An Unkindness of Magicians by Kay Howard | Mini book review

I judged a book by its cover, and unfortunately got exactly what was coming to me, if not what I was expecting.

An Unkindness of Magicians follows a competition among the underground magicians of New York City. This time around the competition that determines which house rules the Unseen World has come years early, and it comes at a time when magic starts going wrong. The power is fading. And we follow multiple magicians as they compete, some trying to maintain control and others who want to see the status quo crumble.

This sounds like an EPIC story right? A mix of the deadly consequences in the Triwizard Tournament of Harry Potter, the intrigue of the game in The Night Circus, and the magical atmosphere of the Element Games in A Gathering of Shadows. But boy did it not deliver.

This story suffered in terms of pacing, in terms of writing style and in terms of development. There’s nothing wrong with dropping readers in the middle of a story and expecting them to learn the stakes and about the world as you go along. But there is something wrong when a reader walks away from what was supposed to be the resolution of the main conflict and thinking “That’s it? That SENTENCE is what we get on this battle?”

There was a lot of potential here. The bits of the world that the author actually developed were fascinating and original. I really loved the dark nature of some of the characters and the secret of what was happening to the magic. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that the plot was completely surface level. It felt like a story pitch to an editor rather than a final product. I so wish this story was put in the hands of a better writer.

So goodbye, beautiful book. You will soon be rehomed to the nearest Little Free Library.

What was the last book that you were disappointed by?

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler | Mini book review

I would say what characterizes my read of Kindred the most is the looming threat. This historical fiction (with fantasy elements) starts with its main character Dana having lost her arm. You don’t know how, other than the fact it happened “the last time she went home.” But quickly, once the main story gets underway, that looming threat of disfigurement is replaced with the bigger threat: life as a Black woman in the Antebellum South. That looming threat provides a great tension that really pushes you through the rest of the story.

Octavia Butler manages to explore a lot of themes through the fear of these threats, both big and small. She looks at mixed-race relationship dynamics, and how they both view this old world in different ways based on their lived experiences (both in race and gender). She looks at Dana’s guilt: for being able to escape, for feeling compassion for her slave-owning ancestor, for not being able to help everyone. These were all really interesting things to explore through the lens of a modern (to 1976) Black woman.

The one aspect I haven’t settled my feelings on yet is the style and whether it completely worked for me. The straightforward writing style made for a quick moving plot. Every time something terrible would happen, there was no lingering over its existence — the story simply moved on (because in the Antebellum South, you had to). You feel the trauma of the story through its ramifications on the plot. I think that part works. But at times that same matter-of-factness felt like a distancing from the characters and an unsubtle play on the themes.

I’ve read that, while this was among her first novels, her style holds throughout the rest of her work. So it’ll be interesting to see how she adapts it to work in the context of telling longer and more imaginative stories in her later sci-fi series.

Overall, I enjoyed my reading of Kindred (as much as you can enjoy such a dark story) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and I’m glad I finally started on Octavia Butler’s work. I think my next will likely be Parable of the Sower before moving on to Lilith’s Brood. Have you read any other Octavia E. Butler books? I’d love to know your favorites!

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn | Mini book review

I first put the Sharp Objects audiobook on hold on Sept. 3. But because adaptations are the bane of my existence, I didn’t get it until this year. /endrant

If you’ve lived under a rock and somehow missed the synopsis, this book follows a reporter Camille who goes back to her hometown to investigate the case of a murdered girl and a newly missing girl. Family drama and small town antics ensue.

So, to start with the positive, this book was compulsively readable. I’ve read the rest of Gillian Flynn’s bibliography, so I knew I got along well with her style, but this was her first book, so you never know. It’s no surprise at all that someone read this book and thought “This has to be a TV show.”

But, saying that, there were times in here where the made-for-TV dramatic scenes came with a side of “well that’s crazy and intense, but why is it happening? How did we get here?” Looking back at the all the twisty dark scenes after finishing the book, I realize several of them seem to serve no purpose other than to elicit a “WTF?” response. They didn’t serve the plot or even character development. We already knew our characters were deeply flawed.

Overall, I think I’ve seen a season (*cough* or 13) too many of crime procedurals to be shocked by anything in here. On top of that the annoying AF bad journalist tropes had me eye rolling so much they almost got stuck. I’d still recommend reading it for a “fun” thriller, if only to compare it to the TV show.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Best Cook in the World by Rick Bragg | Mini review + GIVEAWAY

  • Title: The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table
  • Author: Rick Bragg
  • Publication Year: 2018
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Rating: 4.5 stars
  • Synopsis: Margaret Bragg does not own a single cookbook. She measures in “dabs” and “smidgens” and “tads” and “you know, hon, just some.” She cannot be pinned down on how long to bake corn bread (“about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the mysteries of your oven”). Her notion of farm-to-table is a flatbed truck. But she can tell you the secrets to perfect mashed potatoes, corn pudding, redeye gravy, pinto beans and hambone, stewed cabbage, short ribs, chicken and dressing, biscuits and butter rolls. Many of her recipes, recorded here for the first time, pre-date the Civil War, handed down skillet by skillet, from one generation of Braggs to the next. In The Best Cook in the World,Rick Bragg finally preserves his heritage by telling the stories that framed his mother’s cooking and education, from childhood into old age. Because good food always has a good story, and a recipe, writes Bragg, is a story like anything else.

I like to say “I was born in the South, but I’m not a product of the South.” So I know good food but I am also at a distance where I can easily detach and see its flaws. So when I read books like this that viscerally remind me of my roots and of my family, there’s a tendency to feel conflicted. But thankfully, this book was full of the good food and family and left the white supremacy in the freezer to unpack another day.

I’ve enjoyed Rick Bragg’s books since they were assigned in my journalism program. So when I saw he was writing a memoir/cookbook about his family, I knew I’d eventually read it. (If only because after a year in DC I’ve yet to find any mac n’ cheese or biscuits that are worth a damn.)

What I got when listening was major deja vu. I had so many moments of “are you sure you’re not talkin’ about my own grandma?” in the first 3 chapters that I stopped keeping track. He captures the personality of the matriarchs in his family with such skill that it’s like I knew them in the end. You can hear his momma piping up when he asks “dumb” questions about the recipes she never wrote down for herself. Even the recipes themselves are infused with their voices.

With the recipes comes a memoir of a poor white family living and cooking their way through the 1900s. Bragg details a little of the wider world, with snippets of “the black diner on the other side of the tracks was also serving up the same food,” but his focus is what he knows: the stories of his family, in a sort of time capsule.

This is a memoir of his family, and without meaning, to it’s a memoir of the South. But only the good parts. The hospitality and the unpretentious charm. There’s this feeling of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” which sounds quaint – but only if you don’t look too hard.

All of that to say is I’ll be putting it in the hands of my mother and aunts as soon as I can. And I need to bake some biscuits – stat!

Libro.FM Giveaway

Do you love audiobooks or want to give them a try in the new year? I’m helping a local bookstore give away a 3-month subscription to Libro.FM over on my Instagram.

Libro.FM is an audiobook platform that, for the same cost as Audible, lets you support your local bookstore when you buy audiobooks. In this Year of Indies, why wouldn’t you want to support your own indie? So whether you’re an audio novice looking to try something new in 2019 or an audiobook obsessive like me, this would give you 3 months to potentially find a new favorite book!

HOW TO ENTER! 📚
• Follow me on Instagram ⭐️
• Like this post ⭐️
• Comment with a favorite audiobook or an anticipated read for the year ⭐️

EXTRA ENTRIES (up to 2)
• Tag a bookish friend in your comment ⭐️
• Share my post to your Instagram stories and tag me. ⭐️

RULES! 📚
• Must be a public account
• Must live in the U.S. or Canada (Libro.fm rules not mine)
• No giveaway accounts
• Giveaway will close at 12 midnight on Friday, Jan. 18.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden | Mini review

WTF did I just read? 3.5 Stars ⭐️, rounding up.

The first description that comes to mind with this book is fever dream, but given the hallucinogenic drugs in here I’ll change that to acid trip. This is one hell of an acid trip of a book.

The Prey of Gods is a sci-fi/fantasy story set in a future South Africa. You follow a bunch of different characters from a young girl coming into new abilities, a delightfully ruthless demi goddess trying to reclaim power, and several characters who experience a new hallucinogen sweeping the country.

To start with what I love is how much humor and different tricks to the tropes that Nicky Drayden accomplished. Her characters and her mix of storylines were some of the most original I’ve ever read.

That being said, it sometimes reads like 6 separate short stories that the author just set in the same place and time. When she starts to combine them, things get a bit messy. Several times in the second half I found myself thinking “wait, what? What’s happening? Did I miss something??” I think this could’ve easily been longer or split into separate books to try to sort everything out.

All that being said, I loved all the disparate parts of this mix of science fiction and fantasy. I just wish the execution was a bit more polished. And I’m eager to see what the author does next.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas | Book Review

2018 has been the year of feminist dystopians, and I’ve finally read the last one that was on my physical TBR for the year (that I had been meaning to get to since February!)

Red Clocks follows three women and one teen girl in the near future after a “personhood amendment” is passed in the US, barring everything from abortion, artificial insemination and single-parent adoption. We follow The Biographer, The Mender, The Wife and The Daughter as they all deal with life under this change and slowly the connections they all have to each other is revealed.

I’ll say at the top that this book won’t be for everyone. The style especially takes a while to get used to and even then it’s still strange in its combination of lyrical language and stark/choppy structure. But for me, that style brought such a power to book that, once I got the swing of things, I was completely hooked.

You could feel the desperation, you could feel the contempt and the anger. In the end these “placeholders” (naming the point of view chapters after the women’s role in society) were fully realized people. I could relate to the wife who’s life I’ve never lived; I could relate to the mender even though I’ve never been called a witch.

And unlike some of the other books in this same vein I’ve read this year, it’s a dystopian that is explained in a way that you could easily see happening. Some say modern comparisons to the Handmaid’s Tale are exaggerations — but this book? This is a couple of short steps away from reality.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface with my feminist dystopian reads of the year (Future Home of the Living God; The Power; Vox; The Handmaid’s Tale; The Book of Joan; The End We Start From; Red Clocks), and I already have more on my list for next year. But what are your recommendations?

Severance by Ling Ma | Book Review

When was the last time you read a book and it just stuck with you for days afterward?

I finished Severance Wednesday night and despite my attempts to get into my next book, I keep going back to Severance.

This was a surprise. When I picked it as my Book of the Month, I only knew the briefest of synopses and wasn’t expecting much out of it. And now, three days later and I hadn’t posted my review because I was still ruminating. . 
Severance is a strange little book that manages to be several books at once successfully. It’s an anti capitalist satire. It’s a Chinese-American immigrant story. And it’s an apocalyptic zombie story.

You follow Candace Chen in a split timeline, in the past as she rides out the civilization-ending pandemic in her corporate office building in NYC and in the present as she travels with a small band of fellow survivors.

Author Ling Ma’s examination of capitalistic culture is biting, but what really hooked me was how she explored modern “stuck in a rut” lives and the pitfalls in nostalgia. She’s not the first to make the zombie/office worker comparison but her iteration was so bleak and discomforting (especially for someone like me who experiences deja vu almost daily and finds “comfort” in predictability). And I found Candace to be one of the most relatable unlikable characters I’ve read in a long time.

I’ll spare you all many more details than that because I highly recommend going in mostly blind like I did. I’ll definitely be picking up more from Ling Ma in the future and will move this to the “to be reread” stack.

What I’ve read so far in November | Weekly Reading Wrap Up

Hello, everyone! As I’ve said in the last few posts, my job had been crazy dealing with the election (I worked from 5 am to 1 am Tuesday, then back to work again at 6), so I missed WWW Wednesday. But I’ve still been reading a ton so I didn’t think it was a good idea to just combine weeks, so here’s what I’ve read so far in November. Continue reading “What I’ve read so far in November | Weekly Reading Wrap Up”