Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor | Book Review

Rating: 9/10

Format:  Audio-book – Library

I really wish my review could just say “Read It,” and that would be the whole review, because this book wrecks me every time I read it. There’s so much going on, and the writing is so good, and the several romances aren’t painful or fake.

It’s so easy for me to write reviews of books I disliked– I find it much more difficult to articulate why and how a book ends up meaning so much to me. I think part of it is that I struggle with some of the same things Karou and Akiva struggle with– actually I think we all struggle with. The questions of who we are, what’s right and what’s wrong, and whether we deserve love. What does forgiveness truly mean?

It’s unusual to meet new, important characters in a third book, but I never regret the inclusion of Eliza Jones, Grudging Prophet and Biologist. I know a few people who didn’t enjoy her being introduced this far along in the story, but she’s just so awesome, I can’t help but accept her with open arms. I also love the Stellian angels, because they are super-cool and have a fascinating back story. Also, they’re kind of creepy. Who doesn’t love creepy angels, eh?

One of my favorite things Taylor does is make Karou incredibly human. She’s sad, she falters, she looks messy, she’s traumatized. She doesn’t let love-because-love throw her back into Akiva’s arms.

Take note, writers everywhere: waiting three books for a second kiss is good relationship writingIn the first book, Karou and Akiva display some of the hollow romance nonsense– they’re drawn to each other– can’t stop looking at each other, etc etc. However, they don’t proceed to drop literally everything to stay together for no apparent reason. It’s basically my number one pet peeve when characters betray their best friends or families to be with a stranger. Karou and Akiva continue, in the third book, to be way cooler than that.

My tiny critique of this book is about our friend Mik. He’s a cardboard boyfriend. Zusanna is so bright and loud that you almost don’t notice her quiet boyfriend who follows her literally into other worlds. There’s a lot happening in these books, but devotion to his girlfriend isn’t really an actual personality trait. I had to dig for this critique.

Also, the humor in these books is so creative and adorable. Much of it comes from embracing the utter absurdity of their situation, but it seems like things I might actually say, which is always kind of fun.

This book is a stunning conclusion to a trilogy incredibly close to my heart. My only complaint about it really is that it’s well set up for there to be a fourth book, or another series. Honestly if my only real dig is that there isn’t more? Yeah, these are good books. Go read it. Go read it. Go read it.

Subjective Hearts: 4/5

Objective Hearts: 5/5

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Coming Back to Earth | Life Excerpt

When my ex-husband and I married in 2011, we both changed our names to a brand new family name. I didn’t take his name, he didn’t take mine; we took on a brand new name. It was an unusual and flashy name, and we loved it. For fun, let’s pretend our family last name was Rocket, it wasn’t, but Rocket is equally ridiculous and noticeable. We were proud of how egalitarian we were, and that we had found a way to not give preference to one family over the other while sharing a last name.

When we separated, I told my ex we should both go back to our “maiden,” names. The thought of he and his new girlfriend getting married and her having our invented family name made me, and I quote, “want to rage-vomit.” This is what I told him. To my knowledge, his last name is still Rocket. I have no idea if hers is, and frankly, I hope I never find out.

At the time, I didn’t want to change my name because A) Screw that, I’m not admitting defeat, if he won’t change his neither will I, and more importantly, B) I had done the name change thing five years ago, and it was a total pain. I had enough to worry about with moving, getting my beneficiaries changed, getting our divorce and taxes filed, and, you know, building a new life by myself. I cried all the time and often couldn’t fall asleep. I was exhausted. The idea of adding a name change to this process was harrowing. So I stayed a Rocket.

As we separated and divorced, something I had only ever thought of as a fun side effect of our weird name became a burden; it attracts attention. People would often ask, as they had for the past five years, “ooooh, Rocket, what an interesting name, where does that come from?” When we were married I loved explaining how we’d chosen our name and why. Afterward? Not so much.

Ninety-nine times out of 100 I kept my cool and smiled and said “it is neat isn’t it? SPACE, right? Big place,” and went about my day. Though internally, each time it happened I would berate myself for my stupidity. For getting married, for getting divorced, for picking a new name in the first place, for placing my marriage over my nuclear family, for not being strong enough to leave earlier, for, for for…

My therapist has advised I needed to work on more “positive self-talk.”

People kept commenting on it, though.  I tried to be nicer to myself, but the name was still a reminder of our failed marriage. That our brilliant, egalitarian idea of starting our own family name was, in the end, grossly guileless.

I decided I needed to go back to my original family name. I did all the paperwork, paid the Clerk of Courts $80, and officially reclaimed the name I was born with. I’m now going through the long process of updating all of my accounts, licenses, and records.

Holding my court declaration in my hand was so, so freeing.

My name-nightmare wasn’t over yet, though.

Do you know what the most common reaction to “Would you update my last name, please?” is? It’s:

“Congratulations! When did you get married?”

Then I apologetically say “Divorced, actually,” and try desperately not to be rude about it. This is exactly what I wanted never to explain or think about ever again.

Yes, of course, it’s more likely that the 30-year-old woman calling you to update her records with a new name has begun a marriage than ended one. I’m not mad about it. I just sincerely do not need that reminder.

Good news, though. I figured out what I’m going to say to people from now on, when they ask me why I’m changing my name, or when I got married.

“I’m going back to my roots.”

Someday, my last name will not invite commentary on my marital status.

For today, I take comfort in sharing a name with people who love me, and have loved me my whole life. When things go bad, it’s easy to tell who’s in, and who’s out. Unluckily for me, my husband was out. Now, I am too.

Queen of Hearts and Blood of Wonderland by Colleen Oakes | Book Review

Rating: 6/10

Format:  Audio-book – Library

*SPOILERS*

I enjoy Wonderland as a setting. I think there’s a lot you can do with it and it gives a certain amount of freedom to be bizarre. Oakes takes advantage of that with creative environments and lush descriptions. I’m writing about these two together because A) they should have been one book and B) really, I’m not going to read the third one, so may as well save myself the trouble.

Unfortunately, I predicted nearly every plot point in this book, and our protagonist is difficult to like.

Here were some things I knew halfway through the first book:

  1. There’s no way the king is her bio dad.
  2. Cheshire is probably her bio dad.
  3. Faina Baker is Vittiore’s mom.
  4. Wardley is either not into women or not into Dinah.

All of my guesses were confirmed by the end of the second book. I mean, I like feeling smart that I figured out what was going to happen, but this was a bit much.

Dinah is an exhausting protagonist. She’s got an insane temper, she’s selfish, childish, and impulsive. It was so upset by how she treated Vittiore.  This made me kind of bonkers– it’s not Vittiore’s fault she exists. Dinah seems to literally hate her because Vittiore is prettier. She’s your sister, at least in that you both have to deal with the king. I did not predict that she was a straight-up rando. I totally believed that the king cheated on the queen.

Even as we follow her through the twisted wood and into the Tribe, I don’t really feel like she manages to grow all that much. She still does stupid, impulsive things. Like going to the hookah-smoking, poison-blowing, caterpillar a few days before they’re supposed to like– take back Wonderland.

I didn’t necessarily hate this. Most of the things in the book made sense– it was just incredibly predictable.

Also, I read Marissa Meyer’s “Heartless,” last year, and thought it was incredible. Go with that one instead, guys.

Subjective Hearts: 3/5

Objective Hearts: 3/5

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo | Book Review

Rating: 7/10

Format: Paper book – Owned

*Spoilers*

This fascinating, unusual tale came to me from my list of dystopian fiction written by women and Redditgifts! Translated from Finnish, this weird, slightly funny/disturbing book brings us into a world where humans have successfully divided themselves into four genders, with the reproducing members, female eloi and male mascos, privileged in all ways over neuterwomen and minus men. When Vanna, raised and passing as an eloi, finds out her newly-married eloi sister is missing, she turns to an illegal drug to cope, and find the funds to get her back. The drug? Capsaicin. Literally, the Finnish government has outlawed chili peppers in all of their forms.

As a self-professed “capso,” myself (I put crushed red peppers on just about every savory thing I eat from stir fry to mac and cheese to pasta). I understand, a little, how it might have some addictive properties. Especially if every other mood or mind-altering substance is near-impossible to get your hands on. I had to do a little bit of research on the book’s assertions about “your brain on capsaicin.” It turns out, though it isn’t traditionally addictive, the consumption of spicy foods is literally painful, which tricks your brain into thinking you’re literally being burned, which produces those delicious endorphins. Though not addictive in the way nicotine is, it is a singular and heightening experience, and it’s no surprise people chase the high.

I really enjoy reading translated books, but I always feel a sense of otherness and mystery. No matter how familiar or unfamiliar the setting, the writer was thinking in another language. I feel like it definitely comes across here.

I fought with whether or not to discuss the very end of this book, but I decided it is my book diary and I do what I want, so here we go.

We follow Vanna through the whole book, waiting for her to find out what happened to her little sister. When we do find out, well, we don’t? She’s high as a kite on an extremely hot pepper which seems to give her some kind of mind-powers. The implication is that her sister is locked up somewhere horrible and dirty, being used for awful activities. Vanna basically uses chili-induced astral projection to— kill her? The rest of the book is lushly detailed, but this portion is weird, rushed, and plain eerie. I was ready to give this book a really good score until the entire plot wrapped up in three incredibly confusing pages.

I am going to keep eating spicy food though.

Subjective Hearts: 3/5

Objective Hearts: 4/5

 

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest | Book Review

Rating: 8/10

Format: Audio-book – Library

This book was the exact brain-bleach I needed after finishing “My Absolute Darling,” which still has me shuddering. I Am Princess X is interesting, fast-paced, mysterious but not confusing, and it revolves around female friendship. This book is earning a lot of points already!

May and Libby have been best friends forever, as far as they’re concerned. They start writing about Princess X in elementary school, and by the time they’re in middle school, they’ve filled folders, boxes, and notebooks with stories and pictures, stored in Libby’s big closet. Then, Libby dies in a car accident with her mother.

May is devastated, and desperately tries to reclaim the Princess X stories, but they’re gone, along with Libby’s dad. May dreams that Libby survived the car accident, but that’s not possible.

Then, years later, May sees a sticker. It’s her. Unmistakably, it is Princess X. But who made the stickers and patches she starts seeing all over Seattle?

With the help of some adorable and weird new friends, May is determined to find out.

It was a sweet, quick read. I admit to shedding a few tears near the end. This book avoids the Love-Because-Love trope, even though Priest could have easily shoved Trick and May together just for funsies. The kids are smart but are still kids, which is refreshing. May’s loyalty and dedication to Libby is heartwarming and admirable.

While I did predict the ending, I did not predict how we were going to get there, and I wasn’t disappointed. This would be a good book for someone to read with their pre-teen or to give to a 13+ kid, or just read as an adult!  I listened to the audio-book, but there are also illustrations, which I’m going to have to look up!

Subjective Hearts: 4/5

Objective Hearts: 4/5

 

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent | Book Review

Rating: 7/10

Format: Audio-book – Library

Did you ever see the movie “Winter’s Bone,” starring a tiny, brilliant, Jennifer Lawrence? If so, did you find it horrifying and disturbing on a bone-deep level? How about Jennie Melamed’s “Gather the Daughters”? I will tell you right now, My Absolute Darling puts them both to shame with the utter visceral gory wrongness of it. This is a thing I did not know was possible, but that’s where Tallent brings us.

That said, this is the first book in a long time I have lost a significant amount of sleep to finish. It’s captivating, well-crafted, and well-paced. I rooted for Turtle with my whole heart. She’s strong but not Strong(tm) she’s deeply afraid, deeply unsure of herself, and truly struggles the whole way along.  Her story of survival was riveting, and I never knew if she was going to make it to the next page. I was compelled to keep reading despite many misgivings.

Here’s my concern about this book: our author is a handsome white dude. I have never met Tallent; we’re not close friends who share secrets. However, I could hazard a guess no one has ever touched him against his will. There’s an element of sexualization to 14-year-old Turtle and the incredibly graphic rape scenes in this novel that were chilling and disturbing, not only for their content– but that someone had to dream them up, make them flowery and bizarre, and commit them to the page. Add that to the fact that Tallent has referred to Turtle’s father as “a visionary,” in interviews, gives me some incredibly stark pause.

I don’t believe you have to experience something to write respectfully and accurately about it– I read an incredible amount of fantasy and scifi, clearly this is not my belief. However, I honestly don’t know how respectful and accurate this story actually is. I can’t help but feel it’s a akin to gore-porn or rape fetishism. Melamed’s “Gather the Daughters” also involves incest, but it’s delicately done, painful but not gritty, whereas Tallent seems determined to make every horrible moment as vivid and sharp-focused as possible.

I’m torn on his portrayal of Martin, Turtle’s father, in that he’s a textbook abuser (horrifying and rarely done accurately), but also portrayed as a tortured intellectual and dedicated environmentalist. (Sidenote: I’ve never met an environmentalist who enjoys throwing copious beer bottles directly into the field behind their house). That his abuse of Turtle is repeatedly written off to something he can’t seem to help– or is something inevitable– well, it reads like an excuse.

Honestly, there are better reviews of this book from a feminist perspective– I don’t feel I’m being particularly eloquent in my critique here. Just know that while I had trouble putting this book down– it wasn’t just the incestuous, violent content that had my skin crawling.

I’m honestly torn on whether to recommend this book. It was a fascinating read, but wow. I truly enjoyed following Turtle’s story through all kinds of horrifying, dark places. I also kind of hated myself for enjoying it.

This would have been a gorgeous story if it wasn’t so determined to rub salt in every wound it opened. Read at your own risk.

Subjective Hearts:  4/5

Objective Hearts: 3/5

Under Different Stars by Amy A. Bartol | Book Review

Rating: 4/10

Format: E-book – Owned

This book is another case of me getting sucked in by A) An Amazon Kindle Sale and B) a gorgeous cover. Really, I should know better by now, I really should.

Let’s meet our protagonist, shall we? Meet Kricket.

Kricket is ~*Speciallll*~

Also, her life is hard because she is pretty. Yep. That’s a real thing. We’re so out of the zone of understanding any kind of privilege or oppression here it is mind-boggling. She’s got platinum hair, and don’t you dare forget that. Just kidding, you can’t, because it is repeated so many times it made me want to pull my own GOLDEN TRESSES OF MAGIC SILK out of my head. Did I sound ridiculous just then? YEAH, take a note, no one talks about their hair like that.

It’s not long before we find out Kricket is not only Fancy-Beautiful, but a magical truth-senser, and just like, so smart guys. Her brain glows with smartness! Or so say the alien dudes who abduct her without too much trouble despite her being a Strong Female Character(tm).

This book also includes some fundamental scientific misunderstandings that I’m letting go because I am a kind, kind Hufflepuff who doesn’t like gravity that much anyway.

Then we get to my biggest critique of the book. I’m not considering this a spoiler since it happens in the first 1/4th of the story: Soon after she’s abducted by aliens, she starts literally snuggling with their leader. Sitting on his lap, spooning with him, hanging out in her underwear (which the aliens are super into, for some disturbing reason). Of course there is LURVE because Kricket is SPECIAL and BEAUTIOUS. It’s gross.

I have said it before and I will say it again: I am the easiest person in the world to sell a love story to. I’m a damn sucker. However, if your love story doesn’t include developing any kind of trust, rapport, camaraderie, or even familiarity, I will not buy it even if it is on sale. Even if it is BOGO. This is one of the worst cases I’ve ever read.

Also, their leader is a Man From A Can: he’s enormous and muscley, he’s prickly but has a heart of gold. He is every Male Romance Novel man ever. If this book ever becomes a movie, he can be played by any male model taller than 6’3″. He thinks Kricket is perfect, so there’s that.

Here’s another fun fact: this book is littered with nonsense jargon. I can handle some new words for a new culture. It makes sense! Do not throw every single word at me on one page. It makes your book sound like a gibberish mad-lib.

Here is a real sentence from the real book:

“No Etharian can eat an entire venish,” Jax replies, “I’ll lay thirty-two fardrooms on it.”

Now, can I figure out that Etharians are a people, a venish is some kind of large food, and a fardroom is a measure of currency? Surely. My brain might not literally glow with smartness, but I can do context clues. It’s just clunky AF and about as subtle as a tornado siren.

As the plot progresses, we find that the world we got transported to thinks it’s totally cool just to give her away to a rando. Everyone seems to think this is just fine. Kricket does protest, but not as effectively as I think she should have. Her response to this guy telling her he owns him is basically “I don’t need no man!” and brushing him off. Instead of insisting he be kept away from her, or talking to the powers that be about it. So many question marks. She’s almost married off to at least two different dudes.

Upon her arrival to the alien world, she just inserts herself into politics, and the upcoming war. It’s slightly confusing, or maybe I just couldn’t stand every word Kricket ever said.

All of that said, I did finish the book. I just won’t be starting the next one.

Objective Stars: 2/5

Subjective Stars: 2/5