Welcome to my birthday haul, where I talk about all of the books I got, as well as, a few book and fandom related items. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them!
Book: The Sun is Also a Star
Author: Nicola Yoon
My Rating: 2.75/5 Stars
“I love this part of getting to know someone. How every new piece of information, every new expression, seems magical. I can’t imagine this becoming old and boring. I can’t imagine not wanting to hear what she has to say.”
This was one of those books that I added to my collection years ago but never read until now, when I randomly picked it for a reading vlog. The vlog motivated me to pick it up, but I was also looking forward to watching the movie adaptation. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book and watched an already released adaptation right after, so you could say I was pretty excited.
Natasha is desperate. That is precisely why she spends her last day in New York City avoiding her packing to talk to a lawyer, hoping they could stop her family from being deported to Jamaica. Daniel is stuck. He wants to be a poet but his parents’ expectations for his career choice are too high to pursue that dream, which is why he has an unwanted interview with a Yale alum. When Natasha and Daniel’s paths cross at the start of their important day, he instantly feels a connection and believes that fate brought them together, but she’s not convinced. So he bets that he could make her fall in love with him by the end of the day. What Daniel does not know is that Natasha only has that day, unless she could turn her family’s situation around.
Usually I would hate instalove but I couldn’t see why I would with this book when it’s a romance set in the span of a day, with the two characters only just meeting. How could it not get instalovey? I recognize that that was the point, which is why I can’t really critique it. But at the same time, Daniel was making it really difficult for me with all of his extraness. He was rubbing the instalove in my face with his constant talk of fate and destiny. I was begging him to take it down a notch so that I wouldn’t experience death by cringing.
“I’m looking to get overwhelmed by love and meant-to-be and destiny so that the decisions about my future will be out of my hands. It won’t be me defying my parents. It will be fate.”
Beyond the perspectives of the two main characters, we got a third perspective from “the universe,” as I understand it. It explained the characteristics and lives of people that were in the background but who still briefly impacted the story in some way. It gave us information that Natasha and Daniel would not have been able to provide for us. These chapters also gave more in-depth information about the characters’ situations and families, as well as, defined certain words that were brought up in previous conversations. I enjoyed the context that it gave us.
Still on the topic of perspectives, I thought it was interesting how we got two different ideas on life from Natasha and Daniel, not just from what they had to say, but from what they observed. Natasha was all about science and facts while Daniel was all about fate and dreams. A scene that stood out to me highlighted their beliefs: Natasha passed a couple arguing, wondering if they would break up, and after that Daniel passed the same couple making out, hoping that they would stay together forever.
“How can this be the same day? How can all these people be going about their lives totally oblivious to what’s been happening to mine? Sometimes your world shakes so hard, it’s difficult to imagine that everyone else isn’t feeling it too.”
I was very skeptical about the idea that a child could take care of the legal issues of her family. Wouldn’t the lawyer need a parent to be present in order to talk to her? Maybe I’m wrong and this is completely normal, but it was really confusing to me.
I guess my thoughts about this book are mixed. It’s been awhile since I’ve read YA contemporary; maybe I’ve outgrown it or maybe this particular book just wasn’t for me.
Book: The Lantern’s Ember
Author: Colleen Houck
Genre: Paranormal/Steampunk Fantasy
My Rating: 3/5 Stars
“In my experience,” the lantern began, his voice soft, “places like the oceans or the heavens, an undiscovered forest, a great underground chasm, or the mystery of a woman’s heart and mind are not the end of a journey, but a beginning.”
Picking this book up during fall/Halloween was a delight because it matched the season perfectly. It was a random pick too, for a reading vlog, which made the timing wonderfully coincidental.
Jack has been around for centuries, guarding crossroads to the Otherworld and watching over towns to look out for witches. His newest assignment, at Hallowell, has a witch named Ember, and instead of reporting her, like he’s supposed to, he watches over her as she grows up. But when she becomes desperate to cross into the Otherworld, which Jack is supposed to prevent, he finds himself constantly fending off her very creative attempts to best him, until one day she does. Now it’s a chase as Jack frantically tries to find her before she gets herself, or anyone, hurt.
The beginning read like a fairytale, and I reveled in the coziness that it emanated. What I was not expecting was being thrown out of that small town atmosphere so quickly. Though it was a stark contrast, I mean we were thrown into a steampunk world, I came to appreciate it because it became evident that we were not going back, at least for the majority of the book. And it helped that it was easy to follow along with the magical concepts that the author laid out. This was also my first time reading a steampunk book, and I didn’t even realize it was one when I initially picked it up. I have to say, it really reminded me of “Treasure Planet” (the Disney film), especially during the ship scenes. So really, it was a great first experience.
At first it seemed as if we were only getting the perspective of Jack, which I didn’t mind at all, but then the point of view started doing that annoying thing where it randomly shifted between characters on the same page (depending on what the author was trying to highlight). I always hate this writing choice because it leaves me confused about whose perspective it’s on.
The synopsis talked about how Jack had to look for the love of his life, Ember, after she left, but the timeline could not convince me that he was in love when they only had a handful of interactions. Even if it was more off page than on, how does that show the reader? It was too early for that and I didn’t buy it. Even reading it in the synopsis almost made me not want to pick it up because it sounded too instalovey.
“My stubborn little witch,” he said softly. “Don’t believe for a clockwork minute that you are unlovable. If I were a mortal, a man not doomed to walk the earth as a haunted specter, I would be the first suitor in line. Please believe that.”
Talking about romance, I really could have done without it in this book. Ember ended up having three potential suitors and all of them were annoying, especially the two who were extremely territorial of her. But I did enjoy how Ember stood up for herself and talked back when they made unfair claims. I was definitely cheering her on, especially because a lot of her responses were what I was thinking.
But I also have to talk about how annoying Ember was herself. She did not have one cautious bone in her body. She created a bunch of potions and weapons to use against vampires only to get friendly with the first one she met, having no problem following him into the Otherworld.
“For a witch, you certainly don’t know much about how hauntings work.”
I was not expecting the vampire, Dev, to have such a huge role, especially with Ember by his side. Because of this, I had no predictions for where the story was going. I love it when books surprise me both characterwise and plotwise. The plot got even more interesting at the end when things got really sketchy.
The writing and storytelling was captivating enough to get through quickly, it went through so many different stages and tones that left me holding on for dear life. I enjoyed this as a standalone, and going forward, I think it will definitely motivate me to pick up books that I assume I won’t like.
Back in October, my best friend and I decided to embark on our first cosplaying journey. Of course we decided to go with ACOTAR characters (and of course we randomly chose our favourite fictional boyfriends from this series). Join us as we put our outfits together and watch until the end to see all of the photos!
Book: The Flatshare
Author: Beth O’Leary
Genre: Contemporary Romance
My Rating: 4.25/5 Stars
“Now my flat’s not mine, it’s ours, and when she’s gone all I will see is the absence of rocky road and books about bricklayers and that bloody stupid paisley beanbag. It’ll be another room full of what’s missing. Just what I didn’t want.”
This was a charming book with a unique concept. It definitely held up to my standard of a romance: easy to fall into and easy to love. My experience was thoroughly enjoyable.
When Tiffy is desperate for a new flat, after her boyfriend breaks up with her, she finds herself with no good options. So it’s no wonder she decides to settle with an unusual situation created by a man named Leon: share a flat with a stranger but never meet. Their jobs make it so that they don’t have to be home at the same time: Tiffy can have it at night and Leon can have it during the day. But when they start communicating through notes and get to know each other better, they suddenly desire to meet. Despite this shared interest, the doubts creep in, especially when the past won’t leave them alone.
“It was a weird way to get to know Leon, writing all these notes over the last few months, and it sort of happened without me noticing – one minute I was scribbling him a quick note about leftovers, the next I was in a full-on, day-to-day correspondence.”
I feel like this book emanated so many different moods. It was a little bit silly, it seemed innocent and serious at the same time, and it was funny and awkward too. Not gonna lie, the awkwardness of the entire situation was a delight to read through. Everything was also super British (obviously); I’m bringing this up only because of how different certain words were from what I’m used to in North America. It was fun to compare them.
The chapters jumped between the duel perspectives of Tiffy and Leon, and not only were their differing personalities apparent from what we were told, but it was also made clear through the writing style in their respective chapters. I found this beyond interesting, especially in Leon’s chapters, because they were written in such an unexpected way. I kind of thought of them as a diary entry, the way his thought process was portrayed.
I was really curious about how their romance would start because I imagined that they wouldn’t meet for some time, but the meeting happened sooner than I expected. I have to say that Leon, as the love interest, was an absolute win. The awkward, quiet, sensitive types always get me. He portrayed no possessiveness or aggression or toxic masculinity. He even gave Tiffy all of the space she needed to sort through things and was always there for her when she needed him. I mean, I feel like I’m praising him for doing the bare minimum, but still.
“Remind myself that there is no saving of people—people can only save themselves. The best you can do is help when they’re ready.”
I was a little confused about the way Tiffy’s friendships with Gerty and Mo were presented. It was always her contacting them when she needed something. They were constantly her support from one problem to the next, which is a great thing, but that was as far as their friendships went. We never really saw them if Tiffy wasn’t in some kind of trouble and I wish more aspects of them were shown.
And side note: most insane ex-boyfriend I’ve ever read about.
Though this wasn’t perfect, I’m glad that this was the choice I went with when I was craving a romance. It made me smile big at times, laugh, and even get teary-eyed. I will definitely be checking out more of O’Leary’s books in the future.
Book: The City We Became
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Series: Great Cities, #1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
“This is the lesson: Great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn.”
I read so many glowing reviews for this book, so of course I had to add it to my TBR. This, by far, possessed the most fascinating concept I had come across in a while. It took me on quite the journey.
Five New Yorkers become the avatars of the five boroughs of the city when it is born. They each embody their respective areas but must come together in order to save the existence of their home from the Enemy and find the sixth missing avatar, who is New York City as a whole. But coming together is not so easy when the Enemy uses everything in her power to keep them apart.
“Come, then, City That Never Sleeps. Let me show you what lurks in the empty spaces where nightmares dare not tread.”
That prologue though; it was a trip. I knew I was not supposed to understand what was happening, and because of that I pushed through, but the confusion I experienced was a lot. I was intrigued to continue, though, because I wanted to grasp the unique way the author described New York City and the characters connected to it. The more I read, the more I enjoyed that connection because it was described so beautifully. I loved the way Jemisin wrote about each borough. From someone who is not from this city, it was a great way to glimpse into what they are all about.
It took almost two hundred pages before we were introduced to all of the main characters. So I would say that the first half of the book mostly worked on getting us familiar with each character. That’s a lot of work because it’s not just them as individuals that we were learning about but the boroughs that they were associated with.
Coming from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, the characters perfectly represented a diverse city. They embraced their roles and fought against the Enemy in different ways, ways that spoke to their personalities, jobs, and skills:
New York – who embodied the whole city, used art to drive the boroughs forward.
Manhattan (Manny) – who used strategy and became Manhattan while he forgot his past.
Brooklyn – who used rap/music.
The Bronx (Bronca) – who used knowledge.
Queens (Padmini) – who used mathematical formulas.
Staten Island (Aislyn) – who used loneliness and stayed detached from the rest.
“There’s stuff we can all do, but then each of us gets unique skills on top of that, because each borough contributes different strengths to what makes New York what it is.”
I was surprised by how even though these characters were undergoing a strange magical experience that they could barely understand themselves, they still informed family and friends, who almost immediately accepted what was going on. I’m just used to protagonists, who go through similar situations, keeping it a secret, especially from their families.
Thank goodness for the Bronx (Bronca) because her knowledge and stories helped me confirm what was actually going on. She was my favourite character and her storyline gripped me the most. It even felt like she had the most page time (but I’m probably wrong about that). As a bonus, her friendship with Veneza was really sweet.
“Every legend of this city, every lie, those become new worlds, too. All of them add to the mass that is New York, until finally all of it collapses under its own weight… and becomes something new. Something alive.”
The way the Enemy possessed regular New Yorkers to do her bidding against the avatars was significant because she picked them based on their prejudice and bigotry and fed off of that. Her choices were of random people, which meant that anyone walking down the street could hold these beliefs (and she did not have a shortage of people to use). These are the villains who are familiar to us, a reflection of people in our world who are like this.
I’m so happy to have decided to pick this up and push through my confusion in the beginning. It was an epic and thought-provoking story, all with the captivating use of magic, interesting characters, and a well-known and loved city.
Book: Evvie Drake Starts Over
Author: Linda Holmes
Genre: Contemporary Romance
My Rating: 3/5 Stars
“She’d felt it in the crowd-their surprise, their relief. It meant hope, like it had meant hope for her. It was possible for things to get better when it felt like they couldn’t. It was possible for things that seemed doomed to be revived.”
I’m always looking for intriguing romance novels to dive into when I need a break from fantasy. I came across this one randomly while searching for a new read and bought it for myself to try out. The aspect that grabbed my attention was that the main characters were going to be roommates, kind of, and that was all I needed to know.
Evvie Drake, now a widow, does not mourn her husband like everyone believes she does. She’s out of an unhappy marriage and yet she still lives in their big house alone. That is until her best friend introduces her to Dean Tenney, a retired baseball player looking for an escape and somewhere new to live. Offering the apartment in her home, Evvie fills up space with his presence, and the quiet with their conversations. As their relationship develops, it is their pasts they have to face in order to move forward.
“I have been lying on my couch for thirteen, going on fourteen months. I have barely gone out. I have fed myself and made ends meet. I hope that’s not the proudest of me you could be. I hope surviving not being married to a doctor anymore is not the greatest thing you can imagine for me. I went to school. I’m going to live another fifty years probably. I hope this isn’t the highlight.”
I like it when sports are involved in romance novels, though the involvement of sports was different here. Instead of one party being on a sports team, Dean was retired with a “bad” arm. So it was not exactly the trope that I enjoy, only remnants of it. What was provided instead were details that were both confusing and interesting. There were random excerpts of articles and explanations of players and games that I needed to constantly reread in order to understand what was being said because I’m no baseball expert.
Evvie and Dean started off really chatty with each other; they went straight into being comfortable without really trying. I’m not gonna lie, the smoothness of it all threw me off. I was missing some kind of development. There were quite a few moments when I would smile reading their interactions or get teary-eyed because of a certain dialogue about their pasts, but for the most part I found their conversations to be dry and boring. I did enjoy their relationship the more I read but there was still something missing between them that did not make me fully invested. Honestly, I thought the problem was that Dean seemed detached and distant in their relationship. We got so much of Evvie thinking about Dean but not the other way around. At a point where I thought they would be talking more, there were days where they wouldn’t talk to each other at all.
Individually, I felt for the characters, I really did. Especially for Evvie and her situation. It really drew my attention and made me sad whenever she talked about it. In terms of Dean’s past, I do believe that Evvie overstepped a lot and did not let things go when he made it clear that he was done with baseball. I did not think it was her place to make those decisions for him, or spy on him even.
“You wake up one day and you need a whole new plan.”
If I were to describe the writing and execution of this story I would say that it was really jumpy. This was true for the dialogue as well as for events. In terms of the dialogue, they would jump between topics so fast sometimes that it felt like I was missing something. But maybe that was a way of making it more real? In terms of events, they would plan to do something and then it would jump to that plan on the next page. This was not a bad thing, I’m just used to there being more buildup or pages between important events, which was why the timeline stood out to me.
But we did miss a lot of the in-between. Months would go by and the characters would explain moments that happened during that gap. This left me confused because they would omit information about the status of their relationship until much later. Why wouldn’t they have a conversation about something so important on the page? I was sometimes even confused about who’s perspective I was reading from because it would randomly switch without warning. The only reason I realized it was because I would ask myself how Evvie would know what Dean was doing or thinking and vice versa.
Surprisingly, and maybe insignificantly, I liked the character of Monica a lot. I was not expecting much from her but her friendship with Evvie was a good dynamic to read about and I’m glad there was no jealousy in terms of Evvie being best friends with her boyfriend.
Did I make a good choice with this book? I wouldn’t say that it was a bad experience but I obviously could have done better. I mean, I would consider this an average romance, which is not my idea of a good escape.