(Just casually reading on my hearth with a tripod coincidentally visible in the background. Clearly a candid photo right here haha!)
Hey y'all, welcome back! Coming out of my super extended holiday blogging break with my newest book review, and you guys, there are some really good reads in here! A mix of fantasy, YA, coming-of-age, and, of course, a page-turner chock full of cheap thrills. I flew through every single one of these books, they were all so entertaining! That's what I needed after the craziness of the holidays, so if you're looking for an escape that's engaging but not heavy-handed, these books are for you!
A Discovery of Witches (All souls Trilogy)
Finally! A sci-fi/fantasy series worth investing your time in. If you've been looking for something to scratch your Harry Potter itch, I highly recommend starting this trilogy. In fact, Twilight fans will probably love it, too, though this is so much better than Twilight I don't want to paint them in the same light other than to say they both have vampires and a love story.
In A Discovery of Witches you meet Diana Bishop, a young scholar who also happens to be a witch, though she wants nothing to do with her witchy ways. However, as she gathers research materials for her latest project, she unwittingly calls a magical text out of the library that pulls her into the world of "creatures;" that is, witches, daemons, and vampires. And one vampire in particular, Matthew Clairmont, is especially keen on what Diana is up to.
Why is this a big deal? Well, it sets the tone of the forbidden love between a vampire and a witch, two creature factions that are historically enemies. As their relationship grows, so does Diana's witchcraft, though she can't quite figure it out or control it even when she wants to. And those two things -- the love story and Diana's realization of her power -- drive A Discovery of Witches and the entire trilogy.
If you like a little magic in your fictional tales, you'll love this one. It's a mature magic, for one. The angsty virginal vibe of Twilight is nowhere to be found. Neither is a fictionalized magical world, a la Hogwarts. This story weaves the existence of supernatural creatures into our world as we know it, even inserting them into historical places and events. They work and live beside us, though they do their best to hide their powers and capabilities from the human eye. It makes it all a little more believable and less cheesy. And the love story is actually so, sooo sweet and enjoyable to read. Once I got going in this one (which, full disclosure took me about 100 pages), I couldn't put it down and zoomed through all three books!
China Rich Girlfriend
If you read my last book review, you'll remember that I wasn't a super fan of Crazy Rich Asians despite its popularity. Although I wanted to continue to follow the plot line, I needed a break from the 'crass commercialism disguised as satire' force fed to us in the original book. After wrapping the intense Discovery of Witches trilogy, I craved something frothy and mindless so I gave this book, the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, a try and I'm SO glad I did because it's SO much better than the first one!
In China Rich Girlfriend we pick back up with many of the characters from the first book with a few new ones introduced into the storyline. Rachel and Nick are planning their wedding only to have it nearly ruined as a late-comer storms in with news of Rachel's long-lost father. His life and family back in China are super complicated between his wife's ambitious plotting and his son's reckless rich boy behavior. Add the daughter he never knew he had to the equation and things get a little cray cray!
Mixed into the main plot line is the story arc of a peripheral character from the first book, Kitty Pong, as she tries to position herself amongst Shanghai's uppermost echelon of society. She hires an image consultant to the rich to resuscitate her image and, try as she may, keeps tripping herself up at every turn. She's also hiding a secret -- where is her turbo rich husband hiding?? A throwaway character in Crazy Rich Asians, I loved her storyline in this book!
This book resurrected the series in my eyes and now I can't wait to read the third book, Rich People Problems. Sure, the snobbish pretension, materialism, and narcissism exhibited by the characters in book one is still there, but it's dialed back. Or at least it's not as much of a focal point of the plot. Anyways, pick this one up for some entertaining laughs, hilarious awkward moments, and good ol' high society drama.
Where The Crawdads Sing
Where the Crawdads Sing is the coming-of-age tale of Kyra, aka "The Marsh Girl," as she grows up in the uncivilized and ungoverned coastal marshes of North Carolina in the 1950s. Her family's poverty and instability wreak physical and emotional havoc on Kyra, forcing her to isolate herself in the name of self-preservation. What starts as a temporary measure turns into a way of life for Kyra in her lonely wilderness. Without a soul to connect with, she finds companionship in the natural world around her, making her somewhat feral but incredibly savvy on her local ecology. The trick is, how does Kyra survive with nothing and no one, and how does she respond to human interaction when it's so few and far between? And what happens when the town heartthrob is found dead in the middle of the marsh swamp?
There is nothing complicated about this book but it's got tons of depth. Owens paints Kyra's world so beautifully that you can see it, feel it, smell it, taste it. I cried for Kyra and then I cheered for her. There's mystery, romance, desperation, and drama. Being from North Carolina connected me all the more to the story but it's by no means necessary to enjoy it. If you like, as The New York Times Book Review said, "painfully beautiful," well-written novels with complex heroines and compelling character relationships, move this book to the top of your reading list.
The Thousandth Floor
Calling all Gossip Girl fans with a penchant for dystopian futuristic fiction! Kicking off another trilogy, The Thousandth Floor chronicles the exploits of elitist Manhattan teens in the year 2118. It begins with a mystery -- who is the girl who falls off the roof of The Tower? -- and rewinds back to a couple months before to set the stage and meet the cast.
Despite the YA angle, it's well-written and developed. McGee does a good job describing this futuristic world in which the teenagers live. Manhattan is basically one gigantic tower now and the richer you are, the higher up you live. Cell phones become eye contacts, machines do your hair and makeup for you, and driver-operated cars are now illegal. Retinal scans serve as your ATM card, your passport, your house keys. Some of it sounds great, and some of it sounds terrible. Practically nobody goes outside anymore because everything -- and I mean everything -- exists within The Tower. Fake sunlight streams in through interior windows of the lower-to-middle-class houses to simulate time of day (only the rich get actual exterior windows). Central Park is recreated with a fake sky on some upper floor. This tower is the width of Manhattan -- about 100 blocks long -- and three miles tall. To go to Brooklyn is considered shameful, as are the "tech dark" European capital cities which sound similar to how they exist today. Cobblestone streets? Whoever heard of such a thing!
I couldn't help but compare several of the characters to their Gossip Girl equivalents. There's the Serena, a girl genetically modified to be perfect. There's the Blair, the insecure meanie who uses money and manipulation to get her way. There's the Chuck Bass, the party boy with a secret soft spot. (The Thousandth Floor isn't trying to be Gossip Girl per se, but if you're a fan of the show it's really fun to compare the characters and "cast" them in the book roles.) Romance and revenge dominate this story as each character narrates a chapter, building up towards the climax of the girl's fall from the thousandth floor. It's a soapy, wicked good time that'll leave you desperate to find out what happens in the sequel, The Dazzling Heights.
What's on my reading list...
Currently I'm finishing Athénaïs, a deep-dive into the life of Louis XIV's notorious maîtresse-en-titre. Content wise, it's full of scandal that's stranger-than-fiction and way more scintillating than anything in a thriller beach read. That being said, the structure is pretty erratic and I'm forcing myself through the last 50 pages. May not review it further than this very paragraph but we'll see.
A Well Behaved Woman // A historical, fictional account of Alva Vanderbilt as she rose out of post-Civil War poverty, married into American nouveau riche, and savvily navigated her way up the social ranks. With the Biltmore Estate in our backyard, I can't wait to read more about George's sister-in-law as she defied convention, broke all the rules, and had all the fun.
Rich People Problems // The final book in the Crazy Rich Asians series and it sounds like some major s**t goes down. Get your popcorn!
Little White Lies // A mystery set in the sparkly world of debutantes, and Bad On Paper's book of the month.
One Day In December // A British romance and Reese Witherspoon book club pick.
Girl Wash Your Face // I want to read more self-improvement books and this one is at the top of my list! Been waiting forever for a copy to come available at the library...still waiting...
The Bronze Horseman // WW2 historical fiction about love and war. It's part of a trilogy, very highly reviewed, and is apparently a worldwide bestseller.
The Dazzling Heights // The sequel to The Thousandth Floor and already excited about diving back into this dystopian teenage soap opera.
Becoming // I'm not interested in politics or White House drama. I want to read about how Michelle Obama handled/handles wearing so many hats: wife, mother, First Lady, style icon, woman. She said in her Super Soul conversation with Oprah that her authenticity is a product of her self-confidence, that she's always liked herself and who she is as a person. As someone who struggles with self-confidence and validation, I want to hear more from this strong woman.
If You Like This, Then Try...
Book Review No. 4
(Titles incl. All We Ever Wanted, When Life Gives You Lululemons, Circe, Crazy Rich Asians, etc.)
Book Review No. 3
(Titles incl. The Seven Husbands of Eleanor Hugo, Southernmost, etc.)
Book Review No. 2
(Titles incl. The Perfume Collector, Southern Solstice, Before Versailles)
Book Review No. 1
(Titles incl. Lilac Girls, The White Princess, Origins)