Review: Difficult Women

Difficult Women cover4 out of 5 stars. I picked this up on a whim, scrolling through short story collections available on Libby that I might be interested in reading. Earlier in 2018, I listened to Gay’s Not That Bad essay collection on audiobook (that review went up last Friday as part of my catch-up!), and I liked how she put that together. I’ve heard a lot about her, mostly because of her run on the comic World of Wakanda, and have been meaning to read more of her work, so this was my first jump into her fiction.

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Review: Vicious

Cover of Vicious by V.E. Schwab4 out of 5 stars. The most recent in my V.E. Schwab reading obsession, Vicious is a dark comic book-esque story of ordinary people who, through extreme trauma, become ExtraOrdinary. Victor Vale is out for revenge. Eli Ever thinks he’s doing God’s work. And caught up between their single-minded pursuits to stab the hell out of each other are a cast of interesting and complex side characters.

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Review: The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True HermitThe Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1986, a young man named Christopher Knight decided to drop everything in his life, park his car as far into the woods as he could get, and walk away from it all. He would live in the woods for twenty-seven years, interacting with another human only once during his stay, robbing from nearby summer homes for food and supplies. The Stranger in the Woods is Michael Finkel’s account of how Knight lived, his thoughts on returning to society in 2013, and musings on solitude and human interaction. It’s a brief but thoughtful analysis of Knight’s decision and how his repeated burglaries of the cabins near his campsite shaped a community for twenty-seven years.

Written with the clear and concise style you could expect from a journalist, The Strange in the Woods presents facts before conjecture, although Finkel does spend some time throughout musing on why Knight might’ve chosen to leave society. Knight’s decision to be entirely alone for nearly three decades is both baffling and intriguing, a sentiment Finkel captures well in this biography. The way people responded to Knight’s actions is just as fascinating, with responses ranging from horror at his burglaries, to disbelief he really even did it, to yearning for a similar life free of social commitment. I think how you read his experiences and decisions will vary based on your own believes, which is part of what makes this story worth reading – it forces you to think about yourself and your relationship to being alone.

As an introvert, walking into the woods and living alone seems almost idyllic – but to do that for twenty-seven years, never once having a meaningful conversation with another human, is taking that idealism to the extreme in a way I can’t even comprehend. It’s easy to say there was something “wrong” with Knight, and while there were likely larger mental health reasons for his decision, I believe much of that sentiment stems from a general fear of loneliness. Finkel touches on this topic, too; he muses on the fact that people are afraid to be alone, that we are always filling our attention and time with distractions to stave off that loneliness. Between Finkel’s interpretations and Knight’s explicit thoughts, this is as much a biography as a book to make you reflect on your own life choices and coping mechanisms for loneliness. Is choosing to be alone really so strange?

At just under 200 pages, The Stranger in the Woods is brief and concise but thoughtful all the same. I’m going through a lot right now in a lot of different ways, and reading this was almost a little therapeutic.

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Review: The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Epic fantasy at its finest, The Way of Kings has one of the most engaging and well-thought-out fantasy worlds I think I’ve ever read. From page one it’s setting up the universe and its rules, from how magic works to the specialized weapons and armor that the rich or the lucky wield to devastating effect. I am absolutely in love with the level of detail Sanderson pours into this world right from the start.

The characters, likewise, are relatable and complex, each having their own flaws and motivations that make them all engaging. I don’t believe there was a single one I was tired of reading about when the point of view shifted, a problem that plagued other fantasy series I’ve read shift viewpoints so frequently. Part of this has to be attributed to the work of Michael Kramer and Kate Reading as narrators – they are both incredible at what they do. Their character voices are distinct yet clear, their descriptions and emotional investment are such that the reader gets a very good feel of how Kaladin or Shallan feel in that moment. The limited number of viewpoint characters also helps cement those feelings of attachment. I’ve always struggled with epic fantasy novels that jump between some dozen characters, so sticking to the core group helped with this.

On the note of shifting viewpoints, I did love the interlude chapters perhaps just as much as the main plot. These little glimpses into other parts of the world were all fascinating and I hope we get to see these paths cross as the series continues.

At 50%, however, I started to fall off a bit. Each character had been stuck in their situation for what felt like forever, slowly picking away at the conflict they faced. The pay off in each character’s story was worth it, but I did sit this one down for a few months, disinterested in getting through that hurdle in the middle. Things pick back up at about the 75% mark and continue steadily onward to the end from there, with plenty of surprises to keep you on your toes. The Way of Kings isn’t entirely unpredictable, but there’s just enough twists to generate tons of interest in the second book of the series, Words of Radiance. I’ve already got it lined up on Audible and will be getting a physical copy to follow along with as well, though I think I’ll be taking a break from the Stormlight Archives for a bit. I try to avoid reading all the books of a series in a row since I know I’ll burn out on it (looking at you, Game of Thrones).

Overall, The Way of Kings is a really great fantasy series. Sanderson’s world building holds up to its reputation, giving us just enough to intrigue us while still creating a deeply complex world. With clever writing and well-rounded characters, Sanderson does a great job setting up a world and hooking you right into it. Power through the slow middle – or take a break like I did – and it’ll all be worth it in the end.

On to book two!

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Review: The Crown Ain’t Worth Much

The Crown Ain't Worth MuchThe Crown Ain’t Worth Much by Hanif Abdurraqib

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Raw, emotional, and artistically gorgeous, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s poetry collection The Crown Ain’t Worth Much talks of growing up black in Columbus, OH. The pieces in this book are so beautiful, alternating styles to match the tone of the work but always packed full of heart. Reading these poems, the anxiety that Willis-Abdurraqib felt growing up and becoming an adult in a world where everything was uncertain is plainly felt. There’s not much more I have to say other than it’s an amazing collection and Willis-Abdurraqib is an amazing poet.

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Review: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sci-fi at some of its finest. Ancillary Justice is the story of Breq, an AI who once spanned several bodies (including a spaceship), but is now trapped in that of a single human. She’s out for answers and revenge, her journey taking her to a faraway planet, where she stumbles across an old acquaintance, Lieutenant Seivarden. The first in a series, Ancillary Justice focuses primarily on the relationship between these two characters as it changes and develops during Breq’s pursuit for revenge.

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Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set across four alternate versions of London, Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is told from the perspectives of two characters: Kell, a messenger and smuggler, and Lila, a thief and aspiring pirate. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, and the moment they collide in the story is where things really start to pick up regarding the mystery of the darker magic that lurks between these four alternate Londons. This is a story about flawed characters and poor decisions, something that left me gripping the book and shaking my head in frustration that Kell and Lila kept making what felt like such obvious mistakes. More than once I was ready to scream “What are you even DOING” while reading, and this anxiety made it a bit hard for me to pick it back up at times. Each time I did, however, I was not disappointed, and Schwab’s gorgeous writing and fascinating world drew me back pretty quickly.

That very distinct world is the highlight of this book for me. Schwab has created four distinct and fascinating world’s with the four different versions of London. Red London and its flashy colors and pervasive magic; Grey London and its drudgery and destitution; and White London with its washed out people and clinical cruelty of its rulers. Each was visually separated and lavishly detailed, creating a unique mental image of each world as Kell and Lila crossed it. It adds a wonderful amount of depth to the book and does an exceptional job of creating rather memorable places in each.

I was appreciative of Lila’s fiery defiance in the face of the bizarre and unknown. Even when she was afraid she was ready to fight back with all her might, which made me warm up to her by the time I was halfway through the book. Kell, for his part, was equal parts likable brooding mage and naive idiot, and Rhy is a character I would’ve loved to have around for the entire novel. Kell and Rhy’s interactions are just adorable.

Although it started slow, it dramatically picked up the pace at the half-way point, and by the time I was 100 pages from the end I could barely tear myself away from it to go back to work. The major conflict of this novel is resolved at the end, but leaves just enough possible openings that I’m definitely going to pick up the next book in this series. What will Lila do next? How has Kell and Rhy’s relationship changed? Is that really the last we’ll hear of Black London and it’s stone?

This is a good read with great characters and a distinct world. It’s not overly complex, and while there was definitely room to elaborate on things a bit more, I was satisfied with what we were given. A Gathering of Shadows is definitely going into my next book haul shopping list.

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