Recent Reads 11

I’m currently in the middle of a “30 days of manga” challenge but I’m not going to talk about all the issues individually but I have some other books I want to talk about. This week I have one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read, a WILD story about motherhood, and the next book in a series that almost redeemed how bad the last book was. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.

Bunny by Mona Awad

Bunny by Mona Awad

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Genre: Adult horror, dark academia

Pages: 307

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one.

But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon,” and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.

The spellbinding new novel from one of our most fearless chroniclers of the female experience, Bunny is a down-the-rabbit-hole tale of loneliness and belonging, friendship and desire, and the fantastic and terrible power of the imagination.

Brief Review

“Why do you lie so much? And about the weirdest little things?”, my mother always asked me. “I don’t know”, I always said. But I did know. It was very simple. Because it was a better story.”

This is probably going to be in my top 10 for 2021. I don’t think I could really explain this book if I tried but I did jot down some thoughts while I was reading and I’m going to try to make them read cohesively. I immediately related to Samantha, not just because we share a first name but because we both grew up creating stories. I almost got my MFA instead of my MA so this was an interesting main character for me to follow. This book kept me thinking and I’m still thinking and theorizing about this story. I don’t usually try to guess twists or guess what’s going to happen in books but Awad forces you to be confused along with the main character. I was constantly asking myself “is this real or is this a metaphor for X?” Parts of it, especially towards the end, felt like a commentary on imposter syndrome, and that GREATLY resonated with me. This book has some gruesome and potentially disturbing imagery and I’ll include some trigger warnings but I also think this book is quite funny, especially the Bunnies. This book is so well written and made me want to write again. At the end of this post, I’ll share a photo of the page I created in my reading journal based on this book.

The Push by Ashley Audrain

The Push by Ashley Audrain

Release Date: January 5, 2021

Genre: Adult phychological drama

Pages: 307

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family–and a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for–and everything she feared.

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.

Brief Thoughts

“We could have counted our problems on the petals of the daisy in my bouquet, but it wouldn’t be long before we were lost in a field of them.”

PLEASE CHECK THE TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR THIS BOOK! I’ve seen people describe this as a thriller but I think that the synopsis calling it a psychological drama is MUCH more accurate. The mother, Blythe, is an unreliable character and seems to have an unfounded dislike for her daughter but as events unfold and her husband is increasingly frustrating, I started wanting to believe Blythe more. I was uncomfortable reading through Blythe sometimes because I didn’t want to believe the same things as her. There are flashbacks throughout the book that give a glimpse into her mother and grandmother and what they were like as parents. There is definitely some commentary on women feeling pressured to have children and then realize they hate it. Audrain seems to really challenge the “natural mother” any woman who has made the decision to not have kids has heard about 1000 times.

There are some things that didn’t work for me, though. Some of them are picky such as, “What does she do for work in the second half of the book?” or “the ending is wild but maybe confuses the message a bit.” Another thing that raised a flag was Blythe expressing that she would hate to have a disabled kid. It was such a yikes moment; I think it fits with Blythe’s non-nurturing nature towards her daughter, Violet, and made me question her as a character even more but it is something I wanted to point out in this review.

You can see a list of trigger warnings on The Storygraph page (linked above) for this book. Please check them if you need them especially with anything surrounding children because I was taken by surprise.

Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Tik Tok of Oz

Release Date: 1914

Genre: Children’s fantasy classic

Pages: 272

Goodreads Synopsis

Join Tik-Tok, the Shaggy Man, and a host of other friends–both old and new–on an exciting, imaginative journey through the world of Oz.

The fun begins in an isolated corner of Oz, in the small country of Oogaboo. There Queen Ann Soforth musters an unlikely army and sets off to conquer the rest of Oz. Meanwhile, a girl from Oklahoma named Betsy Bobbin and her companion, Hank the mule, are shipwrecked and washed ashore in the Rose Kingdom, a magical land of talking roses. There they meet the Shaggy Man, who is on a quest to rescue his brother from the clutches of the wicked Nome King. Betsy, Hank, and the Rose Princess join the Shaggy Man on his journey, and before long they meet up with Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter; Tik-Tok; and Queen Ann with her army. The rest of Baum’s tale is filled with hairbreadth escapes, wild puns, and mystifying magic.

Brief Thoughts

“If we didn’t want anything, we would never get anything, good or bad. I think our longings are natural, and if we act as nature prompts us we can’t go far wrong.”

I wasn’t a huge fan of the previous Oz book but this one was a bit better. From the beginning, Ann made me laugh. Her reasoning behind any of her actions struck me as ridiculous. I also really liked Betsy Bobbin. She and her mule, Hank, were stuck in the Rose Kingdom and she was a strong character throughout the rest of the book. She said, “Well, I’m not afraid of a man.” and that’s a mood. Baum explores themes of colonialism, slavery, and refugees in this story and it’s interesting to see how these things work in a land such as Oz. It’s a definite improvement after the last book. And Toto has an interesting surprise at the end of the story!

What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!

Recent Reads 9

It’s time again for another round of recent reads! This time I’ll be talking about a problematic book in a children’s series, a contemporary romance I have mixed feelings about, and a continuation of a fun fantasy series. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Release Date: 1913

Genre: Children’s fantasy

Pages: 346

Trigger warnings include racism.

Goodreads Synopsis

Forced to venture out of the dark forest, Unc Nunkie and Ojo the Unlucky call on the Crooked Magician, who introduces them to his latest creation: a living girl made out of patchwork quilts and cotton stuffing. But when an accident leaves beloved Unc Nunkie a motionless statue, it is up to Ojo to save him. In his search for the magic ingredients that will restore his uncle to life, Ojo is joined by the Patchwork Girl and by the conceited Glass Cat, who boasts of her hard ruby heart, the resourceful Shaggy Man, and the lovable block-headed Woozy, whose tail hairs are just one of the things Ojo needs to rescue Une Nunkie.

As they travel to the Emerald City, home of the wise and powerful Ozma, they meet Dorothy, the kind and sensible girl from Kansas; the gallant Scarecrow; and, of course, Toto. But no one proves more loyal than the spirited Patchwork Girl, who, although she was brought to life as a servant, is determined to see the wide world for herself.

Brief Review

“But I have noticed that those who continually dread ill luck and fear it will overtake them, have no time to take advantage of any good fortune that comes their way.”

While I like the idea of a story where the characters are on a quest to collect things in order to save people, the characters really let me down in this one. I’ve always been a big fan of the characters and beings Baum creates but this one just wasn’t it. The first half of the book is spent with a new cast of characters and almost all of them were annoying. There is a  glass cat that is particularly irritating. Later on, we see some more familiar characters including my guy, the Shaggy Man, but it was too late. I do think there are some interesting things going on here as far as thinking about the ideals of Oz; I am particularly interested in the story opening with people who don’t have enough food because that just isn’t something I expected to happen in a place like Oz. I also thought a lot about the Patchwork Girl and the fact that she was brought to life in order to be a servant for the family who created her. I don’t want to spoil the ending so I can’t say more but something happens with that. Lastly, I can’t talk about this book and not talk about the racist depiction of what is likely the Khoekhoe people from southern Africa. They don’t play a major role in the story but do prove to be a minor obstacle to the main plot. I can’t say I was surprised to see it given when it was written. It reminded me of a less intense version of what was going on in the last book in the Narnia series. Overall, the worst in the series so far.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Release Date: May 30, 2018

Genre: Adult contemporary romance

Pages: 314

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases — a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice — with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan — from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

Brief Thoughts

“When you love someone, you fight for them in every way you know how.”

I’m not sure how I felt about this book so I am going to break this review into things I enjoyed and things I felt unsure about.

Like: The start isn’t slow. By chapter two or three it already feels like things are going where some romances feel like they take a bit to hook me. I also liked the love interest, Michael, in regards to the dynamic he has with his family. He has an interesting past with his father and some things going on with his mother and that was engaging to read about. I also really liked the relationship he had with his sisters. They were so funny and comfortable with each other. There were also interactions between him and Stella that were very sweet. I also enjoyed being in Stella’s head. Learning about how she thinks especially when it comes to her work was fun.

Didn’t like so much: Sometimes Michael felt pushy. Stella wanted help learning things but it felt like Michael sometimes would brush her discomfort aside and just continue. This, of course, wasn’t all the time and I don’t think the consent was dubious but it felt like she was uncomfortable and then just wasn’t really suddenly. There are also some jealousy issues with Michael and I just didn’t like it at all. I don’t want to say too much but he was very jealous and pushy towards to end to try and win Stella back. I didn’t like reading those scenes at all. I have also seen some discourse about the autism rep as far as Stella just magically being “better” around Michael and while I can’t speak about this as I’m not part of the community, I would urge you to check out some own voices reviewers before or after going into this one because it’s something we should be aware of when discussing this particular book.

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

Release Date: October 2, 2012

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy

Pages: 586

Goodreads Synopsis

Since this is the third in a series, here’s a link to the first book in this series and a link to the synopsis for this book.

Brief Thoughts

“Hercules, huh? Percy frowned. “That guy was like the Starbucks of Ancient Greece. Everywhere you turn–there he is.”

I feel like this third book in the Heroes of Olympus series is really where things start to take off. I really loved seeing this group of demigods take on such a big quest. The fact that they had to figure out how to work together in pretty dire circumstances really heightened the tension. I also think this book really allowed us to get to know Annabeth more than we have in the past. She has definitely had moments to shine in the last series but here, I was incredibly impressed with her as a character. I only have two books left in this series before I jump into the Kane Chronicles and I’m really excited to see where this is going to go.

What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!

Recent Reads 5

It’s time again for another round of recent reads! I know it’s been a while. I’ve been in such a slump and can’t seem to get it together but no matter! I’ve finally read three books so here we go. This time I’ll be talking about a middle grade classic fantasy, a stunning historical fiction, and the second book in a beloved middle-grade series. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.

The Emerald City of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Release Date: 1910

Genre: Middle-grade fantasy

Pages: 160

Here’s a link to the synopsis for the first book in the series. I did this, not because of spoilers but because the Goodreads synopsis makes absolutely no sense.

Brief Review

“To be angry once in a while is really good fun, because it makes others so miserable. But to be angry morning, noon and night, as I am, grows monotonous and prevents my gaining any other pleasure in life.”

I have a lot of thoughts about this book. To start with, the author’s note made me smile because Baum talks about the kids who have sent him letters with ideas for his Oz books. As I was reading, I tried to guess what the kids might have suggested and I’m so sure that the school pills, pills you take to learn everything you need at school, were their idea. I also think this book is incredibly funny. The Nome King and the Whimsies particularly made me laugh out loud. This book also included some more anti-capitalist themes but he is sure to say that the way Oz works would only work in Oz. I wonder if Baum felt that way or if he was saying it to appease someone else. 

I also was pleased to see Baum playing with a narrative structure he hadn’t tried before in previous books. He went back and forth between the Nome King and Dorothy and I was excited to see how these plot lines came together but they just… didn’t really. The ending felt a little cheap. I also think the VERY end of the book had some anti-immigrant rhetoric and I was a bit confused? I don’t want to spoil anything but it was strange. Baum made the ending seem like this is the last book in the series but clearly there’s at least eight more to go so I’m interested to see what’s going to happen next.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Release Date: June 2, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction

Pages: 343

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins. 

Brief Thoughts

“When you married someone, you promised to love every person he would be. He promised to love every person she had been. And here they were, still trying, even though the past and the future were both mysteries.”

I feel like everyone’s heard about and probably even read The Vanishing Half and I’m late to the party but as someone who loves multi-generational family stories, I’m glad to be here now. It took me a bit to get used to the time jumps but once I was into it, I was hooked. I found myself thinking about the characters even when I wasn’t reading. I especially thought about one of the twins, Stella, and the mystery surrounding her in the first half of the book. There is a bit of a cliffhanger before one of the first big time jumps that had me ready to keep reading. The characters are definitely the strongest part of this book. Bennett took time and care with developing every single character. The twins and their daughters were certainly interesting to watch change and think throughout the story but the side characters were just as interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading about Reese and his experiences being trans. I also liked that Bennett didn’t provide us with a neat ending for every character. It felt more realistic that way. I have mentioned before my love of stories about strained family relationships that aren’t just tied up in a bow at the end and this does that well. Those wounds take time to heal and I love authors who understand and acknowledge it. Bennett’s in-depth and nuanced look at not only racism but colorism is something I think everyone should read.

Also, if you like the “two women who are close come from the same town but make different choices” aspect of this story, please pick up Sula by Toni Morrisson. 

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Release Date: October 4, 2011

Genre: Middle-grade Fantasy

Pages: 513

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

Since this is a series, here’s a link to the synopsis of the first book, and this one.

Brief Thoughts

“Life is only precious because it ends, kid.”

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump and I wasn’t loving the first bit of this book. I liked learning about a new setting and group of people but there was a camp games type event that went on a bit too long for me. After that, though, the action really took off and I was invested. I think Riordan does a great job and slowly introducing more aspects of the characters’ personalities. I felt really attached to Hazel and Frank. I also think Riordan is great at writing endings that get you so excited to see what happens next in the series. If I wasn’t already a bit burned out from fantasy, I would have a hard time not going ahead and picking up the next book. Also, Nico is in this one and that made me happy.

What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? Are you interested in any of them? Come chat with me!

WWW Wednesday – September 9, 2020

Since I’m really enjoying checking in here weekly, I’m going to continue doing the WWW Wednesday tag hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I like having a chance mid-week to share what I’m reading and see what you guys are up to, as well.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently in the middle of three books. First, I am continuing my read-through of This Bridge Called My Back. I only annotate my books when it feels right and this book just feels right. Each piece I’ve read so far is so powerful and I find myself underlining and writing notes in the margins and I definitely recommend it especially if you’re wanting to learn more about intersectional feminism. The pieces also use really accessible language so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get into.

I’m also reading The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan. I’m only a couple of chapters in because I got distracted by playing Mario Odyssey for a few hours yesterday. As always, there’s a lot of action in the opening chapters and I love that. I was supposed to pick up Felix Ever After next but I was really up for some action and adventure.

Lastly, I’m listening to another Arthur Miller play – Broken Glass. I’m only in scene three as I just started it this morning but I’m intrigued. The main character is constantly reading news from Germany during WW2 and she suddenly can’t walk anymore. I’m not sure where this is going to go but so far, I’m interested.

Since last week, I finished three books. First, I finished Trust Me by Nell Grey. This was kindly sent to me by the author and I have a full review scheduled to go up on the 18th but I will say that I really enjoyed the mix of romance and mystery aspects and I am really excited to pick up the sequel in October!

I also finished James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. This was magical and fun to listen to and I liked the parts that weren’t in the movie quite a bit, especially the cloud people. I also recommend the audio version that has the added sound effects. It makes for a really fun experience. I still haven’t had a chance to watch the movie again but I do still want to.

Lastly, I finished Camp by L. C. Rosen. I got this from my library and I have a ton of thoughts. I will save my rambling for my wrap-up but I think this story does so much. This story takes place at a camp for queer teens and there’s a messy romance between two campers but Rosen also tackles themes of toxic masculinity, homophobia, supportive and unsupportive parents, the importance of queer-only spaces, and the unfortunate reality that once they leave this space, they have to look out for their own safety. There is a fairly descriptive sex scene, so if that’s not your thing, I’d maybe skip but I do think this book does some important work.

I’m going to say that I’ll pick up Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender next for the second week in a row. I definitely want to get to it since it’s on my TBR and Percy Jackson should quench my action/adventure thirst so I shouldn’t have a problem flying through Felix next!

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading? If you participate in WWW Wednesday, link me your posts!