Book Review: The Midnight Library

I definitely made my best books of 2020 post too early – this is now one of my favourite books of all time. It has the kind of message that I need to read every year so I think this one will be on the read yearly list from now on. Anyway, I cried, I laughed, I cried some more. Interesting concept, perfect message.

Star rating: 5 stars

I’d definitely read the trigger warnings before picking this book up – it starts with the protagonist, Nora Seed, attempting suicide. She ends up in The Midnight Library – the in between. There she can choose any regret she’s ever had and undo it to see what her life would be like.

This review is hard. Nora explores these parallel worlds where she made different choices – in one she’s an Olympic Swimmer, in another a famous rock star, in another a scientist on Svalbard. Some are less dramatically different from her root life. But even with her successes, she never really feels whole. I can find similar regrets in my own life, some big, some small. In some ways it was overwhelming thinking about all the small moments that could have changed my life in some way.

Through the alternative lives, Nora discovers what she is doing to make a difference to people in her root life. There’s some really beautiful moments, I cried a lot. To quote a friend, Matt Haig really did say live. I definitely have a different perspective on life now, and on my own choices. I’ll definitely read this book in any existential crisis from now on.

Have you read The Midnight Library? What did you think?

Book Review: The Ever Cruel Kingdom

Rin Chupeco is fantastic. Like, this second book of The Never Tilting World duology is wonderful – the heartbreak, the characters, the fact there’s not one complex mother-daughter relationship but two. I always worry that endings will not be satisfying especially after a great first book but this one knocks it out of the park and more.

This review will contain spoilers for The Never Tilting World so I’d advise you go away now and pick up the first book!

Star rating: 5 stars

So, at the end of book one Odessa and Haidee finally learn of each other’s existence – and meet for the first time, enabling the world to turn again. But all is not quite right with the world, as the demons of the cruel kingdom keep escaping.

The character development continues as Odessa learns to deal with what the galla took away from her in exchange for her gifts, as Haidee returns to the deserts around the Sun City, this time bringing her sister. Lan is still recovering from the horrors that happened to her before the first book. Arjun has brought Haidee home with him, and has to deal with the fallout when darkness returns to the desert for the first time since The Breaking.

Another set of twins unite, Asteria and Latona also learn that the other twin lived. The relationship between Asteria, Latona, Haidee and Odessa is explored in much more detail as the mothers become and even larger part of the story.

Romance is still present between our leading couples and I really appreciated the lack of drama that came with it. Sexuality is treated so well in this book – there’s even an asexual character and nobody questions how she feels (though it is only mentioned briefly).

I can’t say much, but what I can say is that the ending is fantastic and carries with it all of that Rin Chupeco bitter-sweetness. It is both heart-breaking and satisfying, and in my opinion is a perfect conclusion to a story that really did pull at my heartstrings.

Overall, a more than solid final book – Rin Chupeco does it again!

Book Review: The Never Tilting World

Hello everyone! Today I finished my re-read of The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco. After really loving The Bone Witch trilogy I was so excited to see what Rin would do next and this really does not disappoint! It’s described as Mad Max and Frozen combined which is such a weirdly fitting description.

Star rating: 5 stars

So, what’s the book about? It has four points of view – they are Lan, Arjun, Odessa and Haidee.

Odessa and Haidee are twins on opposite sides of the world – Odessa living in the rainy darkness and Haidee in the scorching dry of the desert. Neither know of each other’s existence as something happened with their mothers in the past to cause The Breaking of the world.

Lan is a Catseye who is charged with protecting Odessa. She used to be a ranger, and was the only one who returned from her previous expedition meaning she is suffering with a lot of survivor’s guilt. Arjun lives in the desert, getting by on scraps with the other orphans that live with him. But one day he meets the young Goddess Haidee and his life changes forever.

The book follows Lan and Odessa on their journey to The Abyss, with a mirroring journey taking place for Haidee and Arjun. I loved each and every character and their point of view, but if I had to pick a favourite it would be Haidee. Rin really masters the balance between character development and action in this book as it blends elemental fantasy and science-fiction to build a futuristic world. I loved that the world-building mixed technology with magic.

Overall, another hit from Rin and I’m going straight into the sequel next. Have you read any Rin Chupeco before? What did you think? I highly recommend her books.

Book Review: The Bone Season

Sorry it’s been a while again! I have an interview for the job I applied for on Tuesday so the prep is taking most of my brain space right now. I did manage to sneak in reading The Bone Season again! It’s been a long time since I read this book and I was interested to see what adult me would think of it.

The Bone Season is an urban fantasy – a genre that usually isn’t my favourite but I really enjoyed this book. There is a lot of info dumping at the beginning as part of the world-building and world history, but once you get over this hurdle it is a really fast paced, amazing book!

Star rating: 4 stars

Paige Mahoney is clairvoyant – unnatural, as the Scion government would call her. She’s not just any clairvoyant though, she’s a rare dreamwalker operating in a small gang called The Seven Seals under the notorious Jaxon Hall.

One day her luck runs out and she thinks she’s been captured by Scion, only to end up in Oxford, a town that was previously thought to be wiped out. Instead, it’s been invaded by an alien species (well, more supernatural than alien), who made a deal with Scion to be provided with clairvoyants to help them fight a threatening invading species.

What I love about this book is the romance. Honestly, it’s so, so good and definitely kept my attention the whole way through. It’s a master / apprentice kind of relationship which I love, and also paranormal! Love that. The guy in question is Warner, who there is a lot more to than there seems at the beginning. The scenes where Warner and Paige interact really bring this book alive.

The plot is very fast paced after the initial info-dumping which meant I finished this in less then 24 hours. I have read the sequel, The Mime Order, before too, but it has been so long and I’m really excited to get to it next!

Have you read any Samantha Shannon books? If you like high fantasy more, I highly recommend The Priory of the Orange Tree, it’s one of my favourites!

Book Review: The Vanishing Half

Literary fiction is usually either a big hit or a big miss for me. Fortunately, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is one of the best books I’ve read lately. A family drama spanning decades, this is a historical fiction with a diverse cast of characters with great characterisation. The central characters’ individual journeys are incredibly gripping and provide a haunting social commentary.

Star rating: 5 stars.

Desiree and Stella are twin sisters growing up in the small village of Mallard in Louisiana. Desiree is energetic and restless, where as Stella is reserved. They are often described as two halves of the same person. Desperate to escape their small town life, the girls run away together to New Orleans, starting a new life in their late teens. One day, Stella vanishes, and Desiree is left alone with no idea where her twin has disappeared to.

We follow Desiree and Stella as their lives diverge, and the lives of their daughters, cousins who do not know of each other’s existence. Desiree marries a Black man, Stella pretends to be white and marries a rich white man. Jude is Black, Kennedy is white. The daughters have two different upbringings, both completely different to their mothers and each other.

Stella’s choice to live her life as passing as white gives her many privileges, and her daughter Kennedy the same. But she is lonely and without her family, stuck as the housewife to a boring white guy when all she really wants is to go to college as she was unable to go when she was younger. Kennedy dropped out of college to pursue acting, much to Stella’s frustration.

Desiree’s husband beats her so one night she takes her daughter Jude and they run away. Returning to Mallard, Desiree sees her mother for the first time in years. It was only meant to be temporary but years later she’s still there, and Jude grows up in a town where her dark skin is judged and hated. Jude escapes this life, really making something of herself against the odds.

The best thing about this book is the contrasting stories and characters – all so well developed and individual. I was gripped from start to finish despite its slow pace. If you like books that really delve into what motivates and drives characters then this is a contemporary fiction for you.

Book Review: Piranesi

Hi guys! Sorry it’s been it’s been a little while I’ve been a bit tired! But I finally finished another book that I felt like I could review – and that is none other than Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. I’ve not read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell yet, so this is my first book by Susanna. I am grateful it’s a much shorter book than her previous that’s for sure!

In the books I’ve read, the only book similar to Piranesi is The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. Both books present a different world accessible to only those that know how in an ordinary, modern world. Piranesi is short, but packs in a mysterious story full of strange events and puzzles for the reader to figure out. I’m not sure any of the revelations in the book came as a huge twist or surprise for me, but I enjoyed the book a lot.

Star rating: 5 stars

Piranesi is alone in a House – not an ordinary house, but a House with lots of different rooms that span kilometres. His only company is The Other, another man who Piranesi sees a few times a week. The House is full of many statues and sometimes the Tides sweep in and Piranesi has to run for cover and hope he doesn’t drown.

For a concept that’s quite abstract, I found the book to be very accessible. Susanna’s writing is very smooth and addictive in its descriptiveness. Piranesi exudes innocence and although said to be in his thirties, his narration (through journal entries) is very child like. I loved reading how he put his own story together page by page.

There are a small number of characters in the book, which I enjoyed because it gave me something to focus on in a bizarre world with a strange plot. The world itself would have been extraordinarily unique if I hadn’t already read The Starless Sea. It was interesting to see Piranesi use his incredible knowledge of the House, and to watch his interactions with The Other Develop.

Overall this was an intriguing book that I’m glad I picked up. It’s short but takes a while to read due to the complexity and pace, but I’d recommend it if you like abstract ideas with a little magic thrown in.

Book Review: Q by Christina Dalcher

Having read Christina Dalcher’s Vox and finding it a solid 3 star book, I was curious to see what her next thriller would be like. This dystopian future set in the US segregates people by Q number – a number attached to them their whole lives once they’ve started school. It’s a thrilling not too unrealistic book, that really played on my test anxiety that’s for sure.

Star rating: 4 stars

The book centres on Elena, a teacher at a top tier ‘silver’ school for the kids with high Q numbers. She’s married to Malcom, high up in the government education department and a big supporter of the Q number system. They have two daughters, Anne is the oldest, she fits in at her Silver school and succeeds in the system, and Freddie, who is struggling at her middle tier green school and suffers from anxiety.

The chapters are divided between now and then – Elena’s present day experiences where Freddie is demoted to a Yellow school and has to be taken away, and Elena’s own experiences of school when the Q system was first being dreamed up. I really liked this format as it showed how Elena had grown into a more empathetic adult, where as as a teen she was just bitter that she wasn’t one of the popular kids and happy when their roles were reversed when good test scores got you amazing benefits.

As with any system controlled by a corrupt government, the Q numbers enable the officials to manipulate the figures. Kids who were in Silver schools end up leaving for the big Yellow boarding schools. The Yellow schools aren’t what they seem, and Elena is about to find out just what happens when you let your Q number drop too low.

Elena’s family dynamics are interesting – Malcom practically ignores Freddie because she isn’t as academic as Anne. She’s 9 years old and already her life is determined by every test she takes. Elena has to make some really critical choices when it comes to her daughters and it was really hard to see what she had to do.

Overall this is a terrifying book with a lot of scary details. I would absolutely hate to live in this world, with the pressure to be perfect always haunting you. If you like weird alternative futures, this will be an interesting book for you to read.

Book Review: Vita Nostra

I had never heard of this book until someone mentioned it in my book club. After A Deadly Education I had a magic school hole in my heart, so thought I’d give this novel a go – a translation from Russian. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was drawn in to a one-sitting read that I just had to finish before I went to sleep! Full of existential despair, I felt like I was reading a really complicated mathematical proof and if I stopped I’d lose the plot.

Star rating: 5 stars

Sasha Samokhina is on holiday when she is first approached by a stranger, Farit Kozhennikov . He tasks her with strange challenges with no explanation, such as swimming in the sea at 4am and running laps around the park. At the end of the summer, he tells Sasha she has been accepted into the Institute for Special Technologies, a school out in the sticks that nobody has ever heard of. With no other college acceptances after failing the entrance exam, Sasha convinces her Mom and new boyfriend to let her go.

The Institute is unlike any other school. Sasha has strange teachers that can be harsh and cruel, is set weird homework to try and read and memorise gibberish, and the second year students are all more than a bit peculiar. Sasha makes friends and enemies among her fellow classmates, including romances. But she works hard despite the confusion, making progress that impresses her teachers and elevates her above the rest of the class.

The world-building is very strange – and the characters even stranger. The meaning is open to interpretation which I love, I could think about this book for a good while. I enjoyed Sasha’s personality, enjoyed the mystery of the world, enjoyed its outlook on what it means to exist.

Without a doubt the book is dark, and very abstract in its nature. I can understand why some people might finish it and be like whaaaat??? that’s for sure. But for me it was addictive and a fascinating read, and I can’t wait to read it again just to see what my second take on that ending will be.

Book Review: Jade War

A stunning, action packed sequel to Jade City. As you can see from my previous review, Jade City is one of my all-time faves, so I was wary of Jade War right from the beginning. Middle books can be hit or miss, but Jade War does not disappoint. This review will contain Jade City spoilers so if you haven’t read it yet I wouldn’t read any more because the plot twists really do make the book.

Star rating: 5 stars

SPOILERS FOR JADE CITY AFTER THE COVER PICTURE

When Fonda Lee killed of Kaul Lan, a protagonist, in about the middle of the first book in the series, I knew this was going to be a wild ride of a series. Jade War re-unites us with Hilo as Pillar, his wife Wen, his sister Shae theWeather Man, Anden the cousin who gave up his Jade and Bero the youth who wants nothing more than Jade of his own.

Jade War expands upon the world even more beyond Kekon. Anden is in Espenia, studying and living with a Kekonese family. Between Shae’s knowledge of the country from her own time there and Anden’s presence, the ties between No Peak and Espenia have never been more complicated – or more important. I really enjoyed seeing Anden integrating with the small Kekonese community in the city of Port Massy. He sees an approach to being in a clan and using Jade different from everything he has known – partly as Jade possession by civilians in Espenia is illegal. Anden even gets a little bit of romance in his life, which was really cute.

Hilo becomes a father, which really highlights his character growth over the course of the books. Wen is less keen for a huge family, and is eager to keep up her secret clan work that Hilo doesn’t know about. Wen is one of my favourite characters in the book and I’m glad we still got to see the friendship between Shae and she. Wen doesn’t let being a stone eye stop her from doing everything she can to support and protect her family which I really admire.

Shae has a romantic plotline herself, but I think her main arc focusses on how much she is willing to push Hilo’s boundaries and operate without asking for his permission. In this book we see a more fierce side to Shae, alluded to from her reflections on her time at the academy and her reaction to Lan’s death in Jade City. I like how Shae is so different from her brother Hilo, but this book showed they’re not actually that different after all in places.

Even though the bulk of the book is No Peak countering smuggling operations and the different threats that brings to Janloon, The Mountain is an ever-present threat that Fonda Lee doesn’t let us forget. The war between the clans is more covert and underhanded than before, but it still exists, underlying most of the plot.

Overall, this is a great sequel that starts and ends with chapters from Bero’s perspective, who comes a full circle. It is well written, fast-paced, and my only criticism is that sometimes it’s hard to understand how much time has passed between chapters. I honestly can’t wait for Jade Legacy, which will be one of my most anticipated books of 2021.

Book Review: Jade City

Jade City is without a doubt the best urban fantasy I’ve ever read. It has plenty of action (well written too!) and knows how to pack an emotional punch. The characters are by far the strongest aspect of the story but the world-building and plot are really strong too. If you’re looking for a book that will have you on the edge of your seat and break your heart more than once, then this is the story for you. Family dynamics, organised crime and a whole lot of loveable Green Bones, Jade City has a place in my heart.

Star rating: 5 stars (what else?)

The story centres on the Kaul family – Green Bones warriors that can wear Jade that lead the No Peak Clan. Jade is a powerful substance which some people can use to gain super human abilities to varying degrees of success. The story follows three siblings: Lan the Pillar – the leader of No Peak, Hilo the Horn – the leader of the warriors and Shae, the sibling who gave up her Jade to pursue a foreign education but is now returning to Janloon. Anden is the youngest (adopted by the Kauls) and is attending the academy for warriors.

The family dynamics in this book are some of the best – each character brings something else to the story. We see into their insecurities, experience their decisions whether good or bad and get each character’s perspective on the others. I really enjoyed Anden’s chapters on the warrior school, Lan’s determination to do the right thing, Hilo’s fierce love for his family and Shae’s intellect. Not one point of view was disappointing and that includes Bero, the youth without Jade who wants nothing more than to experience what the Green Bones have.

The central antagonist is the Mountain Clain, the biggest Janloon Clan who pose a threat to No Peak. When tensions rise, street war breaks out and the reader is sent on such a wild ride.

Overall this is an excellent start to the series and I can’t believe it’s Fonda Lee’s first adult novel because it’s beyond amazing. I can’t wait to read Jade War next.

Have you read Jade City? If you like gritty stories with lots of cool fighting, this is definitely a book you should pick up soon.