We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I don’t always like reading novels that are sad or deal with grief, but the beautiful cover and the softness of the writing style really had me interested so I decided to give it a shot. Here is my review:

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about what happened, why she abandoned everyone and everything.  Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from California, at college in New York, Marin struggles to pull away from her tragic past. Now, months later, Marin is alone in her empty dorm. She is waiting for Mabel to come and visit. With this visit, Marin will have to face everything left unsaid and confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

This novel was beautifully written but it was excruciatingly slow. Now, I understand that this a story about loss and grief and running away from things you don’t want to face. That’s all great. But literally nothing happens in the novel. Nothing. There are millions of inconsequential details mentioned that just bog down an already slow story. There is a softness to everything that, while beautiful, stops the story from actually having any impact. Marin’s character was also not my favorite. I don’t always need a super hyper female character to be the lead but she vacillated between having no real voice to showing teen angst. When the reason behind her avoidance was revealed, I was surprised… but not in a good way. I felt like I was missing something major. She had all of this loneliness, all of these feelings of betrayal… over this? I thought it would be something a lot more upsetting considering the extent of Marin’s behaviour. Maybe that was just me. Overall, I think this was a very beautifully written but boring novel, with nothing really that poignant about it. I’m giving this a 1.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

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The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – Winternight Trilogy #2

I’m so lucky to have gotten my hands on this book as soon as it released! I have been really bad when it comes to series; I almost always preorder the books, but when they arrive, I never read them. This is what has happened with the Queen of the Tearling series (I promise I will get to it soon!), but I was determined to not let it happen here! As soon as I received my copy, I put aside all of my other books. So now, here is my review:

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya has very few options: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both restrict her freedom and her chances of seeing the vast world. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

As usual, the author has delivered a stunning historical fantasy novel. I love how true the author stays to historical Russian events and Russian mythology throughout the story. It is so easy for the reader to imagine this vivid setting and fall into the story. There are loads of supernatural elements in the story but they are worked into this intricate political plot. I’m always surprised to see this combination work as well as it does, because it just seems so contradictory! I also love learning about Russian culture and mythology through this novel; it’s something I’ve always been fascinated by and the author really does an amazing job of making it come to life through Vasya’s adventure. This story takes place almost right where the first book left off. I found it interesting that the first perspective wasn’t Vasya’s but one of her siblings, instead. I thought that this novel had more action and adventure than the previous novel in the series. This kept my interest up, but I also wish that there had been more mystery, which is what I had loved about The Bear and the Nightingale. In all fairness, I think I preferred the first book to this one. The Bear and the Nightingale had this wonderful depth and development of character even though it lacked the fast pace of The Girl in the Tower. I almost wish that there had been a little less action and a little more focus on the character relationships (especially between Vasya and Morozko!) and the mythology. Overall, this was still a really great novel and I cannot wait for the third book in this trilogy! I’m giving this a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

The Party By Robyn Harding

This novel has been on all the trending reading lists. I really wanted to know what the hype was about. There’s been a trend in stories that talk about parties going wrong, but this one seemed unique in that it was not just told from the perspectives of adults but also from teens. Here is my review:

Sweet sixteen: it’s an exciting coming of age. To celebrate this milestone, Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah, a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Instead of an extravagant affair, they invite 4 girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. But things go horrifically wrong. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

This novel was confusing in that it wasn’t sure what it was meant to be. In the beginning, I thought this story would pan out into a thriller, with increasing tension and a grand reveal. It started off giving every indication that that was exactly what would happen. And then it suddenly became a drama. Now, we are reading from the perspectives of adults and how this situation has changed their views on their children, and how they now question their parenting. It becomes a story about culpability, and guilt, and revenge. When the teen perspectives are shown, it’s all about bullying, guilt, and self-esteem and identity. And this is fine. There is nothing wrong with any of these themes. But it just came off a bit cheesy and overdone. It didn’t help that the adults were all extremely selfish and annoying. Just when I got used to all of this melodrama, the story begins to show hints of this big reveal. Once again, I’m feeling confused as to what I’m reading. In the end, the reveal really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; it’s something that was easy to suspect, and may not even have been necessary. There were also a specific detail that the author mentioned (I will refer to it as the introduction of a psychopath) that really bothered me; it didn’t have to happen and was just there to add more drama to an already cringe-worthy situation. Overall, this novel was just confusing: it didn’t know if it wanted to be a thriller or a soap opera. It might have been better as the latter, since I felt that the grief and emotional aspects of the story were not too shabby. I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a good read; for me, this was just okay.

Happy reading ~

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Grandmére Ursule was one of the most powerful witches in her family. But when she dies trying to save the life of her tribe, her magic seems to have died with her. Even so, her daughters do their best to keep the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been a part of their family for generations. Then one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew. The story traverses 5 generations of witches, from early 19th century Brittany to London during WWII as they fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, their futures.

I really wanted to love this novel but I didn’t. The book is broken down into multiple parts such that each witch from the next generation gets her own story. I love the idea of magic being passed down from mother to daughter but I think that is where the problem of this novel lay: for each generation, the story from the previous generation must be recounted, and the same reactions from the newest witch are described, and it just starts to become repetitive. It’s hard to break from that cycle when it is that very cycle that is being described in the novel. I think that out of all of the witches that were described, there was only one that was truly different from the rest. While I get that the same traits and powers will run in the family, the personalities of the different witches were too similar for my taste. And as I mentioned, the concept was interesting in the beginning but the story itself was too cyclic and repetitive to maintain my interest. The author did put a valiant effort in trying to tie in different historical events to change things up between generations, but the scenarios remained the same. I also wish there had been more supernatural elements; I would have loved to read about the different spells and things that they learned and the reasons why they did certain rituals. For me, there was just not enough of a unique story and so, I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

This is a novel where I went in knowing nothing about the subject matter. I know absolutely nothing about tea or tea leaves; I don’t even drink tea (which is something that my family just can’t get over)! I also am completely unaware about Chinese culture, and the ethnic minorities that reside in China. This novel talks about these things but it is a whole lot more than that. Here is my review:

In a remote Yunnan village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. They are Akha people and must follow the way of their ancestors. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives, searching for a rare tea. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger. The arrival of the stranger also marks changes in Li-yan’s own life – and her beliefs on the rules that have shaped her existence thus far. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city. Over the years, Li-yan has slowly left the security and insularity of her village behind to encounter modern life while Haley, the daughter she abandoned, grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.

This book was completely out of my comfort zone, and I loved it. This is my first time reading anything by Lisa See, so I really didn’t know what to expect. The story starts off with Li-yan, when she is just a young child. The author gives the reader an idea of what life is like in this village, and what it means to be part of the Akha people. We learn about their customs and traditions, and the reasons behind their rules. It is beautifully explained, and I think Li-yan was the perfect character through whom to explore this culture. I loved reading about Li-yan growing up and developing, and the author really got me to connect with her character. I felt her emotions and understood her thought processes throughout the story. This novel also goes into a great deal of detail about the tea business and the process of finding the right tea leaves and making that perfect blend. For someone who never knew about the effort that goes into this business, it was really eye-opening. While the tea aspect is important to the story, it sometimes detracted from the actual plot. The novel is divided into multiple parts that chronicle different time points in Li-yan’s life. There are also moments where we find out what happened to Li-yan’s daughter, and this was one of the highlights of the book for me. I think I really enjoyed the beginning, where we got to see Li-yan grow up and endure various hardships. The midpoint of the story dragged a bit, but the tidbits about Li-yan’s daughter, Haley, helped tide me over. The ending was what I was really interested in; I wanted to know if the two would ever meet. The ending is a cliffhanger, and while I usually don’t like this, I thought it was very appropriate for this novel. It gave me the opportunity to imagine what I thought the encounter would be like, and I’m glad the author left it up to the reader’s imagination to decide what happens next. All in all, this was a great novel that really taught me a lot about Chinese culture and tea, while also revealing a beautiful story about identity, motherhood, and the desire to belong. I would recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction!

Happy reading ~

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere and I really liked the premise of the story. It hints at fairy lore and herbs and changelings, as well as featuring 3 women as the main characters. I was really excited to read this book. So here is my review:

Hedged in by gossip and joined by their desperation, three women in 19th-century Ireland are drawn together in the hope of rescuing a child from a superstitious community, determined to rid itself of the strange and unknowable. After the loss of her husband, Nora is the sole caretaker of her young grandson, Michael – a boy who had one time had been hale and hearty but now, can no longer speak or walk. Nora hires a servant, Mary, to help her take care of the child. But just as Mary starts working, rumors abound about Michael: that he is a changeling child, bringing ill fortune upon everyone in the valley. Determined to get rid of the evil in Michael, Nora and Mary seek the help of Nance, an elderly recluse once revered for her healing powers, but now condemned by the new priest.  As the trio’s situation grows more dire, their folkloric practices become increasingly daring, culminating in a stunning and irreversible act that will put all their lives in danger.

I’m still unsure of my feelings on this book but I’m going to try my best to figure this out. First of all, the writing is beautiful. This is a slow-paced story because the author focuses more on the details. You can tell it has been well-researched from the way the author describes 19th century Ireland, with its herb lore, and the superstitions regarding the fae or good people (the term used here in this novel). The novel is told from 3 perspectives: Mary, Nance, and Nora. These women are bonded together by Michael, Nora’s grandson who is different from other children developmentally. I think the author did a great job of depicting these women (as well as other characters in the book) and the way they changed through their experiences. While I may not have loved all of them, I understood them and could connect with them emotionally. I really liked that the author made it hard for the reader to guess what illness Michael had; it took the attention away from the illness and focused more on the plights of the women and Michael. As I mentioned earlier, the story was slow in its pacing, which meant that there were times when I felt that the story was too detailed and dragged in plot. However, this helped me understand more about the Irish culture, which I know nothing about. I don’t want to give away too much by telling you my thoughts on how the novel ended. Suffice to say that while it made me sad, it also was a good way of cementing the story back into reality and it tied everything up. I wish the story hadn’t been so dismal but some stories aren’t meant to be happy, and this was one of them. If you like stories that are steeped in Irish culture and deal with stigma and superstition, you would probably like this one. If you like more fast-paced novels, then this would definitely not work for you. Even though it was a bit too slow and sad for my liking, I think the quality of the writing and the story itself were quite good, which is why I’m giving this a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances by Ruth Emmie Lang

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I loved this premise so much that I had to request this ARC. I was so happy to have gotten my request approved and I’m even happier that I got the chance to read this novel because it was just such a fantastic read! Here is my review:

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey always knew he was different. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how special – and powerful – he really was. That tornado might have been the first event that had every happened to him … but it definitely wasn’t his last. Strange things seemed to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he tries not to take credit for them. While the powers seem amazing, they can also endanger Weylyn’s life and the lives of others. As Weylyn distances himself from his loved ones, those who care about him try to do everything they can to make him stay in their lives.

This story is told from multiple perspectives through various points of time. But every account centers around Weylyn and how he has changed that person’s life. I usually find that this kind of storytelling style can get quite complicated and murky. But the author handled it fantastically and I could not imagine this story being told in any other way. I love Weylyn; he is a sweetheart and someone I wish I could have met in my own life. He is conscientious and caring and always trying to be someone he is not. Every character that is introduced to him gets changed in their own way, and I love how each of these characters had their own unique voice and experience with Weylyn. Now, I usually prefer hearing things from the main character’s point of view but the author managed to give the reader a full appreciation for Weylyn through so many different perspectives that I was just as happy. I would not say that this story is plot-driven; it’s more about Weylyn struggling to deal with his abilities and finding himself. If you are looking for something more plot based, you probably won’t enjoy this story. I loved the simplicity of the motives behind Weylyn’s actions, as well as that of others. This story also pulled at my heartstrings; I didn’t realize how attached to Weylyn I had become as I was reading this book! Overall, this was just a lovely engrossing read that used an interesting style to shed light on a wonderful protagonist. I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of magical realism and sweet character-driven stories! I’m giving this novel 5/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

 

 

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

This was a book that I had kept my eye on since I first heard about it. It’s premise has this merging of technology and horror and I thought it would be interesting to see where that would go. Here is my review:

The Dark Net is a real and dangerous place, existing in the far reaches of the Web. Some use it to manage Bitcoins, pirate movies, or traffic in drugs. Now, an ancient darkness has decided to use this platform for its own agenda. This force is threatening to spread virally into the real world unless it can be stopped by members of a ragtag crew: 12- year-old Hannah, who has just been given a visual prosthetic to combat her blindness, and is wondering why she can see shadows around certain people; Lela; a technophobic journalist who has found a story no one wants her to uncover; Mike Juniper who suffers from personal – and literal – demons; and Derek, a hacker with a streak of justice. They have no idea what the Dark Net really contains and what they are up against.

I really wanted to love this novel, and with its premise, it gave every indication that I would enjoy this story. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The story is told from multiple perspectives. In this case, I found none of the perspectives interesting. In fact, I didn’t really like any of the characters (especially Lela, who I found intolerable). Even though the author had ensured that he gave the backstory of the main characters, I had this constant feeling like the descriptions were just surface level; they didn’t have much emotional depth to them. Whenever I thought the author would get deeper into something, there would be a switch in perspective or scene that would throw me off. It also felt as if this book was trying to tie in all of these random aspects to make them come together and tell a cohesive tale; while it did all tie up, it just wasn’t done in an authentic way. Some things were put together in a way that was far too convenient to believe, and it made me fall out of the story. I wish there had been more depth to the entire story, not just random wikipedia facts to inform the readers about the Dark Net. In the end, this story just didn’t flow well and had characters that were hard to connect with on all levels. However, I did like the demonic aspects so I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Doll House by Phoebe Morgan

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Corrine and her boyfriend, Dominic, have been trying very hard to conceive. But after 3 failed IVF attempts, it is looking like becoming parents is not in their cards. After Corrine’s sister, Ashley, loans the couple money for one last IVF treatment, there is finally a stirring of hope. Maybe, just maybe, this time it will work. When Corrine finds a tiny part of a doll house outside her flat, it feels like a positive sign. But as more pieces turn up, Corinne realizes that they are far too familiar; they look just like the ones she used to play with as a child. Someone knows about her childhood doll house. And they want Corinne to know.

Meanwhile, Ashley is struggling to keep her family in control. Her youngest baby, Holly, isn’t sleeping at night, her oldest daughter, Lucy, is running wild, and her husband never seems to be home. Just when things couldn’t get worse, she starts receiving mysterious phone calls. At first, she dismisses them as crank calls but eventually, they take on a more sinister role.

As these two sisters battle through their crises, they start to wonder who is targeting them? And what do they want?

The original synopsis of this story did not mention Ashley at all, so I went into this story thinking it would only be about Corinne. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this would be about both sisters. The story is told in their alternating voices, with brief interjections from Dominic, as well as moments from the past told in the voice of an unknown character. Of course, the unknown person was the most intriguing part of the story, and I was wondering the entire time who it could be. I found Ashley’s perspective to be a lot more interesting than Corinne; I also liked her better as a character, even though not much was really happening on her end as compared to Corinne. But to be honest, I didn’t really care much about what was happening with either one of them. There just wasn’t enough emotional connection or depth to them to get me interested; every time I felt I was connecting, the story would hurry on and it would be lost. I had pretty much guessed the ending of the story so there wasn’t too much of a thrill there. However, I WAS surprised by the identity of the unknown character; it wasn’t the person I was expecting it to be. For the most part, this story was lackluster, and I was just trying to get to the end to see if I was right or not. The ending was the only interesting part of the novel, but it ended in such a cliffhanger way that I wonder if there will be a sequel. Overall, this was an okay thriller with characters I didn’t really care about, and not enough thrill to keep me enthralled. I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

Literary fiction is a genre I don’t usually go for, mostly because I don’t have the time to get immersed in it. These aren’t novels you can quickly rush through. These novels must be read slowly, carefully; that’s the only way to fully immerse yourself into the world the author is creating. It is slow-paced and requires the reader’s attention at all times. It’s a commitment that I’m not always able to make. However, I made it this time. Here is my review:

Ada Sibelius’s father, David, is a brilliant and eccentric scientist who is single-handedly raising her. He directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy who knows everything about computers and coding but nothing about being a teenager. When David’s mind begins to falter, Ada is left in the care of one of David’s colleagues.  Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will change her life forever.

This book is beautiful. This is one of those times when I really don’t know how to come up with the right words to describe all of the wonderful things about this novel. But I’m going to try. The story is told almost exclusively from Ada’s point of view. She is a very interesting protagonist; she has an intelligent and analytical way of looking at interactions but she manages to retain her innocence. It is extremely difficult to achieve this type of voice and yet the author does so effortlessly. I felt like I was growing up right alongside Ada, feeling awe when around her father, wanting his approval, and feeling despair when he begins to forget. I feel her pain and her determination as she tries to make things alright, as she tries to find her place in the social hierarchy of high school. I find myself just as curious as she is, when she discovers that her father has secrets he has been hiding from everyone. This novel is slow in its pace but it needs to be in order for the reader to really connect with Ada and understand the magnanimity of her situation. I took my time with this novel, and it was definitely worth it. I would recommend this to anyone who likes literary fiction and coming-of-age stories. 4/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~