Book Review: My Name is Monster by Katie Hale

My Name is Monster

My Name is Monster by Katie Hale / ★★★★★

She is lost and alone in this big broken empty world. I can help her. I can teach her language, and I can teach her survival.

Wow, this book was really something. It begins with a young woman who only goes by her nickname, Monster. She believes herself to be the lone survivor of what appears to be the end of the world, which has been wiped out by war and sickness. She begins her trek home to Scotland, where she has accepted a lifetime of solitude, only to one day discover a young, untamed girl. She immediately takes this girl in as her own, with the intention of teaching and “creating” her from the apparent blank slate that she is.

I did not expect to love this book as much as I did, possibly because Robinson Crusoe was a book a I read in college and did not enjoy much, and seeing that this was partly inspired by it put me off. But I was hooked from the very first page of Monster’s journey. I found her character, an aloof engineer who prefers solitude to the company of almost any sort, and her journey through an empty world, fascinating. While the book never deeply delves into why the world is in its post-apocalyptic state, frequently mentioning war and “The Sickness,” I didn’t mind. The book didn’t necessarily feel about that, and it felt like a reflection of the characters’ mental states to not know, to not think about it.

The book is divided into two parts, the perspective of Monster the adult, and the perspective of the little girl, who is subsequently named Monster, as Monster renames herself Mother. I loved the contrast between their perspectives as the book explored themes of survival, of womanhood, of motherhood and of freedom. This book is not fast paced, but I finished it in just a few days because I found it so captivating. It’s not an easy read, either. It’s troubling and uncomfortable and encapsulates so many layers.

While undoubtedly this book will not satisfy every reader – it can be vague or too subtle, and it does not answer every question – I enjoyed it immensely and don’t think it could have been written any other way and have had the same effect. It’s one that will continue to leave me thinking.

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo / ★★★★☆

her morning mantra in the bathroom mirror I am highly presentable, likeable, clubbable, relatable, promotable and successful

This book follows the narratives of twelve different characters told in pairs of three in a collection of what is essentially interwoven short stories. While at first I wondered if jumping from narrative to narrative would make it hard for me to stay invested in this book, I was very quickly proven wrong. Each character, most often a black woman, had something new to offer within the themes of feminism, sexuality, race, identity- the list goes on.  Even if I was sad to see one story come to an end, I looked forward to what the next would bring, and to discover how ultimately every story and character was connected.

I did find that I felt that the first half, or first six stories, to be more engrossing than the second half. I think this was because the book almost became oversaturated with characters and perspectives concerning the same things. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact was something I also enjoyed immensely. However, after a while it began to feel like Evaristo was simply speaking through her characters rather than letting her characters do the talking, in an almost lecture-esque way. Despite this, I still loved her distinct narrative style, and any dissatisfaction I had was more than made up for by the intrigue I had in the characters.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was one of those books that I just enjoyed my time in. It wasn’t a quick read by any means but it was one I was able to spend hours in without putting down. I loved that I was able to feel empathy for each character, despite how good or flawed they were. And even though it was a bit oversaturated, there was still much to be gained from the scope that Evaristo captures within this novel. I really, really enjoyed it and it definitely deserves all its accolades.

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens / ★★★★☆

Kya knew judgment had no place here. Evil was not in play, just life pulsing on, even at the expense of some of the players. Biology sees right and wrong as the same color in different light.

This book had its obvious imperfections, but I still found it to be a compelling, entertaining read. About Kya, the “Marsh Girl,” who was abandoned by her family at a very young age, we follow her as she grows up in isolation in a North Carolina marsh. The book opens with with the death  of Chase Matthews, former star quarterback, in the marsh.

This is a slow read, and as slow as it was I never really found myself bored, but because it’s about a girl living by herself in the marsh, it can feel a little stifling. Still, I found that worked for it. It alternates between the past as we watch Kya growing up, and the present, as investigators try to solve the mystery of Chase Matthews’ death. I thought it helped pace the book well and gave us a little reprieve from Kya’s solitary world. I found this book compelling and unique, upsetting and frustrating at times, but overall not as dark as I expected it to be. Once I finished it, I had an “I see what you did there” moment when I fully understood how the author tied all the elements she used in this book together. To say anything would be to spoil it, but while I didn’t find perhaps as shocking as it meant to be, I thought it was satisfyingly clever.

Like I said, this book did have some obvious imperfections. For as beautiful a the writing was, I found it to be inconsistent at times, especially once we crossed over into the second half of the book and the plot began to pick up. I’d gotten used to the slow prose depicting Kya’s days when suddenly parts felt cheaply summarized, or the dialogue a little tacky. The pacing, which had been fairly consistent for the first half, starts to jump all over the place. I didn’t think it was terrible, just very noticeable. And in the intermediary chapters where two officers try to uncover the cause of Chase Matthews’ death, I don’t know if it was intentional, but these guys had no personalities. I couldn’t tell one apart from the other, I don’t even remember their names, and it made it a bit hard to focus on those chapters sometimes. Fortunately, they were always short.

But while imperfect, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s a slow, thought-provoking read that I do recommend if you’re intrigued by all the hype around it. I would just recommend you set your expectations for something interesting and entertaining enough, but not a masterpiece.

Book Review: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer, #1)

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater (Dreamer Trilogy #1) / ★★★★★

“Do you understand? For you, reality is not an external condition. For you, reality is a decision.”

I loved every single part of this. This sequel series to The Raven Cycle is shaping up to be even more than I realized I needed from that universe. Not only was it a fun re-introduction to characters that I love, but it was an incredibly entertaining story all the way through.

I hesitate to compare it to The Raven Cycle, because this is completely different from the Raven Cycle. The mood, the atmosphere, the story, the characters- are incredibly different. I positively loved it.  We meet lots of new characters, and revisit several characters from The Raven Cycle that really get their time to shine in this book that didn’t in The Raven Cycle (Declan. I’m talking about Declan). This book was more concrete, darker, and spooked me out in a genuine way that the Raven Cycle never achieved. I just loved it.

Call Down the Hawk had some great new characters. It’s the Ronan show now, and the cast is full of lots of new members. And wow, I loved them. We get the thieving and forging Jordan Hennessy and her girls, and Farooq-Lane and her deadly mission. Sometimes, it can be hard to accept new characters in a place we feel comfortable with the old ones, but these ones fit right in, and brought so much more. It wasn’t hard to grow invested in their personalities and motives as they unfolded. I loved stepping away from Ronan and discovering what they had to add to this universe. And I gotta say, it was great to have a healthy does of female characters. The only new character – and possibly aspect of this book – I wasn’t feeling so much was Byrde, but he feels a little ambiguous right now. Mostly, he just talked too much and didn’t seem to be saying a whole lot.

And old characters! The Lynches. I loved Ronan before, and Declan and Matthew I liked well enough, but – and I feel like I keep saying this – this book just added so much more that I didn’t realize I needed from them. Declan, especially. I have so much I want to say about Declan that would be way too spoilery for a review, but man. The growth and nuance in his character was fantastic. I love Declan. Returning to Ronan was wonderful, especially since his story was so obviously not over at the end of the Raven Cycle. I’m already loving the growth there, and I can’t wait to see where he ends up at the end of this series.  And Matthew- Oh, Matthew.

As for the plot! It was full of intrigue and action and mystery that genuinely unnerved me. There are dreamers, and there are people hunting dreamers, and there are things in dreams that must be hunted. There wasn’t any point in this book that I got bored. It was entertaining, and fun, and funny, and dark. The only thing I’m sad about is that when I finished, I couldn’t move on to book 2.

I loved The Raven Cycle, but honestly, I think this is the story Maggie Stiefvater has really been meant to write. This story is her sweet spot, and it’s my favorite book by her so far.

Book Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

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The English Wife by Lauren Willig /  ★★★.5

Summary: Bayard, from the esteemed Van Duyvil family, is found with a knife in his chest, and his wife, Annabelle, goes missing, presumed drowned, on the night of their Twelfth Night ball. The press goes wild with rumors, but Janie, Bay’s sister, teams up with an unlikely reporter to uncover the truth.

It wasn’t the big decisions that set the course of one’s life; it was the slow accretion of all the little ones.

This book was a fun mystery! It was a relatively quick, dramatic read, and if you’re looking for something dark, yet entertaining, this is a great book to pick up. I loved the format- it jumps around in time and switches between the POVs of our main character, Janie, who is trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s death and sister-in-law Annabelle’s disappearance, and Annabelle herself, and the events leading up to that fatal night. I love the un-chronological reveal of information, and the guessing game this book had me playing. It was definitely full of twists and turns.

I think the thing that docked this book a star was that I simply wasn’t fully invested in the characters. The romance – though fitting with the style of writing and with the drama of the story – was a bit theatrical for my taste. I liked the characters, but no one really made me care deeply about how the whole story played out, and I really just wasn’t invested in the romance. Some parts of this book were also a bit draggy, and descriptions and dialogue were a bit kitschy,  but for the most part it kept me interested.

This is a book that really keeps you guessing. Except! While I wouldn’t describe this book as being predictable, about halfway through I took a stab at randomly predicting who I thought the killer might be- and ended up being right. So in the end, while I didn’t love this book, it did leave me feeling satisfied and somewhat victorious.

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy, #2)

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #2) / ★★★★☆

Summary: Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

“Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other; of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other, each way will have its bitter with its sweet.” 

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Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman


Tin Man by Sarah Winman /  ★★★★★

Five years after the death of his wife, Ellis lives in a state of loneliness. His childhood best friend, Michael, is nowhere in sight, but as Ellis falls back into memories, their lives together – and apart – begin to unfold.

I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. 

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Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney


Normal People by Sally Rooney / ★★★★★

Summary: Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.

How strange to feel herself so completely under the control of another person, but also how ordinary. No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

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Book Review: Human Acts by Han Kang


Human Acts by Han Kang / ★★★★★

Summary: In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed. The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre.

I grasped your hand and tugged you forward, toward the head of the column, while you muttered to yourself in blank incomprehension, our soldiers are shooting. They’re shooting at us. I pulled you toward them with all my strength, opening my throat to sing while you seemed on the point of tears. I sang along with the national anthem, my heart fit to burst. Before they sent that white-hot bullet driving into my side.

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