Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classics
Secondary genre: romance/drama
Format: audio
CW: infidelity, antisemitism, suicidal ideation, suicide, emotional and financial abuse
Rating: planchet-4

**This review contains spoilers**

Are you in the mood for a surprisingly modern classic novel that weighs roughly the same as a small child? Then have I got a book for you!

All joking aside, even on audio this book took me a good long time to work through. I had to start out with the narration on a slower (for me) speed (1.4x) while I adjusted to the Russian naming conventions (Russian names are weird. Familiarize yourself before you start reading Russian lit or you will be very confused as every has 3-4 names). About a third of the way through I was able to up it to my usual 1.8x.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this this book. Infidelity is one of my hot button issues; I will frequently DNF a book if it comes up. It drives me crazy for reasons I won’t get into here. But, despite being written by a white dude in the 1870s, it was refreshingly feminist (Spoiler: the feminism ends abruptly when Anna commits suicide because she can’t stand being scorned, separated from her son, or the fear of her paramour leaving her). Though society maligns our titular character for carrying on an affair and leaving her husband, the author questions why Anna is an outcast in society while her brother, who is a serial cheater and ends up abandoning his wife, is still welcome in all the best drawing rooms in St. Petersburg, leaving her to the mercy of her sister and brother-in-law.

At one point, there’s even a really great conversation about the working rights of women and if they should be allowed to own property, hold public office, or even vote. While the conversation ends on a sour note, I was surprised to hear the pro arguments presented by male characters in a novel from this time period.

There are also great arguments–both for and against–communism, education, religion, and the meaning of life.

I’ve never read any Russian literature before, but I did really enjoy Tolstoy’s writing (okay, it was in translation, but still. Really good), and I’m planning to listen to War and Peace over Christmas break.

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Genre: fantasy
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: Abelism, poor rep for Native American, POC, and LGBT+ communities, misogony
Rep: Chronic illness
Series: Worldwalker vol 1
Rating: planchet-3

Lily is allergic to everything. At any given moment, she could break out in hives, throw up, pass out, or even have a seizure because of them. It’s so bad that it’s unclear if she’ll be able to graduate high school, as more and more of her time is spent in sterile hospitals going through round after round of useless tests and experimental treatments. But despite all of it, no one can figure out what is wrong with her or why her health continues to deteriorate.

With an ever shrinking circle of friends, an unstable family situation, and no future in front of of her, it’s somewhat understandable for a fight with her best-friend-turned-boyfriend to feel like the end of the world, to feel like she has nothing worth living for.

Until a tiny voice asks if she wants a way out–a way to another world.

And the voice is coming from inside her head.

In a flash Lily finds herself transported to an alternate reality, a parallel universe where the witches at Salem didn’t burn–they took over.

Now America–which isn’t even a country–has been abandoned by Europe. White settlers live in thirteen walled cities run by witches who use magic to provide transportation, food, medicine, and everything the people need.

Outside the walls, is chaos.

Wild beasts–magically bred–rule the forests. The only people brave enough to live outside the walls are those who can’t gain citizenship: the Outland peoples who have banded together to fight off the monsters and the witches alike. Originally made up of native tribes, the Outlanders have “adopted” anyone who has been exiled for fled from the cities.

Salem, the largest and most fear city, is ruled by Lilian, the most powerful witch in the thirteen cities, who runs things with an iron fist. But here’s the crazy part–Lilian and Lily are two flavors of the same person.

When she realizes her doppelganger has instigated murder and torture in the name of “purity” Lily makes a run for her life. Captured by Outlanders, it takes time to explain that not only is the not the evil queen, but she’s not even supposed to be in this universe. But there’s more; the resemblance between Lily and Lilian isn’t only skin deep. Lily also develops magical powers. According to Rowan, the handsome man training her, her constant fever and “allergies” are her body trying to channel the energy around her into magic, and failing due to lack of training.

Lilian put a price on their heads. If Lily wants to get home, she will have to help Rowan and the other Outlanders defeat Lilian in all-out war. And it still remains unclear why Lilian brought her otherworldly twin to this universe to begin with.

As you might have gathered from the summary, this book has a lot of aspects that are downright problematic, from the repeated use of “painted savages” for Outlanders, to the ableism in Lily’s illness being turned into an expression of her magic. While I can’t speak with authority on the latter, I have heard the majority of disabled people dislike it when their disability is used in this way, though I’ve also heard of some who find it empowering. It depends on how they identify with their particular illness or disability. Personally, having read similar takes on chronic illness and mental illness, it makes me uncomfortable.

This book made me so angry because despite the many problematic elements, I wanted to keep reading. I really enjoyed the story and the drama. At this point, I can’t say if the problematic bits are meant to be social commentary to point out problems in our society by driving them to an extreme, or if they are actually as problematic and socially blind as they appear.

I may need to read the second book to find out.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Genre: fantasy
Secondary genre: historical/political
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: attempted sexual assault, violence, pet death
Series: His Fair Assassin vol 1
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains major spoilers, which are marked below**

After being abused by her parents, Ismae is sold into a marriage contract. But when her new husband sees the mark on her back–a blood red scar leftover from her mother’s attempted abortion–he beats her, rejects her, and sends her fleeing into the night.

She finds refuge in a convent dedicated to Mortain, one of the old gods of death. Populated by women and girls that have led hard lives much like Ismaes, they train from dawn to dusk in every manner of death.

When Ismae finally reaches the point, some years later when she goes out on her first solo mission, her assignment is interrupted by a man determined to keep her victims alive.

After a second run in, the mystery man tracks Ismae back to the convent. After explaining that he works for the Dutchess–the country’s teenage ruler, in danger of loosing her power to the invading French army–Ismae and the mysterious Duval have no choice but to work together. With Ismae’s ability to not only see the mark of Death on a person, and her immunity to poison and magic-enhanced healing, she soon becomes close to the dutchess and secretly takes a role not only as her confidant, but also her body guard.

But Duval has secrets of his own and may not be trustworthy, no matter what the reverend mother and the convent’s patron say. If she wants to keep herself and the dutchess safe, Ismae will have to track down the leak in their security network.

But to do so may mean betraying everything she’s come to believe about herself, the world, and the convent that saved her life.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, it has great historical and political details that dovetail nicely with actual historical fact, but with an added fantasy element.

However, I found Ismae to be annoying, stubborn, and willfully obtuse at points, and I really didn’t like Duval. While he did have his good points, it’s clear almost from the first time he appears that he’s meant to be the love interest, and I really just don’t like him in that role.

There were some very funny bits, and some that were more heart wrenching. Honestly, my favorite scenes were the ones where Ismae killed someone she wasn’t supposed to (because ASSASSIN). She just can’t seem to help herself. 🙂

And then there’s the bit about Ismae’s powers. **spoiler** Ismae can literally cure poisoning by sleeping with people. That scene made me want to scream.

I don’t know if I want to continue with this series. I liked the beginning and the ending, but the bits in between left me somewhat cold, and there were still unanswered questions at the end.

What are your thoughts? Have you read the His Fair Assassin series?

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: adventure
Format read: hardback
Positive Rep: POC (multiple, including Middle Eastern and African), mixed race, epilepsy, LGBT+ (gay and aro/ace), autistic coding, Muslim
Series: Montague Siblings vol 2
Rating: planchet-5

Henry “Monty” Montague entered the literary world with a splash in 2017 in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. For fans of our rakish hero concerned about this second book following his somewhat dowdy and straight laced sister, Felicity, let me allay your fears: Petticoats and Piracy is just as funny, queer, and heart-wrenching as the first volume in the series.

One of my favorite bits about this book is that it ca be read as a stand alone. While the backstory and family relationships will make a lot more sense to those who have read Vice and Virtue, Felicity’s story is all her own and she makes that very clear from the beginning: She has left home, supporting herself with part-time work at a bakery while attempting to gain admittance to an Edinburgh medical school in the late 1700s, or at least obtain some sort of apprenticeship on the subject.

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude at the time is that women are unfit for the medical field–despite the fact that Felicity has, under hazardous and far less than ideal conditions, performed surgery on multiple occasions–including stitching up her own brother’s head after his ear was sliced off in the first book. In fact, in the first ten pages we see her stitching up her boss’s hand after he cuts the tip of his finger off.

Alas, while they are good friends, Callum wants more. When Felicity tries to let him down gently, this “nice guy” accuses her of leading him on and taking advantage of his kindness. The argument, combined with her latest rejection from the medical field, finally helps Felicity reach a decision: it’s time to leave Edinburgh, and have an adventure of her own.

The book is full of plot twists and lively, eccentric characters with easily the most effortlessly diverse cast I’ve reviewed to date.

From start to finish, I loved this book. I related so hard to Felicity. While she can be narrow minded about some things–especially what it means to be female or feminine–through the course of the book she changes her opinions and grows and changes as a person. I loved seeing the development of the various characters.

And never fear–Monty and Percy also show up, and while they do feature prominently in some scenes, they are far from stealing the show.

Definitely pick up this book–and Vice and Virtue–if you have’t yet. In fact, maybe it’s time to give it a re-read.


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Genre: Scifi
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: racism
Rating: planchet-3

This novel from 1932 is somewhat disturbing to read today. No, scratch that. It’s definitely disturbing.

It depicts a near-future scenario in which all humans are bred in labs and genetically altered for their specific role in society. The family has been erased. So has religion, romance/love, and pretty much all intense emotion. Disease and poverty are eradicated. The “perfect drug” has been created that eliminates anxiety, stress, and depression with zero side effects.

The story flips back and forth between several different perspectives which makes it difficult to follow in the beginning, but it does provide a lot of necessary background and worldbuilding. Because this is technically a classic, I don’t want to get too much into the plot, since it can easily be found with a quick google.

I don’t know anything about the background of this book or what the author’s intent was. It can be take one of two ways: the “Brave New World” is an inevitable, utopian ideal humanity is working toward, or–and I think this more likely–it is a criticism of “modern” life (circa 1932), and takes the changes happening in society to an extreme. It reminds me of the arguments I heard against marriage equality prior to the federal ruling here in the states– “What’s next? People marrying dogs?” “They’ll force it on us eventually. We’ll all have to be gay!” (Yes, those are real statements I heard.) It’s a logical argument taken to an illogical conclusion.

It reads like a handbook of child abuse, brainwashing, and classism as young children are “trained” for their roles, including such techniques as depriving fetuses of oxygen and using electric shocks to teach those destined for “lower” ranking jobs that books are bad.

In addition, there is a “savage” reservation (roughly overlapping with the Navajo, Apache, and Hopi reservation currently in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah). In this book, however, “savage” does’t refer specifically to native populations (though they do make up the majority) but to any “undesirable” populations that refused to accept the new world order. To this end, the reservation is a melting pot that combines many cultures that no longer exist elsewhere in the world. It’s also the only place where people can still get sick and children are still conceived and born (as opposed to “decanted”).

And no one leaves.

Tourists are allowed in to observe the “strange and mysterious” behaviors, but those who live on the reservation will be killed if they attempt to leave.

I can’t go into too much detail here because it will set me off on a rant. This book disgusted and angered me. I hated reading it. I would almost call it traumatizing.

At the same time, I think the message it contains, particularly in the current international political climate, is something that deserves consideration.

Did I enjoy reading it? Absolutely not.

Was it important? Hell yes.

This is not a book to enter into lightly, so if you are having mental health issues, especially regarding anxiety, I would say to skip this. But if you think you can handle it, it does bring up a lot of good points.




Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Genre: mystery
Format read: audiobook
Positive Rep: POC (multiple)
Rating: planchet-5

Our main character in this one, Clay, made a mistake I am all too familiar with: getting an art degree during an economic downturn.

After the startup he worked for goes bust, Clay is left wandering the streets of San Francisco, trying to find a new job. More of out curiosity than anything else, he wanders into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore with it’s help wanted sign in the window, and discovers a charming but dusty shop run by a thin old man. Though it’s not as prestigious as what he’d been hoping for, Clay sees potential in the bookstore, and accepts the job offer.

It’s clear from the first night that there’s something strange about this bookstore. For starters, there are almost no customers. The inventory is sporadic, and the computer is as old as he is.

But what customers do show up are more than a little strange. They hardly seem aware of the world around them, and most of them have special membership cards that allow them to take books as they please and then return them–as though they came from a lending library, and not a bookstore!

But it’s not until Clay opens one of the mysterious books from the back of the store that he realizes just how strange Mr. Penumbra’s is: All of the books his mysterious clients ask for night after night are in code.

The discovery of the code sends Clay on a mission to not only crack it, but to find the secret of the book store. Together with a computer expert, a prop  designer, and his wealthy best friend, he assembles a team that uncovers a secret society dating back hundreds of years.

I thought this book would be something quiet and relaxing to listen to on a night I was plagued by insomnia.

Boy, was I wrong.

While it starts off a little quieter, Robin Sloan weaves an exciting mystery with a surprisingly simple resolution (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you). A quick read, I blew through the audio in about two days, and was utterly hooked almost from chapter one. Even when I wasn’t able to listen, I was thinking about the book and trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

If you are a fan of books, or of ways books and technology work together, than this is definitely a book you should read.

In fact, you should just read it full stop.

6 Book Vloggers You Should Watch

Books with Chloe

This Aussie booktuber is an absolute delight, and probably the reason I started this blog in the first place. I stumbled on her channel a few weeks ago and dove head first into her reading vlogs. She’s been gently prodding (ahem. Coercing) her sister and boyfriend to read by picking TBRs for them. I also love her random dance parties.

This Story Ain’t Over

Every time I watch one of Jananie’s videos I add at least 2-3 books to my TBR. She reads a lot of very diverse stories that I never see talked about in other parts of Booktube, so if you’re looking for something different, definitely check her out.

Read by Zoe

Zoe has been a mainstay in my youtube subscriptions for years. She’s so silly, cute, and enthusiastic–but also honest about her struggles with mental health. I especially love her readathon blogs.

Brittany the Bibiophile

Brittany is a relatively new addition to my youtube, but I’ve been enjoying her vlogs quite a bit. A psych major, she examines her books a little differently than most of the other readers I’ve seen.

A Book Utopia

Ah, Sasha. Sasha Alsberg is somewhat infamous in the booktube community since she started publishing. I confess, I like her a lot better as a reader than a writer. But I do enjoy her vlogs and her booktube videos. I probably won’t be taking any of her writing advice, though….


Kat is the reason I got into Booktube in the first place. Goofy, awkward in the best way, and funny she reads primarily YA and sparked my interest in a lot of new books I’d never heard of when I first started watching. She’s also a writer (as yet unpublished), and while we have vastly different methods of working, I still enjoy listening to her talk about her work. Her non-book related content is also very, very funny.