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Audio ARC Review: Babel by R.F. Kuang

Publication Date: August 23, 2022


From award-winning author R.F. Kuang comes Babel, a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal retort to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British empire.

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh. My Gods. Five Stars do not do this book justice. It was stunning and gorgeous and horrifying and devastating and so, so believable. The way R.F. Kuang grounds every aspect of her worldbuilding in real-life history (documented in copious footnotes) makes the progression of the story logical and feel true. It also makes the horrors of colonialism creep up on you until it’s overwhelming.

I adore the magic system, based on translation between languages, and the shades of meaning that are lost in the process. It is these lost shades of meaning that power the magic when inscribed on silver bars.

The academic setting feels incredibly realistic and nostalgic (in that weird way that brings back memories both good and bad).

The way everything is tied together and carefully plotted, the slow revelation of the horrors of the web of colonialism that traps them all, the slow and inevitable way the characters grow and grow apart — it’s all masterful.

Did I mention devastating? Because I cried more than I have at most books I’ve read this year. I got so wrapped up in the characters and their struggles that it felt so incredibly real

The audiobook was performed beautifully, with a different narrator reading the footnotes and pronouncing the things being translated from other languages, which made it easy to separate them from the main text. I couldn’t put it down and if it hadn’t been for the holidays would have flown through it in just a few days.

11/10 highly recommend.

*Thanks to NetGalley and HarperVoyager for providing an early copy for review.

Best Books of 2022 — In Which I Fail Spectacularly to Compile a “Top Ten” List.

Image: Goodreads Year in Books 2022 – 166 Books read.

I read 166 books in 2022. Yes, some of them were shorter books: several middle-grade books and a few advanced review copies of picture books. Most were novels, though few were truly giant tomes. I really enjoyed most of them.

Which is to say, trying to pick the “top ten” was excruciating and an exercise doomed to failure. So… I cheated. Or rather, I modified the goal. Thus I present to you… my top 10 42 books read in 2022 (and even that is fudging things a bit as there are a few instances here of me using a single book to stand in for the entire series if I read the entire series in 2022 and didn’t want my list to balloon uncontrollably) organized like so:

  • Top 18 (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
  • Top 9 Romances read 2022
  • Top 9 Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022
  • Top 6 Fiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022

And just for funsies:

  • Song of the Year 2022

I have linked to the goodreads page for each book (and the youtube page for the song). Obviously these are all recommendations as well.

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 1)

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 2)

Best Romances read 2022

Best Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Best Fiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Aaaaaand, just for funsies:

Song of the Year 2022

Blog Tour: Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Publication Date: August 23, 2022

Welcome to the Love on the Brain book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)


LOVE ON THE BRAIN introduces readers to neuroscientist Bee Königswasser, who lives her life by a simple motto: What would Marie Curie do? If NASA offered her the leading role on a neuroengineering project—a literal dream come true after years scraping by on the crumbs of academia—Marie would accept without hesitation. Duh! But the mother of modern physics never had to co-lead alongside an engineer who also happens to be her archnemesis. Levi Ward made his feelings toward Bee very clear in grad school – he hated her, plain and simple. But when Bee is faced with one career dilemma after the next, it seems the tables may be turning. Perhaps it’s her occipital cortex playing tricks on her, but Bee could swear she can see Levi softening into an ally… or maybe even something more?

Author Bio:

Hazelwood draws on her own experience as a professor of neuroscience to capture the cutthroat world of higher education, both “the agony and the ecstasy” of academia. Hazelwood’s stories are also heavily influenced by pop culture as The Love Hypothesis was originally conceived as Star Wars fanfiction. Her novels are perfect for readers who geek out over rom-coms, and for fans of Emily Henry and Helen Hoang.  

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What I love most about this book – as I did with the Love Hypothesis – is how faithfully Ali Hazelwood portrays academia and science; specifically, what it’s like to be a woman in STEM. It’s even more prominent in this book, and I immediately feel such a kinship with Bee and the other characters. It’s almost visceral, this sense of belonging. Having attended a predominantly male STEM school it’s all so, SO familiar.

I loved the You’ve Got Mail -esque premise, and greatly enjoyed watching it play out. It is inevitable from the beginning what will happen, but it’s the journey that’s the important part in this story. In such a story, everything hangs on the characters. Her characters feel so real, so very human and alive. And the precision with which she skewers certain types of people in STEM is astonishing. I was wholly invested for every moment of the story.

The sex scenes were decent, I think. Not the best I’ve ever read, perhaps, but then I’m not really a good judge of sex scenes, since I’d honestly prefer it if they all disappeared and tend to skim them. I have a feeling that a lot of people will really like them, and that’s what matters. They were different than a lot of the ones I’ve read before which is something.

It’s clear that Ali Hazelwood is very keen on the small woman/hulking dude dynamic which… is not my thing. But again, I’m pretty sure a lot of people will really enjoy it. I personally appreciated Levi’s sensitivity and wit and general decentness more. Contrary to Bee’s initial impression of him, he’s definitely the sort of guy I would want to get to know. Similarly, I really want to get to know Bee. And Rocio and Kaylee and Reike (even though she’s only present through phone calls). And Lily and Penny… basically everyone. They’re unique and chaotic and quirky and charming and just… the sort of people you would want to know and have in your life.

Sometimes when I’m reading I find that the characters’ struggles aren’t really relevant to me, or sometimes not even plausible. Not the case here. I was with these characters every step of the way and firmly on their team through all their struggles and joys. And that is one of the things I love most about reading romance, and why this became an instant favorite.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The real villain is love: an unstable isotope, constantly undergoing spontaneous nuclear decay.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Levi became my sworn archenemy on a Tuesday in April, in my Ph.D. advisor’s office.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Science doesn’t give a shit. Science is reliable in its variability. Science does whatever the fuck it wants. God, I love science.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

I take off my sandals and push my legs against the dashboard, hoping Levi won’t take offense at my bright yellow nail polish and my incredibly ugly pinkies. I call them the Quasimotoes.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

I now know more about body decomposition and makeup palettes than I thought I ever would, but I regret nothing. This is almost nice.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

Rocio rummages in her jeans pocket and offers him an unwrapped, slightly squished red gumball.

“Thank you. This is…” He looks at the gum. “A thing that I now have.”

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

ARC Review: A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: May 24, 2022


A lush, sweeping queer historical romance from the bestselling author of Boyfriend Material—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Manda Collins!

When Viola Caroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.

Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.

As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was Everything. I am aware that I say that… not infrequently, but when I love things, I really love them. And this… I had high hopes, because lets be honest, I love everything Alexis Hall writes, but this was so much more.

Regency romance? check. Loads of pining? check. Loads of queer and unconventional characters? check.

I’ve read books like that before, of course. Not many, not nearly as many as I would like, but there are some. But I’ve never read one with a trans main character, and I didn’t anticipate how deeply it would hit me, as a nonbinary person who, like Viola, has struggled with my identity and my body and my desire.

Viola Caroll is strong and determined and fierce and deeply, painfully relatable. She is unapologetically herself and I love her for that. Gracewood accepts her and loves her as she is and it’s possibly the most revolutionary idea in the whole book. Most dukes would not be so accepting, I think — although Gracewood has spent his life trying to break free of the idea of what a duke can be so maybe it’s not so surprising. Surprising or not, it makes for a beautiful love story.

This falls more on the angsty side than the humorous side, unlike many of Alexis Hall’s other works, though it is still funny in parts. It’s what I was in the mood for, though, so it worked out. The writing is, as I have come to expect, absolutely gorgeous. I highlighted so many passages, and I know I will be returning to it again. I just hope we get a sequel – Mira’s story would be an excellent candidate.

This book also touches on grief, child abuse, addiction, and chronic pain, and tackles these topics gracefully. The characters are flawed and human and real, even the side characters. And, more than anything, it shows the deep love and acceptance between the characters, despite their flaws. I loved every minute of it.

— update 5/28/22—

I have now listened to the audio arc and can say that the narrator performs the story beautifully, though I had my doubts in the first few minutes. The character voices are distinct and easy to understand and fit the characters’ personalities and the emotion and humor come through perfectly (which is good, because this story is all about a lot of emotion).

*Thanks to NetGalley, Forever (Grand Central Publishing), and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“What other options? Men and women are permitted to interact in three ways: marriage, ruination, and polite indifference.”

“She’s a seventeen-year-old girl. She should be in London, having love affairs with unsuitable young men in a controlled environment. Not stuck in a mouldering fortress miles from anywhere.”

It made Viola feel oddly safe, this reminder that everyone lived their own illusions, chose their own truths, performed their own quiet magic before indifferent crowds.

She turned slowly, in case she scattered into dried leaves and dust.

“Loubear,” whispered Badger. “You have to be quiet when you’re eavesdropping. Otherwise it’s just a logistically difficult conversation.”

Viola was not certain that be virtuous, because vice is too much bother was quite the lesson a young gentleman was meant to be learning in these days of reason and enlightenment, but she let it go.

But there was a larger loneliness, one that came from inhabiting a space she’d had no choice but to build for herself, only to find that nobody could inhabit it with her.

As though he had become a man in a fable: lain with the wild ocean and woken, salt-stricken, forever changed, upon an unfamiliar shore.

“Suffering isn’t something we earn, Gracewood. It’s something we bear.”

Because that was the truth of trust. It was neither weak nor fleeting. It was steel and fire. And would endure as long as you let it.

Besides, it would not have done to read his sister’s intimate correspondence when there were ladies to do it for him.

The night beyond the city was mild and clear, the landscape a silvered forever—mirror-smooth fields, the ribbon twist of an occasional stream, ash trees, in curly-headed silhouette, cast like images from a magic lantern against the sky.

The night had been long and fraught and could have ended badly in so many ways. Could, in fact, end badly regardless. But still. What a marvel it was. What freedom. To be a woman unabashedly in love beneath a multitude of stars.

Arc Review: The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Publication Date: May 17, 2022


Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One NightsThe Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a wild ride of stories and secrets, shocking reveals, betrayals, and allegiances that shift like the sand. And so, so much magic. I absolutely loved it.

The four characters on their quest (Louli, Mazen, Aisha, and Qadir) were all very different, and all hiding secrets, and it was so satisfying to watch them become closer and slowly reveal them. Some of them, anyway. They were all like onions, slowly peeling back the layers, offering up stories that were A truth but not always The truth. Piecing it all gradually together was very satisfying, like completing a challenging jigsaw puzzle.

I loved the djinn relics and how they tied everyone together in unexpected ways. I loved the secrets behind them, and the magic. I loved how they kept showing up where they weren’t expected and revealing new tidbits of information each time.

The story was so vast and grand and full of tales within tales and stories that aren’t only stories and truths that aren’t the whole truth that I still can’t quite wrap my head around it, and I know I will be rereading it before diving into the sequel when it comes out. And I absolutely will be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it because that ending left me with so many questions and not nearly enough answers.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Orbit Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

To live is a matter of belief, Omar had once told her. The wicked live longer simply because they believe themselves to be invincible.

Because Omar is family, he thought. And with family, we always try to forget.

“Such pretty lies you spin.”

But Mazen did not think it was a lie at all. To him, stories were truths painted over in gold.

This is not a story, he told himself. This is reality, and I am living it right now.

The merchant turned away with a snort. “Your honesty is a foible, Prince.” She paused. “But also a treasure. Don’t underestimate your ability to influence others.”

“We’re all afraid, Prince. The only difference between a hero and a coward is that one forgets their fear and fights, while the other succumbs to it and flees.”

Violence does not suit him, she thought, but she shoved the thought away. It did not suit anyone.

ARC Review: Sofi and the Bone Song by Adrienne Tooley

Publication Date: April 19, 2022


In this gorgeous, queer standalone fantasy, a young musician sets out to expose her rival for illegal use of magic only to discover the deception goes deeper than she could have imagined—perfect for fans of An Enchantment of Ravens!

Music runs in Sofi’s blood.

Her father is a Musik, one of only five musicians in the country licensed to compose and perform original songs. In the kingdom of Aell, where winter is endless and magic is accessible to all, there are strict anti-magic laws ensuring music remains the last untouched art.

Sofi has spent her entire life training to inherit her father’s title. But on the day of the auditions, she is presented with unexpected competition in the form of Lara, a girl who has never before played the lute. Yet somehow, to Sofi’s horror, Lara puts on a performance that thoroughly enchants the judges.

Almost like magic.

The same day Lara wins the title of Musik, Sofi’s father dies, and a grieving Sofi sets out to prove Lara is using illegal magic in her performances. But the more time she spends with Lara, the more Sofi begins to doubt everything she knows about her family, her music, and the girl she thought was her enemy.

As Sofi works to reclaim her rightful place as a Musik, she is forced to face the dark secrets of her past and the magic she was trained to avoid—all while trying not to fall for the girl who stole her future.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was EVERYTHING. Gorgeous slow-burn enemies-to-friends-to-lovers f/f romance? check. Magic? check. Music? check. Beautiful, lyrical writing? check.

This book reminded me of An Enchantment of Ravens (which is probably why it’s listed as a comp title on goodreads). They both have magic swirling through the story but also a deep and abiding love of art (painting in Enchantment of Ravens and music in this case) that underpins and transforms everything. Also similar is the journey and slow blossoming of love, and the writing of each is utterly gorgeous.

The story has music and magic and mystery in spades and combined with the gorgeous writing, it’s catapulted instantly onto my favorites list. It’s SO atmospheric and you can really feel the music and the magic as the journey and mystery unspools before Sofi and Lara. I FELT things. So many things.

The way Sofi slowly came to realize that her father’s methods of teaching her were actually abuse–and that she took that abuse further upon herself–was painful but also cathartic. Her discovery that she wasn’t as alone as she thought was beautiful.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of Margaret Rogerson and Maggie Steifvater.

This is definitely one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and after reading the arc I will immediately be purchasing my own copy because I can’t not own this and I will absolutely be rereading it.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

What was art if it did not come from hard work and devotion? If it was not tended to and grown in the careful pockets of one’s heart?

It was eerie how casually people donned the level of polish the Papers offered. Where others fawned over the results of Paper-made glamours, that level of calculated, pristine perfection made Sofi uncomfortable. Humans were messy and complex. It pained her that magic disguised that potential for failure with a fleeting sense of flawlessness.

This girl looked like magic, but for the first time in her life, Sofi didn’t care.

“That’s…” Laura looked unbearably sad. “Sofi, that’s not what makes you a good songwriter. You don’t have to suffer in order to create.”

“Sofi, you don’t have to hurt yourself to be worthy of pursuing your dream. You don’t have to deny pieces of yourself in order to be good. Your songs are never better than when you let yourself go. You’re a different girl when you offer yourself the freedom to merely play. No grimaces, no frostbitten toes. Just your love for the music.”

She wanted this girl and all of her sounds. Every swish of her skirt, every clearing of her throat, every noise that proved she was right there beside Sofi. She never wanted a chance to forget, wanted to ride out the rhythm of Lara’s breathing, the clack of her nails against a tabletop. Sofi wanted every single note Lara’s existence created.

She was a song Sofi couldn’t wait to learn.

“I can’t be a saint,” she moaned, raking a hand through her hair, which had begun to dry in a frizzy pouf. “I’m barely adept at being a person.”

And she had. After all, it was a sixth day.

And sixth days—like every breath Sofi had ever taken, like every dream she’d ever dreamed, like every future she’d ever imagined—had always been for music.

ARC Review: Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor


Publishing Date: February 1, 2022


USA Today bestselling author Jillian Cantor reimagines and expands on the literary classic The Great Gatsby in this atmospheric historical novel with echoes of Big Little Lies, told in three women’s alternating voices.

On a sultry August day in 1922, Jay Gatsby is shot dead in his West Egg swimming pool. To the police, it appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide when the body of George Wilson, a local mechanic, is found in the woods nearby.

Then a diamond hairpin is discovered in the bushes by the pool, and three women fall under suspicion. Each holds a key that can unlock the truth to the mysterious life and death of this enigmatic millionaire.

Daisy Buchanan once thought she might marry Gatsby—before her family was torn apart by an unspeakable tragedy that sent her into the arms of the philandering Tom Buchanan.

Jordan Baker, Daisy’s best friend, guards a secret that derailed her promising golf career and threatens to ruin her friendship with Daisy as well.

Catherine McCoy, a suffragette, fights for women’s freedom and independence, and especially for her sister, Myrtle Wilson, who’s trapped in a terrible marriage.

Their stories unfold in the years leading up to that fateful summer of 1922, when all three of their lives are on the brink of unraveling. Each woman is pulled deeper into Jay Gatsby’s romantic obsession, with devastating consequences for all of them.

Jillian Cantor revisits the glittering Jazz Age world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, retelling this timeless American classic from the women’s perspective. Beautiful Little Fools is a quintessential tale of money and power, marriage and friendship, love and desire, and ultimately the murder of a man tormented by the past and driven by a destructive longing that can never be fulfilled.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was hauntingly beautiful. It was so sad and desperate and hopeless, watching Daisy and Jordan and Catherine’s lives crashing down around them. I couldn’t look away.

The structure was brilliant, getting each of the women’s perspective as their lives slowly intertwined and tangled around one another. Adding brief interjections from the detective trying to solve the case of Gatsby’s murder was brilliant as well, heightening the tension as the lies mounted up.

I’ve always thought the Great Gatsby was a beautiful and tragic story, but getting Jay’s story through Nick wasn’t nearly so tragic as this. Nick’s perspective was that of an outsider looking in at a gin-soaked world of parties. Daisy and Jordan and Catherine had so much more depth to them, because women, even rich women, had so much less power than the men.

I was riveted the entire time I read, drawn in to the darkly glittering world, but drawn in the most because of Daisy and Jordan and Catherine’s humanity. They felt so real, so alive, so timeless.

I was bracing myself the entire time, waiting for the final crash at the end, but Jillian Cantor managed to infuse it with just a touch of hope and made me love it all the more for how unexpected it was.

This is a story I will be reading again and recommending to all my friends.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Perennial for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Daisy sounded petulant, but oddly, it was the first time it had ever occurred to me that there might be a difference between the two, that it might be impossible to be both good and happy.


That was life, wasn’t it? Everything you could never believe happening to you, happening just like that, right before your very eyes.


I’d been feeling this way for a few weeks now, since we’d moved here from France. Weary and restless at the same time. It was hard to breathe and even harder to remember to smile.


It made me soften toward him a little, as I felt the way inside that his face looked: angry and disappointed and a little bit sad.


Myrtle? It felt funny to know she had a name, that she was a real, living breathing woman who desired something unattainable too. Just like the rest of us. Golf. Daisy. Tom and the west.


Of course, Nick agreed. Nick agreed to everything that summer. If you looked up agreeable in Merriam-Webster’s I was pretty sure you’d see Nick’s photograph.


And the way her face turned in that moment, it hit me that she would someday grow to be a woman. I wanted more for her than to be a fool. I never wanted men to treat Pammy the way they treated me. I wanted her to be brave and bold, and fearless and independent.


“She’s a little you, isn’t she Daisy?” he said.

His words burned my face, my heart. Pammy had to be better. I wanted so much better for her. I had to make sure she was better.


They were all the same, weren’t they? They all wanted nothing more than to ruin me. It was utterly exhausting to be a woman.


“I don’t want a safe life,” I told him, much to his chagrin. “I want a good life. I want a meaningful life.”


And maybe that was the last and biggest lie of all. That what I would do next with my life would be good enough to make up for what I had done.