Blank, lovely eyes. Mad eyes. A mad girl: Reviewing Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Hello everybody! I’m back with another novel that I am reading in class but this one will be a full review since it fits into my area of studies. I am currently doing a critical history of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for my grad school portfolio. As much as I love the British Romantics, it is important to acknowledge where it is problematic. Trust me, it is rather problematic. That is why I am glad to hear and read new angles about these classics that everybody has loved in one dimension for so long. So let’s talk about Jean Rhys’ take on Bronte’s “madwoman in the attic.”

Before she was Bertha Mason, Antionette Cosway was a young girl struggling to survive in Jamaica. After the Emancipation Act, her mother is driven to madness and her father to drink. When she reaches adulthood, Antoinette is then sold into marriage to an Mr. Rochester. As more of the past comes to light, Antionette finds herself in a downward spiral that threatens her dreams of moving to England.

This novel, though short, is incredibly compelling in its feminist and anti-colonial narrative. I have always liked the “other side of the story” genre. I am not sure what else to call it but I am talking about novels that re-tell a story from the perspective of another character. Anyways, Rhys delivers a powerful look at a character who has been written off for so many years. The novel is has beautiful visuals that pair with a unique story that is not explored often. Post colonial novels have only come to light in recent years and Rhys offers one that anyone who has read Jane Eyre should read. Now, this isn’t meant to bash Charlotte Bronte. It is meant to give a more in depth-look at the feminist critiques that lie within Jane Eyre and other novels of the time. This is a short read, but there is so much to talk about. I would recommend this to any fan of Charlotte Bronte or those who are a fan of period pieces but are tired of the marriage and/or manner novels.

Let Your Chaos Explode: Reviewing Blood of Elves (Book 1 in The Witcher series) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Hi everybody! I’m back far sooner than I thought I would be as I am suddenly incredibly motivated to get through my TBR list. I’ve also just loved reading any sort of source material if I watch a show that its based on. When I was younger, my mom came up with a rule that if I wanted to see a movie that was based on a book then I had to read the book first. That was obviously no issue for me and has only made me a bigger nerd as the years have went on. The Witcher is simply my latest in the long line of fantasy novels I have devoured so let’s talk about Blood of Elves.

Geralt of Rivia is the Witcher, a famed assassin with magical abilities, who hunts down monsters. His current mission, though, is to protect Ciri, the lost princess of Cintra and the Child of Surprise. Ciri possesses a great power that can be used for good or for great evil. With a war between elves, humans, dwarves, and others on the horizon, Geralt must do everything in his power to prevent this war and save as many lives as he can – no matter what the cost.

Like I said in my review for the prequel novel, this is definitely the perfect series to fill the Game of Thrones – shaped hole in your life. I thoroughly enjoyed the action in this book as well as the elaborate world building. Albeit, there were a couple scenes that involved politics which were pretty slow but, with this being the first official novel in the series, I am going to give in the benefit of the doubt since its important to establish these things. It all ties together nicely and creates a build up for the action, which is very well written. Even though the characters give off the impression that they are “perfect,” they are flawed in the best ways. Sapkowski managed to avoid the Mary Sue tropes that tend to pop up frequently in modern fantasy. It gives off a high fantasy air without any pretentious tropes. I am still thoroughly enjoying this series and have re-watched the Netflix series multiple times.

Mini Double Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Passing by Nella Larsen

Hello everybody! While I work on finishing up the first novel in The Witcher series, I thought I would do a review of some of the novels I have just finished for two of my classes this semester. I am only on week two but these novels (or novellas, rather) are worth me sharing my opinion on as there are some classics that others might be interested in. Now these novels aren’t really related to each other but they both just so happen to be short enough to include in a single post. Let me give you my brief in put on Conrad and Larsen.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Conrad’s most famous and controversial novel explores the bloody colonization process in the Congo. This novel follows Charlie Marlow as he follows the charismatic and ruthless Kurtz through the jungles, while trying to understand what the British really want out of Africa. This novel is certainly shocking and graphic. It is definitely not a casual read by any means, but it is worth a read. The subject matter is important when getting into the field of colonial and post-colonial literature. I would recommend it if you want a complicated but brief novel. It is ideal for analyzing, if that is what your interest is. There is a lot to uncover when reading Heart of Darkness that no one can really answer and that is what makes it so intriguing.

Passing by Nella Larsen: Larsen’s sophomore novel follows the struggle of Irene Redfield, a black woman who is able to “pass” as white. When Irene reunites with a childhood friend, Clare Kendry, she must face the reality of her situation and come to terms with her insecurities that she had worked so hard to hide. This novella was particularly compelling in its subject matter. It also offers a look at a complicated subject with Larsen’s eloquent writing highlighting the social minefield that Irene must navigate. I enjoyed this one more as far as just reading it goes but the analyses is just as interesting too.

Between the two, I would say I actually enjoyed Passing more even though it still dealt with darker subject. Larsen has more tact whereas Conrad is very ambiguous and hard to truly understand. Both are equally important in their respective literary fields so it is worth discussing both.

A kingdom, or this?: Reviewing Captive Prince (Book 1 in the Captive Prince trilogy) by C.S. Pascat

Hello everybody! I’m back and in an incredibly pessimistic mood, which is why I needed to escape into fiction again. I have read this book previously, but in the form of an e-book so I feel like I couldn’t properly absorb what was happening. I don’t know if anyone else feels that way about e-books, or if it just me. The Barnes and Nobles by me re-opened recently and this was my celebratory purchase. Time to talk about the Captive Prince.

Damen had everything as the legendary warrior prince, until his brother took the throne. He strips Damen of his identity and sends him off to Vere to be a pleasure slave, which has long been an enemy to his home country of Akeilos. While there, Damen learns that he will serve Prince Laurent, who is just as beautiful as he is deadly and cunning. Damen quickly learns of the danger that lies beneath the glamor of the Veretian court, meaning he has to hide his identity and make unlikely allies, or he faces a deadly end.

I realize that this book is rather controversial in its subject matter and not because of the Male/Male romance. For those of you who are not familiar with this novel, it does contain graphic sexual violence within the context of a society where slavery is commonplace. Maybe this does not shock me as much because I studied Rome and this reminded me quite a bit of Rome. Obviously, this isn’t to justify it and we have a main character, Damen, who is in the same mindset of the reader. This book is more about politics than anything, which I thought was the most interesting aspect. It actually has a very Game of Thrones feel to it where every character is trying to navigate through complicated politics in which they are trapped. Nothing can be done simply and that is what makes the novel so interesting. Again, I understand any reservations anyone else might have about the subject matter, but I personally enjoyed it. It was just steamy enough without being gratuitous and it leaves you wanting more. It felt like a reworking of some of the worst tropes that tend to pop up in erotic fiction. It certainly doesn’t feel like mom fiction or fan fiction. Pascat is very mature in the way she handles touchier subjects, while also bringing in some inclusivity in the LGBTQ+ genre of literature. Captive Prince is a unique take on a genre that has often been disregarded for so long.

Warning: The novel does contain moments of torture, graphic sexual violence (including assaults on underage characters), and mentions of blood and gore.

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher: Reviewing The Last Wish (An Introduction to The Witcher) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Hello everybody! I am doing better and I hope you all are doing better as well. I just got done re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and felt a little inspired by Uncle Iroh. I made a cup of tea and hunkered down with a good book. In this case, I was inspired by my newest Netflix obsession, The Witcher. Now, I am really not much of a gamer so I can’t speak to the video game but (obviously) I am a reader who has been lacking in the fantasy series department for a while. I may have finally filled the hole in my heart left behind by Game of Thrones.

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a fighter who is skilled in magic and murder. Before hearing a call to destiny, Geralt must traverse across the country and battle dangerous monsters in this series of short stories.

I apologize now for the vague summary but it took me a minute to realize that this novel is not the first book in the series, but an introduction to the actual series. I found this to be the most interesting aspect of the novel and one of the most enjoyable. I like the way Sapkowski eases you as the reader into the world as, sometimes, adult fantasy can be rather jarring with its levels of violence and sex. While there is violence and sex in the novel, it didn’t feel gratuitous. It also didn’t feel like the story had to stop for violence or sex. There was still plenty of room for Geralt’s character development as well as interesting world building. I also thoroughly enjoyed the dry and understated humor that was sprinkled throughout the writing. Overall, I enjoyed this first step into The Witcher series and I absolutely bought the first novel before I even finished this one. (Also the Netflix series is fairly faithful, if you are interested.)

Power Has Its Price: Reviewing The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Hi everybody! I hope a lot of you are at least seeing some improvement in every day life. I’m from the US so I don’t have many positive things to say at this exact moment. It felt very serendipitous that the prequel to The Hunger Games be released now. I had almost forgotten it was coming out this year until I saw the display at the store where I work. Of course, I bought a copy immediately. In my opinion, The Hunger Games trilogy still holds up as I read it through adult eyes. Now, let’s relive our pre-teen/teen glory days as we talk about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

As the tenth annual Hunger Games approaches, a young Coriolanus Snow is desperate to restore his once great family name to glory. When he’s given the opportunity to be a mentor for the Hunger Games, he realizes the odds are stacked against him as he must face his better prepared classmates. His initial anger with being tasked to mentor the tribute from District 12 turns into an opportunity when he meets the enigmatic, charming, and spontaneous Lucy Gray Baird. With a new sense of hope, Coriolanus must make sure that Lucy Gray survives the dangers of the arena, while he tries to survive the dangers outside of the arena.

Like many fans of the original trilogy, I was nervous at the idea of a prequel coming out so many years later. I, however, quickly became swept up in the world of Panem once again. Coriolanus Snow is an interesting character study, given the impression we have of him from the original trilogy. The novel presents an interesting dilemma as it shows someone who is so close to the edge of compassion for the reader, but still manages to be unlikeable. He has an almost similar origin story to Katniss, but with a different approach to the systems that have been used to oppress a population. Some work against it from the outside, while others work for it from the inside. The world of Panem was still just as familiar, but Collins adds a level of uncertainty as the Hunger Games are still in its infancy in this novel. I found this to be a very compelling read with the same no-holds barred level of violence and brutal honesty from the trilogy. I would say that fans of The Hunger Games will find this an interesting addition that offers an even more complex look at the dystopia of Panem.

What we do here echoes in eternity: Reviewing The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

Hi again everyone! I hope you all are still doing well. Maybe you’re doing better than before. I can say that I have experienced some improvements in my life, including being able to finish books quicker than before. Lately, I’ve been finding myself reading more books about books. I love the meta nature of those stories. Now, let’s talk about The Library of the Unwritten.

As the head librarian of the Unwritten Wing in Hell, it is Claire’s job to maintain and organizing books while also making sure the stories don’t escape from Hell’s neutral space. When a rather stubborn hero escapes from the library, Claire must go on a retrieval mission with her assistant Brevity and an awkward but kind demon named Leto. The mission soon turns into something bigger when they are attacked by a powerful angel named Ramiel, who believes they have the Devil’s Bible. This book could bring about a war between Heaven and Hell. It is up to Claire and her friends to find the book before Heaven and Hell begin their war with Earth as the battle ground.

This book was a random pick off the shelf for me and I had put it off for a bit. I must say, though, that this was a delightful read. The world of the book is so unique and an interesting way to view novels, written and unwritten. The novel has a nice, snarky sense of humor about it that balanced out with the heavier, more emotional moments. What I enjoyed the most, though, is how well-rounded and dynamic the characters were. Everyone had a satisfying arc, which I feel is rather rare at times. The Library of the Unwritten is a great fantasy novel that I found to be quite charming and endearing. I have a feeling other readers and authors alike will find enjoyment in this book.

Look Beneath the Surface: Reviewing The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Hi everyone! I’m back sooner than ever with another book review. It has been a while since I read a book in day. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. Thankfully, I found the perfect book to breeze through. In undergrad, I discovered Good Mythical Morning and it has been part of my morning routine ever since. I watch way too much Youtube, by the way. When I saw Rhett and Link were coming out with a novel (and a mystery one at that) I was pretty excited. Normally I am rather hesitant with debut novels but I am always willing to give them a chance and I was glad I gave this one a chance. Now, let’s talk about it.

Bleak Creek is a quaint little Southern town where incoming freshman, Rex McClendon and Lief Nelson spend their days trying to film their magnum opus, PolterDog. With the help of their friend, Alicia, the boy are determined to make history with their film. After an accident happens while filming during the church barbecue, Alicia is sent off to the infamous Whitewood reform school. Rex and Leif decide to take in upon themselves by teaming up with Janine, a film student looking to film her own documentary. As the group investigates, they begin to uncover the dark secrets that lie beneath the unassuming town of Bleak Creek, one that may put their lives in danger.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading this novel but I was certainly (pleasantly) surprised by what I got. The novel is way darker than I assumed, with plenty of twists that kept me reading onward. The town of Bleak Creek feels perfectly real as well as shockingly terrifying. There were parts were my jaw dropped from how dark the book became but that was the best part. The novel also had just the right amount of nostalgia that didn’t overpower the scarier elements. It definitely filled the Stranger Things void in my life. You don’t have to be a fan of Good Mythical Morning, either, to enjoy this book. It was a swift read with plenty of twist, turns, and shocks to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Warning: There are instances of blood and violence. It’s pretty PG – 13, though.

We will make another path: Reviewing A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Hi everybody! I hope everyone is still doing their best to stay safe and sane as we continue forward with lockdown or quarantine or whatever you want to call it. I am a week away from being done with this semester. It’s a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I’ll have a break from the pressures of grad school and having to deal with online classes. On the other hand, I will be incredibly bored. I still have a stack of books I’m so excited to get through, though. While I wait to be free, I decided to review another book I read this semester. It isn’t what I would choose to read but I am very glad I read it. Here is my review of A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

Rafiq and Layla have only wanted what was best for their children, but tragedy drives their family apart. Now, on the day of their eldest daughter’s wedding, they must come to terms with the tragic past that has haunted them. First, they must come to terms with Hadia’s untraditional marriage, then their second daughter Huda’s determination to follow her sister’s path, and finally, they must try to reach out to their youngest and only son Amar, who has been estranged for the last three years. The family must learn to forgive the past in order to create a better future.

Like I said, this was a required novel so normally it is not something I would choose to read so I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. I am even writing my final paper on it. The writing is delicate and doesn’t pressure you to choose any one side as conflict happens. The characters are perfectly imperfect, which makes them feel like real humans. Mirza’s attention to detail within this non-linear novel is what makes this novel so unique. With the main family being Indian and Muslim, it offers a different perspective on tradition and culture. I think it is always important to explore other cultures, especially through literature. Even when Mirza touches on topics that are still rather taboo, like addiction, she handles it beautifully and carefully by offering multiple perspectives. The book is as heart warming as it is heart breaking with such great attention to detail. I would highly recommend this book if you are looking for a good tear jerker with a lovely message.

Rather die than doubt: Reviewing Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Hello everyone! I was finally able to knock a book off my TBR list! As much as I don’t like isolation or quarantine or whatever you want to call it, it gives me a good excuse to lock myself in my room and read to my heart’s content. This book is also one that has been on my radar for quite some time now. It was one of those books I picked up, read the description, and thought “This is right up my alley.” Now let’s talk about Ninth House (not The Ninth House).

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a survivor. After finding herself in the worst of circumstances, including being the sole survivor a multiple homicide, she is given the chance to join Yale’s freshman class, but this new opportunity comes at a price. Alex is paired up with the charming but arrogant Darlington who is tasked with guiding her through Yale’s secret societies. These societies thrive on magic and are home to many powerful figures. When a girl is murdered and Darlington goes missing, Alex must delve deep into the Eight Houses where she learns of the forbidden magic they use that brings back the dead and preys on the living.

Lately, I have had a fascination with the dark academia genre of novels and Ninth House is a perfect fit for the category. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of mystery and magic, all wrapped up in the politics of higher education. The main character, Alex, initially annoyed me but she becomes more sympathetic and charming, while still maintaining a deadly presence about her. I enjoyed the way that Bardugo set up her magical world with clear rules among the sensory rich and disturbing acts of magic. This book wasn’t too graphic or gory but did have just enough to make the stakes higher. Overall, I did enjoy this novel and would recommend it, whether you enjoy dark academia or not. (Note: I have not read any of Leigh Bardugo’s books so I can’t make a fair comparison there but let me know if they are worth checking out. I have plenty of time.)

Warning to readers: This novel does contain scenes of sexual assault and violence.