Review: Wasps in the Ice Cream by Tim McGregor

Wasps in the Ice CreamWasps in the Ice Cream by Tim McGregor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Wasps in the Ice Cream is a captivating Coming of Age Horror novella that quickly reminded me why I love this subgenre.

It’s the Summer of 1987 and Mark Prewitt spends his time working at the local ice cream shop, avoiding his parents, tinkering on his dream car and engaging in miscellaneous hijinks with his best buds.

When the other boys stage a prank on the mysterious Farrow sisters, it goes too far and one of them gets hurt. Mark is riddled with guilt after the fact. He should have stopped it, but he didn’t.

Seeking to make amends with the girls, he ends up befriending the middle sister, George.

She’s unlike anyone he has ever known and he’s drawn to her like wasps to ice cream. The more time he spends with George, the less time he has for everyone else.

Mark finds himself keeping a lot of secrets, but he should have known in a town this small, it was bound to blow up in his face. What happens when you fall for the girl everyone hates? Mark is about to find out.

Spoiler Alert: It’s not good.

Y’all, I really enjoyed my time with this story. I know when some people think of Horror books, they think, scary books, things that scare me, and then if they don’t get scared by a book, they say, this isn’t Horror.

For me, Horror is a much more nuanced genre than that and thinking only books that literally scare you can be classified as Horror is simplifying the genre unfairly.

A good example of this is one of my fave subgenres of Horror, the Coming of Age story. Wasps in the Ice Cream is a perfect example, channeling all of the essential vibes. This basically transported me back to the Summer of 1987.

Coming of Age always hits home for me. Literally nothing could be happening and I still find myself so invested.

There’s something about the innocence and feeling of possibility in viewing the world through that lens. The emotional traumas and challenges the protagonists have experienced up to this point in their lives only scratch the surface of what the world will ultimately dish out for them. It’s such a special time. Nostalgia for days.

Also, it’s in the presentation. You generally have an Adult narrator, who is reflecting back on some pivotal moment in their life. Something that impacted them so deeply, it helped to shape the adults they became; good or bad.

There also tends to be powerful friendships and the exploration of sexuality. All of this is mixed together with deeper things that scare us; sometimes supernatural, sometimes not.

I felt McGregor did an amazing job telling Mark’s story. It felt so authentic. I believed everything I was being told and understood how the events of this Summer shaped Mark’s future, choices, wants and desires.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys an engaging Coming of Age Horror story. If you are just looking for scares though, you’d be best looking somewhere else.

Thank you so much to the publisher, RDS Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. The audiobook is fantastic. The narrator truly captured Mark’s character. Well done!

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Review: The Echo Man (Major Crimes #1) by Sam Holland

The Echo ManThe Echo Man by Sam Holland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

The Echo Man is a debut Adult Thriller from Sam Holland. This novel released in 2022 and the follow-up, The Twenty, just released in early-May.

In anticipation of the release of The Twenty, which I was kindly gifted a copy by Crooked Lane Books, I wanted to be sure to pick this one up first.

I don’t know if, or how they’re related, or if you need to read them in order, but when I can, I do like to pick up an author’s work in order of release.

I decided on the audio for this one and loved that format. It was so addictive and cringey, hearing it out loud. It was exactly the reading experience I needed at the moment.

This is one of those stories that is hard to explain, but it was expertly woven together, so when you’re reading it, everything fits; everything makes sense.

There’s a woman named Jessica, married, living with her husband and their daughter. We start following her just before her house is set on fire. She narrowly escapes with her injured daughter in her arms. Her husband, sleeping in a different room, wasn’t lucky enough to make it out.

The police suspect Jessica is guilty of setting the fire, but she didn’t do it. Because of a shady history though, she’s afraid of not being believed and she flees from the hospital where she was being treated for minor injuries.

She befriends a disgraced detective, Nate Griffin, who knows Jessica isn’t guilty. In fact, he suspects the crime against Jessica and her family may have been committed by a criminal who has gotten away from him in the past.

There’s also a detective duo, Cara Elliott and Noah Deakin, who are simultaneously working a series of seemingly unrelated murders. As the bodies begin to add up, Cara can’t help but notice how the crimes seem to match those of famous serial killers.

You’re following these two separate duos, watching as their stories begin to blend and ultimately thread together into one nail-biting, pulse-pounding conclusion.

I found it very compelling. I was so into what was going on with Jessica, but also loved following along with Cara, on the more police procedural side of things. I felt it was the perfect blend of their two storylines; and I liked having one civilian perspective in addition to the investigators.

Both sides were equally interesting and the pace at which it alternated was perfection.

Let me be clear, this isn’t a story for the faint of heart. It’s not your average Thriller and it definitely took me by surprise. This gets DARK. Honestly, it contains some of the most brutal depictions of violence that I have ever read and I read dark shit for fun, like that’s my comfort zone.

I’m talking toe-curling, grimacing, exclaiming expletives whilst listening to it, dark. Not only that though, what a solid mystery; so good!

Overall, I am beyond happy that I finally made time for this one. What a way to enter the scene, Sam Holland.

I will remember this one for a long time to come and am looking forward to beginning The Twenty soon!

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Review: Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit (Theo Tan #1) by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit (Theo Tan, #1)Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit by Jesse Q. Sutanto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit is the Middle Grade debut of one of my favorite authors, Jesse Q. Sutanto.

Recently, after finishing Sutanto’s latest release, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, I wasn’t quite ready to part from her writing.

I’ve had Theo Tan on my radar for a while, and with the second book in the series, Theo Tan and the Iron Fan releasing at the end of May, I figured now was the perfect time to pick it up.

This story follows, you guessed it, Theo Tan, an average Chinese-American boy just doing his thing, playing video games and trying to fly under the radar. So far, he thinks he is doing pretty well in that regard.

When his older brother, Jamie, is killed in an accident though, everything abruptly changes for Theo. Not only is the startling loss of his brother devastating, Theo has also inherited Jamie’s fox spirit, Kai.

Prior to this time, Kai and Theo didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye. There’s no love lost between the two. Kai is snarkier than ever now, grieving the loss of Jamie with every fiber of their being.

The two are forced to let bygones be bygones, however, after discovering a coded message from Jamie that seems to indicate something was awry at Jamie’s internship with Reapling Corporation.

Obviously, I am cutting some corners here, but basically this chain of events leads Theo and Kai on a mystery-filled adventure at a highly-competitive summer camp program, ‘Know Your Roots’, run by the Corporation.

Know Your Roots is a program that celebrates Chinese and Indian cultures and is designed to help connect students with their heritage. Since Theo has been actively trying to ignore the Chinese part of his heritage his whole life, he is a bit behind the learning curve when he enters.

Together Theo and Kai think if they are at the camp, undercover of course, they will be able to get to the bottom of the mystery Jamie wanted them to solve. Are they right, or will they crash and burn in an epic way?

I had a lot of fun listening to this audio. The narration was excellent and I had no problem getting swept away with Theo and Kai.

You did get chapters from both of their perspectives and it was so funny, especially in the beginning, because neither one of them likes the other, so they definitely spill some tea. Over time, it was nice to see their relationship grow.

With Jamie being gone, and them being forced together, they were finally able to come to some mutual respect and understanding.

I definitely felt Sutanto’s sense of humor in this one, which is one of my favorite aspects of her writing. Particularly with Kai’s character. Kai is super snarky, smart and laugh out loud funny.

I enjoyed the setting of the Know Your Roots program. It did have a bit of that competitive feel that I like. I also liked that Kai and Theo had a mystery they were trying to solve.

The highlight of this for me though was the growth displayed in Theo’s characters. He really goes on quite the journey mentally and emotionally.

His self esteem grows a lot, which was the most satisfying for me. To see him push past the shadow of his brother’s legacy, who he saw as the golden child who he could never live up to.

Also, watching Theo learn about, come to appreciate and ultimately embrace his Chinese heritage was a really important message for a Middle Grade story, IMO. I think Sutanto excelled with that.

Overall, I had a great time reading this. It was action-packed, cute and funny as heck. I loved Theo and Kai so much and can’t wait to continue on with their adventures.

This left off in a fantastic spot, leaving plenty to explore in the next installment. You better believe I will be picking it up as soon as possible!!

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Review: The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce

The Witch in the WellThe Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Witch in the Well sounds intriguing. The cover image is subtly haunting. The title makes me want to discover what is happening. Is there actually a witch?

Sadly, even after reading it, I have no idea what happened. This is one of the extremely rare cases where I get progressively more ticked off the further I get into a story.

There’s a property, I guess a castle and a well on this property, where many years ago a local woman, Ilsbeth, who the townspeople believed was a witch, drowned.

Many years later, two young girls, playing in the woods discover the well and have mystical, or spiritual, or supernatural experiences there.

These girls, Elena and Cathy, grow apart and eventually become estranged. As adults, one of the women, Elena, I think, moves back to the castle after her Uncle’s death, as I understand it, to prep it for sale.

In the meantime, both women, inspired by the events at the well during their childhood, have taken it upon themselves to write books about Ilsbeth; to tell her story. Each believes they have the right to write it and the other one should stop.

Then I’m not sure, there’s like an Adult version of a prank war, there’s a handsome repairman turned suitor, and most confusing to me was a lot of content regarding a horse, or a ghost horse, and a horse as an embodiment of a demon.

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine and there it is. That’s what I got out of this book.

Oh, wait, one more thing, I think you also get the perspective of Ilsbeth, but I could be wrong on this. I think so, but I’m not 100%. Also, don’t get me started on how confusing the presentation of events was. I could not in a million years assemble a timeline for this story.

I listened to the audiobook. The narrator was okay, but I am not lying, or exaggerating, when I tell you that I RARELY knew whose perspective I was reading from and where the events fit in time.

I could not wait for this to be over. I didn’t want to DNF because, mistakenly, I thought perhaps I would have some sort of epiphany and it would suddenly all make sense.

Alas, this story just was not for me. I know there are some positive reviews out there and I’m definitely glad those Readers had a better experience with this one than I did. Please be sure you read those reviews and take them into account as well.

There’s a book for every Reader and a Reader for every book. Only you can decide if this one is for you or not.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I was excited for this one. I’m sad it didn’t work out.

On to the next!

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Review: The First to Die at the End (Death-Cast #0) by Adam Silvera

The First to Die at the EndThe First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved, loved, loved They Both Die at the End when I read it all the way back in February 2019. Trust me when I say, since that time it has lived rent free in my heart.

I, along with most other people, believed it to be a standalone novel. Then shockingly, a prequel novel was announced. The First to Die at the End is that prequel. I’ll be honest, I’ve been so scared to pick this up.

I wasn’t sure any other content was necessary. How could it possibly live up to the story told in TBDATE?

Finally, however, I could resist my curiosity no more. I had to read it and ultimately, I am really glad that I did. Silvera successfully pulled off the unasked for prequel.

In this story, our main characters are Valentino and Orion. The stage is set on the eve of the launch of Death Cast. Valentino, with dreams of becoming a professional model, has just, as in this very day, moved to New York City.

Orion, is a life-long New Yorker with a tragic past. He is anxious for the launch of Death Cast due to the way death has previously touched his life. Also, he has a very serious heart condition. He always feels the clock is ticking for him.

Through a twist of fate, these two boys meet in Times Square and feel an instant connection. As Death Cast goes live, one of them gets a call and the other does not.

They decide, no matter how it is going to turn out, they are going to spend the next 24-hours together. Death Cast is untried. Will their prediction be correct, or will it all end up being nothing more than an elaborate hoax?

Woven throughout the over-arching storyline, we also get vignettes of side characters that Valentino and Orion encounter along the way.

I know not everyone is crazy about the inclusion of these types of tiny slivers of life, but I loved them and the way it demonstrated the interconnections in general.

It’s like all the tiny connections that we may never realize or understand, but we are all connected in one way or another. I think Silvera showed that beautifully.

As far as the main characters go, they were fantastic. They were complex with plenty of backstory to make you want to fight for them. I enjoyed the relationship that developed between the boys.

Of course it is a bit instalovey, but it sort of had to be, considering the brief time-frame of the narrative. I actually didn’t mind it. I sort of feel like if I had met Valentino on the streets, I could have fallen in love with him just as quickly.

The banter was great and Silvera provided plenty of hard-hitting issues to consider. It really showed a range for emotion and difficult circumstances, but also the power to rise above and keep living every day with intent.

There were also some fun connections to the original book and the NYC setting was vivid. So, while this wasn’t quite as powerful for me as the first book, I still really, really liked it and appreciate the characters and the heartfelt way Silvera told their stories.

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Review: Five Survive by Holly Jackson

Five SurviveFive Survive by Holly Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Five Survive is the latest release from beloved author, Holly Jackson, well known for her hugely-successful A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series.

While Five Survive has a completely different feel than AGGG, it still showcases Jackson’s fluid and engaging writing style. This story is a YA-Action Thriller that takes place over the course of a single night.

It’s Spring Break and 18-year old, Red, and her five friends, Maddy, Oliver, Reyna, Arthur and Simon, are traveling from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast of Florida in an RV.

You can tell from the start that Red is recovering from a trauma that has happened in her life. Since she can’t afford to fly anywhere for break, her best friend, Maddy, actually suggests the RV trip. Good-naturedly, everyone else agrees.

It will be fun. It’ll be a real adventure.

And you know, it does start out that way. People are in good spirits. They’re excited for the trip to get underway, but then they get lost.

It sucks getting lost in a 31-foot vehicle. It’s not always easy to navigate smaller roads, let alone turn around. When your tires are shot out, it gets especially challenging.

That’s right. There’s a sniper out there lurking in the dark and they have their sights set on our six friends, who are now trapped in their disabled vehicle. There’s no cell service. They’re far from help. What can they do?

Once they begin communicating with the individual holding them hostage, it becomes clear, this person knows them. How did they end up here? Was this entire thing planned? This can’t be a coincidence.

Things become chaotic. The mood is panic, as you would expect. The sniper claims one of them has a secret that can save them all, but who!?

As the tension climbs, the people inside the RV begin turning on each other. Will they all be able to make it out of this alive, or will only five survive?

I liked this one. I really had no expectations going in, Action stories can be hit or miss for me. I personally felt this was a compelling, though very-OTT, Action Thriller.

I seem to be stumbling across quite a few of these lately and this one was pretty fun in comparison to some others. At times I was rolling my eyes, but at other times I was absolutely glued to the pages.

The audiobook was super solid. It kept me going, wanting to know the answers. There were a lot of reveals I wasn’t expecting and some super unlikable characters, which are always fun for me.

Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how long this one will reside in my brain, but it was a good time. A solid weekend read. Super quick, highly improbable circumstances, but engaging nonetheless.

I definitely recommend this to YA Readers who enjoy tense, claustrophobic Action Thrillers. I will certainly continue to pick up anything Holly Jackson writes!

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Review: Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

Burn Down, Rise UpBurn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently learned about this novel via a Book Riot article on the 13 Best “Good For Her” Horror books.

Click here if you would like to see the full list:

Good For Her Horror Recs

I knew right away from the blurb that I was interested. After reading the full synopsis and a couple of reviews here on Goodreads, I couldn’t wait.

I found the audiobook through my library and immediately downloaded it. I love a sudden mood read like that and this one paid off big time. Not only did I really enjoy this, but I’ve found a new author to follow.

This story starts out with an absolute bang and before I forget, the audiobook, I absolutely recommend it. Okay, so yeah, the beginning. You’re following a boy who has had something happen to him. You aren’t sure what, but you can tell he is sick, scared and seeking medical attention.

He enters a hospital and finally gets some help, but things do not end well. He takes off and subsequently disappears.

Our MC, Raquel, her Mom works at that hospital and is on duty at the time the boy comes in. Unfortunately, after her interaction with him, she’s infected too and falls into a coma. With her Mom fighting for her life, Raquel has to stay with her Dad at his place.

As if this isn’t stressful enough, the Bronx, where Raquel lives has been plagued recently by disappearances that barely get noticed. Raquel has tried to ignore that, pretend it’s not even happening, but when her crush’s cousin goes missing, she suddenly has to pay attention.

In fact, Raquel promises her crush, Charlize, that she will help her try to find her cousin.

What the girls discover is chatter about a horrifying local legend called the Echo Game. It’s said that if you play the game it’s possible you can get trapped in a sinister world underneath the city.

They believe Charlize’s cousin may have played it and that the game is connected to his disappearance. With this in mind, there’s only one choice really. They need to play.

I had so much fun with this. From the very start, the scene at the hospital, I was hooked. I had to know what was happening. It was disturbing, which we love.

I really enjoyed the writing style. The writer’s imagination and ability to create some truly startling horror imagery were on full display within this work. It was getting under my skin and left me wanting more.

Burn Down, Rise Up felt like a Love Letter to the Bronx disguised as a Horror story. I feel like it’s really special in that way. It actually made me want to go out and research the history of that area.

This concept is actually something I really love in my dark fiction. More specifically, I always enjoy when the history of a place influences the Horror elements of a story. It’s like the place holds onto trauma, whether it be collective or singular, and then channels that into the present events.

I thought that was done so well here. Additionally, I enjoyed going along with Raquel as she fought so hard not only her family and friends, but for her community as a whole.

Overall, I am so happy that I picked up this book. I was really impressed by it and cannot wait to read more from Vincent Tirado. If this book is any indication, I am going to love them all!

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Review: Lizzie Blake’s Best Mistake (A Brush With Love #2) by Mazey Eddings

Lizzie Blake's Best Mistake (A Brush With Love, #2)Lizzie Blake’s Best Mistake by Mazey Eddings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Lizzie Blake’s Best Mistake is the second book in Mazey Eddings’ adorable A Brush With Love series. These novels are Adult Romances that follow a friendship group of women.

I loved getting to know a little bit about Lizzie at the end of A Brush with Love, so I was super excited when I learned she was to have the starring role in this next novel!!!

Lizzie, a professional baker, is known to be the chaotic one in their friendship group. She really tries, but yeah, she messes up sometimes, forgets things, gets distracted, makes reckless decisions, etc. It’s just who she is.

Although some people may look at these things as personality quirks, for Lizzie, who lives every day with uncontrolled Adult-ADHD, they are a lot more than that. She struggles to stay on track, with even every day functions oftentimes being difficult for her.

One mistake she doesn’t make is getting into a serious relationship. Hook-ups, sure, yes, she loves that one night of intimacy and pushing boundaries. Anything more than that brings complications. No, thank you.

That’s why when her most recent hook-up with a super charming, sexy Australian man named Rake, turns into a 2-night affair, it really throws her for a loop.

Rake, who was only in the States for a business trip, returned to Australia shortly thereafter. Regardless of the distance, he can’t seem to get that charming redhead off his mind. He’s given up on relationships though, so just needs to accept it for what it was; two wild nights.

But when Lizzie calls him to tell him she’s pregnant, it very suddenly becomes much more than that. What will this non-couple, this long-distance non-couple, do?

I had a ton of fun with this book. The audiobook is delightful, the narration was so engaging. It’s wild, charming, funny, OTT and 100% a page-turner.

I loved both of these characters so much, as well as getting to watch their relationship evolve. Eddings writes some incredible banter and her characters are always well-developed, often dealing with relatable issues.

Additionally, the steamy scenes are fantastic. And yeah, it’s super steamy, so please don’t go into this thinking it’s rated-PG. It’s not, this is R. However, it’s not overwhelmingly so. This novel is about the story of the relationship more than the great sex.

I can definitely say after this book that Mazey Eddings is one of my go-to Romance writers. I will pick up anything she writes in the future.

Thank you so much to the publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I enjoyed this so much and am looking forward to the next book in the series where Lizzie’s friend, Indira, gets her time to shine!!

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Review: The Forever Witness: How Genetic Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder by Edward Humes

The Forever Witness: How Genetic Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double MurderThe Forever Witness: How Genetic Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder by Edward Humes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first glance, The Forever Witness: How Genetic Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder may look like your typical True Crime story, but it’s more than that.

This nonfiction account is actually an examination of the history and use of the science of DNA evidence in criminal investigation. More specifically, this story explores the changes that occurred once consumer DNA services hit the market with great gusto in 2007.

DNA evidence was of course used prior to that time, but it was much more limited in reach. In the early-90s the FBI developed their CODIS system as a pilot program and by the end of the decade it was the go-to source for criminal investigators.

However, for countless cases this system was unhelpful, as the perpetrators of the crimes in question were never in a situation where their DNA would have been collected and added to the system.

Regardless of that fact, biological samples from crime scenes were meticulously collected and stored over the years, mostly in the hopes that technology would advance to the point that it would one day prove helpful.

That’s exactly what happened in the case that this book recounts. In the 1980s, Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook were brutally murdered during a trip to Seattle.

The young couple, loved by many and known to be very reliable, were reported missing by their families when they were unreachable after the time they were expected to return home from their trip.

Tanya and Jay’s bodies, as well as the van they were traveling in, are all eventually discovered, although in three separate locations. It was clear that Tanya had been raped. Physical and biological evidence was painstakingly collected, but turned up no viable leads. The case went cold and remained so for many years.

Regardless of how much time passed, however, lead Detective Jim Scharf never forgot Tanya or Jay. Little did he know, that decades later after consumer DNA testing services like 23andMe, and shows like Finding Your Roots would shoot through the roof in popularity, he would be able to ride that wave all the way to answers.

This is such an incredibly well-written book. Humes did an great job of presenting not only the history behind the use of DNA technology in criminal investigation, but also in recounting the case of Tanya and Jay with the care and grace that they deserve.

The author showed so much consideration when recounting not just what happened to them on that fateful day, but also in exposing the life-long repercussions that crime had on all who loved them, including Detective Scharf.

This did explore some interesting ethical issues arising from the use of Genetic Genealogy by Criminal Investigators as well; particularly towards the end of the book. It did provide plenty of food for thought and is a topic that definitely doesn’t get enough discussion or consideration in mainstream media.

I would absolutely recommend this to anyone, particularly those who are interested in criminal investigations and the American criminal justice system in general.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Dutton, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I would love to read more from Edward Humes. I was truly impressed with how he presented this entire story. Well done!

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Review: Babel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang

Babel: An Arcane HistoryBabel: An Arcane History by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Babel: An Arcane History is the latest release from R.F. Kuang, beloved author of the The Poppy War trilogy. This is the first I have read from this author.

Babel is one of those books that everyone was buzzing about in 2022. It seemed everyone was reading it; your brother, your mother, your cousin, your neighbor, your coworkers, maybe even your enemies.

Y’all know, I can’t resist that type of hype. So, I bought it.

Then it arrived. What a day! I still remember opening that box. Behold the beauty!

Then I lifted it from the box and thought, oh shit. Yeah, she’s thick. So, then I was intimidated and hid it on my shelves for a later date. Last week was that date.

I decided to listen to the audio and am really happy I did. I feel like it helped me get through it more quickly and I enjoyed the narration, imagining the wonderful narrator, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, as our MC, Robin Swift.

The story starts in 1828, when a young boy, orphaned by cholera is taken in by a mysterious benefactor, Professor Lovell, after performing a bit of a test. The Professor, who will be moving the boy from his native Canton to London, makes the boy select a more Western-pleasing name. Thus, the boy christens himself Robin Swift.

We follow Robin on his voyage to his new home, as well as his subsequent educational journey from his benefactor’s home lessons, all the way through to the hallowed halls of Oxford University.

More specifically, Robin is enrolled in the prestigious Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel.

For Robin, this all feels like a dream. He is enamored with Babel, truly in awe, but as with many things in life, the more he learns about the institution and its function and goals, the more he becomes disillusioned by it all.

((…think Anakin Skywalker…))

We follow Robin, and his cohort, as they all come to certain realizations and as they decide which course they would like their lives to take.

I was very intrigued with this story from the start. The set-up was fantastic. You can’t help but be drawn to Robin’s character right away. From his first encounter with the Professor, you can just tell this is a boy of pure heart.

Once he starts University, he gets the opportunity to make his first real friends within his first year cohort. I was so happy for him.

The found family element was like something he had been lacking all along, but he didn’t even realize it. Meeting friends like Rami was a really pivotal moment for Robin.

It was interesting to watch the tone shift in this novel. It was a bit bright-eyed optimism, full of possibilities, to darker realizations of the world and its systemic dysfunctions rather quickly. But so is life. That did ring true.

I’m so impressed with this novel as an undertaking. You can tell that Kuang is a true lover of language. That fact pours off the page, that feeling and heart about language and its power. I was fascinated by this aspect.

Even though I was impressed with the content, I do consider this a challenging read. It’s heavy, with blatant racism and exploitation on page, and I did feel that there were sections that dragged a little.

There was a particular trip to Canton, that after that, from the return voyage onward, the pace really picked up for me. The stakes were raised higher than I could have imagined and I enjoyed seeing where the story went from there.

Oddly, even though I was initially intimidated by the size of this novel, I actually think it should have been longer.

Hear me out. I actually feel like I would have liked even more character and world development. Please note, this is a positive thing if I am asking for more.

For me, this may have worked better as a duology. Perhaps with the first book being up through the end of the first year at Babel and the second book picking up with the start of second year.

Is that crazy?

Overall, I would say that, small nit-pick things aside, this is an incredible novel that shows off Kuang’s stunning intellect, grace and superbly smooth writing style in only the best light. I cannot wait to pick up more of her work!!

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