The Grace Year – ARC review

Author: Kim Liggett

Release Date: October 8, 2019


This just in: a good concept alone does not make a good book. Execution matters, and in this regard, The Grace Year fell flat.
 When I first heard about this book, pitched as Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies, I was pretty damn excited. And when I got approved for it on NetGalley, I was absolutely thrilled. The start of the book had me enthralled. And then…it all fell apart. 

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Anything But Books tag

Oh boy, this is my first time actually being tagged in a book tag! I was tagged by tiffshea at Reading to Escape (thank you!!) to complete this series of questions on “anything but books,” so you can get a snapshot of what I do when my nose isn’t stuck between pages. Apologies in advance for my indecision on so many of these.

Name a cartoon character than you love.
Um…can I pick two? I love Squidward, from Spongebob, and Princess Carolyn, from BoJack Horseman. Both are highly relatable (unfortunately).

What is your favorite song right now?
“Sisyphus” by Andrew Bird or “Bulletproof Baby” by The Struts. These are liable to change at any moment.

What could you do for hours (that isn’t reading)?
I feel like “writing” is a cop-out, but seriously, especially when working on a technically tricky type of poetry, I get in my zone and lose track of time altogether. If I’m not allowed to say that, then I’ll go with “folding origami while listening to music/podcasts.” Or napping.

What is something you love to do that your followers would be surprised by?
I perform spoken word poetry, which I love. But more interestingly, I can rap. Like, pretty damn well. I have quite a few poetry videos, and I can probably dig up an old rap one somewhere…let me know in the comments if you would like to see some of those in a future post!

What is your favorite unnecessarily specific thing to learn about?
I have so many! Mental health conditions (common and rare alike), anything that has to do with interesting data manipulation or innovative data visualizations, sociopaths, ethics of AI…I’m all over the place.

What is something unusual you know how to do?
As I said before, I can write and perform raps, which is not super common (especially for a white girl). And, while not necessarily something I KNOW how to do, I have perfect pitch, so I can identify any note just by hearing it, or sing a specified pitch on command without a reference note.

Name something you’ve made in the last year (and show us, if you can).
This origami rhino with a little haiku on why it’s important to help them! I made it for GISH, the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt, which I do every summer 😊

What is your most recent personal project?
This blog. Trying to get it going, post more regularly, get some more followers, etc. Well, that and preparing for the LSAT, but that’s a very loose interpretation of “personal project.”

Tell us something you think about often (possibly while staring out of windows).
How frequently humans squander potential because of indecision (myself included), the unstoppability of time, and how much exclusionists and asexual erasure annoy me.

Give us something that’s your favorite, but make it oddly specific.
Favorite Green Day album: American Idiot, obviously (closely followed by Revolution Radio and Dookie, with an honorable mention to Warning)

Say the first thing that pops into your head:
These boots were made for walking. (I just saw my cowboy boots on the floor, if you’re wondering what prompted that.)

So, that’s me beyond the pages of books! Hopefully you all learned something or were at least mildly entertained. I tag TBR And Beyond, Paperbacks and Planners, Life With All the Books, Wayfaring Bibliomaniac, and Dusk Angel Reads, as well as anyone else reading this who hasn’t been tagged yet but feels inclined to participate.

Top Ten Tuesday 8/27 – Books I’ve Read That I Want in My Personal Library

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly post hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic, as you probably gleaned from the post title, is books I’ve read that I want in my personal library. Because these aren’t necessarily just favorites (though some of them are), I have a little explanation for each one as well! Enjoy! (Note: these are in no particular order, so don’t take it as an indicator of priority.)

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Mini book haul! (Thanks, Epic Reads!)

Back in June, Epic Reads (HarperTeen) hosted a Pride meetup in Chicago. I shared the event, promoted it to a few people, and ended up going to it with a good friend of mine. Now, a solid 2-3 months later, I just got a package of some bookish swag in the mail as a thank-you! I’m so incredibly grateful to the wonderful folks at HarperCollins, both for the gift and for putting on what was truly an awesome event.

Here’s a quick (somewhat poorly lit) picture of the goodies:

The pack included:

  • 3 ARCs (A Dress for the Wicked, Serpent & Dove, and Crier’s War)
  • A nice little pin banner that says EPIC READS in block letters
  • An enamel pin that looks like an open book, with a teal banner underneath that says “YA all day”

I am so incredibly excited about all of these! I’m especially looking forward to that ARC of Serpent & Dove–it is one of my most anticipated releases for this fall. What do you guys think? Read any of these yet?

One more huge thank you to HarperTeen for this! It made my day!

Warbreaker – review

Well, well, well, Brando Sando’s done it again. Brimming with life, color, politics, magic, and twists, Warbreaker is yet another testament to Sanderson’s mastery of the fantasy genre. I was hooked from the first line, and though it took a minute for the plot to really take off, once it did, the flight was epic.

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Top Ten Tuesday 8/20 – Favorite Tropes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed post hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and I’ve seen several others doing it, so I figured I would take a stab at it as well! This week’s prompt is “Top 10 Favorite Tropes.” I have a lot of favorites, and yet I still had a hard time coming up with this list, so hopefully y’all like it. Without further ado…here we go!

1. Kickass female protagonist
Who doesn’t love a little girl power? Mia Corvere, Inej Ghafa and Nina Zenik, Sancia Grado, Vin and Sarene and Siri and Vivenna, Katniss Everdeen…these are the girls I want to be like and love to read about. Girls who kick ass and take names, who stand up and don’t run away when the going gets tough.

2. The angsty one who loves the happy one
This may sound weirdly specific, but you know the type. Sullen, angry Ronan Lynch who loves the innocent sweetheart Adam Parrish. Crowley, a demon, who loves the angel Aziraphale. Baz, the Draco Malfoy-vampire-type character who loves Simon Snow, the hapless Chosen One. I just think it’s so sweet to see icy exteriors that defrost for one specific person.

3. The morally ambiguous hero
Much as I love a hero who really has pure motives, I’m more intrigued by the heroes with dubious codes of honor. An obvious example is Kaz Brekker, from the Six of Crows duology, who doesn’t really care who gets hurt as long as he gets his payment. Another obvious one is Kelsier, from the Mistborn trilogy, who has good motivation for his revolution, but who sometimes lets his hatred of the upper class overpower his sense of decency. People aren’t simply black or white, good or evil, and a complex hero is more interesting (and believable) to read about.

4. The morally ambiguous villain
Yep, that’s right. I like moral ambiguity in all its forms. When a book reveals that the so-called villain is actually doing what they do for really good reasons–or reasons that started out good, anyway–their villainhood becomes more complex, and their relationship with the protagonist grows as well.

5. Surprise! They’re gay!
Not sure if this is accepted as a legitimate trope, but I find it very cool when a character who isn’t obviously queer-coded ends up being gay. Not that there is anything wrong with out-and-proud, obviously gay characters, but when it happens subtly, believably, a character who grapples with an unexpected realization about their sexuality is great, especially when it leads to greater development for them. Plus, you know, I’m a huge fan of representation for minority groups in general, especially the LGBTQ+ community. Bonus points for oft-neglected genders/sexualities, like trans/nonbinary characters, bisexuality, and asexuality. (Note: this does not include retconned diversity, a la “Dumbledore is gay,” nor does it include characters whose sexuality is briefly mentioned once but then never plays into their character again.)

6. Reluctant allies
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that jazz. Or, “we both need the same thing, so let’s join forces.” I’m listening to the audiobook of Shadow of the Fox right now, and Yumeko and Tatsumi are in this exact situation. It also makes for a great setup for an enemies-to-lovers romance…at least when done correctly.

7. The sarcastic narrator
Don’t you love it when the person telling the tale makes it humorous and enjoyable for you as a reader, even if the story itself isn’t particularly funny? Lemony Snicket in A Series of Unfortunate Events is a perfect example. Another one is the narrator from the Nevernight books, whose snark never fails to brighten even the goriest of scenes.

8. Tragic backstory/tortured soul
So I like characters that are basically emotionally devoid as a result of past trauma, or ones who somehow managed to stay positive despite their lives being absolutely awful. I promise I’m not a terrible person–they’re just so interesting! Their growth almost inevitably ends up profound and fascinating. This applies across all genres, from fantasy to contemporary to historical to nonfiction.

9. Breaking the fourth wall
This isn’t one I come across super often, but a great trope, especially in satire, is when the characters say something to obliquely acknowledge that they’re in a book. You see this crop up in Quichotte by Salman Rushdie, for example. Or, an example from television is the song “Who’s the New Guy?” in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

10. The funny sidekick
Comic relief is generally appreciated. In real life, most friend groups have that one person who’s “the funny friend,” and in books, it’s nice to have a character who is constantly making wisecracks, or whose subplot is way lighter than the main one. From the Fool characters in Shakespeare to the antics of Karou in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, humorous side characters have existed across centuries and across genres.

So…that’s my list for today! What do you guys think? Any of these that you also love (or ones that you hate)? Which tropes do you love that I didn’t include? Let me know in the comments!

The Grammarians – ARC review

Author: Cathleen Schine
Publication date: September 3, 2019
Genre: literary fiction, contemporary fiction
My rating: 4/5 stars

The Grammarians is a tale of sisterhood and a love letter to the English language. Cute, quirky, and highly readable, this book was a good deal of fun, especially for someone as word-obsessed as I am.

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Pet – ARC review

Release date: September 10, 2019

A refreshing #OwnVoices story offering a highly relevant take on the concept of angels and monsters, Pet proves that Akwaeke Emezi can write for younger audiences just as well as they can for adults.

Pet is, at its heart, a story about finding and eliminating evil, even—or especially—when that evil goes unnoticed by most. Jam, a selectively-nonverbal black trans girl, finds herself caught in a moral quandary when a terrifying creature climbs out of one of her mother’s paintings and into the real world. This creature, who calls itself Pet, tells Jam that it has come to hunt a monster. Jam is confused at first, because in the town of Lucille, all monsters—the abusers, the corrupt billionaires, the racist police officers, the sexual predators, and so on—have been eliminated. There should be no monsters to hunt; the mere existence of one means that the supposed safety of her home is a lie. Even more upsetting is the fact that Pet says the monster resides in the house of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. How could there be a monster in such a happy household? Should she tell Redemption about it? And how do you hunt a monster when you don’t even know what, or who, it is?

I did feel a little misled by this book’s categorization. It’s listed as YA, but it felt very much on the young side of that age bracket. Yes, the protagonist is sixteen, and there is some mention of mature topics like child abuse and rape, but the discussions tastefully avoid most details, and Jam herself feels pretty naïve for a teenager. Some of that, I’m sure, is a result of the safe and sterile society she lives in, but I couldn’t help feeling that this novel would be better suited for a late middle-grade reader.

Now, don’t take that the wrong way. There were plenty of things I loved about this book. For one, the diversity is spectacular, both in its inclusivity and in its handling of intersectional identities. The fact that Jam is trans is not just casually dropped once and never mentioned again; she has multiple moments where she realizes her estrogen implant feels cold, or when she thinks about how her life could have gone so differently if her parents hadn’t allowed her to transition when she first insisted, at age three, that she was a girl, not a boy. It isn’t aggressively forced on the reader, nor is it a focal point of the book, but it is a facet of her character that is just there for token diversity points. This is the kind of trans rep I want to see more of: where trans characters can have stories that don’t center around their gender identity, but that also don’t ignore the ways that identity impacts them.

Racial identity is also dealt with exceptionally well; Jam’s parents speak English with distinct linguistic patterns that echo their immigrant status, and when they cook, they make traditional Caribbean dishes. Again, Emezi is able to make sure that characters’ identities are not forgotten but also not exploited. And there are casual allusions to other varied identities as well: Redemption has three parents, all married to each other, one of whom is nonbinary; and the librarian, Ube, is in a wheelchair. 

Emezi’s use of language is what really allows this tale to flourish. The imagery is vivid without being excessively flowery, and Jam’s thought process is introspective without feeling self-indulgent. All the characters’ voices come across distinctly, from Pet’s tendency to use circular, repetitive language, to the dialects of Jam’s parents, to Redemption’s use of AAVE, to the distinctions Jam makes on when to sign her thoughts and when to voice them. That final element, Jam’s frequent use of sign language, brought an especially interesting element to the narrative, as she decided when and what was significant enough to necessitate the use of her voice aloud. Sometimes, things got confusing—Emezi did not have a good way to indicate the difference between Jam signing things and thinking them in her direct telepathic link to Pet—so the use of italics made it a little vague as far as who was speaking. That said, without using an outright different font to indicate thought-communication, I don’t know that they could have handled it any differently.

One more positive note: Jam’s relationships to everyone and everything around her are fascinating and fully realized, multi-dimensional connections. Her relationship with Redemption is seriously friendship goals, full of trust and the sort of instinctive understanding that comes with knowing a person for most of your life. Jam’s constant uncertainty on how much to involve him in the monster hunt, her acute awareness of how any of her choices could impact their friendship, felt incredibly real. Similarly, her relationship with her parents, including their unconditional love for each other, how readily they accepted her being trans even as a child, their willingness to talk about anything and everything, and her guilt over not telling them about her ongoing hunt, is both pleasantly simple and surprisingly nuanced. Jam’s psychic connection with Pet, and their frequent disagreement, presents an interesting exercise in self-awareness. And the odd connection Jam feels with her house, able to sense when things are wrong simply through vibrations in the floorboards, is a nice touch that enhances her intense connection with and innate understanding of the world.

However, I did get the feeling sometimes that this story was a rather predictable, parable-like tale. The plot was incredibly linear, none of it particularly surprising; even the identity of the monster, while not necessarily expected, is still not unexpected. As a narrative about the deceptive nature of evil and the blurred lines around who is truly bad and who is just misguided, about how even someone who seems so good can have dark secrets, it fulfills its function perfectly. But for a novel of two hundred pages, it could stand to have a little more substance, or some plot twists along the way.

As a whole, I highly recommend this read to anyone interested in #OwnVoices representation, the difficulty of discerning right from wrong, and the nuances of relationships. It is not a long read, nor is it perfect, but it is certainly impactful. And, in a time when so much in this world is confusing and scary, where there are monsters at every turn and even in high political offices, it is a necessary reminder that we are the ones who need to take change into our own hands.

TRIGGER/CONTENT WARNINGS: child abuse, rape, mention of racism and police brutality, graphic violence.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Quichotte – ARC review

Release date: September 3, 2019

“To each his/her/their own articulation of the universal Don.”

Quichotte, by Salman Rushdie

You know that feeling when you’re reading a book and you just pause for a second and think, “Damn, this is some good writing”? That’s the closest description I can give to the time I spent reading Quichotte. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given Salman Rushdie’s well-deserved reputation as a masterful writer, but I feel like I need to reinforce it. This book is absurd and brilliant and hilarious and heartbreaking and so meta and I loved every minute of it.

Without giving too much away, let me sketch the plot for you. Sam DuChamp, author of mediocre spy fiction, decides to write one last book: something more literary, something that could make him look like a real, serious writer. Drawing inspiration from the classic Don Quixote, Sam crafts a tale of an old man who goes by the name Quichotte. With his wits addled from a lifetime watching too much TV, Quichotte decides he is in love with a famous actress and sets off across the country, accompanied by his imaginary son Sancho, to win her over. Meanwhile, DuChamp’s life is filled with drama of its own, and as time goes on, the line between fiction and reality begins to blur.

From plot to characters to linguistic brilliance, the novel excels on all fronts. Zany characters get themselves in way over their heads, managing to maintain distinct voices even as their fates become increasingly similar. The shift between third person for most characters and first person could come off as just “odd” but instead is oddly fitting. The pages are populated with witty quips like:

“To be a lawyer in a lawless time was like being a clown among the humorless: which was to say, either completely redundant or absolutely essential”

and pithy observations like:

“social media has no memory,”

and the storyline jumps back and forth between the pain and ridiculousness of our own world, and the equally painful and ridiculous world of a man on a futile quest for love.

This book isn’t for everyone, but it was definitely for me. What can I say? I love literary fiction, Indian literature, satire, and zany plotlines that simultaneously tackle major problems. Quichotte is all of that and so much more.

Rushdie has a penchant for verbosity, absurdity, playing tricks on the reader, absurdity, making more allusions than should probably be legal (works and characters referenced range from Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Jessica Rabbit and Mario to Dante’s Inferno and the compositions of Beethoven), casually sniping about our current sociopolitical climate, absurdity, commentary on the immigrant experience, and taking the wildest of gags and simply running with them. Oh, and did I mention absurdity? It isn’t an easy read by any means; Rushdie makes you work for the payoff, juggling characters and storylines that seem increasingly random, only to have them all come together for a finale that is perfectly satisfying, if a little strange at first glance. It really is the most appropriate sort of ending for a book like this.

Dealing with topics including mental illness, racism, social media, “cancel” culture, political corruption, drug abuse, terminal illness, love, family, and the end of the world, the novel could have easily turned into a mishmash that lost sight of itself while trying to fit everything in. Instead, Rushdie’s deft hand manages to weave dozens of hot button issues into a bizarre but beautiful book that leaves you laughing all the way. This is pastiche elevated to a whole new level, and I am so glad I was able to read it.

In short, Quichotte is a brilliant, wild ride from start to finish. That’s really the most appropriate description for it. Be patient at the beginning, and don’t let the little details pass you by, but also don’t let them drag you down. Just fasten your seatbelt, prepare for some jarring terrain, and enjoy the journey.

Thank you to the publisher for providing an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.