The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen

I have been actively working on reading more short stories lately, and seeing this one offered through the First to Read program gave me a great opportunity to try this collection. Here is my review:


Summary (Goodreads): 

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Just because Jenny was born without a head doesn’t mean she isn’t still annoying to her older brother, and just because the Man of the Future’s carefully planned extramarital affair ends in alien abduction and network fame doesn’t mean he can’t still pine for his absent wife. Romping through the fantastic with big-hearted ease, these stories cut to the core of what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing, whether in the form of a lovesick kraken slowly dragging a ship of sailors into the sea, a small town euthanizing its grandfathers in a time-honored ritual, or a third-grade field trip learning that time travel is even more wondrous–and more perilous–than they might imagine.


Review: This was a very interesting selection of stories but it just didn’t do it for me.

I think the problem I faced was that the stories didn’t have enough of a plot to keep me going. The stories were all very interesting, blending science fiction with literary fiction and mixing up different time points. But the stories were just … there. Nothing really happened. There was no catalyst, no change, no sense of a build up. The stories fell flat for me because they just seemed like descriptions of a different time and place, rather than any specific event that I could focus on.

It was also hard for me to connect with the characters. There was no emotional connection with them, and they felt very two-dimensional. It made it hard for me to want to continue reading the stories when I couldn’t care about what was happening for them.

I think that this was a collection that was unique in its blend of literary and science fiction. However, the lack of plot in the stories combined with the lack of emotional connection with the characters meant that it fell short for me. I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

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Top Books of February

February has been a crazy month for me on all fronts! I’ve been ramping up work in my Masters and I’ve also been trying to improve my blog and bookstagram presence. I also really wanted to make a dent in my eARC pile … but that hasn’t gone as well as I wanted. However, I did read some fantastic books and I wanted to take the time to highlight some of the awesome reads!

Top Books:                      

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Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor 

This was hands-down an absolutely wonderful read. There is no better book to describe the genre of fantasy than this one. If you haven’t already read my previous post where I gushed about it, well, I really had no complaints about this one. I loved the characters, as they were just so unique and vividly portrayed; they literally leaped off the page! The story was also extremely interesting, with great-building. If you are an avid lover of fantasy, then this is not a book you want to miss! It may be long, but it is well worth the effort!

 

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Furyborn by Claire Legrand

This was an eARC that I received from Edelweiss and Sourcebooks Fire (publisher) and I am so glad I got the chance to read it! It’s got 2 badass female protagonists (you know that’s my weakness) and tons of action to keep any reader interested! Also, I really liked the romance in this novel; it made sense and wasn’t too dramatic (and this is high praise from me!). This is the first in a series, and I’m excited to see where the story is going to go from here.

 

33918881The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco 

This eARC (thanks Edelweiss and Sourcebooks Fire) has been super high on my TBR list because I absolutely adored The Bone Witch (first book in the series); this book was different in terms of its focus because it was plot-driven rather than detail-oriented but it still delivered on intrigue and I devoured it in one day!

 

 

32920226Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward 

Unlike the other novels I’ve mentioned above, this is a very sobering story that uses magical realism to explore the themes of grief and slavery. Through alternating narratives from a mother and her son, we read about how memories can haunt people. This was a vivid and haunting story that kept me up all night. It is a very thought-provoking story and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary fiction.

 

 

34913737The King of Bones and Ashes by J.D. Horn 

This was a slower paced supernatural novel that I really enjoyed. This ARC was by an author who is known for his stories about witches but this was my first time reading anything by him. With tons of characters and a plot that intensified with every chapter, fans of supernatural fiction would really enjoy this book!

 

 

28096541The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed 

This novel packs all the punches as it tackles the issues of consent, rape, sexual assault, and stigma – and these are just a few of the topics! It was powerfully charged and I was amazed at the way the author managed to weave a story while handling such explosive content. This is a novel I would like everyone to read because it is just so relevant for our society.

 

 

35390279 The Night Child by Anna Quinn

This was a novel that was unexpectedly dark but very good. It deals with a very serious topic: child abuse. It was an emotionally evocative story and I found myself really connecting with the characters in the story. This is a short read but it does justice to the issues it addresses. If you can handle the content, then this is a very good psychological novel.

 

 

These were the novels that really stuck out in my mind from this month! I wish I had been able to read more books and meet all of my reading goals, but I’m glad I took the time to get to these gems!

How did your February book haul go? What were your most memorable books of the month? Comment and let me know! 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I don’t read a lot of literary fiction. But when I do, I know I’m in for a thought-provoking read. This novel did not disappoint in that regard.

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Synopsis (Goodreads): Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.


Review: I feel like I’m going to fail to try to write this review because I don’t have the words to describe how this book made me feel. It made me feel A LOT. But I’m going to try anyways.

This is an an incredible novel for a lot of reasons. For one thing, the writing is absolutely brilliant. The author has a way of keeping the words simple but making them convey so much meaning. I loved that the author gave very realistic portrayals of everything in the book; not a single thing was downplayed or glorified. From the description of a long car ride to the intensity of a drug high, every minute was real. It allowed me to slip into the story and live it along with the characters.

With this story, we are given 2 perspectives. One is Jojo, a 13-year-old who watches everything and feels the need to protect his younger sister – especially from their mother. We also see through the eyes of Leonie, Jojo’s mother, who wants to do the right thing and struggles with being the good daughter and mother that she wants to be. Through their points of view, the author brings in the issues of race, family, and addiction. Now, these are all very difficult topics to raise; not only does the author not shy away from them, she also doesn’t pass any judgement. That’s what I loved about this narrative – there was nothing one-sided to it. Every issue is explored so deeply and through so many interactions that it soon becomes evident that there is no clear-cut way of looking at things. It is easy to dismiss things and label them to make life easier, but the author refuses to allow the reader to do that.

I also really loved how the author incorporated magical realism into this literary fiction novel. I’ve always been a big fan of magical realism, and when it’s done right, it can be the most wonderful thing in the world. It was done right here. Both Leonie and Jojo find themselves haunted by the ghosts of young boys; for Leonie, it is her brother who passed away as a teenager; for Jojo, it is a boy who died as an inmate and carries the ugly history of racism and slavery within him. Reading about these interactions made my heart pound, and I could feel my emotions running parallel to that of Leonie and Jojo. It was very well executed.

If you can’t tell already, this is a 5/5 star novel for me. The writing was gritty and engaging, the characters were vivid and emotionally-charged, and the story was haunting. If you haven’t read this novel, you should definitely change that right away!

Happy reading ~

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

This book has been creating a buzz EVERYWHERE. Red Clocks is a novel that is perfectly matched for the political climate in America today, and the state of affairs when it comes to the legalization of abortion and the ease of getting this service. This novel has been compared to A Handmaid’s Tale, which is the first book that I read by Margaret Atwood (and one of my favourite books of all time). I knew I had to read Red Clocks so I bought it as soon as I could. Here is my review:

Synopsis (back of the book): In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.


Review: The scenario that is imagined in this book is not as far-fetched as I would like. Considering the political climate in America and the number of obstacles that are in the way for any woman seeking an abortion, I can easily see a future where abortion is banned, and Planned Parenthood no longer exists. This is what drew me to this novel; I wanted to see how these women would live and struggle under these conditions.

I think that this novel strives to look at motherhood and the identity of a woman through various different lenses. By looking at these concepts through the women, not only do we get to see their own thought process, we also get an understanding of how people around them feel about these issues. This book is in no way skewed to one side; both anti-abortion and pro-abortion sentiments are voiced and it is easy for the reader to understand both perspectives.

While the topic and the ideas mentioned in this book were interesting, I didn’t love this book. To me, this wasn’t really a story; it was far too focused on the concepts than it was in the development of the women. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it made the whole book far too cerebral for me. I also didn’t feel like there was anything very strong or definitive being said. Everything was a little too experimental, and I prefer if an author sticks to a style and goes with it throughout. In spite of its choppiness, I liked the way the author switched between the different voices of the women in the story; it added some variance to the writing. I also thought it was interesting to not actually give these women names in the beginning of the chapter; they are called “biographer” or “wife” or “daughter” or “mender” based on the way they identify themselves and their role in life. While it did lead to a bit of emotional detachment with the characters, it allowed the reader to view them as a collective, which was probably the intent here.

I think that this novel explored some very interesting ideas and was well-balanced when considering all of the different arguments surrounding abortion and the right to life. However, it didn’t really come off as a story and I found it hard to feel that emotional pull to any character. Overall, I would give this a solid 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Top books of January

I can’t believe that it is already the end of the month! I still have a great deal of ARCs to get to, and many of them are January releases that I will only get to in February (oops) …. but they will definitely be done!

There have been so many amazing novels that I’ve read this month and I really wanted to highlight some of these great reads! Here is my list of my top books from this month:

  1. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekannen: I have a very high standard when it comes to thrillers but this novel was actually really good. It had me guessing the entire time, and I loved the intensity and tension that was pervasive in this novel.
  2. The Cruel Prince by Holly BlackThis was one of my favourite YA fantasy books of the month. It had an interesting story and, more importantly, unique characters. This is not the same old story rehashed. I loved the immersion into the world of the fae as well as all the treachery and planning and twists that were thrown in! I am definitely keeping my eye out for the sequel!!
  3. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NgWhile I know that this wasn’t a book that came out in January, I only got around to it this month. It is so beautiful and heartbreaking and wonderful. It is a very complex story that looks at what it means to be a mother. I was riveted from page one and emotionally exhausted by the end – and I mean this in the best way possible.
  4. Only Child by Rhiannon NavinI loved that this story was told entirely from the perspective of a young boy. This story is all about how tragedy can change a family and a community. It was poignant and I was bawling my eyes out by the time the story was done. It’s worth the ugly crying!
  5. The Perfect Nanny/Lullaby by Leila Slimani: This was a short read but it was eerie and unputdownable. This book was all about ramping up the tension that eventually led to a complete breakdown and the ultimate death of two innocents. I was blown away by the writing style and the story.
  6. A Killer Harvest by Paul Cleave: A very interesting book that deals with a lot of heavy subject matter like cellular memory and vigilante behaviour. It was fast-paced and intriguing, with plenty of twists and turns to keep me occupied!
  7. Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman: This is not a new book by any standards but it featured one of the most unique protagonists ever. Brigid Quinn is a 59-year-old woman who was once a great FBI agent, but has seen sought early retirement. She is quirky and dark and fierce in the best way possible. I loved this novel and cannot wait to start on this amazing series.
  8. Himself by Jess KiddAnother novel that I waited way too long to read, this one was not at all I expected. I love magical realism, and this novel did it right, with plenty of interesting characters and events.
  9. In Case I Go by Angie AbdouThis book was a cross between a ghost story, historical fiction, and had some magical realism in it. It worked beautifully. The story was haunting, the writing was captivating, and I just couldn’t put this book down!
  10. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen DionneNot only did this novel have a unique premise, it also had a believable protagonist. This is a character-study novel that explores how the protagonist’s childhood shaped her into the person she becomes later on – and how it makes her the best person to kill the most dangerous man she knows: her father.

That’s a wrap for January … can’t wait for the books that February is going to bring!

Happy reading ~

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba

I’ve always been eager to read books that are written by an author whose first language is not English. Usually, these authors are from countries that are very different than where I live and what I am accustomed to, so I like to see how their cultural setting influences their writing. Of course, then comes the doubt about whether the translation was accurate enough to pick up on the subtle nuances … but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I heard about this book and immediately wanted to give it a shot. Here is my review:

Synopsis (Goodreads): Life changes at the orphanage the day seven-year-old Marina shows up. She is different from the other girls: at once an outcast and object of fascination. As Marina struggles to find her place, she invents a game whose rules are dictated by a haunting violence.


Review: I know the synopsis is short but any more information and you would have everything revealed. This was a quick read but it was packed with A LOT. I was expecting a simple creepy story but instead got something a lot deeper and more complex. The story is told from Marina’s perspective and that of the other children in the orphanage. The sentences are short but they convey the brokenness that inhabits the children. A great deal of emotional turmoil is conveyed in this short read, and it haunts the reader long afterwards. This novel is disturbing in its prose, and in the story it tells. I don’t want to speak more about this story, because it is better to experience it. With that, I would say I’m giving this novel a solid 4/5 stars, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a haunting and eerie read.

Happy reading ~

Lullaby Road by James Anderson

Thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and Penguin Random House through the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Highway 117 is a remote road that runs through the Utah desert. It is trafficked by oddballs and fugitives. When local truck driver Ben Jones finds an abandoned, mute Hispanic child at a gas station along his route, he knows something has gone awry. Who would leave a child out there in the cold winter season?  With the help of his eccentric neighbors, Ben sets out to help the kid and learn the truth. What he didn’t expect was to make new friends, lose old ones, and find himself in danger.

I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t get into it. When I started reading this book, I was unaware that it was a sequel. I thought I might still be able to understand what was going on, but there were quite a few veiled references and allusions made that are probably referring to something from the first book, which is why I wasn’t able to follow along. I would definitely recommend people read the first book before reading this one. I also didn’t really love the writing style. I found it overly descriptive, especially when it came to automobiles (which I really have no interest in). I also found the plot very confusing: there were a lot of characters introduced and it wasn’t always clear how everything was going to play out. I really wanted the story to focus on the child but that was not the case here. There have been a lot of positive reviews out for this book, but it just wasn’t for me. I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee

Thanks to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Mental illness is a very important topic that I don’t think gets discussed enough. And even when it does, it is overly simplified. This novel spoke to me because of its emphasis on mental health and the toll it can take not only on the person with the condition but also the caregivers. I was really excited for this ARC and I’m really glad I got the chance to read this novel. Here is my review:

Miranda, as the eldest, has always been the responsible one, her younger sister’s protector. Lucia is the vibrant one, the unconventional one, whose impulsive behaviour can be both charming and devastating. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it is Miranda who must take charge of Lucia – even as Lucia refuses to accept the doctor’s diagnosis. Determined to be more than just  label, Lucia forges on with life, marrying a kind-hearted Israeli – only to leave him, suddenly, in order to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. With her new family, Lucia moves to Ecuador to start a fresh life – but she cannot escape her own mental illness. Miranda must decide if she will step in and help Lucia once more – but this time Lucia might not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

This book was a very powerful story. Lucia is a creative and whimsical character – but she is also diagnosed with schizophrenia. Miranda, the cautious one of the pair, has always felt it was her responsibility to take care of her sister and ensure that she is getting the right medication and dosage. But this responsibility becomes an even harder burden to bear when faced with Lucia’s refusal to comply. I thought that the author did an amazing job of portraying how mental illness can affect an individual and the relationships that person has with others. This story is told from multiple perspectives, from Miranda to Lucia’s Israeli husband to the Latino immigrant to Lucia herself. Each offers their own story as they discover their love for Lucia – and discover her diagnosis and the struggles that come with schizophrenia. The author really took the time to show all of the facets of the disorder and the ways in which people can try to handle it. I found the story to be realistic and heartbreaking and beautiful and poignant. More importantly, I thought this novel did justice to the topic through a sensitive and masterful approach. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone interested in mental health and literary fiction. I’m giving this a 5/5 rating!

Happy reading ~

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

I don’t usually read books that are like this one. If I had to classify this into a genre, I would probably consider this a literary novel. However, I thought the premise was an interesting one, and worth reading. Here is my review:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and when the Gold children hear of a psychic who can tell anyone the day they die, they decide to visit her. What they didn’t expect is that the prophecies they receive will change their lives forever. The youngest, Simon, escapes to the West Coast on a search for love; Klara, the closest in age to Simon, decides to pursue her dream of becoming a magician but soon finds herself obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; Daniel, the eldest boy, becomes an army doctor in the hopes of controlling fate; and Varya, the eldest of them all, throws herself into the search for longevity through science.

I thought this was a very thought-provoking read. The story is told from the perspectives of all 4 siblings, with each one getting their own section that traverses the entirety of their lives. And their lives are very different. I liked reading about how each character was affected by their prophecy and the way it shaped/influenced their future decisions. Their paths were all so unique and that really made each character stand out to me. Some stories stood out to me more than others, but I have a feeling that most people would also feel this way. I d want to give a note to caution to some readers: if you are expecting a story with elements of magical realism, you will be disappointed; apart from this prophecy, which occurs in the very beginning of the novel, there is nothing fantastical that occurs. While I don’t think the writing was spectacular, I think the story more than makes up for it. I would be lying if I said I never wondered when and how I would die – but how would this knowledge affect me? Would I try to disprove the prophecy or work harder to make it come true? Or would I not believe in it at all? Either way, it would definitely affect my life. I thought the author captured a lot of these scenarios and delivered them quite nicely, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions without it being delivered to them by a character or through dialogue. I found myself understanding the actions and emotions of all of the characters, and I felt a strong emotional connection to them all as they struggled through their lives. Each story resonated with me in its own way and it led to a very insightful read. Was it everything I had dreamed it would be? No. Even though I enjoyed this novel a great deal, there was this feeling that something was missing. However, this was a powerful and thoughtful read, and I would recommend this to anyone who likes literary fiction, and novels that cause them to question their own existence and mortality.

Happy reading ~

 

 

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

I had no idea what to expect when I got into this novel. But after reading it, I can honestly say that it has defied any expectations I might have had. Here is my review:

Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the heir to one of America’s top fortunes. They really should never have become friends. But they have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to record every sound he can, in an attempt to create something different. Carter is fixated on blues music from the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

This novel tries to be a lot of things. It tries to be a ghost story, a murder mystery, a story about race and exploitation. It ends up just being confusing. The story is told entirely from Seth’s point of view, and he really does make for a great voice; his blandness works to his advantage. Even though the novel isn’t actually divided into two parts, my reading experience has divided it into the first half, where things made sense, and the second half, where things were just a mess. The first half was great. It’s all about how Carter and Seth strike up their unlikely friendship, how Carter has this obsession and the money to carry on with it, how Seth is caught up in it all. There’s a lot of talk about blues and jazz, music that I really don’t listen to, but I’ve come to appreciate by reading this novel. In terms of music appreciation, this novel really does a great job. It’s well researched and nicely documented here. The transition between the first half and the second half is really interesting: the story flits from past to present. I actually quite liked the transition, but I was expecting that the chapters recalling the past would explain to me what was happening in the present … and it didn’t. And then the story becomes a mess. There’s a ghost and there are chapters told from perspectives that may not be Seth’s but I don’t know whose voice is telling the story. I found myself getting more and more confused, and hoping that the next chapter would clarify things. By the end, I finally figured everything out. But the whole experience of the second half was like I was on drugs; everything was happening in a very surreal and uncomfortable way and I couldn’t get a handle on it. Whimsical is one thing, but this… this was a whole new beast. I liked the writing style, I liked the different issues the author was trying to cover, but I wish some of the voices had been a bit clearer. I’m still perplexed about my overall feelings for this novel. Because of the great writing style and the fast pace and the different issues covered in this novel, I’m giving it a 3/5 stars. My rating would have been higher if the author had tightened things up a bit and explained things better near the end. But readers be warned: this is not your typical book and you might either love it or hate it … or feel caught in between like me.

Happy reading ~