Happy Friday, everyone!
We have survived April 2022! I don’t know about you, but chaotic doesn’t even begin to sum up my past month…
For one thing, I was constantly running from one place to the next in completely unsuitable clothing – How am I supposed to plan what to wear when the weather keeps going from torrential downpours to snow to scalding heat to hailstorms all within a matter of hours, huh?? – which resulted in me sniffling at everyone and everything with a terrible cold one week and then sporting a truly colorful masterpiece of a sunburn the next.
For another, I was simply extremely busy. There was all the work I had to do for school, an Easter break filled with people who expected me to socialize with them now that I was finally home, the chaos of trying to keep an eye on the kids while my parents were helping the Ukrainian family who had been staying at our place move into an apartment of their own, a beta read that I’m still in the middle of, and the fact that, for no discernible reason, I’ve just been feeling kind of down lately.
Which, somewhat contraintuitively, means that I’ve actually been reading and watching way more than usual! My coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety and unhelpful spiraling thoughts has always been to cut down on sleep – because if I keep myself occupied with books and movies until I’m so tired that I collapse of my own accord, I won’t have to deal with that period of lying awake in bed where I start overthinking every single decision I have ever made in my life, no matter how small…
(Yes, I realize this isn’t exactly healthy 😅 I’m trying to work on it, I promise!)
Anyway, all that to say: I read quite a bit in April! Some of it was good, some of it was terrible, some of it was mediocre, and some of it was awesome, so yeah – my reading was about as all-over-the-place as the weather. Let’s just say you’ve got a wide range of opinions to look forward to! 😂
Dragonfly (Dragonfly #1) by Julia Golding (2/5 Stars)
Had I read it about ten years earlier in my life, I would probably have looked at Dragonfly a lot more favorably. After all, next to unique world-building and a ton of politics, it also features some of my favorite tropes ever, like royalty being out of their comfort zone and a hate-to-love romance!
Reading this in my mid-twenties, though? Well, I’m afraid to say I found it to be the epitome of clichéd and badly written YA fantasy 🙈
To defy a common enemy, the book’s protagonists, Princess Taoshira of the Blue Crescent Islands and Prince Ramil of Gerfal, are forced into an arranged marriage neither of them is particularly keen on. Tashi finds Ramil incredibly rude, and Ramil thinks Tashi is so prim and proper that he tries everything he can think of to offend and be rid of her. Then, however, Tashi and Ramil are kidnapped, and it’s up to them to ensure their countries’ – and their own – futures…
Like I already said, I thought this book was remarkably similar to about a million other YA fantasy novels out there. We had a pretty standard “two teens travel around together and somehow singlehandedly solve a political conflict that has been going on for decades” plotline that no longer really does it for me – especially when no one but the main characters is even slightly fleshed out, relationships go from one extreme to another in the blink of an eye, and the writing might be the worst show-don’t-tell, don’t-infodump, and choose-one-narrative-perspective travesty that I have ever seen in my life.
Ramil felt exasperated; he'd extended the olive branch only to have it snapped.
"Actually, it does matter," Tashi said simply. She was feeling more at peace with the world now that she had done her prayers.
Excerpt from Dragonfly, p. 82
Seriously, the whole book was full of passages like this one! We were constantly being told (rather than shown) about characters’ feelings in extremely repetitive language, jumping from one person’s head to the next in true omniscient narrator style for about five pages, and then jumping back to dual perspective third-person limited for the next five. That and the constant infodumps drove me absolutely insane, and I just couldn’t take the book seriously as a result! Which is such a pity, because I did actually like Tashi and Ramil a lot as protagonists and thought that some of the ideas behind the plot were quite interesting.
Kommissar Mozart: Es muss nicht immer Mord sein by Tom Ots (3/5 Stars)
(This book has not been translated into any other languages; the German title means “Inspector Mozart: It doesn’t always have to be murder”)
Kommissar Mozart was our most recent pick for the book club I run with three of my friends. I had never heard of it in my life, but my best friend, who studies medicine, is friends with the author, a doctor whom she met at an acupuncture seminar. Which means she decided our book club would be the perfect way of obtaining an unbiased opinion on the novel, goading us with soppy stories of how badly the author wanted feedback and how we might even be able to invite him to one of our book club sessions, provided our views on the book were not so unfavorable that it would make things extremely awkward.
(Yeah, that last remark might have been aimed at me 😂)
Anyway, the novel follows an Austrian police officer who is descended from none other than the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself. Inspector Mozart, however, has inherited none of his ancestor’s musical talent… Instead, he has always had a passion for solving crimes, even if his pedantic ways of going about this have always greatly amused his colleagues. After a large-scale bank robbery takes place in his hometown, Mozart sees his chance to prove himself, vigorously throwing himself at a trail of clues that takes him all across Austria and Germany. However, what initially began as an enthusiastic manhunt soon leads to Mozart being very distracted by deeply philosophical conversations about yoga, life, and the 1968 movement…
Overall, I can definitely say that I enjoyed this one enough that my friends don’t have to be too ashamed of my opinions if we do invite Tom Ots to our next book club session. Granted, I wasn’t particularly blown away by the mystery plotline or Inspector Mozart’s personal relationships. Both of those were rather bland. But the political discussions in this one were actually really intriguing, and I loved the self-deprecating humor the book had! Besides, there were just so many wonderful Austrian snide comments at Germans in here that had me snorting!
(Although, Austrians, before you get too complacent, just remember that your country is basically just an even more conservative version of Bavaria… Don’t you dare think that you can make fun of us without retaliation! 😜)
So yeah, while it is by no means a new favorite, Kommissar Mozart was definitely interesting and unlike anything I’ve read before. If you speak German and are craving light crime fiction with a bit of philosophy, history, and a unique voice, this one might be worth checking out!
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin (1/5 Stars)
(Original Russian title: Метель; I read Andreas Tretner’s German translation, Der Schneesturm)
What. The. Fuck. Did. I. Just. Read.
Please excuse the language, but that’s just the most accurate way I have of describing The Blizzard 😳 Seriously, I am so glad I decided to read this in translation and not the original Russian, because the plot was so freaking bizarre – think doctor-with-miniature-horses-stumbles-through-a-blizzard-in-the-midst-of-an-epidemic-only-to-find-lots-of-pyramid-shaped-drugs-and-stop-at-a-mill-to-have-hot-sex-with-his-dwarfish-host’s-wife-and-then-encounter-an-enormous-snowy-phallus-in-the-woods-while-wolves-are-trying-to-eat-him bizarre – that, even in German, I was continuously questioning whether I was just not understanding the words on the page. Reading this in Russian would have guaranteed a full-on language crisis!
Anyway, to put it into a bit more understandable terms, the novel starts off harmlessly enough. Garin, a doctor somewhere in Russia, desperately needs to make it to the village of Dolgoye before nightfall in order to deliver a vaccine against a mysterious epidemic. His efforts, however, are thwarted by a raging snowstorm that turns a sleigh ride that should have lasted only a few hours into something much longer and much more sinister…
Overall, this book just wasn’t for me. I went into it hoping to familiarize myself with contemporary Russian literature – Sorokin particularly intrigued me because he has been quite vocal in his criticism of Putin in recent years – but ended up discovering what was simultaneously one of the most absurd and one of the most boring books I have ever read in my life. Except for its overall message and the depressive outlook it portrayed towards humanity, I hated absolutely everything about The Blizzard and I am never, ever voluntarily picking it up again!
If you like bizarre, if you adore unlikeable protagonists, if you’re craving something different – by all means, go for it. After all, my mom, who also read it, thought The Blizzard was “brilliantly reminiscent of Kafka”… 🙄 I, however, am never going to forgive my mom for that comparison, and think you would be far better of reading The Metamorphosis than this genitalia-filled wad of nonsensical symbolism.
Breakable Things by Katie Wismer (4/5 Stars)
Although I love poetry, I don’t usually gravitate towards reading whole collections all at once. However, I obviously wasn’t going to miss out on something of Katie’s! I’ve been beta-reading her novels for years now, so, I dunno, not reading a book of hers would’ve felt like a most treacherous betrayal of loyalty or something… 🤣
Anyway, maybe part of the reason I loved this so much was because I know Katie so well. This collection of poems explores what it’s like to be in your twenties, what it’s like to work through some of the darker chapters in your life, what it’s like to strive for the happiness you deserve, and realizing how much of her soul Katie had poured into these words made me appreciate them all the more.
But so many of the poems also just spoke to ME. They hit me in the feels right where it hurt most, and I absolutely loved them for it!
they tell you
you're one of the smart ones
but you've only ever looked at
part of the picture
the first eighteen years of my life
are filed away
under glowing report cards
and shiny red letters
and the perfection used to taste
so sharp on my tongue
that I barely know how
to function anymore
without the blood
in my mouth
Excerpt from Breakable Things, p. 47
The only complaint I have is that the collection was very much on the short side. I felt it could have benefitted from additional poems that also made the transitions between different sections smoother – but maybe that’s just me and my absolute inability to keep anything brief myself… Also, some poems just spoke to me a lot more than others! Which is probably bound to be the case with a collection like this, but I still would have wished that all of the poems had blown me away as much as my favorite ones did.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh (4/5 Stars)
If you read my post on what I’ve been watching recently, you’ll know that I’ve been severely neglecting my favorite sci-fi shows in order to binge contemporary series (**cough Heartstopper cough**) instead… So, to replace my severe sci-fi withdrawal, the only solution was to consume the genre in book form!
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? follows six teenagers who have been training their whole lives at an elite academy, in hopes of joining a crew of adult spacefarers on a mission to a possibly habitable exo-planet. Competition to get this far was brutal, but even now that they’ve made it, tensions are running rife. After all, being cooped up together on a spaceship for over twenty years is no easy prospect, particularly when each crew member has their own demons to face.
This book, you guys, was a real-page turner! Even though the pacing is rather slow – Do You Dream of Terra-Two? focuses much more on mental health issues than the training and space travel aspects of the mission – I just couldn’t put it down, and was thoroughly invested in the lives of these teens. Especially since all of them were super nerdy! Like, one of them loves math and builds robots, and another speaks loads of different languages. How much more relatable can you get? 🥰
That being said, though, I thought it was a tiny bit unrealistic just how mentally damaged all of these kids were… You seriously expect me to believe they had issues of this magnitude and not one single person objected to them going on this mission? Also, I really would have wanted to see more interaction between the different crew members, particularly as they grew closer over time, and thought the ending felt extremely rushed compared to the slower pace of the rest of the book.
Still, my final verdict is that I would definitely recommend this to YA sci-fi fans!
Vespertine (Vespertine #1) by Margaret Rogerson (3.5/5 Stars)
While I felt very meh about Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens, I absolutely adore her second novel, Sorcery of Thorns. So obviously, I wasn’t going to miss out on Vespertine! Not when there was a chance it might reach Sorcery of Thorns-level epicness!
Well, it didn’t quite manage that. But I still had a great time reading and definitely plan to continue on with the series!
Set in a world inspired by medieval France, with a magic system based heavily on Catholicism, we follow a young, taciturn nun-in-training named Artemisia. It is her convent’s duty to cleanse the dead before they are buried, in order to prevent their souls from coming back to possess and terrorize the living. However, when Artemisia’s home is attacked by possessed soldiers, her only chance at survival is bonding with a malevolent undead spirit herself – a revenant that has been imprisoned in an ancient relic for centuries. Little does Artemisia know that this choice will eventually lead her to question everything she has ever believed in…
And guys, what do you expect me to do when you hand me a fiercely protective, conniving, slightly evil, misunderstood body-sharing undead spirit? I OBVIOUSLY LOVED THE REVENANT AND THE BOND IT HAD WITH ARTEMISIA!! 🤩 Their relationship was so interesting that I wouldn’t have minded reading only about that. Particularly since I thought Artemisia, in all her quiet awkwardness, was extremely relatable as well. Okay, and also because I thought the Roman Catholic magic system involved in the bond was super cool! Although my siblings and I turned out as agnostic as it gets, we grew up in a pretty Catholic family – I’m not even exaggerating when I say that half of my extended family studied theology – and it was really interesting to see how Margaret Rogerson drew on all the different customs and rituals I was raised with to create Vespertine‘s world.
That being said – plot was not Vespertine‘s strong suit. To be fair, I did read most of the book in the middle of the night or very early in the morning when I was extremely tired, so I might’ve missed something, but in my opinion, all of the big “twists” in this book were either not foreshadowed at all or very obvious, making the second half kind of repetitive and boring. The plot just felt so bland that, after a while, I was reading solely for the revenant and Artemisia. Especially since the side characters weren’t really all that fleshed out, either…
Hopefully, though, that will improve with future books, because I really do think this series has lots of potential!
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord (4/5 Stars)
What do you do when you feel utterly exhausted, overwhelmed by the amount of work you still have to do, and your thoughts around every life decision you’ve ever made are spiraling like crazy? If you answered a) “take a break and catch up on sleep”, b) “get started on diminishing your workload”, or c) “talk to someone about what’s weighing on you”, then you are clearly a much smarter person than I am. Because I, obviously, did none of those things and instead decided to sacrifice even more sleep in order to read a fluffy romance novel!
Tweet Cute follows two high schoolers living in New York – Pepper Evans, star student, swim team captain, and daughter of the founders of one of the US’s biggest fast-food chains, and Jack Campbell, class clown, less popular twin, and son of the founders of a small local deli. With plenty of schoolwork and extracurriculars to juggle, Pepper and Jack’s lives are already complicated enough, but then Big League Burger steals one of Girl Cheesing’s most popular recipes, sparking a full-on Twitter war with Pepper and Jack caught right in the middle…
I was so pleasantly surprised by this book! I had mainly picked it up because I wanted the easy-to-digest cuteness that the title already advertised, but what I got was a deeply reflective YA novel that examined things like toxic parent-child relationships, academic pressure – This former super-perfectionistic overachieving student related to Pepper like nobody’s business! – , sibling bonds, and social media. The characters were all well-rounded, extremely fleshed out individuals whose lives I couldn’t help but get invested in, and as I result, I tore through Tweet Cute at an incredible speed!
My only complaint is that I really wish the ending of the book had been a tad less cheesy. Seriously, did everybody have to be so nauseatingly happy with their life? Was it really necessary to have redemption arcs for even the most infuriating characters? With the darker themes that were woven into the rest of the book, I just wish the ending had been a bit more nuanced, too.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (2.5/5 Stars)
Fully titled Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death, Kurt Vonnegut’s most famous work is an extremely unique novel with very poignant messages that really made me think. However, I still didn’t particularly enjoy reading it 🙈
After an introduction by Kurt Vonnegut himself, in which the author explains that he has always wanted to write about the bombing of Dresden, we are confronted with the story of Billy Pilgrim, who, as Vonnegut puts it, has become “unstuck in time” after being kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. As a result, we as readers also get to experience Billy’s life in extremely chaotic order, jumping around between his childhood in New York, his time as a soldier/prisoner of war/bombing survivor in WWII Germany, his post-war married life as an optometrist, and his time on Tralfamadore.
If I had to describe Slaughterhouse-Five in two words, it would be “senseless” and “grueling”. You already know everything that is going to happen because Kurt Vonnegut summarizes it in his introductory chapter. Billy Pilgrim is so ordinary that there is nothing very interesting about him. Instead, you see him pointlessly wasting his life, completely traumatized by an event in which countless others were pointlessly killed due to human stupidity. So it goes.
(I swear, if I have to read the phrase “So it goes” ever again in my life, I’m going to scream! I mean, yes, following every mention of death in the book with that line really made the senselessness of war hit home, but it was also incredibly frustrating constantly having to read it!)
Is Slaughterhouse-Five a great anti-war book? Sure. It describes the horrors of war so matter-of-factly and ridiculously that it strips them of any possible glory you could try to ascribe to them. Honestly, reading this now, with everything going on in Ukraine, was beyond eerie.
But my reading experience was anything but great. I just could not connect to Billy. I was so bored by the endlessly cyclic plot that never brought up anything new. I just wasn’t all that emotionally invested, and while I though the message of the book was chilling and poignant, I probably would’ve taken just as much away from the story if it had simply consisted of the sentence “War is stupid and pointless, but humans are also stupid and keep fighting each other anyway.” Adding all of Billy’s alien drama to the story was interesting from a stylistic perspective, but it just didn’t do much for me.
The Circle by Dave Eggers (4/5 Stars)
Despite its extreme popularity, I wasn’t actually planning on ever reading The Circle. I’d heard it was set at a fictional company, and if there’s anything I find incredibly boring, it’s business… 😅 However, I then discovered that The Circle was the only book listed in the introductory text to utopian and dystopian fiction in my 11th graders’ school textbook that I had not yet read…
(The others, in case you’re curious, were Thomas More’s Utopia, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.)
And of course, perfectionist me suddenly deemed it necessary to have read ALL of the books mentioned in that text. I mean, we were due to start that dystopian unit a week from now! What if one of my students read that text, wanted more background info, and I hadn’t read the one novel they wanted to know about? It would be a travesty!
So, I read The Circle. And, gosh, I was so pleasantly surprised!
The Circle‘s protagonist, Mae Holland, is a young college graduate who has just landed the job of her dreams at the world’s most powerful internet company. Everything at the Circle is modern, interconnected, simple. There are apartments on campus so employees don’t have to suffer the annoyance of daily commutes. Everyone has a company-owned social media account that is meant to encourage you to actually get to know your colleagues outside of work. Online identities are merged into one simple package, so you don’t have to bear the burden of remembering 50,000 different passwords. Dazzled by it all, Mae is more determined than ever to earn her place at this company, hoping to eventually bring the benefits of the Circle to everyone.
The dystopian world portrayed in here felt so eerily plausible that I just could not put the book down! I stayed up thinking about it ages after I’d finished, reflecting on totalitarianism, worrying societal trends, my own relationship to work and social media…
Honestly, the scenarios portrayed in The Circle were so interesting and thought-provoking that the book even managed to make me forgive something I usually never, ever forgive – characters with barely fleshed out personalities and relationships. Quite frankly, the character development in this book sucked big time. Mae is one of the biggest Mary Sues I’ve ever read about, and her friendships and romantic entanglements in particular had me rolling my eyes because they were so badly written. Weirdly enough, though? – I didn’t care. At least not that much. I never thought I would ever make a statement like this, but I guess there’s always a first time: The world-building in The Circle was so phenomenal that it more than made up for characterization deficiencies!
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer (5/5 Stars)
THIS. BOOK. WAS. AWESOME.
There are simply no other words for it. The Darkness Outside Us is sci-fi at its finest, confronting the reader with adventure, mystery, morality, humanity, science, complex characters, and one of the most unique plots I’ve seen in a very long time. I’m serious, guys. You have to go read this!
Set in a distant future, after war-ravaged Earth has received a distress call from a mission sent to colonize Titan, The Darkness Outside Us follows two spacefaring teenage boys from enemy nations, forced to work together by countries who don’t have the resources to stage a rescue of their own. But their spaceship, the Coordinated Endeavor, holds plenty of secrets, and soon, it’s no longer a certainty whether Ambrose and Kodiak will be able to complete their mission…
Honestly, the less you know going into this book, the better. Anything I could possibly tell you about why I loved it so much would be a tremendous spoiler, so you’re just going to have to read it yourself if you want to discuss details… Just know that even if it seems like a pretty typical YA spacefarer story at first – and one with an incredibly annoying, spoiled, and horny teenage protagonist at that – it is anything but. This book has absolutely insane twists up its sleeve, and I guarantee you, there will come a point where you will become so hooked that you can’t put it down.
Go read this! Especially if you’re a sci-fi fan, I fail to see how it could possibly disappoint you!
(Also, can I just say that The Darkness Outside Us deserves major bonus points for being basically the only book I’ve ever read with realistically written violin playing scenes? 🥰🎻🎼🥰)
With all the chaos going on in my life, I didn’t do quite as much blog hopping as I would’ve liked this past month. Still, there were plenty of fantastic posts out there, so here are some of my favorites!
- Phoenix @ Books with Wings wrote a wonderful review of Alice Oseman’s Loveless. I have next to nothing to add to the conversation because Phoenix has pretty much said it all! 😊
- Lila @ Hardcover Haven gave us a carefully curated list of #OwnVoices Middle Eastern books to check out for Arab American Heritage month. Thanks to Lila, I am now not only eyeing some of these recommendations very greedily, but also learned a ton about Lebanon, the country where part of Lila’s family is originally from! 🇱🇧
- Zoë @ Reading by the Moonlight covered Roald Dahl in her most recent installment of Spotlight On, a series that gives us a bit of background on famous authors’ lives. As a massive Roald Dahl fan – I’ve loved his macabre humor ever since I was a child and have read every single one of his books – I obviously adored this! 😍
- Line @ First Line Reader not only wrote posts on two of my favorite books this past month – Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Errand and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale – but also celebrated her three-year blogiversary by analyzing which of her posts were the most popular. I absolutely adored this for two reasons: 1) I’m a huge nerd and find statistics like that beyond fascinating, and 2) I got links to even more excellent content to read! 🤗
- Emily @ Frappes and Fiction wrote what might be my favorite discussion of hers yet, in which she provides an in-depth analysis of problems surrounding cancel culture. I found her points extremely thoughtful and highly recommend you go check this one out! 🤓
- Riddhi @ Whispering Stories wrote a hilarious post on book genres as school teachers! I’m still trying to figure out whether I should feel personally attacked by this 🤔
- Ambre @ One More Bookdom did the Unpopular Opinions Book Tag, an all-time favorite of mine. I just love all the tea, okay?! 😁 And boy, did Ambre spill some – I feel like my unpopular opinions are very tame in comparison – so if you speak French, I highly recommend you check this post out!
- Ash @ Ink Words and Ash created The Trope Tag, giving us an opportunity to pair some of our favorite and not-so-favorite literary tropes excellent book recommendations! I am really looking forward to doing this one, but since we all know that it can take an eternity for me to get to my tags, I thought I’d already give it a shoutout here! 🙃
- Megan @ Behind Her Books completed her first year of working as a bookseller and gave us some really interesting insights into her job! Honestly, I’m kind of jealous! 🤩
- Maria @ The Character Study somehow managed to do what I was incapable of and gave us coherent thoughts on Netflix’s Heartstopper adaptation that went beyond her gushing about how good it was 🥰🤩😂 Like the show, I obviously absolutely adored this post!
- Sumedha @ The Wordy Habitat wrote a really insightful discussion on how to balance quality and quantity while blogging. As a someone who has mastered neither, this was both reassuring and extremely helpful! 😊
And that was it for today! Let me know down below how your own April went and whether you’ve read any of the books I mentioned here. If you have, do you agree with my verdicts? I would love to chat in the comments!