a lot about only keeping things that bring you joy. We all know this. There have been countless memes about this. But one thing that I didn’t feel like was touched on was things which you don’t necessarily like, but which you need. I don’t necessarily love having cleaning products in my house, but I need them in order to stay clean.

The biggest example of this for me was her section on getting rid of books. Every book that I own currently doesn’t necessarily bring me joy, but I own them for a reason. Marie Kondo doesn’t seem to see the value in collection, something which I really enjoy. As an example from my life, I own a lot of enamel pins. I really like them, and though I try and limit how many I purchase, I still own a lot of them. I can’t see myself getting rid of them, because though each individual one doesn’t bring me joy, the collection as a whole does. With my books, I definitely go through and will get rid of some that I know I’m never going to read on occasion, but I like owning books that I’ve physically read, even if I don’t have plans to go back and reread them. To me the representation of the time that they were read in is worth keeping them.

The most impractical aspect of her book was the time that everything takes. In several sections, she calls out other cleaning and tidying advice for taking place over the course of several days or a routine which has you tidy a little bit every day. She says that this is unrealistic and talks about how doing it all at once is much better.

I definitely do not have the time for this type of approach. With the combination of work stress and life stress, it would be extremely difficult for me to dedicate an entire day (or several, if we’re being honest) to the level of tidying that Marie Kondo recommends. This is something that I felt was missing from both her show and her book, was an explanation for how people merged this approach into their daily lives without needing to take a week of vacation to get everything started.

I do like the order that Marie Kondo has you tackle the items to get rid of, and I think that her explanations for why to get rid of things, and how to know if something is worth getting rid of is extremely valid and well thought out.

If I was able to dedicate the time to this type of method, I could see it being beneficial to help pair down the amount of stuff that people have. I was also really surprised to hear about the amount of things that people had in her examples. Descriptions of overflowing closets were absolutely crazy to me. I know that they’re mostly there for shock factor, but I can’t imagine dealing with that type of stress on a daily basis.

Overall this was a fairly mediocre read. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it or ever read it again.

-Siobhan

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen | Book Review

★★★☆☆
March 12th – 14th

I think this book was supposed to be a thriller. According to Goodreads, it was marketed as a thriller. Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s first two novels were thrillers. This one got confused along the way.

This book follows Shay, a woman in her early thirties who’s currently between jobs, stuck in an apartment with her roommate and his new girlfriend, friendless, and somewhat hopeless. Shay is is also fairly pretentious, constantly referring to the types of TedTalks she’s listening to in an effort to make her seem smart. She’s obsessed with data, keeping facts and numbers listed in her “data book”.

After Shay witnesses a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a New York City subway, Shay finds that she’s attracted to the mystery of who this woman was, and finding out has disastrous consequences. The woman, Amanda, was a nurse involved in a close-knit ring of friends who have dark secrets and unexpected consequences.

This book did not know what it wanted to be. The main character seemed oblivious to the fact that she was being targeted or persecuted until the final third of the book, and when she did, she was able to solve everything with a few phone calls. Though every book requires some suspension of disbelief, I had a really hard time believing the level of convenience that this book had.

The entirety of the book hinged on a plot twist which I must have guessed very early into the story, because I assumed it was an established fact. When the twist was revealed, I found myself very confused. I guess the closest I can come to explaining this is if you open the fridge and have eggs inside, you expect to see eggs inside the fridge. Every time you open it, there are the eggs. But if someone then comes up to you and says “I have a surprise! There are eggs in the fridge!” You’re going to be confused. Because the eggs were there the whole time.

This book had eggs the whole time, and I was extremely confused.

The type of domestic thriller that this author duo write isn’t really my cup of tea. I may try more of their books in the future, but both of the ones I’ve read haven’t really resonated or stayed with me.

-Siobhan