Book Reviews: March-July 2017

 july reads, summer reads, wonder book review, the course of love review, six of crows review, sweetbitter review, because you love to hate me review, exit west review

March: Book One

I’m slowly, but surely, adding more graphic novels to my TBR. In March, I read the first book in this trilogy about the life of noted Civil Rights activist John Lewis. As you can imagine, Mr. Lewis has led a very interesting life and I loved learning more about his history. I really like the artwork as well, and as a graphic novel newb, I’m still amazed by how much detail can be captured in a single page, and the different styles of images and lettering that are used to convey different feelings. The first book describes Mr. Lewis’s childhood and his first encounters with the Civil Rights movement. This is a beautifully told story about a critical part of American history and I’m looking forward to continuing the series.

The Woman in Cabin 10

I got along fine with Ruth Ware’s first novel, In a Dark, Dark, Wood, so I was willing to give this book a try as well. Turns out I much preferred this book. Funny enough, I was recently chatting with a friend who has read both books too, and she felt the opposite! I thought the main character, Lo, was much more believable, the setting was appropriately creepy, and the tension was high. Lo is a travel journalist who is invited to attend the maiden voyage of a new, boutique cruise ship. One night on the ship, she hears something terrible- the sound of someone falling overboard. The only problem is, no one is missing from the ship. Lo begins to investigate what she saw and heard, and doubts herself as she keeps coming up empty.

I can’t help but compare the two books, so I’ll tell you what I preferred about this one. I felt that Lo’s occupation as a travel journalist was much more believable than Nora as a writer. Lo at least tried to do her job throughout the story, even if she wasn’t always succeeding. Also, Lo’s ambition and desire to do well on this trip really comes through.

I’ve never been on a cruise before and I might be a bit scared of them after reading this book. The idea of being trapped on a boat for several days with nowhere to go does not seem ideal, particularly in the scenes that take place below deck and below the water line. I’m not really claustrophobic, but the idea of being in a tiny cabin room, underwater, had me taking deep breaths of air in gratitude. There’s also something so isolating about the sea, which certainly played into this story. Ware did a good job of setting the scene and creating a claustrophobic, stifling atmosphere.

The mystery in this book is less predictable, which I was quite happy about. Once you know the main secrets, the plot pretty much goes along as you’d expect, but I was in the dark for most of the book.

Overall, for me, this was certainly an improvement from In a Dark, Dark, Wood with better characters and a more compelling and believable plot. It was also a quick and entertaining read- perfect to take on your next trip.


Hmmmm, where to begin with Sweetbitter, a buzzy book from last spring? I’ll start by saying that this book is not for everyone, but I’m glad I read it and I do have an appreciation for it. The reason that I think I got along with this book is that it hits a lot of my literary checkboxes. It takes place in NYC and it’s about a young twenty-something coming of age. Tess moves to NYC with very little to her name and lands a job at the famous restaurant, Union Square Café. It’s about becoming a part of the fast-paced restaurant industry and trying to find your place in the world.

In terms of plot, there’s not much happening in this book. Instead, it’s all about Tess, whose name we don’t even learn until well into the book. We do know that she is young, carefree, and trying to reinvent herself. I was talking to someone who described this book as “self-indulgent,” and they were not wrong. That’s why I think that if you can’t connect with Tess in some form, then this is not the book for you.

Sometimes, the writing is really good. There are a few, beautiful passages that made me wistful and nostalgic about my move to NYC several years ago. At other times, the writing feels pretentious. Ahh, but again, there was so much that I could identify with in this novel. I remember moving into my first place on my own, like Tess does. I remember the hot, humid days of my first summer in New York. I remember some of the places that Tess haunts, because I’ve been there as well. I remember trying to get used to this supersonic pace of life and trying to feel like I belonged here. In some ways, the book is a love letter to NYC, and I throughly enjoyed that aspect of it. I also found her descriptions of working in the restaurant industry really fascinating and eye-opening.

Tess can be a frustrating character, and I believe she is meant to be. There are actions that she takes that I just don’t understand, which make me want to shake her and say “Grow up!” But, I suppose, that’s the whole point. I also didn’t understand the love interest in this story because he sounds like the worst, and I had a hard time seeing what Tess saw in him.

In the end, there were parts of this novel that really grabbed me and which I’m still thinking about now. I think my personal connections to the story definitely shaped my experience in a more positive light. This book seems to incite pretty polarized views, so if you’ve also read this, I’d love to hear what you thought.

You Can’t Touch My Hair

I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and I think it was the right call. Before reading this, I wasn’t super familiar with Phoebe Robinson, but I knew she was a comedian and that she has a podcast with Jessica Williams called 2 Dope Queens. I was sold by the title (seriously, so good), and the description. The book is full of essays about race, gender, pop culture, and more. This was a pretty fun to listen to. I was able to identify with some of her experiences and, as a black woman, I found a lot of Robinson’s observations on race spot on. Of course, she puts a humorous spin on things, but sometimes she takes a step back and uses a more serious tone. At some point, she talks about using humor as a coping mechanism, as a way to deal with and process some of the experiences she’s had to face. She and I have led very different lives, but it’s always nice to read something by someone who gets it, who knows what it’s like. Consider me now a fan of Phoebe Robinson, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for whatever she does next.

Exit West

This book felt like a beautiful indie film to me. It was quiet, evocative, and completely drew me in. The main characters are Saeed and Nadia, two people who fall in love in a time just before their country is devastated by a civil war. However, contrary to what I thought before I started reading it, this book is less about the love story, and more about the horrors of war and what people have to do to survive.

The tone is detached and somewhat wistful and whimsical. The detachment doesn’t prevent you from connecting with the characters, and perhaps it is necessary in order to process the terrible events that take place. The idea is that horrible things happen, but as things get worse, the original horrors start to feel almost normal (which is its own type of horror).

There’s certainly a lot to think about in this novel, particularly in relation to the themes of displacement and migration. The situation becomes so untenable that Saeed and Nadia decide they must flee. They have to leave behind their friends, their family, and everything that they previously knew. Hamid describes what it’s like to be a refugee and how refugees are treated (unsurprisingly and sadly, the answer is not very well). We see Saeed and Nadia struggle to build and settle into new lives, apart from their previous lives.

Magical realism is a tool used subtly in this book and it fits in quite naturally with the story. The entire book is graceful and thought-provoking. People suffer and struggle, but in some ways, it’s amazing that people are able to live through and survive these experiences. I think this is an important and worthwhile read, particularly given the current state of affairs.

The Dark Days Club

This book made me remember how much I enjoy historical fiction. The Dark Days Club revolves around Lady Helen, a young lady living in the Regency era. Shortly before her debutante ball, Helen begins to develop certain abilities. Soon she learns that there’s a whole underground world in London, full of demons and the people that protect the innocent. When Helen discovers this world, she struggles with the societal expectations for a young woman of her breeding, and the powers she has to combat evil and make the world a better place.

I had a bit of a slow start with this book. Since I knew that magic was involved, I kept waiting for that aspect to appear in the plot. That said, the beginning of the book really sets the historical context, and I enjoyed that. I love reading descriptions of fashion and style in books, which are happily quite plentiful in this novel.

In addition to the normal struggles of growing up and reconciling the person that you’re expected to be with the person that you want to be, Helen has magical abilities that she didn’t expect and doesn’t necessarily want. As you can imagine, being a woman in this time period was very limiting. I love that even before she discovers her powers, Helen fights against societal norms and wants to be independent. I thought Helen was a strong, intelligent character, and even when I didn’t agree with her decisions, I was rooting for her.

Although it took a while for the magical elements to emerge, I thought they were pretty compelling, particularly in the way that they interacted with more normal aspects of life. However, I have some questions about the world that Goodman created, which will hopefully be answered in Book 2. I thought certain words were a bit overused and some of the dialogue made me question if people ever really spoke like that. Despite a few qualms and the slow start, I was engaged by this story and really curious to read about how Helen would fare with her powers. I’m looking forward to picking up the next book in this series when it comes out!

The Song Rising

The best part of a series is having the chance to revisit a world that you love and so far, I’ve really liked all the books in the Bone Season series. It’s rather interesting to compare the Paige that we met in the first book, with the Paige in this third installment. She’s grown so much as a character, and even though she’s much stronger now, she still doubts herself sometimes.

I love this world and I continue to be impressed by Shannon’s abilities. This world is so rich and yet it seems that there’s still much more to explore. In terms of plot, it’s somewhat unbelievable how quickly things progress in the second chunk of the book, but it does make it pretty exciting. We also learn some interesting information about Paige’s past, which gives us further insight into what motivates Paige. I can’t wait to see how those details from her past play out in future books. Nick is probably my favorite character after Paige, so I was very glad that he’s more involved in this book. I think their friendship is strong and they really have been through so much together.

The book ended on a pretty exciting note and I really cannot wait to see what happens next!

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom

Guys guys guys. Multiple people told me to read these a while ago and I had it on my TBR for ages. I wish I’d listened to them and read this right away because I loved. this. series. Witty dialogue, action and adventure, a fantastic world, amazing characters- these books had it all.

Let’s start with the characters. Ugh, they were so good. If I were to give a very brief description of the plot, I’d say that it’s about six characters who band together to pull off a heist, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Each character has their specific skill set and distinct, unique personalities. I love when a group of different people band together for a common purpose, and this book delivers that in spades. I can’t talk about how great these characters are without mentioning my favorite, Inej. She’s a young woman who’s been through so much trauma, but is somehow still standing. She’s learned how to take care of herself and survive in a cutthroat world. She fiercely protects the people she loves, and at the same time, can show compassion to her enemies. All of the characters are really well done in these books, but I couldn’t help but gush a little about Inej because her grace and strength really spoke to me.

These are the first books I’ve read by Leigh Bardugo, so I was completely unfamiliar with the Grisha universe. That meant that was I rather confused by some of the terms in the beginning. Once I caught up though, I was completely fascinated by this world. The Grisha have special powers, such as the ability to heal or to manipulate the weather, and because of this, they are hunted. I love the way that the real and magical worlds blend in these books. The “real” world of Ketterdam is just as compelling as the magical elements. It’s full of fascinating details, from the structure of the gangs, to the languages, to the descriptions of other countries in this world.

Each of the characters has a pretty colorful past, and each must reshape who they are as people, to varying degrees. The books also explore the various forces that drive people, whether it’s love, greed, duty, revenge, or something else. The reason that I love books that feature people from different backgrounds who come together is because there is something very powerful about the families that are forged not by blood, but by choice. I loved reading about the various relationships between these characters, and what brought them together in the first place. I really appreciated that Bardugo doesn’t rush these relationships and really takes the time to show us they’ve developed over the years.

These books had me on the edge of my seat. There’s so much action and excitement- I was practically biting my fingernails because I was anxious to know what happened next. I also have this bad habit of skimming forward a couple of paragraphs when something really exciting is happening before I catch myself and go back. I found myself doing that a lot with these books. I could go on and on about these books, but I’ll stop myself here (but if anyone wants to discuss in the comments, I’m game!). I do think that Leigh Bardugo left the ending rather open-ended and she could totally write a third book if she wanted to. Fingers crossed that that wish comes true one day- I’d be thrilled to revisit this world!

Strange the Dreamer

I throughly enjoyed the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, so I was pretty excited when I heard that Taylor was writing a new book. I have to say right off the bat though that this book disappointed me. I don’t think that it was bad, but it never really captured me the way that I wanted it to.

Lazlo is a dreamer. He always has his head stuck in a book and is fascinated by tales of a long-forgotten city known as Weep. He dreams about having the chance to rediscover this city. He can hardly believe it when one day, a group of people he’s only read about it appear in his city and present an opportunity to realize his dreams.

Naturally, I love that Lazlo is a bookworm and finds both solace and escape in his books.Throughout the book though, I wished I felt a stronger connection to Lazlo, or to any of the other characters in the book. The characters felt a bit one-note and I thought the book would have had a lot more impact if I had any strong feelings towards the characters. There’s also some instalove in this book. I think I have a relatively high tolerance for instalove and even I couldn’t understand what brought these characters together, other than circumstances.

There are some interesting thoughts on the idea that good people can do terrible things. If a good person commits a horrible act, can they still be a hero or are they a monster? It also explores the theme of the ordinary becoming extraordinary and the idea that unlikely people can become heroes. While I enjoyed Taylor’s writing style before, but it didn’t work as well for me in this book. Certain descriptions and phrases were repeated, which I found grating after a while. I also thought the ending was quite frustrating. This is entirely my fault, but I couldn’t help but compare this book to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, and I was just hoping for a lot more. There are certainly interesting elements in this book, yet it failed to come together completely for me.


I wasn’t expecting this to be so heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. It’s a story about a 10 year-old boy named Auggie who was born with a facial deformity. At the beginning of the book, he starts going to school with other kids for the first time and we follow his journey as he struggles to be accepted.

Man, this one certainly tugged on my heartstrings. Auggie is such a sweet boy and school is just one of the many things he’s had to endure in his short life. What got to me the most were the people who didn’t intend or even realize they were being mean to Auggie. They’d make comments that they thought were harmless, but were really insensitive. He’d know the exact moment when someone saw his face for the first time and notice their reactions. At some point in the book, he talks about how he only has a few friends, but that’s all he needs, and he’s so right. A handful of true, loyal friends are worth a pack of superficial ones.

Writing from a child’s perspective is not an easy feat and I think Palacio did an excellent job in this book. I’m not sure if this book is considered middle-grade or YA, but really I think it can be read by a wide range of ages. The lesson is important and universal- we could all stand to be a lot kinder to each other.

The Wrath & The Dawn and The Rose & The Dagger

I cannot lie, these books were disappointing reads for me. The story is supposed to be a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, but in the first book, I didn’t find anything new or inventive about the story. I kept waiting for the author to put her own unique spin or perspective on the story, but it never happened. Instead, these books featured some YA tropes that tend to drive people crazy, including instalove (seriously, it takes the main character like 1-2 days to go from utterly vengeful to completely in love) and melodrama. I thought the main characters, Shazi and Khalid, were one-note, and I particularly expected better from our heroine.

I was really disappointed by the first book, but I decided to pick up the second anyway. The first one ends so abruptly and I wanted to know what happened next and how the author would change the storyline. Plus, I was hoping that the second book would be an improvement upon the first.

I did fare slightly better with the second book and I’d give it an extra half star for plot development because at least the plot finally deviated from A Thousand and One Nights. Still, a lot of the issues I had with the first book are prevalent in the second one. Sometimes I wanted to shake the characters and ask them why they were making the exact same mistakes they made in book one! Then, the main plot point of book one is resolved way too neatly and we get this other subplot that’s confusing and kind of appears out of nowhere. You know at the beginning of this paragraph, I was willing to give a half star for the plot, but now I think I’ve convinced myself to take it back…

Long short story, I wanted, and was expecting, a lot more from this series. If you’re looking to read an exciting retelling, I’d have to recommend that you look elsewhere.

The Muse

My general impression of this book is that it was a pleasant surprise. This book revolves around two main characters, Odelle and Olive, and a special painting that impacts both of their lives. Throughout the novel, we find out the origins of this painting, as the book moves back and forth in time.

I think the author did a good job of making both time lines compelling. I’ll admit that the first switch was jarring because I was just starting to settle into the book and I wasn’t expecting it. Once I realized what was happening, I was eager to find out what happened in both stories, although I did have a slight preference for Odelle’s.

Either I was not paying attention when I first read the synopsis, or I just forgot, but I didn’t realize that this novel features a person of color. Odelle describes her experiences as a woman of color living in the mid-1960s and the microagressions that she has to face on a regular basis.

This book focuses on the artist and the art they create. It explores what motivates people to produce art, how different people interpret it, and the importance of art. I’ve always had an amateur interest in art, so I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel. It made me think of another novel that explores art and the art world, An Object of Beauty.

I’d say that is a fairly slow book. It’s also a much darker novel than I expected, particularly in Olive’s storyline, which touches on the turbulent political atmosphere in Spain in the later 1930s. While I really enjoyed this novel, there’s still something that prevents me from giving it four stars. I’m not sure if it was the distance I felt that prevented me from completely connecting with the characters, or the rather slow pacing. Still, I thought this was a very solid read and it certainly made me curious about Burton’s previous novel, The Miniaturist.

The Queen of the Tearling

I’ve had this on my TBR for ages and I’m very glad to have finally read it. Even better, since I waited so long, the full trilogy has been published and I was able to jump straight from the first book to the second. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Kelsea has had a rather lonely, isolated childhood, but she’s always know that it was her destiny to be queen one day. Shortly after her 19th birthday, the Queen’s Guard arrive to escort her to royal castle so she can assume her throne. However, the road is not an easy one, since both her uncle, the regent, and the witch queen of Mortmesne are trying to kill her. And, even though she’s been groomed for the throne, there’s still so many secrets that have been kept from her.

This was entertaining and full of adventure. I really liked Kelsea as a character. She’s strong, tough, determined, and not afraid to speak her mind. In this world, there are many sexist notions about what a woman should do and how women act. Kelsea constantly pushes against those boundaries and strives to be a great ruler for all her people. One thing that I’m not sure how i feel about though- there’s quite the fixation on Kelsea’s physical appearance and descriptions of how plain she is. It seems like an obsession, which somewhat makes sense when I think about the insecurities we all have, the things we constantly wish we could change. But still, it felt odd how frequently it was mentioned and I wished that focus would have been placed on Kelsea’s other qualities.

Originally I thought this was set in the past, but then I realized it’s set in the future, which was a fun twist for me (but again, if I’d read the synopsis, I would have known that!). It’s pretty fascinating to consider a world after this one which society has somewhat regressed. However, there are things that don’t change, such as the factors that motivate people, whether it’s greed, religion, ambition, duty, or something else.

This world also features magic, which I love. I think this first book did a really good job of setting out this world, and hooking me into the story. Aside from Kelsea, there are other great characters, like the Mace, and I got the sense that we’ve only scratched the surface of his background.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Minutes after finishing it, I’d already started reading the second book- that’s how engrossed I was! As I write this, I’m currently in the middle of book 2 and I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

The Invasion of the Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling

After reading the first book in the series, I dove right into book 2 and then book 3. Now that I’ve finished the trilogy, I can say that overall, I did like the series. I think the character arc for Kelsea, in particular, is pretty great to witness. The world building was strong in the first book, and it was wonderful to delve deeper into the history of this world in the remaining two books.

I did feel like the pacing slows down over the next two books. Also, as a few new perspectives are introduced, the main storylines felt a bit convoluted, especially in the final book. While I didn’t always agree with what was happening, I did enjoy the journey these books took me on and I appreciate the world that the author built.

The Perfume Collector

I chose this book for its cosmopolitan setting. The story takes place in New York, London, and Paris, among other places, and focuses on a woman named Grace. Grace is a bored and unhappy housewife who wants a life with more meaning. One day, she discovers that she’s been named in a will and been bequeathed an apartment in Paris. The only problem is that Grace knows nothing about the woman, Eva, who left the apartment in her name, so she decides to uncover this woman’s story and her connection to Grace.

The writing was good in this novel and the author did a good job of evoking the different scents she described. I wanted Grace to have a bit more oomph and gumption as a character, which she did develop a bit over the course of the novel. There was a strong theme of independence and of a woman being able to choose her own path. Thanks to societal norms, women didn’t (don’t) always have a lot of choices, and it was interesting to see both Grace and Eva navigate around societal constraints.

I thought this was a solid piece of historical fiction and I loved reading about the lifestyles in the various settings, particularly the scenes that took place in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. I would definitely read more of Tessaro’s work.

The Magicians

I started out loving this, but by the end, I was kind of tired of it. At the beginning of the book, Quentin, our main character, discovers that magic is real. He applies to and is accepted at a magical college named Brakebills, and the book takes off from there.

I will say that the writing in this book is really great, which is what kept me going, even when I found the plot a little boring. Quentin started to grate on me, however. He is often complaining, perpetually unsatisfied, and makes some pretty dumb decisions. The book takes place over the course of several years, so I was hoping we’d see Quentin grow up a bit, but that doesn’t really happen, at least not in the first installment of this series.

The magical system is interesting and seems a lot more technical than other magical worlds that I’ve read about. I felt that the book’s pacing was a bit strange and it seems like we fast forwarded through some of the more interesting times (when Quentin was in school) and spent too long on scenes where nothing was happening.

I was hoping to really love this book, but in the end, I wasn’t blown away. I think I’m to blame a bit. I read the book in short spurts over a few weeks, but I think I would have had a better reading experience if I’d read it in longer sittings. I wasn’t eager to read the rest of the trilogy after finishing book 1, but then I talked to a friend who told me that books 2 and 3 do get better. That gave me some hope, so I may decide to continue this series at some point.

Because You Love to Hate Me

This anthology was a lot of fun. The book is a collection of thirteen tales of villainy, written by different authors and based on prompts provided by booktubers. I thought it was such a unique setup and it was thrilling to see booktubers involved in this anthology.

The idea behind these stories is to add a twist to our traditional notion of villains and to show a different perspective. I loved the idea of blurring the line between villain and hero. These stories tackled questions such as: What makes a person fundamentally good or bad? Can heroes also be villains, and vice versa?

The best part was that this anthology introduced me to several new authors. My favorite stories had me rooting for the villain, including, “The Blessing of Little Wants,” “The Sea Witch,” “Marigold,” and “Sera.” Overall, I thought this was a really entertaining and fun collection, and I’m looking forward to checking out a few new-to-me authors

The Course of Love

After a couple meets and falls in love, what exactly happens during the “happily ever after?” This is the main question that de Botton seeks to answer in this novel. In the first few pages, Rabih and Kirsten meet, fall in love, and become a couple, but that’s only the beginning of their love story. Throughout this book, the author charts the course of their relationship and all the messy, complicated bits that happen in-between.

I’m a horrible romantic and at times it felt like this book was speaking directly to me and my lofty, idealistic notions of love. The book is structured so that the story is broken up by analytical asides from the narrator. There are a lot of interesting thoughts and ruminations on love in these passages, but by the end, I felt that they were too frequent and interrupted the story too often. It started to feel quite didactic, which I believe was the intention, but it was not what I wanted to experience while reading. Sometimes it felt difficult to form your own conclusions as a reader because you knew that the narrator would explain it all to you shortly.

That said, the writing is beautiful. I did enjoy the way the author broke down popular views on love. Rabih and Kirsten were also very strong characters and I could see bits of myself in each of them and they way they approached their relationship. The book does focus mostly on Rabih’s perspective, but I would have loved to learn more about what Kirsten was thinking or feeling in certain situations.

I’d be curious to know how someone who has been or is currently married feels while reading this book. Do the lessons ring true? Regardless, I enjoyed this thoughtful novel/essay on love and I’m looking forward to picking up another de Botton book in the future.

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I’m Nnenna and this is my online journal where I write about the books I can’t put down, my personal style, the places I’ve traveled to, the products I love, my favorite spots in NYC, and more!

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