Checking in: Books and TV Shows

Hello, friends. It has been some time since I checked in on here. Our daughter, Nora, joined us on February 3, and since then, life has been what I like to call “survival mode.” They say “the days are long but the years are short,” and they (whoever “they” are) are not kidding. Most days early postpartum I sat on the couch, holding my baby in-between feeds and watched a lot of television. A lot of television. I am now close to entering month 3 of my 4-month maternity leave and I am wondering where all the time has gone.

Nora is an extremely easy baby. She’s a great eater and sleeper. When she was born, however, I expectedly got diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. I immediately began treatment, but it has still been a harrowing journey. I plan to write more about my experience with PPA/PPD, but for now, I wanted to share what I have been reading and watching since I last posted!

What I read

I am happy to share that although I am still making the time to read when I can. I expected that I would have been reading nonstop once Nora arrived, but the first few weeks were too exhausting to concentrate on books. I simply existed, and that’s it. Once I found a groove, I started to read more while I fed my baby or pumped at night, and I’ve read a few books. Here they are:

The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality by Kimberly Ann Johnson

This was an interesting book all about the trimester that no one talks about … the fourth trimester. There were some chapters that I skipped based on personal beliefs, but overall, I enjoyed the main premise and tips on how to take care of myself during one of the most challenging times of my life.

House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City #2) by Sarah J. Maas

Well, it’s safe to say that my time reading books by Sarah J. Maas are at an end. I finished this one extremely disappointed (and not at all “mind-blown” like other fans). Such a bummer.

How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin

I was extremely excited when I found out that N.K. Jemisin wrote short stories, so I downloaded this on my Kindle as soon as I could. There were definitely some stories that I liked more than most, and I am glad I read this insightful collection.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn has become an auto-buy author of mine, so I went into The Huntress with high hopes. It was … in a word … “okay.” The Huntress wasn’t her best and most interesting book. It was super predictable, and the characters were flat. I do look forward to downloading her new one, The Diamond Eye, once I am done with the Darker Shades of Magic trilogy!

What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris

I was really looking forward to this one … but it was too linear and boring. The main character was flat and there weren’t many dimensions to the plot.

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Soloman

My goodness did I love The Ex Talk! It was funny, quirky, romantic, and not to mention, filled with NPR/public radio nerd references! An easy 5 stars from me!

What am I reading now?

I am currently reading The Circus Train, a novel by Amita Parikh. It is a historical romance, coming-of-age story that was just released the end of March. It is giving me major The Night Circus vibes (not in a good way, seeing as how the titles are so similar), but I really appreciate the novel’s attention to disability. I also just started A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, one of my most anticipated fantasy series. To be continued …

What I watched

While I nursed my baby, burped my baby, and held my baby … and pumped milk for my baby, I watched a LOT of television. I am usually a big habitual television watcher. I will watch the same movies and television shows (lookin’ at you, Gilmore girls) just for comfort. But, since I have 4 months with my baby, I figured I would watch shows that I’ve been meaning to get to, but never had the “time.” So, here’s what I watched since February (in bullet form):

  • Seinfeld (Netflix) – A classic rewatch. I haven’t seen some of the episodes before, so it was nice to have a quick laugh during the darkest days of postpartum.
  • Love is Blind S2 (Netflix) — A hot, hot mess. Loved it.
  • Emily in Paris (Netflix) — Terribly terrible, yet entertaining.
  • Inventing Anna (Netflix) — VERY good.
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime) — Amazing.
  • The Office (Peacock) — Rewatch!
  • Parks and Recreation (Peacock) — First time ever. I know. But guess what? I already want to watch it again.
  • Ted Lasso (Apple TV) — Really good.
  • The Ultimatum (Netflix) — GAH. Awful. But so good.

What’s Next on TV

  • Once Upon a Time (Disney+)
  • The Mandalorian (Disney+)
  • Downtown Abbey (Netflix)
  • Outlander (Netflix)

Any recommendations? Feel free to share in the comments!

January Wrap-Up

What a whirlwind of a month! Our little girl joined us in early February, and let’s just say that I’ve been a little busy!! Now that we’ve established a routine, I am catching up on my blog posts!

I read a good amount of fantasy books in January, as well as a 5-star read! (Haven’t had one of those in a while).

Here are the books:

The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War series #2) by R.F. Kuang

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

I can’t get enough of The Poppy War series! The Dragon Republic was incredible. While The Poppy War felt like a slow burn, this book was very fast-paced and filled with action. I enjoyed every moment.

The Burning God (The Poppy War series #3) by R.F. Kuang

The final book of The Poppy War series doesn’t disappoint. The ending is fantastic. I don’t want to give much away, but you can read more about my thoughts on the series here.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

This novella fell a little flat for me … which was surprising. It was hard to follow and I couldn’t connect with the story. I’m happy to share, however, that I’ve read all of Backman’s work!

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

This book was funny, quirky, romantic, and super entertaining! The characters are lovable and you root for all of them! You can learn more about why I loved this book in my review.

The Drowning Faith (The Poppy War series #2.5) by R.F. Kuang

Nezha is one of my favorite characters in The Poppy War series, so I was so happy when a fellow bookstagrammer let me know that Kuang wrote a collection of short stories from his point of view. Definitely wish it was longer, but I enjoyed hopping back into the series and learning more about his story.

The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air series #2) by Holly Black

I am still forming my thoughts on this complicated series that I wanted to love so much, but I will say that the books are short, fast-paced, and interesting enough. I felt like this book dragged a little in terms of plot, and left me wanting more at the end. Luckily there was one more book in the series…

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air Series #3) by Holly Black

…and it fell flat! I plan on writing a full series review, but throughout the books, I always wanted more. I wanted more from the prose, the plot, the characters … it was disappointing! I read them and instantly forgot about them. Not much of an impression.

Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

But thank goodness for this one! One of my first 5-star reads in some time. I absolutely ADORED this book. It’s perfect. The characters, the politics, the romance, the steam. I loved every second of it. More to come, but I can see why this is a reread for so many folks!

Series Review | The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

I have never read anything like The Poppy War Series by R.F. Kuang. Ever.

I have been reading the fantastic since I could remember…my Master’s thesis is about fantasy heroines and their rise within the genre. But nothing prepared me for Rin and her story.

I started The Poppy War (#1) in December, flying through the first 200 pages, fully engrossed in the story and Kuang’s writing. I’ve never read a military fantasy before, and I was intrigued by the story and its connection to Chinese history, poverty, gender, and … shamanic powers.

A little more about The Poppy War series:

Rin, an orphan, aces the Keju, the Empire-wide test that brings the most talented youth to learn at the academies. She attends Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan. She is immediately targeted for her dark skin, poverty, and gender, but soon discovers that she is one of the most powerful shamans in the world. She soon becomes the weapon that the world desperately needs to win the Third Poppy War. She is chosen by the Phoenix god to possess this unearthly power, and she makes decisions that change her nation and jeopardizes her humanity. Rin is filled with vengeance; she makes decisions throughout the series that helps her grow in power, such as aligning with the powerful Dragon Warlord. Rin does what it takes to save her world. She continues to serve as a figurehead in her nation, constantly betrayed by those she trusts, creating new allies in order to keep her world safe while also obtaining ultimate power.

The Poppy War (#1) is a Goodreads Choice Award finalist (twice over), Nebula Award finalist, Locus Award finalist, and winner of the Stabby, Crawford, and Compton Crook Awards (Understandably so).

My Thoughts

The other fantastic works I’ve read before this seem so watered down compared to The Poppy War series. Kuang does not hold back when it comes to depicting war, from its ugly battles and gore to the aftermath of genocide, to strategy and the struggles of the militia. Throughout the series, you feel as if you are there in the war room or on the battlefield. Her account of Golyn Niis in The Poppy War, though extremely unsettling, is based on real events (the Nanjing Massacre), and though I could not stomach a lot of the content, I am grateful that she did not hold back on the details.

The series’ prose, character development and world-building throughout are superb. Kuang is very, very thorough and does not skimp on the details. She provides thorough background on the world of Nikan and its military history, character descriptions, military/strategy dialogue, and more. She is a fantastic storyteller. I was never bored reading these books. The Dragon Republic, the second book, was over 600 pages and was a rich, epic book … filled with tons of crazy shit. It was super war heavy, filled with battles, strategy, and death. Be prepared for a lot of death in these books.

The books are told through third-person limited omniscient, or “close third,” (when an author sticks closely to one character but remains in third person), which allows readers to get to know the other characters, namely Kitay, Nezha, and Venka. While I did find character development lacking in The Poppy War, it started to pick up in Dragon Republic, and I finally found characters that I liked/disliked. Forever a Nezha stan.

The series’ final book, The Burning God, did not disappoint. What an incredibly detailed, smart, mind-blowing, emotional conclusion to her series. The book is a long, complicated one — you don’t read this series to binge the books. Like strategizing for battle, Kuang’s books are carefully crafted. The pacing was fantastic and the ending was so unconventional. I was so satisfied.

The problem(?) with Rin

Rin is by far the most complicated heroine/anti-hero I’ve ever encountered. From the moment I met her, I was jarred by her character. Even at 16-years-old, Rin was outspoken, impulsive, and reckless in her behavior. All admirable qualities, yes, but I’m afraid that those qualities only take a turn for the worse as the series goes on. In order to avoid an arranged marriage, Rin tortures herself (literally — she sticks her hand in fire to keep herself disciplined as she studies for the exam) to get out of her hometown of Tikany and achieve her autonomy. She’s tenacious, stubborn, and has a mouth that gets her into trouble. She makes fast enemies at Sinegard, and continues to make questionable decisions in order to rise to power. Like … really questionable decisions. She’s kind of the worst …

It’s so weird to read a series where you hate the main character. Rin is unlikable from the beginning, but you also can’t help but root for her at the same time. It’s very confusing. Rin becomes a monster. A villian. She is impulsive, murderous, and has no respect for human life. She is consumed by her power — she will do anything to protect herself and her autonomy. She is whiny, entitled, and lazy. She is abusive, naive, immature, and careless. And through all of her evil and malice, she still grapples with power and her autonomy throughout the series. She doesn’t really succeed. She has so many flaws. It’s unbelievably fascinating. She contradicts herself constantly, and its maddening as a reader. She is hated by people around her, and yet people are drawn to her. I think that’s what makes her such a rich character, and I applaud Kuang for not creating a stereotypical heroine for her books. Rin is complicated; you aren’t going to root for her. You are going to hate her, but you are going to enjoy the books nonetheless.

Some random Reddit user I found said it best: “You don’t have to make good decisions to be a good character — you just have to be compelling.” And Rin definitely checks that box.

Do I recommend these books?

A thousand times, yes. But be prepared. If you are looking for a fantasy romance, you will not get that in these books. While I’d say that typical romance is an afterthought in this book, it is also the core foundation of the plot in these books. Rin loves, and strives for love, but there’s no romance. I won’t go into more detail, but if you’re looking for the “steam,” you will not get that.

I will also provide a pretty exhaustive list of trigger warnings for this series, because it’s paramount you know what to expect going in. If you are easily triggered by any of these topics, I recommend reconsidering revisiting this series, or, being gentle with yourself as you read:

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Animal cruelty/death
  • Assault
  • Cannibalism
  • Drugs
  • Genocide
  • Gore
  • Human experimentation
  • Infertility
  • Mutilation
  • PTSD
  • Profanity
  • Racism
  • Rape
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide
  • Torture
  • Violence
  • War

Book Review | Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Last weekend, I read Rachel Lynn Solomon’s new book, Weather Girl, and I absolutely loved it!

I am such a big fantasy reader, so reading a contemporary romance was a nice change of scenery. The book was quirky, cute, funny, well-written, and super entertaining. If it was a movie I would watch it nonstop. (Please make it a movie!)

A little more about Weather Girl:

Ari Abrams has always been fascinated by the weather, and she loves almost everything about her job as a TV meteorologist. Her boss, legendary Seattle weatherwoman Torrance Hale, is too distracted by her tempestuous relationship with her ex-husband, the station’s news director, to give Ari the mentorship she wants. Ari, who runs on sunshine and optimism, is at her wits’ end. The only person who seems to understand how she feels is sweet but reserved sports reporter Russell Barringer.

In the aftermath of a disastrous holiday party, Ari and Russell decide to team up to solve their bosses’ relationship issues. Between secret gifts and double dates, they start nudging their bosses back together. But their well-meaning meddling backfires when the real chemistry builds between Ari and Russell.

Working closely with Russell means allowing him to get to know parts of herself that Ari keeps hidden from everyone. Will he be able to embrace her dark clouds as well as her clear skies?

My thoughts

I knew I was going to love this book the moment I saw the author’s note about mental health and for the reader to be gentle to themselves if they are triggered by mental health content. I remember turning to my husband and saying, “this is going to be a good one.” It shows the author is aware of the content she is writing about and cares about her readers. There are so many authors out there who do not do this, so I really appreciated the extra effort there.

Ari and Russell are such lovable characters. They are so sweet and you root for them to succeed. As they try to get their bosses back together, they start to fall for each other too. The friction and steam is REAL, friends! I really enjoyed following their story. It’s super fun, feel-good, and will leave you smiling at the end.

Sometimes you need some predictability in your life — and I love a good romance for those moments. While this book delivered on that front, it also had body positivity, LGBTQ rep, Jewish rep, and overall diversity rep. I am so happy I picked this one up. You should too!