The Reading Rush 2020 Wrap-Up

In a nutshell: I did the Reading Rush and I think it drove me a little insane :P

I did the Reading Rush back in 2019 and had a great time, but I wasn't initially planning to do it this year because I have a summer internship that takes up a lot of my time. But then I decided ... hey, why not?

So I picked seven books that were relatively short and went for it. I had to play catch-up during the last three days of the challenge, but I did, in fact, finish all of them in seven days!

This year's Reading Rush was more of a success for me than the last one was in terms of enjoyment. My average star rating for the seven books I read last year was 3.8, while this year it was a 4.2 star average. I call that a success!

Read on for some gushing and some spicy opinions (including my pretty mixed feelings about Stalking Jack the Ripper ...)

Day One: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Genre: YA Thriller
Publisher/Year: Delacorte, 2019
Number of Pages: 329
My Rating: 5 out of 5

I love Karen M. McManus's One of Us is Lying duology, so I was super excited to dive into this one. I got everything I’d expect from one of McManus’s books — thrills, twists, and plenty of guessing!

As usual, this author is a master of pacing. There are several places where she skips over scenes that aren’t that important to the story in favor of getting to the juicy stuff, which I really appreciated.

The one thing that was a little jarring to me was the multiple perspectives. Ellery and Malcolm have pretty similar voices, and it wasn’t always easy to remember who was speaking. I didn’t really have a problem with this in her other books, for some reason, so it might just be that I wasn’t as familiar with these characters. However, I enjoyed the book so much that I couldn’t bring myself to deduct points for this.

Day Two: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher/Year: Philomel, 2017
Number of Pages: 363
My Rating: 4 out of 5

I've been dying to read this book ever since I read its companion novel, Song of the Crimson Flower, and fell in love with the Vietnamese-inspired fantasy world of Feng Lu and Julie C. Dao's beautiful writing style. Plus, it's a Snow White retelling from the evil queen's perspective! How cool is that??

I adored the writing, as ever, and I loved how Dao made me root for Xifeng even as her actions got more and more evil. The pacing was a little slow, but I enjoyed the beautiful writing and descriptions so much that I didn't really mind.

The main reason why I docked a star is because I prefer villain origin stories where the protagonist gets drawn to the dark side because they think they're doing the right thing, but they get slowly more corrupted because of their own actions and desires. However, Xifeng was framed more as a pawn of destiny who did horrible things because she was fated to do so.

Despite that, I still really liked this book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's hungry for a good fantasy.

Day Three: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller
Publisher/Year: Katharine Tegen Books, 2016
Number of Pages: 321
My Rating: 4 out of 5

I'm just gonna admit it right away: I love anything Sherlock Holmes. I devoured the original mysteries when I was a kid, and the BBC version is still one of my favorite TV shows of all time (as much as I love dunking on its flaws). So I was super excited to dive into this genderbent YA retelling!

A lot of progress has been made in attitudes toward female protagonists over the recent years, but it's still pretty difficult to pull off a flawed, even unlikeable, female protagonist that readers still want to root for.

Charlotte isn't the protagonist, precisely (as with the original mysteries, the story is narrated by the Watson character), but I loved getting to know this abrasive, morally gray, genius girl character with a drug problem who kind of hates people and has the weight of a family legacy on her shoulders. This kind of flawed character hits differently when it's a female instead of a male character, and it was really interesting to examine places where I judged Charlotte more harshly than I judged her male counterpart for the exact same behavior.

I really enjoy books that can deliver a feminist message without virtue signaling or hitting you over the head with it, because the alternative is basically explaining the themes to the reader like they're too stupid to pick up on the subtext. So I give this book top marks in that regard.

I only gave this book four stars because I didn't find the mystery itself very compelling, but I liked the characters enough that I'll probably pick up the next book in the series soon.

Day Four: A Blade So Black by L. L. McKinney

Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher/Year: Imprint, 2018
Number of Pages: 384
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I tend to prefer second-world fantasy to contemporary fantasy, but this book is an Alice in Wonderland retelling, so of course I had to have it. Little did I know that I'd stumbled into one of the highlights of my Reading Rush week!

The idea of the Dreamwalkers and the worldbuilding in this story was super interesting, and I loved exploring this twisted version of Wonderland with Alice and her friends. There were several mysteries to be solved within the narrative, and the twists, turns, and reveals had me audibly squeaking in surprise.

I didn't give it *totally* full marks because I found it hard to keep track of all the characters at times, but I definitely had a blast with this book. I plan to pick up the sequel, A Dream So Dark, ASAP -- the third book in the trilogy comes out next January, and I want to be ready!

Day Five: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Publisher/Year: William Morrow, 2020
Number of Pages: 320
My Rating: 4 out of 5

I've been wanting to read some more adult mystery/thrillers, so I was excited to pick this one up for the Reading Rush. It was a pretty zippy read, with some compelling characters and a creepy, atmospheric island setting that reminded me of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (which is one of my all-time favorite mysteries).

I loved the breakneck pacing and intriguing story in this book. However, I tend to prefer mystery stories that have some kind of investigation component, whereas this one was basically a non-linear narrative about the events leading up to a murder. It was a brilliantly-told story nonetheless, and I think I'll be checking out more books by this author in the future.

Day Six: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Genre: YA Historical Mystery
Publisher/Year: Jimmy Patterson, 2016
Number of Pages: 337
My Rating: 3 out of 5

I don't usually read historical fiction, but I was super excited to read this one because a) I've had it recommended to me a lot, and b) I love Frankenstein and wanted the ~Gothic Vibes~.

In the end, I feel like this book might not have been completely to my taste. There are three main reasons why I docked a couple of stars:
  1. In general, I found the writing style to be somewhat clunky and detached. I think the author was going for a kind of analytical voice for Audrey Rose, but it just wasn't for me.
  2. Cresswell's character was hard to put a finger on. Audrey Rose kept talking about how emotionless he was, but he also flirted with her constantly, so I didn't really see the lack of emotion she described. He and Audrey Rose were also attracted to each other instantly (as much as she insisted in the narrative that she hated him), and I'm not a fan of instalove, but that one's just me.
  3. I mentioned in my review for A Study in Charlotte that I like books that convey a feminist message without hitting you over the head with it, but this book ... definitely hit me over the head with it, multiple times, explicitly in-narrative. Also, Audrey Rose had some pretty disparaging thoughts about other women in her social circle being "slaves to society" or something along those lines, which kinda rubbed me up the wrong way.
*Sigh* So, having said all that, you've probably gotten the impression that I hated this book, and you're wondering why I gave it three stars. Well, there actually were a lot of things I liked about it;  they're just smaller, more subtle things that added up. Among others, these included:

  • I did NOT see the big baddie reveal coming and it was AWESOME.
  • Creepy Gothic Frankenstein vibes which I want to inject into my veins.
  • I've always loved stories about forensic science, and this one had that in spades.
  • I was really impressed by the author's note at the end, where I found out that she'd actually done a lot of research about the time period and made it as historically accurate as possible. I don't usually read HistFic, so I can't say whether that's usual for these kinds of books, but it made me feel like Maniscalco really cared about authenticity and the reader experience.

There are a lot of people who absolutely adore this series, so I think maybe my less flattering opinions are just a matter of taste. However, I do have the entire series on my Kindle, and I liked this first book enough that I'll probably continue reading and see if I like the subsequent books better.

Day Seven: SLAY by Brittney Morris

Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher/Year: Simon Pulse, 2019
Number of Pages: 323
My Rating: 5 out of 5

I'm one of those goobers who loves Ready Player One, so I really wanted to see whether I'd like this book, too. The answer is a resounding yes! In fact, I think I like it even better than Ready Player One (*cough* because of the lack of female objectification and white male mediocrity *cough*).

When I first started reading SLAY, I was a little skeptical about how a teenage girl could create a whole virtual reality video game by herself -- but luckily it turns out that she recruited some internet friends to help, so my disbelief got suspended pretty fast. From there on in, this book became a gripping, fast-paced read that also deals with important themes about race and community spaces.

I can't say much more because of spoilers, but suffice to say, you need this book yesterday! It's super well-written, super thoughtful, and super AWESOME. Brittney Morris is coming out with another book next year, and you can bet I'll be snapping that one up ASAP.

So that's it for my Reading Rush wrap-up! Have you read any of these books, or do you plan to? Did you do the Reading Rush this year? Let me know in the comments section!

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