What a fun month! I continued to navigate working from home, full-time mom-ing, and I also started a fun 365 Days of Movement challenge where I dedicate time to moving every day! We also went to the beach for a week, and Nora crushed her first family vacation!
I read three books in July, and DNFd a fair few. Bleh. Anyways, here is what I read this month!
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
What I liked:
This book was pretty darn funny!
The inside scoop on reality TV — ‘cuz we know it’s not real.
Inclusivity: LGBTQ, diverse characters, neurodiversity, and mental health.
What I didn’t like:
Honestly, nothing. I loved it! 🙂
Trigger Warnings: anxiety, panic attacks, depression, conversations about OCD and mental illness, drinking, alcoholism, familial estrangement, homophobia and racism (challenged)
Finlay Donovan is Killing It: A Mystery by Elle Cosimano
What I liked:
This book was super quippy and fun!
The plot/idea behind the book is wildly entertaining.
That this book is a series!
What I didn’t like:
The main character is “eh.” She makes a lot of obvious mistakes that can lead her to trouble but she somehow gets away with it? Not very realistic.
Some of the book was too detail heavy, and could have benefitted from some editing to focus on plot movements rather than mundane “tell not show” details.
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
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!
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).
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:
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?
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!