Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Review: The Edge of the Abyss

Cover of "The Edge of the Abyss," featuring a girl dressed in black standing on the seashore with massive read octopus tentacles rising from the surf
Image from Emily Skrutskie

Title: The Edge of the Abyss

Author: Emily Skrutskie

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: Blood/gore, violence between sea monsters

WARNING: This book is a sequel and this review contains spoilers of The Abyss Surrounds Us!

Back Cover:

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Case dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and threatening the ocean’s ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

Review:

This is one of the best emotional roller coasters I’ve been on in YEARS.

So I loved loved loved The Abyss Surrounds Us, and as soon as I finished reading it I immediately reserved this book at the library.

It never made it out of the library. I had a break between work and yoga, sat down in a chair, and devoured the entire book in a single 1.5 hour sitting. I couldn’t put it down and really didn’t want to.

You get more of the great characters in this book, including some backstories and more about Swift’s history. Also some of Cas’s family towards the end. But most of what you get is Cas and Swift and their relationship, which is a beautiful, complicated mess and a total emotional roller coaster. Ups, downs, love, hurt … so many emotions. It was so raw and real and vivid and I loved the way it wrenched my heart around.

We also get a lot more about pirates in this book. How they work, who they are … even meeting a lot more of them. And it’s interesting, because they’re all scheming and piratey, but none of them seem quite as ruthless as Santa Elena. (And as a bonus, you get to learn a lot about pirate politics, which there is apparently a lot of.)

There is a plot, and a really good one – other set-free Reckoners like Bao are destroying the ocean’s ecosystem – but it takes a bit of a backseat to Cas’s emotional turmoil and her messy relationship with Swift and the reoccurring ethical conundrum of working for and with pirates. But the emotional plot and the plot plot blend nicely, and even though emotions are the focus, it doesn’t overwhelm the sea monster plot.

The only thing I wasn’t 100% a fan of was the final battle. Yeah, it was epic and there were sea monsters and stuff, but in my opinion it wasn’t quite as epic as the ending of book one. Don’t take me the wrong way, it was still pretty darn epic. The Abyss Surrounds Us just set a really high bar that The Edge of the Abyss didn’t quite meet. The ending after the final battle, though, makes up for it.

Overall, this was a great book and an amazing series. This review really isn’t doing this book justice. I loved it. It pulled my heart out and played with it and it’s one of the best books overall I’ve read in a while. I’m just sad this is the end of the series. Logically, I know it’s a good ending, but still. I wish there was more!

The Abyss Surrounds Us Series:

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Did Not Finish, Post-Apocalyptic

Review: Stung

Cover of "Stung," featuring red text on a black background and a translucent image of a honeybee superimposed with an image of a syringe
Image from Bethany Wiggins

Title: Stung

Author: Bethany Wiggins

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/gore, alluded threat of rape

Back Cover:

Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered-her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right wrist-a black oval with five marks on either side-that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. And she’s right. When the honeybee population collapsed, a worldwide pandemic occurred and the government tried to bio-engineer a cure. Only the solution was deadlier than the original problem-the vaccination turned people into ferocious, deadly beasts who were branded as a warning to un-vaccinated survivors. Key people needed to rebuild society are protected from disease and beasts inside a fortress-like wall. But Fiona has awakened branded, alone–and on the wrong side of the wall . . .

Read to: Page 72

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book.

Okay, let’s back up. I wasn’t all that excited about reading this. I picked it up because I’d heard of it many, many years ago and it was on clearance for $1 at my local bookstore. Those are the only reasons. I finally started reading it because I ran out of library books a few days before my next library trip.

I really like the concept. You get quite a bit from the back cover, and even though I didn’t get too far into the book, the world was great. It was dark and gritty and violent and fascinating, the kind of place where even when you know it’s day you picture the sky full of black clouds. And I really like that kind of setting. It was shaping up to be a pretty solid post-apocalyptic world.

The part that I couldn’t get past was Fiona. And not really Fiona herself. It was that it’s made really clear that she’s in her late teens and has an obviously well-developed body, but she’s lost a big chunk of her memory and still thinks she’s 13. The first ally character she meets has her disguise her gender because “it’s unsafe to be a girl” – and the reader knows exactly why, especially when you see the rough and rowdy bands of men roaming around, but Fiona is still 13 in her head and has no idea. And even though her body is older, it felt really gross and creepy to me to hang rape threats over the head of a 13-year-old kid.

Also it felt kinda weird for me, a 20-year-old, to be inside the head of a 13-year-old. It never really bothered me when I read middle grade books, but for some reason this one felt like an invasion of privacy.

Honestly, that was my only problem with the book. Without that part, I don’t think I would have found it spectacular, but I think I would have enjoyed it. That one little detail just gave me an uneasy feeling, and I couldn’t keep reading.

The Stung series:

  1. Stung
  2. Cured
Personal Development

Review: The Power of Habit

Cover of "The Power of Habit," featuring red text on a yellow background and black human silhouettes running on a red hamster wheel
Image from Charles Duhigg

Title: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do

Author: Charles Duhigg

Genre: Self-Help/Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Descriptions of medical procedures (surgery)

Back Cover:

In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

Review:

I picked this up for several reasons:

  1. It was an audiobook and I needed a new audiobook to listen to on my morning commute
  2. That library branch’s selection of audiobooks is pretty extensive but mostly religious
  3. I had a vague feeling that I’d seen it somewhere before and that maybe it was on my to-read list (I checked later, it wasn’t)

But either way, I picked it up and listened to it, and I’m glad I did.

The concept is really fascinating. Charles breaks down habits – how they form, why they form, and how you can change them, looking at psychology and research. And it all made a whole lot of sense.

There are three parts to the book. The first one is on individual habits. This is where Charles lays the foundation for the book – the cue-action-reward sequence that forms habits, how habits can be changed by recognizing cues, changing the action, and getting the same reward, and examples of everything from recovering alcoholics to weight loss to stopping smoking. This part was immensely valuable, completely fascinating, and, best of all, backed up by science (including psychology and neurology).

The second part, on corporate habits, wasn’t quite as good. Sure, it had its interesting facts, but it felt more illustrative than prescriptive – by that point we already know the framework, so it seemed more like it was just using examples to explain how habits work inside companies. Which wasn’t necessarily bad – it just felt like a downgrade after how awesome part one was. Although if I were a business leader, I might find this part more valuable than I did.

The third part, societal habits, is where the book really started to fall apart. It never really explained what a “societal habit” looked like, and with a lot of his examples – like the Montgomery Bus Boycotts – it felt like it was really stretching to make habits the root cause. You don’t learn much that’s useful and there’s not really a good way to apply it to anything.

And as a rather irritating aside, Charles has a habit of jumping between examples – spend a few minutes with this guy, then jump to this lady over here, then this other guy, and now we’re back with the first guy’s story … It all made coherent sense and the transitions weren’t bad, it just got on my nerves because I kept thinking an example was done and nope! We’ll come back in two chapters or so.

Overall, this is an incredibly useful book. Even if you get nothing out of parts 2 and 3, part 1 is valuable enough that it’s still completely worth the read (or listen, in my case). And if you decide to read it and completely skip part 3, I won’t blame you.

Personal Development

Review: Daring Greatly

Cover of "Daring Greatly," featuring a gray background with sideways text that transitions from yellow to green to blue
Image from Brene Brown

Title: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Author: Brené Brown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

Brown explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She writes: “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where “never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt. But when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena—whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.

Review:

I first heard of Brené Brown at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, where she did a speech on vulnerability and communication. It was far and away my favorite speech in the whole two-day event. Daring Greatly and another of her books, Rising Strong, were both on sale at the Summit bookstore – I didn’t buy either of them, but I put them both on my reading list. Cut to now, a year later, and I found Daring Greatly as an audiobook that I could listen to on the way to work.

You know those books where the author is talking about something you shouldn’t do and you think, oh, I don’t do that, but then the book keeps smacking you in the face until you realize that you actually do? Yeah, this was one of those books. With several different concepts.

But the good part is, this book doesn’t just smack you with how you’re screwing up – it provides ideas, tips, suggestions, and ways you can practice being better and living more authentically. Which is the second thing I love about this book. It’s so practical. Coming from an academic researcher, you might expect otherwise, but this is no theoretical construct – well, it is, but there’s also practical steps and commitments and ways to apply the theory. (I have a huge Thing about information being practical, so that gave it major points.)

It’s also super encouraging. The whole book is full of hope and “you can do this” and all the ways life is going to be so much better and real awesome when you’re vulnerable.

Brené is open about her struggles with these concepts. She shares her failures, screw-ups, and moments she just plain could have done better. Which makes this book feel a lot more real. Brené isn’t preaching at you, she’s leading you, saying, “I figured this out and here’s how it’s changed my life – here’s how it can change yours, too.” And I think that’s great.

A review really can’t do justice to this book and the hope and advice and vulnerability contained in it. It’s great advice for relationships. It’s great advice for parenting. It’s great advice for leading. It’s great advice for life, really. And as I listened, I realized that one of the reasons my fiance and I have such a great relationship is because we’d unconsciously discovered a lot of these principles.

Seriously, read this book. And maybe buy copies for other people. I know I intend to make my fiance read (or listen to) it at some point.

Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction

Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Cover of "The Abyss Surrounds Us," featuring an Asian girl standing on the deck of a ship with the giant eye of a sea monster behind her
Image from Emily Skrutskie

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Author: Emily Skrutskie

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic/Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/gore

Back Cover:

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. Shes been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the giant, genetically engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup and teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Review:

I first heard of this as a lesbian book recommendation on Tumblr and immediately reserved it at the library because heck yes scifi lesbians! I’m always complaining about there not being enough gays in speculative fiction. But anyway.

For some reason I thought this was set in space. Not sure how I got that idea. It was a little disorientating at first, because I’m expecting space and getting ocean, but once I got a couple chapters in I was hooked.

The Abyss Surrounds Us has everything I look for in a book.

The Characters: Fascinating! Cas is the protagonist, an East Asian girl from San Francisco who is just getting ready to take her place in the family business – which happens to be raising and training sea monsters. It’s pretty darn epic. Then there’s Swift, the pirate girl assigned to watch Cas while she’s training the pirate’s monster, who’s part badass and a tiny bit sweet and mostly just making the best of some crappy circumstances. Both girls have great character arcs, the romantic tension is obvious but built slowly, and you get cool minor characters in the pirates … it’s just awesome.

The Setting: So this is after a lot of global warming and stuff and the oceans have risen to ridiculous levels, countries have splintered into smaller countries, (hence why I put “post-apocalyptic” as a genre on this) and pirates run so rampant the only way legitimate ships could protect themselves is by genetically engineering sea monsters. It’s a great concept. The pirate ship that most of the story happens on is a combination of old-fashioned pirate-y stuff and modern technology, and there’s even a brief excursion to a floating pirate city which is also really cool. It’s just fantastic.

The Plot: The plot is really quickly paced, which I loved. It follows Cas, and starts with “what’s wrong with my Reckoner,” then moves into “survive the pirates/train the pirates’ monster enough that he looks trained/don’t actually train the monster because I don’t want to help the pirates because they’re evil.” But then she begins to wonder if they’re really so evil. And she starts getting to know (and kinda like) Swift. And what starts off so simply – survive the pirates, don’t help them, get home – suddenly gets super complicated with ethics and emotions and things.

The End: Holy crap, the end. An epic battle that made me feel Epic Battle Feelings that I haven’t gotten from a book in a long time. A twist I probably should have seen coming but didn’t. Romance that I did see coming but was still really happy about. And it wrapped up nicely while still leaving room for a sequel. There were no cliffhangers, just the confident knowledge that you’ll want to spend another book in this world with these characters. And I do.

One thing I will say about it, though, is it is pretty violent. (Hence the trigger warnings.) Some people do die, one death is described in somewhat graphic detail (even though Cas is disgusted by it), and there’s quite a bit of carnage in the final battle. So just be aware of that if that kind of thing bothers you.

If I have any complaints, it’s that the book was too short. (It’s less than 300 pages, which is short to me, and it feels shorter than it is.) But it’s paced perfectly, so I really shouldn’t complain. It was a fantastic book, and I’m super excited there’s a book two. Now, pardon me while I go reserve that one at the library …

(As a side note: If you’re a fan, you really should check out Emily Skrutskie on Tumblr.)

The Abyss Surrounds Us series:

  1. The Abyss Surrounds Us
  2. The Edge of the Abyss
Did Not Finish, Post-Apocalyptic

Review: Firefight

Cover of "Firefight," featuring glowing gold text on a background of dark red torn apart to reveal a golden sky
Image from Brandon Sanderson

Title: Firefight

Series: The Reckoners #2

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/gore

Note: This review contains spoilers of the first Reckoners book, SteelheartDon’t read this review if you want to avoid mild spoilers.

Back cover: 

They told David it was impossible – that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet Steelheart – invincible, immortal, unconquerable – is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life simpler. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And no one in Newcago can give him answers.

Babylon Restored, the city formerly known as the borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic Regalia, Babylon Restored is flooded and miserable, but David is sure it’s the path that will lead him to what he needs to find. Entering a city oppressed by a High Epic despot is risky, but David’s willing to take the gamble. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic – Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker and even more dangerous than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

Review:

I read the first book in this series, Steelheart, as an ARC in 2013 and loved it. So it’s been several years since I read it. I honestly remember it pretty well, though, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to get back into book two – especially with how fantastic of a writer Brandon Sanderson is. I was actually really excited to pick this up.

Unfortunately, it kinda lost me. (And currently holds the record for only Brandon Sanderson book to ever do that.)

I actually did have a pretty easy time getting back into the world. And what a fantastic world. That’s one of the things I love about Brandon Sanderson – his worlds are A M A Z I N G. This series’ world is a dark post-apocalyptic thing where the world is ruled by cruel super-powered people, and focuses on an underground group of guerrilla warriors who are fighting them. And it is great. This book goes to a different city, so you get to explore a new city ruled by a new Epic and following new rules, and I loved the world just as much in this book as I did in the first.

There were a few details from Steelheart that I missed, but Firefight did a good job getting me back up to speed. So if you pick this up a long time (*cough*several years*cough*) after you read the first book, don’t worry, you won’t miss much.

The main reason I just couldn’t get into Firefight was David. Like the back cover said, his motivation has changed from vengeance to finding Firefight and getting answers. Except it’s mostly finding Firefight. So much of his motivation had become “oh my gosh I love her” that I couldn’t deal with it. It wasn’t so much the romance angle that rubbed me the wrong way as David’s inability to even consider anything bad about her. I just got so frustrated with the whole “blinded by love” aspect.

That’s really the main things I have to say about Firefight. The plot was pretty much the same as the previous book – kill an Epic to save the city – just in a different city and with some new characters. The world was fantastic, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters this time around. (Although admittedly, this may have been a little different if I’d have read this directly after Steelheart.) It wasn’t a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, it just wasn’t for me.

The Reckoners Series:

  1. Steelheart
  2. Firefight
  3. Calamity
Environment and Relationships

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The cover of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," featuring red text on a background of a blue sky with clouds
Image from Marie Kondo

Title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Author: Marie Kondo

Genre: Self-Help/Environment and Relationships

Trigger warnings: None

Back Cover:

Japanese organizational consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly declutter your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Whereas most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, the KonMari Method’s category-by-category, all-at-once prescription leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have been repeat customers (and she still has a three-month waiting list of new customers!). With detailed guidance for every type of item in the household, this quirky little manual from Japan’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help readers clear their clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home–and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

Review:

I’ve heard a lot about this book in organizing circles – a lot of people recommend the KonMari Method for organizing, there are a lot of articles on using the KonMari method on closets/kitchens/etc., and in general it’s had a pretty high profile. And since I actually really enjoy cleaning and organizing (odd, I know), when I found this as an audiobook at the library, I snatched it up to listen to on my commute.

If I had to pick one word for this book, it would be: Inspiring.

Admittedly, I love organizing anyway. But something about the way Marie Kondo laid out the method she developed was inspiring. She detailed her experience with organizing, all the mistakes she made and the good ideas she found, and how she developed her method. She also gave a lot of examples from clients she’s worked with and how her method has helped them. So the KonMari method has a very practical foundation.

But it was really the method itself that was the most fascinating. Mainly because it’s so simple. The entire premise is “keep things that bring you joy, discard things that don’t.” There’s some more to it, and Ms. Kondo goes into a lot of detail and explains specifically how it should be done – including what order you should go through your things in – but she promises that even if you’re the laziest person in the world, none of her clients have ever recluttered their house and you won’t either.

There was one weird part about this book, though – the personification of things and places. Ms. Kondo focuses a lot on how sad and dejected unused items feel, how thanking items for their use makes them happier and therefore last longer, methods for helping your items rest and relax … basically treating them like people. She also talks a lot about how your house knows how much stuff should be in it and each item knows how it should be stored. Maybe that’s a Japanese thing, but as a westerner, I found it cool, but a little odd.

The main result of listening to this book for me was that I wanted to go home immediately and organize everything – and if 95% of my stuff wasn’t in boxes right now, I would have. (As it is, my epic organizing binge will have to wait until the plumbing in our new house is fixed and we can move in and get everything out of boxes.) I honestly plan on buying this book just so I can read through it a couple more times – the information in it is so useful, interesting, and inspiring. It’s definitely worth all the hype I’ve been seeing!

Did Not Finish, Fantasy

Did Not Finish: The Young Elites

Cover of "The Young Elites," featuring the title on a background of storm clouds. The "T" in the word "Elites" is replaced with a sword.
Image from Marie Lu

Title: The Young Elites

Author: Marie Lu

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Parental abuse (physical and emotional)

Back cover: 

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Read to: CD 6 of 8 (I “read” this as an audiobook)

Review:

I really enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend, and The Young Elites has been on my reading list for a while. I finally picked it up because I was looking for audiobooks to listen to on my commute to work and it was part of my library’s small selection. And also because special abilities + vengeance = a dark fantasy that should be right up my alley.

As you might have guessed, I wasn’t the hugest fan. But there were really a lot of good things about this book, and what made me give up on it was actually relatively minor. So let’s start with what was good about it.

  • The world was fantastic. It felt like a fantasy southern Europe (like Spain or Italy) with Renaissance elements, and it was just plain beautiful.
  • The minor characters were pretty cool. Each was unique and had their own personalities and quirks, and there were those great characters you love to hate. (And there was even a bisexual male sex worker who was a major member of the Dagger Society and no one looked down on him for his sex work, which I thought was the coolest thing.)
  • The plot is barely touched on in the back cover, but it was not at all what I expected and it was great. (I’m not giving away any spoilers.)

All the main elements were solid and I enjoyed them. But like I said, it was minor details that I took issue with. Such as the fact that Teren is mentioned in the back cover like he’s going to be a major character and he’s really glossed over. I think he got three (very short) chapters in the entirety of what I read, and there were some interesting things going on with him, but the book doesn’t spend enough time with him to flesh it out and make it anything more than a confusing distraction from Adelina.

The romance was another minor detail that bothered me. It started off slow enough that I could look past it, but it was starting to pick up when I stopped. It was just so aggressively … trope-y? I’m not really sure how to describe it, but there was a bit of a love triangle even though it was obvious which guy was the “real” love interest and it had the whole we-both-like-each-other-but-we’re-not-going-to-say-anything-and-pretend-nothing-is-happening-even-though-it’s-obvious thing going on

The beginning is also very flashback-heavy with Adelina remembering life with her abusive father, and that was … it was hard. It was hard to read and hard to think about, and if you’ve experienced any sort of abuse it’s probably not going to be good for you.

There was one main issue that finally made me stop, though. Adelina is put in a position where she has to choose between the Dagger Society and her sister (it’s more complicated, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers). And there’s a huge running theme of her moral dilemma – should she tell the Daggers and ask for their help or just betray them? Several times she gets close to telling Enzo and chickens out. But then she’s presented with a perfect opportunity where they wouldn’t even suspect she’s been dealing with this for a while and she STILL DOESN’T TAKE IT. And that’s where I stopped. Being put in a bad position is one thing, actively making your situation worse because you don’t take the opportunities that smack you over the head is a completely different (and endlessly frustrating) thing.

I looked at the Goodreads reviews for this book, and there’s a lot of them that have nothing but good things to say about The Young Elites. And I can see why. There’s a lot of good things in here. It’s dark and poetic and has a solid world and a great plot. It just wasn’t the book for me.

The Young Elites series:

  1. The Young Elites
  2. The Rose Society
  3. The Midnight Star
Current Issues/Society

Review: The Tipping Point

The cover of "The Tipping Point," featuring dark green text on a light tan background
Image from Malcolm Gladwell

Title: The Tipping Point

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger warnings: Mentions of murder/death

Back Cover:

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

Review:

Confession time: I “read” this as an audiobook. Actually the first audiobook I’ve listened to since Stuart Little in third grade. So my experience with this book (and how much I retained from it) is a little different than if I’d have read it as a traditional book. I picked it up, though, precisely because it was an audiobook, as my morning commute has gone from 10 minutes to 40 minutes and I decided to try to maximize my driving time. I also picked it up because I have several Malcolm Gladwell books on my reading list, and I honestly didn’t even read the back cover.

This book was definitely interesting. Gladwell presents a framework that explains how all trends, from fashion to products to crime rates, happen and why. He also explains the role of different kinds of people (who he calls “Mavens,” “Salesmen,” and “Connectors”) in starting and influencing trends. All in all, it made for a fascinating theory.

The main drawback is that it seems like just theory. The book was more illustrative than prescriptive – it gave a lot of examples of how things from crime to shoes fits into his framework, but it doesn’t actually give any practical advice on how to use that framework. There’s nothing that tells you specifically how to start a trend, influence a trend, plot the course of a current trend, or predict what’s going to be the next trend. It’s more about fitting what’s happened in the past into his framework than anything – which is interesting, but I’m all about practical application.

Overall, this was a good book. It was interesting, and the concept of the tipping point makes a lot of sense. But even though it was interesting, I didn’t find it useful, and that’s a big strike against it in my book.

Did Not Finish, Steampunk

Review: The Friday Society

Cover of "The Friday Society," featuring three girls dressed in steampunk clothes and holding steampunk weapons
Image from Adrienne Kress

Title: The Friday Society

Author: Adrienne Kress

Genre: Steampunk

Trigger Warnings: Death, mild sexual harassment

Back Cover:

Set in London at the turn of the last century, the novel follows the stories of three intelligent and very talented young women, all of whom are assistants to very powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, combat instruction assistant; and Nellie, a magician’s assistant. The three young women’s lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It’s up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder – and the crimes they believe may be connected to it – without calling too much attention to themselves.

Told with Adrienne Kress’s sharp wit and a great deal of irreverence, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike – well, relatively ladylike – heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.

Read to: Page 115

Review:

I grabbed this from the library mainly because steampunk, but also because of the badass girl trio. I wasn’t too enthused with the romance angle, but I hoped it would be overlook-able.

I honestly put it down because it was just plain boring.

The story alternates perspectives between the three girls, and the only girl I was really interested in was Michiko. She had a really cool backstory, and I think I would have enjoyed a book just about her. Cora and Nellie were practically interchangeable, their main difference being the skills they obtained by working for different men. And when the three girls got together, Michiko didn’t speak much English, so it was basically Cora and Nellie with a background Michiko.

(The irony to me here is that the back cover described the characters as “unforgettable,” and even after spending 115 pages with these girls, I still had to look up their names to write this review.)

I honesty could have forgiven all of that if the steampunk world was good. And honestly, the way the book is written, it seems to be trying to put quite a bit of emphasis on the world. But there wasn’t a world to speak of. It was set in London, and there were steam-powered carriages that didn’t need horses – and that’s all we get. When it’s set, or even that it’s steampunk at all, is completely left to the imagination, which is not what I want when I pick up a steampunk book.

I can’t even really comment on the plot, because I couldn’t find one. By page 115, there were two dead bodies, and instead of even really being bothered by this, the girls are in Nellie’s bedroom playing truth or dare.

I think one of the biggest things that bothered me, though, was the assistant aspect. These girls are supposed to be badass, but the only reason they’re even remotely interesting is because of their connection to different men. And the raging feminist in me got really, really upset about that because these girls (especially Michiko) had the potential to be great on their own, but there’s so much focus on their Important Male Benefactor that it seems like they’d be nothing without their men.

In short, I was disappointed and mildly irritated and The Friday Society was bland and boring.