I read a lot of garbage this month, but I also finished two classics and a couple of pieces of literary fiction, so it all evens out.
💩 = Hot Garbage 😢 = I shed a tear 😭 = I ugly cried
🍆 = Some steamy scenes (Rated R) 💎 = A gem
💘 = Warmed my heart 👻 = Scary! 🤢 = Gross
😍= Swoon-worthy love-story 🚩 = Red Flag!
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin ⭐️⭐️✨/5
I felt a little like this whole book was a big April Fools day prank. It takes place in this world where magic is real but illegal. It is a very religious culture (essentially Catholicism) and there is a group of church-trained soldiers who find and burn witches. Lou is a witch who is caught stealing and for some convoluted reason, instead of being sent to prison she is forced to marry one of these soldiers, Reid. Drama ensues.
I really like the premise and there were times where I was really into the plot, but there were so many moments that were so bizarre and really took me out of the story. Like the characters would frequently make 180 degrees changes on their thoughts without much explanation and then oftentimes shift back to their original point of view. The forced marriage, which is the central premise is contrived and confusing. The magic system was a little confusing and I still have no idea what the deal with that Angelica’s ring is? What does it do? Why did Lou want it? Also, we cannot talk about this book without talking about the “Big Tiddy Liddy” song. What the actual fuck?
I loved Reid. I loved Ansel. I loved Coco. Lou was interesting… I didn’t dislike her, but she seemed to not fit with the rest of the book. I know she’s supposed to be this girl who’s isolated, not really welcome among witches or regular people, but it mostly felt like she was in the entirely wrong story. Honestly, I think this book had potential and just needed another round of revisions to smooth out some of the weird stuff. But it also has a 4.1 rating on Goodreads (which is pretty high), so I think a lot of people like this book. I think it’s a lot of people’s garbage favorite and I’m not here to judge people’s garbage favorite (mine is From Blood and Ash, so clearly I’m not above loving a bad book).
Emma by Jane Austen ⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
I’m currently on a mission to read all of Jane Austen’s novels (there are only six). I read Pride and Prejudice at the end of last year and was looking forward to tackling another. In this book, we follow Emma, a wealthy young woman, and her schemes to get her friend Harriet (who is of a significantly lower social class) married off.
I found it to be a tougher book to get through than P&P because I didn’t care for the other characters in the novel. One of my favorite things in P&P is the Bennett family and all the characters surrounding Darcy and Bingley. The Bennett sisters alone add so much charm and wit to the story and the side characters in Emma just weren’t as enjoyable.
I did however adore Emma. She’s sort of the worst, but it’s a good time. I was much less invested in her romance storyline with Mr. Knightly (he’s no Mr. Darcy), but I loved her antics. I feel like we also get to see a bit more of Austen’s personality in this book and she has a true “fuck the patriarchy message.” Emma doesn’t want to get married (although she does in the end), because she’s already rich and living her best life. There are so many good quotes because Emma is a sassy queen.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
This book follows a family and their journey over a couple of decades as undocumented immigrants from Columbia who immigrate to the US. It bounces around through time quite a bit, but it follows this young married couple who move to the US when their baby and then have two more kids in the States. The father gets deported back to Colombia and the youngest daughter is sent to live with him until she’s a teen and then is supposed to return to the US. It’s a short novel, but a lot happens and it’s all handled with a lot of nuance. It’s a moving story about family and what home means.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
These Violent Delights is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, where the two families are two gangs in Shanghai. Then this monster comes to the city and it causes people to go crazy and literally rip out their own throats. Roma (our Romeo) is the son of the leader of the White Flowers and Juliette is the eldest daughter of the leader of the Scarletts. They have had some sort of relationship in the past, but something happened. They have to put aside all their old wounds and drama to come together and stop this monster before it takes over the city.
I loved so much about this book, but I wasn’t completely smitten with the book. I wish I could tell you why, but I think the writing just wasn’t my style. I still enjoyed the story and will be picking up the sequel (there’s a cliffhanger ending).
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
Sarah J. Maas, you got me. I was not sold on this series after the second book, A Court of Mist and Fury. I gave ACAMAF 3.5 stars when I first read it (you can read my original thoughts here). These books are long and I didn’t want to read them if I didn’t enjoy them. When A Court of Silver Flames came out, everyone was talking about it and I got sucked back in. I reread the first two (you can see my thoughts on that at the end of this post) and then read ACOWAR.
This book follows Feyre and her gang of friends as they fight Hybern. I loved it. For me, the first two books had really slow middles, but this book was a delight all the way through. After I finished reading it, I was legit ready to fight people for Sarah J. Maas. I’m not sure who I’m fighting, but I think she gets a lot of crap for being a bad writer. The way she built this world and told this story was so impressive. I think she gets a lot of crap because she writes for women and maybe some of it is real, but I also think that there’s a lot of stuff that gets piled on because she dares to put romance as central to the plot. It’s stupid and I think she’s great.
I love Nesta. She’s got mad eldest child energy and I’m here for it. All day every day. I’m not ready to dig into A Court of Silver Flames (even though it’s about Nesta and she’s a queen) because I just want to sit with the end of this book for a while, but I’m looking forward to it. Also, side note, I am very excited about the TV show!
Spoilers! (Highlight the text to read): Can we take a second to talk about Tamlin at the high lord meeting? He was the worst, but especially that comment about her noises! My jaw dropped. I had to put the book down and walk away for a few minutes. It was horrifying. Horrifying. The audacity of that asshole. I wanted to punch his face in. Up until that point, I was very sympathetic towards Tamlin. I think he was dealing with some mad PTSD and trying his best. He didn’t mean to get her sisters kidnapped. He just wanted to keep her safe. But at that moment, I was done. He never loved her. I know he saves her later, but he didn’t love her. Maybe he loved the idea of her. Maybe he loved having her, but he didn’t love her.
I cried so hard at the ending. I started crying when Rhysand is giving his speech about everything happening for a reason and said, “I would have waited five hundred more years for you. A thousand years. And if this was all the time we were allowed to have... The wait was worth it.” I cried when their dad showed up with the ships. I cried when the king killed their dad. I cried when I thought Amren betrayed them all (tbh, still kind of confused by that whole thing). I cried so hard when Rhysand died. This is not the first book I’ve ever read, I knew he was not actually dead-dead, but I still cried like a baby coming home from the bar. The ending was so good. Perfection.
The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L. Armentrout ⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
It kills me to say this, but this book was truly bad. Did I still give it 3.5 stars? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Mostly. It was my least favorite of this series so far. A lot happens in this book. In the last book, they literally go from one town to another. I mean they have to fight stuff, but mostly it’s about the emotional journey of them falling in love. In this book, a lot happens from page one, but the pacing is weird. I love Casteel and Poppy and will read the series to the end, but this book wasn’t good. I have a couple of major gripes.
One, it might have just been me (update: it was not), but the dialogue in this book was jarringly bad. Casteel says “Damn straight” on multiple occasions. Poppy says “no shit” to the queen. I have absolutely no problem with profanity, but it didn’t feel like it fit with the world. There was certainly profanity in the other books, but this felt very off. I know in this book we’re supposed to see Poppy being “sharp-tongued” but it felt very foreign to this fantasy world. Casteel talks like he’s in a frat. It felt like an early draft where the language wasn’t fully perfected. Where was her editor?
Two, there are so many info dumps. To be honest, I didn’t understand what was happening in the first two books half of the time. The world-building goes over my head in the initial read. Mostly because I don’t care about the world-building, I’m here for Cas and Poppy. There are so many scenes where people are just rambling for pages about the gods and the war and blah blah, and it was boring.
Three, speaking of Poppy and Cas, their relationship didn’t hit the same in this book. Maybe it’s because they are married and living their best life, so we’re missing the angst, but I think that can be done well (Claire and Jamie in Outlander are married and in love for most of the series and their relationship is top-notch). Let’s talk about sex scenes. This book is very steamy. I thought it was too much. It was like every other chapter for a while there and I didn’t care anymore. The first book has three (I didn’t actually count, but based on my recollection) sex scenes, which were pretty relevant to the plot. I thought it was the ideal amount. The second book has probably closer to six. As I mentioned, some of those started to feel extraneous, but overall fine. This book has at least a dozen, I swear. It was too much.
After some time away from the book and listening to other’s reviews, I think the main problem is that there was something different about the characterization and writing in this book. I’ve talked about it before, but books like this (ones I loving call garbage-books) are so specific to the individual. It needs to hit the dopamine receptors in my brain in a really specific way because it isn’t resting on literary merit (no shade, it is what it is). Because this book was had a different flavor from the other books, I didn’t love it. If this had been the first book in the series, I probably wouldn’t have continued. But it isn’t the first book and I will be reading all of them (although tbh, not super excited about the prequel).
On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
I see quotes from this book all over the place. It is frequently lauded for its stunning writing (which makes sense because Vuong is a poet). The story is told as a letter to this man’s mother as he tells stories from his life growing up. Their family emigrated from Vietnam when the boy was little. It touches on a lot of aspects of being an immigrant, the PTSD his mother and grandmother still suffer from, his sexuality, addiction, and above all family.
It feels very much like an actual memoir, in that it is a bunch of stories from a life, but doesn’t necessarily form a cohesive overall plot. My favorite bit was this story about Trevor, his first relationship, and how Trevor wouldn’t eat veal. “The children, the veal, they stand very still because tenderness depends on how little the world touches you. To stay tender, the weight of your life cannot lean on your bones.”
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
Rebecca is Gone Girl meets Mrs. Dalloway
I truly loved this book. I think this is my first “classic” that I’ve ever given five stars. Like I love me some Pride and Prejudice and I love Wuthering Heights, but in order to have five stars, there has to be some little sliver of magic that I just connect with on a personal level. Rebecca is the story of an unnamed woman who is working as a companion for a rich lady in Monte Carlo, where she meets Maxim De Winters, the recently widowed owner of Manderly. They start to spend a lot of time together and when the narrator is supposed to leave Monte Carlo, he proposes they marry instead. They go back to Manderly and things are weird. Everyone is always talking about his previous wife, Rebecca. There’s a wing of the house that is closed off. There’s a weird boathouse. The head maid is hecka sketch. Something strange is going on.
The narrator, the main lady, whose mind we are inside of, is never named. It’s very intentionally highlighted, especially at the beginning of the novel, that she has a unique name, but we never get to know what it is. (I, personally, called her Tangerine) We’re in her head and I don’t know if I’ve ever read a more relatable internal monologue. She has no idea what’s going on, but she doesn’t want people to know she doesn’t know, so she’s just like “yeah, for sure…” She’s trying her best, but she’s in over her head!
Spoilers! (Highlight the text to read): Maxim is the worst. This man. We knew it from the moment he asked Tangerine to marry him (and honestly, even before that). She’s less than half his age, maybe excusable, but also he just suggests it at breakfast as an alternative to her leaving. He literally pets her like a dog! Then he only says “I love you” after he confesses to killing his first wife to essentially coerce Tangerine to stay with him. Honestly, can’t blame Rebecca for being an asshole to this man. Sounds like he deserved it. Rebecca is the original Amy Dunne #girlboss. Truly, she was the founder of kill-all-men-energy.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
This is the final book in the Brown sisters series by Talia Hibbert, and probably my least favorite. It follows the youngest Brown sister, Eve, as she is told to get a job and ends up working as a chef at a bed and breakfast, where she falls in love with the owner. Eve is a bit of a hot mess and Jacob, the owner
of the B&B is very rigid and particular (he’s also on the autism spectrum).
I hate to be too negative because I don’t think it was a bad book. It’s truly just a personal taste thing. I just didn’t love either of the leads. Eve straddles the line between endearing and offputting. Some of her issues struck a little too close to home and I just didn’t vibe with the youngest child energy. Jacob is fine, but he isn’t the sweet little chicken nugget that I come to expect from these books after Red and Zafir.
Rereads: I don’t count rereads towards my totals for the year, but I wanted to share books I reread and if my thoughts have changed about them.
ACOTAR & ACOMAF (audiobooks)
I listened to the audiobooks of both of these before reading ACOWAR this month. My opinions on the first book didn’t change much, but my experience with the second book was vastly different (and better) knowing where it ended. I would probably bump my rating from 3.5 up to like a 4 or 4.5 with the reread. Original thoughts from December 2020
SPOILER (highlight text to read) The first time I read ACOMAF, I was so worried about Tamlin. Clearly, both he and Feyre are dealing with a lot of PTSD and aren’t the best fits for each other, but I was very concerned when she just peaces out and leaves him. Also, I was not sold on Rhys for a long time. For the whole first 50 chapters, I was like wait, but what about Tamlin? Is he okay? This time I was able to really enjoy the romance between Rhys and Feyre because at the end of the book we find out Tamlin is sort of the worst and Rhys has been in love with her the whole time.
Also, can we talk about how awkward it feels to listen to an audiobook sex scene? Like I’m just trying to do a puzzle or make dinner and his fingers are where? I need like a radio edit.
From Blood and Ash and A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I also reread these two to prep for The Crown of Gilded Bones. They are garbage books, but I love them with my whole heart. They are truly a delight. I will reread them again.
DNFs: These are books I DNF (aka books I did not finish). Books that I include in this category are books for whatever reason, I decided just weren’t for me. I typically try to read at least 20-25% of a book before quitting on it. If I’m not enjoying it, I’ll head to the Goodreads reviews and see if things really pick up or if I’m better off abandoning it.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Like everyone else and their mother, I was excited to watch the Shadow and Bone TV show. I found out a couple of weeks ago that it would also include storylines from Six of Crows. I attempted to read it, but honestly, I think my brain was too tired from all the other YA fantasy I read this month. I will probably attempt it again later (since it is a favorite for so many people), but for now, I’m quitting.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: My sister loved this series, but I was too old to read it when it initially came out. I attempted to listen to the audiobook, but without the nostalgia factor, I just wasn’t interested.