Review: All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: All My Rage
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Deepti Gupta, Kamran R. Khan, Kausar Mohammed
Length: 10.5 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: PRH Audio
Release Date: March 1, 2022
Source: Libro.fm Influencer Program
Content Warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, racism, alcoholism, death of a parent, drug abuse

SYNOPSIS

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir comes a brilliant, unforgettable, and heart-wrenching contemporary YA novel about family and forgiveness, love and loss, in a sweeping story that crosses generations and continents.

MY THOUGHTS

Where do I even begin with this review? I was curious when I heard that one of my favorite fantasy authors was shifting to write a YA contemporary since that’s not my favorite genre, but why would I ever doubt Sabaa Tahir? All My Rage is a MASTERPIECE.

The story was raw and real. The writing was so poignant and evocative. I felt the full spectrum emotions while reading this book: hope, despair, longing, sorrow, fear, and of course the titular rage. I cried for and along with the characters so many times.

This book addresses so many heavy, triggering, and depressing topics. I had to take breaks from this book for my mental health. It is absolutely worth the read, but please take care and make sure you are in the right headspace for this story.

I highly recommend the audiobook if that format is accessible to you. The narrators brought so much emotion to their performances and made the characters feel like real people. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, must-read book.

Thank you to Libro.fm and the publisher for the gifted eARC.

Review: The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆.5
Title: The Ballerinas
Author: Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Genre: Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Ell Potter
Length: 13 hours (304 pages)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; Macmillan Audio
Release Date: December 7, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: ballet
Content Warnings: medical trauma domestic abuse, cancer, abortion, infertility, miscarriage, sexual assault, toxic relationships

SYNOPSIS

Dare Me meets Black Swan and Luckiest Girl Alive in a captivating, voice-driven debut novel about a trio of ballerinas who meet as students at the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Fourteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and, she hopes, finally make things right with her former friends. But Delphine quickly discovers that things have changed while she’s been away…and some secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Moving between the trio’s adolescent years and the present day, The Ballerinas explores the complexities of female friendship, the dark drive towards physical perfection in the name of artistic expression, the double-edged sword of ambition and passion, and the sublimated rage that so many women hold inside––all culminating in a twist you won’t see coming, with magnetic characters you won’t soon forget.

MY THOUGHTS

This was a book club pick, and everyone in my book club felt conflicted about this book, giving it between 2 and 3 stars. I was instantly sucked into the world of the Paris Opera Ballet. As a former dancer (although not at this level), I could relate to the high expectations, competition, and toxic environment. My favorite parts of this book gave an inside look at the world of elite ballet.

However, I’m not sure this book quite knew what it wanted to be. It tried to be a thriller sometimes, but it was not. It rounded up so many issues women face, but it did not deal with them with depth and care. The main character became more and more unlikable as the book progressed, revealing herself to be increasingly shallow, self-absorbed, and out of touch. The flashback chapters lost their effectiveness as they gradually caught up to the present timeline. The story did not feel cohesive, but more like a grab bag of trigger warnings and shock value.

I like how this book portrayed the differences between the insular world of ballet and the “real world,” and how this disconnect affected relationships both inside and outside of the ballet bubble throughout these women’s lives. However, the actual story sends confusing messages about friendship, women’s empowerment, and success.

Review: The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

BOOK STATS

Rating:
Title: The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany
Author: Lori Nelson Spielman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 374 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: September 26, 2018
Source: BOTM subscription
Content Warnings: gaslighting, pregnancy, miscarriage

SYNOPSIS

A trio of second-born daughters sets out on a whirlwind journey through the lush Italian countryside to break the family curse that says they’ll never find love, by New York Times bestseller Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.

Since the day Filomena Fontana cast a curse upon her sister more than two hundred years ago, not one second-born Fontana daughter has found lasting love. Some, like second-born Emilia, the happily-single baker at her grandfather’s Brooklyn deli, claim it’s an odd coincidence. Others, like her sexy, desperate-for-love cousin Lucy, insist it’s a true hex. But both are bewildered when their great-aunt calls with an astounding proposition: If they accompany her to her homeland of Italy, Aunt Poppy vows she’ll meet the love of her life on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her eightieth birthday, and break the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse once and for all.
 
Against the backdrop of wandering Venetian canals, rolling Tuscan fields, and enchanting Amalfi Coast villages, romance blooms, destinies are found, and family secrets are unearthed—secrets that could threaten the family far more than a centuries-old curse.

MY THOUGHTS

I hated this book. I was ready to DNF after chapter 3, but since I was the one who suggested it to my book club, I trudged through in hopes it would get better. It did not.

All of the characters are one-dimensional caricatures of actual humans. The main character is a boring doormat who wears slacks casually, worries tortoiseshell glasses are too conspicuous, and has no convictions. The family drama is absolutely ridiculous and over the top in a bad way. The limited character growth is cliché. Overall, I thought the writing was poor and the story lacked depth.

The only things I liked about this book were the descriptions of Italian food, desserts, and countrysides…but you can find that in other books. And my book club did have a very entertaining discussion.

Review: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆
Title: Till We Have Faces
Author: C.S. Lewis
Genre: Mythology Retelling
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 356 pages
Publisher: HarperOne
Release Date: January 1, 1956
Source: Library
Content Warnings:

SYNOPSIS

In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses- one beautiful and one unattractive- C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who posessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.

MY THOUGHTS

I read this for my book club in January. C.S. Lewis considered this to be his best work. I only have two Narnia books to compare this to, but I respectfully disagree. I love Greek mythology, but this retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth was not for me.

I thought the story was convoluted and sometimes boring. While Lewis explored some thought-provoking themes about the relationship between mortals and gods, his main point didn’t become clear until he explicitly stated it at the end, and I don’t think everything that happened in the book contributed to developing his themes effectively. I wanted more from this! I also did not like the main character at all or the gross, made up names (Orual? Ungit? bleh).

I don’t regret reading this book because it inspired me to read more Greek mythology and more classics… just not this one. While I didn’t like the book, I enjoyed discussing it with my book club, and it brought out my inner literary analysis scholar.

Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Illustrator: Robert Ingpen
Genre: Holiday Classic
Audience: All ages
Format: Hardcover
Length: 148 pages
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Release Date: December 17, 1843
Source: Library

SYNOPSIS

‘If I had my way, every idiot who goes around with Merry Christmas on his lips, would be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. Merry Christmas? Bah humbug!’

To bitter, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas is just another day. But all that changes when the ghost of his long-dead business partner appears, warning Scrooge to change his ways before it’s too late.

MY THOUGHTS

I’m so glad I finally read this holiday classic. I was already very familiar with the story from having watched multiple screen and stage adaptations over the years, but I’d never actually read the book. This tale of Christmas, ghosts, and charity has always been a favorite Christmas story of mine, and this short book is worth the time if you enjoy the story.

I checked this out from the library, and unknowingly requested an illustrated edition by Robert Ingpen. I was initially surprised by the heft of the book, but I enjoyed seeing a new interpretation of the story as I read along.

Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Last Christmas in Paris
Authors: Hazel Gaynor & Heather Webb
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Alex Wyndham, Billie Fulford-Brown, Morag Sims, Gary Furlong, Greg Wagland, Antony Ferguson, Derek Perkins, Jane Copland, Mary Jane Wells
Length: 8 hours (400 pages)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: WWI historical fiction
Content Warnings: war, PTSD, depression, loss of loved ones, suicidal thoughts

SYNOPSIS

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

MY THOUGHTS

This World War I historical fiction novel is told through letters. It was really sweet and romantic watching Evie and Thomas slowly fall in love through exchanging letters after he went off to war. This book was emotional, heartfelt, and well researched, depicting the realities of the war on the front and back home in England, and how the reality vastly differed from the media portrayal.

While the letter format made this a quick read, it unsurprisingly led to some misinterpretations and miscommunications. I also didn’t think letters were the best way to resolve some of the conflicts in the book, and I especially thought that ending felt choppy and rushed.

I probably would never have read this book if my book club hadn’t picked it for December because HF is just not my genre, but it was the perfect book to read outside of my comfort zone around the holidays. The full cast audiobook was wonderful.

Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Gothic / Romance / Suspense
Audience: Adult
Format: eBook
Length: 449 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release Date: August 1, 1938
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Agatha Christie, Gothic romance, domestic thrillers
Content Warnings: suicide, suicidal thoughts, toxic relationship, outdated language relating to race and mental illness

SYNOPSIS

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.

MY THOUGHTS

I was so excited when my book club picked this for November, because it is truly the perfect fall book. The new Mrs. de Winter finds herself in over her head after a whirlwind romance with the much older Maxim. When they return to his estate at Manderley, she doesn’t know how to interact with the staff, Maxim becomes very distant, and she is constantly haunted by the lingering presence of Maxim’s dead wife Rebecca. (Disclaimer: this is NOT a ghost story)

I thoroughly enjoyed the Gothic vibes, and the writing is so gripping. I found the narrator’s mental state very relatable; she has a vivid imagination and frequently gets lost in thoughts of worst-case-scenarios. The story eventually reaches a twist where it shifts to what feels like a modern domestic thriller; by that point, I couldn’t put it down. And can we talk about how utterly creepy Mrs. Danvers is??

I initially rated this book 4 stars because the beginning is a bit slow and the ending is very abrupt (like you will think that the final pages must be missing). However, now that a couple weeks have passed since I finished, I’ve watched two movie versions (Netflix: bad, Hitchcock: good), and I can’t stop thinking about this story. I can see myself rereading this classic again when the weather is right.

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: A Discovery of Witches
Author: Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls #1
Genre: Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jennifer Ikeda
Length: 24 hours (579 pages)
Publisher: Viking Penguin; Penguin Audio
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Source: Library
Content Warnings: torture, death of parents, panic attacks

SYNOPSIS

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

MY THOUGHTS

This book started off strong with a fascinating premise: the origins of witches, vampire, and daemons may be revealed through a lost alchemical text and genetic biology. However, this book was way too long and desperately needed some better editing. The compelling aspects of the plot were bogged down by tangents on history, alchemy, rare books, and everyday life. There were maybe two scenes in the entire book that I would describe as “exciting,” and even though a sense of urgency increased throughout the book, the slow pace never picked up.

This has been described as “Twilight for adults,” and I thought it was exactly that: hundreds of pages of mundane descriptions, a possessive male vampire with ample red flags, a heroine who loses agency and common sense as the book progresses, rushed marriage, weird attitudes toward sex, and very little action despite a lot of build up.

The audiobook is 24 hours long. It truly drags and put me in a bit of an audio slump where all I wanted to listen to after I finished were podcasts with bite sized stories. I am interested enough in kernels of this story that I think I will read the next book after the odd cliffhanger ending. The blend of history, alchemy, science, magic, and paranormal lore in this book is fascinating, but the storytelling and romance leave something to be desired.

Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: The Rules of Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #0.2
Genre: Magical Realism/Historical
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 367 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Source: Library
Content Warnings: death, grief, drug use

SYNOPSIS

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this more than Practical Magic because the magic felt more real and tangible in this book. I loved the 1960s setting, the sibling relationships, and learning more about the mysterious and strange Owens family in general.

However, I made a mistake by reading this back to back with Practical Magic within a week. The tangential writing style is difficult to binge, and I wish I had taken more time getting through this story. I was also very aware of a few inconsistencies with Practical Magic. They’re understandable considering the 20+ year time gap between publishing Practical Magic and this second book in the series, but as a result the curse and story’s message about love were a bit confusing and contradictory.

I enjoy reading about the Owens family, and I want to read the rest of the series to get the full family saga.

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #1
Genre: Magical Realism
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 286 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 1, 1995
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, death, grief

SYNOPSIS

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.

One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this, but it did not live up to my expectations based on watching the movie (about 15 years ago). I guess I expected the book to be witchier. I thought this was a witchy, paranormal fantasy, but it’s actually an understated magical realism where you’re never quite sure if actual magic is at play, or mere superstitions and coincidences.

The writing style is interesting. It’s very descriptive, with long paragraphs and little dialogue, reminiscent of stream-of-consciousness writing, but in third person. The book also does not have traditional chapters; instead, it’s divided into large sections with very few stopping points. This unique writing style made it easy to get lost in the story, but it also made it hard to get back into when I had to put the book down.

Overall, this is a heartwarming, multigenerational tale of unusual women and everyday magic, even if the plot is a bit slow and meandering. I enjoyed reading about the Owens family, the sister relationships, and the magical ties that bring family back together.

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