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

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 – 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…

What I’m Reading – The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

After reading The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air #2) I was angry. I hated the way it ended and wanted nothing to do with Cardan, Jude, or anyone from this novel. I think the hate was so strong because I loved the rest of the novel. I sped through, unable to put it down (I think I still owe y’all a review).

Then came the end, and it upset me so much – not because it didn’t fit with the plot or because Holly Black did anything wrong – but because I was so invested in these characters. I was angry because of what Holly did to the characters.

I love them all, so why can’t they just live happily ever after?

I guess the answer is, there really is no happily ever after in Faerie.

Fast forward about six months, and we are chatting in my book group about the series and someone brings up the end of The Wicked King. I am immediately triggered. I believe “100% fuck the ending of that book” is what I said.

Queue the group working to convince me to pick up The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3) to quell some of my anger.

That brings us to my current read. I’ve decided to dive back in, and this book group better be right because I don’t know if I can handle any more heartbreak. At least not the level of heartbreak from The Wicked King.

Synopsis

He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her twin sister, Taryn, whose life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And, when a dormant yet powerful curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity . . .

Book Review – Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Genre: Fantasy

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

Reading an Alice Hoffman novel is like sitting around a campfire listening to someone tell you a story. Before you know it, time slips away and all you can focus on is the journey the storyteller is taking you on.

This is rarely the case, but I saw the movie Practical Magic well before I read Alice Hoffman’s novel. Because of this, I feel like the imagery and storyline was a little harder to critique because I had a clear vision of Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman while reading.

Although the movie and book are not identical. I found that I anticipated what was coming next, and became somewhat focused on the differences between the novel and movie. But I’m not going to let that color my opinions of the novel.

The book opens when sisters Gillian and Sally are young and living with their three aunts. As they grow up, they begin to resent their upbringing, in their own ways, and strike out on their own. Gillian with her transient and exciting life; Sally with her children and their attempt at a “normal” life. 

“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage. – Aunt Frances”

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Have you ever read prose that sounds almost like a song? Almost like someone is talking to you but everything flows and blends together in a beautiful and lyrical way? 

That is what reading an Alice Hoffman novel is like. 

I fell in love with the Owens women – wanted to be an Owens woman. There is no spellcasting or wand waving, but magic flows through each page.

But it’s subtle. If you are coming from reading an overly dramatized young adult fantasy novel (YES PLEASE), then the transition to the softness of this novel may be a little jarring. There is drama, pain, joy – all of it – woven into these pages, but it’s not in the same aggressive way a lot of other fantasy novels are. 

That’s one of my favorite elements – you aren’t ever completely sure if the Owens women are witches or just overly attuned to the world around them. There is definite magic, but it’s so natural, almost. 

I enjoyed the quiet. 

“There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.”

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Love was the central theme of this novel (as it is for every Owen’s Family novel), and it reminds us of the importance of being and feeling exactly what you are – always. It was a lovely, peaceful journey with Gillian and Sally. 

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. (The movie is pretty good too!)

Have you read Practical Magic? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram.

Book Review – The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy

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

I’ve had this book on my TBR book cart for a while, and every time I went to pick my next read my husband was there pushing me to pick up Addie LaRue. It took months, but he finally won me over (along with everyone else on Bookstagram who is in love with this novel). 

Overall, I have conflicting emotions when it comes to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. I enjoyed the story and the writing is gorgeous, but there are some elements that pulled this book back from a 5 star rating for me. 

I will give V.E. Schwab credit where credit is due – this is one of the best surprise/twist endings I’ve ever read. Even if you generally predict how Addie and Henry’s story is going to end, she throws in a little flare to really move this book high on my list of favorites.

The entire novel flips between Addie LaRue’s early life in the 1700s (progressing through the early 1900s) and present day. We open in France, 1714, where a young Addie LaRue makes a deal with a devil to escape a mundane and normal life in her small village. But her deal isn’t entirely what she thinks. 

Addie is doomed to a life of being forgotten by anyone and everyone she meets. 

We follow our main character across centuries where she learns what it means to sell yourself to survive, plays a role in World Wars, and fights each and every day to live her life – all while trying to stay strong in the face of her devil, who visits her every year on the anniversary of their deal. 

Like all great stories, things change when someone new comes into Addie LaRue’s life – a boy who can remember her. 

The writing throughout this novel is gorgeous – V.E. Schwab is absolutely a talented writer and story-teller. She paints a vivid picture and really gets us into the minds of her characters. I enjoyed every moment I spent reading this novel. I fell in love with the characters show brought to life from Addie to Henry, and even Luc. 

But ultimately, I feel like the flowery and poetic writing was a distraction for a lack of depth in the plot. 

We have a woman who is given immortality and she visits maybe four countries? She has an opportunity to explore the world, meet people from every part of the globe, and experience all the world has to offer – but she stays in France, Germany, Italy, and the U.S.? 

The main character recounts massive-scale world events, when there was an opportunity here to show us something about the world we didn’t know. 

And then there’s the men – Luc and Henry. Every aspect of Addie LaRue’s story, or at least the version she tells us, revolves around the two men in her life. All of her flashbacks, focused on the devil, and all of her present (until they collide), focused on Henry. We know who Addie is in the lense of her experiences with these men. 

A woman’s story is so much more than the man she’s with or loves.

I will take a moment to stop griping and say, I loved the ending and I cried – a lot. So while (over)thinking about this book after I finished, I would recommend this to a friend and hope you take the time to read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

It’s a beautiful story about a woman who refused to give up or give in to the darkness. Addie’s resilience is awe-inspiring and worth your time. 

Buy The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab here at Thank You Books (Birmingham, AL) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram.

What I’m Reading – Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

In preparation for Alice’s Hoffman’s Facebook Live event this week where she will discuss Practical Magic, I’ve decided to finally pick up Practical Magic in honor of it’s 25th anniversary.

Facebook LIVE Q&A:
July 28, 2021 @ 5pm EST

I only recently watched the film Practical Magic and read The Rules of Magic (review here), so I’m a new fan of Alice Hoffman – and I’m loving every moment of it. If you haven’t read anything by Alice Hoffman, I highly recommend you give it a try. Her writing is lyrical, like magic.

Synopsis

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.

One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…

Book Review – The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult

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

I purchased The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna months ago and it sat on my shelves (and then in boxes as my family moved from Virginia to Alabama at the start of the summer). I knew I loved the cover and the synopsis, but for some reason each time I went to select my next read, this one never grabbed my attention.

Then the buddy read – an engagement group I’m in selected this novel for July. I picked it up and didn’t put it down until I reached the last page.

I devoured this novel in two days, while on a family vacation. Before my husband left town for training (he’s in the military), we wanted to do something special with our daughter, so we headed off to Great Wolf Lodge. It’s Alice’s favorite place, and it was the perfect family getaway before my husband left for a couple of months. 

We played at the water park, arcade, and MagiQuest all day – while I read all night. I was so exhausted, but it was the happiest I have been in a while. The perfect weekend trip. 

The novel begins in Deka’s village as they prepare for the blood ceremony, where all 16-year-old girls are tested for impurity. If their blood runs red, they are pure, but if it runs gold they are deemed impure. This is where Deka’s story truly begins – when her blood runs gold.

As the priests in her village punish Deka time and time again, an unknown woman comes to give Deka the option to remain in her village or flee and chart a different course. Deka learns she isn’t alone and that there are other girls like her – the Alaki.  

The transformation we see in Deka as she begins to accept who she is and discover her real purpose is powerful and inspiring. As women, whether in fiction or reality, we are often labeled and judged, here it is no different. This story captures the struggle and journey to self-acceptance in a way I have rarely seen in the novels I read. 

And FINALLY we have a story where our female protagonist has a love interest but this is not the main driver of her transformation, journey, or anything else – it just simply is an element that enhances the story. Deka does not change or grow because a man believes in her – she does all of these things because she learns to believe in herself. It’s refreshing. 

It’s not a man who holds Deka up and makes her stronger – it’s her friends and the sisterhood with her fellow Alaki standing beside her, guiding her, and helping her as they discover the truth and fight for what is right. 

If you haven’t already, please pick up The Gilded Ones whether at your local bookstore or online. You will not regret it. I loved every moment of this novel. 

We also have a date for the sequel, so you have until April 5, 2022, to catch up before The Merciless Ones is released. 

Buy The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna here at Thank You Books (Birmingham, AL) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Gilded Ones? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram.

Book Review – The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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

#BookstagramMadeMeDoIt – And oh boy were they right. 

Before we get into a plot overview, let’s start with – I read this one in 24 hours. I picked it up and COULD NOT STOP. It was the most important week of the year at work, and instead of making sure I was well rested in preparation – I read. 

Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince starts off as all great hero stories, with the death of our main character, Jude’s, parents. Shortly after our characters – Jude along with her two sisters Taryn and Vivienne – arrive in Elfhame and their lives are changed forever. 

Jude battles to prove herself as worthy of the Faerie and their world, defying everyone who stands in her way including her step-father and a Faerie Prince named Cardan. 

In this novel, Holly Black built a memorable, exciting, and terrifying world. Throughout the story, I pictured these young kids – Jude, Taryn, and Vivi – being pulled into this strange world and having to adjust to their surroundings along with the death of their parents. It is the stuff of nightmares but is also somehow gorgeous. 

Layer that on top of being raised by the man who murdered your parents before your eyes and I’d say this book borders on a horror novel. 

But it wouldn’t be the fae without some juxtaposition. While under the surface it’s ugly and gruesome, on the surface and all around us is beauty and the intoxication of being among faeries. This contrast is best seen between twins, Jude and Taryn. 

There’s so much more I want to say and discuss, but I promised no spoilers. Once I’ve finished all three books, I’ll write a discussion post and talk more in depth.

For now, I’ll tell you this book has it all – complicated family relationships; love triangles; unlikely relationships; and OH MAN a plot twist. This book is everything I hope for when I pick up a Young Adult novel. 

If you haven’t read The Cruel Prince and you enjoy Young Adult and High Fantasy – add this one to your TBR. #BookstagramMadeMeDoIt, and now I’m paying it forward. You won’t regret it. 

Buy The Cruel Prince by Holly Black here at Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Cruel Prince? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram!