The Cat Reviews: Secrets My Mother Kept

This book is also a fine example of the “secretly adopted” trope without it being… weird.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m part of an Indie book club over on twitter – run by Jodie Renee – and have been since November of 2020. This is one of the books the group read.

Title: Secrets My Mother Kept
Author: Rebecca Tucker
Genre: Contemporary
Quick Summary: An identity crisis of a different sort…

A lot of times, the secret adoption plotlines I’ve read are too far-fetched for me to buy and enjoy. This is not one of those times.

Secrets My Mother Kept is the tale of a Jewish woman who discovers she was secretly adopted after she gets sent the wrong copy of her birth certificate. What comes from this is a heartfelt unspooling of emotions regarding one’s heritage, sexuality, and faith. This is a journey many of us go through in our own lives, and that makes this book deeply relatable. Sure, not all of us are adoptees, or come from Jewish backgrounds, but there’s enough elements that something will be relatable to everyone who reads it.

This book is also a fine example of the “secretly adopted” trope without it being… weird. Sometimes, this trope is used to pair up characters in… interesting ways (see: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, all the “we’re dating, oh no we’re siblings, oh no we’re really not” stuff). Here, the trope is just used for good ole fashion family drama, and it’s done so well. Well enough, in fact, I whipped through this book quite quickly. It’s short, sweet, and quite relevant to the times we find ourselves in. And most importantly, it leaves you with a sort of cozy feeling by the end.

If you would like to read it for yourself, Secrets My Mother Kept can be purchased here.

A Wild Alex Appears! Reprise

Back at the end of 2018, I wrote my very first post on this blog – an introduction post. I aimed to use this blog a lot more than I have been – this was never supposed to be a “I drop in every few months” sort of deal, believe it or not. I originally aimed to make this a monthly thing, if not weekly.

Hopefully, I can get myself to that sort of place once again.

Hi! My name is Alex and I am a nonbinary writer from the Pacific Northwest. My main genre settles somewhere in the scope of speculative fiction. Often, this means “fantasy”, but not always. I’ve been a lot of places on the internet over the years – Twitter, Tumblr, Wattpad, some other, more defunct writing websites. You may have seen me around, you may not have. Regardless, welcome to my page.

The main purpose of this blog remains the same as when I conceptualized it: writing and exploring the writing world of other authors. There may also be some discussions of gaming and game design.

These are some things you can expect to see on this blog:

  • Book reviews
  • Discussions of tropes in books and games
  • Experiences I’ve had with writing/as a writer
  • Publishing discussions
  • Snippets of things I’m working on
  • Writing advice

And if there’s anything else you’re keen on seeing, feel free to say so! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Year of Trash Fires and the Books Within

Past year in books recaps:

2021 was a continuation on a legacy of suckage in most respects. Covid continues to be a thing – and is actively getting worse by the day. Tensions continue to mount day by day. However, there was a bright light in my corner of it all. As of October, I’ve been published! Which is… still, such a wild, incomprehensible thing to me, if I’m being honest.

I had a goal to read 40 books, which I beat out at 46 books. I read a combined total of 12,987 pages, with the shortest book at 22 pages and the longest and 752. I also maintained my average rating of 3.8 stars. All in all, I read two books less than last year, but I rated them better on average! Here’s my breakdown in visual form:

All in all, quite a productive year was had.

I think I can attribute some of my more positive shift to be because I made a more conscious decision and effort to seek out books I knew I was going to like. Books that had me excited. And also, books I had been reading for a while and needed to tie the loose ends on.

Normally at this is the time I would recap the best and worst books of the year. I’m still planning to do this, but a bit differently. I want to highlight more books, if I can, and sort them not so much by best and worst but rather moreso by category. Let’s get started.

Best Fiction Book of 2021

My answer isn’t quite the same as it was in the middle of the year, but that’s only because I made the decision to split this into “best fiction” and “best nonfiction”. While I don’t read as much nonfiction as I would often like to, I think it deserves its own category.

But we’re not there yet.

I think my answer for this category remains mostly the same as it did in the middle of the year. One of the best books I read this year was Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink. However, since that post, I also got to read Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson and, honestly? What a treat. I was having a blast the whole way through. I can’t really pick between either of these books, honestly. They were both so fun and refreshing in different ways.

Worst Book of 2021

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki immediately comes to mind here. I highlighted this book in my mid-year post as “Biggest Disappointment”… My father told me I needed to read it as he had recently became interested in stocks and investing, and that he knew it would make me angry. I don’t think he knew in just what way this book would anger me, though. I knew I would hate this book going into it, but the way Kiyosaki talks about poor people and the working class, calling them lazy or unintelligent because they aren’t rich. People like this man disgust me, honestly. Not only because he wrote this book, but also because my research into him before, during, and after reading this book shows me he’s just full of shit. Even now, thinking about this book and this person has me seething. Anyway.

Most Disappointing Book of 2021

This is going to go to Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today by Tony Mierzwicki. For a while, now, I’ve been trying to lean more into Greek polytheism in terms of spirituality. And in some parts, this book was a lovely guide to getting started in that. However, the author also made some pretty odd comments at parts, including ragging on GMOs in places where that wasn’t really… relevant? At all. That said, this book comes with an extensive list of resources at the end of every chapter, which is good for further research. I don’t know, though. This book at times just rubbed me pretty wrong.

Book That Most Surprised Me

Do I think this book was perfect? No. Did I enjoy myself the whole way through? Yeah. The book I picked for this category was The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci. I have a hard time with books wrote by… “influencers” doesn’t quite feel like the right word. Regardless, more often than not, I find books by these kinds of people to be lacking. I talked about this a couple years ago when talking about The Cellar by Natasha Preston. However, The Savior’s Champion was a blessed change. Again, it wasn’t a perfect book. It definitely could have been pared down some, and there’s some choices I don’t agree with. But for the most part, I had a lot of fun! And I liked this book so much I bought the next one. We’ll see how that goes.

Favorite Cover

I’m not often one for judging books by their covers, but I figured I would do this for fun. I had a couple of books in mind when thinking about this category, and I’ve reduced my choice down to two. The first is Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann. I’m really happy there’s more and more people of color being featured on book covers, and I really love the font here and just. The general layout of it. It pleases me. The other cover I had in mind was In the Dark by Loreth Anne White. I really am a sucker for more minimalistic covers, or ones that get funky with the text.

Best Nonfiction Book

I don’t read as much nonfiction as I do regular fiction, admittedly. However, I mentioned this book in my mid-year post and my answer remains the same – that is to say, my favorite nonfiction book of 2021 was Know My Name by Chanel Miller.

This book broke my heart. It really did. If you’re unfamiliar, Chanel Miller is the woman that Brock Turner raped back in 2015. I first heard about this book via the YouTube channel “withCindy” (formerly “ReadWithCindy”) and knew I had to read it. And it hit… so close to home so many times. Chanel writes about it all in such a poignant manner. And you know what? She shouldn’t have had to write this in the first place. She shouldn’t have been put through everything she did. Just… If you’re going to read any book, read this one.

Book Plans for 2022

In years past, I’ve named books that I had not, in fact, gone on to read. Still, I wanted to highlight my reading plans for this year, what I’ve already read, and what I’m currently reading or plan to before the year is up.

This year, I’m getting a little ambitious and saying I would like to read 52 books, one book for each week of the year. I’ve already read 3 as of making this post – Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Branches by Adam Peter Johnson (the Twitter Indie Book Club reading choice for January) and The Legend of Zelda, Vol 4: The Minish Cap/Phantom Hourglass by Akira Himekawa. I’m off to a good start! Here’s the next few books that are on my list to be read or are currently being read:

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett
  • The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
  • The Eye of the World, Book 1 in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
  • Going Postal by Sir Terry Pratchett
  • Rivers Run Red by A. D. Green
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee
  • Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
  • Dreams and Deceit by Freya Bell and Nicole L. Soper Gorden

What about you? What were some books you read last year? What are you planning to read this year?

The Cat Reviews: Shadow City

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m part of an Indie book club over on twitter – run by Jodie Renee – and have been since November. Now I have a backlog of reviews to write. It starts with this book, Shadow City by Anna Mocikat. What better way to christen my new reviews section than this!

Title: Shadow City
Author: Anna Mocikat
Genre: Apocalyptic/Cyberpunk
Quick Summary: An interesting concept

Nowadays, technology has advanced far enough that anyone, virtually, can become a published writer. While many still attempt traditional routes – with the querying and the pitching and the praying fervently to fickle gods for a shot at “making it” – there is now the potential for publishing completely by yourself. The biggest downside to this, of course, is you don’t get the same mass-market appeal. That’s part of the aim of the indie book club I’m in; to give indie authors a chance at being recognized.

So, that said, we started with this book, Shadow City, in which survivors of nuclear warfare hide out in Los Angeles and try to fight off the new threats such a catastrophe have brought.

This was by no means a perfect book – as if such a thing could exist. I think, by far, my biggest issue was with the POV. It felt way too fluid, it shifted a lot, and we never stuck around long enough to really feel connected to any single character. There are cool characters, but even they feel a little too flat due to the lack of development to them. They’re more like archetypes than people, and some of these archetypes were so similar to each other picking them apart was difficult.

This issue is also deeply connected to the secondary issue I have, the pacing. Because the scenes we have with any given character are quite short, not only was it hard to connect with characters, but the book itself moved at such a whippish pace that it was hard to keep up. Reading this kind of felt like being on rocket powered roller skates. It was a quick book to get through, but difficult to absorb any single instance.

On a related note, I found myself struggling with the worldbuilding at times. I greatly appreciated we didn’t stop any time some piece of worldbuilding was introduced just to infodump on it. I really do. That said, the things that did get introduced didn’t get much time to shine or be explained at all. I know the Glitch is regarded as a catastrophic event, for example, but it’s never really touched on as to what actually happened during it and how it led to the current conditions existing in the work.

The book isn’t all cons, though. Anna as an author is good at setting up questions and then answering them – for the most part. There is a certain level of faith we are required to put into any author. Any good book makes a promise to us from the very beginning and we have to trust them to keep it by the end. Or, if it isn’t fully fulfilled, that it will be in the future.. There’s a sequel to Shadow City, after all.

On the whole, this isn’t a bad book. It definitely feels like an author debut, and definitely could have been revised a time or two more – but in the end, all books probably could. In the end, I still have hope for this author and any future projects she produces, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading and reviewing her works again.

If you would like to read it for yourself, Shadow City can be purchased here.

The Prologue to My Frustrations

Prologues have been a sort of hot topic for a while now. Are they good? Are they bad? People can’t decide between vehement hatred of them and sheer adoration. It’s remained a subject for division in the writing community for a long time.

Me? I’m more of a middle ground. I can be okay with them… if they’re used right. The problem is not many of them are.

So what do I think are the keys to a good prologue?

The first note is they need to be wrote with the same quality as the rest of your book. If you have a prologue, it’s the first bit of writing anyone will see from you. As such, it needs to be just as good as the rest of the book. You cannot afford to slack.

The second note is it needs to have a purpose. As in, if you removed it, would the story change at all? Would it be worse off? This should be obvious, of course, bit also depends what kind of purpose. All too often, I see “prologues” that just serve to infodump the lore of the world. It’s boring and it’s not the best approach to have. And this is coming from someone who loves being steeped in the world a fellow writer has created.

The third note is that not all stories in fact need a prologue. This ties to my second point, really. Some writers add prologues for one reason or another, but all it does is drag out the word count and hamper your story. The general consensus I’ve seen from writers is if they see a prologue, they will skip it. What is it about your prologue that makes it unskippable? Can it not be implemented elsewhere?

I personally used to be 100% against prologues. I would skip them every time I saw them. I have since come around from this, but I still find myself wary of a prologue when I see it. It makes me wonder about the rest of the book – and, in the case of a prologue, not in a good way.