January 2024 Books

January’s books set a pretty high standard for the year. I hope all the books I read this year are as good.

New Books Read

Macmillan Publishers

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi***
CW: war
If you’re trying to educate yourself on the Israel/Palestine conflict, this is a good one. Khalidi begins his history in 1917 after the break up of the Ottoman empire and traces the impacts of various outside forces on the region. Khaldi breaks his survey int 6 declarations of war, or resolutions or accords that resulted in the continued colonization and oppression of the Palestinian people. This book has so much information in it. I think my main problem in reading it was that I didn’t have much background knowledge of the region. This wouldn’t be the book I would start with, if you’re trying to learn about Palestine, but it does have tons of good information.
3/5 declarations of war

Make Me a World

Lucha of the Night Forest by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Lucha of the Night Forest book 1 of 2
CW: addiction, substance abuse
This was a nice little dark fantasy. After Lucha loses everything, she makes a pact with a sinister god to destroy the thing that has destroyed her city, her mother, and now her sister: a drug called olvida. But there’s more to the forest–and to Lucha–than meets the eye. With the help of a priestess of the forest goddess, Lucha discovers her own powers and the secrets of the gods. This was enjoyable. I liked the world. I’m not sure it needs to be a series. I did feel like we could have solved all the problems in one book if we’d tried harder.
3.5/5 hallucinogenic hares

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber
Once upon a Broken Heart book 1 of 3
This one was so fun. Just before the wedding of her lover and her step-sister, broken-hearted Evangeline Fox makes a wish to crafty Fate, Jacks, the Prince of Broken Hearts. This foolish wish sets off a chain of events and intrigues that span continents as Evangeline tries to find her happily ever after. This book takes place in the same world as Caraval, and I love the world Garber created. It’s also nice to see Jacks again. (How can a character with zero morals be so lovable??) Garber is also excellent at describing clothing. I want every outfit described in the book. Excited to read the rest!
4/5 gorgeous outfits

Felix Ever After by Kacen Calendar***
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: anti-trans prejudice, dead-naming, misgendering, body dysphoria
I love that I read a book whose title included the words “once upon” and then immediately read a book with a title including the words “ever after.” I just think it’s neat. Felix is a trans high schooler trying to find love and focus on his summer art portfolio for his elite high school. But Felix is being harassed online and in school by an anonymous fellow student at his school. Determined to figure out who’s behind it and get revenge, Felix is blind to the love that surrounds him. This book was so wonderful. I read the first 50 pages and then the next day I read the rest of it in one go. I could not put it down. The end was so healing and wonderful.
5/5 self-portraits


G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray
Beasts of Prey 1 of 3
I wanted to like this book and I didn’t and I couldn’t really figure out why. After a terrible fire at the Night Zoo, indentured servant Koffi and disgraced initiate Ekon must work together to track down a terrifying beast in the impenetrable Greater Jungle. But they each have their own agenda and, worse, so does a suspiciously cult-like religious order of warriors Ekon was expelled from, who are also looking for the beast. This book has an interesting world, character development, a pretty map in the front cover. I don’t know why I didn’t like it. I just didn’t really want to keep reading it. I got to the end of every chapter, and I was like, I could be done now. Maybe I just wasn’t the target audience (which is okay!). I did finish it because I didn’t feel it was fair to give up when I didn’t even know why I didn’t like it. But I won’t be reading the rest of them.
3/5 jungle beasts

Pan Macmillan UK

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune
**Book Hangover Alert
Obsessed with TJ Klune. I loved The House on the Cerulean Sea, and I love this book too. Think Pinocchio + Wall-e, with a dash of Frankenstein–if Frankenstein had loved his monster instead of fearing him. Obsessed. Victor grows up in the woods, the only human raised by three robots on the edge of civilization. After Victor’s father (also a robot) is destroyed and taken to the city, Victor and his robot friends must go on a journey to save him–and also the world. We love to see asexual representation, and this book has it. For me, there was exactly the right amount of romance in this book (which I do realize means less than most people seem to want). Also I want to say that the narrator of the audiobook is 10/10. This book is a warm hug. It’s hilarious. It’s poignant. It’s devastating. It’s beautiful. I adored it.
5/5 robots

Tor Books

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki***
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: anti-trans prejudice, misgendering, body dysmorphia, dead naming
This book was a wild ride from start to finish. Shizuka Satomi, a famous violin teacher, is looking for her seventh and final student, whose soul will complete the bargain Shizuka made with Hell. Shizuka finds Katrina, a young trans violinist, who has been forced to run away from home. But both Shizuka and Katrina get a little more than they bargained for and discover the secret to escaping Hell. There are also aliens building a Stargate in a giant donut. This book is just so good. Also a warm hug. So healing and lovely. The research Aoki had to do for this book just astounds me. And don’t read this book on an empty stomach. The food descriptions are incredible.
5/5 donuts

GMP

Mother Clap’s Molly House by Rictor Norton***
CW: homophobia, rape, pedophilia
I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of this book for ages, and I finally got it through inter-library loans at Drexel. Norton’s book explores the formation of a gay subculture in England between 1700 and 1830. This includes the examination of molly houses, or the first gay clubs. It was so fascinating. There’s so little research out there on molly houses, so I’m glad I finally got to read this book.
3.5/5 molly houses

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See***
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: foot binding, misogyny
This book was stunning. A sweeping historical fiction that follows the life of Lady Tan Yunxian, a woman doctor who really lived during the late 1400s and early 1500s in Imperial China. Though we have some documentation about Lady Tan, much about her life remains unknown. See creates an incredibly vivid nuanced portrait of Yunxian and the lives of women in this time period. It’s a wonderful story of women’s friendship and how woman can thrive in a society designed for and by men. I will say the descriptions of foot binding were very difficult to read. I’m in pain just thinking about it. Also so impressed by the amount of research See did.
4.5/5 remedies

DC Comics

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
CW: torture, genocide, experimentation on humans, rape
Randomly decided to read this because I was thinking about a quote from the movie. This series of comics follows V, a mysterious masked vigilante as he works for vengeance and anarchy in a near-future Great Britain. It’s actually surprisingly different from the movie. I guess serialized comics are a much different shape than a 2 hour movie. I know Alan Moore also hated the movie. The comics are less about the people organizing to overthrow the government and more about vengeance and anarchy. The government men in the comics in general had more nuance (although I couldn’t keep them all straight), and it was disappointing that two of the five female characters in the comics didn’t get to be in the movie. Moore and Lloyd’s comic was interesting in that it came out in the 80s and 90s and it had more than just one type of woman. It’s not perfect, but it’s surprisingly good in it’s female representation. Also the oppressive authoritarian government thing, unfortunately still relevant. One more thing, but it’s a spoiler. Read More: SPOILERS AHEAD

I’m not sure I can forgive V for torturing Evey, even if it was to teach her something, “to free her” from the oppression in her mind, even if she forgave him. However, I’m not sure the comics really ask me to forgive him. The movie does, and I think that’s why I’ve always felt weird about it. But in the comics, I don’t feel like I’m asked to excuse V’s behavior. He’s not a good guy. He’s bringing down an oppressive regime, yes, but he’s not noble. Or at least, that was my interpretation.


3.5/5 Guy Fawkes masks

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine for an in-depth look at conflict in the region. Read Felix Ever After for a heartwarming LGBTQIA+ love story. Read Light from Uncommon Stars for a warm hug of a book that deals with LGBTQIA+ themes. Read Mother Clap’s Molly House to learn more about gay and lesbian history in England. Read Lady Tan’s Circle of Women for an empowering tale of women in Imperial China.

Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQIA+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.

September 2023 Books

Books Reread

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
CW: racism, slavery, cannibalism
See my post, the Überbook, for more on my Big Summer David Mitchell Reread.
5/5 moon-gray cats

New Books Read

Holt

Friday by Robert Heinlein
CW: gang rape, torture
This is one of my dad’s favorite books and he’s been trying to get me to read it forever. I finally did. I didn’t love it. Artificial person and courier Friday must hide her enhanced abilities as she navigates the social and political conflicts of a Balkanized 21st century North America. Overall it doesn’t really have a plot, so it was tricky to write that little blurb. I chose not to hide any of this review for spoilers, and this is because I don’t recommend reading it. Read my review and don’t bother. This book is unique among sci-fi from the 80s in that it has a female protagonist. I’m sure that were I reading this in the 1980s, this would impress me very much. As it is, I’m a 21st century girl, used to 21st century female representation. Friday was such a male-gaze female character. It was awful; I felt like Heinlein was trying to convince me the whole time that he knows what it’s like to be a woman (he doesn’t, and I also hated all the female characters in the other book I’ve read of his). Maybe because she’s an artificial person, she’s supposed to read as an approximation of a female designed by men? But then that undermines Heinlein’s thesis that artificial people (or people genetically engineered in a lab and not born) are just as human as “purebloods.” There was also too much sex for my taste in the book. I get that Heinlein was trying to show a society whose attitudes toward sex and family were very different from the mainstream in 1982, but I don’t personally want to read about that much casual sex. Then we also need to talk about the gang rape. Friday is gang raped in the second chapter as part of being tortured for information about something that she carried as a courier. In the scene, Friday is able to use her training to not really suffer and even enjoy herself during the rape, and she experiences no trauma from this. To me this is misogynist and also reads kinda victim-blamey. Like oh, if you just have enough mental fortitude, then you won’t be bothered if you get raped! Ew. And then at the end of the novel, Friday reencounters one of the men who raped her and he’s like, “Oh, sorry, I was ordered to rape you and I didn’t really want to, but also you’re so hot I basically couldn’t help myself.” And Friday forgives him! And let’s him join her open polysexual relationship with several other people! Excuse me while I go throw up. Heinlein has a couple interesting ideas in the book as far as infrastructure in the future, and it’s nice that in the future society families and relationships can take non-nuclear shapes. Heinlein also has a good quote about the marks of a sick society that rings eerily true with regard to our own current society in the United States, but I would recommend Googling the quote instead of reading the whole book.
1/5 artificial people

National Geographic Books

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
CW: plague, death of children, infidelity
I’m a big fan of the new (?) genre of the imagined history novel. Hamnet follows William Shakespeare’s wife and children in Stratford while he’s off in London writing plays. We know almost nothing about them, other than their names and rough birth and death dates. O’Farrell’s writing is so lyrical and the way she created these characters is so lovely. She gives agency and personality to these women whose stories are lost to history. I didn’t like it quite as much as The Marriage Portrait, but it might possibly be because it’s hard to read about plague after you lived through one, and I was really interested in the art history aspect of The Marriage Portrait.
4.5/5 second-best beds

Pan Macmillan UK

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
CW: child abuse, bullying
This was so delightful. I saw an ad for it on Facebook which said it was a cross between Red White and Royal Blue and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and since I love both those books, I immediately checked it out from the library. It did not disappoint. Discovering magic exists after a managerial error that led to his government job, Robin Blythe must team up with magician Edwin Courcey to unravel a plot that threatens all magicians in Britain. It’s gay and it slaps.
4/5 magic snowflakes

National Geographic Books

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
**Book Hangover Alert
I love John Green. I love all his novels, but I was a little like, “eh not sure I want to read a nonfiction book.” But it was excellent! Green’s essay about seemingly disparate things (Kentucky blue grass, Canada geese, ginkgo trees, teddy bears, air conditioning) all speak to the wild, amazing, terrifying, beautiful, horrible experience of being a human. He does a wonderful job of blending personal stories, history, and science to examine what it means to be a human in this world. I loved it. I’ve also apparently watched enough of John Green’s videos that when I read the book, I heard the whole thing in his voice in my head.
4/5 teddy bears

Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo***
Acevedo’s adult debut, Family Lore, retains the the poetry-informed lyrical prose of her young adult work while delving into magical realism and examining more mature content and themes. After seeing a documentary, Flor decides to hold a living wake for herself, and, as someone with prophetic dreams that predict upcoming deaths, this troubles her family. Flor’s sisters, one with the ability to discern truth from lies, one with an affinity for plants and herbs, and one without an uncanny ability, only a passion for dancing, orbit Flor in the weeks leading up to the wake, though no one can make her reveal if she’s seen her own impending death. Flor’s sisters, daughter, and niece all play a part in helping to plan the wake, while balancing emotional upheavals in their own lives. The story skillfully skates between the family’s past in the Dominican Republic and present in New York City as Ona, Flor’s daughter and an anthropology professor, works to document her family through the lens of an ethnographer, afraid that this might be the last chance she has to understand her mother better. With heart, humor, and subtlety, Acevedo explores themes of family and legacy, immigration, and tradition and culture. 
4/5 limes

Six Creepy Sheep by Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Gordon Tessler, illustrated by John O’Brien
I went on a writing retreat at the Highlights Foundation campus in the Poconos with my MFA program, and it was so lovely. This book was in my cabin, and one of the prompts of the StoryGraph genre challenge this year was to read a children’s book you’ve never read before. It’s spooky season so this seemed perfect. It’s super cute! I liked the art and the simple rhyming prose.
3/5 creepy sheep

Simon and Schuster

The Art Thief by Michael Finkel
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: destruction of art and cultural heritage
This book was a wild ride from start to finish. It’s a true crime tale of Stéphane Breitwieser, the world’s most prolific art thief. Breitwieser and his girlfriend stole more than 300 art works and artifacts from museums in France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria in the 1990s and 2000s. It was fascinating to read about Breitwieser, the only known art thief who stole things just to have them in his room–not for any economic gain. Finkel attempts to unravel Breitwieser’s psyche and examine how two people could have gotten away with so many heists before Breitwieser was finally caught.
4/5 priceless Renaissance oil portraits

Tor Publishing Group

Masters of Death by Olivie Blake
I enjoyed this book; it was fun. Death’s godson, Fox D’Mora, must save his godfather and all of humanity in the gambling game played by the immortals. With the help of a demon, a vampire, a ghost, a demigod, an angel, and a reaper, chaos ensues. I enjoyed a lot of the characters and the premise of the book. There was a little too much arguing, which is rarely interesting to read. I also listened to it and sometimes there weren’t quite enough dialogue tags to follow who was talking when we had big group scenes. I also really wanted to root for the romance between Fox and Brandt but I felt like all they did was argue and lie to each other. I wanted to see a little more tenderness or just happiness or fun between them. There was also too much use of the f-word. It just get’s tiresome and loses its power if it’s used too often in novels. But overall I enjoyed it.
3.5/5 immortals

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn***
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: slavery, racism, death of a parent
This book was so great. After her mother’s tragic and suspicious death, Bree Matthews joins the mysterious Order of the Round Table, determined to find out if their magicians had anything to do with her mother’s death. Learning about the magic the Order practices, passed down by King Arthur and his knights, Bree begins to understand the magic that has lain dormant inside her and the legacy of her ancestors. This book was excellent. I love an Arthurian retelling, and this one was so fresh the way it also examined the legacy of slavery and generational trauma. I loved getting to know the characters, and I was right there with Bree as she unraveled the mystery. I’m excited to read the next one!
5/5 scions of Arthur

**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! First a caveat: I have decided that simply having queer people or people of color in a book is not enough to qualify it for the Books for a Social Conscience distinction. That sets the bar too low. So while in the past I would have marked A Marvellous Light and Masters of Death as Books for a Social Conscience, I have decided that the only way they are subverting dominant narratives is by having queer people and people of color in them. We love representation! Don’t get me wrong, but honestly at this point if you don’t have queer people and/or people of color in your book, like what are you doing? Maybe I should start marking books that I read that only have straight, white people in them.

Anyway, read Family Lore for a magical immigrant family. Read Legendborn for an interrogation of the legacy of slavery in the context of Arthurian legend.

Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQIA+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.

August 2023 Books

Books Reread

Once again, I won’t be reviewing these David Mitchell books in this post. I’m going to do a different post specifically for my Big David Mitchell Summer Reread.

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: terrorism, racism, rape
4/5 moon-gray cats

Number9Dream by David Mitchell
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: body horror, gore, murder, racism
4/5 moon-gray cats

Slade House by David Mitchell
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: serial murder
4/5 moon-gray cats

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
**Book Hangover Alert
CW: misogyny, abusive relationships
5/5 moon-gray cats

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
**Book Hangover Alert
5/5 moon-gray cats

New Books Read

Tor Books

Vicious by V. E. Schwab
CW: serial murder
This was delightful. I enjoyed Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie La-Rue, but I think I enjoyed this one even more. Eli and Victor are obsessed with the idea of EOs–Extraordinaries, or people with extraordinary abilities. They figure out that to become an EO, one must have a near death experience, so naturally, they decide to try it themselves. What could go wrong? I thought this book was wonderful. I loved all the characters and I really loved how Schwab constructed the narrative and the way information was revealed to the reader.
4/5 EOs

Tor Publishing Group

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire
Wayward Children book 8 of 10
CW: grooming, child abuse
I want to note that McGuire does include an author content warning at the beginning of the book that you can consult for more information. Antsy runs away from her unsafe home and enters a door into a shop where lost things go. She works in the shop and visits a multitude of worlds to find things for the shop. I love these books. I love the concept of the doors. I only hope I’m not too old to find one.
3.5/5 lost things

Flatiron Books

Pageboy by Elliot Page***
CW: body dysmorphia, child abuse, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, stalking, rape
This one was not easy to read. Of course, I knew a little of Page’s story and I know no one who is trans has really has it easy, but there was a lot I didn’t know. Page skillfully weaves a memoir from his young childhood navigating the challenges of discovering his sexuality, knowing, though not always accepting, that he wasn’t a girl, and having to hide his queerness as he grew to fame as an actor. All that would be hard enough for someone with a strong support network, but Page did not have that. His life was filled with adults who did not have his best interests at heart, ranging from his abusive step-mom, his parents who failed to advocate for him, and producers, directors, and others who exploited him. At its heart, Pageboy is about Page’s journey to self-advocacy and self-acceptance. Though hard to read, the memoir ends with hope and the freeing lightness that the future will be better than the past.
4/5 movie shoots

Scholastic Inc.

Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman***
Heartstopper Universe
A delightful little palate cleanser after reading Pageboy. Low stress, nice to visit some of my favorite characters. This little novella takes place right before Nick goes off to university and Charlie feels a little left behind and unsure what his and Nick’s future will hold. Very sweet and lovely.
3/5 Nellies

HarperCollins Publishers

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman***
Heartstopper Universe
CW: mental illness, child abuse
This is Oseman’s second novel and it also takes place in the Heartstopper Universe chronologically after Solitaire, though you don’t have to have read any of the other Heartstopper books. Radio Silence follows Frances Janvier and Aled Last (whom you might recognize as one of Charlie Spring’s friends). Frances and Aled become friends when Frances finds out Aled is the Creator behind her favorite internet podcast. Both of them discover how to be themselves as they learn how to be friends. I liked getting to see more of Aled, who didn’t make it into the Heartstopper TV series, but maybe he’ll make it into future seasons?? I liked Frances’s voice and I really appreciated this meditation on friendship. So many YA books are so focused on romance, it’s nice to see one focused on friendship, which I would argue is more important in one’s teenage years.
3.5/5 crazy-patterned leggings

Audible

The Prince of Secrets by A. J. Lancaster
Stariel book 2 of 5
This is the sequel to The Lord of Stariel, and this one is just as enjoyable as the first. I think I read the first one because it was free on Audible, but I do think I’ll probably read the rest. I won’t say too much about the plot of this one in case you haven’t read the first one. They’re cozy fantasies and I really enjoy all the characters and the world of Stariel.
3.5/5 blue-feathered wings

Audible

Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson
We went on a road trip this month so this book is an attempt to find something my dad and I both want to listen to. He’s a big Bill Bryson fan; I’m interested in the topic of Shakespeare. I enjoyed this book. It’s a slim biography of Shakespeare and touches on many aspects of Elizabethan history, while also noting how little we actually know for sure about Shakespeare as a person. A lot of scholars and lay people have many theories about Shakespeare–that he was someone else, that he was several people, etc.–but Bryson does a great job of examining and picking apart each theory, none of which really has any evidence that could prove Shakespeare wasn’t who we think, except that there is not much evidence that he was who we think either. Overall a fascinating read.
3.5/5 fires in London

**Book Hangover Alert indicates the kind of book that will leave you full up on love. Satisfied, but wishing the book never had to end. You’ll be laying on the floor with no idea what to do with yourself (other friends have called this feeling Good Book Depression or say that certain books necessitate Floor Time). This is the kind of book that gets its teeth in you and won’t let go easily. After the last page you’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. You’ll bother all your friends trying to get them to read it so that you won’t be alone in your Hangover.

***This book is part of my Books for a Social Conscience series! Read Pageboy for a trans memoir that grapples with the difficulties of growing up trans and queer, especially in the public eye, but also offers hope for the future. Read any of the Heartstopper books for happy LGBTQIA+ representation.

Reads marked as part of the Books for a Social Conscience series will regularly address topics like race and racism, colonialism and post-colonialism, LGBTQIA+ experience, feminism, BIPOC experience, social and political issues, history, identity, class, disability experience, immigration, gun violence, poverty, colorism, environmentalism, and more! The goal of these books is to diversify the stories we’re reading, grow our empathy for those who are different from us, and amplify voices who are often silenced.

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