The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N.K. Jemisin

As the world is ending around her, Essun discovers that her husband has killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. Going out into a world of ash, she must track down the remnants of her family.

Fantasy, 468 pages, published in 2015

As the world is ending around her, Essun discovers that her husband has killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. Going out into a world of ash, she must track down the remnants of her family.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: death of a child, child abuse, racism/slurs, violence, forced attempts at pregnancy, graphic sex

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting going into this book, but it was so different than anything I had in mind, in a good way! This has got to be one of the most unique, intriguing things I’ve ever read. I feel like on the surface, it doesn’t seem like it would be super different, but that just goes to show how well Jemisin did! I totally understand why she’s queen of the Hugo awards now.

I think a lot of people are turned off of this book because one of the POVs is told in second person. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, but I ended up not minding at all! There are three POVs in this book and it isn’t clear immediately how they connect, so I felt a little lost for a bit, but I did eventually end up enjoying all of them, even if I didn’t understand until later how they connected.

The world is Earth-esque and has a lot of similarities to Earth (though I think I saw Jemisin say somewhere that it isn’t Earth, even in the future). This world has cataclysmic climate change events that happen every few centuries, so society has evolved around the inevitability of these events. Only some people in this world have magic, and those that do are both shunned and used for their powers. Their powers are connected the earth, allowing them to prevent earthquakes, among other things. There are also some other magical things that I’ll leave out due to possible spoilers.

I had an interesting relationship with the world and magic of this book. If I think too hard about it, I realize that I don’t quite have a firm grasp on how it all works, but while reading it, it made sense. I think this is partially my fault and partially because more will be revealed in the next books.

The diversity of characters in this book blew me away! There are characters of all sexual orientations and all races, trans characters, and even a polyamorous relationship. This is what I wish more diversity in fantasy looked like. No need to incorporate Earth-like prejudices and cultural norms in a book that is completely independent of Earth.

I have so many feelings about this book that it’s hard to put them all into words. There are definitely some very dark things explored in this book (mostly described in the content warnings above), so certain scenes definitely affected me quite a bit. Even though I was feeling that way, I never wanted to put this book down because I was just so interested in figuring out the world and what would possibly happen next.

The reason I gave this one 4 stars instead of 5 is because there were just a few things I didn’t understand. I think progressing in the series (which I will definitely be doing) will help, but I also think rereading this series will be great! I was so intimidated by this book initially, but I’m so glad I finally picked it up!

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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

The opposite of racist isn’t not racist, it’s antiracist. Kendi explores what antiracism means in different parts of life.

Nonfiction, 305 pages, published in 2019

The opposite of racist isn’t not racist, it’s antiracist. Kendi explores what antiracism means in different parts of life.

Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: racism, cancer

This book was…interesting for me to read. I ended up really appreciating the factual elements of this book, but I didn’t vibe with the writing style.

Kendi defines antiracism as the opposite of racism, where no races are held above or below other races for any reason. Being “not racist” just means that you are complicit in racist ideas, whereas being antiracist means that you are actively not holding one race above another. I also found it interesting that he explained that you as a person are not racist or antiracist, it’s your actions (and words) that are. One moment you do something racist, the next moment you could do something antiracist.

One point that I found very interesting was that Kendi said that someone can be racist, no matter what race they are and no matter the race of the other person in the situation. For example, as a young adult, Kendi thought that white people were the devil based on a few experiences, and steered clear of them. He realized later that he was being racist because not only was he judging an entire group of people by the actions of a few, but he was also putting one race above another. This was very contrary to everything I have heard about “reverse racism”, so it definitely left me with some things to think about.

Kendi also digs into history. Through his research, he came to realize that the institution of racism was based on money. Back when the slave trade was starting, it was very profitable for the people in charge, so it was in their best interest to sow the seeds of fear and hatred. Because more people feared and hated Africans being sold into slavery, it helped their business. As their business grew, it caused more fear and hate, creating a feedback cycle.

My main issues with this book were certain elements of the writing. I found it very repetitive, both in words used and sentence format. Repetitive sentence format was used to make a point, but it was just hard to read (especially to listen to, as I listened to the audiobook). He also (understandably) uses the words racist and antiracist a lot. Through writing the beginning of this review, I can understand now how that’s kind of unavoidable.

There was also a few discussions of history that went right over my head. I don’t think I had the background knowledge to understand exactly what point Kendi was trying to make.

Kendi also frames all the information in this book through the lens of his own life in chronological order. He would tell a story, then talk about racism and antiracism that relates to the story, then he would get back to the story. I just felt like it took him far to long to get back to his own story, so much so that I would forget what part of his life he was even referencing.

Aside from the writing, I did find this book quite through-provoking. I liked that Kendi includes definitions at the beginning of each section, and how the sections cover so many different parts of society.

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The Switch by Beth O’Leary

After throwing herself into work to escape the loss of her sister, Leena gets sent on a two month sabbatical, where she ends up living at her grandmother’s house in the countryside. Meanwhile, her grandmother Eileen goes to live in Leena’s flat in London in order to do the things she missed out on.

Contemporary, 330 pages, published in 2020

After throwing herself into work to escape the loss of her sister, Leena gets sent on a two month sabbatical, where she ends up living at her grandmother’s house in the countryside. Meanwhile, her grandmother Eileen goes to live in Leena’s flat in London in order to do the things she missed out on.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: anxiety/panic attack, loss of a family member, cancer, grief, abusive relationships, cheating

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and it did not disappoint at all! I can firmly say that Beth O’Leary is a favorite author of mine and I will read anything she writes.

I loved the parallels of Leena and Eileen’s journeys. Eileen was held back by her dead-beat husband for her whole life, so she finally gets a chance to see what she missed out on when she was Leena’s age. Leena throws herself into work, so she had kind of lost all sense of who she was. They both had the opportunity to do what actually makes them happy, without being held back by what other people want from them.

The cast of side characters was great in this book! Leena and Eileen have their group of friends in their respective places, so seeing them get to know a whole new group of people was fun. I particularly enjoyed Leena settling in to her grandmother’s role and getting to know the small town.

Leena’s sister passed away from cancer about a year before this book takes place, so she not only has to deal with the grief, but also her relationship with her mother, who also lives in the small town. The grief has caused their relationship to fall apart, so Leena being so close by allows her the time to mend that relationship.

There is also a fair amount of romance in this book, but I don’t really feel like it is the focus, or at least, it was balanced very well with the other elements of the story.

Balanced is actually a great word to describe this book, in my opinion. There isn’t too much or not enough of any element of this story. It is quite sad at times, but it can also be incredibly heartwarming. This book just felt so warm and inviting, like a comforting hug.

I adored this book and I can’t wait to read whatever else Beth O’Leary releases!

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Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive #4) by Brandon Sanderson

A year after the revelations in Oathbringer, technology has advanced, but Navani and her scholars realize there is still so much that they don’t know. The fight against Odium continues, and everyone must help in what ways they are able.

Fantasy, 1,232 pages, published in 2020

A year after the revelations in Oathbringer, technology has advanced, but Navani and her scholars realize there is still so much that they don’t know. The fight against Odium continues, and everyone must help in what ways they are able.

Spoiler Free Review:

(This WILL contain mild spoilers for the first three books, and reference to the Cosmere, but not specific spoilers for books outside of the Stormlight Archive)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: mental illness, depression, trauma, general violence

This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It took me absolutely forever to read, and I’m not sure if it’s the book’s fault or mine. I switched to the audiobook about halfway through because I was just making no progress.

I was kind of shocked that this book had a full year gap after the last one. There were certain scenes in that time that I would have liked to have seen, and some references were thrown in about things that had happened in that time.

This book kind of broke the rhythm (pun possibly intended) of this series, as the focus on flashbacks was greatly decreased. I didn’t love the flashbacks, so I guess it was fine that there weren’t as many. I think I would have liked to hear about this character earlier on, in order to connect with them a little more initially, because currently (even after the flashbacks), they aren’t one of my favorites.

The characters were kind of split into three main groups for this book. There was one group that I wished we got to see more of and once again, it felt like important scenes were skipped. I had that issue with Oathbringer as well. There are so many scenes that I’ve wanted to see, but they actually happen off-screen and are referred to. I get that this is already a massive book, so it doesn’t need to be longer, but it still irks me.

Navani works to understand how the world works in this book, which I thought was both interesting and kind of over my head. It is cool to follow characters that have so much more to learn about how their world works and the history of it, but the details were hard for me to grasp, especially as the research went along.

One of the things that I really liked about this book was that a lot of the characters had to confront the fact that they aren’t necessarily the person they or others think of them as. It was interesting to see them all kind of going through the same thing in different ways.

This book also delved pretty deep into depression and mental health. There was a plot point devoted to learning more about mental illness in order to help people and I loved it.

There were also quite a few Cosmere references, more than in any other Stormlight book so far (in my opinion). There are definitely things that go over my head, but there are a few key words that tip me off when something Cosmere-related is being discussed. I think the events of this book are huge for the Cosmere and I’m really excited to learn more!

I’m very curious about the next book in the series! Considering it’s the last in the first “arc” of this series, what happened at the end of the book, and the implications for the greater Cosmere, I think it is going to be absolutely wild!

Although I initially had a hard time getting into this book and had some issues throughout, I loved the themes discussed and the ending was really a ride!

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Vicious Spirits (Gumiho #2) by Kat Cho

After the events of Wicked Fox, Miyoung and her group of friends are left changed. Somin has started seeing ghosts, signaling a greater change in the world, so with the help of the dokkaebi Junu, she must save her friends and the world.

Fantasy, 429 pages, published in 2020

After the events of Wicked Fox, Miyoung and her group of friends are left changed. Somin has started seeing ghosts, signaling a greater change in the world, so with the help of the dokkaebi Junu, she must save her friends and the world.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: death of a parent, mentions of abuse

I really adored Wicked Fox, so I was hesitant about this companion (I’d definitely consider this a sequel, but it’s marketed as a companion) because I didn’t want the story to get super drawn out, but I ended up really enjoying this book! I think I even enjoyed it more than the first book.

This book follows Somin, who was kind of a side character in the first book. She didn’t really stand out to me then, but I really enjoyed getting to know her in this one! Miyoung and Jihoon from the first book are definitely still important characters in this story, which is why I don’t really understand why this is a “companion” novel. Much of the plot revolves around what happened in the first book.

Junu the dokkaebi (goblin) is also a main character in this story. I had neutral feelings about him before, but I ended up adoring him!

Junu and Somin kind of take similar paths as characters. Somin is always putting others before herself, so much so that she sacrifices almost everything she wants so that others can be happy. Throughout this book, she has to learn that sometimes, it’s necessary to put yourself first. Junu, on the other hand, doesn’t think he is worthy of deep connections with people, so he pushes everyone away by being very selfish. He is on a journey to realize that maybe he does deserve to be happy.

Both of their journeys to self love and realizing their worth made their growing relationship in this book so addicting! They start out as enemies, as Somin blames Junu for what happened in the first book, but seeing them reluctantly work together and eventually open up to each other was so sweet. These two are definitely the main reason why I loved this book so much.

I also really enjoyed the Korean mythology aspects of this book. The first book focused on gumiho, but this one delves into dokkaebi, ghosts, reapers, and gods, which I thought was very cool. The ghosts were not done in a very scary way, which is good because I’m a huge chicken!

I’m pretty sure there won’t be any more books in this series. I wouldn’t mind if there were more, but I just really enjoyed how this book wrapped up. I think overall these books are an absolutely fun time, while still handling some deeper issues. I definitely look forward to reading whatever Kat Cho writes in the future!

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Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

This book presents stories, data, research, and case studies showing how women are left out of the data that drives our world, resulting in products, policies, and environments suited to men.

Nonfiction, 411 pages, published in 2019

This book presents stories, data, research, and case studies showing how women are left out of the data that drives our world, resulting in products, policies, and environments suited to men.

Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: sexual assault, violence against women

When I read nonfiction, I normally read memoirs, so this is quite a different book for me, but an acquaintance of mine recommended it to me.

The book revolves around the fact that women are consistently left out of studies and research, whether it is intentional or not, that is used to represent all people. Each section highlights a different part of life, from transportation and work to health and wellness, where women are consistently left out of data meant to represent humans.

As I was reading, I was kind of fascinated at first, but then I just got angrier and sadder. Some examples, like how offices are set to the optimal temperature for men, so women are usually cold, are just mildly obnoxious, but others highlight situations where women are dying because the data we have represents men, not people. One situation that showed this was heart attacks. The major symptoms of heart attacks are chest pain, pain in the left arm, and shortness of breath. However, these are just the typical symptoms for men, so when a woman has a heart attack and receives medical care, it takes longer for doctors to identify it (if they even do), wasting time because the symptoms are “abnormal”. Even now, I was just Googling heart attack symptoms and this is what I found: “Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms than men”. Why should an entire half of the population have “atypical” symptoms?

There was also a lot of emphasis on how women should be a part of making decisions that effect them. One kind of funny, yet also really sad, example was of somewhere that had to rebuild due to a natural disaster (I can’t remember the specifics). There were many house rebuilt, yet none of them had kitchens, because in whatever culture this example was in, only women cooked, but no women were included on the team of people designing these houses.

Some other topics this book talked about that I thought were interesting were how women do much more of the unpaid work (childcare, housework, cooking, ect.) and health hazards to women (including safety gear that doesn’t fit properly and lack of studies on chemicals primarily women are exposed to).

The author makes a point to say that these gaps in the data are not caused by sexism. I had a hard time agreeing with this statement. I can’t see a reason why women being left out of data that affects everyone isn’t sexist. Maybe it isn’t intentional, though there are many cases where a bias is highlighted, then promptly ignored, but I don’t think that means it isn’t wrong.

One thing that bothered me about this book was that there wasn’t any sort of content warning. The last section of the book is about sexual assault and it was honestly very hard for me to get through. It’s not that hearing about fictional sexual assault is easy, but hearing specific events that really happened is so much harder. One specific example was about the Superdome sheltering people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Although there are no “confirmed” cases of sexual assault, the people who were there had a different story. I wished I had known about this going in because it took me by surprise and went into more detail than I felt like I could handle.

The author occasionally mentions how the gender bias intersects with race, but there wasn’t a huge focus on it. She did use examples from all over the globe though, so it wasn’t centered on one part of the world.

I am definitely grateful that I read this book. Being a woman, none of this was particularly surprising, I just needed someone to say it in order for me to realize that it’s been in the back of my mind all along. I went through a wide range of emotions reading this book and I think it is definitely broad enough that anyone could read it without prior knowledge.

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Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove #2) by Shelby Mahurin

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of her mother, Lou and the crew must figure out where they are safe and how they can defeat Morgane.

Fantasy, 528 pages, published in 2020

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of her mother, Lou and the crew must figure out where they are safe and how they can defeat Morgane.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Content Warning: general violence

I really enjoyed the first book, so I was really looking forward to this one, but unfortunately, I didn’t like it and it kind of ruined my fond memories of the first one.

The ending of the first one really made it sound like this book was going to focus on the side characters and have Lou and Reid in the background, but that was not the case at all. In fact, I feel like it put the side characters in the background even more, in favor of new side characters.

I honestly could not even tell you what the plot of this book was. In the beginning, the group kind of had a goal, but because of a twist at the end, all the work they put into that goal for the first half of the book seemed wasted. This just made it feel really boring.

The villain is also so bland. It feels like they are being evil just for the sake of being evil.

The relationship between Reid and Lou was the cause of my enjoyment of the first book, but in this one, they just didn’t have the same appeal to me. The hate to love tension was gone, and in it’s place, there was a different kind of tension. They just had a lot of things to work out, but it felt like they didn’t even really talk about them before deciding that everything was resolved.

I think this series is a perfect example of a book that should have been a standalone. There was no need to draw out the “plot”, the villain, or the lack of worldbuilding. I found out that this was going to be a trilogy, not a duology, right before starting this book, and honestly, there’s no way I’ll finish the series.

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Truth or Beard (Wintson Brothers #1) by Penny Reid

After moving home after college, Jessica runs into Beau, the boy from her hometown that she’s had a crush on since she was a teenager, but through a bizarre chain of events, she becomes involved with his twin, Duane.

Romance, 390 pages, published in 2015

After moving home after college, Jessica runs into Beau, the boy from her hometown that she’s had a crush on since she was a teenager, but through a bizarre chain of events, she becomes involved with his twin, Duane.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Content Warnings: graphic sex, guns, gangs, questionable consent

I was hoping I was really going to love this series because they are all free on Audible Plus, but unfortunately, this was a huge miss for me.

The initial scene already put a bad taste in my mouth. Jessica and who she thinks is Beau, do some things worthy of consent right at the beginning of the book, but in reality, it is his twin Duane, who is making her think that he is Beau. She has very different relationships with the twins, so it just felt really gross to me to have her duped in this way. Duane even gets mad at her when she is mad about the situation, which I thought was ridiculous.

I was hoping it would improve from there, but it didn’t for me. I just thought that everything was so drawn out and there were so many side plots and unnecessary twists that it just felt like a slog to get through. There was a whole biker gang plotline that I felt was barely mentioned in the synopsis, but took up so much of the book. There was also a whole plotline with Jessica’s aunt that really had no purpose in this story.

I felt neutral about Jessica, but I really didn’t like Duane. At times, he was cute, but he just kept doing really stupid things. He also insisted on doing things “the right way” with Jessica, which felt old-fashioned, especially because Jessica didn’t care about that.

Their relationship was just filled with so much miscommunication. The deal breaker for their relationship that caused tension had such an easy answer in my mind, but it took them the entire book to get there. By the time they got to the resolution, I just didn’t care.

I really don’t have anything positive to say about this book. I didn’t even vibe with the narrator and none of the side characters were interesting to me. I’ve seen quite a few people enjoy this book, but it really wasn’t for me.

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From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Poppy has been told since she was a child that the fate of her people relies on her sacrifice as the Maiden. She’s had faith in that, even though no one will tell her exactly what it means, and she begins to question her role once she meets her mysterious new guard, Hawke.

Fantasy, 634 pages, published in 2020

Poppy has been told since she was a child that the fate of her people relies on her sacrifice as the Maiden. She’s had faith in that, even though no one will tell her exactly what it means, and she begins to question her role once she meets her mysterious new guard, Hawke.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: abuse, murder/death, death of family members, mentions of possible sexual assault, graphic sex, violence

I definitely had expectations going into this book (that it was going to be a fun, steamy time) and it definitely met those expectations!

I have to say that my biggest problem with this book was that I was definitely confused for about the first half about the worldbuilding. Words like “the Rise” and “Ascension” meant nothing to me, so I kind of just went along with it until I finally got it. There was a point near the end that was a tad info-dumpy, but at least then I was actually able to understand what was going on.

Other than that though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The romantic/sexual tension was just so good. I saw a specific fanart that convinced me to read this book, and I feel like that sums it up well.

I wasn’t expecting to like the characters as much as I did. Poppy has been sheltered for most of her life, but she is a fighter. There was a certain moment where she finally let go of what was holding her back and it was just such a satisfying moment to see. I also really liked a few of the side characters, specifically Poppy’s other guards.

There was a point that felt like a crossroads, where the story could have gone one of two ways. I like the direction it went, but honestly, I think I would be happy with the other way I was imagining in my head as well.

Overall, I just thought this book was a super fun time and I can’t wait to read more of the series! This is kind of the content I’ve been craving. Contemporary romance feels like not enough and fantasy with a romance sideplot is also not enough, so this was a perfect mix for me.

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The Reluctant Queen (The Queens of Renthia #2) by Sarah Beth Durst

After Queen Daleina discovers that she needs an heir more quickly than she thought, she sends her champions out to find powerful young women who could take on that role. Naelin is not young, nor does she think she is powerful, but after Champion Ven sees the depth of her strength, he believes she is the heir Renthia needs, even if she wants no part of her powers.

Fantasy, 358 pages, published in 2017

After Queen Daleina discovers that she needs an heir more quickly than she thought, she sends her champions out to find powerful young women who could take on that role. Naelin is not young, nor does she think she is powerful, but after Champion Ven sees the depth of her strength, he believes she is the heir Renthia needs, even if she wants no part of her powers.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence

I adored the first book in this series and this entry did not disappoint! I thought the world and the characters held the same appeal for me in both books.

Normally, I’m not a fan of adding a new character with each subsequent book in a series, but I love Naelin. A lot of the focus is on her, though you definitely see the characters from the first book often. Naelin is a character that I feel like is rarely shown at the forefront of a story – she’s married and had two young children. She is very powerful magically, but she has always been afraid of her powers.

I did start to get a little frustrated with her because she was so reluctant (it’s in the title of the book, I should have expected it). It’s totally clear why she doesn’t want this position being offered to her, but it’s also totally clear the reader, who has more information about the situation than Naelin does, why it’s so important that she takes this role. It was worth it though, because I loved seeing her change her path in order to find her own happiness and protect her children.

There is a kind of mystery in this book, and I feel like it took me so long to figure out! It’s one of my favorite kinds of mysteries though, so I had a good time with it.

There is a tad of romance in this book and I loved it. I love romance novels, but there is just something so satisfying about a romance subplot in fantasy books. Each little line of romance feels extra sweet because it’s not guaranteed that the couple will end up together or even that there will be a romance like it is with romance-centric books. So yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the little bits of romance in this book!

I’m just in love with this series so far! The forest setting is just so cool, the writing feels nostalgic yet fresh, and the characters are a delight to follow. I definitely recommend this series, as it’s one of my favorites of the year!

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