To All The Books I’ve Read Before (January Roundup)

Hello Friends,

I made a commitment this year to pick up more varied books this year and actually discuss them in some compacity. With that said, welcome to the first Monthly Round-Up for MissAddled Miss!

I actually read a lot more book than I thought I would. I’ve been a bit on a YA binge and, as always, there are a few nonfiction and a graphic novel. Huzzah! So without further ado.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Tahereh Mafi

mafi This book was exceptional. Set in post 9/11, the main character, Shirin, is a 16-year-old hijabi just trying to make it through high school. She hides behind a mask of cool indifference to shield herself from the bullying and racism she deals on a daily basis from both the kids and adults she encounters in her life. Then she meets Ocean who ends up breaking down some of those walls. Of course, there’s more to the story than that.

The book, on its surface, is a romance novel but it tackles Islamaphobia, how certain relationships (interracial/interreligious) get twisted into political statements, the courage for some to live as their authentic selves, and the dangers of stereotyping even as a means of protection.

 

The nuances of this book and how it tackles all these as two kids just try to be together is one of the many reasons I fell hard for this book. More so than I think I did at first. If all romances were written like this, I think I could get behind the genre more. Or maybe I should just pick up more romance books.

Genre: YA Fiction, YA Romance
Themes: Islamaphobia, Racism, Discrimination

The Best Land Under Heaven


Michael Wallis

wallis_bestlandFirst nonfiction book of the year! This book recounted the expedition of the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846 and the dark side of Manifest Destiny. Well, Manifest Destiny is inherently dark but that’s neither here nor there and something I’m not really willing to go into now.

The Donner Party was a family caravan (consisting of multiple families which include the Reeds, Donners, Graves, among others) that decided to make their way to California through the less tried Hastings cutoff that diverted from the Oregon Trail through the Sierra Nevada.  Lansford Hastings, for which the trail was named, advocated it as a faster way to get to California shaving off several weeks as compared to the main route. Much delay and poor decisions along the way lead to the whole of the caravan being trapped in the Sierra Nevada for four months with little food. A good chunk died from the starving and the cold. Some survived through cannibalism which is what is known most about the Donner party in today’s pop culture.

 

The book served as a good overview of the Oregon Trail and traveling conditions during the 1840s. It was a very readable account of this historical moment offering a narrative look of everything that was happening during that time period. I highly recommend it to anyone who would love to learn more about this time period and the Donner Party in general.

Genres: Nonfiction, American History
Themes: Manifest Destiny, Nineteenth-Century America, Mexican-American War

Furyborn

Claire Legrand

legrand_furybornThis book was an exquisite dark fantasy with evil queens, an all-encompassing empire and a magic system that I find fascinating. The book follows to heroines. There is Rielle from the kingdom of Celdaria who undergoes trials to determine whether if she is the prophesized queen of light or queen of blood. One thousand years in the future, Eliana is working as a bounty hunter for the Undying Empire. The legend of Rielle is no more than a myth for her as she struggles to survive. Not just for her but for the family she supports. The story is told by their dual perspectives. 

This is an amazing start to Empirium trilogy! I have so many thoughts about this book which I’m saving for a more detailed review. Suffice it to say, that when I read this book I struggled to put it down. I really can’t wait to see how the story progresses in the upcoming Kingsbane!

Genres: YA Fiction, YA Adventure/Fantasy
Themes: Prophecies, Rebellion, War, Love

 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Jenny Han

han_toalltheboysLara Jean keeps her feelings of love sealed in the love letters she keeps in a secret hat box. She’s never openly admitted to any of her crushes and she chooses to keep it that way until all her letters of affections are sent out and her life is flipped upside down.

I decided to pick up this book partly because of the buzz surrounding the Netflix movie which I have not seen as of writing this. I’ve admitted before in my Yesterday review that romances(at least strictly romances) are not my cup of tea. But I may have to change that because I fell head over heels for this book. Seriously! The romance was quirky and cute but also really down to earth in a way I found refreshing. The more relatable parts for me was Lara Jean’s relationship with her sister and her tendency to live in her own little fantasy bubble (been there, Lara Jean, been there). I’ll talk more about this book (more specifically, it’s ending) in a future review. 

Genre: YA Romance
Themes: Love, fantasy, high school politics, family bonds

Bingo Love

Tee Franklin

franklin_bingo loveA chance meeting between Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray at a bingo hall in 1963 sparks a 60-year romance where both experience the ups and downs of life and love. 

The first graphic novel of the year! This book was so cute! There seems to be a bit of a love theme here despite my protests to never enjoying romance but with this book, I couldn’t help it. There was just something so charming about this little story and the enduring power of love. My only real complaint about this book was that I wished there was more of it.

Genre: Graphic Novel, Romance, LGBTQA+
Themes: Love, discrimination, family, religion

 

What did you all read in the first month of this year? What are your thoughts on the books on this list for those who may have picked them up before?

The Tombs [Review]

The Tombs

In the dark industrial city of 1882 New York, Avery Kohl is a girl trying to get by. She works at an IronWorks factory to support she and her father who are still reeling from the institutionalization of her mother in the notorious Tombs, an aptly named prison and asylum.

But Avery has a secret. She keeps her head down fearing that she’s suffering from the same madness that took her mother when she starts seeing visions. She buries this secret down until it presents itself in a workplace explosion that reveals her secret powers. Now she must hide in the city to avoid the Crows that run the Tombs.

I must state up front that I had high expectations for this book. It was a historical fiction with a brilliant premise full of intrigue, madness, and the spiritual supernatural. But I was greatly disappointed. Actually, disappointment is not a strong enough word for how I felt about this book in the end. I kinda hated it but I really hate to use that word but it’s how I feel.

Every time I picked up The Tombs, I felt like I was reading a series of events, not an actual story. The story is a historical fiction with some slight steampunk leanings. There’ are airships and advanced clockwork robotics but that’s not really delved into. (This is a theme, by the way)

The book reads like a cookie-cutter historical fiction. It’s obvious that Deborah Schaumberg did some research into the times but the history isn’t integrated that well.

Take, for instance, the rise of unions in response to unreasonable work conditions. Avery works as a welder in an IronWorks factory. She’s apparently so good that despite the obvious sexism that would arise in such a profession of the era, she’s kept on the force. But the narrative really never explores her position in an all-male profession or how she dealt with some the sexism that naturally comes with that. The narrative never shows why she’s passionate about her job and it doesn’t help that she frames the job as a burden to support her alcoholic father. More egregious is the narrative’s treatment of the history of unions and the reductiveness it takes to both sides of the conflict. Avery never personally gets herself involved. She’s let in on the secret union meetings but she never takes part in them and the narrative never thoughtfully delves into the nuances of the issue. Instead, we get mustache twisting industrialists and rioting protestors to push through a message that “We are all people so why can’t we get along?”

A lot of the historical detail is treated this way. It’s referenced but not thoughtfully explored. Sexism, racism, lingering civil war tension, and the horrible conditions in mental health institutions are paid some lip service but before we really delve into those topics we’re skipping to the next thing. The history is just window dressing to a weak narrative of personal growth, self-acceptance, and a surface level screed on human compassion.

disappointed
My face when I got to the ultimate “They’re fighting but why can’t we all get along. If only they could see we’re human and…[insert reductive reason that never discusses nuances here]” climax
I don’t think that the characters were entirely fleshed out either. The cast in this is huge and juggling all those people around is a huge effort. But you never know how important a character is. Minor characters are given more of a spotlight. Major characters are shoved into the background. A random love triangle is shoehorned in just because and obvious dumb mistakes were made by the main character a little too much for my liking.

I guess I’ve made no secret of my dislike of this book. I’m very big on my historical in my fiction. I’m rather sensitive to it. If you’re curious, I say pick it up. One critic did say it was a good cross between the Gangs of New York and Cassandra Clare. If you like either of those…maybe go for it. I mean, I don’t see it but okay.

My Rating:

 

1 star

City of Saints & Thieves [Review]

CityofSaintandThievesThe City of Saints and Thieves is a thrilling YA murder-mystery that takes place in bustling Sangui City. Tina and her mother, Anju, are Congolese refugees who flee to Kenya as different warring factions start terrorizing the region. Her mother takes up employment as a maid on the estate of Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most prominent business leaders. That is until she’s murdered under mysterious circumstances.

The story starts five years later.  Tina’s now a thief among Goonda ranks, a gang that operates in the city’s underbelly. She’s hell-bent on revenge against Greyhill believing him responsible for her mother’s death.  During an operation for the dirt to ruin him, Tina’s caught red-handed and learns that not all is as it appears. The story is searching for the truth behind her mother, her own origins, and the machinations of greater forces that frame it all.

I have to admit that this book is quite different from YA books I’ve read in the past. Near the end, I kept being shocked back to the realization that all the murder, human rights abuses, and other really risqué themes were being discussed in a YA novel. The central conflict and drama from the story draw from real-life horrors and international abuses. Things like violence against women, the ways greed and corporate interest work in tandem to tear nations apart, and how young men enter into the culture of violence and toxic masculinity due to the circumstances surrounding the violence they’re raised in caught me off guard. I would expect topics like these in hard-hitting documentaries, traumatic memoirs or blockbuster dramas. I’m not saying that I didn’t think YA could cover these topics. This is just the first time I’ve encountered them in this genre.

With all that being said, I think this book does an excellent job of tackling them. The author has clearly shown her knowledge and research in these areas. According to Natalie C. Anderson’s bio, she’s worked extensively with the United Nations and non-government organizations with refugee resettlement efforts. That work definitely comes through here and she has given the reader an entertaining story to boot. I swear I breezed through the last 200 pages of this thing. I couldn’t put it down because the story just became a series of stunning realizations, heart-stopping suspense, and brilliant action sequences.

The characters were…decent. They had very likable personalities and their motivations, particularly Tina’s, were very clear throughout the narrative. There were even some great character interactions between various members of the cast.

It’s just that…I didn’t quite connect with them. When I pick up a book, I really want to feel for a character and their struggle. Though this book had its moments, sometimes the fast pace-ness of the plot and the leaps in narrative got in the way of that especially as I saw cliche character moments manifesting themselves in the little details (tough as nails narrator who learns how to trust, a supportive gay friend where no other LGBTQ person can be seen, a hate/distrust relationship to love…) Each one wouldn’t both me on their own and it’s not too distracting but at moments I caught myself taking notice of them.

There’s also a strange dynamic between two major people in the cast that I wasn’t quite on board with. Slight spoiler warning, it seems like a romance was more or less shoehorned in the last few chapters that didn’t make logical sense to me. It doesn’t majorly impact the plot but I was more or less bewildered when it did come up.

Otherwise, this is a really good action-packed story. If you want to read a unique YA story with lots of intrigue, I say pick this one up!

 

 

My Rating:

 

3 half stars

Labyrinth Lost [Review]

Labyrinth Lost[Curious Reader Beware: Spoilers Lie Ahead]

Finished!

And um…hmmm….

I really wanted to love this book. The premise was intriguing and the world’s lore was so beautifully illustrated (need I mention its cover art!). It’s very different from other YA novels that I’ve read. My main motivation to continue reading was learning the intricacies of the culture the book created.

But I didn’t love it. I don’t hate it but I would be remised to say I liked it.

I blame my own jadedness. The characters and the dynamics between them were real sticking points for me. I couldn’t really like them or find them engaging. I did root for them but only because that’s what you’re supposed to do in stories like these where the motivation to fight for family, love, and identity was noble and refreshing.

What wasn’t so refreshing was the catalyst for the plot. Alex hates an integral part of herself (her magic) because she perceives that it has caused nothing but hardship and misery for her family. She’s the most powerful of her kind and she rejects her gifts. Something about this bothers me especially since she uses magical means to fix the problem (and it unsurprisingly backfires). On its face, nothing is wrong with this premise but the way it plays out soured the rest of the story of me.

Another real sticking point for me was the dynamics between Alex, Nova, and Rishi. The way they interacted with each other was just—it was so riddled with clichés and there was nothing fresh there. I mean, for Alex and Nova, I know they’re teenagers and I know Nova’s good-looking but I could do less with the “My God, those PECS!” observations. I was having New Moon flashbacks every time Alex brought up his bare chest and the ways his tattoos were perfectly drawn over them. Otherwise, they’re bickering (granted in the “I’m suspicious of you yet trust you and kind of like you” sort of way) and when Rishi, Alex’s best friend, enters the picture, she’s bickering with Nova too.

There is one slight saving grace and that’s in LBGTQA representation but even then I’m still a bit jaded. I’m sorry to say that the Alex/Rishi pairing that ultimately comes out on top left something wanting. I caught the bond between them throughout the story (it was a breath of fresh air when highlighted) but I feel like it could’ve been developed better. Rishi felt a bit shoehorned into the narrative in the middle after the reader barely gets to know her in the opening chapters. I wanted a better sense of their relationship before the plot took over (which is mostly told to us repeatedly by the characters and story). Again, the jadedness in me.

It’s these reasons that I had to give the story a lukewarm three. I really, really, really wanted to like it more but I just couldn’t. I recommend it based on its world-building alone. It is a truly wondrous read from that standpoint.

My Rating:

3 Star

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter [Review]

Strange CaseThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter was an okay book. It’s one of those reads that I came away with no extreme feelings one way or another. Not because it was bad (though there were questionable elements) but because it was familiar in a way that wasn’t in its favor. Particularly its plot construction and characters.

The plot was interesting. I’m a sucker for a good mystery and, if you make it engaging enough, I’ll let it take me anywhere. It’s why I struggled to put the book down when the plot really got going. It also helps that the book pays spectacular homage to some Gothic/Victorian stories. It was awesome seeing the children of Jekyll, Hyde, Frankenstein, Rappacinni, Moreau work along Holmes and Watson to solve this mystery. Every name referenced had me wondering if I heard it before and to have certain suspicions confirmed sent my Gothic lit geek heart soaring.

In other ways, however, the mystery was also somewhat predictable. It didn’t really feel like it had any weight—especially since (spoiler warning) I felt like none of it was ever truly solved. I mean, certain parts of it were solved but the actual meat of it was left kind of hanging there and left for sequel baiting (here’s a bias: not a big fan of that. If you set up a primary mystery at the beginning, solve that one!).  There were other story elements that really undermined it but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Another thing that the book did alright were its characters. Their exchanges were fun to read and there was some nice witty dialogue that kept me amused throughout. These monster girls were interesting. I loved learning about their backstory and how they viewed themselves in the world but there was something that felt rote in their construction.

The problem was that none of them really stood out to me. They were familiar character types (the uptight one, the wild carefree one, the quiet smart type, the rough and tumble “don’t give a bad word” type, so on and so forth). Familiar character types aren’t inherently bad (let’s make that clear) but if they’re not given the proper time to flex their character muscles to distinguish themselves from other similar characters, it’s really hard to get invested. I felt none of them were truly fleshed out enough to break outside their character molds.

My main issue with this book is how the book is constructed. It’s riddled with tangents. Action, dialogue, scenes are consistently broken up by character exchanges. I know that these dialogues are meant to give character to the story, clueing the reader into bits of background and foreshadowing. More often than not, however, it took me out of the story and spoiled the mystery at points. This element really undermined the suspense and plot at times. I learned to get used to it as the narrative progressed but the little pang of annoyance every time the characters cut into a scene never left me. It tended to endear me to the characters less (Get out the way of your own mystery!!!).

This book ended up being a solid three for me. I didn’t feel too strongly about it but I didn’t hate it either.

My Rating:

3 Star