December 2019 Wrap Up [CC]
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December 2019 Wrap Up [CC]

Hello everybody, my name is Cara, and
today I’m here with my December wrap-up. The first book I finished was Tuesdays
at the Castle by Jessica Day George. Our main character is Celie and we follow
her and her brother and sister, and their parents are the king and queen of Castle
Glower and then one day their parents go missing and are presumed dead and so
this book is about the children really trying to figure out what happened to
their parents, if they are still alive, if they are how they can bring them back,
and trying to stop their Castle from being taken over by foreign invaders. This book has a few fantasy tropes that I always really enjoy: one of them is the
idea of the royal family having to prove themselves as rulers of the kingdom, so
it’s not just passed down from parent to child it’s like they actually have to
prove themselves worthy of ruling their kingdom and I really like that; I also
like the trope of like a semi-sentient house that like helps people fight back
against invaders – it sounds very specific but I’ve come across it a few times and
I really enjoy it. The castle itself is just really fun, like it really does feel
like its own character and it was really fun getting to know the castle better as
Celie started to understand her connection to the castle. Every Tuesday
the castle would like grow a new room or like rearrange itself or something, it’s
a little bit like Hogwarts from Harry Potter, so just seeing the castle with
its own personality was really fun and that became a pretty important part of
the book too. I just flew through this book, I really enjoyed it, this was pretty
much the perfect way to start December and I gave Tuesdays at the Castle 4
stars. Next I finished The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, and this is a sort
of Iliad retelling, a little bit? it’s from the perspective of a very very
minor character, I think her name is pronounced Briseis [Briss-ee-uss]? maybe? and she is the basically spoil of war who becomes Achilles’ concubine during the Trojan War
or after [her city is taken], and she’s barely mentioned in the original, so this book
was supposed to be about her getting a chance to tell her own story [and give women a voice in general], so starting right before she was captured and then going through her time in the soldiers’
camps and to a little bit after I think the events of the Trojan War. And I
really didn’t like this. I think this book really didn’t do a good job of what
it was supposed to be doing because the whole story is centered around Achilles,
even in Briseis’ chapters – by the way I’m really sorry if you’re a classics scholar and
I’m saying that name completely wrong…I tried! *laughs* anyway, so we follow her for like
half the chapters and Achilles for half of them too, which I didn’t really know
when I was first getting excited about this book, and even in the
chapters that are from Briseis’ perspective, it was always about Achilles?
And that might have been I guess realistic because all of the women in
this camp, they really depended on the men who had captured them for their…they
depended on their goodwill, basically, to survive, even as they were kept as like
sex slaves and stuff like that, so it kind of makes sense in a practical way,
but for a book that’s supposed to be fighting back against that I think it
really didn’t do a good job of it. Briseis even says to herself like near the
end of the book like ‘oh I thought I was telling my own story but really I was
telling Achilles’ story. Like this story was always about him,’ and that really
rubbed me the wrong way for a book that was supposed to be about the opposite of
that. I think some of the writing was good but there just wasn’t a lot here, I
didn’t get what I wanted from this book, and I also kind of resented the fact
that it seemed like…it almost seemed like the author was writing Achilles in
a way that we were supposed to forgive him for some of the things he did or
even like him. And I really didn’t like that, and even like Patroclus who was one
of the better characters in this book, it’s like, he treated Briseis better
than some of the others so you would start to like him a little bit, and then
you would realize like, ‘oh you’re just as bad as the others, you’re just like
friendlier about it!’ Basically all of this book just felt like suffering with
no purpose, with no explanation, um, Briseis also looks down on pretty much
all of the other women she knows so it wasn’t even really a women bonding in
adversity kind of storyline, and I gave Silence of the Girls 2.5 stars. Next I
finished Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga, and the narrator was Vaneh
Assadourian. I listened to this on audio and this is a novel in verse and we follow
our main character Jude and she is from Syria and after the war and violence
starts getting especially bad her and her family, or her and her mother
actually, they go to live in America with her mother’s brother. So this book is
about Jude missing home and trying to adapt to her new home and getting to
know her uncle and her aunt and her cousin and just trying to fit in. We see
her learning English and starting to make friends and–and just basically her
ordinary life in these very extraordinary circumstances, and we also
see her really really missing the people that she left behind in Syria, including
her best friend and some of her family members.
And this was just a really beautiful book, extremely emotional. Like I said
this is a novel in verse and I think that this might be a good one for people
who are not used to reading novels in verse because I didn’t realize it
actually because I was listening to it on audio, and the way it was read just
sort of felt like a very lyrical kind of contemporary. The writing as I said was
beautiful, Jude as a main character, I just loved her, she’s so
resilient and strong and kind and I really enjoyed seeing her interactions
as she got to know other characters better. It’s just very interesting to
like, as you go through the book, to start to see all of these layers to people
that she had kind of made up her mind about, it felt very much like real life
in that way. There’s also kind of a theatre subplot that I really enjoyed,
and one of the things I also loved about this book is that we have quite a good
chunk of time spent in the beginning in Syria, and I think that was really
important because we–it really helps us understand the beauty of Jude’s
country and her home and why she’s so upset about leaving it. I think it was a
great way to connect the reader to that location before we see Jude
transplanted from it. And I also think the narrator did an amazing job; her
voice is just beautiful to listen to; her voice had this rhythm that really suited
the like poetry/prose style of this book. This was just a fantastically told story
and I gave Other Words for Home 5 stars. Next I finished The Clergyman’s
Wife by Molly Greeley. This is a Pride and Prejudice sort of reimagining or
sequel and we follow the main character of Charlotte Lucas after the events of
Pride and Prejudice, and this book is about kind of the aftermath of her
decisions in that novel. And when I went into this book I was really hoping that
it would help me appreciate Charlotte better as a character, because I
understand on an intellectual level why she made the decisions she did but I
have never ever been able to make myself… sympathize with her or empathize with
her, like…I could explain why she did what she did and it makes sense but on
an emotional level like, *laughs* all of her choices just like repel me fundamentally,
so! it was–I was kind of hoping with this book that I could really start to
appreciate her more, and I really did! I just realized I’m gonna have to
basically spoil Pride and Prejudice to talk about this book so I will leave a
timestamp if you don’t want to be spoiled for it. We follow Charlotte a
few years after she married Mr. Collins, so they are living at the parsonage
near Rosings Park and she has a baby daughter now and so this book is
really about her kind of making peace with her choices but also realizing that
she’s not as satisfied with them as she thought, but not in a way that I think
undercuts her decisions in the original novel. And the main story of this book
starts when she…Charlotte starts spending time with one of the like
tenant farmers I think? on their land or close to their land –
he might be considered like a gentleman farmer, I don’t know – and so we see her
form this friendship and realize that she hasn’t really had a lot of
companionship since she married Mr. Collins. And this is just a very quietly
beautiful and melancholy but still kind of hopeful story, it’s a hard one to
describe because it is so quiet but I really loved this.
I thought the characterization of Charlotte was extremely well done, like I
said this book really did make me feel for her more than I–more than I ever did,
and really feel and understand why she made the choices she did. I just thought
the characterizations in general were excellent, I still…*laughs* still can’t stand Mr.
Collins! but I think Molly Greeley did an amazing job of showing that even the
ridiculous characters are not completely flat. The writing of this book is
beautiful, I really enjoyed it, it’s kind of that sweet spot that I
talked about before with Jane Austen retellings where it’s very, it feels very
period-appropriate but it’s not just an artificial copy of Jane Austen. Another
thing I thought was so impressive was the setting and the cast of characters
is very small but it felt very rich: I was never bored with this story even
though it is so quiet because I was so completely invested in kind of this
character exploration and this–this very restricted setting and story. The actions
that Charlotte takes, even the small ones, are shown to matter, and it shows
that even people or characters who have a very small – in some ways – existence,
that’s still important and you can still do good and you are still just as
worthy as somebody who does something more exciting or dramatic. This book is
definitely very emotional at parts and I just thought this was beautiful and I
gave The Clergyman’s Wife 5 stars. Next I finished Technically, You Started
It by Lana Wood Johnson and I have complained about this several times
already, I have a full rent review that I will link down below and I also
mentioned this book in my least favorite books of the year video so I will link
that too, but as you can probably guess I kind of hated this. This is a
contemporary novel told in text messages: one day Haley gets a text from a boy in her class named Martin and she assumes she knows which Martin it is because there
are two in her class, and so they continue texting while the whole time
there is this identity miscommunication or assumption going on. I hated Haley as
a protagonist, she just has this insufferable superiority which is kind
of amazing considering how ignorant and judgmental of other people she is. She
had a huge not like other girls complex or problem, and this book was published
this year by the way! The format itself was also incredibly frustrating to read, it
made the whole story very confusing to follow and the text message speak was
done extremely badly, I don’t think anybody would text like this. I also
thought the romance was pretty awful. I really didn’t like this book, I gave it 1.5 stars. Next I finished Little Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul [illustrated by John Parra.] So this is basically just the story of the founders and creators of the Little
Free Library project and a little bit about the project and showing some
specific examples of people who have used it in their communities. And I
just adored this, I really like that the title of the book is “little libraries”
not “little free libraries”, because even though this book is I think officially
affiliated with the Little Free Library program and the content of the book is
about the creation of that program, I really feel like the overall tone is
more about the importance of little libraries or libraries in general. Like it
didn’t feel like this whole book was trying to sell you one of their
libraries, basically, and I really appreciated that. I also loved how we got
a few examples of people who did the Little Free Library program and who used
it in times of great suffering to do a lot of good, and the thing that I
especially loved about that is that we actually got their names in a note at
the back of the book, so we could actually learn more about these people –
like we actually get to recognize them as individuals rather than just kind of
theoretical examples. And I just really loved the way that this little picture
book packed in so many themes that are very very important to me: things about
the importance of storytelling and the way that that creates empathy, things
about small actions and how those can make a difference in the world…like this
little book just did so, so much, I gave this one 5 stars too, this is a picture
book that moved me to tears, I thought it was so beautiful and I would highly
recommend it. Next I finished A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess, and
this is a historical fantasy novel and we follow our main character Henrietta
Howell. After she is caught performing a certain kind of magic she’s whisked off
to this kind of magic school or training program where she is being trained along
with several men – she’s the only female sorcerer – where she’s being trained to
fight back against these kind of eldritch horror beings that are
terrorizing England and some of the surrounding areas. And Henrietta
seems to be this Chosen One that everybody has been waiting for but the
catch is that Henrietta doesn’t actually think she is the Chosen One; she thinks
they’ve made a mistake so now she’s trying to keep them from finding out
that she might not actually be the person they’re looking for, in addition
to trying to learn how to control her powers and fight back against these
awful monsters and everything. And I really enjoyed this, I’m kind of a sucker
for a subverted Chosen One trope so I really like the way that that was done
here. I liked Henrietta as a main character overall; I feel like she was a
pretty good balance of like kind of being stubborn and running into danger
because she knows best *laughs*, and the more like clear-headed, level-headed, always thinks
things through kind of main character, who is generally who I love! There’s also
kind of a multiple love interest situation going on here; I actually first
heard about the series from Sam from Thoughts on Tomes and every time she
talks about these books she’s like ‘there’s kind of a love square, I know, I
know, but it’s not that bad,’ and that’s kind of how I feel about it.
The [love interest] I’m kind of leaning towards is sort of like the “dark horse” I guess of
the–of the group, I’m not sure it’s going to happen. But the multiple
love interest scenario didn’t really bother me because it just felt very…I
don’t know, it felt kind of believable? like it made sense for the situations
that all of these characters were in that they would get a little mixed up in
the feelings department. The only thing I’ll say is that I really didn’t like
Rook as a character: he just felt like nothing to me, I fail to see him as a
viable love interest…or character, I just don’t really know why he’s there…
actually! it kind of felt like he was only there to provide a motivation for
Henrietta to make certain decisions that affected the plot. I also really liked
the plot, there were some things that took me by surprise about this book, and
the only other [negative] thing I’ll say besides that I didn’t like Rook as a character
is that I wasn’t a huge fan of certain [antagonist] developments that I did see coming. I
feel like the way they were done was kind of stereotypical? that’s all I’m
gonna say because of spoilers, but I really didn’t like that. But overall I
had a good time with this book and I gave A Shadow Bright and Burning 4
stars. Next I finished Lifestyles of Gods and Monsters by Emily Roberson, and this
is another book that I have a full review for but it’s a positive one this
time! I will link that down below, but I really really enjoyed this. This is a
sort of mashup of reality TV and Greek myth; this is a retelling of the
Labyrinth story and specifically the part involving Ariadne and Theseus. So
every year this Labyrinth Challenge is televised on reality TV and the 14
Athenians all compete and of course every year they all die, and then
Theseus shows up and he asks Ariadne to help him, and so the book is
about what Ariadne decides to do and also learning more about–about the
challenge itself and about the Minotaur and about her family and how involved
they are in what’s going on. I think regardless of how familiar you are with
Greek mythology or reality TV, I think you could enjoy this.
I don’t watch reality TV and I still very much enjoyed those parts of the book.
Ariadne’s an example of a character who starts out feeling very– like she’s
special, she’s different from other girls, and then realizes that she’s actually
not, and it was just really well done, I really liked that. I surprisingly loved
the romance too; I just thought this book did so many things so well,
definitely check out my review for more thoughts on it but I gave Lifestyles of
Gods and Monsters 4 stars. Next I finished Little Leaders: Bold Women in
Black History by Vashti Harrison, and she is also the illustrator for this book.
And this was just absolutely lovely, this is just what it sounds like in the title:
it’s amazing Black women from history and each page tells a little bit about
them, and then there’s this really wonderful illustration *shows* of them as well.
And I just loved this, I thought it did a great job of introducing you *shows* to these
women and giving you kind of a jumping-off place if you want to learn
more about them. I love the variety of women, so there are some that are very
very well known and some that we don’t talk about as much: so we have Harriet
Tubman and Ella Fitzgerald and Audre Lorde but we also have ones that we
don’t hear about a lot, like Phillis Wheatley and Augusta Savage and Ida B.
Wells, who is starting to become better known but I still don’t think we talk enough about her [or most of these women tbh], and I just thought this was lovely, I really loved the art style,
and I also gave this book 5 stars. Next I finished Dear Enemy by Jean
Webster, this is sort of a companion sequel to Daddy Long Legs, we follow a
different character but it is set several years after the events of the
first book so I do think you should read these in order. And this was actually a
reread for the BookTube Rereadathon Project. We follow our main character Sallie
who is the best friend of the main character from the first book, and she
kind of gets roped into being the superintendent of an orphanage and this
book is basically about her adventures trying to reorganize it, trying to bring
love and life back to this orphanage. And as with the first book this book is told
entirely in letters, so it’s an epistolary novel,
and we see a lot of letters from Sallie to her friend Jerusha. Sallie also writes
letters to a man that she’s kind of involved with back home and she also
writes letters to a doctor who works at the orphanage who is kind of like her
arch-nemesis because they fight a lot, they don’t really get along, and they
disagree about some pretty important ideas. And I have wildly mixed feelings
about this book because story-wise I have basically no complaints. I really
loved Sallie as a main character most of the time: I just love the blend of
determination and intelligence and…like fun that she has? like she–she loves
dressing up and going to parties and she’s also an incredibly hard worker and
super smart and it’s never shown like those things shouldn’t go together, and
actually when characters act like they shouldn’t she really calls them on it
and it’s really great. I really liked the writing of this book, it’s so clever and
so funny and I’m really impressed at how well we got to know all the other
characters just through the letters of Sallie. I also really enjoyed the plot
which is kind of astonishing because generally, misbehaving precocious
children is like one of my least favorite things *laughs* to read about, so it was
really impressive that I was so invested in this book. But. My huge issue with this
book is some of the outdated content in it, because there’s this huge idea that
gets talked about a lot in this book which is eugenics. In case you guys aren’t
familiar that’s basically the idea that things like criminal tendencies, like
actually committing crimes and basically anything that society didn’t like were hereditary and were passed down from parent to child,
and that if you just sterilized all of the criminals [*] in the population you
would never have criminals [*] again! and lots of other horrible things like that.
And there was a lot of discussion about that in this book because at the time
this was written that was a huge interest in the United States, and I
think in other countries too but this [book] is set in America, and people treated that
like a real science, like that was something that a lot of people including
professionals and scientists and medical people actually believed in, and it was
really sickening to read that. Like I said this was a reread and I did remember
from the first time I read this book like four years ago or something, I did
remember that was in here but I remembered it being challenged later on,
and it kind of is? but I don’t think it was nearly enough. Because even though
Sallie does eventually realize that all of this eugenics stuff is a bunch
of BS, it took a while for that to happen and then when it did it was just written
off in like one or two sentences, and considering all of the time and detail
we had spent with these characters who thought it was a real thing and were
talking about it like it was real, it really bothered me that we didn’t have
more of a clear like ‘no, this is wrong’ kind of moment. And I know this is an old
book so people have differing perspectives on how much we can hold it
accountable for, but considering how progressive other parts of this book
were it did really bother me. Like the women’s rights angle and even talking
about domestic violence and things like that, in those ways Jean Webster was
really ahead of her time, and I guess you could argue that by having eugenics
challenged at all that was somewhat progressive, but it just really bothered
me that we didn’t get more of that. So if it comes down to like ‘would I recommend
this book?’ it’s kind of yes and no. Like the story is great but if you do decide
to pick it up, be prepared for all of those parts that I talked about. Next I
finished Exile by Shannon Messenger. This is the second book in the Keepers of
the Lost City series. [In] this one we’re still following Sophie and kind of the main
plot of this book surrounds a magical creature that she finds who’s kind of
like a winged unicorn? it’s called an alicorn, and these are incredibly rare, so
Sophie and the other characters are working to protect and take care of this
alicorn and then while this is happening we also have kind of some continuing
subplots from the first book about where Sophie came from and kind of the people
who are involved with her past. And for the most part I really enjoyed this, I
had kind of heard from people that this one was one of the lesser engaging books, like
compared to book one and the books later in the series, so I’m kind of glad
I was prepared for that because I do think the plot was a little less
compelling in this one and there was some kind of frustrating character stuff
in this book too, but overall I did still really enjoy this. I especially loved the
ending, and also this is the book that really sold me on Keefe as a character,
because when he was first introduced in book one I…I don’t know, he was okay but
like he wasn’t my favorite, I found him kind of annoying, and now I really like
him so that was kind of nice! I can’t really say a lot about this book because
it is the second in a series but I really enjoyed Exile overall and I ended
up giving it 4 stars. Next I finished Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray and
this is a historical…fantasy, technically, but mostly it’s historical fiction,
following the daughter of Cleopatra who is known as Selene. And we start this
book right after the death of her mother where her and her
siblings are taken to Rome, basically as captives, and we follow her life there. So
I really didn’t like this. I actually started listening to this on audio but I
ended up stopping after only a few pages because I had been following along in
the book because that was one of the only ways I hadn’t tried listening to
audiobooks, and I noticed that the audio was different from the book? One of them
was like they actually–it was like they had like censored part of–part of the book,
like in the book they had kind of implied that they, that Selene saw Roman
soldiers dragging a girl off to rape her or like passing her around between a
group of soldiers and they just completely cut that part of the sentence
out in the–in the audio which I thought was very weird so I don’t know why that
was done if they were trying to make the audiobook less upsetting, so I didn’t want to actually miss [other] parts of the story [even if they were upsetting] so I ended up switching back to physical,
and like I said I really didn’t like this book. It was incredibly boring,
nothing happened. I really didn’t like the characters, um,
Selene I had like–I have no idea what her personality is like or like anything
about her really. I mean none of the characterization was very good; honestly
the most developed character was kind of the antagonist Octavian or Caesar
Augustus as he later became known, which is–I feel like is kind of a
problem when the only character that has any personality is the one that you’re
supposed to hate! and I mean, I did hate him, but just like by contrast to all of
the other characters it’s like he was the only one who had any
characterization at all even if it was negative. The author in her author’s notes
and in actually parts of the story she makes these really interesting
connections between Cleopatra Selene – so the main character – and kind of world
events at the time that are very, like I said, very interesting connections, but I
don’t feel like she really backs them up? and some of those things are it’s like I
have never heard any historian make that connection before, so it’s something I
would be interested to read more about, and she kind of listed resources in the
back but…I don’t know, like when I–when I did some kind of preliminary research
trying to find stuff on it, it didn’t really seem like that was backed up very
well? I mean I’m not a historian so maybe it is but I just thought that was kind
of odd. I also think the magic was just very poorly incorporated into this story;
there was barely any magic, really. Like really the only magic element is
that from the beginning of the book you know that Selene sometimes gets these
kind of hieroglyphics that appear on her arms in blood and they are apparently a
message from the goddess Isis who her and her family worship, and
that was really it [for the magic], but even that part was so inconsistent, like it only
happened a couple of times and there would be these long stretches where no
magic happened and then like right at the end it was like the author suddenly
remembered like ‘oh yeah this is historical fantasy! like I’m just gonna
like throw all this magic stuff in here,’ and it just kind of made no sense. I also
hated the way the romance was done. So Selene is pretty young when this book
starts, I think she’s like 12? and the like romantic subtext between her and her
tutor is super uncomfortable and there are reasons for it because the person
who Stephanie Dray wrote as her tutor is actually the person who the historical
Selene married and there probably was an age difference, but I just think it was
weird that she framed their relationship as kind of romantic from the beginning
because by the end of the book I think Selene’s a little older so it [would have been]
slightly less weird? There were just a lot of strange choices when it came to the
romance: for another thing I didn’t really like the way she wrote the
relationship between Juba and Selene as basically being something Selene didn’t
want, because this is one of the cases where she changed history to make things
worse? because as far as we know – and this is like obviously a very hard thing to
track – but from our limited knowledge about the personal lives of Selene and
Juba, they actually had a pretty healthy relationship, like it seems like it was
possibly even a love match, and I just don’t understand why you would change
that for this book. Especially because the way she wrote other scenes, Selene
had more romance-coded interactions with her twin brother and with Caesar
Augustus, and that was just disgusting and I really hated that. Also like the
whole like [royal] Egyptians marrying their siblings thing, I was under the
impression that a lot of times that was ceremonial, but I guess Stephanie Dray
saw an opportunity for drama and took it. I mean as a historical fiction author a
lot of times you end up making changes, but I guess I’m just questioning why she
chose to change the things she did, because it just made the book feel super
uncomfortable and gross in a lot of ways. I gave Lily of the Nile 2 stars and
I also found out that Stephanie Dray is one of the authors who like a few
years ago on Twitter were like making jokes about Thomas Jefferson raping his
slaves? and were actually involved in writing a “romance” novel between
Jefferson and his slave, and that is not an author that I personally
want to support. So I hated this, I would not recommend it at all.
Next I finished All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney. This is a
contemporary novel and we follow our main character Alia who goes by Allie, and
her and her family are Circassian which means that they are from a traditionally
Muslim ethnic group but they look white, so Allie is actually white-passing
although her father isn’t, and Allie’s parents have never been very religious
so she hasn’t really grown up knowing that side of her–of her background and
of the Muslim culture, like she hasn’t really known the religious part of it
and she wants to start exploring that religious aspect and so this book is
about her journey to do that, and also about her making new friends and getting
involved with a boy at school, which quickly becomes complicated because of
some stuff involving his family. So I thought this book was just fantastic,
um, I really liked the writing, it’s very– like Allie has a very distinctive voice,
like I’ve heard people describe contemporaries as “voice-y” before and
that’s kind of how I feel with this one, although I don’t feel like it ever got
to be too much. I don’t feel like we see a lot of Muslim contemporaries where the
characters actually delve into their religion so that was also really nice to
see. I absolutely loved Allie’s new friend group that she starts developing with
some girls that she starts studying the Quran with. It was just beautiful to see
their interactions, I just really really loved all of their scenes together and I
wish we had gotten even more of them honestly. And one of my favorite things
about this book is the way that it really demonstrates that you can’t
assume that you know what somebody believes about something, even if they do
belong to a particular religious group. Like you don’t–you don’t know how people
believe things and interpret things just based on the kind of official position
or what some people may consider the official position of that religion; I
just thought that was so thoughtful and so well-done. Like we see Allie and her
friends disagree on some points and that is shown to be okay,
and I just thought that was really lovely. There were a couple of small
things I think this book could have done better: one of them is I feel like the
romance between Allie and her love interest was a little bit underdeveloped?
I guess…because it became such an important part of the book, I just wish
we had spent more time on getting to know [the boy] before they started dating.
Then there was also this one scene that felt very uncomfortable in a way that
I’m not sure was intentional; I don’t want to get into spoilers but basically
one of the characters asked something from another character that I thought
was inappropriate and they should have known better than to ask, and the other
character went along with it in a way that I also thought
was kind of inappropriate or weird. Other than that I thought this was a wonderful
book and I gave All-American Muslim Girl 4.5 stars. Next I finished The Afterlife
of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand. This is a retelling of A Christmas Carol. There’s
something called Project Scrooge who basically, their job is to replicate the
events of A Christmas Carol and convince bad people to become better, and our main
character Holly Chase, she is a failed Project Scrooge [target]: so she is visited
by the three ghosts and she refuses to change her ways, and she dies. And so then
as kind of her punishment she is forced to become part of this Project [as the ghost of Christmas Past] and to work on trying to make other people have a change of heart and become better. And
I ended up enjoying this a lot, although it wasn’t really what I expected. This is
one of those books where I loved all the subplots but I didn’t really connect to
the main story, or at least not until pretty late in the book, because the main
plot events, like all of the stuff with Holly not changing her mind or her heart,
that happens right at the very beginning, and then most of this book is about them
working on a Project Scrooge for a boy who is Holly’s age [named Ethan] and they have kind of
this connection and Holly starts spending time with him unofficially in a
way that she’s not supposed to. So a big part of the story is about their
relationship and about if Project Scrooge is going to be able to change
Ethan’s mind, and that part I wasn’t quite as engaged in. I don’t feel like we
really got to know Ethan enough to believe why he and Holly would have this
important connection. I really understand why Holly would see–kind of see parts of
herself in him and really identify with him and kind of, I don’t know, latch
onto him and want to spend time with him, but as far as a mutual relationship, I
didn’t really get it. But all the other stuff going on I actually really enjoyed
in this book. I really love the concept and the time that we got to spend with
Project Scrooge and just like all the way[s] that that company works I found so
fascinating and so fun, that was one of my favorite parts about the book, and I
also really liked some of the side characters in this book. And I even grew to
like Holly herself – actually one of my other complaints is that Holly is so SO
unlikable at the beginning of this, and I understand why, because we have to
believe that she’s the kind of person who would refuse to change her mind
when she’s given the opportunity, but at the beginning she’s sort of like
ridiculously cruel? and I know that there are people out there who are like that
but the way it was written I thought was kind of weird. I just wish that her
character had been written more convincingly at the beginning because it
kind of took me a while to warm up to her and to really feel like I understood
why she even was making the decisions that she did. But overall I really liked
this, I thought this was such a creative take on A Christmas Carol and I really
really loved the ending of this book: that’s actually what bumped this up, I
was thinking this was–this book was kind of sitting at like a 3.5 stars but I just
really really loved the ending so I ended up giving it 4 stars. Next I finished
The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White, and I think my most surprising books of
2019 video has already gone up so if so, you already know that I really liked
this and that I was kind of shocked by it! *laughs* because I have very mixed experiences
with Arthurian inspired stories and I also have read 2 Kiersten White books
and not really liked either of them, but I really really enjoyed this. We follow
Guinevere as our main character and she’s actually not the real Guinevere –
the person that we know as Guinevere from the stories actually died and so
this girl who is now known as Guinevere has taken her place in order to be
married off to Arthur and protect him basically from this magical threat that
is threatening him and the kingdom of Camelot. I really liked the writing, it
felt almost musical to me but not–not over-descriptive or anything, and it also
felt appropriate to the tone of this story so like a little bit old-fashioned
but not in a distracting way. I also really liked Guinevere as a main
character. Throughout the book we do see her getting really frustrated because
she’s been kind of shoved into this role without having a lot of information
about how she’s supposed to actually do it, and also we don’t really know a lot
about her past because she’s kind of been forced to forget that or something
else has happened that made her forget that, and that’s normally a trope I
really don’t like but for some reason it worked for me in this one. Like it made
me feel for Guinevere and it felt very poignant rather than being irritating,
and I think it also helped that we got–we got enough little answers along the way
that I wasn’t really frustrated not knowing some of the bigger ones. I also
really loved the other cast of characters, like her handmaiden Brangien is
just great, I really loved her, and I also really liked Mordred, which is a sentence
I never thought I would ever say. I also loved the glimpses of the magic we get
in this book, like the knot magic especially I just found so fascinating. I
really like magic when it’s kind of tied to like crafts almost, I just find that
very interesting. I also love that this is a retelling of a classic that is
diverse and doesn’t make a big deal out of it, like we have several characters
who are people of color and we also have a few supporting characters who are lesbians,
and for the most part it’s not really a big deal? there are cases where if people
were to find out about this relationship, it could complicate things,
but it didn’t feel like this was a book that just replicated some of our real
world’s prejudices into a fantasy setting, if that makes sense. The only things I
didn’t love are some of the parts we get with the antagonist I didn’t like as
much, and also the ending I was not super pleased with, um, I think I recorded in my
Goodreads review that like my *laughs* my two initial thoughts were like ‘I freaking
knew it’ and ‘this is why we can’t have nice things’,
but even considering that I really really loved this book, I can’t wait for
a book 2, and I gave The Guinevere Deception 4 stars. Next I finished The
Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and this is of course a reread, I don’t
even know how many times I’ve read this book because I started rereading it long before Goodreads had a reread tracker [or even existed?] And this is about our main character
Mary Lennox who is orphaned; she lived with her parents in India and then she
gets sent to stay with her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in England, and when
she gets there she becomes fascinated with trying to find this secret garden,
this garden that has been locked up and nobody has been in it for ten years and
she becomes really fixated on this garden and trying to find it and things
kind of go from there. I just really love this book, this is
one of the books that got me into reading, I’ve talked about that before. I
love Mary Lennox as a character, I love the fact that even though she becomes
much more thoughtful and kind throughout the story – because she starts out just
like a horrifying little brat basically – and even though we see her get so much
better throughout the book, I don’t ever feel like we lose sight of who she is,
like her personality? I kind of get the feeling that even at
the end of the book if she had to scream somebody out of a tantrum or something, I
think she could still do it and *laughs* I kind of love that about her. And I also think
that’s pretty unusual for the time period that this children’s book was
written. Generally–I feel like generally the main characters are much more
virtuous or much more obviously virtuous, and Mary can still be a little spitfire.
I love the writing and the atmosphere; I am not somebody who enjoys gardening but
every time I read this book it makes me want to like run out and plant a rose
bush or something *laughs* which is saying something for me! I
really enjoy some of the other characters as well and there are just so many
things that I love about this book. But because it is a classic novel and it was
written in a particular time period I do want to mention that there are some
racist comments made that are not explicitly challenged in the book, like a
few of them are actually by Mary herself and this–it was kind of weird
because when she said them they were specifically linked with her being not a
nice person at all at the very beginning of the book, so it’s like implying that
those were a bad thing to do, which is great, but she was never really like
explicitly called out on why those things were wrong and why racism is bad,
it just kind of like faded quietly out of the story as Mary became a nicer
person, so that’s just something to be aware of, and then also some of the discussions
with disability and mental illness: in some ways I think Frances Hodgson
Burnett was kind of on to something because some of the discussion about–
about like positive thinking and kind of the power that that can have in
healing, like that is something that scientists are still researching and are
still being surprised at how important that is, so in that sense it was kind of
impressive, but there is some other stuff about how disability is characterized
and references to mental illness that are definitely outdated or not okay and
things that we wouldn’t say today, so just keep that in mind if you are
considering picking this book up. Next I finished another reread and that was
The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork. My friend Katie was reading
this book for the first time and it just really made me want to reread it, um, I
first read this book last year and I finished it on Christmas Day last year,
and I did the same thing this year, and it was just wonderful,
one of my best decisions I think! *laughs* I just absolutely love this book. This is a Nutcracker [and Pied Piper] retelling and we follow our main character Clara and she gets kind of this
magic storybook that transports her somehow to the land of the Nutcracker – or
it’s actually called Imperia, I think – so this magical land, and the other main
character is Nikolai and he’s a prince who has been turned into the Nutcracker
and he is trying to basically prove that he is worthy of ruling his kingdom,
which is a trope again I mentioned that I really enjoy, and so him and Clara have
to team up and kind of save the children of this kingdom, and this book is basically
about their adventures. Someday I’m gonna do a dedicated review when I can
actually coherently express my love for this story. But I just adore Clara as a main
character, she’s so funny and smart and very relatable in some ways. I really
really love Nikolai too, and I just love a lot of the characters actually, including
some of the side ones – this book has one of my favorite side character
romances I have ever read, so that’s saying something because I tend to
really enjoy those. I also really love how there’s one character who has this
crush that they have had for a very long time and I just really appreciate the
very thoughtful way this book treated that, like kinda this idea that people
can develop feelings for a person because of what [that person] represent[s] or what
they imagine that they represent in their head, I just–I don’t know, I just
feel like the way that is handled in this book is very mature and very
believable. It’s a pretty small part of the book overall but it’s just something
that I remember noticing the first time I read it and I just think it’s very
well done. I also love the writing in this book, it’s very funny and clever and
whimsical, like some of the dialogue is just fantastic,
like Nikolai can be so sassy and I love it so much. I also love the music
magic in this book and the way that is used; music in books is something that
I’m very very picky about but this is one of the ones I think I’ve seen that
used it best. I already mentioned loving the romance in this book, both of them
actually – there’s two main romances that I just really adore, and I don’t know
what else to say! um, I gave this book 5 stars, obviously – it was one of my
favorite books of last year actually, and I love everything about it, I’m probably
gonna reread it next Christmas too! Next I finished The Secrets of Vesuvius by
Caroline Lawrence. This is book 2 in the Roman Mysteries series and as with
the first book we follow a group of kids who are all friends and they sort of get
kind of tangled up in solving a mystery, I know [that summary is] very basic. This is set
during Ancient Rome and this is another one where I had kind of heard from people
who loved the series that this is not one of the better ones, and I kind of
agree. I ended up giving this one 3 stars because I didn’t find the
mystery as compelling in this one and I also didn’t–I feel like there wasn’t as
much social commentary as there was in the first book. Like one of the things I
was really impressed with in the first novel was the exploration of
serious topics like slavery and religious persecution and things like
that, and I thought that was very thoughtfully done, and in this one we
didn’t really get a lot of that. I did still enjoy the setting and the
characters and I also really liked how Caroline Lawrence kind of blended
historical fact or figures with her own story, I think that was very interesting.
There’s also this subplot that really bothered me: there’s this minor character
who ends up in a romantic relationship – I think she’s like a 14 year old girl – and
the man she’s in love with is literally stated to be old enough to be her father!
and that just was super gross for me, and the thing that really bothered me about
it besides the idea that I mentioned earlier where
like, if you’re changing stuff for historical fiction why not change the
child marriage thing? or just like not put it in your book entirely! But the
thing that really bothered me about it is that I feel like the author could
have made the man a lot younger and closer to the girl’s age and literally
none of the story would have changed. Like, nothing. *frustrated laugh* Nothing would have changed, except that the romance would not have been so disturbing,
so that really bothered me that she did that and I’m kind of hoping that that
subplot disappears in the next book because I really really didn’t like that
and I hope it doesn’t continue. But I am still excited to continue the series and
like I said I had kind of been prepared for this one not being as good so it was
okay. And finally the last book I finished in December [and in 2019!] was Call It What
You Want by Brigid Kemmerer. This is a contemporary novel that I don’t think
is connected to her other ones, and this is actually *laughs* yet another book that I
had heard was not as good as some of the author’s others, but I did still want to
read it, so I decided to read it now rather than being disappointed later, and
once again I’m glad I was warned because I did find this book quite disappointing.
We follow two main characters in this book and one of them is Rob and his
father was actually caught embezzling money and a lot of people in the town
lost everything that they had, like their savings and everything. And Rob’s father
actually attempted suicide, he shot himself in the head, but he survived and
now he’s in a vegetative or semi- vegetative state and Rob and his mother
have to care for him at home. Everyone is treating Rob badly because of what his
father did and they kind of assume that Rob was also in on it, so he’s dealing
with that, and then the other main character is Maegan. She’s also being
ostracized because she cheated on the SAT and she got a hundred students’
scores thrown out, everybody in the classroom testing, so people are really
angry with her for that and so that’s why she’s kind of a social
outcast right now. And then in addition to that her sister comes back from
college early so there’s some things going on with her as well, and these two
characters [Rob and Maegan] get paired up to work on a math project together because nobody
else wants to be their partner, and the rest the book is about them getting to
know each other better and their relationship and kind of dealing with
the other stuff going on. This book’s going to be interesting to review because I
really liked half of it and I really didn’t like the other half. Basically
Rob’s half of the book, like his plotline, I really really enjoyed. I think his
character was really really well done and I really loved the way the book
explored the morality of stealing, like Rob is put in a position a few times of
having to decide is it–is stealing still wrong if you give it to somebody who
deserves it? and can you–like are you even able to decide if somebody
deserve something more than someone else? and I thought that was explored very
very thoughtfully. I loved the friendship that he develops
with Owen and I really loved seeing how Rob’s character changes. Like the way
that what happened with his father changed him and then also the way he
continues to change because he starts paying attention to things and people
that he didn’t before when he was kind of at the top of the school. Surprisingly
I also really liked the romance in this book which is kind of amazing
considering I really didn’t like one of the main characters involved in it, but I
just think Brigid Kemmerer writes romantic scenes extremely well. And then
speaking of the character I didn’t like, um, Maegan’s whole half of the book
really brought things down for me. She really didn’t feel like a fully
developed character, like she really only existed to react to other people’s drama,
like she’s basically just the secret keeper for everybody else in this book,
and Maegan herself even notices that and comments on that! *laughs* And I feel like that
could have been effective if the book were about her kind of moving past that
idea and sort of becoming her own person, and that never really happened,
I feel like Meghan still had no personality at the end of this book. But
the thing that I hated most about her half of the book was the way that the
academic dishonesty plotline was handled, or actually not handled. I really really
hated the way that cheating was dealt with in this book. I kind of get the
feeling that Brigid Kemmerer just knew that she had to have both these
characters like ostracized in some way so that they could spend time together,
which makes sense, but if she was gonna do that I think she should have…I think
she should have either chosen something different for Maegan or she should have
done her plotline better, because the thing with Rob is that even though he
does make some like bad choices later that he has to kind of work through, at
the beginning of the book all the people’s negative treatment of him is
because of something that he didn’t do, that wasn’t his fault: they’re treating
him badly because of his father, whereas with Maegan it’s like, like okay,
well, you’re not very popular at school anymore, but you actually made the
terrible choice! like, you chose to cheat! And she even says to somebody at one
point that like ‘oh I didn’t think that anyone else would be affected by it!’ and
it’s like, are you kidding me?! I just couldn’t believe that. I never ever got
the feeling that Maegan acknowledged that what she did was wrong or like
understood why it was so upsetting. There’s one part near the very end of
the book where her best friend says to her like ‘you know, you had such good
grades, you were in like 4 AP classes, you didn’t even need to cheat,
like why would you do it?’ and Maegan even acknowledges like ‘yeah, that’s true, I
didn’t really need it!’ and then that’s it! And the whole time I was reading I kept
thinking we were going to find out something about why Maegan did this, so
not that it would excuse her necessarily, but something that would be kind of an
extenuating circumstance where I would understand why she made the choice she
did. And you know what we find out? Her sister is successful and it’s a lot of
pressure on her. And that–! like I can’t believe that’s like the big reason she chose to
cheat on the SAT, like it’s not like Megan didn’t know any better. And I just
find it so unbelievable that that was the reason she did it, and that’s
something where like yes, that would definitely affect your mental state or
kind of how–your self-esteem, how you feel about yourself, but there’s a long
way to go between ‘I feel inferior because of my sister’s success’ and ‘I’m
going to cheat on a standardized test even though it could ruin everybody
else’s scores.’ And this might seem like I’m getting upset about nothing but like
here’s the thing, is there could have been people testing in that room who
this was their only shot. Like maybe they weren’t able to take the test again, and
we don’t know that because Maegan didn’t give enough of a shit to find out! [text on screen] And it’s just really really hard for me to
understand that kind of selfishness and ignorance and nearsightedness, because she
chose to put her academic future above that of 100 other people, and it never
occurred to her that that was wrong, and even afterwards, even after she realized
like ‘yeah, I shouldn’t have cheated,’ it’s never because she realizes that other
people matter. It’s like she’s upset because she disappointed her parents or
because she got caught or something? Like this kind of academic dishonesty
stuff really bothers me and I hate the way that it wasn’t dealt with at all here.
There’s kind of this like line or theme throughout the book of like ‘nobody
should be defined by one mistake,’ and yes, I think that is valid, but I think when
you make a mistake like that, you need to own up to it and you need to acknowledge
what you did was wrong and you need to work to do better in the future [like Rob does],
and Maegan did none of those things, and I just–I just really hated it. I kind of
ended up doing like a whole rant review on Goodreads about this book so I will link that down below if you’re interested. [As if I didn’t just rant, LOL] Um. But yeah I ended up giving this one
3 stars because I really liked half of it and I really didn’t like the other
half. Okay everybody, so that is everything I read in December. Please let
me know if you guys read any of these books what you thought of them or if
you’re going to pick any of them up. Thank you guys so much for watching, I will see
you soon with another video, and I hope you love the next book you read. Bye!


  • Cozy Reader Kelly

    Exile also made me like Keefe and the next book made me love him even more. If you mean by “frustrating character stuff” that Sophie is incredibly annoying then I agree 😁

    I was also disappointed in Call it What you Want. If Brigid Kemmerer wasn’t so good at writing romance I might have DNF’d it. I’m glad I finished it for Rob’s arc.

  • ASeaofTomes

    Yes! It's here! I'm ready haha.
    Oooh Silence of the Girls. And don't even worry about the pronunciations – it varies haha. The most common pronunciation is Bry-see-us. You're doing just fine I promise. But I've also heard Bree-see-us too.
    It kind of sounds like it was trying to be the Song of Achilles from a female perspective.
    You said Pat's name perfectly – the most common way.
    I'm so glad you loved the theater aspect of Other Worlds from Home because I know that's something that can be irritating sometimes.
    The Clergyman's Wife sounds so lovely and I'm so glad you ended up loving it.
    And there's Technically You Started It! Yikes.
    The cover of A Shadow Bright and Burning looks gorgeous and it sounds intriguing too.
    I don't watch reality TV either haha. But that book sounds like a very interesting take on it.
    I love epistolary novels, but they can be very difficult to do.
    Lily of the Nile rant let's go! I know how much you hated that book haha. Oh wow they censored the audio? That's so weird. Yikes that book doesn't sound like a good time at all. Why can't there be good Egyptian fantasy? What do I have to do? Oooh yikes! That's not good at all…I don't think I would want to support that either.
    Ah yes the Afterlife of Holly Chase! I've heard pretty good things about that book.
    I'm going to definitely get a sample of the Guinevere Deception. I'll be interested to see what I think.
    I've had a complicated relationship with the Secret Garden, my views change every reread. But I also tend to always get stuck on chapter 10 – Martha. But I do love the story overall. It's got a lot of great and important things in it.
    YES THE ENCHANTED SONATA! It's so good. Nikolai is so pure but we love Zizi and Alexei the most let's be honest haha. Yes the crush aspect was well done. It definitely represents some of the things I've gone through myself.
    I'm weirdly picky with mysteries. I've come to realize that sort of recently. I love mysteries but they have to be done a certain way or I get bored.
    I hope 2020 is going well for you so far <3.

  • bookramble

    Lifestyles of gods of monsters sounds soooo interesting!! Adding to my TBR!!
    Soo many reads in Dec! I failed and literally only read ff last month tbh

  • yogi with a book

    Welp. There goes silence of the girls off my tbr. I’ve had it for over a year anyway and have been wondering when I’d get the desire to read it. Hearing your complaints make me think I’m probably not going to like it either so thank you.

  • Annalisa Ely

    That's so disappointing about The Silence of the Girls! I haven't read it and I thought from the concept it would be a lot better than that!

  • Hannah's Books

    I am sorry to hear that Silence of the Girls was disappointing. At some point I will pick it up at some point, I think. The Secret Garden has been a favorite of mine for a long time—but I agree that it is definitely dated about a lot of issues of inclusion. I am debating teaching it soon…

  • Tarrell Bellinger

    Glad you enjoyed Tuesdays at the Castle. It was really cute. Loved Celie's character and her faith in the Castle. The Castle was such a magnificent thing. It was lovely to see Celie and her siblings protect the Castle just like it protected them. The plot was intriguing enough and I wasn't ever bored. Hope you continue on with the rest of the series. Happy New Year! I have a super fun question for you. Which popular sub-genre do you prefer better?: Historical/Regency romance or romantic suspense?

  • Always Doing

    Yea for castles that fight back! Hehe. Hard agree that The Silence of the Girls wasn't the reframing we were promised. There's a couple of lines that succeed, I think, but add them all together you get a page, and a page a book does not make.

    I love that the little library book puts gives the names of the people mentioned! Otherwise there's the risk of the stories sounding like "endorsements" in an infomercial – Patty P. said, "Best thing ever!" Hehehe. I first heard about Ida B. Wells only a few years ago, and wish she were taught to me in school! So amazing.
    What is that with the audio being different from the book?! I've never run across that, eep. And I love that you've found a perfect reread for the end of the year, it's so fitting. 💕

  • Olivia's Catastrophe

    I haven't read any semi-sentient houses stories but maybe I am missing out 😛 I do want to read the silence of the girls but when I go in I won't be expecting it to focus on the women. I'll just go in expecting it to be another Achilles story because it really doesn't focus on that :/ The Jasmine Warga novel in verse sounds pretty amazing and I think I am going to like it too. I read SO many picture books because I work with children but I never know whether or not to include them in my reading wrap ups?? So I never do. But maybe I need to from your review of the libraries one and it sounds so lovely! I read A Shadow Bright and Burning for review when it came out and I really really enjoyed it. I found it to be a lot of fun. I never got round to the sequels though and I seriously need to D: A shame about Lily of the Nile because I was curious about reading more on Cleopatra's daughter but I am going to have to give it a pass 🙁 Oh and no no no to that author behaviour! I need all american muslim girl in my life. And definitely agree with what you said about you can't know someone's belief just by knowing what religion they practice because there are so many more nuances to belief than that! I am so happy you enjoyed the afterlife of holly chase as I have that one on my kindle and I have been seeing some negative reviews all of a sudden? So I am glad there were some elements of it you liked. I am unsure about me and the Guinevere Deception but I am glad you were happily surprised by it ^.^ Yay for enjoying some rereads at the end of the year! I do want to read Kemmerer's contemporaries but I will start somewhere else than Call it what you want. Amazing wrap up!

  • Caught Between Pages

    The Silence of the Girls sounds… awful. Not that you can't make commentary on the misogyny of the era, but unless you subvert it, or analyze it, whats the point? You might as well just read the story it's based on, no? But as far as re-imaginings of old stories/retellings from other POV's, The Clergyman's Wife sounds LOVELY! Quiet stories don't get enough credit, and P&P retellings really do have to be quiet to be "good" in my opinion. Adding that one to my TBR for sure.
    I've heard so many good things about The Keepers of the Lost Cities stories; I've been meaning to read more MG in 2020 since I almost always end up loving them.
    Ahhhhhh I'm so glad you're a fan of The Guinivere Deception! I've got a copy waiting for me on my shelf and you've effectively bumped it up on my TBR list <3

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