books and reading

Faraway Collection

Titles and Authors:

The Prince and the Troll by Rainbow Rowell

Hazel and Gray by Nic Stone

The Princess Game by Soman Chainani

The Cleaners by Ken Liu

The Wickeds by Gayle Forman

Genre: fairy tale-ish

I love these short story collections that Amazon puts out. I’ve read the Forward collection (ratings: The Last Conversation 5 stars, Ark 4 stars, Summer Frost 4, Emergency Skin 3, You Have Arrived at Your Destination 3, Randomize 3). I loved the first Nameless collection by Dean Koontz and will dig into the second set shortly. I read the Hush collection (ratings: Treasure 3 stars, Slow Burner 3 stars, The Gift 4 stars, Snowflakes 4, Buried 4, Let Her Be 4). The Out of Line stories are all about women who don’t/won’t fit into a box (ratings: This Telling 4 stars, Graceful Burdens 4 stars, Sweet Virginia 5, The Contractors 4, Halfway to Free 5, Bear Witness 4, Shine, Pamela! Shine 4). This collection was really great. And I’m currently reading the Black Stars collection.

From Goodreads: The Prince and the Troll: It’s fate when a man accidentally drops his phone off the bridge. It’s fortune when it’s retrieved by a friendly shape sloshing in the muck underneath. From that day forward, as they share a coffee every morning, an unlikely friendship blooms. Considering the reality for the man above, where life seems perfect, and that of the sharp-witted creature below, how forever after can a happy ending be?

Hazel and Gray: It’s bad enough that Hazel and Gray have defied the demands of Hazel’s foul stepfather. The Monster has forbidden their romance. Now they’ve awakened in the forest, phones dead, hours past curfew. But not far away is a grand estate in the middle of nowhere. The door is open. In this short story about choosing your own path, the fury of the Monster that awaits them back home may be nothing compared to what lies ahead.

The Princess Game: The victims are the most popular girls in school, each murdered and arranged in a grim fairy-tale tableau. To find the killer, rookie detective Callum Pederson has gone undercover where the Princes hold court. He’s found enough secrets among the bros to bring them in for questioning—but he could very well get lost in the games the Princes play.

The Wickeds: Envious queen? Evil stepmother? Kidnapping hag? Elsinora, Gwendolyn, and Marguerite are through with warts-and-all tabloids, ugly lies, and the three ungrateful brats who pitted them against each other and the world. But maybe there’s more to the stories than even the Wickeds know. Is it time to finally get revenge? After all, they’re due for a happily-enough-ever-after. Even if they have to write it themselves.

The Cleaners: Gui is a professional cleaner at A Fresh Start, scrubbing away the unpleasant layers of memory that build up on the personal objects of his customers. Memory-blind himself, he can’t feel those wounds. Clara can, and she prefers them irretrievable. Until her sister, Beatrice, ultrasensitive to memory, raises one that could change Clara’s mind. For Gui, the past is gone. For Clara and Beatrice, deciding what to remember reaches to the heart of their shared history.

I loved The Cleaners. Hands down the best of the bunch for me. The Wickeds was my least favorite. It was just a little too happily ever after for me. The rest were all four stars, and I really enjoyed them. You could breeze through this collection in a day for sure. Most took me less than 30 minutes to read. If you have Prime and a Kindle (or the app) don’t miss these stories.

books and reading

The Dante Club

Title: The Dante Club

Author: Matthew Pearl

Genre: historical fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: A DNF book from your TBR list

Whew. Well, this one was a DNF for a reason. My goodness, it was just so boring. Sadly, it’s the exact kind of book I’d want to read. I used to teach Inferno. I love reading it. I love teaching it. My students and I had so much fun laughing at Dante’s creative punishments. For example, those who were false flatterers are surrounded by excrement. Those full of shit are then surrounded by it for eternity. It’s also hilarious that Dante put his neighbors that angered him into hell. The Dante Club is also about trying to solve murders that are occurring around Boston. Dante? check! Murders? check. But, gah…. just so dull.

From Goodreads: In 1865 Boston, the literary geniuses of the Dante Club—poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, along with publisher J. T. Fields—are finishing America’s first translation of The Divine Comedy and preparing to unveil Dante’s remarkable visions to the New World. The powerful Boston Brahmins at Harvard College are fighting to keep Dante in obscurity, believing that the infiltration of foreign superstitions into American minds will prove as corrupting as the immigrants arriving at Boston Harbor.

The members of the Dante Club fight to keep a sacred literary cause alive, but their plans fall apart when a series of murders erupts through Boston and Cambridge. Only this small group of scholars realizes that the gruesome killings are modeled on the descriptions of Hell’s punishments from Dante’s Inferno. With the lives of the Boston elite and Dante’s literary future in America at stake, the Dante Club members must find the killer before the authorities discover their secret.

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and an outcast police officer named Nicholas Rey, the first black member of the Boston police department, must place their careers on the line to end the terror. Together, they discover that the source of the murders lies closer to home than they ever could have imagined.

The Dante Club is a magnificent blend of fact and fiction, a brilliantly realized paean to Dante’s continued grip on our imagination, and a captivating thriller that will surprise readers from beginning to end.

The concept of this book is the best thing about it. But the delivery is so badly done. The way the Black officer was referred to in the book by a white author bristled me. The style of writing was so much exposition, not enough action. The author clearly needs a lesson show, don’t tell. I really wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t care at all while reading it. With thirty pages left, I could have put the book down, walked away, and had been just fine. That’s a sign of a bummer book. Oh well.

books and reading

The Prophets

Title: The Prophets

Author: Robert Jones, Jr.

Genre: African-American historical fiction

Oh my, this book. Let me say right now that I absolutely loved it. But it’s not an easy book. The language is complex, but beautiful. The subject is about slavery, so you know going into it how difficult it will be to read about. But please don’t let this stop you from reading it. This story will stick with me for a long time.

From Goodreads: Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favor by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.

With a lyricism reminiscent of Toni Morrison, Robert Jones, Jr. fiercely summons the voices of slaver and the enslaved alike to tell the story of these two men; from Amos the preacher to the calculating slave-master himself to the long line of women that surround them, women who have carried the soul of the plantation on their shoulders. As tensions build and the weight of centuries—of ancestors and future generations to come—culminate in a climactic reckoning, The Prophets masterfully reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.

It’s hard for me to say you should read this book because xyz reasons. It’s difficult. It’s challenging. It’s complicated. This story isn’t one you’ll fly through. But it’s just a beautiful one. The love between Samuel and Isaiah is one we should all hope to have. The love that when someone looks into your eyes, they see all the way inside you. The love that just by a movement or gesture, they know your emotions. I couldn’t read this book for hours on end. It was just too much. But at no point did I want to step away. I loved this book. Easily one of the best I’ve read this year.

books and reading

Grist Mill Road

Title: Grist Mill Road

Author: Christopher J. Yates

Genre: thriller

I’m reading a really dense book right now and needed something a bit lighter. Not sure mystery/thriller books are technically lighter, but they are quick reads and I don’t have to focus as much on them. This one has been on my TBR for awhile, although I knew nothing about it. I have to say this one was just okay for me. The story was interesting, but the character motivations just made no sense.

From Goodreads: Twenty-six years ago Hannah had her eye shot out. Now she wants justice. But is she blind to the truth? (insert groan here…what a terrible joke)

Christopher J. Yates’s cult hit Black Chalk introduced that rare writerly talent: a literary writer who could write a plot with the intricacy of a brilliant mental puzzle, and with characters so absorbing that readers are immediately gripped. Yates’s new book does not disappoint. Grist Mill Road is a dark, twisted, and expertly plotted Rashomon-style tale. The year is 1982; the setting, an Edenic hamlet some ninety miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends—Patrick, Matthew, and Hannah—are bound together by a terrible and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty-six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves never could have predicted, the three meet again—with even more devastating results. 

The narrative is in both past and present, which was fine, but also from multiple perspectives, and this just didn’t work for me. Normally, I have no problem with multiple narrators, but this one just didn’t quite fit together. Maybe because the motivations for their actions were just really lame. The reason Hannah’s eye gets shot out….ridiculous. Equally ridiculous are Matthew and Patrick’s modern day motivations. I just was hoping for more with this one. Bummer.

books and reading

How We Fight For Our Lives

Title: How We Fight For Our Lives

Author: Saeed Jones

Genre: memoir

I’ve been following Jones on Twitter for quite some time. He’s quite entertaining, but I just now starting reading his writing. I read his book of poetry, Prelude to Bruise, and it’s just gorgeous. I’m not a big poetry reader, so I didn’t review it. I’m not sure how to even comment on it. But his words are very powerful. I definitely recommend it. After reading that book, I knew I wanted to delve into his memoir. And I was not disappointed. His style of writing is moving. I was captivated.

From Goodreads: Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

Being gay in America is challenging. Being Black in America is extraordinarily challenging. Being a Black gay man, well, every single card is stacked against you. Jones grew up just north of Dallas, an area I’m abundantly familiar with, and his recollection of the prejudice isn’t at all shocking. The child of a single mother, he struggled on every front. A lot of this book deals with his struggles with being gay, but not just that. He deals with loss, power, abuse, and struggle. The language is just gorgeous. Jones was a born writer. I read this in one sitting. It’s really a must-read for anyone. I absolutely loved it.

books and reading

Some Animals

Title: Some Animals

Author: Joshua Todd James

Genre: science fiction thriller

I had the pleasure of editing this book a few months ago. I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t enjoy every book I edit, and I certainly don’t review them all. However, this one stuck with me because the character of Jacob is so compelling. Jacob isn’t a human. He’s a Companion, a robot who acts more human than humans do. He’s thoughtful and generous. He’s helpful and kind. He can’t hurt human due to his programming. He’s a gentle soul, and I just loved him.

From Amazon:

For fans of THE MURDERBOT DIARIES and I, ROBOT, volume one in a new thrilling series: SOME ANIMALS.

Jacob Kind is your friend. He is your helper. Jacob loves everyone, in fact. He loves his adopted mother, Sylvia, most of all. Jacob is a synthetic Companion, created specifically to be whatever his Primary, his owner, wishes him to be. He isn’t allowed to harm humans and, in fact, is devoted to humanity and art.

Right up until Jacob interrupts a masked man murdering Sylvia in their home and is blamed for the vicious crime. The police believe he’s the culprit, Companion company executives want him returned for reprogramming to prevent a PR nightmare, but Jacob only wishes to bring Sylvia’s killer to justice. Which he is going to have to do on his own.

So now Jacob is on the run. After her killer, and toward justice, with but one guiding light that his mother left him. Serve and protect humanity, at all costs. Without losing his own.

After Sylvia’s murder, however, Jacob’s demeanor shifts. He’s out for justice. Not blood, not to hurt any and all humans. But he wants to know who killed Sylvia and why. To see that person(s) brought to justice. And the journey Jacob takes is great. Through Jacob, we meet other Companions, journey through the lands, and see just how terribly Companions are treated in various parts of the country. James does a great job writing Companions of the future for today’s minorities. They are looked down upon, mistreated, and oftentimes abused. The parallels are noteworthy and important. I’ve been told there will be more from Jacob in future books, and I’m already excited to see where his story will lead.

books and reading

Billy Summers

Title: Billy Summers

Author: Stephen King

Genre: thriller

Stephen King seems to have mellowed a bit in his old age. So many of his latest books aren’t horror at all. Later, The Institute, The Outsider were supernatural, but not really horror. Billy Summers doesn’t even tick the supernatural box. It’s just a story about a guy. Granted, the guy is a veteran turned sniper-for-hire, but he’s not a terrible person. He only kills bad guys. And as you progress through the book, you see even more what a good guy he actually is.

From Goodreads: Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

Everything is putting it mildly. Because this synopsis is vague, I’m going to do the same. Billy is hired to kill this guy, and he has to create an alternate identity because he has to wait for this guy to get extradited. So he goes to an office each day, he rents a house, basically, he blends in as best he can. While in the office, he writes his life story. Through this, you learn about Billy’s childhood, his life in the military, and how these shaped him to be the man he is today. I just loved this book. I loved Billy. I loved another character who enters Billy’s world about halfway through the book. I definitely recommend this book, especially for those who shy away from horror. This story is just a good, solid thriller.

books and reading

The Immortalists

Title: The Immortalists

Author: Chloe Benjamin

Genre: Literary Fiction

PopSugar Challenge Prompt: A book you’ve seen on someone’s bookshelf (in real life, on a Zoom call, in a TV show, etc)

I really shouldn’t judge a book by its title. I expected this book to be some sort of fantasy book. And it’s just not at all. I really wavered on whether or not I even wanted to read it, based on the title, but I’m so glad I gave it a go because I loved it. The characters are just so great and each one’s story is interesting. And although you don’t spend the entire book with all the characters, they are never far from the story.

From Goodreads: If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

This book grapples with death a lot. When the kids get their predicted death dates, that knowledge greatly impacts them and how they live their lives. You follow one of the four kids at a time, but they weave in and out of each others’ stories that it feels like they are all in the same story together. I am so glad I read this one. I can’t say it was heart-warming, but the plot was interesting, and I was captivated by how the characters were so individually written and portrayed. I will definitely be thinking about them for quite awhile.

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The Astonishing Color of After

Title: The Astonishing Color of After

Author: Emily X. R. Pan

Genre: Ya fantasty/magical realism

Time Magazine recently listed its top 100 YA books of all-time. It’s not a list I entirely agree with. How can you have a list of YA books without Harry Potter? That series is one of the most influential book series of all-time, not just in the YA world. But, some really great books are on this list. A lot of recently published books made the cut. Some I’ve read from the list that I really enjoyed include Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, I’ll Give You the Sun, Everything, Everything, Six of Crows, The Sun is Also a Star, The Hate U Give, Dear Martin, Allegedly, Long Way Down, The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives, and With the Fire on High. Of course, I turned the list into a spreadsheet and decided to knock some off the list. I started here, for no particular reason. And although this book uses a trope I despise, I thought it was still a good read.

From Goodreads: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

The lack of honesty about their feelings between Axel and Leigh is really annoying. I just hate that trope in writing so much. But the rest of the book is really beautiful. Leigh and her father and lost at sea after the suicide. Leigh tries to find footing by meeting her Taiwanese grandparents. As her mother’s past is slowly revealed, Leigh realizes the family has more secrets than she knows what to do with. But Leigh’s journey is why you read the book. The magical realism aspect of the book is far-fetched, but, that’s the point of MR. Leigh sees memories of her family and is slowly coming to terms with who her mother is. I really did enjoy this book, silly trope aside, and I think it will speak to a lot of young people.

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Crooked Kingdom

Title: Crooked Kingdom

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Genre: Ya Fantasy

I love these Crows. Each and every one of them are just so perfectly written. I read Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows before watching the Netflix series, but instead of finishing Alina’s story, I just wanted to see what happened to those rapscallions. And what I love about the book is that Bardugo does a fantastic job giving each characters his/her own voice. The way each person speaks, each mannerism, each ability is unique. When writing a large cast with 7+ important characters, differentiating them for the reader can be daunting. But Bardugo did this with ease.

From Goodreads: Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives.

Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties.

A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

This story picks up immediately after Six of Crows, so reading them back to back is a good idea. The crew has to fight off one enemy after another, and then turn around and befriend some enemies to gain favor. But, nothing can break Kaz Brekker. You know he has a trick (or ten) up his sleeve. Watching the plot unfold and come together is work of art. Time and time again, I was in awe of how Kaz managed to escape. Bardugo left me guessing, but every plot turn was one that made perfect sense and was set up brilliantly. I can’t wait to finish Alina’s story, but I will miss the crows.