Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

The title of the post is in black letters with the book cover on the right side of the image. The background features smooth orange rock formations.
Cover of Children of Virtue and Vengeance. It features a black woman with a white afro, held back from her face by a red and blue head band adorned with conch shells and beads. She has gold scars on her face.

This book is the second installment in the Legacy of Orïsha series, which I’d been meaning to read for a while since it came out a few years ago. This series takes place in the land of Orïsha, a land that is based on African mythology. In this world, there are people who are born with magical gifts related to the diverse gods of Orïsha, which rule different aspects of life and death, the four elements, healing, animals, spirituality, etc. This magic has brought a lot of conflict between the people of Orïsha since the King killed all the maji as a way to control the kingdom. Now, in order to continue with this review I must spoil the first book so I’ll put a divider next, proceed with caution!

Map of Orïsha

Alright! Spoilers start now. Book one, Children of Blood and Bone, ends with Zélie bringing magic back to Orïsha except the magic is not brought back only for the maji, it also comes back to the nobles. The mythology of the series gets complex since now there are maji who have the inherited ability passed down from each clan elder, generation after generation and then there are the tîtán, or nobles, who just acquired magic from one of the gods but their magic is raw, uncontrolled, and overall seemingly more powerful. The way that the magic has evolved in the second book is what was most interesting to me. We get to see how Zélie is able to develop how the maji are able to use their magic in order to try to bring down the monarchy that has been oppressing the maji for so long.

Now, Zélie is not alone in this story of course, let’s take a quick look at the other characters:

  • Inan: The son of the king and heir to the throne. In the first book he learns that he is a Connector, with the magic to connect to people via their dreams. (The other parts about the connector magic was a bit fuzzy for me I have to admit) Inan and Zélie develop a relationship throughout the first book that is quite tense since they are fighting for opposite sides. Inan for me was frustrating, I had big hopes for him but he always came short of meeting those expectations.
  • Amari: Inan’s sister who actually started the events of the first book when she stole a scroll that was the first item that would bring magic back to anyone who touched it. In the first book Amari helps Zélie bring the magic back and, when everyone believes that she is the next in line for the throne, she does all she can to get back to the throne, no matter the consequences. Amari and Zélie seem to have something of a romantic relationship as well but it never goes further than intense friends, which was so disappointing! (To me this was a better match than Inan….that is until we get to the next character…)
  • Roën: Possibly one of the most interesting characters in the series and one I wish was featured more! He is a mercenary who takes no sides except for those who are able to pay him and his band of rogues. He is a tough guy who has fallen in love with Zélie and my absolute favorite scene in this series so far is between the two of them. He does not have magic but he does not need it, he has a heart of gold.

As you can tell, there are complex relationships, politics, war, magic, and characters who are willing to do just about everything to win. There are definitely some high risk moves and at times I was confused about the characters’ core beliefs since they seemed to go back and forth a lot at times. Of course, they are under immense stress but as the reader it was a bit confusing.

I do want to read the next (and final?) installment, which is still in the works, so hopefully it will come out soon. The ending of this second book left me a bit concerned about where the series is going but I’m hopeful that Adeyemi will wrap up the series and give me more of Roën, please! If you haven’t checked out this series yet, I didn’t completely spoil everything in this review so do check it out if you are interested.

~Paulina~ signature in casual purple cursive with purple background

Review: A Perfect Marriage by Jeneva Rose

White background with the title of the blog post on the left and an image of the audiobook on the right. The audiobook cover features two wedding rings with some blood splattered over a light beige background.

Yes, I strayed from the plans! I wanted to give audiobooks a try again (I’m not normally successful) and this one was a group read for Team 1 of the Enneagramathon, a readathon based on enneagrams going on on YouTube. I didn’t plan to join in the readathon but when I saw that the book I’m currently reading, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, fit the prompts I decided to go for it. (You’ll hear more about how it goes with this readathon as I write the reviews for the next two weeks.)

So, Team 1 is reading A Perfect Marriage and I saw people saying that they had listened to the audiobook and it was good… and so I got it! It was also free with the free Audible trial so I’m glad for that because, while it was interesting and fun at parts, I was not a huge fan.

You know those movies on Hallmark or Lifetime murder mysteries? Yeah, this was kind of like that. And just like with those (the bits and pieces I’ve seen) this was amusing and entertaining but hard for me to completely take seriously.

The premise is simple, Adam has been accused of murdering his mistress. He just so happens to be married to one of the best defense attorneys around and so now Sara, his wife, is the only one who can save him from the death penalty by defending him. Of course, all of this is complicated by a mother-in-law, a sheriff who is trying to help but nor actually helping? (confusing…), and alcohol, lots of alcohol.

It is definitely a book that’s fun to try to figure out who did it. The book is told from the points of view of Sara and Adam so the reader/listener can hopefully get more information and clues that way. It all added to the lack of communication between Sara and Adam which was at times very frustrating.

I can appreciate that the author was able to construct this story the way she did, putting some clear clues right in front of the reader but the reader not seeing them because they don’t have the context. I did not like how egotistical a lot of the characters seemed, it was just a bit too much at times.

Overall I’d recommend it for anyone who likes murder mysteries with big twists and very damaged characters.

Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The background has grass with droplets of water, it is a dark grey or green color. The left side says "Review: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson" in white letters. The right has an image of the book with a double white border.
An image of the book, titled Just Mercy in black letters. It says "A Story of Justice and Redemption". The author's name is underneath "Bryan Stevenson" A blurb is at the bottom and it says "Every bit as moving as 'To Kill a Mockingbird', and in some ways more so...a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields" by The New York Review of Books. The background image is that of grass with a misty or foggy day and branches coming down. The image is sideways so the grass is on the side of the spine of the book.

Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy” is a journey through some of the most heartbreaking stories of adults and children who have been sent to prison for life or sentenced to death. What is so unfair is that there were innocent people who did not have a proper legal defense or people who had a punishment that was not proper for the crime they committed. This book had me on the edge of my seat while also grabbing tissues because it really was upsetting.

These stories are not easy to read, in fact, this is one of the hardest books I’ve ever read. There are stories in this book that truly broke my heart. Adults and children sent to prison because it was easier for the officers and judges to do that than try to look for the real culprit, or sometimes simply because the laws set mandatory sentences that the judges couldn’t ignore. I would warn that there is a lot of violence described in this book, stories about difficult childhoods, mental abuse, physical abuse, isolation, and stress. I could feel Stevenson’s stress and anxiety through the page as he goes through all the hoops to get appeals, re-trials, as well as everything crumbles and he is faced the execution of the people he’s trying to help.

I highly recommend that you read this book or even watch the film if you have any interest in this subject at all. The film, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, is filled with great acting but also a lot of heart. Jordan and Foxx take some liberties with their characters but I felt that it was a good story overall, even if it became a bit more Hollywood than documentary. While the movie is not a 100% faithful reproduction of the book, it still translates the main message of the book and does introduce a lot of the issues with the legal system at the time. While some of those issues have gotten better, it’s not yet all great.

I’d also recommend that you check out the Equal Justice Initiative website where you’ll find a lot of information on the current state of the legal system with regards to capital punishment and different ways that you can get involved.

Review: Fierce FairyTales by Nikita Gill

Fierce FairyTales by Nikita Gill

One of the highlights of the month (for the past three months) has been getting the Feminist Book Club Subscription Box! For the month of July there was a theme of poetry and Fierce FairyTales was the book chosen for the box. This book is by Nikita Gill, a writer and poet who has become pretty popular online with her thought-inducing posts about fairy tales, mythology, and how it all relates to what it means to be human.

I thoroughly enjoyed her work in Fierce FairyTales! I don’t normally read poetry so it was a breath of fresh air to slow down a bit and experience these poems that encapsulated an idea about a particular fairy tale. Each one took one character or idea from a fairy tale and flipped it in order to show how messed up each story truly is.

Take Rapunzel, she’s trapped by her mother in a tower in a completely toxic relationship and she has to wait for a prince to come and save her. To top it all, the only way he can get to her is to climb on her hair. Gill tells a story where perhaps, Rapunzel cuts her own hair and uses it to get down!

Growing up I saw these fairy tales as ideals, the princess waits in her castle/tower/cell for a prince to come and save her and then they marry and they are happily ever after. The princess doesn’t really need to think or accomplish anything except wait and go with the prince who comes save her. Of course that’s not true, but it definitely left me with some subconscious feelings about feeling shame about being an independent and strong woman.

Another cool thing about this book is that Gill illustrates it too. She has beautiful drawings with some of the poems that really helped me add that other dimension to the poem. Some of the poems were very uplifting and inspiring while others are heartbreaking and just touched those tender bits in my heart. One such poem was The Giant’s Daughter, which I will share here so you can have a sample of what to expect if you choose to read this wonderful book:

The Giant’s Daughter

Teaching yourself to take up space
is like trying to love someone
who is violently resisting your love.

It is walking into a room
and trying not to make yourself scarce.
It is to be mindful of your own shrinking.

It is to become comfortable with
being uncomfortably aware that you,
like Houdini, have mastered the art
of escaping whilst being watched.

It is learning how not to do it
even when every bone in your body
has been taught to go into hiding.

Fierce FairyTales by Nikita Gill, pg. 119

Do you enjoy poetry? Even if you don’t read it much, like me, if you like fairy tales and re-tellings, definitely check this out!

Review: The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn

The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn

Okay these books are like candy! The second installment in the Bridgerton series dives into Anthony’s journey as he decides that he will marry in the season of 1814. As with the first installment, this man has particular conditions when he finally decides he will get married. In the first one Simon did not want to have children and in this one Anthony does not want to fall in love. I am becoming more convinced that these books are not, at their core, about the women or the romance, they are about the men, their fears, how they attempt to overcome their illogical “rules” for marriage, and in the end grow up (do they? kinda!)

Anthony has a fear of death and has this idea that if he is going to die AND he is in love with his wife, he will suffer every day until he dies. And so, he looks for a wife who is pretty and with whom he can have conversations, and that’s it. He comes to the conclusion that he will marry Edwina Sheffield, a beautiful woman on her first season, who doesn’t have a lot of money and has the pressure of marrying well in order to provide for her mother and older sister. Her older sister is Katharine Sheffield, she’s not as pretty but she is very independent and always puts a strong front even though she is very self-conscious of her position and looks. Edwina loves her older sister so much that she tells the ton that she will only marry someone who Katharine approves of, which means that now Katharine is showered with attention from all of Edwina’s suitors.

Enter Anthony who is certain that Edwina will be his wife and, well, because of his position and his looks he sees zero chances of this not happening. However, he will have to win Katharine’s approval if he wishes to marry Edwina. Their interactions are funny, but also made me cringe at times. (Gosh Anthony, can you be more entitled?) It seemed like this plot was more driven by fate than the character’s decisions. I suppose that because it is set in regency times that is just the social contract that they are bound to. However, I did enjoy that Edwina wanted to marry a scholar, someone who loves books and learning and that that was something that was appreciated by her family.

All in all, a book to escape and forget about ALL.THE.THINGS. I did want more about the rest of the Bridgerton family, especially Eloise so I hope there’s more about them in the following books.

Have you read these books? What do you think these books are truly about?

Review: Reinas Malditas by Cristina Morató

Reinas Malditas by Cristina Morató

I read this book along with my friends from Mexico (and technically Canada since two of them are there) over the past three months. This book is about multiple women who were big historical figures from various European monarchies: Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Mary Antoinette, Christina of Sweden, Eugénie de Montijo, Queen Victoria of England, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

I really wish that this book had been better… Morató wrote in a way that reminded me of gossip columns that was mostly drama and very little substance. In the first chapter she talks about Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) from Austria and she describes how her learning about life in court was like learning:

…gossip of the high aristocracy…

Sissi pg.37

Honestly, that’s exactly what this book was, pretty much gossip. Although I did learn about each of the royal women in the book I didn’t always trust the author (possibly because of her writing style) so I always ended up going to Wikipedia to learn more about them. (That’s not a good sign!) It was also very confusing because we kept jumping around in the timeline so you’d be reading about when they had kids and then go back to before they were pregnant or someone close to them died but the next paragraph we’d get a whole two paragraphs about them before they died. Just very hard to follow.

Overall I did not enjoy this book and I couldn’t recommend it on good conscience. I’d be interested in reading a non-fiction book about the life of any of these women, but I’d hope for something with a more linear and serious writing style. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I was a bit hesitant to read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini, if only because I knew it would break my heart like “The Kite Runner” did. And I was so right.

Hosseini just knows how to tell a story in a beautiful way, and in this multi-generational novel, filled with friendship, chosen families, all set in Afghanistan during a very turbulent and violent time, he does just that. This book starts out with the story of Mariam, a girl who is born out of wedlock who is hidden away with her mother out of view of society in Herat, Afghanistan.

The book is set in Herat and Kabul, Afghanistan.

We follow Mariam as she grows up with her mother and then as she marries a shoemaker and moves to Kabul. In Kabul we follow Laila, a young girl whose family is very close knit and who emphasize the importance of education for her future. Mariam and Laila are of two different generations but still experience the same events in very similar ways. As women, they have a limited say on what they want to do with their lives and I definitely felt the helplessness as they try to fight but ultimately accept their destiny. Eventually, their lives become interconnected and their relationship becomes an anchor for the both of them in the midst of the violence all around them.

I love stories that encompass a person’s whole life and I especially love those that are multi-generational. There’s the added bonus that these are women’s stories from a part of the world that’s very much outside of my general perspective. There’s also a wonderful diversity within Afghanistan of languages, cultures, and general ways of life. It really opened my eyes to that diversity and the contrast between the two areas in Afghanistan that are featured.

Mariam and Laila are wonderful characters who grow, learn, and really change throughout the book. They are not alone though! Their parents, partners, friends, and children all also have interesting arcs throughout the book. They are forced to react and adapt to the events that are happening around them that are completely out of their control. While Mariam and Laila are both wonderful characters, one of my other favorites was Laila’s dad, Hakim. Hakim is a teacher, lover of books, a romantic, and truly dear to my heart. At one point when they have to leave their house and sell everything, he is faced with the prospect of choosing which books he must leave behind. Him pacing his library making those decisions was a scene that I cherished a lot.

Overall, this is a brilliant book that I will be thinking about for a long time and which I’m very glad was chosen for our book club this month. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes multi-generational stories filled with complex and wonderful characters. I would warn, however, that there is a lot of violence in this book, including physical and mental abuse. If you are interested do check it out, it’s a great book, beautifully written, and full of powerful perspectives.

Review: Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

The first book I finished in July was Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan. This is the third and final installment in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, which I started way back in 2018 right before the movie came out. (Still waiting for that second movie…..) I read the second book in 2019 (I think, I actually didn’t record it on Goodreads but I definitely read it, I swear XD). In the first book we mostly follow Rachel and Nick, a couple who go to Nick’s friend’s wedding in Singapore, where Rachel finds out that Nick belongs to a super rich family. There’s romance, there’s drama, there’s a lot of expensive jewelry, dresses, food, oh the food…. ::drool:: The second book delves deeper into Nick’s family and we learn even more about Astrid and Kitty Pong, Kitty’s story was probably my favorite part in this book, where she tries to go from an actress who is not taken seriously to a more refined version of herself. In the second book Nick and Rachel end up in a life or death situation and it’s probably the most action-driven book of the three.

The third installment has much less about Rachel but Nick is still a big player in the book. Nick’s grandmother, Su Yi, is on her deathbed and the family is coming together to say goodbye but also… figure out what they will be getting in the will. Eddie, one of Nick’s cousins is so so so annoying and as melodramatic as usual. Kitty is back with even more ambition to have more power and respect from everyone. There is a particular chapter where Kitty hires Nigel Barker for a photoshoot and, as someone who used to watch America’s Next Top Model, I was laughing so much imagining him in this world, it was a lot of fun. Astrid is also on a journey of her own as she figures out her identity outside of her rich family’s expectations of perfection.

My favorite part of this book was that we got to see to the past and into Su Yi’s story of how she was a war heroine. As the Japanese invaded Singapore, she played a role in helping others stay safe and, even when her father sent her away to India until the war passed, she went back to Singapore and helped in the war effort. It was really cool to see what Su Yi was like in her youth and then how that contributed to how she was from book one and to the end of her life in book three. Also, looking into the real history of the Japanese invasion of Singapore, the real Tyersall park did serve as headquarters for some of the commanders so it was cool to learn some of the history through this book.

While the whole book is still filled with greedy, selfish people, who don’t seem to learn that money isn’t everything (mostly because they have just been taken it for granted), there are also some characters who start to see how there are more things to life than money and power. Of course, you still get a lot of glamour, name/brand dropping, insane parties and purchases that go beyond any “normal” human. Some of the characters are dealing with mental health issues, and that is much more apparent in this third book.

Perhaps the one thing that wasn’t perfect about this book was the time/pacing. Sometimes the book would jump months/days and it was hard to tell. The end was also wrapped up in a couple of sentences for each person, imagine a montage at the end of a movie where you see what happened with each person, not a bad ending at all since it did tie up everything pretty nicely, I just wanted more hahaha.

This is one of the most consistent series I’ve read (rated all three books with 4 stars on Goodreads) since they all kept me laughing, rolling my eyes, and just overall very entertained. As far as escapism goes, this was a great book to read and just forget about everything going on in real life. I definitely stayed up reading it way past my bedtime so if you’re looking for something like that, I do recommend this series.

Review: Supernova by Marissa Meyer

Supernova by Marissa Meyer

Supernova, by Marissa Meyer, is the third and final installment of the Renegades series. Renegades is a series where certain people are either born or develop powers, some go on to become heroes and others villains. This is the familiar setting for pretty much any superhero story right? Well, this series has the added layer of romance between a villain and a hero. The romance itself isn’t the main plot but it is an important part of the story. Meyer also manages to create a world where first the Anarchists (or villains) tried to rule Gatlon City and they pretty much had chaos, people just vying for power left and right with no structure to follow. Then the Renegades took over after defeating the Anarchists and now you have a world with rules about who can be a Renegade (basically part of a superhero crime force) and the rest of society. The Renegades are trying to control everything but aren’t being super successful at keeping everyone happy.

As both sides struggle for power, an Anarchist has infiltrated the Renegades as a new recruit, that’s one of our main characters, Nova. She’s super smart, observant, resourceful, and very determined to gain the inside scoop to help the Anarchists come back into power. She’s accepted into a Renegade patrol unit where the other main character, Adrian, and his teammates are enforcing the rules and keeping Gatlon City safe. Of course, there are secrets between many of these characters, shifting points of view from Nova to Adrian, and a great variety of superheroes with the same variety of superpowers.

I so loved the aspect of friendship and chosen families, Adrian is adopted and his teammates are more than just his friends, they are family. Same for Nova, with her parents and sister dying when she was little, her fellow Anarchists became her family. In many ways Adrian and Nova are two sides of the same coin and throughout the series they learn that their lives have become intertwined in more ways than they can imagine.

If you’re looking for a different kind of superhero story, definitely check out this series! There are definitely some things that I think could be improved in the second installment but this third one is pretty great.

What’s your favorite superhero story? What superpower would you have if you could choose one?

Review: A Year Without A Name by Cyrus Dunham

A book on a white background. The cover of the book has the title at the top "A Year Without a Name". There is the image of a person with squares superimposed on top of the face, which is also shifted so the top of the head doesn't align with the bottom. Each square has a different image or color, black square, blue square, grey square, a square with "An anti-memoir" -- The Atlantic, squares with lips or eyes. It says Cyrus Dunham at the bottom.
A Year Without A Name by Cyrus Dunham

You have the right to say who you are without setting it in stone. You have the right to ask questions, to live with and in doubt, to try things on for size. Your life is your experiment. You can try to catch mist. When you learn that you can’t catch it, you can go outside and feel it on your skin.

Preface, pg.xx

I received this book in my subscription of the Feminist Book Club (FBC) box for June and I’m so so happy that I got to read it! As part of the FBC membership we also get a Q&A with the author, which happened earlier today. It was so great to hear from the author about their process and their experiences since writing the book.

A Year Without A Name is a snapshot of various moments throughout the time when Cyrus Dunham was exploring their gender and their body identity. These snapshots go from his childhood to the present time in the book and it’s very circular. It’s not a book that’s easy to understand right away because it deals with a lot of dissociation form the moment and also emotional trauma. Dunham takes us back to the time in their childhood when they tried to fit into being a girl and the feeling of failing at that because they did not identify as a girl. Then the feeling of having to choose between being a woman or a man in the present, along with everything that comes with that decision.

For me it was very valuable to learn about the experience of struggling with gender identity through Dunham’s point of view. It is amazing how they managed to translate those feelings and thoughts as they were happening and construct a memoir around those moments in time.

In the Q&A Dunham talked a bit about how they like to write into questions and not necessarily answers. That is exactly what A Year Without a Name is, it is an exploration into questions. Questions about gender, about the role of people in a world built around a gender binary, about the relationship of our selves and our bodies. It made me question my own relationships and not necessarily have answers but simply explore those questions for myself. The quotation at the beginning of this post embodies that idea that each individual should be able to explore and experiment however they like, try certain ideas, beliefs, identities, for themselves and see what fits and what doesn’t. We don’t have to have answers or the expectation of an answer when we explore our bodies and identities.

If you are looking for a memoir about gender identity exploration definitely check out A Year Without A Name, it is an incredible opportunity to see someone’s experience in their exploration of self, one that is not often in the spotlight.

Signature in purple on a lighter purple background. it says "~Paulina~" in a casual cursive font.