Wrap Up: March 2020

Last month I read a colossal 21 books! AND I finished all the challenges for the March of the Mammoths, Women’s History Month, and Sims-A-Thon readathons. It’s been so long since I accomplished that for a readathon.

I track stats including genre, special formats like plays or graphic novels, some types of representation for authors and main characters, and my star ratings. I also track the different book “projects” I’ve created for myself. You can read the descriptions for each project on my About page.

The stats and reviews for last month’s books are:

Litsy - March 2020 wrap up

Projects
5 #projectnew
15 #projectSAMS
1 #projectreread
7 #projectTBR

Authors
18 by a woman
4 by an author of color
7 by a queer author
1 by a Jewish author

Main Characters
13 with a woman main character
6 with a POC main character
8 with a queer main character
0 with a Jewish main character

Genres
2 Nonfiction
3 Contemporary
7 Fantasy
3 Historical
3 Horror
3 Sci-Fi

Other
1 Graphic Novel
1 Short Story
1 DNF

Ratings
2 star
2 1.5 stars
0 2 stars
2 2.5 stars
2 3 stars
1 3.5 stars
7 4 stars
3 4.5 stars
2 5 stars

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40381319._sy475_The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon 4.5 stars
March of the Mammoths

What a journey! And as an alchemist might say, the journey was the most important part. I loved every second, and you couldn’t have ripped the book from my hands the last couple hundred pages if you tried.

The world is exquisitely detailed and presented well enough (with occasional referrals to the map and indices) for me to really dig in and understand what was going on. The play of differing cultures and beliefs in the main characters and how it affects their actions and thoughts was possibly the best I’ve seen in a fantasy world. It was the perfect loooooooooooong dive into a believable world to get lost in.

The writing alone, down to the sentence level, is so tight and perfect. The word and phrase choices Shannon makes are all active, beautiful, deep, making the very experience of reading this book and art form. That’s impressive considering she maintains that art for over 800 pages.

I never quite connected to Sabran (possibly because we don’t get her POV, though I certainly felt for her) so I didn’t fully understand her as Ead’s romantic interest, but it wasn’t a detriment to everything else going on. It seemed like Ead started to unconsciously develop feelings for Sabran before we as readers had learned enough about Sabran, through Ead’s eyes, for those feelings to make sense. There was an initial disconnect that did level out by the end.

I love how Shannon made many of her characters, even the side ones, either complex and/or play multiple roles throughout the story. Niclays would have been so easy to write off as a bad person, but Shannon did a great job of keeping my thoughts on my toes regarding him in moral terms.

Also, I desperately want to befriend an ichneumon ASAP, please and thank you.

177945To Ride Pegasus by Anne McCaffrey star DNF
Women’s History Month Readathon: Book published before you were born
Sims-A-Thon: Upgrade an invention – Adult sci-fi

I think I figured out what doesn’t work for me from McCaffrey: her characters are flat as pancakes. They don’t grow, the plot (if there is any) drives their actions/words rather than the other way around, they don’t make sense. It is baffling that this book’s blurb describes 5 important-sounding women in detail, promising their perspectives on how they shape the world of the Talents, but the whole story is told from the POV of 2 men. *throws hands up*

32768509._sx318_Girls Made of Snow and Glass by by Melissa Bashardoust 4 stars
Women’s History Month Readathon: Book with “girl” or “woman” in the title | Book with a female villain | A retelling | A debut novel
Sims-A-Thon: Renovate – Retelling

This is a really great, fleshed out, nuanced retelling of the Snow White fairy tale. The author balanced the magical aspects and action with the exploration of relationship dynamics really well. Definitely one of the better retellings out there.

388196The Love Spell by Phyllis Curott 4 stars
Women’s History Month Readathon: Book with less than 1,000 ratings on Goodreads | A biography or memoir | Reread an old favorite

If you followed the roller coaster of my many status updates on Goodreads, you’re probably just as confused as I am about such a high final rating. (Definitely check out my status updates and favorite quotes for more details about particular ideas.)

I don’t agree with or even like a lot of things in this book. But I didn’t read this book. I studied it. I grappled with it. I haven’t done this much mental work on a book since college, maybe not even then, and I’m exhausted.

The conversations about sexuality, desire, repression, culture, self-esteem, self-respect, love, relationships, spirituality–each one of those words/ideas were explored in so many directions. Often in mind-blowing ways. Like Curott’s Book of Shadows, this book exposes layers of hypocrisy and repression and BS we’ve internalized so much we don’t even see them. It opened up ideas and ways of being I’ve never considered but would absolutely improve my life.

I have a zillion notes and things to think hard about for a long, long time. So while many things annoyed or angered or frustrated me, I feel changed as a result of this book, in a positive way.

40742905._sy475_The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky by Mackenzi Lee 4.5 stars
Women’s History Month Readathon: Book set over 100 years ago | Book set outside your home country (USA)

Lee does an incredible job of taking the reader through Monty’s insecurities and making them feel entirely real, reasonable, and relatable. She also does a phenomenal job of making the reader laugh out loud and shake their head at all the characters. The dialogue is great, the emotional arcs are great, and I was entertained every second. These characters are ridiculous and frustrating and hilarious and I love them.

156925Stay by Nicola Griffith 4.5 stars
Women’s History Month Readathon: Book with a pink cover
Sims-A-Thon: Have a breakthrough – 5 star prediction

I read the majority of this book in one sitting, because any time I put it down to eat or something, I felt inexorably pulled, like a magnet, to dive back in.

I love how the author took the pronunciation of Aud’s name to a whole new level and made it a legit, meaningful recurring theme rather than just inserting a one-time “this is how you pronounce it” example.

The character growth throughout the book, not just with Aud but with the people around her, is extraordinary. The motif of Aud growing from larva into imago is beautifully, painfully, laboriously executed as she works through her grief, breaks out of her protective armor, and comes to an understanding with the world and people around her.

Griffith is in a league of her own. Also, her descriptions of nature are so exquisite I have the strongest desire to run off into a forest and never be seen again.

233330A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt 5 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Choose a household – Book from late in a series

One of those exemplary books that, after closing the last page, makes you just sit and think and feel what you just experienced.

It is a journey through a young boy’s life learning to hope and love, getting heartbroken, and healing. It is an up and down journey that I was invested in from page one and with Jeff every second of the way. Voigt has a singular gift for showing Jeff’s thought processes, internalizations, and motivations in a raw but completely believable, realistic manner that latches the reader into it so that they grow over the years along with the character. It is that gift that differentiates this book from other similarly themed books.

It is a book about the importance of communication (not just verbal, but knowing the styles of the people you’re around, respecting them, interpreting them, and using your words when you aren’t sure). The relationship between Jeff and his father is very understated, but there are moments of such momentous impact because of that that show, in the most incredibly meaningful way possible, what they mean to each other.

It is a book about a young boy learning what love and family mean despite not having the best role models for it. It is a book about him going through grief and pain and loss and lack of self-worth (I remind you, the reader is RIGHT THERE WITH HIM every step of the way) to ultimately find a balance and happiness within himself, and what those states even mean in a healthy way.

The writing in this book takes on the perfect tone and focus for Jeff as he grows up, maturing as he does, showing between the lines versus telling so that readers understand the dynamics between the adults in his life even if he’s too young to understand them himself. The characters take on so many important roles, like what Jeff learns about family from the Tillermans, and like Jeff’s mother being his foil, antagonist, a force that pulls him in and pushes him away, that he has to navigate sometimes at odds with his own desires, all at the same time until that final line of the book when we see how much he’s grown and she hasn’t.

This book is on par with Rilla of Ingleside as far as how phenomenal the journey and its deeply satisfying, hopeful, promising end are.

Although it’s useful to have read the first two books in the series to fully understand the Tillerman family when they come into play later in the book, it’s not necessary so you can definitely start with this book. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

275859 The Runner by Cynthia Voigt 2.5 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Buy a house – Contemporary

Not Voigt’s usual tight writing. There was so much going on: multiple kinds of war issues, race issues, emotional abuse/manipulation from Bullet’s father, coming of age issues. Most of them didn’t actually evolve or grow the characters much.

The only exception is some minor growth regarding Bullet’s racist views. Bullet is RACIST. The book is told from his POV so we get all his stereotyped views of black people (looking older, being athletic, grouping all individual black people together, etc). The author doesn’t do a good job of not being narratively racist either (the one named black character is a mixture of stereotypes).

Bullet is also an arrogant jerk in other ways. His internal monologue of superior thoughts is off-putting. He’s constantly thinking he’s above everyone else, more grown up, better at everything, and somehow he gets passing grades without doing any of the reading or homework. It’s an actual point hammered throughout the book that he’s so good at things without trying, and everyone (including teachers) finds it mysterious or endearing. Seriously?

It was nice to get an inside view of this timeline in the overall history of the Tillerman family, particularly understanding Abigail’s character even more.

Content warning for emotional abuse/manipulation, racism, major character death, and accidental shooting of a pet.

15678Come a Stranger by Cynthia Voigt 2.5 stars
Women’s History Month Readathon: Book with a woman of color on the cover

This book revolves around the experience of being black and is written by a white woman. I, a white reader, don’t really know how to evaluate that incongruence aside from being skeptical.

I found Mina’s teenage obsession with an adult man uncomfortable, especially when her mother validates it by calling it true love (???).

Like the previous book in the series, The Runner, the general progression lacked focus among a bunch of themes that were only explored on a surface level. It didn’t help that there were constant phrasings like “I didn’t understand, but I did” and “She felt uncomfortable, but at the same time she didn’t.” It was like those wishy-washy contradictory statements took the place of actually working through complex themes. The progression that did occur plot or character -wise seemed to happen suddenly, not always making full sense. Much of the dialogue progression seemed not to follow any particular logic either.

This book has a heavy Christian lens, which may be appealing to some readers but wasn’t for me.

30731095._sy475_Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger 4 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Analyze crystals – Precious stone on cover

YES. GOOD. More Victorian lesbians please, especially in the steampunk/supernatural genre. I absolutely adored this romance, the weaving subplots, and the return to this world. The pack’s presence is so over the top, but so right and so satisfying. Carriger manages to get so much of the characters’ personalities in with just a few words. Alexia is a force even as a side character, and every single second is pure joy. And Channing being NICE?!?! I was just as floored as Genevieve. Good on you for getting that side of him, Imogene.

25555340._sy475_ The Fox by Malinda Lo 1.5 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Analyze metals – Gold, silver, or bronze book

It’s a short scene that exists solely to showcase a very brief glimpse of a magical fox creature. It says nothing about the character you don’t already know from Huntress, doesn’t add anything, doesn’t stand alone, doesn’t even read particularly well style-wise. *shrug*

49426056._sx318_sy475_Lazarus Vol. 6 by Greg Rucka 4 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Synthesize serums – Interesting format

There was definitely the same great action and spot-on art panels I’ve come to love from the series. The emotional intensity seemed lower, possibly because we’re starting several years after the last volume and it needs to build up again.

But Lazarus certainly knows how to keep me wanting more. That ending, UGH WHERE’S THE NEXT VOLUME.

44804083Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire 3 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Analyze a plant sample – Plant life on cover

I wanted to love this book because Jack is my absolute favorite…but I didn’t. The whole thing felt drawn out and almost pointless, which is saying something for such a short book. One thing happened to actually progress the overall plot of the series. One. And it was a return to conflicts from the first two books so it felt watered-down and reused.

I didn’t make this a part of my rating, but I disliked the audio narrator. She made the sentences fall oddly, like they stood alone rather than part of a narrative flow. She also made the characters sometimes sound a lot more whiny or irritating than their dialogue/personalities actually accounted for. (I realized later that the narrator was the author. O_O I don’t know how to reconcile that with my experience of the audio.)

23168817The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu 1.5 starsDNF
Sims-A-Thon: Create a new species – Aliens

DNFed just under 1/4 of the way through. The ideas are interesting (like an alien species whose thoughts are completely transparent and how that affects alien/human understanding). But the story draaaaaaaaaaags. And wanders into long tangents (like imaginary characters coming to life for their writers). The tightness of the first book’s writing that kept me invested despite not understanding a whole lot of the physics was completely absent in this book.

7094569Feed by Mira Grant 4 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Invent an invention – Futuristic technology

I really enjoy Grant’s brand of horror. It does a good job of having gruesome/gritty elements, plus well-written action, without compromising on character or the complexity of layered themes.

I adored the sibling relationship between Shaun and Georgia.

I was so pleased to find a book with a main character who gets migraines, light-induced migraines no less. It was therapeutic to see some of my experiences on the page and how non-migraine characters concern themselves for Georgia’s sake.

It was great to have a plot that wasn’t focused on the zombie apocalypse itself happening, but occurred in the believable world created as a result of the infection. It was weirdly predictive of the current political climate with news integrity issues, religious fervor, etc.

Also I’m still shaking from that twist near the end. Totally unexpected.

8429687Deadline by Mira Grant 4 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Tinker with devices – Multiple parts

I mean, I can’t complain about more action and horror and humor all rolled together perfectly. It was interesting to follow a main character who is (understandably) less than stable. The twist at the end wasn’t entirely unpredictable, but I still picked up the next book immediately upon finishing this one because I HAD TO know how it all ends.

11806716Blackout by Mira Grant 3 stars

I still enjoyed the action, fast pacing, and humorous character interactions. Something was missing for me in the overall wrap-up, though, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It felt incomplete, just ending before I really felt it should have been over. The fix-it plotline introduced for events in the first book seemed almost forced and therefore detracted from the plot/character depth and cohesion.

637635The Bean Bible by Aliza Green 4 stars
Sims-A-Thon: Experiment with equipment – Outside your comfort zone

A very comprehensive guide and cookbook for beans. Every recipe starts with a brief description of the dish or often of the author’s experience with those particular ingredients, solidifying her expertise and bringing a wonderful personal spin to what otherwise could have been a dry topic. The book is peppered with interesting facts, historical tidbits, and alternative methods. My only two criticisms are that some of the tidbits are overlaid with graphics, making them difficult to read, and the lack of photos of the recipes.

36670752._sy475_Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy 3.5 stars

The strengths of this book lie in the relationships Marilla has with others: her brother Matthew, becoming best friends with Rachel, her aunt Izzy, her mother Clara, and the romantic arc with John. She journeys through the ebb and flow of each relationship and becomes more of the version of her we know from Anne of Green Gables.

I thought the broader political and social aspects were very infodumpy and somewhat thinly portrayed, but they did provide a plot backdrop to ground the passage of time and against which Marilla and the other characters developed the story’s moral spine.

I really liked that the book’s sections were modeled after the books in the main series. It was a nice structural tie-in.

Overall I am glad I read this book and thought it was a fitting prequel to the Anne of Green Gables series.

35068705The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang star DNF

Unpopular opinion, apparently. The writing is awful. The narrative just skips and skims over time, action and events primarily told via the most bland infodumping that completely disconnects the readers from the characters. All the intriguing commentary in the beginning on social classes and the test being a placating ruse pretending equality just falls away for extremely weird school dynamics where the main character, despite all odds, is *different* from all the other students and gets into petty rivalries based on nothing new or compelling.

And that fly-by scene of the main character deciding to make herself permanently sterile with no thought or consideration whatsoever felt so gross and wrong. To be clear, I agree that people should be able to make a decision either way (to have children or not to have children, both equally valid). But it’s a big one that needs to be thought through, not decided immediately based on a tangential effect (not having a period, which again I can very much support) in a scene that makes it sound like not a big deal at all.

45046567The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune 5 stars

I AM DEAD, I HAVE AT LEAST ONE CAVITY, AND MY CHEEKS ACHE FROM SMILING.

This book is utter perfection. The flawless notes of humor! The cuteness (without being trite or phony)! MY FLAILING. My joy definitely did not overflow in the form of tears, not at all, nope.

I literally laughed out loud more times than I can count, and my heart is so swollen with love and triumph for the characters.

I knew I would love this book from the moment Linus described how he didn’t know how bowls engraved with his “evil” cat’s name had appeared in his house after she’d walked in. Not only did the book not disappoint, it only got even better. And better. And better.

Go read it RIGHT NOW to feel the weight of the world lift from your shoulders, even if just for a moment.

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Whew! That’s everything I read last month. Have you read any of these books? Did you have the same experience with them I did?

1 thought on “Wrap Up: March 2020”

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