Welcome back to my monthly wrap-up! I feel like I'm catching back up to speed - I know seven books in a month is still a lot for most people, but I'm still feeling like I'm not reading as much as I want to. Yellowface helped me get back on track though, I blew through that thing in like four days.
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 seven books this month: four physical books and three audiobooks. Let's go!
Immortal Longings - Chloe Gong
I was in the minority of people who didn't love These Violent Delights, so I'm happy to say I liked this book more than her debut! I will also say that this book ended on a pretty big cliffhanger that actually upped my rating by a quarter of a star, although I'm still undecided if I'll continue with the series.
I think this is a very standard fantasy novel. It is far less heavy on the romance than the synopsis and marketing would imply, though it's definitely there, but that was honestly fine for me. I really loved the concept of the magic system and using qi as the essence of the magic. There are so many chances for this series to be a hit as it progresses.
With that being said, I think the weakest part of Gong's books is the worldbuilding, consistently. I didn't feel drawn in or captivated by San-Er, despite the fact that it's a really cool setting. The book centers around politics, but we never get a good idea of what's actually going on; the main antagonist is never characterized as more than a generic Big Bad. I was hoping the games in the synopsis would have the same tension and atmosphere as The Hunger Games, but I never felt like there were any real stakes.
Overall a mixed bag, but the potential is really there on this one.
content warnings: violence, death
Solito - Javier Zamora
⬤⬤⬤⬤◐ | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: I am so grateful for the literary award Storygraph challenge I created, because it introduces me to wonderful books like this that I might not have picked up otherwise. This is a beautifully written, insightful, heartbreaking memoir. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, and I think it adds a lot to the experience; I would highly recommend. I seriously couldn't tell if this book was written in verse or prose, especially with Zamora's narration. I loved it.
This is certainly a long story, and parts of it felt a little slow, but you can't really critique how someone's real life played out, pacing-wise. The high-stakes moments were tense and elicited physical reactions from me, which I always commend when a book is able to do so. I loved the inclusions of so much Spanish, and I thought the choice to tell the narrative from the POV of Zamora as a child with no input from his adult self really enhanced the plot.
This is a wonderful book. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
Mister Magic - Kiersten White
⬤⬤⬤⬤〇 | e-ARC | synopsis here
My Review: Thanks to Del Ray and NetGalley for providing me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feedback are my own.
What a hit from Kiersten White! I read Hide last year and loved the concept but not the execution, so I am beyond thrilled to find her newest release one of my favorite horror reads this year. Horror books don't really scare me ever, but I found myself contemplating if I should be reading this one late at night, with some of the scenes in the house. The ambiance is great, I enjoyed our cast of characters and their relationships to each other, and I appreciated the religious/deconstruction metaphors and undertones that were present if one wanted to contemplate them, but not a central element of the story.
My biggest downside to this book - the only downside, really - was that I had no idea what the hell was going on during the climax of the story. I got enough out of it to get by, but descriptions felt a little confusing there. I also feel like there were some elements that weren't wrapped up or explained as well as I would have liked, but that might not be true upon a reread.
If you're into the concept of the Candle Cove creepypasta meets Stephen King's It, I think you'd really dig this one.
The Art Thief - Michael Finkel
⬤⬤⬤◕〇 | audiobook | synopsis here
My Review: I enjoyed listening to this book and thought the narrator did a good job overall. The story this follows is very interesting and I enjoyed how the events and hard facts were expanded upon to create a more detailed story and better flow and atmosphere. I think that was a good choice here even though this book is nonfiction and may come across to some as reducing credibility.
I can tell the author did a lot of research and interviews to write this book, and I wish it was longer. The pacing felt too fast at times, and I have to wonder how much of Finkel's interview and research time went underutilized. If this report was already slightly dramatized to give a more novelistic approach, I wish it had been taken further to give us more depth on the tension during the crimes, or the relationship between Stéphane and Anne-Catherine (arguably one of the most compelling plot threads).
Don't get me wrong, I really liked this book and got through it quickly. I just wish there had been more.
content warnings: a
Whalefall - Daniel Kraus
⬤⬤⬤⬤◔ | e-ARC | synopsis here
My Review: Thanks to Atria and NetGalley for providing me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feedback are my own.
This is a book with a totally unique concept that I've been excited to read ever since I was approved for it on NetGalley. It's one of the few books I'll say I really liked but will absolutely never read again. I even hesitate to call it horror apart from its setting, which is absolutely nasty and stomach churning (no pun intended). This book is existential, reflective, emotional and sad, and very hard-hitting. It examines a heartbreaking father-son relationship amidst a devastating survival story, and it does so very well.
I loved the metaphors and the role Jay's father plays in being a medium for conversation. Seriously, most of this book is so good. The only downside I have is due to the slight feeling of plot convenience with some of the things going on within the whale's stomach, but it wasn't anything book-ruining for me.
Overall, I read that I would certainly recommend, if you can come to terms with the nauseating setting.
content warnings: gore, body horror, animal death, death of parent, alcoholism, pandemic, terminal illness
Yellowface - R.F. Kuang
My Review: It has been SO LONG since I've read a book where I loved to hate the main character, but R.F. Kuang is here to satiate that feeling. It's pretty clear that this is a cynical meta take on the publishing industry in which Kuang expresses a lot of her personal opinions, but it also gives you a lot t think about. There are some interesting insights provided and I think the themes of who gets to tell what stories and racism in the industry and pre-selected bestsellers can all lead to some deep conversations.
I'm never a big fan of when authors use popular / real world events, people, or media in their book. I think that specifically naming different social media platforms, popular authors, or presidents inherently date what could otherwise be a more timeless work. I understand with this book that that might not be possible to fully avoid, but it is a literary ick of mine. I think in this case, as a few others have mentioned, it turns this book from being fully about publishing discourse to a lot of commenting of the Twitterverse.
All in all, a real good book, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Kuang's works!
content warnings: racism, cultural appropriation, death
Dead Eleven - Jimmy Juliano
My Review: This story is really unique and I think the concept was executed well. I listened to this as an audiobook and I thought the cast of narrators was great and added to the story. Dead Eleven does something I absolutely adore within a novel, and that's including other forms of media to tell another storyline or add in additional information. This is done through letters and various audio transcripts, and I think these help make the tension feel more immediate to the reader.
I wish there had a been a little more character development, and there were moments where the writing style felt a little too reminiscent of a Creepypasta (which makes sense, since the author is popular on the r/noslee subreddit). I think the buildup and premise of this book was fantastic, but the ending didn't do it for me as much as I would have liked.
Am definitely interested in seeing what else Juliano puts out and would love to read more from him in the future!
content warnings: grief, child death, death
What was your favorite book you read this month? Let me know!