Book review – If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

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If We Were Villains

4/5

CW: murder, drug use, alcohol use, overdose, and cheating


For most of the book, I hovered around 3-3.5 stars. I really swore that it was going to be another The Secret History for me. Maybe not as pretentious, but still a group of people reeling from a murder that I didn’t care about.

However, Rio changed that. I actually liked the characters in this, even if I still got annoyed with them at times. The plot is pretty basic, as it was with The Secret History: Group of arty friends are doing a Shakespeare play. They all have their typecast roles. One starts going a little mad. Someone murders him. Except, who did it?

And then we have to pick up the pieces as they reform their group and have to go without this certain one.

I never got all of the names down of the characters. Even though I was very close to the end of the book, I still had to look up to make sure I was right. There’s Richard (the tyrant), Alexander (the villain), James (the hero), Meredith (the temptress), Wren (whatever the hell stereotype she was supposed to be), Filippa (gets small parts), and Oliver (the MC and the other one who gets small parts). Even while I was typing that up, I had to Google it and pull up the wiki for this book because I knew I was going to forget people. And I did! I got to four characters and blanked.

So, the characters, while they had depth, were just too many for me to juggle around. I kept mixing them up and it felt like too large a cast of characters for the story.

And, the story. All of the characters are fourth-year students who only do Shakespeare as actors. They’re doing Julius Caesar as their fall/winter play. And then things go terribly wrong for them. One night, someone in the group kills another.

The book starts off with Oliver being released from jail for a crime that’s not specified. He’s finally talking to the detective who worked on the murder to tell him what really happened that night and the rest of the story.

Personally, I thought it was a bit dull, but I was still pulled to read it. I loved the way it was told. Parts of it was like it was a play, like just having a list of the characters saying their lines rather than making it prose the whole time. It worked for the story, along with constantly quoting Shakespeare. Sure, it was a bit pretentious, but I love Shakespeare.

The murder took forever and it took years to get through it, but I found the ending good and poignant. I also enjoyed who the murderer was. So, in the end, it was a wash for me. I thought it was very good, but I don’t know if I loved it. I think that this is going to be one of those books I’ll appreciate more on a reread.


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Book review – Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)

4/5

CW: death of loved ones, mass killings, and grief


I’ve finally jumped on the bandwagon for this book after waiting many years to start reading it. That’s mainly because I wanted the whole series out, but also because I’m really good at procrastinating at popular books.

As I said, I really enjoyed it. I loved the world that it was about. Some futuristic world where all diseases have been cured and you can reset your clock so you’re younger when you hit a certain point. So, basically, you don’t have to die. Everyone can live forever. And that’s where the scythes come in. They kill people — or glean the population — to make sure that the world doesn’t become overpopulated. If your family member is killed, you’re granted immunity from gleaning for a year.

The story follows Citra and Rowan. Both are teenagers who, in their own way, become scythes in training. Neither of them exactly want to be scythes, but they’re taken on as apprentices to the same person. Until something happens and they’re taken in by two very, very different people.

Now, I enjoyed the characters. They were so interesting and I loved watching their development over the course of the book. Both went on such different paths and developed so differently. I also appreciated that there was no romance in this! Or, not really any romance. That was so refreshing because I would have died if there was romance in this damn thing.

That being said, I had some issues. I did space out while reading a bit because it slowed down so much. Spaced out to the point that I missed a major plot point that changed the trajectory of the whole book. I went with the change and filled in the blanks as I went. It wasn’t detrimental to my reading experience that I missed it, but still kinda annoying that something important was hidden in the drudge.

I also never got super attached to the characters. I liked them, but I wasn’t going to die if anything horrible happened to them. I can’t wait until the next book to see what happens/how I’ll get attached.

Lastly, the ending. I enjoyed it and I like the intrigue that the book brought up — what is the Thunderhead? what will happen with the scythes and the changes that are going on there? — but, honestly, this could have been a stand-alone book. It was a very good book and I wasn’t annoyed by it being a series like with Spin the Dawn, but I’m not sure if it needed a three book series.

Still, we’ll see what I think of the sequel soon enough!


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Book review – Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser

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Mary Queen of Scots

4/5


I did a buddy read with the ever lovely Jaynie, who I read Elizabeth I with earlier this year!

And, this was really good. At times, it was pretty dull because it felt bogged down by details I didn’t need to know — names, family history, etc. — but most of the time it was interesting. I think it picked up speed after her second marriage to Darnley because that was when everything kind of went downhill for her.

One thing that came up when Jaynie and I discussed the book was Mary’s childhood and how, in a way, it was a disadvantage to her. She had a relatively stable childhood in France, removed from the people she would eventually govern. Scheming wasn’t her forte, although she did it throughout her life. She led with her heart and was an action person rather than hanging back to see how things played out. She didn’t exactly keep herself out of plotting or find a way to be able to deny it.

Very different than Elizabeth, her rival. Elizabeth had a very unstable childhood. She knew the players at the court in and out. She always found a way to keep her hands off of scheming so she didn’t get in trouble for it. And when she did get caught, she was able to get out of it eventually.

It’s hard not to compare the two women. Queens around the same time, same dynasty and family ties, both very ambitious. Yet, they were very different people and Mary’s upbringing was a deficit to her. She was a foreign queen in the end. Very different than the people she was meant to govern. She was basically French and she had a different religion than most of the people and she seemed to think more of her own passions than of what something would do to the people.

Their lasting image is also very different. Elizabeth is seen as very apt and smart while, in most of what I’ve read, Mary comes off looking like an idiot. I’ve read a fiction book about her and she really was an idiot. Yet, the movie that came out last year, which has the same name as this book (different source material, though — they used John Guy’s book, which I also plan on reading) made her look like a genius.

Fraser definitely came down in the middle of both those extremes. I loved how balanced the biography was. She showed Mary’s flaws and strengths, most of which go hand in hand. Fraser definitely knew her stuff about Mary. She cared about her subject but was as unbiased as she could be on the topic. In short, I really enjoyed this biography. It was good and an enjoyable read.


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Book review – The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

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The Escape Room

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

4/5

CW: sexual assault, toxic work environments, and corporate greed


This book was crazy! I mean, I was on the edge of my seat trying to find out what happened right away, then it kept developing.

Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie got an email from HR about a dumb teambuilding exercise that they had to do. Escape from a locked elevator and that’s it. They think that even if they fail, they’ll get let out in an hour and that’ll be that. Except that the clues to let them out are oddly specific. And about Sara Hall, a dead girl.

Sara Hall studied business and thought she would be set for life. Her father is ill all the time and her mother struggles with bills. Sara figured that she would get a business job and, well, help them out. Along with get herself out of debt and pay off her student loans.

Yet, she’s not getting hired. And the longer she goes without being hired, the less marketable she’ll be and the less likely she’ll actually get hired. After a failed interview, she meets a man in an elevator who says he’ll get her a job. And he does. Then things go wrong.

What stands out most about this book is the combination of a toxic work environment and corporate greed. It was so painful to read it. It killed me reading it because it’s totally not what I want in a job, even if I would make hella money. Drugs, makeup, injections, sex, exercise. It’s insanity and anyone who goes into it is someone I’d like to steer clear of. It deludes people with privilege.

The book was very twisty and I didn’t see things coming, although it became more apparent as the time went on. And when it came to the final bit, I knew what to expect and it was just… chilling. All of it was so coldblooded. I loved the journey to get to the actual reveals and the real story. Everything else was just setting the stage, even though I was constantly interested by the chapters switching from Sara’s perspective in the past to the people in the elevator.

Definitely a thriller author that I’ll come back to again!


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Book review – Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

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Radio Silence

4.5/5

CW: parental abuse, animal abuse, suicidal ideation, depression, and cyberbullying


I’ll be straight up honest with y’all. (And, you’re thinking: Caidyn, when aren’t you??) But, I didn’t expect to like this book. I really didn’t. Yes, it’s queer. Yes, it’s got ace rep. Yes, it’s not very romantic.

But, here’s the thing, I don’t really read contemporary YA. Contemporary anything, really.

Yet, everyone kept telling me how amazing it was and that it’s just so great and blah blah blah. I finally decided to pick it up and give it a try since, you know, it’s Pride.

I really, really liked this book.

There’s only one con that I can think of and that’s that it really slowed down in the latter half of the book. I wasn’t a fan of how far it slowed down and that it got really depressing. Two characters dealing with depression and one having obvious suicidal thoughts. But, that’s it.

First, I loved the rep. The MC of this is Frances. She’s an Ethiopian-British bi girl struggling with school and what she wants to do.

Then, there’s Aled who’s definitely demisexual — demisexuality, for those who might not know, is a part of the asexual spectrum and is when someone only feels sexual attraction when they have a close bond with someone they’re romantically inclinded to — and questioning. I know some people say he’s demi and gay (as in, homoromantic, or only feeling romantically towards men), but it was never stated that he’s only into guys.

There are also wonderful side characters. Daniel, who’s a gay Korean immigrant. Carys, Aled’s sister and who’s lesbian. Raine, a friend of Frances and is an pan Indian woman.

Basically, the diversity was amazing. I loved how it was written and, honestly, the ace rep was perfect. It felt so accurate and I loved that romance just wasn’t the main point. I need more books like that, where romance isn’t a part of the story. It was in the background, but it wasn’t a huge thing.

And, I gotta love a questioning ace. I’ve been there and I felt the pain that Aled was going through as well. Just trying to figure out who the hell he is.

The plot is pretty basic. Frances loves this YouTube channel, Universe City, that’s basically like Welcome to the Night Vale. It’s her nerdy thing. But, Frances is, in a way, two people. She’s the person she is at school then she’s the person she is at home. And the split is slowly killing her. She became friends with Carys, but Carys ran away and only Frances knows why and blames herself for it.

Frances becomes friends with Aled, discovering his secrets, the good and the bad. I have to say, Aled was such a hard character to read. Mainly because I have his kind of coping skills. Something’s bothering me emotionally? Don’t talk about it. I have no problem telling someone when I don’t like what they’re physically doing, but I’m not good at confrontation on an emotional level. If that makes any sense. I usually wait until I can’t take it anymore and explode at the person. Which is, in a way, how Aled handles things.

This book was just so good on so many levels. I wish I could say more about the plot, but I’m worried that I’ll get into spoiler territory and ruin some of the reveals and different things. What I can say is that this book was excellent. It was such an enjoyable read and that I’ll definitely be reading Oseman more from now on.


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Book review – Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

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Miracle Creek

4/5

CW: child abuse, sexual assault, Asian fetishization, disfigurement, infertility, and death


What a book.

Throughout the whole thing, I kept reflecting on how this felt like Jodie Picoult back before she got stale. It was a tightly woven courtroom thriller that kept me guessing until the end. Hell, even when it was revealed what happened, I was shocked and still don’t quite believe it.

The Yoo family (Pak, Young, and Mary) moved to America from Korea and decided to start up a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in a small, rather insular town. They treat a number of people with various “problems”. I use quotes because some of them aren’t problems and there’s definitely an underlying discussion of the medical vs. social construction views on disability that I really enjoyed.

One night, during a “dive,” something goes wrong. With people inside of the pressurized chambers, a fire breaks out. It kills some of the people in it and leaves others disfigured. In the end, the police find evidence that Elizabeth — Henry’s mother, a child who died in the fire — set it to kill her son because she’s been abusing him.

But is that really what happened that night?

I really loved that this book dealt with a lot of topics. Child abuse and what makes things child abuse. Do you have to leave a large, physical mark to call it abuse?

What about the medical model of disability? Are we wrong when we say that someone is disabled? I’ve read a lot about this — most notably Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure by Eli Clare — and I definitely lean more towards the social construction view of disability. But, I loved seeing how characters grappled with this issue.

Then, we have sexual assault and whether it was really a sexual assault. I know I struggled with it when I was labeling my content warnings. I kept switching it up, changing it from sexual assault to dubious consent then back to sexual assault; or wanting to add a caveat to it. In the end, I labeled it as sexual assault because that’s what it was, although it’ll be interesting to see what other people think.

Plus, throughout the novel, it grappled with the Korean culture and how different it is from the American one, the immigrant experience in different generations, the fetishization of Asian people.

I think the thing that I had the hardest time with was that there was so much going on in the book. It had so many hard topics buried in it that came up throughout the book, then there were so many characters that I could never keep them straight, then actually trying to figure out what really happened that night.

It was a lot. And I think that the author did well with juggling it all, but it was way too much for me. A lot of it could have been cut out without changing things. I loved the commentary on these things, but there was too much going on for it to be fully explored.

What my review comes down to, really, is that I’ll definitely be reading whatever Kim publishes next. She impressed me so much with this debut!


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Book review – Contagion by Erin Bowman

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Contagion (Contagion, #1)

4/5

CW: parental death, neglect, abandonment, and graphic descriptions of disease


I’ve been waffling over how to rate this one. It’s somewhere between 3.5 and 4, so I decided to bump it up that little bit.

This book is about a crew of people sent on a distress mission to save another ship that has encountered a problem. Thea is the main character, really. She’s Korean-Turkish and was largely abandoned. She managed to swing an internship with Dr. Tarlow, a famous scientist who was the lone survivor of a mysterious thing. (Yes, thing.)

Then, there’s a whole slew of other characters. Honestly, at times, it was hard for me to differentiate them. That was a major con for me. I like being able to pick apart my characters. None of them exactly felt well-developed. They all had backstories, but I wasn’t wowed by them. I honestly can’t remember all of their names because some were more important than others while others surfaced when needed.

But, the thing is, this book was pretty well-crafted. While the characters didn’t wow me, the plot did. I’ve been listening to This Podcast Will Kill You at work, so it hit that need for a viral infection with a disease that no one knows about or understands. It blended horror and sci-fi pretty well and I kept having to remind myself that, technically, this is a YA book.

I also appreciated that this had no romance in it. Coming from someone who thinks that most romance plots in stories ruin the story, I was so happy that there was no romance developed. There was a slight side thing between two characters — and it was sapphic! just not a huge part of the story whatsoever and it felt like it could have been edited away without changing anything — but that was about it. The story was focused around the contagion and the people trying to figure out what the fuck to do.

The whole time, I kept calling The Illuminae Files back to mind. And, I have to say, this was a lot better. It felt unique while that series kept recycling the same plots and characters. It honestly had me tense and hooked while with that series I could skip ~100 pages without missing anything.

In short, I really enjoyed this despite having things I wasn’t a fan of. I’d say that if you enjoyed The Illuminae Files, pick this up and give it a try! You might really love it!


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