Recent Reads 13

Here are the last of the books I read in April while also participating in a 30 Days of Manga challenge. This week I have a beloved fantasy I didn’t really love, a historical fiction with a touch of magical realism, and a phenomenal YA fantasy. If you want to see more, you can find my last “Recent Reads” here.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Release Date: March 16, 2020

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy?

Pages: 394

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Brief Review

“Change often starts with the smallest of whispers. Like-minded people building it up to a roar.”

I’m really torn about this book so I’m going to break this review up into things I like and things I don’t like. I really appreciate how many touching moments there were with the kids. They really were the best part of the story. The humor really was exactly my style and I laughed out loud more than once. I also was really interested in the interactions between the kids and the villagers in town. There was definitely some prejudice on the side of the villagers and so you never knew what was going to happen when they were confronted with the kids just trying to live their lives. This book really gets into themes of acceptance and the way people who are treated. It’s nothing new and groundbreaking but it was pretty cute.

That being said, I think the pacing for this book was not the best. I had a hard time getting into the story in the beginning and it felt a bit slow. I think the second half picked up a bit but the start was a little lacking plot wise. I also found it strange how focused TJ Klune was on Linus being overweight. It came up so much. I think he was trying to make a point about accepting yourself or about internalized fatphobia but it just felt weird and forced and I really did not enjoy those throwaway comments about how Linus felt like he shouldn’t eat X because he’s worried about his weight or whatever. Overall, there are cute elements to this story and they made me laugh but, for me, the annoying bits are practically equal to the things I enjoyed.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

Release Date: February 12, 2019

Genre: Adult historical fiction, magical realism

Pages: 384

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

A sweeping historical novel about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy whose fates entangle over an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers.

When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.

Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.

As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.

Brief Thoughts

“We were a chocolate-box family, I thought. Brightly wrapped on the outside and oozing sticky darkness within.”

I haven’t read much historical fiction or magical realism recently and that might be why I found the beginning of this book to be pretty slow. When I did start to latch on to this story, I was primarily thinking about it from an academic perspective since I was exposed to a lot of colonial literature in undergrad. I think this story is interesting as a foil for those texts since it’s written by a woman of color and offers undeniable criticism of colonization. This story contains a great deal of mystery and mysterious deaths and at the center, it appears at least one white doctor is the common denominator. Malaysian people are the primary victims, many of whom are women and that gave me a lot to think about in terms of colonization criticism. If I were going to write a research paper, I might pair this with something like South Sea Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson and talk about how authors of color are now able to combat these narratives and use their own voices via historical fiction while celebrating their cultural traditions through magical realism.

I know this review is REALLY different from what I usually write but 90% of my notes on this book are me thinking about how I would write a paper about this text. The other 10% is about how much I didn’t enjoy the toxic romance and how magical realism is really hit or miss for me.

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Release Date: October 8, 2013

Genre: YA Fantasy, Mythology

Pages: 597

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

Since this is the fourth book in a series, I will link the synopsis to the first book here, and this book here.

Brief Thoughts

“Oh, I wouldn’t say Love always makes you happy. Sometimes it makes you incredibly sad.”

This *might* be my favorite book in the Heroes of Olympus series so far. The main characters are really split up in this book so that means there’s a lot of jumping around. I really enjoy stories that do that because the pace feels even faster than it already is. I was particularly interested in Percy and Annabeth’s situation. Riordan also blesses us with more Nico content and the reveal from him around the halfway point broke my heart but also made me happy. Protect Nico at all costs, thank you. There is also a plot line with Leo on his own that I thought was very cute. Before this, I wasn’t super invested in Leo as a character but I think this really raised my interest. The themes of friendship felt so particularly strong in this book and I am nervous to see what happens in the final book of this wonderful series.

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 2

Before I took a break from blogging, I did monthly wrap-ups and they were really long and took ages to write and put together so I wanted to try something different. I want to put out mini-reviews every time I complete three books. I think this will be more manageable for me and more readable for you guys so let’s get started! Find my last “Recent Reads” here.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Release Date: July 7, 2020

Genre: YA Horror

Pages: 352

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape. 

Brief Review

It’s been a little while since I finished this book but I still am not quite sure how I feel about it. I think it was incredibly atmospheric and I really liked Margot as a character. She wanted answers and something different from the life she had at home and there were many times growing up where I could relate. I also really liked Tess. She starts out pretty unlikable (or at least I was unsure about her) but I grew to love her more as the story progressed. The problem for me was that I felt that the first 75% of the book was really slow. I had some theories about the mystery that’s presented (I was wrong) and some of the early clues and reveals were exciting but overall, I just felt like it was so slow. I wanted something more but I can’t quite put my finger on it. The ending, on the other hand, was phenomenal. I really liked the direction the story took and I was satisfied with the ending. It was a wild time and I’ll never think about corn or apricots the same ever again.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Release Date: October 12 2010

Genre: YA fantasy

Pages: 553

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

JASON HAS A PROBLEM. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything—except that everything seems very wrong.

PIPER HAS A SECRET. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.

LEO HAS A WAY WITH TOOLS. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts?

Join new and old friends from Camp Half-Blood in this thrilling first book in The Heroes of Olympus series. Best-selling author Rick Riordan has pumped up the action, humor, suspense, and mystery in an epic adventure that will leave readers panting for the next installment.

Brief Review

The first thing I noticed about this book was the length. It’s over 550 pages but I still flew through it and enjoyed every moment of it. This has the same amount of action and excitement mixed with comedic moments that made me laugh out loud that were in the original series. I also really loved the characters we meet in this series. I really connected to both Leo and Piper and was really rooting for them to accomplish their goals and be happy. The ending was also phenomenal! That realization! That cliffhanger! I was so hype after I finished and excited to see what happens next in the series. Let’s GOOOOO!!

The Removed by Brandon Hobson

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Genre: Adult Contemporary

Pages: 270

Click here for trigger warnings.

Goodreads Synopsis

Steeped in Cherokee myths and history, a novel about a fractured family reckoning with the tragic death of their son long ago—from National Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson

In the fifteen years since their teenage son, Ray-Ray, was killed in a police shooting, the Echota family has been suspended in private grief. The mother, Maria, increasingly struggles to manage the onset of Alzheimer’s in her husband, Ernest. Their adult daughter, Sonja, leads a life of solitude, punctuated only by spells of dizzying romantic obsession. And their son, Edgar, fled home long ago, turning to drugs to mute his feelings of alienation.

With the family’s annual bonfire approaching—an occasion marking both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death, and a rare moment in which they openly talk about his memory—Maria attempts to call the family together from their physical and emotional distances once more. But as the bonfire draws near, each of them feels a strange blurring of the boundary between normal life and the spirit world. Maria and Ernest take in a foster child who seems to almost miraculously keep Ernest’s mental fog at bay. Sonja becomes dangerously fixated on a man named Vin, despite—or perhaps because of—his ties to tragedy in her lifetime and lifetimes before. And in the wake of a suicide attempt, Edgar finds himself in the mysterious Darkening Land: a place between the living and the dead, where old atrocities echo.

Drawing deeply on Cherokee folklore, The Removed seamlessly blends the real and spiritual to excavate the deep reverberations of trauma—a meditation on family, grief, home, and the power of stories on both a personal and ancestral level.

Brief Review

This isn’t an easy read, not just because of the subject matter, but because the way the story is told isn’t a structure you might be used to if you tend to only read white, western authors. Though this book is only 270 pages, it takes time to process and think about. Without spoiling anything, there are chapters that do not take place in the real world. There are chapters told from the perspective of an ancestor of the family that don’t seem immediately connected to the main story but if you sit and think and maybe watch some interviews and do some outside research, the genius of this book starts to become more apparent. This story draws from Cherokee folklore as well as history. There are discussions about, not only the trauma that has impacted this family in their lifetimes but also intergenerational trauma. I am reminded of Toni Morrison’s Beloved when I think about this book. I really enjoyed it and if you’re in the mood for a book that forces you to take it slow and think, I’d suggest picking this up. Flying through it just because it’s short probably won’t give you the best experience and taking it slow is worth it. Please check out own voices reviewers for this book as I am not Indigenous and will certainly have missed some of the nuance and maybe even some important aspects of this story.

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

Five on my Backlog – 2

Due to years of browsing overstock stores, used book stores, library sales, and yard sales I’ve acquired more books than any person needs. I also didn’t really read anything outside of school for two years. The backlog is real and I really want to get through them but sometimes I just don’t know what to pick next. I often use a random number generator to choose but I’m curious if there are any books you guys can give me any thoughts about. 

In order to do this, once or twice a month I want to make a post where I feature five books on my backlog and see if you guys suggest I prioritize some or warn me about others – anything! I read from a ton of genres and will just be working across my shelves to gather some thoughts. Last month, a lot of people had thoughts about Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews and I’ve added it to my weird/spooky/creepy list to read in either October or November so I hope you guys have some thoughts about this next round of books.

First, I have A Paper Son by Jason Buchholz. I got this from an overstock store for a few dollars and all I know is that it is about a writer who is writing about a family of Chinese immigrants and then there is a mystery about a missing son. I think there is a magical realism element to the story and I am not always a big fan of that so that’s why I’ve been putting it off. I know I’ll eventually get to it but as of right now, it’s near the bottom of my priority list.

The rest of the books I have on my backlog are classics that I just haven’t encountered for school yet. Among them is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I only need to look at my friends’ reviews on Goodreads to see that so many people I know have read it and for the most part, enjoyed it. I am sure that I’ll like it but I also know that it can take me a while to get through classics and this one is chunky! I’m not intimidated but I am maybe a little nervous to pick it up.

I also haven’t read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I have read all of her other major novels but I just haven’t gotten around to picking this one up. Like with Jane Eyre, I’m sure I’ll enjoy this. I’ve heard it’s really different from her other novels but I still think it will be an interesting read. It’s also relatively short and I have two copies of it so it’s honestly pretty ridiculous that I haven’t read it yet.

The last two books I want to talk about this time are classics for children. First, I have Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. I’d started listening to this one on audio last month but quickly realized that I needed to be able to physically read this one so I can follow the plot. I know the basic story but I kept feeling like I was missing a lot while listening to it.

Last, I have The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. There are a lot of film adaptations for this book; there was one in 2017 AND apparently in 2020. I used to really enjoy the 1993 version but I’ve never read the book. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the plot because it’s been so long since I’ve seen the movie but I do remember that it was incredibly magical and beautiful. I hope the book has that same feeling. 

So, there’s a few books that are on my backlog. Have you read any of these and enjoyed them? Did you read and hate any of these? Are there any that you’re interested in but want me to read so I can report back? Let me know in the comments!!

September 2020 TBR

Now that I’m back at work, my reading is a lot more unfocused and truly depends on what’s available through my library at the time so my TBRs are going to be a bit more like “September possibilities.” I definitely have some books I really want to prioritize so I’ll talk about those first and then go from there.

First, I have Trust Me by Nell Grey. I was kindly sent this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. I don’t know a ton about this apart from that there’s thriller and romance elements which sounds like a fun time. I’m always down for a thriller and lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Arctic Monkeys so I’m in the mood to also read a romance so I’m thinking this book will really do it for me.

Next, I am continuing my read of the Percy Jackson series with The Battle of the Labyrinth. I can’t say much without spoiling the other books in the series but I’ve been loving these so far and I have a feeling (and have heard) that Nico is going to have more page time and he’s becoming one of my favorite characters in the series. 

I also want to read Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card vol. 1 this month. A friend of mine asked if I’d like to buddy read the series together because we both love Sailor Moon and want more magical girl content. I might also try to watch the show on Netflix as we read through the series so keep a lookout for some blog posts about that experience in the future.

Those are the books I definitely need to read this month but I also have three that I’m really hoping to get to. The first is The Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color which is a collection edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. I have read writings by both of these women and loved them. I’ve also already read sections of this book for school but I want to go back and read the entire anthology. This will likely be one that I start at the beginning of the month and read throughout the entire month much like I did last month with The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston. 

Next, I’d really like to catch up on my backlog of Book of the Month books. I just have two sitting on my shelves right now and the one I’m hoping to pick up this month is November Road by Lou Berney. All I know about this book is that it’s a historical fiction set around the time of the JFK assassination. I have no idea how I’m going to feel about this because, while I do like historical fiction, I don’t usually read from this time period so we’ll see!

Additionally, I’d like to finally read Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. This YA contemporary follows a black, queer, trans boy named Felix who wants to be in love, but when another student starts sending him transphobic messages and posting old pictures of Felix and posts his deadname, things start to get really difficult and complicated for Felix. I’ve heard so many people praise this book and I’ve had the ebook for a while and I want to stop neglecting my ebooks as much as I have been, so I feel like this would be a good place to start.

This might be a stretch but I’d also be down for participating in BooksAndLaLa’s final Buzzwordathon at the end of September. The word this time is “night” and I have two books on my backlog that will word for this prompt. First, is Night by Elie Wiesel. I’ve somehow never read this book and maybe September is the time I finally read it. I also have Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I’m not usually one for magical realism and this book is chunky but I’ve already seen the movie and would like to compare the experience. 

That’s everything that’s on my radar for September. We’ll see if I get to everything but if I don’t, I’m not going to feel too bad about it since I’ve been having to rely on audiobooks a lot more than usual. 

What are you reading next? Have you read any of these and what were your thoughts? Come chat with me!

Stay safe!

Sam