February Wrap-Up

February was another great month for reading. We had a TON of snow in New England, so I was more than happy to stay indoors and read under lots of blankets.

I read mostly fantasy in February — 4 out of the 6 books were fantasy or fantasy romance. I am still wrapping up my Throne of Glass buddy read, A Court of Silver Flames came out on Feb. 16 (which I will review in a separate post), and I was in a buddy read for From Blood and Ash. Overall, I am pleased with my book stack in February and look forward to reading more great books in March.

Here’s the breakdown and some quick reviews:

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass, #5)

This series continues to captivate and amaze me. I found this one to be super action-packed and intriguing. I really loved all of the characters and enjoyed following their stories. Lysandra? Favorite. Dorian? Another favorite. Also … this cover is stunning. I plan to do a full series review when I am done in April and I will gush about why I love Throne of Glass so much.

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash, #1)

Ehhhh … well … this book proved that I might not love ALL fantasy books. First, I’d like to say that the concept behind this story is super complex and captivating, but the execution of the story and worldbuilding were lackluster. The dialogue was very watered down and cheesy (lots of eye rolling), and I just couldn’t get into the romance. I found Hunt to be super predatory and icky. I wish I loved this book, and I know that so many of my pals loved it, but it didn’t do it for me. I’m sorry, fantasy friends. Will I cave in and read the rest of the series because I need to know what happens anyway? Probably.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1)

More fantasy? You bet. Badass heroine? Yep. Sign me up. I flew through this first book and really enjoy Bardugo’s Grishaverse. She really knows how to keep her audience captivated, and this fantasy series is so different from other fantastic texts that I’ve read. I love the Russian elements and I really am digging Alina. And, hello, Darkling (hate your name but I enjoy you). Oh … hi, Mal. Leave.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

I received an advanced listeners copy (ALC) from Libro.fm and I am telling you all RUN don’t walk to get this one. This work of nonfiction was curated by Kendi and Blain and features a collective group of scholars, writers, historians, journalists, lawyers, poets and activists who share the history of African America. It’s poignant and powerful and everyone should read it. I bought a physical copy just so I can revisit certain parts and share this book with friends and family.

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)

This book follows the story of Nesta and Cassian and let me tell you … it gets STEAMY. I don’t even know if “steamy” covers it. Tons of blushing and clutching my pearls. I am going to post a longer review, but I will tell you what I liked: Nesta’s journey to self-love, the power of sisterhood and the bond of strong women, and the discussions of trauma. What I didn’t like? Not enough fantasy. This book was super focused on their romance and Nesta’s healing. It was a wild experience … and that final Az chapter? I have some thoughts! If you want to read this, please contact me for trigger warnings. While every SJM book focuses on trauma in some ways, this one felt a little different.

Coffee Self-Talk: 5 Minutes a Day to Start Living Your Magical Life by Kristen Helmstetter

Coffee Self-Talk: 5 Minutes a Day to Start Living Your Magical Life

I received an advanced readers copy (ARC) from NetGalley and found myself underwhelmed after reading this book. Honestly, I loved the cover … how cute is this cover!? BUT, I skimmed through a lot of it because, again, I’m finding newer self-help books are regurgitating what I’ve read before. I thought some parts were cheeky and cute, but overall, I did not get anything new out of this book.

If you want to read any of these books and are interested in learning content warnings, please email me at kass.readsbooks@gmail.com or find me on Instagram: @keepitkassual.

March Hopefuls

It’s March … Wait a minute, again?

Hasn’t it been March 2020 all this time?

Jokes aside, I am looking forward to reading more books this month. I have been planning out my reading list each month this year and I’ve stuck to them. Typically, I am a mood reader, but with COVID-19 and all of its uncertainty, I decided to add some structure to my reading to keep me in check.

Last month, I read a lot of fantasy, so I decided to keep to my buddy reads but also add in some fiction, romance, historical fiction and a thriller. Super excited.

Here’s what I’m hoping to read this month:

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy)

Siege and Storm (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #2)

The synopsis spoils the first book, but I am already halfway through this one (they are super fast, engaging reads), and I can’t get enough. I just want to say one thing: Nikolai. OK. That’s all.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Beartown #2)

Us Against You (Beartown, #2)

Another sequel, and I know I am going to love it. I look forward to revisiting Beartown and learning more about these beloved characters. Also, I know. It looks like a book about hockey, but it’s so much more than that! Check out my review of Beartown to see what I mean.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sisters #3)

Act Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3)

More sequels?! What can I say, I love me a good series. I have really enjoyed Hibbert’s romances focusing on the Brown sisters (Dani Brown was my personal favorite out of the two). This one comes out March 9 and I was pumped to get an advanced listeners copy (ALC) from Libro.fm. I really look forward to learning more about Eve’s story.

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6)

I am almost done with the Throne of Glass series (happy face/sad face). This one focuses on Chaol and Nesryn’s story and I heard it has so many great, new characters in it. I am super excited to pick this one up.

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly (Lilac Girls # 3)

Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls, #3)

… Pretend you didn’t see that series reference. First of all, Martha Hall Kelly is a delight. Second, Lilac Girls is a MUST READ. It has Connecticut ties, so of course I jumped at the chance to read it when it came out. I was fortunate to receive an advanced readers copy (ARC) of Sunflower Sisters from NetGalley and can’t wait to read it. This book comes out March 30.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight

Hey, look. This isn’t part of a series! Now this one just sounds cool. I usually read tons of thrillers in the summer, but I decided to add one to my list this month! Even looking at the cover gives me heart palpitations. Can’t wait to dive in.

What are you reading this month?

Book Review: Beartown

Beartown has been sitting on my shelves for a few years now. When I first picked it up, I thought the book wasn’t for me because of all of the hockey content, but I pushed forward this time and realized it was much more than that.

This book, like all of Backman’s books, is complicated. There are many characters presented within the text who are experiencing different, yet relatable struggles. Whether it is your identity or financial hardships, marital struggles, or internal strife, you find yourself in each and every one of those characters as they experience their separate grief, sadness, and fear. You find peace knowing you are not alone. Beartown is a story about being human. It’s raw and poignant to every reader.

Beartown, largely, is about how a fragile and already violent and complicit community reacts to a tragic moment. It looks at characters who make the right decisions, and characters who make the wrong ones. It is fictional, yet we see this happen all of the time, and it is frustrating.

The town, focused solely on getting its hockey team to the finals, loses sight of morality and humanity in this one important event. I read this book with shaking hands and angry tears most of the time, but Backman does not fully betray the reader. He shows that in darkness, there is light and that there are bears in this community who will fight for their cubs.

There are many “teams” in this book besides the obvious hockey one. Beartown demonstrates the power behind a good team and the strength of small teams. These teams can be husband and wife, lovers, best friends, colleagues, and mentors. Characters were constantly learning throughout this story how to be better individuals so that they can support their teams. I was moved by many of the characters and their loyalty to one another. It was a beautiful, raw, and complicated story.

A few things to wrap up my review:

Believe victims and survivors. BELIEVE THEM.

Have grit and persevere.

Knock yourself into that wall if you need to — full force. Again. Again. Again. You have strength and you have worth.

And,

“Words are not small things.”

Trigger warnings: rape, suicidal thoughts, suicide mentions, sexual assault, homophobia, guns, violence, victim blaming, child mortality (past), foul language.

Review: ‘The Broken Earth’ Series

I did not know what to expect when I started The Broken Earth series, but I was not disappointed. The series started popping up on my Bookstagram feed (@keepitkassual) in the late spring, and I knew that it was something I needed to get my hands on!

The glossy Hugo Award pictured on each cover is more than well-deserved. Author N.K. Jemisin presents some of the best storytelling that I have ever read with shifting points of view and poetic, poignant prose. You are constantly on the edge of your seat as you read, concentrating on every word as you learn about Essun and her story.

 

Orogenes are a specific race within the Stillness with a power called sessapinae, giving them the ability to control tectonic activity within the earth. Also referred to as the derogatory term, roggas, orogenes are oppressed, feared, and hated beings; they are seen as the “Other” within the Stillness. Essun, an orogene herself, kept this secret from Jija. She believes that Jija has taken Nassun somewhere to kill her, so she sets forth to find them and seek revenge on Jija. That is the premise of the story. Essun’s quest to find her daughter. What readers are presented with is so much more, however.

What I liked about The Broken Earth series was that the books shed light on many important social topics, including environmentalism (the Earth seeking revenge on the beings that destroyed it), systemic racism, and classism. The books aren’t just limited to those themes, however. They also explore individualism, resistance, LGBTQ relationships, and gender equity. These topics are important, and they are impeccably intertwined throughout the books.

The first book was my favorite, for it seemed the most organized.  I enjoyed the shifting points of view. Essun’s story is told in the second point of view, so, you, the reader, are Essun. You are the protagonist. The Fifth Season also follows the stories of Damaya and Syenite, two other orogenes. The ending of the book will leave you feeling exhausted and duped … but in a good way.

The Obelisk Gate has the one thing that a reader of the fantastic enjoys: world-building. Hundreds of pages of it. So much that it almost came across as disjointed and hard to follow. This might be because I don’t enjoy lengthy world-building, but it’s high fantasy, so I should have been prepared for it. I do read and enjoy Tolkien, don’t I? He loves to talk about trees. 

The Stone Sky, the final book, can be read quickly because you don’t want to put it down once you start. Jemisin’s writing is entrancing. The mother-daughter struggle is profound as you discover that Nassun’s powers go beyond what Essun could have ever imagined. This difficulties that they face stretches to the very end. The finale is truly heart-wrenching and fast-paced. You’ll finish feeling heartbroken yet satisfied. You will find yourself experiencing a complex array of emotions. That’s because it’s such a complex series.

In The Broken Earth series, Jemisin presents readers with the following question:

What are we willing to sacrifice to avoid positive change?

The Broken Earth series is a profound glimpse into our present and our future. It’s important now, more than ever, to have conversations about climate, race, and human rights. We must make sustainable change. We have to save our world.

. . . . .

N.K. Jemisin was the first writer to win three consecutive Hugo best novels awards for science fiction and fantasy. As a Black writer within the fantastic genre, her books feature strong Black characters struggling and combating important social issues. 

You can learn more about N.K. Jemisin and her work here.