Hello everybody! For the longest time, I’ve wanted to have something like a monthly reading wrap-up series on my blog. However, because I usually read well over 20 books every month (because I read lots of comics and manga in addition to novels), and because I don’t think anyone wants to actually read 20+ books worth of reviews in a single blog post, I just ended up never doing monthly wrap-ups. This year though, I do want to share my thoughts with you on the books that I read every month.
To make things easier for me, and to make the posts more pleasant for you to read, I came up with three new series for my blog. So, in addition to my new monthly Manga & Anime Review series and my upcoming periodic Comics & Graphic Novels Review series (debuting later this year), starting this month, I will also be doing monthly Reading Wrap-Up posts. I hope that you enjoy today’s post and do let me know what you’ve been reading so far this year by leaving a comment down below.
I’ve broken my reviews down according to my star ratings, beginning with my lowest rated books and finishing with my favorite reads of the month. And in case anyone is interested in my star rating system, I use the CAWPILE method (CAWPILE: Character, Atmosphere, Writing, Plot, Intrigue, Logic, Enjoyment). You can find out more about it here.
1 & 2 stars books
The Raven’s Ballad by Emma Hamm (sequel and conclusion to The Faceless Woman) – 2/5 stars
Since The Raven’s Ballad is the second and final book in a duology, I haven’t included the synopsis here to avoid spoilers. Click here if you want to check out the full synopsis. Below is the synopsis for the first book, The Faceless Woman.
Book synopsis for The Faceless Woman: A town will only suffer the presence of a witch for as long as she is useful. Aisling watches the flames lick her thighs and prays for a quick death. But when an Unseelie prince appears through the smoke, she does what any self respecting witch would do. She curses him. Bran should never have traveled to the human realm, and is shocked when a witch binds them together. His life is hers and he refuses to die. He saves her from the fires, casts a hex on the townsfolk for good measure, then whisks her away to safety. His only stipulation? She has to remove the binding curse. Unfortunately for them both, she can’t. Witch and Unseelie must travel across the Otherworld to break the ties that bind them. Secrets and lies stand between them, but both will stop at nothing to save themselves.
My review: While I have been mostly disappointed by Emma Hamm’s books in the past, I actually really enjoyed The Faceless Woman. It was full of interesting fae lore and enchanting settings, and I loved the banter between the two main characters, Bran and Aisling. I fell in love with both of them and really enjoyed their budding romance in the first book. So naturally, I was super excited to get to the next book. Unfortunately, it completely missed the mark for me. My favorite part of the first book, the interactions between Bran and Aisling, was practically non-existent in this one because they each go on separate quests in this book and barely share any scenes together. I also found the plot convoluted and messy, with a lot of unnecessary twists and turns that took away some of the fun and magic that I liked so much in the first book. This duology is part of a series of standalone stories and you can read them in any order. The first two books are a duology, the third book is a standalone novel and then you have this duology. And out of these five books, The Faceless Woman is actually the only one that I’ve enjoyed. So while I do want to read it again one day, I’ll unfortunately not be picking up any more of Emma Hamm’s other books.
From the Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon by Jules Verne – 2/5 stars each
Book synopsis for From the Earth to the Moon: Written more than a century before man landed on the moon, this classic adventure tale has proved to be one of Jules Verne’s most prophetic. It is also a forerunner of today’s science fiction. At the close of the Civil War, the members of the elite Baltimore Gun Club find themselves unemployed and bored. Finally, their president, Impey Barbicane, proposes a new project: build a gun big enough to launch a rocket to the moon. But when a daring volunteer elevates the mission to a “manned” flight, one man’s dream turns into an international space race. This is a story of rollicking action, humor, and vibrant imagination, full of both satire and scientific insight.
Book synopsis for Round the Moon: In this sequel to From the Earth to the Moon, Barbicane, Ardan, and Nicholl have decided to take a trip around the moon. But first they have to get to the moon from Earth. Will their trip succeed as they attempt to dodge asteroids and realize that the scientists on Earth have miscalculated their trajectory towards the moon?
My review: Since these are very short novellas that are essentially two parts of the same story, I thought I’d just review them together. I love Jules Verne’s books, having fallen in love with Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid, both of which I would constantly re-read. Since it had been a while since I had read Jules Verne’s books, I decided to buy an omnibus collection of some of his works and I’ve been slowly making my way through it since. And I have to say, while I love his writing style and his nerdy humor, some of his earlier works are rather tedious to go through, because they are full of info dumps, pages that go on and on with what’s essentially just lists of facts and figures, and lots and lots of scientific jargon, most of which is made-up and rather nonsensical in the context of modern science. In this duology, a group of men essentially decide to shoot a shuttle to the moon because the war is over and they are bored because they have nothing else to shoot at. Like, that’s actually the plot. And while I did find it funny and genuinely laughed at several scenes, overall, it was a bit of a chore to go through. Once the group does reach space, they essentially just spend the entire book sitting and discussing about algebra and stuff. And while you can tell that Jules Verne had a blast pouring his love for science and mathematics into the book, for the reader, especially a modern one, this is rather tedious to read. I do think this duology is worth a try simply on the basis of being one of the earlier works of science-fiction. I mean, it’s a book about space travel written way before the concept even became a reality in real life. But unless you’re a long time fan of Jules Verne (like me) or you are passionate about classic sci-fi, this might not be very enjoyable to you.
Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne – 1/5 stars
Book synopsis for Five Weeks in a Balloon: Three British adventurers set out in a hydrogen-powered balloon to explore the uncharted interior of Africa. What they encounter tests the limits of their faith―in science, humanity, and each other.
My review (trigger warning for racism): Where do I even start with this one? This is the only Jules Verne book that I’ve read and actually, genuinely didn’t like. Sure, it has adventure and action, not to mention the same quality of writing that I enjoy in Verne’s other books. But a major issue that I had in this book is how glaringly racist it was. Sure, you could argue that things were different back in the day and that this story should be analyzed in the context of its time period. But as a modern reader, the context of my time period also matters in my enjoyment and analysis of what I read. We have three British adventurers who are exploring Africa in a balloon and they spend the majority of the story either terrorizing (albeit usually accidentally) the local inhabitants they come across, or verbally commenting on their skin color and ethnicity in racist and dehumanizing ways, often with the use of slurs (and that, they have no excuse for). There’s even a scene where the travelers mistake a swarm of monkeys for a group of villagers because, as they justify it, they are so easy to mistake for each other. No, just no. There are also lots of hunting scenes in the book and while I don’t usually have an issue with that if the inclusion of these scenes makes sense in the context of the story, the glee displayed by the characters even as they are killing those animals, came off as rather disgusting to me. There’s a scene where they are commenting about an elephant and how beautiful and majestic it is, while they are killing it. There was just something about that scene that really bothered me. So overall, this is a Jules Verne book that I have absolutely no intention of re-reading ever again. If you want to read his books, stick with Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Around the World in Eighty Days.
3 stars books
His Last Bow and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – 3/5 stars each
Book synopsis for His Last Bow: Further adventures by the master of observation and deduction, as faithfully recounted by his companion, and greatest admirer, Dr. Watson.
Book synopsis for The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: In this, the final collection of Sherlock Holmes adventures, the intrepid detective and his faithful companion Dr. Watson examine and solve twelve cases that puzzle clients, baffle the police and provide readers with the thrill of the chase.
My review: These are the two last books in the Sherlock Holmes series and I honestly don’t have too much to say about them. They are both short story collections and while they were fun to read, they don’t necessarily bring anything new or exciting to the series. I’m glad I read them though, especially since we get a glimpse at Sherlock’s post-retirement life. Overall, I really enjoyed reading about Sherlock Holmes’s adventures and I will definitely be revisiting those stories in the future.
Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (The Illuminae Files #3) – 3/5 stars
Since Obsidio is the third and final book in a trilogy, I haven’t included the synopsis here to avoid spoilers. Click here if you want to check out the full synopsis. Below is the synopsis for the first book, Illuminae.
Book synopsis for Illuminae: This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded. The year is 2575, and two rival mega-corporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra — who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit. But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again. Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents — including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more — Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.
My review: Sadly, Obsidio was for me a rather weak conclusion to an otherwise amazing series. Illuminae is one of my favorite books and while Gemina, the sequel wasn’t quite to the level of Illuminae for me, I still really enjoyed it. Obsidio reads pretty much like an extended concluding chapter, which in a sense it is, being the final book in a trilogy. But it lacked the complexity of plot that the previous two books had, with things getting revolved way too easily and in annoyingly convenient ways throughout the book. We also don’t really get a lot of character development in this book, especially for the new characters we meet in this installment. By the end of the book, they still feel pretty much like strangers, and so despite us having followed their adventures throughout an entire book. I did like the actual ending to the book though, and therefore to the series as well, but overall, this definitely was rather disappointing for me compared to the previous books.
4 & 5 stars books
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta – 4/5 stars
Book synopsis for The Black Flamingo: A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.
My review: This book was amazing ! We follow the coming of age story of a mixed-race gay boy, including his struggles with his ethnic identity, his sexuality, his relationships with the people around him and his own place in the world. I was slightly disappointed that his time as a drag artist didn’t occupy a larger part of the story, but overall, this was a really touching story and I loved it. I actually listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend. Dean Atta himself narrates it, which in my opinion makes it even more special and heartfelt.
A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove #2) – 4/5 stars
Note: Although this book is part of a series, all the books in this series can be read as standalones. Therefore the synopsis below contains no spoilers for the first book in the series.
Book synopsis for A Week to be Wicked: Minerva Highwood, one of Spindle Cove’s confirmed spinsters, needs to be in Scotland. Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, a rake of the first order, needs to be… anywhere but Spindle Cove. These unlikely partners have one week to: (1) fake an elopement, (2) convince family and friends they’re in “love”, (3) outrun armed robbers, (4) survive their worst nightmares, (5) travel four hundred miles without killing each other. All while sharing a very small carriage by day and an even smaller bed by night. What they don’t have time for is their growing attraction. Much less wild passion. And heaven forbid they spend precious hours baring their hearts and souls. Suddenly one week seems like exactly enough time to find a world of trouble. And maybe… just maybe… love.
My review: While I don’t read a lot of romance, I do like to pick up a historical romance from time to time. And Tessa Dare is my favorite historical romance writer by far. I’ve now read several of her books, and they never disappoint. This book, just like the others, has amazing characters and lots of fun banter in addition to a wonderfully scorching romance. I also really liked both of the main characters. Minerva is passionate about geology, which is practically unheard of for women of her time and while she’s very smart, she can sometimes also be rather naïve about many of the world’s realities. Colin on the other hand is your seemingly typical ‘rake with a heart of gold’. Once we learn more about him though, it becomes clear that there’s more to him what what we might think. I enjoyed seeing Minerva and Colin’s relationship develop throughout the story. While they both go through their own personal journeys of growth and self-discovery, they also learn a lot from each other. Their romance was also really sweet, and they definitely genuinely had a lot of chemistry.
My favorite book of the month
I’ll be honest, with all of these 1-3 stars books, I had a pretty disappointing reading month. However, I’m so happy I managed to pick up The Black Flamingo during the last of week of January, because it ended up being my favorite book of the month! It’s superbly written, it’s ownvoices, it has black/POC rep and it has queer/gay rep. Besides, the audiobook is really good! Definitely check it out if you haven’t already.
My other January 2021 reads
Manga: In January, I also read Ao Haru Ride by Io Sakisaka, which is a shojo manga series. I also read the first few volumes of Happiness by Shūzō Oshimi, which is a vampire shounen manga. To see my thoughts on all the manga that I read in January, check out my Manga & Anime Review post here.
Upcoming book review(s): I also read Lore by Alexandra Bracken in January. I haven’t included it in this post because I have a full blog post dedicated to it that I will be posting on February 8th, featuring a non-spoiler review of the book, as well as an interview with Alexandra Bracken. So do look forward to that ^^