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!

Anticipated Book Releases for Q1

There are some really intriguing books coming out in the next three months, so I wanted to share a list of the ones that I have my eye on.

…I am going to do my best to not buy them all. My goal this year is to read the books I already have on my shelves!

Is my husband reading this? No? OK, good. Because I already pre-ordered two of them.

Here are some of the books that I am excited to read in early 2022!

January

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Daughter of the Moon Goddess: A Novel

(Perhaps my most anticipated book for 2022.)

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.

Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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?

You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays by Zora Neale Hurston

You Don't Know Us Negroes and Other Essays

You Don’t Know Us Negroes is the quintessential gathering of provocative essays from one of the world’s most celebrated writers, Zora Neale Hurston. Spanning more than three decades and penned during the backdrop of the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, Montgomery bus boycott, desegregation of the military, and school integration, Hurston’s writing articulates the beauty and authenticity of Black life as only she could. Collectively, these essays showcase the roles enslavement and Jim Crow have played in intensifying Black people’s inner lives and culture rather than destroying it. She argues that in the process of surviving, Black people re-interpreted every aspect of American culture—”modif[ying] the language, mode of food preparation, practice of medicine, and most certainly religion.” White supremacy prevents the world from seeing or completely recognizing Black people in their full humanity and Hurston made it her job to lift the veil and reveal the heart and soul of the race. These pages reflect Hurston as the controversial figure she was—someone who stated that feminism is a mirage and that the integration of schools did not necessarily improve the education of Black students. Also covered is the sensational trial of Ruby McCollum, a wealthy Black woman convicted in 1952 for killing her lover, a white doctor.

Demonstrating the breadth of this revered and influential writer’s work, You Don’t Know Us Negroes and Other Essays is an invaluable chronicle of a writer’s development and a window into her world and mind.

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Olga Dies Dreaming

It’s 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are boldfaced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers.

Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1 percent but she can’t seem to find her own. . . until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets.

Olga and Prieto’s mother, Blanca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.

Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the very notion of the American dream—all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.

February

What the Fireflies Knew by Kai Harris

What the Fireflies Knew: A Novel

After almost-eleven-year-old Kenyatta Bernice’s (KB) father dies of an overdose and the debts incurred from his addiction cause the loss of the family home in Detroit, she and her teenage sister, Nia, are sent by their overwhelmed mother to live with their estranged grandfather in Lansing. Over the course of a single, sweltering summer, KB attempts to get her bearings in a world that has turned upside down—a father who is labeled a fiend; a mother whose smile no longer reaches her eyes; a sister, once her best friend, who has crossed the threshold of adolescence and suddenly wants nothing to do with her; a grandfather who is grumpy and silent; the white kids across the street who are friendly, but only sometimes. And all of them are keeping secrets. Pinballing between resentment, abandonment, and loneliness, KB is forced to carve out a different identity for herself and find her own voice. As she examines the jagged pieces of her recently shattered world, she learns that while some truths cut deep, a new life—and a new KB—can be built from the shards.

Capturing all the vulnerability, perceptiveness, and inquisitiveness of a young Black girl on the cusp of puberty, Harris’s prose perfectly inhabits that hazy space between childhood and adolescence, where everything that was once familiar develops a veneer of strangeness when seen through newer, older eyes. Through KB’s disillusionment and subsequent discovery of her own power, What the Fireflies Knew poignantly reveals that heartbreaking but necessary component of growing up—the realization that loved ones can be flawed, sometimes significantly so, and that the perfect family we all dream of looks different up close.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

The Paris Apartment

Jess needs a fresh start. She’s broke and alone, and she’s just left her job under less than ideal circumstances. Her half-brother Ben didn’t sound thrilled when she asked if she could crash with him for a bit, but he didn’t say no, and surely everything will look better from Paris. Only when she shows up – to find a very nice apartment, could Ben really have afforded this? – he’s not there.

The longer Ben stays missing, the more Jess starts to dig into her brother’s situation, and the more questions she has. Ben’s neighbors are an eclectic bunch, and not particularly friendly. Jess may have come to Paris to escape her past, but it’s starting to look like it’s Ben’s future that’s in question.

The socialite – The nice guy – The alcoholic – The girl on the verge – The concierge

Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas

House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City Series #2)

(Crescent City has been my favorite of SJM’s books so far, so I cannot wait for this sequel.)

Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal—they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

With Love from London by Sarah Jio

With Love from London: A Novel

When Valentina Baker was only eleven years old, her mother, Eloise, unexpectedly fled to her native London, leaving Val and her father on their own in California. Now a librarian in her thirties, fresh out of a failed marriage and still at odds with her mother’s abandonment, Val feels disenchanted with her life.

In a bittersweet twist of fate, she receives word that Eloise has died, leaving Val the deed to her mother’s Primrose Hill apartment and the Book Garden, the storied bookshop she opened almost two decades prior. Though the news is devastating, Val jumps at the chance for a new beginning and jets across the Atlantic, hoping to learn who her mother truly was while mourning the relationship they never had.

As Val begins to piece together Eloise’s life in the U.K., she finds herself falling in love with the pastel-colored third-floor flat and the cozy, treasure-filled bookshop, soon realizing that her mother’s life was much more complicated than she ever imagined. When Val stumbles across a series of intriguing notes left in a beloved old novel, she sets out to locate the book’s mysterious former owner, though her efforts are challenged from the start, as is the Book Garden’s future. In order to save the store from financial ruin and preserve her mother’s legacy, she must rally its eccentric staff and journey deep into her mother’s secrets. With Love from London is a story about healing and loss, revealing the emotional, relatable truths about love, family, and forgiveness.

March

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

One Italian Summer: A Novel

When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mom, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, their planned mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: to Positano, the magical town where Carol spent the summer right before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone.

But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to feel her mother’s spirit. Buoyed by the stunning waters, beautiful cliffsides, delightful residents, and, of course, delectable food, Katy feels herself coming back to life.

And then Carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her. She is not exactly who Katy imagined she might be, however, and soon Katy must reconcile the mother who knew everything with the young woman who does not yet have a clue.

Rebecca Serle’s next great love story is here, and this time it’s between a mother and a daughter. With her signature “heartbreaking, redemptive, and authentic” (Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Serle has crafted a transcendent novel about how we move on after loss, and how the people we love never truly leave us.

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

All My Rage (Signed Book)

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding. 

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst. 

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

The Diamond Eye: A Novel

In the snowbound city of Kiev, wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son—but Hitler’s invasion of Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper—a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.

Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC—until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.

Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.