Review: Unearthed by Marc Mulero

Unearthed by Marc Mulero

Published: July 26, 2020 by Amazon CreateSpace

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Synopsis: I wish the global quake had buried me. It would be easier, then, to cope.

My love? Murdered. My family? Betrayed. Friends? Fallen.

And all that in the name of the Hiezers.

My name is Blague. Just Blague. My surname was stripped the day I was marked for exile. Now I wander in the sands of the forgotten continents, scraping by among the rest of the outcasts. There are others like me, out here. Capable minds and able bodies, all scorned in one way or another by our oppressors. Every one of us has witnessed that same terrible scene: screaming citizens as they’re bagged and dragged off into labs, intended for some experimental purpose. We dare not act out, of course. Not under the watchful gaze of the Hiezers. Not beneath their lashing whips, where one false move could be our last.

It’s only in the shadows where we can plot. Tactically. Quietly. Gathering munitions until the time is right. I know something is amiss about the chemical they’ve used to brand our skin. It burns hot when we fight. So I’ll use it… I’ll use it, and light the fire that defines the legacy of an entire rebellion, even if it kills me.

By the time this is over, I’m going to make them wish they’d buried me too…

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley!***

I really wanted to like this book. The premise sounds interesting, the synopsis piqued my interest, and the cover is awesome. I really tried to love this book. But I just couldn’t. I made it about 75% if the way through but then just lost interest.

None of the characters really made a dent for me at all. Blague was incredibly dull and he had no reason to be. He should have been a really compelling character. But all he did was quiet and brooding, never saying much, then he’d come out with a rousing speech and that was about it. None of the other characters felt authentic to me. They didn’t feel like real people and they didn’t feel like the personalities they were given fit them at all.

There were a lot of great ideas in this book and I wanted to look forward to where it was going. The writing needs a lot of work though. The sentences are very clunky and there’s so many similes and metaphors stuffed in there that I had no idea what was going on most of the time. And other times there was way too much description, so much that it confused the situation. In a fight scene a character is described as having a mohawk, and I get reminded about his hair style no less than four times in the scene. I got it. I know. I didn’t forget. I could tell that there was a really good idea in there somewhere, but the abundance of simile and metaphor and flowery language just obliterated the meaning of the words.

There also wasn’t much explaining of this world at all. What is a sin? How did the world get this way? What exactly is the social structure here? Who are the ruling class? Why? I feel like we spent so much time on fighting scenes that we didn’t actually explain this world and that’s a problem because I needed to live in it for a time.

I also don’t really see how the first part of the book related to the second part of the book. Maybe it all came together at the end, but I just couldn’t get that far. If the author decided to get some serious editing and rework this and publish it again, I would give it another shot for sure.

Audiobook Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Published: September 15, 2020 by Macmillan Audio

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Synopsis: Kira Navárez dreamed of life on new worlds.

Now she’s awakened a nightmare.

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan Audio!***

I wanted to read this book so much. The cover is breathtaking. The author is renowned. The synopsis is striking. I wanted this book more than any book I have wanted in quite a long time. It didn’t disappoint.

Kira was a great narrator to take us through this tale. She studies alien lifeforms for a living. Popping around to different galaxies to discover what she can about different lifeforms that they run across. What she finds on this trip is not at all what she expects and it unwittingly unleashes a war that threatens to consume all of humanity. But what does it even mean to be human after what she discovers anyway? I really loved her narration and watching her evolve through the situation. She reacted much like anyone would in similar circumstances, which is something I always appreciate in a novel character.

The world in this book was just stunning. I don’t think I’ve ever read a world that was more thoroughly and entertainingly rendered. The history, dynamics, politics, all of it was there. I was quickly transported into this universe and I loved it.

The biggest problem with this book was that it was just so long. The print version is 880 pages and the audiobook is over 32 hours long. I loved the story but after awhile it all started to blend together a bit. I was no longer clear what exactly the goal was anymore. And that’s when it started to drag for me. So while I loved this story as a whole, it was just too long.

Review: The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

Published: September 3, 2019 by Harper

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Synopsis: Rósa has always dreamed of living a simple life alongside her Mamma in their remote village in Iceland, where she prays to the Christian God aloud during the day, whispering enchantments to the old gods alone at night. But after her father dies abruptly and her Mamma becomes ill, Rósa marries herself off to a visiting trader in exchange for a dowry, despite rumors of mysterious circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death.

Rósa follows her new husband, Jón, across the treacherous countryside to his remote home near the sea. There Jón works the field during the day, expecting Rósa to maintain their house in his absence with the deference of a good Christian wife. What Rósa did not anticipate was the fierce loneliness she would feel in her new home, where Jón forbids her from interacting with the locals in the nearby settlement and barely speaks to her himself.

Seclusion from the outside world isn’t the only troubling aspect of her new life — Rósa is also forbidden from going into Jón’s. When Rósa begins to hear strange noises from upstairs, she turns to the local woman in an attempt to find solace. But the villager’s words are even more troubling—confirming many of the rumors about Jón’s first wife, Anna, including that he buried her body alone in the middle of the night.

Rósa’s isolation begins to play tricks on her mind: What — or who — is in the attic? What happened to Anna? Was she mad, a witch, or just a victim of Jón’s ruthless nature? And when Jón is brutally maimed in an accident a series of events are set in motion that will force Rósa to choose between obedience and defiance — with her own survival and the safety of the ones she loves hanging in the balance.

Review: I picked up this book on a whim. I found the cover spectacular and the synopsis piqued my interest. In all my years I don’t believe that I have read too many books set in Iceland. 1600’s, newly Christianized, Iceland to boot. This caught my attention and made me want to read it.

I loved the premise of this story. Iceland as a whole is caught in this transitional period of being newly Christianized but a lot of the community are finding it difficult to give up the old pagan ways. So while they know that their local pastor will accuse them of witchcraft for it, they can’t seem to let it to entirely. That makes for a very interesting scenario. Rosa is one of those people. She has embraced the new Christian faith but still finds a lot of comfort in the runes and sagas from her youth. Her father has passed away and in an effort to ensure that her mother doesn’t follow him to the grave she makes an advantageous marriage to Jon.

Jon was an all around interesting character. He doesn’t say much but toward the end of the book we get a few snippets of his narration of the story. He was also caught. He grew up poor. He scraped and scrabbled his way to being the leader of his village. Unfortunately that means he is that the heart of every rumor and his name is on the lips of every troublemaker. And the local pastor doesn’t like him too much and so is very eager to find something he can pin on him.

These two were not my favorite however, that honor is reserved for Petur. He is Jon’s right hand man. No one is quite clear on why he’s so committed to protecting Jon but he is an unstoppable force. Rumors have abounded about him since he first stumbled out of the frozen woods as a child. Everyone seems to want to hate him. He was so funny and witty. And tough as nails. I loved him endlessly.

The actual plot was a good one. A young woman suddenly finds herself living with her new husband, whom she doesn’t really know, and quickly finds herself often alone. Jon is often traveling or out in the fields, leaving her alone in the house for extended periods. She thinks she hears noises. Scrabbling, scraping, sometimes whispering from the attic. But she can’t investigate because Jon keeps it locked and has forbidden her to go up there. It quickly sparks her paranoia about the rumors regarding the fate of Jon’s first wife. Could it be her in the attic? Her ghost perhaps? Some spectre coming to haunt Rosa for stupidly agreeing to this marriage? It was wonderful.

My biggest complaint was Rosa’s character. While I understood her fear initially, eventually it started to wear on me. She kept flinching away from Jon like a beaten animal and didn’t dare speak in his presence. She took every single thing that he said in a threatening manner, even when it wasn’t clear that there was any threatening intent. And he had never even been physically intimidating to her and never actually hurt her in any way. So initially the fear of an unknown husband with a ferocious reputation made sense. But as time went on I couldn’t felt thinking “Wtf are you flinching from woman? He has never done a thing to you. Grow some ovaries, gods.”

The other thing that brings this book down for me was the author’s note at the end. I was curious to read it because I wondered where the author got her inspiration from for this story. It was so wonderfully rich and unique. I know there are some who will find it unfair for me to add a judgment of the book on the author’s note but it aggravated me too much to overlook. The author signs off on her author’s note saying that she identifies with Rosa….and experiences similar struggles. That she has had the experience of quaking in fear because of the presence of a man, felt powerless to his authority. She hoped that her sons wouldn’t grow up to feel entitled to the world because they are men. And hopes for a day when her nieces don’t have to “put on their armor just to leave the house.” What the actual fuck is this woman talking about? Is she legitimately comparing the power dynamics in gender between the United States in 2020 and 1686 Iceland? She feels it’s an apt comparison between her irrational fear of a man’s very presence and a society where the mark of a good husband is that he doesn’t beat you? I have never had to put on armor to leave the house, not once in all my life. And hopefully she’s not raising her sons to be jerks, or else they’ll inevitably end up as jerks. I found it so tiresome. It detracted from the book and left a bad taste in my mouth.

Review: Hella by David Gerrold

Hella by David Gerrold

Published: June 16, 2020 by DAW

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Synopsis: A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you DAW and NetGalley!***

I went into this book with a mixture of expectations and unfortunately it didn’t really meet any of them. On the one hand, I would have been happy if this was a B-movie style Creature Feature. But it wasn’t. And on the other hand it comes to me from David Gerrold. I have not read Gerrold before but I know him from being the writer of the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek and writing The Man who Folded Himself. A highly acclaimed writer in the sci-fi landscape and so I would have been happy with a wonderful sci-fi adventure from a practiced hand. Unfortunately it wasn’t that either.

The world was built in a convincing way, even if the descriptions were not that great. I liked hearing about the trees that weren’t really trees, and the creatures so large that they have their own small ecosystem. The settlers on this planet seem to have a structure similar to that of the show Stargate. Half military, half scientific exploration. You have the head of the expedition who is called Captain and there is largely a military like structure to a lot of the colonists activities. And they are there for the express purpose of conducting scientific exploration of their new home to figure out how to exist there with minimal impact on the natural environment. Why then are we naming things “bug-things” or “bat-things.” Our narrator, Kyle, is highly scientifically minded and he tells us that all of these things have scientific names…..so why are we calling them stupid things? They even have a giant salt flat that is called, no joke, “Oh my God!” because that’s all anyone could think of saying when they discovered it. It was really lame and annoying. I mean, they named the planet Hella because everything is “hella big”. Eye roll.

Kyle was a great character. He has some kind of “syndrome” that they never actually name but many have speculated is supposed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He was volatile and aggressive as a young child and so got a chip implanted in his brain to help him suppress his emotions. I loved how Kyle transitioned and changed throughout this book. He starts as a boy who feels that he doesn’t fit in and the only person he can talk to is his brother, Jaime. He relies on Jaime for just about everything. Throughout the events of the book Kyle decides to explore his emotions and build himself a more expansive support system. It was really great character development.

The author also introduced us to some really intriguing concepts in this society that I really wanted to learn more about, the government structure of the colony and the evolution of how society understands sexuality and gender. The government seemed to be a ruling committee that is guided by their Charters in making decisions for the good of the whole colony. I wanted to know what the ramifications would be when one of the committee decided to put themselves over the needs of the colony. Unfortunately we never really spend much time on that.

This is also a society that can change gender at will. Kyle’s brother, Jaime, was born a girl and decided to change. Kyle was also born a girl and decided to change because Jaime did. Later Kyle and his boyfriend have a discussion about whether the boyfriend would prefer Kyle to be a girl and he’d change back. It seemed that most people had changed genders at least once and technology has evolved to a point that the change can fully make you the other gender. Kyle’s mom was a girl, switched to be a boy for awhile, then went back to being a girl so she could experience pregnancy and childbirth. But it just seemed so casual. People are changing out of curiosity, just because, pressure from romantic interests, etc. But we never actually met someone who wanted to change their gender because they wanted to be their authentic self. It was more like choosing a new hair color. I wanted to see some depth to that discussion, but that never comes either.

This book was also way too long. At 448 pages I didn’t expect to be bored. But literally nothing happens for about 260 of those pages. The last half is very action packed. But literally NOTHING happens before then. Nothing. So overall, the whole thing left me feeling underwhelmed.

Audiobook Review: Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault

Mill Town: Reckoning With What Remains by Kerri Arsenault

Published: September 1, 2020 by Macmillan Audio

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Synopsis: Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most townspeople, including three generations of Arsenault’s own family. Years after she moved away, Arsenault realized the price she paid for that seemingly secure childhood. The mill, while providing livelihoods for nearly everyone, also contributed to the destruction of the environment and the decline of the town’s economic, moral, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.”

In Mill Town, Arsenault undertakes an excavation of a collective past, sifting through historical archives and scientific reports, talking to family and neighbors, and examining her own childhood to present a portrait of a community that illuminates not only the ruin of her hometown and the collapse of the working-class of America, but also the hazards of both living in and leaving home, and the silences we are all afraid to violate. In exquisite prose, Arsenault explores the corruption of bodies: the human body, bodies of water, and governmental bodies, and what it’s like to come from a place you love but doesn’t always love you back.

A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and a moral wake-up call that asks: what are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

Review: ***I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Macmillan Audio and Netgalley!***

I’m not entirely sure where this book went wrong for me. Maybe I am not the right audience for it. Perhaps I should have read it versus listened to it. Perhaps I had the wrong expectations. I can’t say for sure but it was just boring.

The author of the book did the audiobook and that was the wrong choice. The entire book is read in deadpan. There is absolutely no life in it, no passion, no excitement. I was bored to tears listening to it and struggled to focus on what was being said.

The book had some interesting pieces to it. And I could tell that the author has a lot of strong feelings about how the story of her hometown relates to a larger picture of environmental irresponsibility, lack of corporate accountability and the deceit of the general public. Unfortunately that is way too large of a scope for a single book. So while the author makes some interesting points about these topics there is no depth or exploration of the idea.

There are also a LOT of tangents in this book. All of the material focusing on the town and the struggles and effects of the paper mill were really riveting. But there were also whole chapters on the town’s founding, her own family tree, her travel experiences and lots of other things. It detracted from the main story. Frankly, at times it self like a memoir of her family and that just wasn’t something I found interesting or compelling.

I got to about halfway through the audiobook before I couldn’t stand it any longer and stopped. I am sure this story will find its audience but I was not it.

Review: Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke

Expected publication: February 16, 2021 by Flux

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Synopsis: Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Flux!***

This book was originally scheduled to be released in May and because of COVID got pushed back to February. So for once I am doing an ARC review very early. But I didn’t want to wait too long to write the review lest I forget what happened.

This one took me by surprise. I was intrigued by the cover but honestly it’s a pretty standard YA sci-fi/fantasy cover. The blurb sounded interesting but not anything I haven’t read before. I prayed that there wouldn’t be the typical YA love triangle, and there wasn’t so that was nice. I expected it to be a very typical YA book and nothing more. I was wrong.

Ren was a pretty good main character. She was a bit one-sided at times in that she she insisted that all she cared about was the money when it was clear from her actions that she cared for a lot more than that. That got annoying. It was mostly like she was trying to convince herself that she didn’t care. But I did like her spunk and enjoyed following her through the story.

Darek was probably the most useless character in the book. He was the stereotypical tall, dark, handsome, brooding YA male lead. He doesn’t break any of the models here and fits the character well but wasn’t very compelling.

I adored the relationship between Adley and Lesa, and I loved them separately too. At times I was horrified by them and other times I was overcome with sympathy for them. I wanted their story to have a happy ending so badly.

Kellen was a delight to the story. I expected him to be the typical charming, sarcastic Prince who didn’t want to be. And in some ways he was but he also displayed a lot more depth than that.

The worldbuilding in this book was spectacular. The world was created with so much detail and depth, I could picture every inch of it. The politics, classes, social structure, all of it was rendered in beautiful detail.

What ultimately clinched this book for me was the ending. I was shocked. I was completely taken by surprise. In hindsight I can see the blocks that were put in place for this ending and I should have seen it coming. But I was enjoying other parts of the story so much that I didn’t pay enough attention and missed the clues. It was wonderful and I hope there’s another book planned. I need to know what happens next.

Review: Walking in Beauty by Phoenix LaFae

Walking in Beauty: Using the Magick of the Pentacle to Bring Harmony in Your Life by Phoenix LaFae

Published: July 8, 2020 by Llewellyn Publications

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Synopsis: Using the pentacle and its five points as a magickal framework, this inspiring book presents techniques and exercises that help you manifest joy, discover your inner and outer beauty, recognize blessings, and bring balance to your life. Phoenix LeFae presents a revolutionary approach based on the five points of the pentacle–Beauty, Devotion, Desire, Creativity, and Expression.

Walking in Beauty awakens you to the magnificence of the world; it is both a meditation tool and a key to greater awareness. Through exercises, rituals, affirmations, and beauty acts you can take out into the world, this marvelous guide shows you how to run the energy of the pentacle through your body and clear any blocks that keep you from living a fully engaged and beautiful life. 

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Llewellyn!***

The concept of this book was really appealing to me. One of the first ideas that you learn in paganism and witchcraft is that the points of the pentacle symbolize the five elements and the circle represents all of those elements working together in harmony, toward a greater goal. LaFae takes this concept and applies it to the concept of beauty. Beauty of the self, beauty of the soul, beauty of the world. Our society is severely lacking in an appreciation of the small things and that is what this book is about. Everyone gets too busy to notice small, beautiful things in the world but this is ultimately detrimental to your magick and to your soul.

I loved the layout of this book. It has sections where it asks you to journal all of your feelings or revelations about the portion that you previously read. Some of the assignments are to find a beautiful thing and add it to your beauty notebook. This book is definitely going to be added to my personal collection. Reading it for the purpose of a review, I didn’t get a chance to work through some of the assignments but I want to. So I will be going through this more thoroughly later.

The rituals were also pretty good. They are not beginner rituals (as the books points out it is not a beginner’s guide to magick) in that it doesn’t cover the basics like grounding, casting a circle, releasing a circle, setting up an altar, that kind of thing. The rituals are beautiful in their own way and I can’t wait to try them out.

The ultimate goal of the beauty pentacle is to use the newly positive view that you develop and spread that beauty outward. To use small acts in your community to spread the power of the pentacle ever wider. I love that idea. If everyone did that the world would be a much more positive place.

Review: The Swap by Robyn Harding

The Swap by Robyn Harding

Published: June 23, 2020 by Gallery

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Synopsis: Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging…that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Gallery Books!***

This was the first book I have read by Robyn Harding but it will not be the last. This book was such a deliciously dark guilty pleasure. If you need to have a likeable character in your books then this one might not be the one for you. A LOT of people really hated everyone. I kind of liked Low but I think it was because I empathized with her from my own experiences at that age.

Low is a girl who is searching for something to call her own. She has a polyamorous family, both of her parents have other partners on a regular basis and occasionally on a short term basis. She doesn’t have many friends in school because the other kids look down on her because of her weird family and because she is rather strange herself. She goes by Low because her hippy dippy parents named her Swallow (after the bird) because….well they are idiots. They prove how idiotic they are over and over again. Low finds herself attracted to Freya and she struggles to try and figure out why. Is it a friend thing? A romantic thing? A sex thing? She isn’t sure and wants desperately to just have a friend that is all hers so she can figure that out. I empathized with that coming of age struggle. As a result, she got a lot of leeway from me for some of the terrible thing she did. Yes, she did those things. Yes they were wrong. But she is a dumb kid that got taken advantage of and betrayed by the adults around her.

Freya was just delightfully devious. I could never really get a read on her. Was she evil? Or just rather self absorbed and selfish? It was hard to tell and her character made me feel constantly off balance. She utilizes both Jamie and Low as weapons against each other, ruthlessly pitting them against each other in a competition for her affection.

Jamie took me by surprise. Her character was largely boring. Then suddenly when her friendship with Freya was threatened she exploded into action and it was wonderful! Her husband though was as boring as watching paint dry.

The twists and turns kept me wondering what was going to happen the entire book. But looking back none of the things that happened come out of nowhere. They were the logical journey of the story but I didn’t see it. I could not put this book down. It was delicious.

Audiobook Review: Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster by Raven Leilani

Published: August 4, 2020 by Macmillan Audio

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Synopsis: Sharp, comic, disruptive, tender, Raven Leilani’s debut novel, Luster, sees a young black woman fall into art and someone else’s open marriage

Edie is stumbling her way through her twentiessharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She’s also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriagewith rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric’s family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.

Razor sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make her sense of her life in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way. 

Review: This is probably one of the sharpest, wittiest debut novels I have ever read. The author is very good at evoking an atmosphere and feeling from the reader with her words. The entire book felt authentic and raw to me. Which is also why I found it largely sad and uninspiring.

The audiobook narrator was just perfect for this book too. Edie is cynical and fatalistic about literally everything. The narrator perfectly matched that attitude and it was wonderful. That’s also why I wasn’t really invested in this book for most of it. Most of the book is Edie making foolish decisions, getting hurt by it, and repeating those decisions. Which, I think, a lot of us can probably relate to from our early 20’s. I know I can. And an older, hopefully wiser, version of me wanted to appeal to her to stop it. That she was destroying herself for the convenience of others and it wasn’t worth it.

The ending of this book made it for me. I listened to the entire last three hours in one sitting, it was absolutely riveting. All of a sudden all those fatalistic, disparate threads of plot were pulled together in a beautiful moment of clarity for Edie. That ending took this book from a two star book to a four star book, without a doubt.

Review: Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Published: June 16, 2020 by Europa Editions

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Synopsis: 1878- The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation, passionate and painful devotion to art and to one another. Henry Irving, the Chief, is the volcanic leading man and impresario; Ellen Terry is the most lauded and desired actress of her generation, outspoken and generous of heart; and ever following along behind them in the shadows is the unremarkable theatre manager, Bram Stoker. Fresh from life in Dublin as a clerk, Bram may seem the least colourful of the trio but he is wrestling with dark demons in a new city, in a new marriage, and with his own literary aspirations. As he walks the London streets at night, streets haunted by the Ripper and the gossip which swirls around his friend Oscar Wilde, he finds new inspiration. But the Chief is determined that nothing will get in the way of his manager?s devotion to the Lyceum and to himself. And both men are enchanted by the beauty and boldness of the elusive Ellen. This exceptional novel explores the complexities of love that stands dangerously outside social convention, the restlessness of creativity, and the experiences that led to Dracula, the most iconic supernatural tale of all time.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Europa Editions!***

Through this entire book I got the feeling that I should be liking it more than I actually did. I felt like I should have been more motivated to read it than I was. I put the book down and it seemed to leave my thoughts. Often, I wouldn’t remember to pick it back up for days at a time. Then when I would pick it back up I felt no excitement for it, but found the story enjoyable.

So, in the end, I decide that I liked this book but it was forgettable. I loved the characters of Bram Stoker and Henry Irving. The two of them together were utterly delightful. Their banter was my absolute favorite part of this book. I could have read an entire of the exchanges between the two of these men.

I also loved the progression of Bram’s character. He starts out as the unwilling manager of a mismanaged theater who occasionally writes and turns into a passionate writer who has a family to support. I appreciate it when characters have a logical progression in a story and this one did. It also seemed fitting that the style of the novel was structured like a play. It was one of those things that didn’t distract from the story but I could nod to the author and think “I see what you did there. Nicely done.”

The biggest flaw this book had was the minutiae. There was just so many words. We did not need an entire 40 pages of Bram’s diary entries. We did not need a whole chapter on the accounting that goes into running a large theater. We got more than 100 pages in before they even had a play at the theater! I struggled to get to the good parts because there was just so much extra crap that did not need to be there.