Book Review – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Genre: Fantasy; Fiction

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / 5

I picked up The Midnight Library by Matt Haig last year after seeing  the hype on Bookstagram and Goodreads. My expectations were high and maybe that’s why I was more critical of this novel than others I’ve read.

The Midnight Library lives in the space between life and death with endless shelves full of every possible life you could live. All you have to do is decide what choices you want to change and open a new book to experience all that particular life has to offer you. You can change a regret – like giving up on a dream you had as a child – or something small – like not saying yes to that date.

Our main character, Nora Seed, finds herself in the Midnight Library holding a heavy book full of her life’s regrets and working her way through all of the ways she could have avoided those regrets. But, of course, nothing turns out the way she thinks and there is no magical solution for a perfect life. She follows different career paths, undoes break-ups, says yes to things she previously avoided, and experiences her lives full of dreams she never followed. 

And although it was the hype that brought me here, it’s time to share my unpopular opinion – this book did not change my life. Maybe I’m too cynical or just wasn’t in the right mental space, but this was not the book for me. 

Disclaimer: I rarely like books or stories with a neat and happy ending and I’m never a fan of a predictability.

From the moment we arrived in the Midnight Library with Nora, I knew how this novel was going to end. It was well written and a fun read, but it was also predictable. 

I also found it unreasonable that Nora would be wildly successful at every career path she chose. Life doesn’t work out that way – we can’t just decide to be an Olympic athlete or a world renowned scientist. Sometimes, we decide to follow a dream and it doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would. 

All that to say – there are some beautiful parts of this novel. Matt Haig is a spectacular writer and it’s apparent on every page of this book. 

Expectation

“Nora had always had a problem accepting herself. From as far back as she could remember, she’d had the sense that she wasn’t enough. Her parents, who both had their own insecurities, had encouraged that idea.

“She imagined, now, what it would be like to accept herself completely. Every mistake she had ever made. Every mark on her body. Every dream she hadn’t reached or pain she had felt. Every lust or longing she had suppressed. 

“She imagined accepting it all. The way she accepted nature. The way she accepted a glacier or a puffin or the breach of a whale.

“She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying their best.

“And in doing so, she imagined what it was like to be free.”

In this chapter Matt Haig captures a struggle that is so human, something I think we all struggle with and should all be working toward. At the heart, this chapter sums up what this novel is about – not focusing on our regrets and how we can change ourselves, but learning to love ourselves no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done. 

I know my rating here isn’t high, but if you are someone who loves a feel good story – I recommend this novel. I guess I’m more of a doom and gloom reader.

Book Review – Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

I received Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer in a recent monthly Bookish Box subscription and was immediately pulled in by the cover. I thought it was gorgeous and wanted to read it immediately. For the most part, I found it enjoyable but that’s about as far as it went. 

This novel follows two main characters – Tessa Cade and Prince Corrick – as their kingdom battles a sickness sweeping through the land bringing heartbreak and corruption. The story is set in Kandala, which is split into six sectors, some better off than others.

Prince Corrick and his brother, King Harriston, began ruling the kingdom after the assination of their parents and shortly after the sickness began to spread. While there is an elixir to hold off the effects of the sickness, access to the elixir is not available to all and only two sectors are capable of growing the delicate moonflower needed. 

This story has a strong Robin Hood vibe, with Tessa and her partner stealing moonflower from those who have an abundance and giving it to those in desperate need. As the story continues, the divide between the rich and impoverished grows until rebellion takes hold. 

“A spark of rebellion is all it takes to defy the night.”

― Brigid Kemmerer, Defy the Night

I enjoyed reading this novel and made my way through it quickly. It was an easy and fun read. Prior to picking it up, I had been on quite a book-break. This was mostly due to being sick and then the final month of pregnancy. I couldn’t stay awake to read no matter how hard I tried. 

I’m often hesitant to start books I didn’t carefully select. I’m not a fan of not finishing a novel, so I try to read the synopsis and reviews before deciding to open a book. That way I’m more confident I will finish it. Defy the Night did not disappoint. 

However, when I say this book was an easy read, I mean just that. If you are looking for some kind of unexpected ending, twist, or uniqueness to the story – this is not the novel for you. After reading two or three chapters I could have told you how this novel would play out. It’s the first book in a series, but I’m not sure I will pick up the remaining novels. I want a book that makes me think and surprises me.

I’ll also admit – the premise of a kingdom-wide sickness – I’m really just not ready for COVID-type books yet. The whole time I was reading all I heard in my mind was “pandemic” when the sickness was mentioned. The main symptom was even coughing, which didn’t help differentiate. 

Overall, I would say this isn’t a bad novel and if you’re looking for a fun and easy read, check this one out. But I’m not sure if I will be reading the remaining books in the series or recommending this one to a friend. 

“Mind your mettle, Tessa.

― Brigid Kemmerer, Defy the Night

What I’m Reading – Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

It’s time.

I read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo back in the spring in preparation for the Netflix show (highly recommend) but for whatever reason I held off on the remaining books of the trilogy. But now that I’m working my way through my to-be-read (TBR) cart, it seemed like a great time to finish the trilogy and move them from the TBR cart to the bookshelves.

While I haven’t written a review of Shadow and Bone (I plan on doing one post for the entire trilogy), I did enjoy both the book and the Netflix show. So if you haven’t visited Grishaverse yet, I highly recommend picking up a Leigh Bardugo book whenever you have a chance.

I typically write these posts once I’m about 50-100 pages into a book, but I haven’t started Siege and Storm yet. Hopefully I will only have great things to say about it. So stay tuned!

Synopsis

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Alina Starkov’s power has grown, but not without a price. She is the Sun Summoner―hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Shadow Fold. But she and Mal can’t outrun their enemies for long.

The Darkling is more determined than ever to claim Alina’s magic and use it to take the Ravkan throne. With nowhere else to turn, Alina enlists the help of an infamous privateer and sets out to lead the Grisha army.

But as the truth of Alina’s destiny unfolds, she slips deeper into the Darkling’s deadly game of forbidden magic, and further away from her humanity. To save her country, Alina will have to choose between her power and the love she thought would always be her shelter. No victory can come without sacrifice―and only she can face the oncoming storm.

What I’m Reading – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

It’s time to put Goodreads to the test with the 2020 winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

I’m seen rave reviews via Goodreads and Bookstagram, so I’m hoping you are all right.

This book joined my TBR cart months ago following one of my “big” trips to the bookstore where I purchased entirely too many books. So this one has been staring me down and taunting me for a while.

On my journey to completing all the books on my TBR cart – this novel seemed interesting and different. Although, I will be honest, I didn’t know anything about the book until I read the synopsis last night. I blindly picked this book up from the store, which is not like me at all.

With just one night of reading, I’m already about 100 pages in and enjoying the story so far. I always like the shorter chapters that jump around a bit, so the style of writing is perfect for me.

Keep an eye out for the review to see if this one lives up to all the hype. I would hate to lose my faith in the Bookstagram community for future book recommendations.

Synopsis

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Book Review – The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Genre: Dark Fantasy; Fiction

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang blew me away. I loved every moment I spent reading but will admit the content makes for a difficult read at times. In my opinion, that’s a testament to Kuang – her writing is so descriptive and real it elicits a deeply emotional response. 

Please note— this is not Young Adult Fiction. There are parts of this book covering heavy topics. Before diving in, please look up the trigger warnings. I would list them here, but things I would consider a trigger warning may not be the same for everyone. 

The novel centers around Rin, a poverty stricken orphan who spends her days working for her adoptive family. In an effort to escape her situation, Rin begins studying in secret in hopes of being accepted into the elite Sinegard Academy where she starts to learn she may have the ability to tap into the powers of a Shaman. 

From the moment we meet our protagonist she’s struggling and fighting to make her own way. Rin faces an uphill climb both externally with her teachers and peers and internally as she battles with the decision to let her powers as a Shaman fly free. 

While Rin deals with these personal conflicts, the Federation of Mugen invades the Nikara Empire (Rin’s home country).. Despite being a student at Singard Academy, Rin and her fellow students fight on the front lines. Her power could end the war but might also end with the loss of her humanity.

“You humans always think you’re destined for things, for tragedy or for greatness. Destiny is a myth. Destiny is the only myth. The gods choose nothing. You choose.”

R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

The Poppy War is violent and graphic, but it paints such a beautifully tragic story, I couldn’t look away. I also prefer books a little more on the graphic side, even if my husband swears it makes me more jumpy and gives me nightmares. In fact, he’s been home for hours and I jumped when he walked into the kitchen earlier. 

While the novel touches on the subjects of trauma, genocide, addiction, and self-harm – it was done in a humanizing and raw way. We see the impact war can have on a country and the horrible past of a government who is just trying to hold their empire together. Pair that with Rin’s journey to discovering the true extent of her powers, and you have a powerful and emotional story.

“I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible. Was she now a goddess or a monster? Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.”

R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

Some authors include brutal descriptions and violence for the sake of those things, but in The Poppy War every scene is included for the purpose of character development, world building, and story development. I can’t think of a single scene that felt like “filler violence.” 

The descriptive writing used by Kuang to bring the brutality to life throughout the novel, also paints a vivid and clear picture of the Nikara Empire and all the provinces visited as the story unfolds. The reader witnesses the poverty in the Rooster Province, where Rin is from, and the overwhelming wealth of Sinegard along with everything in between. It truly is a gorgeous novel. 

This is a novel for people who enjoy fantasy stories about an underdog who claws her way to the top, only to find new and more life-threatening challenges when she gets there. Rin is not a hero, but she’s also not a villain – at least not yet. I’m anxious to see where her story takes us and watch as her decisions unfold. The magic (and god who has chosen her) that resides inside of her carries terrifying power.

What I’m Reading – White Nights by Ann Cleeves

I picked up my first Ann Cleeves novel, Raven Black, a few years ago, and I was hooked. She really knows how to write a crime novel. So when it was time to pick up my next book, White Nights was an easy selection.

I’m in the process of reading every book on my to-be read (TBR) cart and wanted a small break from the usual fantasy novels I read. I quickly read through Verity by Colleen Hoover (so quickly that I didn’t have time to write a “What I’m Reading” post for it) and wanted a little more thriller/crime before I returned to the fantasy world.

Ann Cleeves is a brilliant writer and an excellent story teller, so I knew White Nights would pull me in. I was right. From the moment I picked up the second book in the Shetland Mysteries series, I’ve wanted to keep reading.

If you enjoy crime/thriller novels and haven’t read anything by Ann Cleeves yet, I highly suggest you add her to your list. You won’t be disappointed.

Also, for those who enjoy a good thriller novel but have a distaste for the violent and graphic content that often comes along with those – Ann Cleeves is a great author for you. While there is violence and death it’s never described in a graphic or terrifying way.

Synopsis

It’s midsummer in Shetland, the time of the white nights, when birds sing at midnight and the sun never sets.

Artist Bella Sinclair throws a party to launch an exhibition of her work and to introduce the paintings of Fran Hunter. The Herring House, the gallery where the exhibition is held, is on the beach at Biddista, in the remote north west of the island. When a mysterious Englishman bursts into tears and claims not to know who he is or where he’s come from, the evening ends in farce. The following day the Englishman is found hanging from a rafter in a boathouse on the jetty, a clown’s mask on his face.

Detective Jimmy Perez is convinced that this is a local murder. A second murder Biddista only reinforces this belief. But the detective’s relationship with Fran Hunter clouds his judgement. And this is a crazy time of the year when night blurs into day and nothing is quite as it seems.

Book Review – The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Genre: Romance; Fiction

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

I read this book, thought about it, wrote and rewrote this review, and have come to the same conclusion over and over. The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang is not a romance novel focused on our main character Anna Sun and her relationship with Quan. This is a romance novel focused on our main character Anna Sun’s journey to self awareness and ultimately self love. All other plot lines are just side quests. 

After having a video of her playing the violin go viral on YouTube, Anna Sun hasn’t been able to step out of the pressures of international stardom and play through a full song on the violin. Although she practices every day, she’s so focused on perfection it’s impossible to make it to the end of a piece written just for her. 

Queue her dickhead boyfriend, who thinks this is the perfect time to have the “we should see other people before settling down together” talk, and from the start of the book our sweet Anna is in for one hell of a ride. 

The author uses Anna’s long time boyfriend to show a difficult side of romance, especially for women. Our protagonist talks about suffering through orgasm-less sex, but it’s clear she’s never had the self confidence to vocalize what it is she needs in bed. I think all women (and men) can relate. We all have a point in our life where we not only have no idea what it is we need or want, but don’t even remotely have the ability to speak up and tell our partner. 

For me, this is one of the more relatable aspects of this novel. Helen Hoang doesn’t paint some impossible picture of perfect sex with perfectly timed orgasms from the start. She shows the struggles we sometimes face to achieve the perfect climax with our partners and how difficult it can sometimes be. 

After her boyfriend cuts ties, Anna makes a bold, out-of-character move and decides if her boyfriend is going to see other people then she will too. That is when Quan steps into the story. He has tattoos (we love it), and he rides a motorcycle (we love it even more). He’s nothing like her boyfriend. 

Anna and Quan quickly fall for each other, and the romance – while rocky at the beginning – shifts into something gorgeous and serious. 

But the most brilliant and romantic aspect of this novel isn’t the romance between Anna and Quan – it’s watching Anna really start to understand herself and love herself enough to begin to take care of herself. Throughout this story we watch as Anna shifts from a quiet woman who allows her family to dictate her life into a woman who boldly sticks up for herself and speaks up for what she wants. 

This is where we see that boldness Anna develops in her sex life bleed over into her other relationships, especially with her family. Her entire life she’s remained quiet and done what is expected, regardless of how it makes her feel. This completely changes as Anna interacts with her family throughout the novel, and it’s one of the most “YASSS GIRL” moments. I saw her boldly stand up for herself and wanted to experience that empowerment in my own life. 

Overall, The Heart Principle is messy. There’s romance, grief, family conflict, and burnout. One moment we are experiencing a steamy scene between Anna and Quan then the next we are enraged by Anna’s family constantly gaslighting her.

But while I use the word messy, I don’t want to diminish the beauty of this story (both in the plot of the story and in Helen Hoang’s writing).

I don’t read much romance, but this one definitely set the bar high for all future romance novels I pick up. 

If you haven’t already read one of Helen Hoang’s novels, I highly recommend you take a stroll through the romance section the next time you’re at the bookstore. Her writing is full of emotion and love. I know I will be heading her way next time I’m at the bookstore to pick up more of her novels. 

What I’m Reading – The Serpent’s Curse by Lisa Maxwell

I’ve been waiting to read The Serpent’s Curse by Lisa Maxwell for a while. With The Last Magician and The Devil’s Thief (the first two books in the series) under my belt, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the third installation.

Previous Book Reviews

The Last Magician

The Devil’s Thief

I have loved this series since first picking up The Last Magician last year. There’s a badass female protagonist, an unstoppable gang of rebels/outcasts, and magic all around. From Esta to Harte and even our friends left back within the confines of the Brink – this series is filled with characters working together (whether they even realize it) to overthrow a corrupt government, fight against terrible unknown forces, and save magic.

It’s no secret I’m a HUGE Lisa Maxwell fan, and this series is the reason why.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend picking up book one in the series as soon as you can.

Synopsis

Evade the Serpent.
Heed the Curse.
Rewrite the Present.

Esta isn’t a stranger to high-stakes heists. She’s a seasoned thief who has no reservations about using her affinity for time to give her an edge, and she’s trained her whole life for one mission: travel back to 1902 New York, steal the ancient Book of Mysteries, and use its power to destroy the Brink and free the Mageus from the Order’s control.

But the Book held a danger that no one anticipated—Seshat, an angry goddess was trapped within its pages. Now that terrible power lives within Harte, and if given the chance, Seshat will use Esta to destroy the world and take her revenge.

Only Esta and Harte stand in her way.

Yet in their search to recover the elemental stones needed to bind Seshat’s power, Esta and Harte have found themselves stranded in time with a continent between them. As Esta fights to get back to Harte, the Order is no longer the only obstacle standing in her way.

Saving Harte—and magic itself—will put even Esta’s skills to the test. And all the while, another danger grows, one more terrible than both Seshat and the Order combined…

Book Review – The Wicked King by Holly Black

Genre: Young Adult; Fiction; Fantasy

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

If you haven’t read The Cruel Prince yet, go check out my review. And be warned – there are some spoilers for the first book in this review, so proceed with caution.

Now … onto The Wicked King by Holly Black.

This book really screwed with my emotions. 

After reading The Cruel Prince, the first book in The Folk of the Air Series, I was ready to jump into The Wicked King. The main differences between the two – first, this book was definitely a time for character development. 

You get to know the characters intimately. They make you smile, piss you off, and ultimately make you want to yell and scream. I fell in love with Jude, Cardan, and (some of) the other spies. I developed a deep hatred for Madoc, Locke, and even Taryn at times. 

Second, Holly Black was trying to trigger me with the ending of this one. 

This novel revolves around Jude trying to keep the heir to Faerie safe. In the first novel we learn that Jude’s step-brother Oak isn’t really her brother at all, but the rightful heir to the throne. To accomplish this – she takes control of the one person she (thought) she hated most – Cardan.

As she gains power, things escalate quickly, but we all love to see our Jude rise to the top, despite her constant battle (slash romance) with Cardan. 

“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.”

I have never cheered more for a character to be successful in scheming and manipulation than I have for Jude. She is my hero, girl crush, and ultimate idol. Even as we begin to see her weaknesses (ie: Cardan), I am cheering for her to kick some ass and take over the world. 

That’s where we get to the ending. 

Without spoiling the ending – I will just say the end of this book pissed me off so much I refused to pick up the third novel in the series for months. It took some convincing for me to even consider reading The Queen of Nothing (review coming next week). 

One of my favorite elements of this novel is our adventure to the sea and how we begin to learn more about other parts of Faerie outside of Elfhame. Holly Black has built an extraordinary world, equal parts beautiful and terrifying. She captures the essence of Faeries perfectly. I haven’t met another author who does it quite like she does. 

I could not recommend this book and series more. The next chance you get – head to your local bookstore and go ahead and buy the entire series. You won’t regret it.

#FemaleAuthorFriday – Ann Cleeves

I’m standing at my bookshelf, trying to decide who’s next for #FemaleAuthorFriday, and select Ann Cleeves because I loved her novel Raven Black.

I walk back to my computer and enter her name into Google. Holy shit … she’s written like 30 books and even has a few television show adaptations under her belt. I’ve had a treasure trove of crime novels waiting to be read and I had NO clue. I’m a terrible book nerd.

One could say my TBR just grew quite a bit. 

Ann Cleeves has had an amazing career. From being the first recipient of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for Raven Black to being awarded the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honour in British crime writing – she’s done it all. You can read her full biography here on her website

It’s been a few years since I read Raven Black, but I remember being at the beach with my family and unable to put the novel down. I flew through it. I’m sometimes overly critical of thrillers and crime novels, especially if I can accurately predict the ending, but this one had me on my toes until the end. 

Thanks to this post, I’ve learned that this novel is the first in the Shetland Series, so I’ll be running to the bookstore after writing this. 

For my last post I provided the synopsis for all of Lisa Maxwell’s novels, but I don’t think I want to sit here and pull the overview for 30 books. I also don’t think you really care to read all of that. So I’ve selected the four main books from the Shetland Series

For Ann Cleeve’s full catalog, check out her Goodreads Author Profile.

Raven Black (Shetland Island #1)

Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.

White Nights (Shetland Island #2)

It’s midsummer in the Shetland Islands, the time of the white nights, when birds sing at midnight and the sun never sets. Artist Bella Sinclair throws an elaborate party to launch an exhibition of her work at The Herring House, a gallery on the beach.

The party ends in farce when one of the guests, a mysterious Englishman, bursts into tears and claims not to know who he is or where he’s come from. The following day the Englishman is found hanging from a rafter, and Detective Jimmy Perez is convinced that the man has been murdered. He is reinforced in this belief when Roddy, Bella’s musician nephew, is murdered, too.

But the detective’s relationship with Fran Hunter may have clouded his judgment, for this is a crazy time of the year when night blurs into day and nothing is quite as it seems.

Red Bones (Shetland Island #3)

An island shrouded in mist and a community with secrets buried in the past . . .

When a young archaeologist studying on a site at Whalsay discovers a set of human remains, the island settlers are intrigued. Is it an ancient find – or a more contemporary mystery?

Then an elderly woman is shot in a tragic accident in the middle of the night. Shetland detective Jimmy Perez is called in by her grandson – his own colleague, Sandy Wilson.

The sparse landscape and the emptiness of the sea have bred a fierce and secretive people. Mima Wilson was a recluse. She had her land, her pride and her family. As Jimmy looks to the islanders for answers, he finds instead two feuding families whose envy, greed and bitterness have lasted generations.

Surrounded by people he doesn’t know and in unfamiliar territory, Jimmy finds himself out of his depth. Then there’s another death and, as the spring weather shrouds the island in claustrophobic mists, Jimmy must dig up old secrets to stop a new killer from striking again . . .

Blue Lightning (Shetland Island #4)

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez knows it will be a difficult homecoming when he returns to the Fair Isles to introduce his fiancee, Fran, to his parents. When a woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, Jimmy must investigate the old-fashioned way.”