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

December Wrap-Up

December was a great reading month — I read everything on my December Hopefuls list … and then some! I am closing out my year with 54 books!

Here’s what I read this month:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol

An annual reread … and one of the best Christmas ghost stories! Every year I get something different out of this book, and this year, I was actually spooked! I also made a resolution to read at least two Dickens novels this year! I admittedly have only read two … A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. I read Oliver Twist in 9th grade, so I look forward to reading it again as an adult.

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

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It felt really special to read this out loud to my daughter this year. Ian and I took turns reading a letter throughout the season. If you love Tolkien or whimsy things (and let’s be honest, you love both when you love Tolkien), read this! It’s hilarious, fun, smart, and so beautiful.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here

I go into more detail in my book review, but golly, Backman is one of my favorite authors ever. This book was Beartown meets A Man Called Ove meets Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine in all the best ways. I absolutely adored it. I have one more novella and I will have completed all of Backman’s works!

King of Scars (King of Scars #1) by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars (King of Scars, #1)

I am working my way through the Grishaverse! I read the Shadow and Bone trilogy this summer, giving them an average review. That didn’t stop me from reading the Six of Crows duology, which I have yet to review … but Six of Crows was one of my favorite books this year! Crooked Kingdom … not so much.

Anyways, I devoured this book in a week or so, and found it to be … mmm, well. Average. This 527-page book is a bit of a rollercoaster. I was feeling disconnected from the main characters and the pacing throughout. The story follows Nikolai (one of the only reasons I continued to read Shadow and Bone), Nina (one of my favorite characters in Six of Crows), and Zoya, who was a prevalent character in Shadow and Bone. All of the characters were watered down versions of themselves, especially Nikolai. I will give a longer review when I finish Rule of Wolves, which I have ordered. The way this story ends makes you want to pick up the last book, so don’t fret if you started this one and you’re unsure. We can finish this together!

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)

Thank goodness I ordered this book. I finished it this week and wow. I am enthralled by this story and the main character. Rin is unlike any fantasy heroine I have ever encountered … and this book was unlike any fantasy book I have ever read. It is raw, dark, violent, honest. It packs a punch and is not for the sensitive or faint hearted. It was my first military fantasy and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)

I finished The Cruel Prince the morning of Dec. 31. I was hoping to make this one my first completed read of 2022, but I flew through this one. This book was extremely interesting and though there are things I did not like about it … I certainly didn’t hate it. I look forward to completing The Folk of the Air trilogy in the next couple of months!

What about you? What did you read this month?

Another year in the books (heh). Check out all the books I read in 2021:

January Wrap-Up

February Wrap-Up

March Wrap-Up

April Wrap-Up

May to September Wrap-Up

October Wrap-Up

November Wrap-Up

December Wrap-Up

November Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe that November has already come and gone and we are almost done with 2021.

November was a very successful month for reading; I read 8 books! The past few months I felt really behind on meeting my Goodreads goal of 50 books, but now I have only 2 to go until I complete the challenge!

Here’s what I read in November:

On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Robert Bucknam and Gary Enzo

On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep

As a first-time mom, I will take all and any book recommendations from parent friends. This book was super helpful and provided some great tips on how to help your baby develop a sleep routine. While a lot of the stuff in here was a little dated, I did appreciate their take and will adopt some of their practices into my parenting style.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious (Villains, #1)

This book was just alright for me. I was not a fan of Addie LaRue, but many friends encouraged me to try this series out as well as A Darker Shade of Magic. I will not be reading the second in this series, but I plan to give Darker Shades a try in January. The writing is good in this one, but I really didn’t enjoy the story and the characters. I found myself quite bored throughout … even though I read it fast.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

The Rose Code

Thank goodness for Kate Quinn. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that The Rose Code is now one of my favorite books of the year. You can read my full thoughts in my book review, but I will share that this book is fast-paced (even though it’s a long one). It is also captivating and profound. This book really delivered, hitting all of my favorite topics: historical fiction, feminism, and (recently) historical romance.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

… Eh. This book is a little overhyped. I go into more detail in my book review, but my high level thoughts are this: beautiful prose should not be used as a distraction to hide a lackluster plot and flat-as-can-be characters. I found this same issue with Starless Sea, a book that was also overhyped for its beautiful writing. Don’t get me wrong, Morgenstern can write some pretty prose, but when I am sitting there wondering where the “fierce competition” or “deep, magical love story” is, you’ve lost a lot of stars.

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge) by Linda Åkeson McGurk

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge)

This is another good parenting book that I highly recommend. While I skimmed through a lot of the personal stories (there were just too many), I appreciated the author’s take on getting kids outside and the importance of exposing your children (and yourself, really) to fresh air at an early age. My husband and I read this one together and we found so many useful nuggets that we will adopt with our little one.

Zen Mamas by Teresa Palmer and Sarah Wright Olsen

Zen Mamas

Another parenting book, but this one was OK. It got a little too earthy crunchy at some parts, but I did appreciate their insight and learned a lot about what kind of mom I want to be!

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Boy. I really, really wanted to love this book. The premise was right up my alley: historical fiction, libraries, feminism … but instead I encountered a poorly written book that was lacking in insightful dialogue, likable characters, and plot development. Gosh, this was just not good. The characters were flat, the prose was choppy and messy. Cringy dialogue and a stupid whodunnit at the end. Predictable twists and turns. Just an all-around stinker.

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

The Deal of a Lifetime

When in doubt, turn to Backman. After I finished the book above, I went right to my favorite author. I started Britt-Marie Was Here and then read this novella in one sitting. This 60-ish page novella was absolutely breaktaking. Like all of Backman’s work, I was left speechless and in tears after his brilliant writing tore my soul apart. This is a great holiday read that teaches you about the importance of family and living every moment to the fullest.

What did you read in November? Share some books below!

And, see what I’ve been reading this year:

January Wrap-Up

February Wrap-Up

March Wrap-Up

April Wrap-Up

May to September Wrap-Up

October Wrap-Up