Shelfleigh

Hello, I'm Leigha. Welcome to my cozy book blog. Grab a drink, a comfy chair, and join me on a journey into the written word.

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel - Colson Whitehead

A woman attempts to escape slavery in this astounding adult historical. Let’s review!

 

An account of a young woman escaping enslavement using an underground railroad system sounds like dystopian fiction. Only it’s not dystopian. Mr. Whitehead writes a poignant yet brutal portrayal of American slavery. Cora’s journey is stunning; her perseverance and defiance of the status quo utterly breathtaking.

 

Certain liberties are taken in regards to the actual underground railroad system, but they do not detract from the historical setting. The point-of-view shifts from Cora to secondary characters throughout the novel. Chapters are not traditional in nature, tending to run very long due to their unique nature. The audio book narrator is absolutely phenomenal, hitting the right notes and tones along the way.

 

tl;dr A harrowing tale of American slavery told from multiple perspectives. You will not want to miss this one.

Ready Player One

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

A young man harnesses his inner geek for the ultimate 80’s pop culture challenge in this Young Adult novel. Review time!

 

I picked up Ready Player One on a complete and total whim. I wanted something to listen to during my commute and the cover caught my eye. Boy, I am so glad it did! The book is a character-driven novel with epic world-building and a cool premise. Wade Watts is a driven, smart, and crafty character. The relationships he builds with secondary characters, even the villain, is rewarding. He even meets the girl of his dreams! Along with interesting characters is a well-constructed setting. Cline creates two worlds flawlessly – the dystopian United States and the virtual reality of the Oasis. Cline’s descriptions occasionally got repetitive, but the other elements more than make up for it.

 

Now some people may be less enamored with this book than I. It focuses on gaming culture and the 1980′s decade. If those two subjects bore you to tears, you will not enjoy this novel. If you are interested in reading it, check out the audiobook narrated by Will Wheaton. It is absolutely phenomenal!

 

tl;dr A phenomenal dystopian novel featuring a driven protagonist, 80′s trivia, and gaming culture.

A Court of Wings and Ruin

A Court of Wings and Ruin - Sarah J. Maas

Feyre’s journey concludes in this New Adult fantasy romance. Let’s review!

 

Feyre and Rhysand are one of those couples built brick-by-brick. Each story adds another layer to their breathtaking relationship. While nothing will ever compare to the flawless second book of the series, this final book in the trilogy does wrap up their story nicely. Their journey is epic and it concludes in epic fashion!

 

The world expands exponentially, bringing in new characters, agendas, and settings. Most of these new element are great, particularly the focus on the other courts. Secondary characters from the first novel appear in this last book, answering some lingering questions. The one aspect of the novel I disliked was, unfortunately, a hold over from previous novels – Feyre’s family. I’m not a fan of how Feyre’s sisters and father treated her in previous novels. I never understood their motives; therefor their treatment of Feyre just seemed thoughtless and cruel. Perhaps future books will explore them more in depth in an approachable way.

 

tl;dr Although not nearly as bewitching as the second book, it is a satisfying conclusion to Feyre and Rhysand’s story.

The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

A young woman witnesses her friend's murder in this riveting young adult novel. Let's review!

 

This book explores the myriad racism pervading our society - within our relationships and within our communities. Starr Carter's encounter with racism doesn't begin when her friend is killed by an officer of the law in front of her, but it motivates her to examine the racism surrounding her. As she comes to terms with Khalil's killing, she comes to accept the various pieces of herself. Secondary characters are as detailed and interesting as Starr, especially her family. It's nice reading a young adult novel with an attentive and loving family.

 

It doesn't just begin and end with racism. Gang violence, drugs, interracial romance, and friendships are interwoven into the text. Kudos to the author for writing about so many complex topics without it feeling like an after school special. Despite the grim premise, the overall message is hopeful. Racism is real, yes; but it’s worth fighting against.

 

tl;dr A must read novel featuring an empowered protagonist examining the racism surrounding her.

The Sugar Queen

The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen

A lonely woman makes a surprising discovery in her closet in this character-driven adult contemporary romance. Let's review!

 

This book is just as magically cute as Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells. Josie is a lonely young caretaker to her mother, Margaret. She hordes sweets in her closet, reads romance novels, and dreams of the mailman, Adam, to keep herself company...until one day she discovers Della Lee Baker hiding in her closet. And so begins a whirlwind novel of love and friendship.

 

Josie is the perfect main character. At turns sweet, soothing, and daring, Josie grows as she leaves her self-imposed isolation. The developed friendship between her and Della Lee, as well as her and Chloe, is really the best parts of the novel. We need more ladies supporting ladies. The romance between her and Adam is super sweet, if somewhat predictable.

 

Now two issues bothered me with this novel. The first is Chloe's development. While Chloe's growth as an individual is inspiring, I wish it had not come through infidelity (by the way, the infidelity is not a spoiler). I wanted her to figure out she needs to grow, not realize it once Jake is no longer in the picture. My second issue is with Margaret. Honestly, I could not stand Margaret - she is a selfish bitch. I would have liked to see Margaret grow as a person. The way the book ended the relationship between Josie and Margaret is disappointing.

 

Finally, I suggest you read the book instead of listening to the audio book. While the narrator had a pleasant voice, she did a poor job distinguishing between different characters.

 

tl;dr Cute, predictable, character-driven novel featuring romance and friendship.

Dark Places

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

A woman witnesses one of the most horrifying crimes of the century in this adult thriller. Let's review!

 

If you've been following my blog for any amount of time, you know this is not my typical read. My book club's pick this month is Dark Places. And let me tell you, I am so glad I read it!

 

This is a dark, terrifying book filled with suspense and mystery. Libby Day is seven years old when she overhears her family - mom and two sisters - brutally murdered. Her brother is pinned for the crime by Libby's own testimony. After twenty-five years, Libby decides to learn more about that night after being approached by members of a kill club (think true crime hobbyist). Interspersed between present day chapters narrated by Libby are chapters from the day of the crime narrated by her mom and brother.

 

Flynn knows how to create complicated characters. Libby is fabulous. She's not a Nora Roberts heroine - she's not well-adjusted from the events of the crime. She can't hold down a job, she scams people for money, and she steals people's stuff. Despite her many issues, I always understood her motivations. I also just genuinely liked her. Her brief moments of kindness toward others more than made up for her petty crimes. The rest of the characters are just as intricately created.

 

The mystery itself is interesting, propelling the reader forward. I honestly couldn't put it down, desperate to know the true events of that night. The ending is a bit of a let down, but the journey to the answers more than makes up for it. 

 

Finally, I recommend skipping the movie all together. Despite the amazing cast, I can say wholeheartedly the book is 10 times better.

 

tl;dr: A suspenseful mystery featuring complicated characters and a gripping story.

American Street

American Street - Ibi Zoboi

A Haitian immigrant is torn between multiple crossroads in this bittersweet young adult contemporary novel. Let's review!

This is a really hard review for me to write. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It brings an important perspective to the young adult genre. It features a POC main character, Fabiola Toussaint, struggling with immigration, gang violence, and abuse against women. Fabiola is a likable narrator, full of conviction and heart. Her Vodou faith centers her. It's one of the best representations of a faith-driven character not associated with Christianity.

Zoboi brings alive the Detroit inner-city, particularly her description of Joy Road and American Street. I felt very present in each and every moment. Fabiola's Haitian heritage and Vodou beliefs juxtapose interestingly against the American culture exhibited by her cousins and friends. The ending is absolutely perfect considering the plot set into motion.

However, this book contains a LOT of hate and violence against other women. Fabiola's cousins and friends are constantly making hateful remarks against other women, even if unprovoked. Now, I'm aware we do not live in a utopia where women, particularly teenage girls, only build each other up. But I was kinda surprised at the vitriol these girls would have for other girls. If you choose to read this book, be prepared for women against women hate.

tl;dr A unique perspective on the immigration experience with a likeable narrator and a bittersweet ending.

Be Frank With Me: A Novel

Be Frank With Me: A Novel - Julia Claiborne Johnson

A young woman, Alice, sets out to help a writer with her book, but finds herself a babysitter to Frank instead. Let's review this adult contemporary novel!

I picked up this audiobook during my library's Blind Date with A Book display in February. I'm torn on rating it. On one hand, I absolutely enjoyed the charming Frank. His characterization is outstanding, and the audiobook's narrator does a marvelous job bringing him to life. On the other hand, he's the only reason I'm not giving this book a lower rating.

I guess my biggest issue is with the main character, Alice. She never has a day off once arriving in Hollywood, and she is treated poorly by Mimi and Frank. Her motivations for staying for several months to "help" do not seem legit. Additionally, I never really got to know Alice. Her characterization is stunted compared to Frank and Mimi. I wanted to get to know her and root for her. Her romance with Xander pretty much summed up my thoughts of her as a character - pointless.

I ultimately feel let down. If you're interested in this book, I suggest listening to the audiobook. The narrator is absolutely fabulous, especially during the dialog exchanges between Alice and Frank. However, the rest of the story (for me at least) falls pretty flat.

tl;dr Absolutely phenomenally narrated audiobook about a charming young man and his mom's assistant. 

Dreadnought

Dreadnought - April Daniels

A transgender woman learns to be a superhero in this young adult novel. Let's review!

I learned an important lesson reading this book. While I enjoy watching superheroes on film, I don't necessarily enjoy reading about them. I find the genre boring. However, I actually really did enjoy this novel despite my feelings for the genre. It's a character-driven story full of action, adventure, and heart.

Danny Tozer is a likeable heroine learning to control the powers she inherits from Superman Dreadnaught. The secondary characters all play an important role in either aiding or hindering Danny's transition into a superhero. Subsequently, these characters also provide support or opposition to her transformation as a female. The book explores the myriad attitudes and prejudices transgender people must experience after their transition - love, fear, revolution, acceptance, etc. It does verge toward melodramatic angst, but then again it's about a fifteen year old transgender superhero. Par the course, if you will.

I loved the world-building. The history and lore of Danny's world is realistically developed. The author naturally explains everything through Danny's perspective without overwhelming the reader with backstory.

The book did not feature any romance. Danny spends the book deciding upon her identity, both as a person and as a superhero. However, I could see future novels exploring romance (hopefully between her and a certain cowgirl hero).

tl;dr A quick, fun read full of memorable characters and excellent world-building. 

Caraval

Caraval - Stephanie G. Garber

Two sisters participate in the game of a lifetime in this young adult fantasy romance. Let’s review!

I’ve never been captivated by books centered around the magic of a carnival or circus. Sadly, Garber’s Caraval is not the novel to break me from my apathy. The plot is simple – two sisters, Scarlett and Donatella (Tella), are given tickets for Caraval, an elaborate whodunit dinner theater event performed once a year. The plot may be simple, but the rest of the novel is convoluted and cliched. To me, this book failed on almost every level.

- It failed as a fantasy. Development, what is thy name? We are given a generic, brief sketch of the world. The world-building is pretty much dropped once the sisters arrive to Caraval in chapter two. I would have loved more description about the world, and Caraval’s context in the world.

- It failed as a mystery. The mystery revolves around the kidnapping of Tella. The clues around her kidnapping seem so arbitrary. Scarlett’s thought process for discovering these supposed clues make very little sense to me.

- It failed as a romance. First strike – I’m usually tapped out when the romantic lead begins by kissing another sister (Page 1). Second strike – I’m very rarely a fan of romances developed over a short span of time. I never believed the strong feelings between Julian and Scarlett developed over a five day period, and certainly never love. Third strike – I’m not a fan of a romance starting as a lie.

- It failed as a character-driven novel. I was not a fan of the sisters. Or Julian. Or any other character featured in this novel. It deals in too many cliches – the older, responsible sister; the younger, flight sister; the mysterious, attractive love interest; the cruel, oppressive father. I don’t mind cliches, but I’d like them to be used in a unique way. This novel would have been far more interesting if Scarlett was kidnapped over Tella.

Honestly, I do not understand the hype around this book. If you like it, great. But if you’re looking for something unique to the young adult fantasy genre, this is not it.

tl;dr A unfulfilling novel featuring cliched characters and a convoluted plot. Skip it.

Vinegar Girl: A Novel (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Vinegar Girl: A Novel (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Anne Tyler

A woman learns about life and love in this retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Let’s review!

The title really sets the tone for the novel – Vinegar Girl. The main character, Kate, is truly a sourpuss unhappy with her life. Trust me, you will learn EVERY. SINGLE. THING. she dislikes about her current circumstances. While I don’t necessarily mind characters unhappy with their lot, I found a lot to dislike about Kate. She bemoans having a full-time job. She grumbles at her sister and aunt for showing their love and concern. She blames everyone for her current position, and never takes the time to put the blame where it belongs – on herself.

Her father decides to marry her to his young lab assistant, Pyotr, when the assistant’s green card expires. While Kate is rightfully angry and hurt when she discovers his plan, she ultimately goes along due to her unhappiness. I didn’t necessarily mind Kate and Pytor as a couple, although this book only explores there growing friendship with light touches of romance. My biggest problem is their characterization. Kate never truly grows as a character. Kate needed to recognize her own culpability in her circumstances instead of the incessant blame game toward her family. Pytor is poorly characterized too. At best, he is a caricature of a stranger in a strange land; at worst, he is a chauvinistic asshole (particularly toward the end of the novel).

Finally, I listened to the audio-book version of this novel. Perhaps some of my dislike comes from listening instead of reading the book. The narrator made Kate sound exactly like Daria. She did a decent reading of the other characters, particularly Pytor. But listening to a thirty-year-old Daria-like character complain in Daria-like fashion for six hours just left a bad taste in my mouth.

tl;dr A retelling of a classic that falls flat for me. Skip this poor excuse for a novel and watch 10 Things I Hate About You instead.

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

A young woman is charged with saving her village, but it could cost her life. Let’s review!

I wanted to love this book. I wished it with my whole heart. While I did enjoy it better than some other books I’ve read recently, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

The number one problem is pacing. The book begins with Vasilisa born in her small, rural village in medieval Russia. The other characters are introduced throughout the novel organically. Most major characters have their own POVs so their motivations are always clear. But then a curious thing happens. The last hundred pages of the novel Vasilisa goes on this journey, completely changing the narrative of the story. New characters, new settings, and new backstories are introduced. It felt like the book languished in the first act before rushing through the second and third acts.

Despite the pacing issues, the novel has so many things to love. Vasilisa is a great character. Her love for her family and her village is heart warming. The setting, particularly the Russian folklore, is wonderfully mixed into the story.

tl;dr An interesting tale featuring a strong heroine, Russian folklore, and a rushed ending. 

Uprooted

Uprooted - Naomi Novik

A young woman learns about magic in this adult fantasy novel. Let's review!

My excitement for this book was off the charts. The synopsis was intriguing without giving too many detail. The cover was absolutely beautiful. Yet as I read the novel my excitement quickly disappeared into apathy and boredom. While the setting and world building were intricately crafted, the characters were, well, not.

Agnieszka suffered from Special Snowflake Syndrome. While she initially started training in magic, she soon eclipsed her trainer. She was magical Superman, able to defeat anything. I wasn't crazy about any of the other characters either. The Dragon was a generic, broody love interest. Kasia had a wooden personality. The rest of the characters were mostly expendable and unremarkable. While I wasn't interested in the characters, I did really enjoy the setting. The Woods were wonderfully creepy and atmospheric. The story behind the Woods' corruption was intriguing, if a little vague.

tl;dr Uprooted contained a great setting with dull characters. Those interested in fantasy, folklore, and magic may enjoy it.

Lord of the Fading Lands

Lord of the Fading Lands - C.L. Wilson

A young woman finds love with a fey prince, but it could cost her life. Let's review!

I enjoyed the novel. The author spent time developing the romance between the two main characters despite the "insta-love" story line. I greatly appreciate any time depth is given to characters despite their circumstances. However, this novel took me six months to read. It was really too easy to put down. My problem with it is threefold - the pacing, the world-building, and the plot. The pacing was really slow during the middle of the novel. Instead of building the political and social movements concurrently with the romance, the author spent time developing each separately during the middle of the book. While building the romance was important, reading about each day of their courtship became tedious fast.

My other big problem dealt with the world-building, particularly the magic system. Magic is literally the cure for everything. Need clothes? Magic. Did you get physically injured? No worries, magic. Want to have a private conversation in a crowded room? Magic the shit out of it. If the author is going to have a magic system that literally can accomplish anything, I need magic to cost the characters something. Magic should MEAN something to the characters, and not just be a convenient way to accomplish a task.

tl;dr A flawed, yet enjoyable, fantasy romance. First time fantasy romance readers should read Snyder's Healer series instead.

A Bride Unveiled

A Bride Unveiled - Jillian Hunter

A young woman must choose between an old love or her aunt's desires in this historical romance. Let's review!

When will I ever learn to stay away from historical romances? Not this day apparently. This book bored me to tears. The characters were one-dimensional, the plot uninteresting, and the setting bland. I didn't even like any of the secondary characters. The development of Kit and Violet's friendship was sorely lacking. Their friendship needed to be solid in order for their romance to be believable. Instead they seemed to be adults in lust and not adults in love. While I knew to be prepared for it, I could not stand the cheating. Kissing someone while betrothed to another is CHEATING.

tl;dr Joyless historical romance between one-dimensional characters. Skip it and read a Julie Garwood historical romance instead. She's an oldie, but a goodie.

This Savage Song

This Savage Song - Victoria Schwab

Two archenemies learn to trust each other in this young adult dystopian fantasy. Let’s dig in.

This book had some really wonderful main characters. Their archetypes are not new to the genre – the tough girl and her “monster” counterpart. However, their personalities felt unique and their arcs ended in a satisfying way. I enjoyed their burgeoning friendship. I could see the second book in the series taking their relationship romantic, but in this novel no romance brews between them. I LOVED the author putting them in dangerous situations, and it actually being dangerous. Usually main characters are placed in dire circumstances, yet escape it at the last second. Not this book. You will feel every painful hit, emotionally and physically, Kate and August receive.

If I loved the characters so much, why am I only giving it three stars? Reasons – world building and pacing. The beginning of the novel is so…very…slow. Honestly, it didn’t actually get interesting until 58% into the book. That means over 50% of the book is buildup. In regards to the buildup, the book need better world-building. I found myself really confused about the actual setting of Verity – the layout of the city, the different types of monsters, and the history behind the setting. I don’t need everything explained, but the world-building seemed very jumbled.

This book felt very uneven, but I do plan on checking out the next in the series.

tl;dr Great characters, slow pacing, and jumbled world-building. 

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Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass) by Sarah J. Maas
The Almost Sisters: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson