Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

DNF at 23%/114 pages

As with so many of the books I DNF, this was okay, but not good enough for me to finish. Patel’s writing flows well and has an elegance to it, but the character work here let this novel down for me. My biggest issue was that this novel felt like it was going through the motions of the myth rather than telling us a story where the character’s decisions organically moved the plot along. A lot of the plot beats felt like they occurred because the myth necessitated it, and not because it made sense within the context of their characters and their relationships (I don’t know the original myth this is based on, though, so take this with a grain of salt). I understand that this is a retelling and so must, in some way, follow the course of the original story, but I would’ve liked to see it told in a way that made it feel a bit more authentic to the characters.

The Mask of Mirrors of M. A. Carrick

DNF at 32%/200 pages

The thought of reading 400 more pages of this book made me want to jump off a cliff. I was just so deeply, deeply bored reading this. Sure the pacing is slow and the worldbuilding is convoluted, but by far my biggest issue here is the lack of any kind of meaningful character development or dynamics. These characters exist just to act and react to things; they have feelings but only insofar as those feelings serve to move the plot forward. And as characters, they are just AGGRESSIVELY BLAND. In the 200+ pages of this that I read, i did not experience a single emotion; I wasn’t surprised or moved or angry or sympathetic or intrigued–just nothing. I could not care less about what happened to these characters, least of all Ren, who had about as much personality as a paper towel. I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I decided to cut my losses and call it quits.✌

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

DNF at 25%/70 pages

I really did not get along with this book. The prologue was brilliant: moving, evocative, intriguing. It pulled me right in to the story, and almost made me cry–it was that good. But then once we got on to the actual book it all just…fell apart. The biggest issue for me here is the writing: it does not read smoothly at all; it had a very fragmented stop-and-start quality to it that made me aware of every single second that I spent reading this book. (After I DNFd this I started reading a book whose writing I actually got along with and the difference was like night and day.) Add onto this a narrative that felt very dry and lifeless and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

DNF at 15%/100 pages

Not to be dramatic but this book is everything I hate about fantasy: so painfully bland, with not a single iota of personality to be found anywhere. Nothing about this book held my attention in any way. I read 100 whole pages of it but couldn’t tell you a single thing about these characters if I tried.

The Betrayed by Reine Arcache Melvin

I was really excited to read this–I’ve read so few novels set in the Philippines–but unfortunately it didn’t work for me as a novel. I actually quite liked the beginning of the book, but after that I felt like the plot and narrative structure were a bit fragmented, which made it hard to follow these characters and track their relationships and development. The narrative as a whole had a tendency to flit from one character to the next, one moment to the next, with few interstitial scenes to really do the work of connecting together those moments and making the narrative as a whole more cohesive.

I also DNFd The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah, Little Foxes Took Up Matches by Katya Kazbek, and What Isn’t Remembered by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry, which I have full reviews up for here, here, and here, respectively.

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Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? is–maybe surprisingly, given its title–a lovely book, funny and poignant in equal measure. And it’s exactly that combination of the two, the balancing act between gravity and levity, that makes it work so well as a memoir. Right from the get-go, the opening chapter of the book tells you all that you need to know about the kind of tone you’re getting here,

“One thing they don’t tell you about mammies is that when they die you get new trousers. On my first full day as a half-orphan, I remember fiddling with unfamiliar cords as Margaret held my cheek and told me Mammy was a flower . . . ‘Sometimes,’ croaked Margaret, ‘when God sees a particularly pretty flower, He’ll take it up from Earth, and put it in his own garden’ . . . As Margaret reassured me that God was an avaricious gardener intent on murdering my loved ones any time he pleased, I concentrated once more on my new corduroy slacks, summoned from the aether as if issued by whichever government department administers to the needs of all the brave little boys with dead, flowery mams – an infant grief action pack stuffed with trousers, sensible underpants, cod liver oil tablets and a solar-powered calculator.”

And to be sure, it’s not an easy tone to strike. This is, in many ways, a sad book: O’Reilly confronts the loss of his mother head on, a loss that is made all the more tragic because he was so young when it happened. It’s also a loss that follows him throughout his life, as he tries to recover his early memories of his mother, the very little that he had of her before she passed away.

And yet, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? is never a sad book, per se. O’Reilly takes many things seriously–bereavement, grief–but he also knows when not to take things seriously, and that’s what makes this book so charming in the end. That’s not to say that sad books about grief are somehow lesser–that O’Reilly’s book is “better” as a memoir because it’s not just sad–but rather that this particular book accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to combine the serious with the funny, and look at the ways in which the two can and do intersect.

“I was simply too young to grasp that the only thing sadder than a five-year-old crying because his mammy died is a five-year-old wandering around with a smile on his face because he hasn’t yet understood what that means. We laugh about it now, but it really is hard for me to imagine the effect I must have had, skipping sunnily through the throng, appalling each person upon their entry to the room by thrusting my beaming, three-foot frame in front of them like a chipper little maître d’, with the cheerful inquiry:
‘Did ye hear Mammy died?'”

Something else I loved about this book’s tone is O’Reilly’s earnestness. It’s a memoir about his mother, yes, but also about the rest of his family: his dad, who features prominently in many of the chapters, and his ten siblings. There are lots of fun and funny dynamics at play here, and I think O’Reilly does a great job at teasing out some of the notable and illustrative anecdotes that speak to these family members. His dad especially is quite the character (in the best of ways): I love the way he gently pokes fun at his little quirks and mannerisms. Regardless of who or what O’Reilly is talking about, though, that earnestness is always there: you can really tell how much he loves and cares for his family, and that shines through in the writing without it ever being sentimental or saccharine. It’s just a simple fact for him, and he treats it as such.

I just really enjoyed Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?–and especially because I listened to Séamas O’Reilly himself narrate the audiobook. His literal voice and narrative voice compliment each other perfectly, and the humour of his writing very much comes through in the way that he narrates the audiobook.

Altogether, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? really is such a charming memoir, one that I frankly can’t imagine anyone not liking.

Thanks so much to Hachette Audio for providing me with an audiobook ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

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More of a 3.5 stars, but I still really loved this.

I love me a good angsty romance, and A Lady for a Duke was angsty, and then some. Two chapters into this and I was already so deeply invested. This novel has such a great setup, and Hall does an excellent job at not just drawing it out–the pining!!!!–but also sticking the landing when it comes to the payoff. I loved our two main characters, Viola and Gracewood, and even more I just loved how much they cared for and took care of each other. I especially enjoyed the fact that they each got internal conflicts that felt hefty–that’s not to say that this is a dark romance, per se, but that these characters’ growth over the course of the novel felt really earned to me. They each have to work to grow and to make sense of who they are and what they want, and it’s exactly for that reason that when they do actively decide to be together, it feels all the more rewarding.

If there’s one critique that I have about A Lady for a Duke, though, it’s that the characters admitted their feelings for each other a bit earlier than I would’ve liked. It was nice that their feelings were out in the open and they could be safe in the knowledge that the other character felt the same way about them, but I felt like having them be so honest early on–I think maybe it was around halfway through the novel?–meant that it deflated some of that tension that made the first half so enjoyable and compelling. I wouldn’t have wanted them to keep everything bottled up, either, but I feel like there could’ve been a way to keep some of that tension going whilst also having them be honest with each other.

Overall, though, this was an excellent romance; everyone on my feed has been loving it, and I’m glad to say that I, too, loved it.

Thanks so much to Forever for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!

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