November Summary

November has been the BEST reading month! Last month I sent a new PB for most pages read in a month, but it didn’t last long because I beat it again this month. I always read a lot of books in November because I get really into the Goodreads Choice Awards and always try and read as many of the nominees as I can (I decided to make this my November monthly challenge). This month I read a whopping 17 books, granted 6 of them were graphic novels and short stories, but it was still a new personal record for most books read in one month. Here’s what I read:

Books read: 17
Pages read: 5,221
Main genres: Graphic Novels, Fantasy, Fiction
Favourite book: So many good books! So hard to choose, but probably Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

So, like I said, a lot of the books I read this month were nominees in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I read a lot of books, so I won’t spend too long on each one. To start things off I read two books by V.E. Schwab, Vicious (⭐⭐⭐⭐) and it’s sequel, Vengeful (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the Sci-fi genre. Vicious was published 5 years ago, but it’s only just geting a sequel, so I decided to read them back to back and really liked them. I don’t think the second book was quite as good as the first, but they’re fast-paced novels that examine morality and the things that drive good people to do bad things.

I also read a few non-fiction books, which is a genre I don’t normally read. I decided to read Phoebe Robinson’s new book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the humour category, and absolutely loved it! I read Phoebe’s debut novel in 2016, which was pretty good, but I think she really upped her game in this book and I would totally recommend the audiobook. I also received a free copy of Abbi Jacobson’s new book, I Might Regret This (⭐⭐⭐), from Hachette, which I was thrilled to read, but ended up not loving quite as much as I’d hoped. Through I’m still a huge fan of Abbi and Broad City. Hatchette also sent me an early copy of Wundersmith (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐), the sequel to Jessica Townsend’s debut novel, Nevermoor. I read Nevermoor a few months ago and was pretty much obsessed with it, so I immediately jumped right into the sequel and was delighted that it was just as wonderful as the first book! It’s a middle grade fantasy series full of whimsy that gives me huge Harry Potter vibes. A solid 5 stars – this series is incredible and I would recommend to everyone!

I read a few very short books, Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini (⭐⭐⭐), which is a short illustrated picture book that he wrote for charity (which I didn’t review), and For Every One by Jason Reynolds (⭐⭐.5), which was nominated in the Poetry category. Both books were nice, but honestly, I thought they were both a little too short to pack that much of a punch.

For graphic novels, I read the latest volume of Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (⭐⭐⭐⭐). I absolutely love this graphic novel series, but the latest volume pretty much killed me, and it appears Vaughan and Staples may be going on a bit of a hiatus over the next little while, so that kills me even more. I also devoured the first 3 volumes of a new graphic novel series called Fence, by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad (⭐⭐⭐⭐). Only the first volume is published at this time, but there are 12 issues available and I liked the first volume so much I actually had to seek out the individual issues instead of waiting for the next two volumes. It’s a series about a high school boys fencing team, which sounds kind of boring, but it actually excellent!

In addition to Phoebe Robinson’s new audiobook, I also listened to Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (⭐⭐), which is the second and final book in Julie C. Dao’s dualogy. I really liked the first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, which I also read as an audiobook, but the second book was a huge disappointment. The narration changed characters and I found this one pretty boring compared to the delightful nastiness that was the first book. The first one was a retelling of the evil queen in snow white, where as this was one a more traditional snow white retelling, although they were both sent it an asian inspired fantasy world, which I liked. Speaking of asian- inspired fantasy worlds, I read R.F. Kuang’s debut novel, The Poppy War (⭐⭐⭐⭐), which was nominated in the fantasy category. It is a heavy book, but wow! Kuang’s story is rich is depth, setting and history. It examines the Sino-Japanese war and the atrocities people commit against one another in war and how we justify them. A heavy hitter, but very well written and plotted.

My book club’s November pick was You by Caroline Kepnes (⭐⭐⭐.5). I’ve been trying to get to this one for a while and with the TV series being released on Netflix in December, it was good timing. You is a mystery/thriller novel told from the point of view of a stalker and boy, is it creepy. I didn’t like it quite as much as I hoped, but it is still very well written and quite different than most other books out there. I finally finished reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith (⭐⭐⭐.5), which I started reading way back in July (shocking I know). I had put it aside around the 300 page mark, but I finally picked it up and read the last 150 pages. I quite liked this book, but it is not very compelling, and for that reason it was hard to pick up, despite liking the story.

Finally, two of my favourite books of the month, along with Wundersmith, were The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) and Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐). The Simple Wild was nominated in the romance genre and I was instantly motivated to read it when I found out it was about Alaska (I have a bit of an obsession with Alaska since reading The Great Alone earlier this year). It had a bit of a slow start and the main character was a little vapid at times, but I ended up loving this book! The main character was 26, which is refreshing since most of the books I read feature teenagers or families. I’m starting to really appreciate family dramas, and this one was a mix of family drama and romance that really worked for me.

Our Homesick Songs was my last read of the month and it was also a family drama, but this time historical, that completely captivated me. It’s about the disappearance of cod in Newfoundland in the early 1990’s and the impact it had on rural communities. It’s a simple story about a family living in a remote fishing town, but it is so beautiful written and evokes a strong feeling of homesickness and loneliness. Newfoundland is where I was born and raised, so it had particular meaning for me and I was incredibly impressed by Emma Hooper’s prose. I devoured this book and it is definitely going to be one of my top picks of the year.

So there you have it, all 17 of the books I read this month. There were some really great books. The fact that I rated three of them 5 stars is very rare since I sometimes go months without rating anything 5 stars. I feel like I’ve finally escaped the book slump that I was in over the summer and I’m feeling very inspired by all the great books I’ve been reading!

I’d love to know, what books did you read and love this month?

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Pub date: Nov. 2018 (read Nov. 2018 on Audible)
Series: Rise of the Empress #2

Well, this was a huge disappointment after the surprisingly good first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. I was not expecting to love the first book because I thought it was a Snow White retelling, and I’m not that into fairytale retellings. But it ended up being a retelling of the evil queen in snow white – her slow descent into evil and how she became to be so obsessed with beauty. I do love a good villain origin story, and this one was an Asian-inspired retelling full of all kinds of nastiness, so I thought it was a great twist of the classic fairytale.

In contrast, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix was the boring Snow White retelling I thought I was getting in the first book. Honestly, you don’t even really need to have read the first book to read this one. The first book is told entirely from Xifeng’s point of view (evil queen), but this book is told from Jade’s point of view (snow white). In this book Xifeng is basically evil incarnate and Jade is the good girl out to save Feng Lu. It made me wonder why Dao spent so much time on Xifeng’s characterization in the first book if she was just going to abandon her in this book. I actually didn’t have a problem with this being a Snow White retelling, it just would have been so much more interesting if it was told from Xifeng’s point of view.

But Xifeng has basically lost her humanity in this book, so instead we get to listen to Jade’s inner monologue for 300 pages. Jade is the daughter of the late Empress Li-Wa (sorry, listened to this on Audiobook and can’t find the spelling), who Xifeng usurped in the last book. Xifeng didn’t want any of Li-Wa’s children around, so she sent Jade off to live in a monastery, thinking she would bear the Emperor new male heirs, and more or less forgot about her. However, Xifeng has been unable to produce an heir and calls Jade to the royal palace.

Up to this point, Jade had no idea that she was the lost princess, the true heir to the throne. So she struggles with suddenly being Royalty, but becomes indignant when she arrives at the palace and discovers how much her people have been suffering under Xifeng. She discovers that Xifeng is a servant of the Serpent God and has been killing women and eating their hearts to remain young, so Jade sets off on a quest to collect the dragon relics so that she can raise the lost dragon army (she is apparently the daughter of the Dragon Lord). She teams up with Ren, a young girl and warrior from the palace, and Koichi (again, not sure of spelling), who is a little person and Shiro’s son.

From there, this becomes a classic kind of fantasy quest novel. Jade, Ren, and Koichi travel around Feng Lu collecting the relics, hiding from the Serpent God and Kong, who is now Xifeng’s hunter. They meet a number of people and ghosts who help them along their journey and learn all kinds of stuff about these individuals, but honestly, I can’t remember half of it now or what the importance was, but I’m sure they would have been somewhat shocking twists had I cared at all about Jade.

That was probably my biggest complaint about this book. I just didn’t care about Jade. Okay, I was pretty into the fact that the main romantic relationship in this book involves a little person, but otherwise I just found Jade such a do-gooder that it was boring. She supposedly doesn’t know she’s a princess, but as soon as she finds out, she’s suddenly like the ultimate philanthropist and all obsessed with ending the suffering of her people. She didn’t care at all about the empire before finding out she was a princess and now she’s all incensed about it and has to like swoop in and save the world. She’s constantly trying to be this good, noble person and it was just sooo boring. Like she tries to save Ren from having to work by making her a fake handmaiden, and Ren is just like, “B*tch, don’t feel bad for me, I could kick your ass and I’m not too proud to work.” And then Jade kept trying to send Ren and Koichi away cause she just couldn’t bear for something bad to happen to them. Like, get over yourself Jade, you would literally be dead 8 times without them and this quest belongs to them just as much as it does you. Just because you’re the princess, you’re no more entitled to take down Xifeng than Ren, whose grandmother was murdered by her.

So yeah, mostly I thought Jade was just like, super boring, and I didn’t care at all about the relics or their quest to find them. Honestly, this whole book felt like it was just a lead up to the real plot. I was interested in Xifeng and the havoc she was wreaking on the empire, and I did want to see a showdown between Xifeng and Jade, but I didn’t care at all about the quest and the relics. It just all felt like filler to me and overall I found the plot disappointing. Plus, like where were the seven dwarves? If you’re going to do a Snow White retelling you should at least commit to the dwarves.

And finally, I really didn’t like the ending. The entire book is narrated by Jade, but then when she goes into her enchanted apple sleep it gets narrated by like 3 other characters in her absence and it just felt really disjointed. Plus, Dao tries to tie the ending back to Xifeng’s story with a few random twists relating to the first book. I think she was trying to make us empathize with Xifeng again, but it just didn’t work at all for me. You can’t have her be this psycho, evil queen for 90% of the book and then try and make us care about her again.

So overall, I was really not impressed with this book. I was so excited to read it and I thought the story had so much potential. I just wish it had been from Xifeng’s point of view. What is Jade like from her perspective? I don’t want to totally discount the book though because it is possible this has some important cultural aspects that I’m just missing as a white person. I also just finished The Poppy War, which is a historical fantasy about China that I’ve heard holds a lot of meaning for Chinese People. This said though, I enjoyed The Poppy War a lot more than this, even though I probably didn’t pick up a lot of the nuances that people more familiar with the culture and history would.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Jul. 2017)

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns seems to have some pretty mixed reviews. Some people seem to love it, while others are not enjoying it at all. To be honest, I thought I would probably be in the latter category since I listened to it as an audiobook (and I find audiobooks pretty hit or miss) and fairytale retellings aren’t really my favourite.

But damn, I did actually really like this, even as an audiobook. I didn’t properly read the synopsis and I went into this thinking it was a snow white retelling, but it’s actually an origin story of the evil queen, set in an East Asian fantasy world! A much more enthralling concept in my opinion!

I admit that I didn’t love this at first – the first few chapters nearly put me and my friend to sleep on a road trip, but it picks up pretty quickly and there is some really engaging nastiness later in the plot and I loved watching Xifeng navigate down an increasingly dubious path.

To give a bit of background, Xifeng has grown up in a tiny village in the empire of Feng Lu. For the first 18 years of her life she has been under the tyranny of her Aunt Guma. Guma reads in the cards that Xifeng’s destiny is to become the Empress of Feng Lu, so she educates her and teaches her the ways of blood magic in order to toughen her up. At the hands of her aunt’s abuse, Xifeng learns that her beauty is her most important asset and that it must be protected at all times.

Guma wants to help Xifeng succeed, but after a disturbing vision, Xifeng decides its time to leave her aunt and her village behind in order to seek her fortune. She escapes the village with her childhood friend and lover, Wei. Wei wants nothing more than to marry and protect Xifeng, but she believes in a different destiny for herself, and though she loves Wei, she keeps him at an arms length as they make their way towards the imperial city.

Like I said, this book has a lot of blood and nastiness in it, but I loved it. Xifeng makes some questionable decisions to protect her beauty and find her way into the imperial palace. But she is super determined and I admired her for continuing to chase after her fortune, even though it meant many sacrifices along the way and a blind faith that her circumstances would improve. The drama within the palace walls was thrilling and I’m really interested to see where Dao takes this in the next book.