“A man and a boy exited the Third Avenue Elevated and walked westward along 67th Street, into the wind.”The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker
There’s just something about September that always makes it feel insanely long. Summer is over but Christmas is also so far away still. And besides being forced to care about one Brit dying (they canceled football! Twice!), I think the most interesting thing I did in September was going on a podwalk. It was created by the local theater and sent me on a tour of my own city and I actually went to places I haven’t been before. The theme was empathy and had me listening to people with whom you wouldn’t immediately feel empathy so it was such an interesting experience. And I also did it on a beautiful Sunday morning with the sun shining and basically no people around. I would definitely do that again.
Anyway, maybe the month also felt so long because of the amount of reading I managed to squeeze in.
11 books!!! I had to double-check that because that’s about twice as many as a normal month for me. The explanation is audiobooks which I’ve started listening to at work. I’m still experimenting with it but so far so good. However, the books I’ve been picking for the experiment are of the “I’m kind of interested in this book but would never actually have gotten around to it”-variety, which has an effect on my average rating. 3.7 isn’t bad but I also reread the entire Hunger Games trilogy this month so those three 5-star reads bumped up the rating a little. I won’t be reviewing those just like I won’t be reviewing the novella Over All the Earth by Alexandra Rowland, which I did give 5 stars though. When I read it, it was just a novella set in the same universe as their other books A Conspiracy of Truths, but now Goodreads says they’re all part of the same series and the new title is The Tales of the Chants. I’d still say Over All the Earth can be read on its own but you will get more out of it if you’ve read the other books first. And now I think it’s time we get onto those reviews!
Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World (Aristotle and Dante #2)
Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published: October 12th, 2021
Genre: YA Contemporary/Historical Fiction
Does this book need to exist? No. Was it still an enjoyable experience? Yes. Well, the first half was enjoyable. It was just Ari, Dante and their parents and that felt very reminiscent of the first book. I liked the development that was set up for Ari and it had me thinking that this sequel could actually have a purpose. That the characters could actually progress instead of going in a circle and ending up right where they started like we see in so many other of these unplanned sequels. And I did think the book managed that despite the general quality going down in the last half. More characters come in but they are so underdeveloped that I actually had a hard time telling them apart. They just morphed into one person in my head and they are made even worse by their dialogue which is taken straight out of woke Twitter. So much of it was so cringe. We have a “feminist” character who hates men and every other line from them is about men not being good for anything. It’s super weird in a book written by a man with a male main character.
But when we weren’t being woke, the writing was really good, again, especially in the first half where I was considering a 4 or 4.5 star rating. I also listened to the audiobook for this which is narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I’ve decided he should just narrate everything from now on. I highly recommend it.
Finally, I have to say that I hated the ending but I feel like I say that about every other book these days. Why is it so hard to write an ending that fits the rest of the book??
Mordew (Cities of the Weft #1)
Author: Alex Pheby
Published: August 13th, 2020
Synopsis: GOD IS DEAD, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew.
In the slums of the sea-battered city a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew.
The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength – and it is greater than the Master has ever known. Great enough to destroy everything the Master has built. If only Nathan can discover how to use it.
So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him – and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns…
Okay, so technically I DNF’d this but I did so with 36 pages left, and at that point, I’d gone through 550 pages of pure boredom so I deserve to say that I’ve read it.
This book was such a mess! I felt like the author had forgotten that you need to do some worldbuilding if you want to have your story set in a secondary world. It’s not a step you just skip or very vaguely allude to. Nothing was explained! After 500 pages, I have no idea how the world’s society works, how magic works, WHO has magic and why. But the story was just happening like I knew these things which just left me confused, bored and not at all invested.
Worldbuilding wasn’t the only thing the author forgot about – He forgot to introduce the plot as well. I noticed this when at the end of part one we get something that is presented as a plot twist. I just didn’t realize I’d been reading a plot. The characters had been doing the most random and mundane things so far and I was just waiting for the plot I’d read about in the synopsis to kick in. It never really did and then when not a single character in this book has a personality, I was left very bored and thinking this book could have used an editor.
(Also, the reason I haven’t given buzzwords like I usually do is that I honestly don’t know what this book is about.)
Here’s to Us (What If It’s Us #2)
Authors: Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Published: December 28th, 2021
Genre: YA Contemporary
Copy paste what I said about Aristotle and Dante? Kind of. I might have liked this one just a little bit more because I enjoyed the side characters more. They actually felt like real people and not just a Twitter profile. But again the ending… *sigh*.
Compared to the first one, though, I liked that it felt like they had fewer pop culture references. There were still some but not at all at the level of the first book, and I generally felt the characters were more mature. Which makes sense since they’re two years older. Other than that, the book was fine and I probably mainly enjoyed it because of the audiobook (the voice actor for Ben 😍).
However, I think I’m taking a long break from YA contemporaries.
The Hourglass Throne (The Tarot Sequence #3)
Author: K. D. Edwards
Published: May 17th, 2022
I liked the first book in this series a lot but I think this third one proved to me that I’m not totally enjoying the direction the story has gone since then. The first one was very dark and that darkness is still kind of there but it feels like more of a background thing now and not really related to the plots of each book. The goal of the author seems to be to make everything more wholesome now and is doing so through a found family trope I was able to ignore in book two but now I find it sickening. Way too many characters have been introduced because of it and this single POV story isn’t able to handle that. Characters either have nothing to do or are wasting the reader’s time because their existence needs to be justified somehow.
Another problem I have with the direction of these books is the magic system. Every book adds something new the characters can do and I’m personally at a point where I feel like they can do too much. Anything seems possible and so they can always come up with something to save the day. Maybe that was also why I felt the villain was so underwhelming in this book? I didn’t feel the threat.
I’ll probably continue with the series anyway for that background plot and the occasional good banter between the main characters.
No Longer Human
Author: Osamu Dazai
Buzzwords: Japan, semi-autobiographical, dislike of humans
Synopsis: Portraying himself as a failure, the protagonist of No Longer Human narrates a seemingly normal life even while he feels incapable of understanding human beings. Oba Yozo’s attempts to reconcile himself to the world around him begin in early childhood, continue through high school, where he becomes a “clown” to mask his alienation, and eventually lead to a failed suicide attempt as an adult. Without sentimentality, he records the casual cruelties of life and its fleeting moments of human connection and tenderness.
You might be wondering why I, a person who doesn’t really read classics, am suddenly reading a Japanese classic from the 1940s. Well, what happened is that I went to my bookstore and they had a stand where you could go on a blind date with a book meaning books were wrapped and vaguely described with one sentence. I picked a book described as: “This is a story of a young man caught between the old traditions and the impact of the world outside.” and No Longer Human is what I got.
I was skeptical, not gonna lie, but it was actually all right. The main character often talks about a “dread of human beings” and I can obviously relate to that and this concept of him becoming a “clown” to deal with that dread was very interesting. According to the translator, the more correct translation of the title is “disqualified as a human being” which I find super intriguing and it’s definitely a strong theme in the book. Yozo struggles to act as a human being while also wondering whether that is something he should even strive for. I just wish it had gone more in-depth with all of it and would love to read a more modern take on this theme because classics tend to explore everything at arm’s length.
Cemetery Boys (Cemetery Boys #1)
Author: Aiden Thomas
Published: September 1st, 2020
Genre: YA Fantasy
Buzzwords: Ghosts, transgender MC,
Synopsis: Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
Okay, this was bad. Why is it so popular? Saying it had pacing issues doesn’t even begin to describe how poorly paced this book was. Every single thing the characters did took forever! For no reason! I listened to the audiobook and occasionally found myself zoning out for a minute or two only to come back a realize I hadn’t missed anything because they were still doing that thing that didn’t matter to either the plot or the characters. So much unnecessary dialogue or dialogue that turned repetitive.
So yeah, the characters spend most of the book doing nothing of relevance to the plot, but Thomas also isn’t developing the characters which means the romance comes out of nowhere and I didn’t believe it for one second. And that was kind of the thing I expected this book to have going for it.
Another thing that really annoyed me about it is that the villain is kind of a mystery and I say “kind of” because the person arrives very early on with glowing neon signs pointing them out as the bad guy but I have to wait till the end for the good guys to figure it out. Like, it was so obvious that I hoped it was a trick to throw me off the real villain. It was not.
(Do I have to say I hated the ending or is that implied at this point?)
The Hidden Palace (The Golem and the Jinni #2)
Author: Helene Wecker
Published: June 8th, 2021
Genre: Historical Fantasy
One word: Atmosphere! I’ve never been to New York or any of the other places in this book but this book made me feel like I was walking the streets, looking out on the desert or doing whatever the characters would be doing. I even found myself planning my vacation for next summer because this book just gave me such an urge to travel and see places! Like, I need to go right now!
But back to the book which is a continuation of The Golem and the Jinni, and I must say I adored the approach Wecker took with this. The construction is very similar to its predecessor but it felt even more tight-knit and that’s despite me probably still preferring the plot of book one. But the development of the two main characters was amazing and really proved the need for this sequel to exist. It was thought-provoking, honest and felt natural to who they are. I couldn’t get enough of them.
So I had a theme of bad endings this month but also a theme of reading sequels to books I thought were standalones. That part wasn’t actually planned but I wouldn’t blame you if you thought I was reading those books in preparation for a post about that. I wasn’t but I might feel inspired to write it now.
If I had to pick a favorite this month, it would be the novella Over All the Earth because apparently, I’m just trash for Alexandra Rowland, but The Hidden Palace is a close second. Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts on sequels to books that were presented as standalones? Happy reading in October!