Every few months, I go through a phase of wanting to read recent releases, despite having thousands of books on my TBR I should be reading. In the last couple weeks, I’ve read 5 recent releases and I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on them. In a sense, this will be a group of mini-book reviews.
The first book is These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, published back in November of 2020. It is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, set in 1920s Shanghai. I am a massive fan of Shanghai history (or honestly, any Chinese history), so I was excited to read this and even more excited that so many people seem to be enjoying it.
I ended up giving it four stars and, while it wasn’t perfect, it was highly enjoyable. It follows Juliette Cai, the heir of the gang family called the Scarlet gang, and Roma Montagov, the heir to the opposing White Flowers. When a mysterious monster is seen in the Huangpo River and people start tearing their own throats out, the two must solve the mystery.
This book has very little semblance to the original Shakespeare retelling outside of Roma and Juliette are in love and part of families who hate each other. The duo are both 19, and had fallen in love and were pulled apart when they were 15, so they’re not meeting for the first time in this book (we learn more about why they were pulled apart by the end of the book). It is also the first book of a series, and the second book is set to be released in Nov. of 2021, called Our Violent Ends.
Despite this being inspired by Romeo and Juliet, this book contains very little romance. The mystery and examination of the tenuous political situation in Shanghai during the 1920s is forefront in the book, and there are only a couple more romantic scenes. I didn’t mind this because I’m not a massive romance fan, but I say this because I feel like a lot of people would go into this book expecting more romance. It’s a solid read, and I enjoyed it!
The second book is one I’ve seen several bloggers talk highly about and that is The Children’s Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin, which was released in Jan. of 2021. This book tells a fictionalized version of the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888, which resulted in the deaths of over a hundred people, many of them children.
This book focuses on two sister, Raina and Gerda, who are both school teachers at different schools. It is a warm day in January, so few children bring warm coats to school and little firewood is ready in the one-room schoolhouses. Then the blizzard hits and visibility vanishes. The two sisters and their children must try to survive. It’s a pretty horrifying book, especially knowing how similar it is to what really happened.
Saying that, there is so much filler in this book. The last third of the book talks of the repercussions of the blizzard, as many died or had to remove limbs lost to frostbite. Honestly, very little of that part I cared about, and I also didn’t enjoy all the characters’ backstories. I loved the scenes of survival in the blizzard, and kept hating when the story would randomly spend chapter upon chapter on character backstory when I simply wanted the survival aspects. Because of that, I ended up giving it three stars. I enjoyed the book, but if a lot of the filler was cut, I would have enjoyed it more.
The next book was released in Feb. of 2021 and was a really interesting thriller titled The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse.
Set in Switzerland, it follows a young woman named Elin who travels to a sanatorium turned hotel for her brother’s wedding, only for a massive storm to hit and a murder to be committed. With them cut off from police, Elin Warner, an off-duty police detective, is the only one qualified to try to figure out what happened.
I’m a massive fan of thrillers/mysteries set in isolated locations, so I was excited to read this book. Unfortunately, while I loved the atmosphere and the mystery, the ending was so disappointing to me. There were just way too many twists thrown in without rhyme or reason, which was disappointing because the set-up of the mystery was just perfect.
There is also this side plot about Elin’s brother’s death when she was a child and her trying to come to grasps with why he died. I liked that subplot as well. I ended up giving this book three stars, though if the ending had been better, this would have been at least 4 to 5 stars for me.
The next book was on my most anticipated books of 2021 list…unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with it. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro follows Klara, an A.F. (Artificial Friend) as she finds a home with the sickly girl Josie and must navigate the human world.
I know this seems to be an almost universally liked book, but I didn’t really like it. For one, not much happens in the entire book. Klara ends up almost in the same place that she started in in the beginning. Because she is a robot, there was no character growth for her. Also, I was very confused about what themes were supposed to be discussed in the book. According to Goodreads, it talks about the theme of love. But that seems a bit vague, considering Klara never really loves. Maybe Josie’s parents loving her? The plot is just all very vague.
There are some interesting concepts discussed in the book, but most of them are just mentioned a couple times and ignored. For example, there is this debate on whether A.F.s are good or whether they are too smart and will infiltrate your home. But this idea is only mentioned in a couple scenes and then ignored. There is also the idea of the sun having power, as Klara attributes to it. Does it actually, or is it just in Klara’s head? We never learn. Also, does Josie truly care for Klara, or is she just using her because she had no other friends? These are just a couple things that are touched on but never expanded. Unfortunately, I ended up giving this book only two stars.
The last book on this list will be The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly. It follows the life of an English garden from three different eras: 1907, 1944, and Present Day. In 1907, Venetia begins to design the garden herself. In 1944, land girl Beth visits the garden when working on a nearby farm during WWII. In the Present day, Emma is hired to restore the garden to its original glory.
Here is my biggest criticism of this book: three timelines are too much. I don’t mind two timelines, but it’s really impossible to balance three timelines with three completely different sets of characters. While there is some slight overlap between eras, it is pretty slight. I could barely keep track of each of the sets of characters. I think all of them would have been interesting stories, but all together it felt like we would jump to one era right as another era was getting interesting.
It wasn’t a horrible book, and each individual story was interesting enough, but because the book tries to tell three stories in one, I never felt like I got enough of each story to truly care and understand the characters. I ended up giving it three stars.
Also, I did film a video of this post.
Have you read any of these books? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Do any of them look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, thank you so much for reading, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,