Welcome back to my monthly wrap-up! My reading goal this year is double what it usually is (I'm aiming for 100 books!) because I'm taking advantage of my new, longer commute to get some good Libby listening in. I know that some of these books may be listed for sale on the website, but I want to keep my reviews honest. We may not have the same taste in books and I encourage you to check them out regardless!
I read ten books this month: five physical books and five audiobooks. Let's go!
The Ones We're Meant to Find - Joan He
⬤⬤⬤〇〇 | hardcover | purchase here
My Review: I don't really have many thoughts on this book. I didn't really know what to expect going in and while I think the experience was overall enjoyable, I don't think it left a lasting impression on me. I thought the twist was interesting, but I was also confused for a lot of the book (and I consider myself to be a pretty attentive reader). It felt like Joan He had a lot she wanted to say with what she wrote, but I don't think there was enough depth on any of them to be impactful.
content warnings: classism, death
Come Tumbling Down - Seanan McGuire
⬤⬤⬤〇〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: I really like Jack and Jill's storyline so I'm glad we got a return to it, even though I don't know if it was 100% merited. I think I enjoy the origin stories more than I do the romps with the whole cast of characters, and I would have rather had Kade's or Christopher's origin story than to go back to the Moors. There's also the issue of the corny and unnatural dialogue that I bring up in every review; I'm mostly used to it by now, but every now and then there's a particularly cringy line that throws me off.
I enjoy that these are nice, easy reads for me to knock out on my commute to and from work, and I always like when McGuire does the narration for her own books. I don't find myself getting bored or not wanting to continue this series. I love that these are standalones within the same world so it feels like a fresh slate every time I start a new one.
content warnings: death, body horror, murder
The Dumb House - John Burnside
⬤⬤◐〇〇 | ebook | synopsis here
My Review: Yeah so I think I got more than I bargained for with this one. The plot described in the synopsis was really only the last third of this very short book, and there was a little too much to contend with in the first half to be anything of worth to me. I will say, the prose and the questions about humanity and the soul are beautiful and deep and thought provoking, but I wouldn't ask anyone to read this book to get there.
content warnings: animal cruelty, gore, murder, child abuse, confinement, animal death, violence, medical content, death, child death, blood, abandonment
A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them - Neil Bradbury
⬤⬤⬤◕〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: I thought this book was really interesting and it's one of the first books I've actually taken notes on so I can better remember what I listened to. I thought each of the poisons covered was well explained and researched, and I particularly enjoyed the chemical and biological descriptions of what each poison does to the human body. I also liked the political aspects of some of the chapters, as well as the details of how each poison had been used throughout history.
Admittedly, I wasn't as big on the true crime stories that were told. While I thought they were generally interesting, they seemed to be a little more anecdotal (or more fictitiously fleshed-out) than I would have liked, and it was definitely the element of each section I was least interested in. Maybe for that reason I would try more of a medical/historical book and not one that focused on true crime so much in the future, but I still really enjoyed my listen.
content warnings: murder, death
The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls
⬤⬤◔〇〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: This book is rated super highly, but I saw before reading it that my mom gave it two stars, so I didn't really know what to expect. I don't know if we dislike the book for the same reasons, but I agree with her rating. The disappointing part is that the story of Jeannette's life is tragic and worth sharing. The way it was executed, however, makes this such an unsatisfying read.
I don't doubt that Jeannette is a good journalist because that's exactly how this memoir comes across - cold, objective, and distant. That's not what was needed; I wanted reflection, feelings, insights, not a retelling of her childhood framed as some fairytale novel. It felt like half the story was missing without Jeannette including her emotions at the time or how the events of her childhood made her feel. I was fuming the whole time and she did a good job of retelling her life to elicit those emotions, but I felt like I was more upset than she was writing it.
Speaking of, I think Walls did too good a job of retelling her life to the point where I started to consider her an unreliable narrator. There was too much anecdotal detail; no one remembers stories from when they were three or four, let alone with the descriptions she provides. I don't want to start doubting an author for telling her clearly traumatic life story.
This is a long review but I'm almost done. The nail in the coffin for this whole memoir is the ending. There is zero catharsis. It feels like Walls refuses to fully acknowledge the harm her parents did to her. Hell, the synopsis of this book ends with the phrase " the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family". I'm sorry. Have you seen the trigger warnings I'm adding to this book??? There is no love. This family is not "peculiar", it was abusive. I'm left feeling empty and frustrated with the author, who should not be the target of those kind of emotions after reading a story like this one.
content warnings: alcoholism, bullying, child abuse, domestic abuse, fire/fire injury, sexual assault, racial slurs
Black Sun - Rebecca Roanhorse
⬤⬤⬤⬤◔ | hardcover | synopsis here
My Review: How wonderfully surprising! I didn't know much about this book going in but I had a great time and am looking forward to reading the sequel. I thought the worldbuilding was well done and I really loved the characters and the range of emotions Roanhorse made me feel about each of them. Normally I'm more of a hard magic system girlie, but I enjoyed the ways the author incorporated different types of magic into the world; it really enhanced the story instead of being the focus of it. I also really liked the influence of the precolonial Americas on her worldbuilding and plot, I found it to be unique and compelling.
I will say I felt like Black Sun took me longer to finish than I expected, and I think the book dragged slightly in the middle, but that did little to lessen my enjoyment of an overall wonderful start to a trilogy.
content warnings: murder, violence, death, alcoholism, blood
Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story - Julie K. Brown
⬤⬤⬤⬤〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: This was an important and hard hitting investigative journalism piece about a topic I didn't know a lot about beyond the major headlines. Brown does a great job of delving into three components of Epstein's story: the abuse and nauseating crimes he committed, the lengths various people and groups went to to cover it up and let Epstein off, and Brown's own story at investigating and talking to victims years later. This book was clearly well-researched and it's obvious that Brown is passionate about what she does and the story she's reporting on. I learned a lot and was infuriated the whole time, but I guess I expected nothing less.
At times, the pacing was a little slow and the timeline jumps seemed a little scattered, but I still think this is a great reference for anyone wanting more information on this case.
content warnings: pedophilia, sexual assault, sexual violence, addiction, rape, child abuse, adult/minor relationship, self harm
Glory - NoViolet Bulawayo
⬤⬤◐〇〇 | hardcover | purchase here
My Review: Honestly I feel kind of bad for disliking this one because I think the concept and the message are important. I appreciated the obvious nod to Animal Farm, and sometimes I thought there was nice prose. But this book was a slog if I've ever read one. I had to switch to the audiobook halfway through or I definitely would have DNF'ed it. I found the majority of the prose to be superfluous and overly repetitive (I'm talking literal pages of lists or repeated words). The story was told in such a style that the characters seemed flat and impossible to connect with. There was less satire and humor than I was hoping for.
This book was a definite step outside my comfort zone to fulfill one of my reading challenges of reading a book from a different literary award shortlist each month, and I wish it had paid off more.
content warnings: violence, police brutality, colonization
Song of Silver, Flame Like Night - Amélie Wen Zhao
⬤⬤⬤⬤〇 | hardcover | synopsis here
My Review: I read this book as my pick for my 2023 Popular Book Club challenge, knowing very little about it going in, and I was so pleasantly surprised! I really enjoyed the worldbuilding and our characters, and I thought the mystery of Lan's Seal was pretty compelling. I'm typically not the biggest fan of soft magic systems these days, but I thought this one was executed well, although the Elantian metal magic was too vague and Mistborn-esque for my liking.
I plan on keeping this book and continuing with the series, which says a lot because this book only came out last month and I typically go for standalones over series. Would definitely recommend this one, but maybe wait for the second book to come out first!
content warnings: colonization, racism, death
Across the Green Grass Fields - Seanan McGuire
⬤⬤⬤〇〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: This installment in the series was mostly enjoyable and felt very out of place from the rest of the books. I thought Regan was an interesting character and her world was fun if a little underdeveloped. The prose issues I have with previous books in this series were nonexistent in this one, so that was a nice surprise. This was also a much more fun and lighthearted novel which I appreciated after some of the books I've been reading recently.
This book ultimately felt too underdeveloped for me to have strong feelings. Each important scene was far too short, there was little feeling of atmosphere throughout, the only character that got any real development was Regan. I think the end of the book happened ten pages after the climax. Left feeling very meh, but it was such a fast read I didn't feel like I wasted my time.
content warnings: bullying, kidnapping
That's all, folks! Check back in next month for my February wrap-up!