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

The Toll by Neal Shusterman | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 29th – March 12th

The Toll is the final book in the Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman, which has become one of my favorite series in the past few years.

This dystopian world takes place in a future where death has been conquered, and the population boomed to the point of overcrowding. As a solution to the problem, Scythes were created: a group of people with the power, and permission to permanently kill people to control the population. This final chapter has the culmination of a long series of events, complicated plot lines, separated characters, and foreshadowing. Since this is the third book in the series, this review will have some spoilers. I did do a review of the first two books a few years ago.

At the end of Thunderhead, everything has gone nuts. The Thunderhead has stopped speaking. Citra and Rowan are buried in a vault at the bottom of the ocean. The entire island of Endura has sunk, and Scythe Goddard has declared himself the High Blade of MidMerica. In typical middle book fashion, the pieces of this puzzle are thrown to all corners of the map at the end, and the wait for this third installment was painful.

For most of the book, I had no idea how things were going to come together. The novel is over 600 pages, and it felt like it wasn’t until page 500 that everything started to piece back together. A lot of the pieces felt like they were made up for this book specifically, and I felt like those pieces could have been laid clearer in the first two books. That being said, it’s been several years since I read the first two, and it’s entirely possible that there are details that I’ve forgotten.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped reading as much YA content. I’ve talked about this a few times, but I do really like YA series that I feel transcend their specific age-range, and can appeal to adults. Harry Potter is a great example of this, and I feel like the Arc of a Scythe series can be considered to do the same. Most of the characters in the final book are adults, and even the teenagers at the beginning have grown by the end. Series are some of my favorite YA to still consume, because of the growth that happens during the books.

I really enjoyed this series. This was the first series I’ve read by Neal Shusterman, though he has quite a few I’m interested in. I’m excited to see what he continues to write, and I hope that he goes more into the adult age-range in the future.

-Siobhan

Elevation by Stephen King | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 5th

Elevation is a pairing of two short stories released by Stephen King in 2018. The first story, Elevation follows Scott Carey, a man who is seemingly losing weight at a rate of a pound or two a day, however he doesn’t seem to be physically changing, still looking like an overweight man.

This story is about appearances on the outside not being like what they are on the inside. As Scott Carey’s mass reaches zero, he helps a local couple with their restaurant, changes the mind of his small town, and comes to terms with his situation. This story, though classified as horror, was heartwarming and I gave this individual story three stars. Many of the complaints I saw of this story were of the “white knight” main character helping lesbian characters, and while I can see where those were coming from, I think the overall message of changing perspectives was larger than just that aspect.

The second story in the book was also extremely heartwarming. Following the loss of his wife, Laurie tells the story of a man’s grief as he begins caring for a new puppy, as insisted on by his sister. This story was originally written and published on Stephen King’s website, and it appears that it was only read in the audiobook of Elevation, not the physical printing (though I could be wrong about this. I listened to the audiobook of this one.) I liked this story more than the first story, and thought it was cute and uplifting.

Both stories are quick and heartwarming. This book was absolutely mismarketed and misrepresented as horror. Nowhere in either story are horror, and I don’t think they should have been marketed that way.

I admittedly haven’t read much of Stephen King, but I’m really interested in checking out more of his short story collections, specifically the horror ones in the future.

-Siobhan

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 3rd – 4th

For some reason this was never required reading for me in school. Or if it was, I definitely don’t remember and didn’t read it. I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Claire Danes. Her reading of it was great, and if you’re looking for an audiobook I highly recommend this one.

The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred, a Handmaid in a dystopian future dominated by religion. In this world, women’s rights have been stripped away and their primary function is to take care of the household, or to carry children. As with Good Omens, I knew nothing about this book going into it, and had only seen the trailer for the television series. In listening to the audiobook, I constantly felt a sense of dread and overwhelming doom.

There’s a lot to unpack in this book, and I feel like it’s one that’s been talked about to death. With the release of the television series, this book has been prominent in the media a lot recently, especially discussions about the feminist aspects of it, and how relevant they remain in modern time. This serves as a cautionary tale to never settle, but also to be aware of the path that small changes can lead down.

The interspersed chapters of modern times as well as going back to before everything changed were very well done, and was one of my favorite parts of the book. I think this book is considered a classic for a reason, and I thought it was fantastic and thought provoking.

Reading this has made me want to look into the sequel, but also made me much more likely to look into classics in the future. When I was younger and required to read them in school, I hated reading them. Now that I’m older, I’m curious to see if my opinions have changed as my reading tastes have.

-Siobhan

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman | Book Review

★★★★☆
March 1st – 3rd

This book is not at all what I was expecting. I had seen the ads and commercials for the TV adaptation on Amazon, and I knew nothing of the plot going in. My only frame of reference for this book came in my familiarity with Neil Gaiman, and even then I had only read one of his books before. American Gods, which I read in 2017 was not a favorite of mine, and I had been hesitant to pick up any other Gaiman books.

I happened to have access to the audiobook for this one, and was faced with a stretch of time doing work that I could listen to audiobooks in the background for. I picked it up on a whim, and was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked it.

This book is way funnier than I expected it to be. It has the same British wit that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does. On the surface, this book is about a book of prophecies, a set of swapped babies, a demon and an angel working together, and the New Spanish Inquisition. It’s also about global warming and climate change, hope in the face of destruction, unlikely allies, good friends, and dogs.

I really liked this book. It was a breath of fresh air between some heavier topics, and I’m glad I read it. I’d love to check out the TV show, and also look into other books by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

-Siobhan

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 28th – March 2nd

This book is has a very dreamlike quality to it which I really enjoyed. The writing is lyrical and absolutely beautiful, but heartbreaking at times. I’ve really fallen in love recently with shorter fiction, mainly books which are around 200 pages. I have a lot of respect for authors who can show restraint and let the audience think for themselves, without spelling out every aspect of the story.

In this case, I think the medium really lent itself to the story that Onyebuchi was conveying. Here we follow Ella and Kev, a sister and brother both with extraordinary powers. They are measured and defined by the unfortunate systematic and structural racism that surrounds them, whether it’s in California or New York City. Kev is incarcerated at a young age, and Ella runs away from home. She is drawn to and molded by police brutality and events around the country, which only make her desire for change stronger as she fights to control her powers.

The way these characters, Ella especially, felt raw emotions was very prominent throughout the entire story. Her empathy was extremely strong, and Onybuchi’s writing did a great job conveying that same strength to the reader.

I think this book is the type to go into mostly blind. Reading too much about it will take away from some of its lyrical writing, and explain more than is necessary. I would highly recommend checking it out, especially with how short it is. I’ll be looking into more of Onybuchi’s work in the future. I love the way he crafts stories, and I’m excited to see what else he creates.

-Siobhan