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.

Promises Made and Unkept – 6 Best Books of 2020 and 4 Disappointments

I’m quite late to this, but it’s long overdue.

Last year, I made a similar post – here – highlighting the books I’d read in 2019. Same process here, just with books of 2020. Despite all of 2020’s… Er… challenges, I managed to read 48 books, nearly 20 more than the year before. In terms of rating, I averaged a 3.4 on Goodreads compared to the 3.29. So, on the whole, I enjoyed more of the books I read! But not all was pleasant and there were some less than savory reading choices made.

I highlighted this in my last post, here, but I took a different approach to my tbr list – with some exceptions. It’s been rather freeing and saved me from choice paralysis for the most part. To summarize, I started by plugging my entire TBR list into a random generator and ran it nine times to create a roster. Every time I’ve finished a book, I would rerun the generator and add the next selection to the pile.

However, there’s been some exceptions. For instance, for a while I was a part of a local queer book club in my town before covid hit, so their selections would take precedence in my list. And, more recently, I have become part of an indie book club on twitter hosted by Jodie Renée. It’s because of this group that I plan to start branching out to indie book reviews on this blog, for instance.

But that’s a topic for another time. Onto the main attraction!

Six Best Books of 2020

1. Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I mentioned this in the mid-year wrapup post, but it bore repeating. I adored the main couple. Oftentimes, I find straight romances difficult to enjoy fully, but this book pulled me in with a truly enthralling and complicated romance. And the magic system was incredible, performed via “rites” which are kinda ceremonial dances. It’s fresh and unique. The writing style gripped me. I’m excited to get my hands on the sequel and to, eventually, get my hands on The Jasmine Throne.

2. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Reading through this series was an experience I find hard to quantify. There are some things I wish hadn’t happened, but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this series and especially this finale. It almost succeeded in making me cry, which is very hard to do to begin with. All in all, a brilliant ending to a brilliant series.

3. Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barns

Despite the fact I don’t read them as often as I want to, I love memoirs. I really do. I think I picked this up during some kind of Amazon promotion and finally got around to reading it due to my new reading system. This is mostly about Cinelle’s life in the Philippines and how her family rose and fell from grace. The writing was beautiful in its own right, the actual memoir heart wrenching.

4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book punched me in the face from chapter one and didn’t relent until the end. This was another one I mentioned in my mid-year blog and it still has an impact on me now. Up until the end I was in love with Evelyn, and even after the plot twists so cruelly, I still loved her. Just… incredibly frustrated by her. It’s such a shame things ended the way they did, but they almost had to. Doesn’t make it any less gut-wrenching, though. And I hate how well it all came together.

5. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Oh. My. God.

First of all, this was a book chosen by aforementioned local queer book club i was in, and we read it right before Halloween, which led to a perfect combination. This book did make me cry, in a good way. I loved the way Yadriel was wrote. I love Julian. I love everything about this book, okay? It is so hard to put into words why I love it and honestly, trying to put my adoration into words fills my brain with tv static. But believe me, this was probably my favorite book of 2020.

6. Secrets My Mother Kept by Rebecca Tucker

This is the last book I read to close out 2020 and is also one of the books from aforementioned indie book club, of which the author is a member! I won’t say too much about this book as it will get its own dedicated review, but wow. What a way to end the year. This book had a lot to say about adoption and one’s own heritage and it truly touched me in ways I couldn’t imagine. If you’re looking for a new indie book to support, this is definitely the one.

Four Disappointments of 2020

1. Gods and Monsters by Janie Marie

This is one of those books where I’m not wholly sure how I found out about it. It definitely was one I saw in an ad, either on Facebook or Twitter, and it most likely was one on sale when I saw it and thought, “Sure, why not?”

Well… this book gave me a whole lot of reasons why not.

For some reason, I thought this book/series was going to have mayyybe polyamory, or at least reverse harem if I was being generous. I also expected a flawed main character who underwent, I don’t know, some kind of development. Instead, I got an entire mess the author called worldbuilding, a disastrous whiner and slut shamer of an MC, unbelievably shitty love interests, and a plot so contrived I still don’t really know what happened. I finished this book and then attempted to read the sequel but ended up DNFing. I’m trying not to rant too much about this book – I did enough of that in my review. To summarize, though, this is some of the worst characterization I’ve ever seen. What an entire disaster. Also, this features a massive zombie – or something – outbreak in book one and I had elected to try to read this riiiight after my state went on lockdown. Talk about timing.

2. Temper: Deference by Lila Mina

Trigger warning: mentions of self harm, heavy kink

What this book promised me: paranormal poly romance with complicated relationships and a heaping dose of BDSM.

What this book delivered: uhhh… not too much of that, actually.

This was definitely a book I bought based on the premise, hoping I would like it. I’ve seen it advertised for years since my Wattpad days, and I was never quite sure if I should leap on it or not. And, truth be told, I should have trusted my intuition on this.

Polyamorous romances are hard to write – harder than monogamous ones. You have to balance multiple people and all of their relationships to each other. It can quickly become a tangled web if you aren’t careful. And honestly, not a big fan of the job Lina did here. Most of the narrative centers on Lana’s and Honda’s relationship – which was fair in the beginning concerning how the story started. However, I really feel like Yuki – Honda’s wife – was left to the side in a lot of respects and especially at the end, Honda was such an asshole to her. I’m sure she becomes a more prominent love interest in later books, but as it was I was so disenchanted with book one that I won’t be continuing.

As for the kink element, well… there’s a difference between hardcore scenes and scenes like towards the end of the book, where Honda comes home angry, demands Lana have sex with him, and then decides to bring out knives in response to her trying to check in with safe words. Like she literally asks “what if I invoke our safe word now” and he fucking slices his chest and tells her to shut up because what he’s doing isn’t for her. I still get angry trying to think about it. That’s not hot. It isn’t. And there wasn’t any aftercare for Lana until Honda and Yuki had an argument over how she had been treated, which is several hours later/the next day. I am really tired of the proliferation of unsafe kink.

On a much lighter note, this is also supposed to be the start of a paranormal series, but there’s no paranormal aspects to be seen. In fact, we don’t get a hint of it at all until the opening of chapter 2, which I only found out about as the first couple of chapters were previewed at the end of book 1. I get there’s a lot already being set up in this book, but you really need to have all of your cards on the table as soon as possible.

3. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I really didn’t want to include this and in truth, I had higher hopes for this book. Before I tried to read, I was very, very excited over the prospect of lesbian necromancers… in space. What isn’t there to love?

I think the biggest turnoff for me was the writing style itself. I found humor in Gideon’s raunchy voice and snarkiness, but it wasn’t enough to really hold me to this book. It could have also just been the wrong time to try to read this? I do want to try again at some point, as I am so helplessly in love with the concept. But, when I did read it, it just… wasn’t a hit, so I stopped reading pretty early on.

4. Lumière by Jacqueline Garlick

Okay, first of all, the main character’s name was Eyelet. Sometimes funny names are cool (a friend of mine has a character named Olaf – and his real name is much worse). However, I cannot fathom how someone decided such a name was a good idea.

This is another book I did not finish. Mostly due to the above reason, but also because it was honestly kind of convoluted and hackneyed. Back in my Wattpad days, I had a stronger stomach, but I just don’t have the patience anymore for books I don’t like. There isn’t much to say about this one, honestly. I just thought it was kinda silly and I didn’t like it.

Nine Books I’m Reading Now

Finally, to wrap up this post, to go over the current nine books in my reading roster.

  1. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
  2. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  4. The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci
  5. The Long Earth by Stephen Baxter and Sir Terry Pratchett (though I may stop reading this one – I’m just not vibing with it.)
  6. The Throne of the Five Winds by S. C. Emmett
  7. Embassytown by China Mieville
  8. Spice and Wolf Volume 2 by Isuna Hasekura
  9. The Novice by Taran Matharu
  10. (Bonus) Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the current book club pick for a discord server I’m in, so I’m going to try to squeeze this in by the end of this month.

Half A Year in Review – Mid Year Book Freakout Tag

For the most part, I’ve wanted to keep this a writing blog, but reading is a massive part of writing and I’ve been reading a LOT already this year. On YouTube, I’ve been watching a lot of authors participating in the “Mid-Year Freak Out Tag” and the prompts interested me, so I want to try it out.

But before I do, let’s wrap up what I’ve read so far with some stats!

The first six months of 2020, I’ve read 27 books and averaged a 3.4 rating amongst them. For comparison, last year I averaged 3.29 so… right now I’m liking books more (which is surprising, considering how many got 1 stars so far). I’m also mildly surprised I’ve read this much already considering the kind of year it’s been. Already, I’ve read more than all of last year. Wow.

Question 1 – Best Book You’ve Read So Far?

I’m tied between Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri and Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner. Both of them have fantastic relationships I loved reading about and gushing over – which is weird because normally, relationships are not what I put the most stock into. And yet, I think the relationships are part of why I loved them so much.

Question 2 – Best Sequel You’ve Read so Far?

I think I’m going to go with The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. The entire series itself is phenomenal and I was invested the entire way through. I almost wanted to say The Dream Thieves instead, but…. there’s a reason every other book in the series got 4 stars and Raven King got 5. It is heartbreaking and fulfilling and ties up all of its bows in ways expected and unexpected and… yeah. I loved this series a whole lot and I didn’t expect to.

Question 3 – New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To?

I’m going to go with Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer. I’m still really excited to read this because I love witches and especially queer ones.

Question 4 – Most Anticipated Release For the Second Half of the Year?

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. Full stop. I’ve debated preordering it (I probably will when I have the money to) and it sounds like it’s full of all of the sorts of tropes and content that I’m a massive fan of. I am so, so excited. Both for this and for Witches of Ash and Ruin.

Question 5 – Biggest Disappointment?

I wasn’t sure which book to go with at first, but honestly I think I will go with These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling. I really wanted to like this one considering it was gay and about witches and it seemed like it would be all of the things I wanted. But… it wasn’t. I wish I could say it was, but it wasn’t. I don’t know if it was the writing style or some of the aspects of the plot but I just could not vibe with this, which sucks!

Question 6 – Biggest Surprise?

I’ll go with Heroes Wanted: A Fantasy Anthology for this. I’ve been burned before by anthologies. Of course, they’re done by different authors (commonly) so your mileage will vary. You’ll like different authors included than someone else will. Some entries will make you wonder why the author was included at all. But, to be honest? I liked or loved almost every single entry in this anthology, which I was not expecting. I’ve even went and picked up a couple of novels from the authors included.

Question 7 – Favorite New Author?

New for me? Tasha Suri. I don’t know if Meryl Wilsner is a new author, but I love her as well.

Question 8 – Newest Fictional Crush?

I don’t really do fictional crushes but… if I was forced to pick one, I’d probably go with Jo from Something to Talk About. She’s a lot of things I love in women (assertive, powerful, knows what she wants, etc.). I mean, if I met her in real life I would probably melt and be a disaster, but…

Question 9 – Newest Favorite Character?

This is a really difficult question. I don’t normally do “favorite characters” because I tend to like different people for different reasons. For example, thanks to The Dream Thieves I am especially partial to Ronan. I also really like Sera, the main character of Seventh Born by Monica Sanz, and I like almost everyone in Empire of Sand. Too many choices!

Question 10 – Book that Made You Cry?

Not going to lie, I don’t tend to get (negative) emotions while reading? I suppose the ending of The Raven King made me sad – especially regarding Noah, but I didn’t actually cry? I tend to either feel “this was good”, “this was great”, or “this was meh” or “this was fucking garbage” about a book. I can’t recall the last time a book tore out my heart and stomped on it. Maybe The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold, but that was years ago.

Question 11 – Book that Made You Happy?

Something to Talk About. Honestly, this book was veering towards 4 stars, maybe 3.5 cause I was feeling kinda… eh? But then we got towards the end and I absolutely melted. I’m a sucker for romance, and especially if it’s gay.

Question 12 – Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought this Year?

I think I’ll go with Nocturna by Maya Motayne. I buy a lot of ebooks (or rent them) so I don’t get a whole lot of special edition books or anything. But I think the cover for Nocturna is lovely. I just hope the book inside is, too.

Question 13 – What Books Do You Need to Read By the End of the Year?

This is hard to answer, because I’ve recently decided to completely change how I’m reading books. I’ve been suffering a lot from “too many options” syndrome, so I’ve taken to listing out every book I have (that I can) and throwing it into a random selector to choose books for me. Right now, my “to read” list I’ve generated is…

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black (I’m almost done!)
  • Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes (I’ve started this one)
  • Tips for Living by Renée Shafransky
  • Embassytown by China Mieville
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  • Temper: Difference by Lila Mina
  • Life by Lu Yao
  • War Orphan by Sally Mason
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Plus, I have several books on hold on Libby to check out once they’re available to me, which are…

  • Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
  • And Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

So… I have a full list ahead of me.

Reviews and Why They Don’t Matter

Being a voracious reader means I’m constantly searching for books to add to my TBR, just to read them and move them to a different imaginary pile in my head. Reading has been a love of mine since I was two and while my time management has changed drastically, my love for the written word never has. Likewise, my love for writing those words has never changed.

And yet, being a reader and being a writer are two grossly different spheres.

Of course, what we read affects what we write, and in a way what we write affects what we read – research and comparisons and lessons that go deeper than that. But one particularly ugly intersection they have tends to be is in the reception of a person’s work. Particularly, Goodreads, but applicable to anywhere else that one can judge a writer’s work.

As a reader, I am inclined to think readers can judge a book however they wish. As a writer, I try to think the same, but I know how damaging it can look when reception of your work is negative.

But at the end of the day, how a reviewer sees your work doesn’t matter.

Sure, strong positive or negative opinions can sway a neutral audience. If a book has mostly negative reviews, I learn it’s one I’m better off avoiding and vice verse. In a marketing sense, reviews can make or break an author’s work.

But that does not mean we should be breaking reviewers for having opinions.

I’ve seen a lot of authors recently bemoaning their negative reviews, and as a writer I get it. It hurts to have something we’ve spent so much time and energy (and often, money on. It’s our baby! Why is someone harming our baby?

Here’s the thing, though. Once we release our books for public consumption, it isn’t our baby anymore. People are free to shred and 1-star and paper mache and love and write fanfic of and write scathing reviews of the work we produce. And they’re full in their right to do that!

We as writers all too often seem to forget that. We get so caught up in what people are saying about us – about our work – that for some, it’s worth trying to kill people over. For others, it’s worth going on twitter threads and harassing comments and blogs and…

That is not how we should be treating our works. Our readers deserve so much better than that. Our books deserve so much better than that. Instead of obsessing over negative reviews, or calling them names, or trying to dictate who should and should not write reviews in the first place, we should take them in stride and just fucking write.

It is not fair to police a reader’s reception of our work (though bigoted responses are a whole other kettle entirely) just because we do not like it. The best thing we can do is take note of their words, keep any criticism in mind, and move on. To do anything else would be to cheat our readers and, more importantly, cheat ourselves.

Great Expectations: Books That Failed, Books That Impressed, and the Book I’m Excited For

Last year, I made a similar blogpost – here – about five books I had read that disappointed me and five books I was excited to read this year. Sadly, of the list of five I wanted to read, I only got through one. It was another rocky road for reading, but not necessarily for lack of trying. Sometimes life kicks you when you’re already down.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read twenty-four books this year so far and averaged a rating of 3.29 stars. Better than my ratings last year, but not by much. Of them, I have compiled a list of three books I expected more from and two I underestimated. And at the end, I’ll have one book I’m hoping to read next year.

Three Books That Failed the Hype

1. Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

It’s not often that you find transgender rep in novels, less often still that this rep happens in fantasy. I’d heard Mask of Shadows get talked up for the longest time and decided that I had to read it.

Then I did. And I was so disappointed.

The entire book underwhelmed me, but by far the worst parts were the genderfluid rep and the world building. The plot itself was… mildly interesting. The characters were forgettable. Yet it made me scratch my head how Sal could be genderfluid and no one bat an eye, and yet (it seemed) being gay was still subject to the same homophobic nonsense we have in our world. I… don’t understand it at all.

Worse than that, however, was how… flawed Sal was? They had a “system” that while I guess works was rather underdeveloped and cisnormative. “If I wear a dress, call me a girl. If I were pants, call me a boy.” And that was another thing that confused me. They said if they weren’t dressed in a masculine or feminine fashion, that they were gender-neutral and went by “they” which is fine but… I mean I guess it works if they gender clothes differently than we do, but I doubt it considering how heavily they gender other articles of clothing.

In interviews, the author says she consulted trans people when writing Sal. Honestly, should’ve done more research.

2. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

I follow Schwab on Twitter, I’m pretty sure, or I follow someone that does. Point is, I’ve seen her around for a long time and her books have been quite hyped up. Without realizing, I bought more than one book by her – more books to read, I guess – and ended up reading this one first.

The basic idea itself was interesting? But it surrounds a lot of world building that I find… superficial. So much was left unexplained that it hindered the plot a bit. The characters fell flat a lot of the time, honestly. It wasn’t a terrible book, by any means, but it didn’t live up to the expectations I guess I had set out for it.

3. Rat City by Tyffani Clark Kemp

I talked this book up a lot last year in my list of books I was excited to read. It was also the only book in that list I ended up reading this year. And it was… not what I expected it to be.

I feel like I was promised a lot of things I didn’t end up getting. The world building was weird and the plot kept getting sidetracked by a romance arc I smelled from the first page. There were some unfortunate editing mistakes, both grammar-wise and on a grander scale. All of the things that I was thinking of when I first got this book are not what I ended up getting and… safe to say I was sorely disappointed. And while the ending is certainly not what I was expecting, by the time I got it, I was so disappointed that I don’t think I will be purchasing the sequel.

Two Books I Underestimated

1. Vicious by V. E. Schwab

After reading This Savage Song, I wasn’t sure what I could expect from this author anymore, but I still had this book in my library, so I decided to read it.

I’m glad I decided to give this author a second chance, because Vicious was fuckin’ incredible. Is it a perfect book? No, but certainly left quite a taste in my mouth. It has a lot of the aspects I love reading about and the characters are a blast to read about. It was a wild ride from start to finish that I devoured. I was so impressed, in fact, that I purchased the sequel as well. We’ll see if it too lives up to the hype.

2. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I don’t really know why I underestimated this book. Maybe it is the demographic this book is aimed at. Maybe it’s because I disagree with the author in some regards. In any case, I kidded myself into thinking this book wasn’t as good as it was.

And this book ended up being… wonderful.

This book has been in my life since high school. This year, a local queer organization I’m involved in decided for their book club, we’d start off with this. A good choice, honestly. The prose really makes you think. I like a lot the characters quirks. If I ever found my attention wavering, there was always something that quickly dragged me back. And while I guessed at a few of the twists, I didn’t fully expect them. It was nice to see.

Gotta say, though, that the summary is a bit misleading.

One Book I’m Excited to Read in 2020

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

This book has been sitting on my TBR all year and I’m itching to finally get my hands on it. Doesn’t help that my timeline has been talking about it virtually nonstop – means I think about it all the time! As soon as I can, I’m purchasing this book and setting to make it one of the first books I read in 2020. It has all the makings of a fantasy book I’d love to read, as well as some things I’ve not yet seen before.